HC Deb 29 January 1981 vol 997 cc1070-1
Q1. Mr. Allan Stewart

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

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and held meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I have been invited to speak at a dinner given by the Pilgrims Society.

Mr. Stewart

In the midst of her busy schedule, has the Prime Minister had a chance to see the recently published Scottish Industrial and Commercial Property Review, prepared by Professor Mackay of Heriot-Watt university and other economists, which forecasts a continuing reduction in the rate of inflation and a steady economic upturn from late this year into the medium term? Does she agree that that reflects economic reality, and that in the midst of the recession there are increasingly positive signs for the future, in Scotland as elsewhere in the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend that that was a most interesting and excellent report from the economists at the Heriot-Watt university showing that there is considerable hope that inflation is coming down and that we can expect an economic upturn. I warmly support my hon. Friend in saying that the report was excellent and objective. Scottish economists are very good. They started with Adam Smith, and I am delighted to see the tradition continuing.

Mr. Foot

Has the right hon. Lady had the chance today to examine the report—and can she confirm or deny it—that the Government's support for British Leyland is being submitted to investigation in Brussels by the EEC? Will she give an undertaking that this programme will go ahead whatever is said in Brussels?

The Prime Minister

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was in the House when my right hon. Friend made his statement about British Leyland. He said during the course of that statement—I think that I am right, but a quick check can easily be made—that it would of course have to be referred to the EEC under the rules of the Commission, which applied to the previous Government as to this Government. I do not anticipate any difficulty with its final decision.

Mr. Foot

I did not myself recollect that the right hon. Gentleman said that to the House. If I am wrong, I shall happily put it right. But may I still press the right hon. Lady very strongly on this matter? We believe that it is essential that the backing for British Leyland should go ahead, and we believe also that the decision should be made by this House of Commons and not anywhere else.

The Prime Minister

I tried to cover that point. I do not believe that there will be any difficulty with the final decsion of the Commission. I believe, therefore, that the backing for British Leyland will go ahead.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that last year saw the lowest number of working days lost through strikes since 1941 shows the realism with which the British people are facing this recession? Does she agree also that, if we retain that realism when we come out of the recession, not only will our productivity improve, but we shall be better able to compete, and thus create more jobs?

The Prime Minister

I share my hon. Friend's view that that news was very welcome, that we have an excellent strike record that has not been bettered for 41 years. If we can get rid of the image of Britain as a strike-ridden country, it can only inure to the benefit of the many people who work in home trade and export industries.

Mr. Park

Arising from this morning's announcement of over 500 redundancies at Talbot in Coventry, does the right hon. Lady accept that that is clear evidence of the fact that for some people to remain in work an increasing number have to be put out of work?

The Prime Minister

Where there is considerable overmanning a firm may have to reduce its labour force in order to stay efficient, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that the penetration of the British car market last year by foreign imported cars was 57 per cent. That makes it clear that there is a big market for cars in Britain, and I hope that more and more companies that produce in Britain will fill that market with their products.

Mr. David Steel

Does the right hon. Lady recall that, in the current issue of Conservative News she has written that, in 1981, business should be looking up? Does she think that it will be helped to look up if the Government go ahead with the proposal to transfer the responsibility for the first eight weeks of sick pay to employers?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, those small businesses and other companies that transfer their obligation will have a reduction in their national insurance contribution. A number of employers already take that responsibility, and my right hon. Friend will discuss these matters as the Bill goes through the House.