HC Deb 17 July 1980 vol 988 cc1750-5
Q1. Mr. George Gardiner

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

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with Congressman John Anderson. Later today I shall be leaving for a visit to Wales.

Mr. Gardiner

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider that many school leavers, who have been hit by recession, desire to give some service to the community? Does she recognise that that desire extends to keeping essential services, such as hospitals, running in the event of strike action by those who have jobs?

The Prime Minister

I very much agree that large numbers of school leavers are anxious to give service to the community, including voluntary work. They expect to see essential services kept going. If a time were to come when those services were not kept going, young people would be the first to lend a hand.

Mr. Foster

Has the Prime Minister seen the latest forecast of the Manpower Services Commission, to the effect that in the first quarter of next year 400,000 16 to 19-year-olds will be unemployed, with only 100,000 places on the youth opportunities scheme? Is it not time to bring in an education and training programme for the 16 to 19-year age group, with proper educational and training allowances?

The Prime Minister

My right lion. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has expanded the youth opportunities scheme to up to 250,000 places. We hope that we shall be able to continue the pledge to give all school leavers a place on that scheme by Easter 1981, if they have not found a job by then.

Mr. Kimball

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to study the Order Paper and to send for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in order to draw his attention to the abuse of written questions? Will she also draw his attention to the proliferation of Select Committees by the other place, and the need for House of Commons expenditure to be subject to fixed cash limits? Will she give an assurance that there will be no revolutionary experiments in parliamentary procedure until we have digested the last revolutionary change made in October?

The Prime Minister

I believe that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster heard much of that question. My hon. Friend is right to say that there are no specific cash limits for Parliament. Naturally, we all believe that we should be firmly accountable to those whom we represent, and sparing in the way in which we spend their money. As regards future changes of procedure, I note that my hon. Friend thinks that we have had as much as we can digest for the time being, and I shall communicate that to my right hon. Friend.

Q2. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 17 July.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Jones

Does the Prime Minister know that my beleaguered constituency has been told today that it will lose another 300 Courtaulds' jobs? Given the appalling economic prospects for Wales, will she announce in Swansea on Saturday a policy for industrial expansion? Will she also tell us what Wales has done to deserve her pitiless offensive against steel workers, textile workers and coal miners?

The Prime Minister

I am aware that there are some textile factories in the hon. Member's constituency which are in considerable difficulty. I believe that he has asked to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales about them. On the question of general measures, the hon. Member knows—because I have said it before—that we gave South Wales £48 million for remedial measures. We also gave £15 million for remedial measures to the Shotton area. A large number of advance factories were allocated last year to provide 5,000 jobs. This year so far they have provided a further 2,500 jobs. Expenditure per head is £919 in England, whereas in Wales it is very much higher, at £1,079 per head.

Mr. Edward Gardner

Has my right hon. Friend had time to read the report that the Indian Government are considering altering their intentions about buying Jaguar aircraft from British Aerospace in the numbers that they orginally stated? Is she aware that this is a matter of deep concern to those in my constituency who work for British Aerospace? Does she not agree that we can ill afford to lose orders of this magnitude through the Machiavellian pressures that are being applied by other nations on the Indian Government?

Tile Prime Minister

We were very concerned yesterday at the terms of the announcement by Mr. Menon. There was an understanding between India and the British Government that if there was to be any variation in the Jaguar contract, the matter would be raised in consultation. That clause has not yet been invoked and if there were any suggestions about changing the contract we would expect the Indian Government to invoke it.

Mr. David Steel

Irrespective of whether press reports are correct about the Trident decision not being taken by the Cabinet as a whole, will the Prime Minister recognise that the Trident programme represents a major commitment, both in defence and public spending terms, which will last well beyond the lifetime of this Administration? As such, should it not have come to the House of Commons for discussion first?

The Prime Minister

The decision was taken in the customary way that such decisions are taken. All these major programmes outlast the lifetime of any Parliament. The Tornado programme was of a similiar order of expenditure and that, too, outlasted the lifetime of one Parliament. That is the case with most defence decisions. We shall expect to have a debate on the matter when, doubtless, the right hon. Gentleman will raise any issue that he wishes.

Mr. Hill

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the pleas of Sir Michael Edwardes to buy British, and of the debates in the House last Thursday and Friday in which many hon. Members asked the House to send out the message to the nationalised industries and local authorities to buy British wherever -possible? Is this not a way in which the Government could help some of our industries?

The Prime Minister

We have a public purchasing policy that we should buy British wherever possible. Usually I add one rider to that—we buy British not only because it is British, but because we expect it to be of supreme value. We also believe that Government purchasing policy can assist firms to launch goods—particularly sophisticated technological goods—that they might not otherwise be able to launch on their own resources.

Mr. James Callaghan

Why then did the Cabinet not take a decision yesterday to place the order for the PAYE computer with ICL?

The Prime Minister

This matter is still being considered—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—because we are investigating it thoroughly, unlike previous Labour Governments.

Mr. Callaghan

Do not the criteria that the right hon. Lady has given apply to ICL? Why does not she stop dithering and get on with making the decision?

The Prime Minister

The matter is still under consideration. There are many computer firms here and we have to get the right computer for the job. The Cabinet is still considering the matter, and the Leader of the Opposition will not succeed in hustling me.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

In order to encourage the creation of new jobs, which are more likely to come from small and medium-sized businesses, will the Prime Minister encourage the banks and financial institutions to apply a greater share of their resources to venture capital enterprises for small and growing businesses on advantageous terms?

The Prime Minister

I wholly accept my hon. Friend's assertion that we need greater sources of venture capital. I believe that the banks are trying to help and that a number of consortia under British commercial and industrial cham- bers of trade are similarly trying to help. I wholly accept my hon. Friend's wish that more should be available, particularly for small businesses.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Will the Prime Minister take time to study the statement on the tape by a prominent German politician who claims that the Government are preparing a further confrontation with a view to using it as an excuse to come out of the EEC? Is she aware that, apart from the obvious merits of that policy, if it is adopted, it will enable her to have at least one policy during her term of office which has the full-hearted consent of the British people?

The Prime Minister

I know of no such confrontation. We brought the budgetary matter to a satisfactory conclusion, and until we consider the future reform of the CAP and the fundamental change in budgetary policy, the next matter to consider is the common fisheries policy. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has that firmly in hand.

Q3. Mr. Adley

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

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Adley

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that since May 1979 the Government have repaid $4.6 billion of overseas debt, including $1.8 billion, ahead of schedule? Is not this a repetition of the normal practice in this country whereby Labour Governments incur debt and Conservative Governments repay it?

Mr. Skinner

A planted question!

The Prime Minister

The other day the Financial Secretary announced that we would make early repayment of a Eurodollar debt from 1977. The last Government increased this country's overseas indebtedness by $18 billion and this Government have already arranged to repay $4 billion of that.

Mr. Sheerman

Will the Prime Minister spend some time today considering the position of exporting industries in this country, particularly those in my constituency in Yorkshire which are being decimated by bankruptcies day after day because of Government policies which are putting small, medium and large firms out of business? When will she change Government policy to enable our exporting industries to survive?

The Prime Minister

Has not the hon. Member noticed that the figures for the last two months have been rather good?

Mr. Richard Shepherd

Can my right hon. Friend help British manufacturing industry by ensuring that monopoly gas is provided to British industry at prices that are no greater than those paid by its competitors in Europe? Is she aware of the damaging effect of the recent price increases?

The Prime Minister

On the whole, gas prices to industry have provided the profit to the British gas industry. It has to explore for sources of gas to replace those that we have already used. I believe that our general policy is right—gas prices must follow oil prices and we must stick to the world price otherwise we shall be in great difficulty and run out of necessary supplies.

Mr. Dubs

Will the Prime Minister find time today to consider the recent OECD report, which shows that, compared with any other advanced industrial country, Great Britain has a greater increase in youth unemployment and a faster decline in gross national product? Could that be said to be a tribute to one year of a Conservative Government?

The Prime Minister

There are countries in Europe where the level of unemployment is higher than in Britain. We are all very concerned about increasing unemployment, which is unfortunately, inevitable in a period of world recession, from which we are all suffering. The price of oil having increased by 100 per cent. in a year, some measure of world recession is inevitable.