HC Deb 16 February 1982 vol 18 cc140-1
Q1. Mr. Lee

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

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the President of the Council of Europe. 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 the Queen.

Mr. Lee

Now that the bookmakers are making my right hon. Friend the favourite to win the next general election, will she, in planning her second term of office, give serious consideration to the possibility of phasing down the retirement age by, for example, one year each year over the next five years. so that new job opportunities are given to our young people?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to the bookies for the fact that they are saying -Now's the time to back Maggie." With regard to the latter part of my hon. Friend's question, the cost of having a retirement age of 60 for men would be so large that it could not be considered now. It would cost about £2.5 billion net a year. As we are already paying between £12 and £13 billion in retirement pensions, and as we must remember that we must take the money from the working population, I cannot give my hon. Friend any encouragement about reducing the retirement age to 60. However, I believe that a Select Committee is considering a common retirement age at the moment.

Mr. Foot


Hon. Members


Mr. Foot

I refer to the right hon. Lady's earlier reply. How do those facts accord with the collapse in manufacturing output to the lowest figure for over 14 years? Does the right hon. Lady regard that figure as confirmation or otherwise of the optimistic prophecies that she has been making over recent months?

The Prime Minister

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to one month's figures—those for December. He will remember that—far from the worst weather for 15 years—we have had the coldest weather since the late 1800s. May I refer him to the view about those figures—incidentally, taken quarter over quarter they represent an increase in output—expressed last night by one of the policy advisers to the previous Government, who said that if one looks behind the figures for the reasons for the decline, they become a lot less interesting? He said that there were two reasons and also that in November we had strikes in British Leyland and Ford, which cut production in that month. This point is much more important: in December we had this extreme spell of cold weather which not only cuts overtime working but also cuts deliveries from the factories to the shops and automatically production stops. He went on to say: I think that the trend over, say, the rest of this year"—[Interruption.] That was the political adviser to the last Labour Government dealing with the question that the right hon. Gentleman asked. He continued: I think the trend over, say, the rest of this year is certainly strongly upwards.

Mr. Foot

Has the right hon. Lady compared those figures with the recent estimates of the CBI and realised that they very much accord with its estimates? Does she take any account of these matters, or will she go on prophesying that the figures are getting better when all the facts and the mass redundancies throughout the country prove to all that they are getting worse? Are we to have more of the same policy when her right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor produces his Budget?

The Prime Minister

If one compares the fourth quarter of last year with the third—[Interruption.] The Opposition may not like it, but industrial production actually rose. It fell in December because of the terrible weather, much longer holidays and strikes, but it is the right hon. Gentleman who backs the strikes, not me.

Mr. Rippon

Will my right hon. Friend consider today instituting an inquiry into the circumstances and effects of the transfer of titles of Times Newspapers Ltd.? In particular, will she seek an assurance from her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade that there has been no breach of the letter or the spirit of the undertakings given by the proprietor in January last year?

The Prime Minister

It looks as though the legal situation is very complex and there is more than one view upon it. As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, I am, therefore, not the person to pronounce on the legal matter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade is of course looking into it to see whether the law has been upheld.

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