HC Deb 05 March 1981 vol 1000 cc411-6
Ql. Mr. Leighton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 5 March.

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, and shall then be leaving for a visit to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Leighton

Does the right hon. Lady recall that on 24 April 1979, while electioneering in Halifax, she held up two bags, a red bag and a blue bag, indicating how many groceries could be bought for £1? Will she, as a well-known housewife and shopper, tell us how much it would cost to buy the red bag now?

The Prime Minister

I can only tell the hon. Gentleman that after the same number of months in power the level of inflation is very considerably below what it was after 21 months of the Labour Government.

Mr David Steel

Will the right hon. Lady have time today to read the report, published this morning of the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service on the subject of monetary policy? Is she aware that the report records that of its distinguished witnesses—

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Cryer


Mr. Steel

I have noted what the report states. Is the right hon. Lady aware that those who advocated a mixture of incomes policy, sound financial control, a mixture of fiscal control and control of the money supply were the most convincing?

The Prime Minister

I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman had some difficulty with his supplementary question. I listened to the broadcast of the Chairman of the Select Committee at lunch time, and I thought it excellent.

Mr. Michael Morris

Will my right hon. Friend, in her travels this evening, be able to take a little time to read the NEDC report on energy prices? In preparing the Government's response, will she take on board the representations of industry that have been made for many months—namely, that British industry wants to have a marginal competitive advantage over its Continental competitors rather than be at a disadvantage?

The Prime Minister

I have quickly looked at the NEDC' report on energy prices. I noted that it pointed out that 95 per cent. of companies get their electricity at price levels comparable with those on the Continent, but for very big electricity users there is a big difference. Clearly we must look into this as a matter of urgency and report our decision to the House quickly.

Mr. Foot

When the right hon. Lady goes to Northern Ireland this evening, will she tell them the unemployment figure in Northern Ireland today compared with what it was when she assumed office, and will she tell them how sorry she is?

The Prime Minister

With all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, yes, I am extremely sorry for the very high unemployment in Northern Ireland. I must point out to the right hon. Gentleman that both Governments have put a very great deal of money into Northern Ireland. The real answer is to try to create jobs that will stand on their own and not, as in the past, jobs that require very heavy subsidies to keep them in existence.

Mr. Foot

In a sense, I suppose that the right hon. Lady will confirm to us that she will be announcing another U-turn in Northern Ireland. In the light of the fact that she refused to receive a deputation from pensioners yesterday, and in the light also of the fact that it was revealed in the House yesterday that the overseas aid budget of this country has fallen to the lowest on record, will she tell us what text she chose for the sermon that she preached in church yesterday?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's question on Northern Ireland, I shall, of course, be repeating and emphasising my personal commitment to the guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland, which is enshrined in law in this country. With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman said about pensioners, I usually see delegations of pensioners in my own constituency. I stress that the Government have kept the pension slightly ahead of the rise in the cost of living, and our first increase actually provided an additional amount to make up for the shortfall of the previous Government. I stress also that the amount available for help with fuel for old people and for those with young families who are on family income supplement is a record. The amount available for overseas aid this year is £961 million.

Q2. Mr. Montgomery

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 5 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Montgomery

Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports that employees in Lambeth council have been delaying applications from council house tenants to buy their council houses? What steps does she suggest can be taken to ensure that the rights given by Parliament to tenants in Lambeth are upheld and the tenants are not held to ransom by the Lambeth mob?

The Prime Minister

Lambeth is one of the 16 Labour authorities which have been delaying applications from council tenants who wish to purchase their own homes. We have reserve powers to enable those tenants to have their rights at law. We shall not hesitate to use them if need be. If we have to use them, it will be a total condemnation of Labour authorities and of the Labour Party for refusing to operate the law to give tenants their legitimate rights.

Mr. William Hamilton

Reverting to the aid programme, will the right hon. Lady read the report of the debate that took place in the House late last night in which the Minister, under pressure, steadfastly refused to confirm that the aid figure current in 1980 was .34 of 1 per cent. of GNP? Will she deny or confirm that? If it is true, does she realise that it is an absolute disgrace to the standards about which she was preaching at the pulpit yesterday?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk


The Prime Minister

I think that the aid for this year is much lower. There is a technical reason which was given by my hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development in an oral reply the other day. The reason is that the replenishment of the World Bank is not provided for in that figure because of the hold-up of the agreement on it. The amount of money is there, but it does not actually come into this year, but, of course, it will be given for that purpose.

Mr. Charles Morrison

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that Conservative-controlled Wiltshire county council has just agreed to have no increase in its rate? Will she congratulate that council, and the chairman in particular, on that achievement? Does she agree that it demonstrates remarkably good housekeeping, coupled with a sensible reaction to the rate support grant?

The Prime Minister

I am only too happy to congratulate Wiltshire county council, as I would congratulate all authorities which act as proper trustees of the public's money and spend it as carefully as, or rather more carefully than, they would their own.

Mr. Alton

Will the Prime Minister say how she is looking after the public purse when Conservative-controlled authorities such as Merseyside county council are authorising a reduced amount of police overtime in an area in which, in January, the number of crimes rose by 12 per cent.? How does it square with the Government's manifesto commitment if policemen are taken off the beat in an area where there is massive crime?

The Prime Minister

I can only tell the hon. Gentleman that recruitment and the numbers in the police force have never been higher. Indeed, there are 6,000 more policemen in the police forces in England, Scotland and Wales than there were when we came to power, and that is very good news.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Will my right hon. Friend seek the earliest opportunity to make plain to any who may still be in doubt that any dealings with the Irish Republic, whether on defence or any other matter, proceed from the basis and assumption of the inviolability of the Union?

The Prime Minister

Any dealings or discussions with the Irish Republic are in the present constitutional framework. The guarantee is in the 1973 Act. It is the law of the land and we are all committed to it.

Q3. Mr. Dubs

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her public engagements for 5 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Dubs

Has the Prime Minister had time today to look at the CBI report published this morning? Does she agree with the report's conclusions that unemployment will rise beyond 3 million unless there is a significant change in Government policy, including an expansion to the extent of £6,000 million?

The Prime Minister

I have had a quick look at the CBI discussion paper. I can only say that there is some very good and interesting stuff in it. I notice that the CBI points out that it would like extra capital expenditure, but that that must be paid for by reduced current expenditure and the sale of public assets. That seems an admirable way of balancing the books. I shall be only too happy to listen to the hon. Gentleman's proposals for reductions in current expenditure.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to consider the decision of the European Court of Human Rights that British Rail was wrong to dismiss the three British railwaymen who refused to join a union? Does she agree that that decision will have profound consequences for all closed shop legislation? In particular, does she agree that the Sandwell local authority should now reinstate Miss Joanna Harris because she, too, was clearly dismissed against the law?

The Prime Minister

I understand that the European Court has not pronounced. I think that the report in the papers was mistaken. I think that they reported the result of the Commission. That was referred to the European Court. But I make it absolutely clear that the Conservative Party has always thoroughly opposed the legislation passed by the Labour Government, from which this action arises. We made very considerable changes, and I have great sympathy with what my hon. Friend said about the case of Miss Joanna Harris of Sandwell.

Mr. Harry Ewing

Has the Prime Minister had time to re-read her speech of yesterday? If she has, is the interpretation of that speech that those who accept and support her Government's economic policy are somehow exercising a Christian virtue and that, by implication, those who do not are non-Christians? If that is the interpretation, is that the disgraceful depth to which the Prime Minister has sunk in an effort to defend her tattered economic policy?

The Prime Minister

As a matter of fact, I have not had time to re-read it. Nor do I re-read my own speeches after they have been delivered. I usually have too much to do. I point out that if the hon. Gentleman had read the speech fully and accurately he would have observed that in that particular sentence in which I set out my own philosophy, I said: I believe it is a philosophy which rests on Christian assumptions"—

Mr. Canavan


The Prime Minister

Opposition Members are very little different from the Young Communists who were in the church yesterday. I am very glad that the Young Communists support that lot instead of this lot.

I said in my speech: I believe it is a philosophy which rests on Christian assumptions, although I fully recognise that some Christians would have a different view. That is a complete answer to the cheap question of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. John Carlisle

In the light of recent events in the West Indies, and the attempted blackmail of our cricket team, does my right hon. Friend accept that the Gleneagles agreement is being used by countries for their own political vindictiveness? Will she consider scrapping the agreement at the next Commonwealth conference?

The Prime Minister

I agree that the Gleneagles agreement was not applicable to that case in any way. It was a case of a person holding a British passport going to the West Indies. Therefore, the agreement was not applicable—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is not answering from this Dispatch Box—nor do I believe that he ever will. My advice is that the Gleneagles agreement was not applicable. If he reads the agreement he will find that that is the case.

We are not able to revise the agreement, except with the consent of the other members of the Commonwealth. If the position in South Africa changes considerably, and there is more multiracial sport, we shall consider raising the matter again.