HC Deb 16 December 1982 vol 34 cc475-80
Q1. Mr. Christopher Price

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 16 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, including one with the executive director of UNICEF. This evening I will be attending a dinner given by the president of the Law Society.

Mr. Price

Is the Prime Minister aware how pleased we are that she arrived at Home Office Question Time just in time to hear the Home Secretary in such excellent fighting form in spite of the mauling that he received from her acolytes on the Right of the Conservative Party? How will she solve last night's problem? Will she make further concessions to the racist and sexist supporters on the Right of the Tory Party, or will she do a U-turn and introduce immigration rules that conform to the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Government have signed?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend was in splendid form. He will introduce new proposals for immigration rules and he will deal with the hon. Gentleman then as he dealt today with many other hon. Members during Question Time.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Has my right hon. Friend had time today to reflect on the increasing evidence that Mr. Andropov headed the KGB when it planned the attempted, though I am glad to say unsuccessful, assassination of the Pope?

The Prime Minister

I have not reflected on that matter today.

Mr. Foot

Does the right hon. Lady's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) about the humiliating defeat that the Government suffered last night mean that the Government will give a firm pledge that there will be no further appeasement of reactionary and racist elements in her party, as it was the original appeasement of them that led to all the trouble?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend said last night precisely what he would do. He will make further changes in accordance with section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 as soon as possible. In doing so he will endeavour to meet the wishes of the House. When he has decided what changes to introduce, he will present them to the House for approval.

Mr. Foot

Does the right hon. Lady understand that if the House is to be satisfied, and if the vote of the House is to be satisfied, that must mean a rejection of an item that appeared in the Conservative election manifesto? As she has already rejected so many of those items, why should she complain about having to reject this one, too?

The Prime Minister

If my right hon. Friend is properly to consider the effect of last night's debate and the views expressed in it, he must have time to do so. He will consider further what changes are to be made and bring them before the House in the usual way. It would be totally unreasonable to expect him to have made a decision between last night and this morning.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a team from Russia were filming the protesters at the Greenham Common base? Has she any idea what the film will be used to demonstrate? Does she agree that it may be taken to suggest that the people involved in the protest were weak and vacillating? Will she confirm that that is not the position of the Government we support?

Mr. Flannery

Get off your knees.

The Prime Minister

Such protests tend to give the impression to the Soviet Union that this country has neither the capacity nor the resolve to defend itself or to keep defence expenditure at a sufficient level to deter. Any such action is contrary to the interests of this country.

Mr. David Steel

Is it not reasonable to ask the Government to give a clear undertaking that the redrafted immigration rules will take account of the view of the great majority of Members of all parties that the rules should reflect the protection of the interests of family life of everyone in this country? Is the Prime Minister aware that if she does that the rules will go through, but that if she tries to appease the small group on her Right wing they will not?

The Prime Minister

We shall consider fully what was said in yesterday's debate and then put the results of our deliberations before the House. The right hon. Gentleman is wrong to try to put pressure on us to reach conclusions prematurely.

Q2. Mr. Duffy

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 16 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Duffy

Before the Secretary of State for Industry plays Santa Claus next week to the five big steel centres, will the Prime Minister confirm that the job equivalent of any one of those major works has been lost in the steel industry in the past fortnight alone, without any ministerial statement, either within or outside the House? What difference is there between next week's statement and the major jobs haemorrhage of the past fortnight, which allows Ministers to dodge the political consequences of the right hon. Lady's industrial vandalism?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a crisis in steel throughout the world. World capacity for steel production is about 1,000 million tonnes, whereas orders amount to about 700 million tonnes. Further steel mills are being built in underdeveloped countries. There is thus a real problem in filling anything like the capacity of our home steel mills. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make a statement on Monday about the future of the five steel mills. What we need is not more speeches, but more customers.

Mr. Stanbrook

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in so far as any Conservative Members voted against the Government last night they did not do so for want of confidence in the Government, in the programme announced in the manifesto or in my right hon. Friend's leadership?

The Prime Minister

I should also like to express my complete confidence in my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Wigley

In view of the right hon. Lady's oft-repeated assertion that disarmament can come about only through multilateral, not unilateral, disarmament, what steps have the Government taken in the past three and a half years to achieve multilateral nuclear disarmament, and which steps does she believe have succeeded?

The Prime Minister

There are constant efforts to secure disarmament on a multilateral basis. For the past nine years there have been negotiations in Vienna on mutual and balanced force reductions. There have been negotiations in Geneva on a comprehensive test ban. There are negotiations through the United States to try substantially to reduce the number of strategic weapons. There are negotiations for a zero option on intermediate nuclear forces, which would cut out one class of nuclear weapons altogether. This country has played a prominent part in negotiations to try to persuade the Soviet Union to reject chemical weapons. We got rid of our stock of chemical weapons 10 years ago and about 1,000 nuclear warheads were withdrawn from the Western front. There are all those negotiations and many others.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

After the demonstration of dissidence in the House last night, will my right hon. Friend study today's issue of the New Statesman, which contains an article by a Czech dissident arguing that this country should not go in for unilateral disarmament, that liberty is necessary for peace and that peace does not necessarily bring liberty? Will she see whether that article, written by a Czech, can be published in Czechoslavakia?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend makes his own point very forcefully. We do want, not peace at any price, but peace with freedom and justice. For that purpose we must keep secure and strong defences and negotiate from strength for balanced and verifiable arms reductions.

Mr. James Hamilton

On the home front, will the right hon. Lady take out of mothballs the two shopping baskets that she used at the last election to con the housewives of this country and to denigrate the Labour Government? Will she now admit that she conned the housewives and that since she became Prime Minister the cost of living has risen by 50 per cent.?

The Prime Minister

I shall not do as the hon. Gentleman wishes. The Government's record in bringing down inflation is outstanding, especially when compared with the record of the Labour Government, particularly on food prices. Food prices rose by about 122 per cent. in the lifetime of the Labour Government.

Q3. Mr. Tony Speller

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 16 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Speller

In view of the concern expressed by many pensioners following comments from the Opposition, will my right hon. Friend confirm that, far from pensions being clawed back in years to come, pensioners will be better off in the coming year and that there will be no clawback of the kind suggested by the Opposition?

An Hon. Member

Santa Clausback.

The Prime Minister

In so far as the payment of pensions this year was in excess of inflation, pensioners received advance payment against increases due next year. Those advance payments are worth about £50 to a married couple this year. On the subject of Santa Claus, I remind the Opposition that for two years the Labour Government did not give pensioners a Christmas bonus at all.

Mr. Norman Atkinson

In view of the accusations by the Prime Minister and her Cabinet colleagues, will she assure the House that so far as she knows no Labour Member of Parliament active in the peace movement in this country has received a penny from the Soviet Union for that work, and that so far as she knows the CND movement has never received any money from the Soviet Union for its work in this country?

The Prime Minister

I do not answer for Labour Members, nor am I responsible for the CND movement.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the defence of our nation is one of the priorities of a Conservative Government? Will she therefore discuss with the Foreign Secretary today the harassment of Mr. Lech Walesa, the leader of the Solidarity movement in Poland, by the forces of General Jaruzelski, who is the surrogate of the Soviet Union, to prevent Mr. Walesa from addressing a public meeting? Is that not the kind of society that we should get in the West if we in any way gave way to the views of the Opposition and relaxed our defences?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend that to have a strong defence is the Government's first duty, and it is a duty which the Government will abundantly carry out. We have made our views known about Poland.

It is disappointing that martial law has not been lifted and that Mr. Walesa cannot be as free as he would be in a power within the State. That is what it is all about in a Western society. We have come to the crunch. A Communist society cannot bear or abide another source of power within the State. That is what it is all about in Poland.