HC Deb 23 July 1981 vol 9 cc490-4
Q1. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 23 July.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I took part in the presentation of the Humble Address to Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of the marriage of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. Later, I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet, and, in addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening, I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty.

Mr. Skinner

When the Prime Minister speaks to Tory Members of Parliament tonight, will she repeat the famous nursing advice that she gave some time ago on television about how to get the economic patient back on its feet in a few days? Is not two years in the Tory intensive care unit dragging things out a bit? Is not the problem that the Prime Minister and her Government are cutting off the oxygen supply? If the Tory medicine is really working, why is the patient so weak?

The Prime Minister

Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten that after two years' of Labour Government the country was on the way to the IMF?

Mr. Warren

Might I suggest that today the Prime Minister may be able to spare some time to assist the Leader of the Opposition in making a date with the leaders of the Socialist Parties in France and Germany to hear their views on the need for the defence of Western Europe?

The Prime Minister

I gladly advise the Leader of the Opposition to do that. One of the most outstanding features of the Ottawa summit was the fierce, robust attitude that Mr. Mitterrand took to the defence of France and his duties to the Alliance, in both conventional and nuclear weapons. That attitude was also adopted by the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is utterly different from the attitude of the Socialist Party in this country, which runs away from its fundamental duty of defending the country.

Mr. Foot

Is the right hon. Lady aware that I had a most agreeable meeting with representatives of all the Socialist Parties in Western Europe a week ago and that they all agreed to the proposition that we should urge most strongly that negotiations with the Soviet Union should take place as soon as possible? Is she also aware that they urged that we go ahead with negotiated reductions? Why was the right hon. Lady so backward in Ottawa in supporting Mr. Helmut Schmidt in those proposals?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman was not at Ottawa. He will see from the communiqué that we agreed that we should try to negotiate down our armaments in a balanced, monitored and verifiable way. The right hon. Gentleman has already given up his negotiating position. Why on earth should anyone negotiate with his party? It has already given up everything while the Soviet Union keeps all its armaments and nuclear weapons.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady care, for a change, to answer the question? Will she tell the House that she now agrees with what Helmut Schmidt said at Ottawa? I read the report of what he said. He urged that negotiations should take place as soon as possible. Does the right hon. Lady agree with that demand, and did she lend her support to it?

The Prime Minister

Has the right hon. Gentleman not read the communiqué agreed by all the nations that, of course, we will negotiate? The difference between the right hon. Gentleman and the Government is that we believe in negotiating from a position of strength, as did all Heads of Government present at Ottawa. The right hon. Gentleman believes in trying to negotiate from a position of total weakness.

Mr. David Atkinson

Does my right hon. Friend recall that, after twenty-eigth months in office, the Labour Government—like the previous Conservative Administration—introduced an incomes policy contrary to their election pledges? Does she accept that, as she enters into the twenty-eighth month of the life of her Government, she commands the widespread support of employers, trade unions and the majority of Labour Members for her policies to contain inflation without introducing an incomes policy?

The Prime Minister

I believe that one of our most important achievements has been a great increase in the competitiveness of British industry and the fact that we are still exporting some 33 per cent. of our GDP. That could be done only by getting down pay settlements and keeping them more closely in line with productivity—and I hope that we shall continue along that path. Incomes policies introduce unwarrantable rigidities, which cause all kinds of problems as workers in many industries seek to unwind them.

Mr. Dubs

What is the use of having more competitive British industry if that is happening at a time when our gross national product has been going down, when those of other leading industrial countries have been going up and when our unemployment record is worse than that of any of our competitors? What is the point?

The Prime Minister

I doubt very much whether the hon. Gentleman has observed that the nations whose industries are most competitive are those with the lowest inflation and least unemployment. Those two nations are Japan and Germany.

Q2. Mr. Montgomery

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 23 July.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Montgomery

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that she will have the support of the vast majority in the House and the country if she takes this opportunity to repudiate the statement by the leader of the Greater London Council accusing Britain of pursuing policies of murder and intimidation against the Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister

I saw reports of a statement to that effect. If they are true, I think it the most disgraceful statement that I have ever read. It is a totally unwarranted slur on our security forces, both the police and the Army, who are there to protect all the citizens of Northern Ireland and who carry out their duty with total impartiality. I should like to make it clear that the vast majority of us in the House are on the side of the law-abiding and not on the side of convicted criminals.

Mr. William Hamilton

Reverting to the right hon. Lady's reply about incomes policy, does she maintain that the nation must keep taking the medicine, even though the offer of 6 per cent. to nurses—when inflation is running at 12 per cent.—must mean a substantial reduction in their standard of living?

The Prime Minister

In the end, each of us in the public sector depends on the earnings of the private sector for our prosperity. The private sector will depend ultimately on whether it can produce goods and services competitively—and which people in this country and overseas will buy. There is absolutely no way out of that fundamental problem except by producing the relevant goods and services.

Mr. Bulmer

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to study the recent estimate by the Inland Revenue of the amount of money lost to the Exchequer by moonlighting? Can she tell the House whether she proposes to take any further steps about that, and whether the figures indicate that more people have jobs than the current employment statistics show?

The Prime Minister

That is indeed a problem in this country and a number of others where there appears to be a thriving cash economy. The Inland Revenue tries to use its staff to catch up with unpaid taxation. Undoubtedly, we should have greatly increased revenue, which would be very welcome, if we were able to discover all those not paying tax properly.

I must make it perfectly clear that those who are not paying the tax which they should pay are putting an increased burden on the rest of us who are paying it fully.

Q3. Mr. Freud

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for 23 July.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Freud

Bearing in mind the Prime Minister's concern for handicapped people, may I ask whether she will take a personal and caring look at the Manpower Services Commission's recommendations to amend the job quota for the disabled? Will she accept that a code of practice is not good enough and that this is of great concern to the voluntary support organisations?

The Prime Minister

I saw the proposals for change, but I believe that they would be very controversial and that a number of people think that the present arrangements are better than any proposed change.

Mr. Porter

Is my right hon. Friend aware that British information services in the United States of America appear to be seriously under-staffed in both numbers and journalistic quality? Unless that is corrected, the chances of our winning the propaganda contest in that country over Northern Ireland are remote.

The Prime Minister

I doubt very much whether the British Embassy in Washington is under-staffed. It has a difficult task in trying daily to put over the true state of affairs in Northern Ireland. We are anxious that not only the embassy but all Ministers and hon. Members of this House who visit the United States should take time to put over on television and radio the position of the United Kingdom with regard to Northern Ireland. We are there because the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland wish to stay citizens of the United Kingdom. We are there to defend all law-abiding citizens in Northern Ireland, and we carry out those duties faithfully and impartially.

Mr. Cohen

Will the right hon. Lady please reflect on what she said about the competitiveness of British industry? Will she take the opportunity at some time to meet representatives from all sections of the clothing and textile industrial, to talk with them and learn from them that close to 2,000 jobs are disappearing each month because of the inability to compete with unfair competition from abroad?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have protection for the textile industry. The multi-fibre arrangement is in process of renegotiation. He will also be aware that the import of textiles is one of our problems because textiles are among the products frequently made by developing countries and exported to this country. We must also watch the imports from other countries which have lower-priced petroleum products than we do, because they go through into the synthetic materials. However, that position is very much better since the exchange rate was altered.

Mr. Pawsey

My right hon. Friend has repeatedly and rightly stressed the need to create real productive jobs. Will she, therefore, take this opportunity to launch an initiative in conjunction with the TUC and the CBI to promote a major campaign designed to purchase British goods throughout British industry and to bring home to the British people the need to buy British goods in order to sustain British workers?

The Prime Minister

If more of our people bought more of the produce of our industries, there would be more employment in the country. However, they are likely to do so only if those goods are of the best possible value. The British housewife and wage earner are very shrewd buyers, and they will rightly continue to buy the goods which give the best value.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will the Prime Minister give an undertaking that, although the Secretary of State for the Environment is in Liverpool with a closed cheque book, the right hon. Gentleman's mind is open enough clearly to say that, although the Government will not give more money to the local authorities of Merseyside, they will not take any more money from them in this financial year in the way in which the Government have taken money this week from the Scottish local authorities?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is having an interesting time in Merseyside and, of course, he is discovering all the facts and taking a good deal of time to talk to people there.

The hon. Gentleman referred to money. Under the partnership programme, which I admit had only just started under the previous Government, the money for Liverpool in 1978–79 was £2.5 million. In 1980–81, it was £17.6 million, and again this year it is £17.6 million. The money for Liverpool under the industrial aid programme was £15 million in the last year of the Labour Government. This year, it is £33 million. The problem is not one of a shortage of money in Liverpool but one that is much deeper and more fundamental.

Q4. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 23 July.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Winterton

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, just as it is possible for us to price ourselves out of jobs and work, it is also possible for us to price ourselves into contracts and work? Will my right hon. Friend therefore say what assistance she has had from the Leader of the Opposition and from the Trades Union Congress in explaining to the people that realistic pay settlements can lead to the creation of more jobs?

The Prime Minister

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Until our wage costs are the same as, or lower than, those of our main industrial competitors, they will get the jobs and we shall get the unemployment. Unfortunately, that fundamental fact does not seem to he realised by the Opposition, or, if it is, they go ahead regardless of it and fail to point out that heavily increased pay settlements, over and above productivity, will deprive people of jobs and increase unemployment. If they wish to reduce it, they should take my hon. Friend's advice.