HC Deb 11 November 1980 vol 992 cc186-8
Q1. Mr. Alton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 11 November.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. Later today I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen, and this evening my Cabinet colleagues and I will be giving a dinner in honour of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Mr. Alton

Is the Prime Minister aware of the great resentment that has been caused throughout the country by the Government's decision to renege on the agreement with the firemen? Is it Government policy to go back on other agreements with other groups in the public sector?

The Prime Minister

Last year, when it came to the rate support grant, the Government fixed a cash limit of 13 per cent. No one called that an incomes policy—it was not. This year the Government have fixed a cash limit for the pay bill of 6 per cent. That is not an incomes policy, either. How local authorities allocate the 6 per cent. is a matter for them, as it was a matter for them how they allocated the 13 per cent.

Mr. Cormack

As my right hon. Friend prepares for dinner this evening, will she reflect on the fact that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) is no longer the most prominent republican in the House?

Mr. Straw

Will the right hon. Lady say what is an incomes policy?

The Prime Minister

I have long since wondered.

Mr. Foot

Is it because the right hon. Lady is still wondering what her policy is that she did not take the trouble to present to the House her proposals for the supposed 6 per cent? Does she now really tell us that in the case of the firemen there was no breach of faith? Does she really say that the firemen have been honourably treated? Does she really think that the decision of the Government in this matter will ease the settlement of future industrial disputes, when no one in such circumstances will be able to trust the word of the Government?

The Prime Minister

As I explained when asked a similar question last week, the Government have no locus in the negotiations between local authorities and firemen. If the right hon. Gentleman chooses to look it up, he will find that reply. The negotiations are conducted between the firemen and the local authorities and the Government have no standing. The Government come in two ways only—first, by deciding the total increase of the total pay bill for local authorities, which we have done, and, secondly, only in relation to those duties of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, through the fire inspection officer, about the numbers of firemen. Otherwise, the matter is wholly one for local authorities.

Mr. Whitney

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to reassure our NATO allies that the views held by the Leader of the Opposition on unilateral disarmament—which show that he has forgotten the lessons that he learnt 40 years ago—are not supported by the great majority of the British people?

The Prime Minister

I was so intent on the question that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) asked me, and so used to being questioned by him, that I forgot to do the courtesies that I should have done immediately. May I warmly congratulate him on the assumption of his important office? I hope that he will genuinely and truly enjoy it. From time to time Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition have to hold consultations. I know that those consultations will be pursued as amicably as they were with his distinguished predecessor, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), to whom I am very grateful for all the co-operation that we received during his time as Leader of the Opposition. I wish him a quieter life. As regards the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), our independent nuclear deterrent has formed part of the West's shield. It is one of the things that has held the balance between the great Powers. It has, therefore, assured the peace of this country, of the West, and of the Russian people.

Mr. Foot

I thank the right hon. Lady for her kind words, which were wedged between the other remarks that she made. Does not the right hon. Lady appreciate that millions of people in Britain are deeply concerned about the scale and pace of the arms race throughout the world? Is it not a crime and a folly that her Minister's statements show no recognition of that great fact?

The Prime Minister

The people of Britain would be far more worried, and would have occasion to be far more worried, if they did not have a proper and full defence policy to protect their liberties, which the right hon. Gentleman also cherishes.

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