HC Deb 25 February 1982 vol 18 cc980-5
Ql. Mr. Dubs

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 25 February.

The Prime Minister

This morning I presided at a meeting with 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.

Mr. Dubs

Is the Prime Minister aware that last week in many Western capitals young Iranians went on hunger strike outside United Nations offices as a demonstration to draw attention to the barbarities of the Iranian regime? Is she aware that last year between 4,000 and 8,000 people were executed in Iran, many without trial, and that the figure included children and pregnant women? Is she aware that there are thousands of others in jail, again without trial? What action has she taken, or is proposing to take, at the United Nations and elsewhere to bring pressure to bear so that those appalling cruelties can be halted?

The Prime Minister

I agree that they are appalling cruelties. We have known about them and have seen them on television. Everyone finds them totally repugnant, but unfortunately it is not within our power, either separately or within the United Nations, to bring them to an end.

Sir Peter Emery

Will my right hon. Friend, in order to encourage democratic institutions in Britain, consider and perhaps deplore the decision of the Trades Union Congress to expel any organisation that uses State aid to carry out secret ballots? Does she realise that the trade unions originally considered that they could not have secret ballots because they did not have sufficient funds, but now that they have the funds they have found another argument for not doing so?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is appalling and dogmatic to refuse State aid, knowing full well that it would be a way of reaching a decision democratically. I hope that the trade unions are not afraid to do that.

Mr. Foot

Has the right hon. Lady had an opportunity this morning to study what has happened on the Stock Exchange about the shares of Amersham International? Does she not think it a scandal that State assets should be put on the market in such a manner and sold at knock-down prices? Can she tell us who advised the Government to conduct the proceedings in that way?

The Prime Minister

It is easy in retrospect▀×[Hon. Members: "Oh!"]—to make a judgment about the price. The offer price of 142p was decided over two weeks ago. It was chosen on the firm advice of professional City advisers—[Hon. Members: "Who?"]—and was believed to be the highest price at which the whole company could successfully be offered. Some people have said that the shares should have been offered by tender. However, if that had been done, small investors, especially those who work for the company, would not have had a chance to take up the shares.

Mr. Foot

Is it not the case that something similar, if not quite so scandalous, happened with the sale of Cable and Wireless not very long ago? If the right hon. Lady's defence of the position is that it is easy to test such matters only in retrospect, what precautions will she take if she proceeds with the sale of BNOC? Will the advice come from the same quarter?

The Prime Minister

One takes the best possible professional advice—[Interruption.] It would have been possible to put the company on the market at a price at which it would not have sold. It is different selling the whole company from selling small numbers of shares. It is possible to consider tender. In future, we shall take professional advice and also consider tender. I emphasise yet again to the right hon. Gentleman that we are anxious for employees and small investors to have the chance to purchase shares. With the method that we have chosen they can do so, but with the tender method they could not do so.

Mr. Foot

Is it not the case that some of the right hon. Lady's advisers who gave her the wrong advice have made at least £1 million out of it?

The Prime Minister

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not making any accusation in the House that he would not make outside.

Mr. Farr

Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports in today's press about the possibility of the Argentine taking military action against the Falkland Islands? Can she assure the House and the country that the Falkland Islands will receive full support and military protection from Her Majesty's Government? Furthermore, can she assure the House that she will again consider withdrawing HMS "Endurance" from station and leaving her in the area until a suitable substitute can be provided?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, we have put the position to the people of the Falkland Islands and we have said that their future is wholly a matter for their decision. In the meantime, we shall do our level best to meet the decisions of the Falkland Islanders.

Dr. Owen

Has the Prime Minister had time to study the report of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which states that unless policies are changed unemployment will steadily rise over the next year? As the Prime Minister has commented on the Budget outside the House, will she tell us that because there has been a fall in oil revenues she is excluding any stimulus to demand and output in the forthcoming Budget?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman will have to wait for details of the Budget. He will not have long to wait. The Budget is coming up soon. There are a number of economic forecasts. The Liverpool forecast is optimistic; the Cambridge forecast is pessimistic; the National Institute forecast foresees recovery this year and falling inflation.

Q2. Mr. John MacKay

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. MacKay

Has my right hon. Friend had time today to study the speech made yesterday in Glasgow by Mr. Roy Jenkins, in which he fully accepted the rights of parents to opt out of the State school system? Does she agree that that is a little at variance with the anti-private education policy of his colleague, the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams)? Do not Mr. Jenkins' views have something to do with the fact that there are many private schools in Hillhead? Is not the alliance being all things to all men?

The Prime Minister

I believe that that shows that Mr. Jenkins' views correspond more closely with my views than with those of one of his colleagues. That shows the fragile nature of the coalition that calls itself the Social Democratic Party.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Has the Prime Minister had time to consider whether she is still a fan of Sir Freddie Laker? Is she prepared to transfer her support to the unfortunate passengers who, in the summer, will be obliged to pay a surcharge on their fares as a result of Sir Freddie Laker's irresponsible behaviour, and particularly to the creditors, many of whom will face ruin as a result of his depredations?

The Prime Minister

I do not need to reconsider. Freddie Laker, whatever his difficulties now, brought travel and the possibility of travel to many millions of people——

Mr. Cryer

What about Ken Livingstone?

The Prime Minister

Sir Freddie Laker brought down the fares of other airlines, which gave many of our constituents, including those of the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis), possibilities of travel and of seeing their families that they would never have had before.

Mr. Buck

Will my right hon. Friend take an opportunity to express today the concern that we all feel she must share with many hon. Members on both sides of the House that the Government find it necessary to sell one of the most powerful ships in the Royal Navy, the "Invincible"? Does she agree that, apart from the money, the only agreeable feature about the sale is that the ship is to go to such a firm, strong and staunch Commonwealth ally as Australia?

The Prime Minister

Naturally I know my hon. and learned Friend's concern. We always wish to have more defence ships and equipment than we can afford. As my hon. and learned Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced the decision that we could keep only two of those ships. Therefore, we have decided to try to sell the third to a close and staunch ally. Because we were going to take that decision, my right hon. Friend was able to place more shipping orders than would otherwise have been possible. This year he has placed orders for £410 million worth of new warships with British Shipbuilders.

Q3. Mr. Flannery

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 25 February.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Flannery

Is the Prime Minister aware that at this moment there is a lobby of young people taking part in the youth opportunities programme and that they are gravely dissatisfied? Is she also aware that on ITV news at lunchtime the Secretary of State for Employment—it should be "Unemployment"—in his usual callous way, deplored the fact that these desperate young people had come down here at all and attributed their initiative to other people having stirred them up? Does she agree that unless the Government's policies are changed radically—some Members of her own party want that to happen—there will be masses more unemployment and more young people being used as cheap labour in YOP instead of being given proper jobs?

The Prime Minister

Those people are not being used as cheap labour. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, they are being given the opportunity of some training and experience that otherwise they would not get. I note how critical the hon. Gentleman is of the scheme that was started by his own Government and which is being continued by this Government.

Mr. Hill

Is my right hon. Friend aware that at a recent council meeting in Southampton seven Conservative councillors were barred from voting on a planning decision for a private hospital because they were members of the British United Provident Association? Is that not a dangerous precedent? Should not our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment hold an inquiry into the whole sordid mess?

The Prime Minister

I cannot say whether that would come under the heading of having an interest, but I shall draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I emphasise that people have the right to private medicine as much as they have the right to private education——

Mr. Cryer

If they have the money.

The Prime Minister

Those people should not be denied the possibility of spending their money on education and health in preference to spending it on cigarettes, alcohol and various other things.

Mr. Winnick

Is the right hon. Lady aware that her speech to engineering employers about the Budget caused much justified alarm and the feeling that there would be no change in the present disastrous economic policies? Does the right hon. Lady know that in May 1979 unemployment in the West Midlands was 5 per cent., Ind that now it is over 15 per cent.? How can she explain the tragedy and devastation that has come to the region except by saying that it has been brought about by her economic policies?

The Prime Minister

There are a number of reasons. First, there has been considerable overmanning in industry, as I said in that speech. The hidden unemployment from industry is now on the unemployment register. However, industries can now compete. Secondly, a great deal of unemployment has been caused by the world recession. There are 10 million unemployed throughout Europe. Thirdly, due to the Government's policies, management has been given the responsibility and authority to manage and to obtain orders. The export performance is excellent.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Has my right hon. Friend had time today to read press reports emanating from the West Country about a letter purporting to be written on behalf of, and indeed under the letterhead of, the leader of the Liberal Party—not inappropriately, by a gentleman named Mr. Mole—to the effect that the right hon. Gentleman favours the decriminalisation of cannabis? Will she confirm that such an idea has, and will continue to have, no part in Government policy?

The Prime Minister

I do not know the views of the leader of the Liberal Party, but I do not for one moment favour the decriminalisation of cannabis.

Mr. Robert Adley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), may I draw attention to an error in today's Order Paper, on which the name of the personal assistant to the leader of the Liberal Party appears as Mr. Stuart Noble, whereas my hon. Friend referred to a Mr. Mole? Can we please see that these things are got right?

Mr. Speaker

I shall do my best.