HC Deb 10 December 1981 vol 14 cc984-8
Q1. Mr. Freud

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for Thursday 10 December.

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 the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. Later I shall leave for a visit to Shropshire.

Mr. Freud

While the Prime Minister is doing all those important things, will she think back to the many citizens of Brixton who were reluctant to give evidence to Lord Scarman's inquiry? Does she accept that nothing that has come from the Home Office has caused them to change their opinion that it was not worth while to give evidence, and will she, with her customary honesty and frankness, welcome Lord Scarman's recommendations for an independent statutory review body?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman does less than justice to Lord Scarman's inquiry, which most of us recognise produced a good and thorough report, which was a fair representation, naturally, of all the evidence given.

Mr. Adley

Should not Mr. Arthur Scargill's election be a warning to those who believe that vague promises wrapped in tinsel can provide a solution to the nation's problems?

The Prime Minister

I hope that, regardless of the NUM election—which is wholly a matter for that union—we shall continue to get what the nation needs—increased productivity going hand in hand with increased wages, but the one not ahead of the other.

Mr. Foot

Is the Prime Minister yet in a position to answer my question of two days ago'? May I repeat it for her benefit? Can she confirm that a married man on average earnings, with two children, who becomes unemployed, will be £13 a week worse off than he would have been had the Government not cut the value of the benefits?

The Prime Minister

Would the right hon. Gentleman, in giving me that figure, tell me how he has dealt with earnings-related supplement?

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Lady has done the cutting. She should be able to answer the question. Is she not aware that the real value of unemployment benefit next month will be lower than it has been for 15 years? Is that not a scandal of the first order.?

The Prime Minister

I see that the right hon. Gentleman is not absolutely sure of his figures. I believe that he has included in the figure earnings-related supplement that applied in November 1980—to take a particular month—only to 23 per cent. of all unemployed claimants. Therefore, nearly four-fifths of those claiming unemployment benefit were not receiving earnings-related supplement because they were not at that time entitled to it.

Mr. William Hamilton

Answer the question.

The Prime Minister

I am trying to answer the question and to answer it accurately. Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman is not fully aware of his figures. I believe that he will find that the earnings-related supplement is responsible for about £11.20 of the figure that he mentions.

Mr. Foot

Since the right hon. Lady has not been prepared to give a straight answer today, will she promise to do so on Tuesday?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Gentleman can deduct £11.20 a week from the figure that he mentioned, I would not quarrel with his conclusions.

Mr. Nelson

Can my right hon. Friend confirm reports that the Government have finalised proposals for a closer relationship between the nationalised industries and the Government? Does she agree that the steep rises in the prices charged by certain nationalised industries, particularly transport, telephones and fuel, have had a direct impact not only on household budgets but on the level of wage demands for this winter? Can she offer any hope that this new relationship will act to restrain those price rises for the coming winter?

The Prime Minister

There is no substitute for the discipline of competition. A nationalised monopoly does not have that discipline, and usually, therefore, is nothing like as efficient as the private sector, which is subject to that discipline. It is because of that that we are attempting to have closer discipline of the nationalised industries, to give clearer objectives and to have very much closer monitoring of the quarterly results of those industries, with a view to getting greater efficiency in the service to the consumer.

Mr. Roy Hughes

During the course of the day, will the Prime Minister ponder on some of the promises that she made during the last general election campaign? She promised that under any Government headed by her, taxation, inflation and unemployment would be reduced. When, if ever, are some of those aspirations likely to be realised?

The Prime Minister

Taxation will be reduced when the public expenditure to which it is related falls as a proportion of the gross domestic product. Taxation would have been a great deal higher if we had acceded to all of the public expenditure requests that come in daily from the Opposition—main taxation, indirect taxation, and rating taxation, too, as people who live under Labour-controlled local authorities can see.

With regard to inflation, perhaps the hon. Member will compare our record with his Government's during the first three years of Government. During 1974 the Labour Government's retail price index rose by an average of 16 per cent., during 1975 by an average of 24 per cent., and during 1976 by an average of 16 per cent. During the first three years of the present Government we had a figure of 13.4 per cent. as compared with their 16.1 per cent., 18 per cent. as compared with their 24.2 per cent., and this year I expect that the figure will be about 12 per cent. as compared with their 16 per cent.

Q2. Mr. Robert Atkins

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 10 December.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I have just given.

Mr. Atkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that at least some of the resentment caused by the present unjust rating system and its effects, particularly in the Socialist authorities of Lancashire and Preston, would be diminished if the rate burden were to be diminished? Therefore, will she commend those local authorities that are reducing costs by allowing free competition to take part in the operation of local government and to provide some of the services provided hitherto by local authority monopolies?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend that it is the enormous weight put upon the rates that is giving rise to the considerable injustices that we are now seeing. They are at their greatest in Labour-controlled authorities. I congratulate the many local authorites that are trying to use private contractors, whose costs are usually lower, as much as possible. Of course, employing private contractors on a contractual basis means that local authorities do not have to provide inflation-proof pensions.

Mr. David Steel

Has the Prime Minister noticed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been disporting himself in the guise of Santa Claus? In view of the deprivation that he is seeking to inflict on the poorer families in our society, is not this the greatest piece of miscasting since the late Boris Karloff attempted to audition for Peter Pan?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor and Lady Howe had a party at No. 11 Downing Street. It was a voluntary party, wholly arranged and paid for by those who believe in voluntary effort—the Small Business Bureau, run by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls). By voluntary effort, they gave enormous pleasure to 50 or 60 disabled children. This did not cost the taxpayer a single penny. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman, like so many other hon. Members, is always trying to masquerade as the person who gives benefits to others, but then he puts the burden on the taxpayer.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

Reverting to what was said earlier about the Scarman report, may I ask my right hon. Friend what conclusions she draws from the fact that a recent Gallup poll showed that 86 per cent. of the population retained their confidence in the police and 81 per cent. retained their confidence in the Armed Forces, but, unfortunately, only 26 per cent. retained their confidence in the trade unions?

Mr. William Hamilton

And what was the figure for the Tory Party?

The Prime Minister

I gladly reaffirm the support for the Armed Forces and the police, who never go on strike and never let Britain down.

Mr. William Hamilton

Does the Prime Minister recollect the very many sympathetic noises that she made before the election about the nurses? Does not she think it quite scandalous that she now refuses to meet the nurses' representatives? Will she give an undertaking that the nurses will not be subject to the 4 per cent. restriction on pay increases next year that the Chancellor has announced? If she does not do so, nurses will suffer a swingeing reduction in their standard of living.

The Prime Minister

First, the nurses' representatives will be seeing the Secretary of State for Social Services, as they should. If I met everyone who asked to see me in the first instance, there would be little point in having Cabinet Ministers and heads of Departments. The nurses' representatives will go to see them first. If they then wish to see me, of course I shall see them this year, as I saw them before.

Mr. Hamilton

What about the 4 per cent?

Q3. Dr. J. Dickson Mabon

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 10 December.

The Prime Minister

I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Dr. Mabon

Will the right hon. Lady be seeing today one of her senior economic advisers, Professor Alan Budd? If she does so, will she ask him to explain his speech 10 days ago when he said that there was no intellectual foundation for the argument that monetarism can defeat inflation? Would it not be wiser for her to discuss with her advisers how to defeat unemployment?

The Prime Minister

Professor Budd is not one of my advisers. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is confusing him with Professor Walters. I think that if the right hon. Gentleman reads what Professor Budd said later he will see that it did not wholly accord with the interpretation of what he said earlier.

Viscount Cranborne

Is my right hon. Friend aware that at present the price of illicit heroin on the street is lower than the price of cocain or hashish? Will she take time during the course of her busy day to consult the Home Secretary about what measures can be taken to restrict the growth of the illicit heroin trade?

The Prime Minister

The Government and the police are doing everything that they can to stop this terrible and dastardly trade, which can be so destructive of our young people and everyone who comes into contact with it.

Mr. Haynes

Is the Prime Minister aware that hon. Members are now contributing to a fund for a gift to the catering staff of this establishment and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be taxing that gift? Does she agree with what the Chancellor will be doing? If not, will she say so from that Dispatch Box?

The Prime Minister

As I recollect, the taxation of gifts has not materially changed in recent Finance Acts. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to change it, doubtless he will go through the proper procedures. I think that he will recollect that under the previous Government the taxation of cash gifts was the same as it is now.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

As the right hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) has presented us with the opportunity, will the Prime Minister demolish once and for all the bogus argument that British economics does not support the view that a stable currency is a sound policy? If it is intellectually bogus, so were Adam Smith, Maynard Keynes and Alfred Marshall.

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. Monetarism is not a party political doctrine. If the supply of money exceeds the supply of goods and services there will be inflation.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

During the Prime Minister's heavy day will she have a word with all the various Ministers, who have any responsibility at all, to ascertain how and why, in 1981, a slight fall of snow results in everything freezing up? Roads cannot be used, trains cannot run and buses cannot go. Fifty years ago, without all the modern improvements, we had continual snowstorms yet everything went without any trouble.

The Prime Minister

I do not think that I can improve on what the hon. Gentleman has said, except to assure him that I will not appoint a Minister with responsibility for the weather.