HC Deb 29 July 1980 vol 989 cc1281-7
Q1. Mr. Freud

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

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Mr. Freud

While the Prime Minister pursues her schedule, will she consider and explain to the House why British industry—which has its own indigenous supply of energy—should suffer because competing overseas nations can provide oil, gas, coal and electricity at lower prices? Is it wise to ask the gas industry to help to subsidise the public sector borrowing requirement by £450 million this year, at the expense of our manufacturing industry?

The Prime Minister

It is true that other countries can produce coal more cheaply than Britain. They have much easier seams to mine. Our coal is expensive. Seventy per cent. of our electricity comes from coal, so any increase in the price of coal leads directly to an increase in the price of electricity.

The arrangement made by the previous Labour Government was that the Government should buy 51 per cent. of oil from the North Sea at world prices. The previous Labour Government's policy on gas was to load high prices on to industry and to pass lower prices on to the consumer. As for the amount that the gas industry is asked to contribute to the public sector borrowing requirement, the taxpayers and citizens have to provide about £2,600 million to the nationalised industries as a whole.

Mr. Stokes

What view does my right hon. Friend take of the United Nations conference on women, which is being held in Copenhagen at a cost of £1½ million? We have sent 10 delegates to that conference. Will the conference help her and other women?

The Prime Minister

I rather think we made it before that conference took place.

Mr. McNamara

Has the right hon. Lady had an opportunity today to talk to her colleagues about the prospects for selective imports control? Does she not realise that instead of my constituents being told to travel hundreds of miles to find work, they could then find work within the constituency? Does she not accept that it would be possible to ensure that motor cars, radiators and boilers were made in my constituency, which would ensure that my constituents had jobs, and did not waste time travelling to find accommodation and jobs that do not exist?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is aware that there are many jobs in exports. Motor component manufacture is a particularly successful export industry. If we put up barriers against the import of motor components barriers will almost certainly be put up against the export of motor components.

Mr. Garel-Jones

During her day, will my right hon. Friend tell the Secretary of State for Industry that many of us are pleased about the Government's decision to invest in biotechnology through the NEB? Does not she agree that the Government should intervene in areas on the frontiers of technology and so create employment?

The Prime Minister

I shall certainly pass that message on to my right hon. Friend. We contribute to this new technology and industry not only through the NEB, but also, to a considerable extent, through the several research councils and through universities. We are good at this type of research and development.

Q2. Mr. Dabs

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

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Dubs

Is there any level of unemployment at which the Prime Minister would give a higher priority to providing jobs than she now gives to tackling inflation? What level must unemployment reach—2 million, 2½ million or 3 million?

The Prime Minister

In the long run there is no trade-off between inflation and unemployment. If we were ever to let inflation rip, we would finish up not only with higher inflation but with higher unemployment. One would do a disservice by putting unemployment immediately against the prospect of jobs later.

Mr. Crouch

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to give further consideration to university teachers' pay? As a Member for a university town, I find great concern among university teachers about reports in the press that the completion of their pay award for this year may not be ratified.

The Prime Minister

There was a meeting of the relevant committee this morning and I understand that it has adjourned until Monday.

Mr. McElhone

The combination of the record 1.9 million unemployed, 14 per cent. cuts in our aid programme and the Government's response to the Brandt report is callous, mean and shoddy. Will the Prime Minister repeat to the House today the famous words she quoted from St. Francis of Assisi?

The Prime Minister

Some of those who are most anxious for more aid to go abroad are often those who demand more import controls to stop trade coming here.

Q3. Mr. Montgomery

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

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave some time ago.

Mr. Montgomery

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to read the reports of the Labour-controlled district council that plans to employ only those people who are political supporters of the Labour Party? Will she make it clear that, whatever the view of the Leader of the Opposition, she totally deplores this arrogant use of political power?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend must be referring to the reports of what the Walsall district council has done. If those reports are true and if jobs in the public service are to be dependent on the political colour of the applicants, that will be the end of democracy.

Dr. Edmund Marshall

May I return to the Prime Minister's advice to unemployed persons to move to other parts of the country, where she claims there are suitable job vacancies? How does she propose to provide those people with suitable and acceptable housing?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member is slightly misconstruing my speech. I said: Of course, frequently investment goes where there are skilled people wanting work, but there must be some mobility. That is absolutely accurate. On the latter part of the hon. Member's supplementary, when the new Housing Bill has received the Royal Assent there will be the possibility of using vacant property which does not exist at present. There are new provisions for shorthold, and provisions to enable council tenants to take in lodgers. That will help a number of young people who want to move to other jobs.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the Prime Minister take time today to speak to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the tragic murder of a Scottish soldier at Aughnacloy on Saturday? Is she aware that, had the Army checkpoint at Aughnacloy been manned, that soldier would not have been murdered?

The Prime Minister

Every death through terrorism or violence is a tragedy. My right hon. Friend and I, the troops in Northern Ireland and the Royal Ulster Constabulary are doing everything possible to increase the security of the people of Northern Ireland. I wish it were possible to give a 100 per cent. guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland, but it is not. In the meantime, we must continue to fight terrorism and violence wherever they occur.

Mr. Cohen

Will the Prime Minister consider visiting the Clifton training institute for the newly blind? It is the only such institute in the country and it is likely to close because of lack of Government financial help. Does the right hon. Lady not recognise that in the past 10 years more than 1,000 people have been assisted to readjust? Will she undertake to visit the establishment and discuss with the staff the social and economic consequences of its closing? Will she then decide what the Government can do to assist?

The Prime Minister

I cannot promise the hon. Member that I shall go, but I am certain that my right hon. and hon. Friends from the Department of Health and Social Security will have heard what he said. I think that it is a tragedy if some of these places have to close—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is because of Government policies."] It is a tragedy if such places have to close when massive amounts of money are being spent on bureaucracy.

Mr. Kershaw

Will my right hon. Friend find time to congratulate those responsible for restoring full diplomatic relationships with Saudi Arabia? Is it not welcome that we should have good relations again with this traditional friend?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It was a matter of great regret that relations were ever broken off and we are pleased that they are now fully restored. Saudi Arabia has been a good friend of the West and has done everything possible to keep down oil prices. I hope also that our trade with Saudi Arabia will revive.

Mr. George

Is the Prime Minister aware that the ability to advance or retard careers on the basis of political affiliation is no monopoly of the Walsall Labour Party? Can the Prime Minister put her hand on her heart and say that she has never advanced or retarded anyone's political career on the basis of party loyalty?

The Prime Minister

I have consistently stood up for people on the basis of merit and merit alone. In all my years in the Department of Education and Science I was regularly condemned for doing so by Labour Members as being an elitist.

Mr. Bill Walker

During her busy day will the Prime Minister consider sending a message to President Sadat of Egypt expressing admiration for the courageous and humane manner in which he reacted to the plight of the Shah and his family?

The Prime Minister

I shall be happy to do so. We all have great admiration for the courageous way in which President Sadat has done what he had to do.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to congratulate those athletes in Moscow who have won gold, silver and bronze medals on behalf of the British nation?

The Prime Minister

I am always happy when British athletes do well, but I must be frank with the hon. Member—I advised British athletes not to go to Moscow. I wish that they had not done so. Nevertheless, I am pleased that those who went have done so well.

Q4. Mr. Farr

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

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave quite some time ago.

Mr. Farr

If my right hon. Friend has time today, will she look into the report in today's papers of the famine in Uganda? Will she try to establish a fund through the EEC for channelling EEC food surpluses to Uganda instead of to Russia where they are sold at a loss to the British taxpayer? Would it not be better to help needy Commonwealth countries, such as Uganda?

The Prime Minister

There is a terrible famine in Uganda and there are difficult circumstances for other countries in East Africa. This country has spent about £7 million trying to relieve that famine directly or through the European Economic Community. The EEC is regularly sending emergency and ordinary supplies of food to East Africa, including cereals, butter, milk powder and sugar. We urge that that is preferable to subsidising exports of surpluses to Russia. I shall convey my hon. Friend's message, and we shall do what we can to pursue the matter further.

Mr. Faulds

Will the right hon. Lady find time today to ponder the wisdom of her Saatchi and Saatchi posters displaying a few dozen hired hands posing as unemployed, when in present circum- stances there are an impending 2 million unemployed—[Laughter.] It is a comical matter to the Tories. With an impending 2 million unemployed, were those posters not a teensy-weensy bit ill-advised?

The Prime Minister

It is not a comical matter to us. We are every bit as concerned about the level of unemployment as members of the Labour Party. However, when there was high unemployment under a Labour Government, we did not accuse them of wanting it. That is the difference. The hon. Gentleman accuses us, but we did not accuse his Government.