HC Deb 27 March 1980 vol 981 cc1644-9
Q1. Mr. John Browne

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 27 March.

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. Later this afternoon, I shall be greeting Chancellor Schmidt on his arrival in this country for bilateral talks.

Mr. Browne

Will my right hon. Friend take time to note that many people, particularly in Winchester, will welcome the Budget as extremely realistic, particularly the enlightened provisions for the rejuvenation of our inner cities and small businesses? However, many people will feel that a monetarist Budget can work effectively only in a free economy. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend reassure the House of her dedicated efforts to break down the ill-effects of the two cartels, namely, the public employers and trade unions which operate a closed shop without a secret ballot?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I believe that many people will welcome the Budget, which protects the weak, is fair to all and offers enterprising proposals for the vitality of the economy. I agree that we must reduce the role of the State, particularly as an employer. As my hon. Friend knows, we are passing denationalisation measures into law. I agree with him that we must deal with the power of the trade unions. As he knows, important proposals on the closed shop are now contained in the Employment Bill.

Mr. David Steel

How does the Prime Minister square two proposals in the Budget with her commitment to the incentive society, namely, the failure to uprate child benefit in line with inflation and the abolition of the lower rate band?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the lower rate band was the top rate only for people who on the whole work only part time. The Chancellor took the view, I believe wholly rightly, that the most important thing was to increase personal allowances. I believe that will have the biggest possible effect. Child benefit, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, has been increased by some in 18¾ per cent., which is a considerable increase. If he looks at the overall effect of the Budget, he will find that it offers least help to single people—if I may put it that way—more help for married people and most help to families.

Mr. McQuarrie

When my right hon. Friend today meets her ministerial colleagues and Chancellor Schmidt, will she discuss with them the question of yet another contravention by the French, by fishing for herring when fishing for that species is banned? That is causing serious concern to the British fishing industry which is standing by the EEC regulations.

The Prime Minister

I am aware of some of the allegations which have been made about herring fishing contraventions, which are perhaps permissible if they are very small in relation to a much larger catch of big fish, but which on other grounds are wholly outside the ban which our fishermen operate in the North Sea. I shall convey those strong feelings to Chancellor Schmidt.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will the Prime Minister today take time to tell the people whether the Budget will increase unemployment or decrease it? Will she also tell the trade unions that the Government have no time for them and that they are proving that conclusively by the legislation which they are passing through the House?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman heard my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer say yesterday that, unfortunately, we expect unemployment to rise. Unemployment rose heavily during the lifetime of the previous Labour Government. Indeed, it more than doubled. Certain cases of overmanning must be reduced. The hope for future jobs must come from the vitality of small businesses. The Budget was very forthcoming about that.

Mr. Dykes

Will my right hon. Friend reflect that although it was extremely irritating when the Italians announced the postponement of the European summit, there is a chance that that will assist in reaching a settlement? Will she further reflect that Chancellor Schmidt may intervene?

The Prime Minister

We were expecting to have bilateral talks with Chancellor Schmidt during these two days. I agree that we must use the interim profitably in order to reach a settlement of Britain's genuine budget complaints earlier than we had hoped.

Mr. James Callaghan

When the right hon. Lady gives an account of the progress of unemployment will she include the fact that there was a month by month reduction in the level of employment during the last 18 months of the previous Labour Government? Does she not agree that that was coupled with a substantial reduction in inflation? If she is to bandy figures, she should include that in the record. Why are the Government cutting measures to assist the unemployed, including skillcentres?

The Prime Minister

I shall not quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman about the figures that he presented earlier. He knows that the Labour Government inherited about 600,000 unemployed and that that figure more than doubled during the lifetime of that Government. As regards skillcentres, some of the places were not fully taken up. It did not seem right and proper to allow those places to continue.

Q2. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Prime Minister if she will state her public engagements for 27 March.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave a few moments ago.

Mr. McCrindle

Has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister seen reports today to the effect that broadcasting organisations are planning to spend £3 million on covering the Moscow Olympics? As the BBC is having to bear considerable expenditure cuts, including the possible wind-up of some of its famous orchestras, will the Prime Minister make any recommendations to the BBC about such great expenditure?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I understand that the BBC has issued a statement to the effect that no final decision has been taken on the coverage of the Moscow Olympics. That decision will depend upon sports news value at the time and, therefore, on the number of people who go to the Moscow Olympics. The BBC will reconsider the issue nearer the time.

I share my hon. Friend's views about the proposals to reduce the number of orchestras. I am glad that private help is being given to keep those orchestras in being.

Mr. loan Evans

As the Chancellor admitted yesterday that the rate of inflation had doubled and that it was likely to be 20 per cent. next year, does the Prime Minister feel that he is justified in making a five-fold increase in prescription charges? Is it not a tax on the sick?

The Prime Minister

The rate of inflation will rise a little. As the hon. Gentleman noticed, my right hon. and learned Friend was careful not to increase the retail price index by very much in the Budget. A number of people had expected much higher increases in taxes and charges.

By the time the prescription charge of £1 comes in in December, the cost of a prescription item will be about £2½90. That is almost three times the amount paid. Some 66 per cent. of prescriptions go to those who pay nothing as a result of exemptions.

Mr. Waldegrave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am glad that we have finally got together—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Although the hon. Gentleman's remark was meant kindly enough, it was his own fault last week. He had been jumping up, but did not do so when I called him.

Mr. Waldegrave

My remark was meant as an indirect apology. I shall make it more direct. Does my right hon. Friend agree that although some of her colleagues may wish to argue about individual items in the Chancellor's broad programme, that in no way reflects the fact that the enormous majority of her party are firmly behind the Chancellor's broad strategy?

The Prime Minister

I wholly agree. It is the only strategy that will bring Britain back to prosperity and self respect.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The right hon. Lady has referred to "fairness". Is it fair that steel workers should be offered 8 per cent. while local authority workers arc offered 14 per cent. and the rate of inflation is nearer 20 per cent.? Does she not realise that Underground fares in London have risen by 45 per cent. in the past 12 months? Does she not accept that prescription charges have increased five-fold over a 12 month period? Where is the consistency?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman knows, consistency is found in the fact that people must earn their keep. No one can expect that keep from anyone else. I had thought that the hon. Gentleman was in favour of responsible free collective bargaining. Earnings vary according to the circumstances of an industry. I have already replied to a question on prescription charges. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will recognise that prescription charges did not go up for a very long time.

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