HC Deb 30 April 1981 vol 3 cc904-6
Q1. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 30 April.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Ross

Is the Prime Minister aware of our continuing support of her stand on refusing to give special political status to IRA prisoners? Does she agree that the world should know that it is utterly wrong to give special privileges to IRA terrorists? Will she support the poor widows who are preparing a petition to the European Commission of Human Rights by saying that the Government's services in Northern Ireland should be availble to help them to that end?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. There can be no question of granting political status to convicted criminals, now or at all. Individuals can make application to the European Commission of Human Rights. They do not usually need Government support, but I shall look into what the hon. Gentleman has suggested.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Is my right hon. Friend aware, and will she tell the House, of the great achievement of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, who last month secured an enormous Brazilian agreement for British industry to refurbish Brazilian coal mines, power stations and the transport media?

The Prime Minister

I am always delighted to hear about excellent export orders for Britain. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade is good at securing them. British industry is doing very well in its export trade.

Mr. Foot

Has the Prime Minister had the opportunity today to read the remarkable article by Melvyn Westlake in The Times, which from earlier questions, appears to have given rise to t reat interest in the House? Is she aware that the article shows that the Government's three Budgets have raised the nation's tax burden by one-fifth, that they have increased the numbers of those entering the poverty trap by 40 per c ent. and, generally, that what has happened has been a repudiation of the Government's claims of what they would do about tax cuts? Has she had the opportunity to read the whole article? Will she give the House and the country her considered response to it?

The Prime Minister

The short answer is "No". To judge from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, he will give the Government his full support in making further expenditure cuts.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Lady cannot run away from the most notorious of her election pledges. Is it not true that she won the election with her promise of tax cuts? She has increased the tax burden of the nation by one-fifth. Is it not true that a married man, with two children, on average earnings is now, following her Budgets, paying over 9 per cent. more in direct taxation than he was three years ago? When will she face those responsibilities?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman cannot run away from his arithmetic. If he wants tax cuts—and I do—we must first have expenditure cuts. I hope that he will support us in that. If he does not, he is saying that as a matter of policy he will posititively create inflation on top of inflation. I will not accept that.

Mr. Foot

Why did the right hon. Lady make such widespread promises during the election about tax cuts before she knew whether she could carry them out?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Gentleman reads the whole of the Conservative manifesto be will note that reductions in planned expenditure were promised. There have been reductions in planned expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman has given no support whatsoever to them. I reiterate that if he wants further tax cuts—and I do—he must support expenditure cuts. I look forward to the day when he does.

Mr. Bendall

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity recently to see Avitol Scharansky, whose husband has been detained in a prison camp in Russia? What does she think the Government can do to help to get this man released?

The Prime Minister

I received Mrs. Scharansky yesterday, as I always receive either ex-dissidents or the wives and relatives of those who are at present held in prison in Soviet Russia, in appalling conditions. In company with a number of other Governments we have made representations in Madrid—[Interruption.] I am interested to note that Labour Members below the Gangway do not seem to be the least bit concerned about those who are being held in appalling circumstances in Soviet Russia. They are not in the least bit interested, but we are. We are interested in doing everything that we can to secure their release, and we shall continue to try to do so.

Mr. Ford

Will the right hon. Lady take time today further to consider the effects of the Civil Service industrial dispute? Is she aware that many small businessmen are on the verge of bankruptcy because of the non-repayment of VAT? Is she further aware that the Government have made an error of judgment and that to refer the issue to arbitration is the only way of achieving a fair and satisfactory settlement? Does she agree that the Government have made an error of judgment and that those who never make a mistake never make anything?

The Prime Minister

I believe that the offer of 7 per cent. to the Civil Service this year is very fair. It comes on top of increases in pay to the Civil Service over the past two years of some 50 per cent. I believe that public opinion is behind us in agreeing that that is a fair offer. Although there are a small number of civil servants on strike, vast numbers are loyally continuing with their tasks.

Q2. Mr. Warren

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 30 April.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Warren

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in trying to resolve the Civil Service strike the public are much on her side, because this year more than 2 million workers in the public service have already settled for pay rises of less than the 6 per cent. limit set by the Government?

The Prime Minister

It is true that about 2 million public servants have settled for pay increases within the 6 per cent. cash limit, and without industrial action. My noble Friend the Lord President saw the Civil Service unions about a week ago. He said that 7 per cent. was as much as the Government could possibly afford within the 6 per cent. cash limit, but he made proposals for an independent inquiry into arrangements for Civil Service pay, terms and conditions of service and so on. It is a matter of great regret that the Civil Service unions have not responded to an invitation to discuss that aspect of the matter.

Mr. Guy Barnett

Does the Prime Minister think that Anglo-Indian relations are better or worse than they were before she went there?

The Prime Minister

There is not the slightest shadow of doubt that they are better.

Mr. Goodhew

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when I arrived at Heathrow last Sunday I was accosted by a young lady—[Interruption.]—merely because I happened to be the twenty-fifth person to pass through the United Kingdom passport check on my flight? I had to answer a Government questionnaire involving many personal questions, such as where I had been, who I had been with, why I had been there, how much money I had spent and what was my age group. Is it really necessary for the Government to have this information? Will she find time today to cancel the questionnaire?

The Prime Minister

I shall certainly look at it, although to judge from the way in which my hon. Friend asked his supplementary question he seems to have enjoyed the experience.

Mr. Ashton

Has the Prime Minister found time today to decree a cut in the the tax on petrol that was introduced in the Budget, or does she prefer to face disaster in the local elections in rural areas next week?

The Prime Minister

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer answered questions before I began to answer them, and as he will be speaking later, I think that I might leave the answer to that question to him.