HC Deb 11 February 1982 vol 17 cc1108-12
Q1. Mr. Squire

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for Thursday 11 February.

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. This afternoon I shall be leaving for a visit to Lincolnshire.

Mr. Squire

Will my right hon. Friend find time to consider the reported comments of the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), who is quoted as saying last night that he is fully behind Mr. Buckton and the striking drivers? Is she aware that I travelled to work with many of my constituents this morning, on what was a remarkably uncomfortable journey, by London Transport? Is she also aware that many of those travellers would like to be behind Mr. Buckton, albeit with a rather different aim?

The Prime Minister

I agree that many commuters are making heroic efforts to get to work. Most are succeeding. I dropped a line the other day to two civil servants, one of whom had walked 14 miles to work and the other 12 miles.

Mr. Winnick

What about a bike?

Mr. Speaker

Order. All this shouting from a sedentary position is unparliamentary. In any case, a hullabaloo when hon. Members do not agree with an answer only delays Question Time.

The Prime Minister

The people who are being made to suffer by ASLEF members' actions are their fellow citizens, fellow trade unionists and small businesses, upon which we rely to try to secure more employment.

Mr. Foot

Does not the right hon. Lady think that the best course is for the House to wish success to the court of inquiry that is now examining the matter? Has the right hon. Lady had the chance today to consider, or indeed reconsider, the answer that she gave to the House a week ago on the question of El Salvador—[Laughter.] I do not know why this should cause laughter on the Government Benches. One thousand people a month are being murdered in El Salvador. Has the right hon. Lady had time to reconsider the answer that she gave last week? Does the more recent statement by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, represent Government policy? Will the Government now oppose giving support funds or arms to the Duarte junta in any form?

The Prime Minister

Industrial relations is a matter for British Rail and the unions to sort out for themselves. In so far as they are unable to do so, it is a matter for ACAS. One hopes, naturally, that ACAS will succeed in its efforts.

With regard to El Salvador, I repeat what I have already stated. Elections are due to be held on 28 March, involving eight political parties. Other nations have been asked to send observers.

Mr. Foot

Does not the Prime Minister appreciate that an election held in El Salvador in those circumstances would be nothing better than a murderous farce? Does she understand that the American diplomat on the spot has recommended that the Left-wing candidates in the election should conduct their election outside the country? Does she think that that is a fair election? Will she answer the question that I asked her? Does not the statement by the Minister of State mean that the Government are now reconsidering the policy?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Government condemn violence, from whichever quarter it comes. It is not a way to conduct national or international relations if one continues to hold to that course. I repeat that there is an attempt to hold elections on 28 March involving about eight parties and that other nations have been asked to send observers. It would be better if the right hon. Gentleman wished those elections well.

Mr. Hannam

In view of the decision by the board of British Leyland to postpone the making of the new light lorry because of the three-week strike at Leyland Vehicles Ltd., will my right hon. Friend emphasise the fact that those strikes damage the prospects of sales at home and abroad?

The Prime Minister

I read about the decision of British Leyland. It is a matter for the board. However, I wholly support my hon. Friend. Strikes cause damage not only to the jobs of those who strike but to Britain's reputation. They mean that many orders that would otherwise come to this country are deflected to other countries where they do not go on strike as much as we do.

Q2. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 11 February.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Hamilton

May I refer the right hon. Lady to the speech made yesterday by her right hon. acquaintance the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), in which he described her policies as bringing large parts of Britain to their knees? Does she accept those strictures? Does she believe that there is still no alternative to her policies, or does she intend to make a U-turn within a few weeks?

The Prime Minister

I believe that it would be accurate to say that my right hon. Friend and I are not wholly in accord in those matters.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Does the Prime Minister not consider it incongruous, to say the least, that the West should, properly, be devoting a great deal of its resources to ensuring that there is no further deterioration of the democratic conditions that have been won at such expense in Poland, while at the same time it devotes about £1,000 million of its resources to what is apparently accelerating the deterioration of democratic conditions in Rhodesia? Will she say something about the representations that have been made to her this morning about the incarceration of a Member of the Rhodesian Parliament, Mr. Stuttaford? For the first time that Parliament has recently been surrounded by troops.

The Prime Minister

With regard to the representations from a Member of Parliament concerning the arrest of Mr. Stuttaford in Rhodesia—

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon


The Prime Minister

In Zimbabwe, which, due to the excellent services of the present British Government, became independent Zimbabwe. Representations have been made on behalf of Mr. Stuttaford, who is not a United Kingdom citizen. Therefore, that is a matter for the Zimbabwean Government. However, our high commissioner is naturally doing all that he can to find out what is happening. We hope that the detention will not persist.

Mr. David Steel

May I return to the rail dispute? Now that the Labour Party has come out in support of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Fireman, is it not important that the Prime Minister makes it clear, on behalf not just of the Government but of the overwhelming majority of the House that the proper course of action in such a dispute is to make use of a court of inquiry and not to cause long-term damage to British Rail?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Insofar as the dispute cannot be settled between the employers and the employees, the proper course is to go to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and secure its services in resolving the dispute and to co-operate with it to that end.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Will the Prime Minister take some time to consider and to tell us, in the light of the Conservative manifesto promise to allow more decisions affecting Scotland to be taken in Scotland, whether she agrees with the statement by the Conservative candidate in the Glasgow, Hillhead by-election, to the effect that he is totally opposed to any form of devolution for Scotland?

The Prime Minister

The Hillhead by-election has not yet started. Therefore, there can be only prospective candidates, otherwise there might be considerable difficulties with election expenses. Our view on devolution for Scotland was well set out in the last Parliament and it remains the same.

Q3. Mr. Bob Dunn

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 11 February.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Dunn

Will my right hon. Friend say whether it is the Government's intention to introduce legislation that would give council tenants living in leasehold properties owned by local authorities the right to buy their council homes?

The Prime Minister

I am well aware that our pledge at the general election covered those living in leasehold properties belonging to local authorities who wish to buy their homes, but where the local authority does not possess the freehold. Our last legislation did not cover that case. It should be covered. It is our intention to cover it. We have a high priority to do so. I cannot promise my hon. Friend that there will be legislation during this Session of Parliament. However, if not, we shall try in the next Session.

Mr. Barry Jones

What interest is the Prime Minister taking in the Nissan-Datsun project being located in Britain? Does she understand the alarm felt by those of us who represent areas of high unemployment, as the unemployment figures mount month by month? Why does she permit the destruction of British industry?

Mr. Prime Minister

The negotiations on the Nissan project are continuing. Unfortunately, I have as yet no statement to make about the negotiations. I hope that they will conclude successfully from the viewpoint of this country. With regard to British industry, the Department of Industry is embarking on what I hope will he a successful policy of having an exhibition called: "Can you make it?" [Laughter.] Opposition Members are not interested in getting more jobs. They prefer to complain about the level of unemployment.

The Department of Industry is setting up what I hope will be a continuing exhibition so that manufacturers who import components can set out what they import. Then we can ask other manufacturers in this country if they can make it, so that we can get import substitution, which should lead to more jobs. That is a constructive approach. We on the Conservative Benches hope that it will be successful.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the mushrooming of doubt in the Labour Party about the wisdom of its declared policy of wrenching Britain out of the EEC? Will she arrange to keep the Labour Party continuously briefed on the present number of jobs at risk and the number that will result from projects such as Datsun, which will be gone forever if the idea were to grow that we plan to pull out of the Common Market?

The Prime Minister

I note that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) is reported in an interview as having refused to commit himself to a policy of withdrawal from the EEC. May I congratulate him on his new-found hesitancy? I hope that it will be turned into outright support. I also believe that the TUC is recognising the need to stay in the EEC. We do well from it. in this country, especially with regard to inward investment, which produces jobs.

Mr. Greville Janner

Will the Prime Minister find time today to consider the majority decision in the House of Lords in the case of Harriet Harman, which is an apparent travesty of common sense? Will she consider introducing legislation to overturn that decision and in the meantime ask the Home Secretary not to enforce the order for costs against that lady?

The Prime Minister

To have a decision in the morning and to be asked to introduce legislation in the afternoon is a little quick. It is better to consider matters first.

Q4. Mr. Eggar

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 11 February.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Eggar

Has my right hon. Friend seen newspaper reports that show that the time off given to civil servants for trade union duties costs Britain about &£14 million a year? Is not that estimate, proportionately, approximately twice as much as it costs the private sector? Will the Prime Minister assure the House that a full investigation will be carried out?

The Prime Minister

I saw the newspaper report to which my hon. Friend refers earlier in the week. I understand that the figure that he gives is correct. The agreement was negotiated in 1974. My hon. Friend will know that all employers are legally required to allow time off, both for industrial relations duties and for purely trade union activities. That agreement is being reviewed and renegotiated with the different unions in the Civil Service. The conclusion was that changes should be made to ensure that those who receive paid time off should properly account for their use of it and that allocations of time off should be reviewed at least annually—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Reading".] It is sometimes better to prepare answers to reports that appear in the press.

A new agreement incorporating those provisions is now being negotiated with the unions.