HC Deb 17 January 1980 vol 976 cc1864-71
Ql. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 17 January.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Mr. Whitehead

As we understand that the Cabinet may have discussed the possible British boycott of the Olympic Games this morning, on the proper ground that sport and politics are mixed, will the Prime Minister also call for a report from the Minister with responsibility for sport on the proposed rugby tour of South Africa which may lead to our expulsion from the Commonwealth Games? Will the right hon. Lady tell the House whether she supports her Minister or whether she agrees with the views of Mr. Dennis Thatcher?

The Prime Minister

I shall try to answer the hon. Gentleman's three questions. With regard to the Olympic Games, Ministers have discussed the matter. We favour trying to move the venue from Moscow to elsewhere, if it is possible to do so. That cannot be done alone, and we believe that we should try to do it by taking concerted action with our allies in making an approach to the International Olympic Committee, in whose lap the decision lies. With regard to the Lions' tour of South Africa, the Minister with responsibility for sport has expressed my view that the tour is contrary to the Gleneagles agreement. With regard to opinion in the Thatcher household, the Prime Minister does not have a monopoly.

Mr. Edward Gardner

In view of the judgment of the Lord Chief Justice this week that a published interview with a juror was not contempt of court, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that she will take urgent steps to have that part of the law changed? Does she agree that disclosures of that sort undermine public confidence in the jury system and may put in jeopardy the jury system itself?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. and learned Friend recognises, that was, indeed, a significant judgment. Of course, the Government will have to consider what to do about it. I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for raising the matter.

Mr. William Hamilton

In the event of the failure of the Government to transfer the venue of the Olympic Games from Moscow, will the right hon. Lady undertake to refuse permission to the Duke of Edinburgh to visit Moscow?

The Prime Minister

I am not prepared to give undertakings at the moment. I have indicated to the House the view that we take about the matter. If we are unable to succeed in that view, other matters will arise. Decisions will have to be taken at the time.

Mr. Higgins

Since my right hon. Friend and I are equally determined that effective action should be taken to deter Russian aggression, will she ensure that full consultation takes place before the Government take a definite line on the boycott of the Olympic Games? If such an appeal was rejected by the sporting bodies concerned, the effect would be highly damaging and counter-productive. As far as changing the venue is concerned, leaving on one side the practical difficulties and the fact that the Government will, no doubt, be expected to meet the cost, will she take into account the fact that the whole point of the Olympic Games, from the individual's point of view, is that he expects to match himself against the best in the world? An Olympic Games in which large numbers of good competitors do not take part will be seen as pointless by many. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that might well arise if the countries of the Third world, which object to the Lions' tour of South Africa, felt that they should go to Moscow rather than elsewhere?

The Prime Minister

Obviously I am very much aware of the viewpoint of those who have been training for a number of years so that they reach peak performance at the time of the Olympics. We must take account of that. That is why we believe that it is right to move the venue away from Moscow. Equally, we cannot just stand back and watch what the Russians are doing in Afghanistan, deplore it and take no action at all.

Q2. Mr. Straw

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 17 January.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I have just given.

Mr. Straw

With rocketing price inflation and earnings rising by 19.2 per cent. a year, does the Prime Minister still maintain that there are no circumstances in which she would introduce a wages freeze?

The Prime Minister

I expected that catch question. Labour Members have been trying to trap me for a long time. One of the problems we face is that of trying to get away from years of incomes policies, because, as a result, people have come to expect an annual increase for nothing. That is one of the troubles bedevilling this country.

Mr. Lawrence

In view of the alarming international situation and the abiding hostility of some groups in the Labour Party to Britain's role in the defence of the West, will the Prime Minister voice her concern about the work of Trotskyist revolutionaries within the Labour Party, which has just been revealed once again?

The Prime Minister

I voice my concern at the activities of these revolutionaries wherever they work, and particularly in the Labour Party. The only way in which we can ensure that they do not triumph is by making certain that we are returned at the next election.

Mr. Radice

Does the Prime Minister ever wake up during the night and reflect that her economic and industrial policies might be wrong?

The Prime Minister

I very rarely wake up—[Laughter.]—during the night. If one is to have a clear mind, it is better to sleep well and briefly at night and be wide awake in the day.

Q3. Mr. Bob Dunn

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 17 January.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave earlier.

Mr. Dunn

Will the Prime Minister take time to examine early-day motion No. 312 in my name and the names of my hon. Friends? Will she not condemn the pledge given by the Labour Party to withdraw the right of council tenants to buy their homes if they so desire? Does she not agree that that pledge is consistent with the decisions of the Labour Party to keep council tenants as second-class citizens in tied cottages?

The Prime Minister

I condemn that pledge which was given from the Opposition Front Bench earlier this week. I believe that it is an attempt to deprive future generations of an opportunity that their parents would have wished them to have, and that we propose to give them. I hope that the Labour Party will never have the opportunity to introduce that pledge.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

As the Prime Minister has given strong public support to President Carter to apply sanctions and put pressure on Iran to release the American hostages there, is it not totally inappropriate that this country should be training Iranian military personnel? How many such personnel are in this country? Will the Prime Minister give an assurance today that they will all be gone tomorrow?

The Prime Minister

There are very few people from Iran undergoing some kind of training in this country—the figure is fewer than 30. There are some training under similar contracts in the United States.

Mr. Philip Holland

Will the Prime Minister find time today to find out from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what he has done with the coypu strategy group which has been totally omitted from the otherwise immensely interesting and reassuring White Paper published yesterday?

The Prime Minister

I shall pass that staggering piece of news on to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Flannery

Will the Prime Minister take time off from her many commitments today to direct her attention to the escalating steel strike? Does she not realise that there is great danger of this strike becoming a general strike in time, and that nobody any longer believes in a policy of non-intervention? Does she not realise that, according to a letter in The Times this morning, certain Tories are arguing that the fundamental line of the Government is now totally wrong? What does she intend to do about it?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Member is asking me to intervene and mediate in the steel dispute, I cannot do so. There is a very good mediation and conciliation process in ACAS which is already operating. If the hon. Member is asking me to give a bigger public subsidy of taxpayers' money to those who are already earning above average wages, that would be wrong also.

Mr. Emery

Will the Prime Minister discuss with the Home Secretary today the measures that could be taken to combat the spread of flying picketing, which is resulting in violence and arrests on the picket line? Is she aware that the vast majority of the British people are very much against the denial of the right to work brought about by the intimidation on the picket line and by secondary picketing? Will she consider bringing forward that part of the Employment Bill, dealing with secondary picketing, which allows industrialists to take action, in order that it may be on the statute book within the next few weeks?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend receives reports from the area police authorities about what is happening on the picket lines. I believe that the police are carrying out their duties to the best of their ability in order to see that people are able to go about their lawful business unhindered. I must be candid about the provisions in the Employment Bill on secondary picketing. I do not think it is possible to get that Bill through in time to deal with the present strike. We must attempt to deal with the problems that arise on the picket lines under the powers of the present common law.

Q4. Mr. Dubs

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her public engagements for 17 January.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier.

Mr. Dubs

Will the Prime Minister find time today to consider the fact that during the last election campaign the Conservative Party made great play of being in favour of the family? Therefore, will she tell us how she can justify the decision not to increase child benefits at a time of rapidly increasing inflation?

The Prime Minister

This party is very much in favour of the family, but that does not mean arguing for every single benefit to be increased. Families must provide the benefits from which family benefits are increased. Labour Members are always prepared to ask other people to do something without recognising that demands made on the Government are demands that we make on ourselves.

Mr. Gummer

Will my right hon. Friend reflect that it is a fact that those in the steel industry who are on strike are not prepared to earn their extra money and the steel management has not got the money to pay the extra amount? Therefore, where do the Opposition think the money will come from to pay the steel men more?

The Prime Minister

I cannot answer for the Opposition, but one of the problems we face is the fact that wealth must be created before it can be distributed. The extra money demanded for the steel industry comes out of the same pool as that needed for hospitals, education, family benefits, and so on.

Mr. James Callaghan

We shall be debating the steel industry later this afternoon. I hope that an attack will be made on the foolishness of the Government in fixing a level of steel capacity that is far too low. I should like to revert to the original question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs). The figure for earnings, published yesterday, was 19.2 per cent. The figure of pensions increase was fixed on a basis of earnings of 17.5 per cent. The right hon. Lady, when she was seeking votes last April, decided to underwrite our commitment to increase this figure. Is she now intending to increase the amount of pensions in view of the fact that earnings are much higher?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman will remember that pensions went up by more than 17½per cent. this year—more than 17½per cent.

Mr. Callaghan

I understand that the right hon. Lady may not have fully understood the question. I shall put it again. The pension increase this year was based on the 17.5 per cent. increase in earnings together—

The Prime Minister

I understand that.

Mr. Callaghan

If the right hon. Lady understood, it was a damned bad answer. I do not assume that she was trying to deceive the House. Assuming that she was not trying to deceive the House, we should try to get the facts right. The pension increase of 19.5 per cent. this year was made up of 17½per cent. based on earnings and the 2 per cent. that she pledged to give before the election to make up for the shortfall. Now that the figures have been published, it is seen that the estimate was too low. I repeat my question. Now that the right hon. Lady has won the election and does not need the votes, does she propose to renege on the undertaking she gave before the election?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's confirmation that pensions did go up by some 19 per cent. this year. Most hon. Members on the Government side of the House remember very well the time the Opposition were in power when they left out three or four months' rapid increase in the cost of living from their calculations.

Mr. Callaghan

It is clear that the right hon. Lady has no answer to the question. Will she therefore give an assurance, in view of this increase and in view of the concern that the Secretary of State for Social Services has expressed about the link between prices and short-term benefits, that there will be no decoupling between price levels and the fixing of short-term benefits on unemployment, invalidity and sickness benefits to worsen even further the position of those who are worst off and who will be badly hit by the increases in electricity and gas prices and other charges?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman knows that we have to operate the law as it is unless and until the law is changed. One of the main factors in keeping down general prices is to try to keep down the increase in wages. We shall be glad to have the right hon. Gentleman's help in the steel industry towards that aim.

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