HC Deb 29 January 1980 vol 977 cc1117-22
Q1. Mr. Dormand

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 29 January.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. I shall also have a meeting with Signor Cossiga and later I shall give a dinner in his honour.

Mr. Dormand

When the Prime Minister sees her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will she discuss with him again the worsening problem of coking coal imports? Is she aware that 10,000 jobs are at stake here and that all we are talking about is a subsidy of £18 million after the National Coal Board has made its financial contribution? If the Prime Minister still resolutely refuses this subsidy from the Government, will she, as a matter of urgency, make an application to the EEC for that comparatively small sum, bearing in mind that those countries have received far greater subsidies.

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Member knows, a large amount of financing for the National Coal Board comes from what is called public money. In 1979–80 this will amount to £607 million. The Government certainly have no objection to some of that being used to subsidise coking coal.

Mr. Alexander

In the course of the day will my right hon. Friend consider the events in Birmingham last Sunday? Does she consider it right that the Sinn Fein should have been allowed to march there when a few yards away and only four years ago the IRA was responsible for the deaths of four people and the injury of 191 others on one day? If she does not find that acceptable, will she tell us what the Government intend to do about it?

The Prime Minister

Sinn Fein is not a proscribed organisation. Therefore, whether a march should be re-routed or allowed to be held at all is a matter in the first instance for the chief constable. If he decides that it should not be held, he must consult the Home Secretary. If he decides that the march should go ahead—as this one did—the decision, in the first instance, is for the chief constable; and that is as it should be.

Dr. Owen

In view of the fact that the latest figures available show that the Federal Republic of Germany subsidised the coking industry to the tune of £290 million and the NCB subsidises it only to the tune of about £10 million, how can the Prime Minister justify not making an application to the EEC if she refuses to give Government money? The amount of a mere £l8 million would avoid a substantial number of redudancies and pit closures.

The Prime Minister

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman heard precisely what I said. This year the cash limit for external financing for the NCB is some £607 million overall. That is a great deal of money. On top of that there is external financing for steel, for British Rail and British Leyland. Surely the right hon. Gentleman would expect that the small amount for coking coal could have been provided out of that considerable sum.

Mr. Freud

While pursuing her busy schedule and rightly urging the Olympic athletes to boycott Moscow, will the Prime Minister bear in mind the situation of the English Chamber Orchestra under the patronage of Prince Charles, which is due to leave in five weeks on a British Council-sponsored tour of Moscow? The orchestra is looking to the Government for a directive on whether to go on this tour.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman knows that we do not necessarily issue directives; and quite rightly so. We tender advice. It is the responsibility of those who receive that advice to decide whether to take it. In general, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the advice is to cut off many political and cultural contacts for the time being as a way of making the protest that we can make against what has happened in Afghanistan.

Mr. George Gardiner

Has my right hon. Friend seen the report in a sunday newspaper concerning a moderate shop steward in the steel industry who complained of violent intimidation of himself, his wife and his children? That intimidation occurred because he wanted a say in what was happening. Will my right hon. Friend look at the industrial relations legislation now before Parliament to make sure that it is strong enough to prevent that kind of thing?

The Prime Minister

Violent intimidation, or intimidation of any kind, must be totally and utterly condemned by everyone in this country. Violent intimidation can be dealt with by the criminal law, but my hon. Friend knows that the difficulty is in getting evidence. There is not the slightest shadow of doubt that some people are frightened.

Mr. Maclennan

Is the Prime Minister aware of the report published today that Mr. Poniatowski is proposing a nuclear force for Europe? If the Government are aware of it, what is their reaction to that proposal?

The Prime Minister

It is not the first time that our French allies have proposed that there should be a European nuclear deterrent. This is not a new suggestion. We discuss these matters from time to time and undoubtedly this proposal will be discussed in the future.

Q2. Mr. Adley

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 29 January.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I have just given.

Mr. Adley

Will my right hon. Friend now deplore the rabble-rousing partnership at work yesterday between Mr. Arthur Scargill and the deputy leader of the Labour Party, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot)—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading".]—which aims to destroy respect for the rule of law and the rights of majorities within trade unions? Will the Prime Minister please assure the House that the Government's industrial legislation proposals will provide adequate protection against violent picketing, blacking and intimidation?

The Prime Minister

I believe that the vast majority of trade unionists—almost all of them—would agree that the law must be upheld. I am glad that a vast majority in the House believes that the law must be upheld and I am glad that the president and the general secretary of the ISTC also took that view. There would be no civilisation unless the law were upheld. My hon. Friend will recollect, in relation to the provisions in the Employment Bill, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment indicated that he would consider, when we knew the decision on the McShane case, whether further provisions should be brought forward in Committee He is actively considering that. However, it would seem that the law is far from clear.

Mr. Barry Jones

Will the Prime Minister consider telling her hon. Friends who sit behind her that if they would stop making their hyena-like remarks we might be able to get the strike settled?

The Prime Minister

It is rather significant that the hon. Gentleman refers to upholding the law in that way. We do not.

Mr. Michael Morris

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most local authorities have complied with the wishes of the Cabinet on public expenditure cuts? If there are to be further cuts, the local authorities would wish central Govenment to indicate which services should be finished.

The Prime Minister

Examples of waste within many services are noted almost daily by the newspapers. If one looks at the enormous number of people employed by local authorities and the way in which that number has steadily increased, one can but reach the conclusion that there is considerable scope for further economies in administration.

Mr. John Morris

How long does the Prime Minister intend to maintain the Government's posture of non-intervention in the steel strike? Is she aware of bitter criticism today of the Government's proposal for the rundown of BSC as regards numbers, speed and the fact that no application has been made to the EEC for aid? Will she publish a White Paper on her negotiations on this matter with the EEC and her responses to the criticisms that are being ventilated?

The Prime Minister

I heard on the early morning news the criticisms made by Commissioner Vredeling. He seemed to indicate that we had not applied for aid from Europe. However, since 1973 there have been 100 such applications. On 12 December the Department of Industry informed Commission officials of BSC's proposals for redundancies in 1980 and 1981. The Commission decided that £7.7 million should be allocated to Shotton and that allocation was signed by Commissioner Vredeling.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Will my right hon. Friend consider today the increase in the United States defence budget? Will she consider whether we could increase our defence spending by more than the 4 per cent. that may be possible? Perhaps it could be increased to 10 per cent?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that we can go beyond the pledges we have already given. If we manage to get expansion in the economy and earnings and productivity go up, we could do a great deal more in many areas. I am not prepared to commit extra expenditure until we have got extra earnings.

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