HC Deb 13 July 1982 vol 27 cc850-4
Q1. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 13 July.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I am presiding at a dinner for the Prime Minister of Singapore.

Mr. Hughes

Amid the dying embers of the Falklands euphoria, will the Prime Minister spare a moment to look around at the real state of Britain today under her Administration? Two major industries are disrupted and there are rumblings in several others. Between 3 million and 4 million people are unemployed. Is the Prime Minister aware that production is stagnant and that investment is largely going overseas? Is it not time that the Government introduced some bridge building to try to bring all sections of the community together? Does she agree that the best means of doing that would be to put people back to work?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman mentioned two industries that are on strike. I hope that he will condemn those strikes, so that the train drivers will go back and the railways may become modern and efficient, which they can do only if British Rail's proposals are accepted. Secondly, I hope that the Opposition will condemn the strike in the NHS, because it is causing harm to patients, who are suffering.

The hon. Gentleman will have seen the production figures out today. The all-industries index for May is provisionally estimated at 1 per cent. higher than April and the manufacturing index recorded an increase of 1½ per cent. With regard to investment: going overseas, the hon. Gentleman will probably also have seen that it is providing a good deal of invisible income for this country, which we need to cover the interest and dividends going out on inward investment here.

Mr. Greenway

While I appreciate the independent mind that Assistant Commissioner Dellow will bring to the inquiry that he has been asked to undertake into the grave state of Buckingham Palace security, will my right hon. Friend consider the establishment of a long-term inquiry by a few people, comprising a detective, a representative of the Army and perhaps a representative of the police, to take a deep and long look into the security of the Palace, the person of the Queen and other Royal establishments and personages?

The Prime Minister

I hope that we shall receive the Dellow report next week and that it will give a thorough review of the security matters surrounding the Queen and other members of the Royal Family. There are clearly at least two major points to be inquired into: first, whether the systems themselves were adequate for protection; and, secondly, whether those systems were properly operated by the people at the time. I hope and believe that the inquiry will be very thorough. When we have received the report we shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's proposal.

Mr. David Steel

Will the Prime Minister tell the House what advice the Secretary of State for Transport gave to the chairman of British Rail at their meeting yesterday?

The Prime Minister

It is not customary to publicise any advice which may or may not have been given. May I make it perfectly clear that we stand behind the British Railways Board in its efforts to achieve a modern and efficient railway service.

Mr. Eggar

With regard to the question that my right hon. Friend has just answered, has she noted that the Leader of the Opposition has yet again put the interests of a small, Luddite union in front of the interests of commuters and the national interest? Is she aware that there is one thing, and one thing only, that commuters in particular will never forgive, and that is a return to peace on the railways without real productivity gains?

The Prime Minister

Yes. I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. Other industries in this country, including nationalised industries, have made strenuous efforts to increase productivity, even though it has meant a number of redundancies, realising that we must live in this decade if we are to raise sufficient income for all our people. I noted the Leader of the Opposition's support for ASLEF. Indeed, he seems to have become the strikers' friend.

Mr. Foot

I am a friend of a peaceful settlement in the railway industry, as in others. With regard to the railway strike, which has great dangers for the railway industry and the community at large, will the right hon. Lady or one of her Ministers at last make an effort to try to achieve a settlement? Has she had a chance to compare the proposals that were made by the British Railways Board on 25 June with the proposals that were available and were ready to be accepted by ASLEF on 3 July? Having looked at them, does she not agree that those proposals are very close and that therefore if only the Government would make an effort, a settlement could be reached? When will the Government do their duty in that respect?

The Prime Minister

No. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We want a settlement on terms and conditions that will produce a modern, efficient railway. Nothing less will do for Britain, nor for those many commuters and workers who rely on the services that the railway can provide. I disagree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about that offer. It is an offer to call yet another conference. That is not sufficient.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Lady has apparently been misinformed on this most important subject. If she is in favour of achieving a settlement on reasonable terms, does she not agree that reasonable terms were offered by the British Railways Board on 25 June, that it was a pity they were not accepted then—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] Yes, a pity that they were not accepted then; but when they were accepted 10 days later, surely the Government and the Railways Board should now be prepared to stand by the offer that they originally made? Surely that is the way to achieve peace. I urge the right hon. Lady once again not merely to stand on what she said but to get one of her Ministers occupied on the business of achieving a genuine settlement of the dispute.

The Prime Minister

I do want a genuine settlement. I believe that that is what the British Railways Board wants and is going for. I am more in agreement with Mr. Sidney Weighell than with the right hon. Gentleman, when Mr. Weighell said: No amount of smokescreens can hide the fact that the train drivers have refused to accept a decision on flexible rostering, which my union is operating. This is a narrow, stupid, sectional dispute and it is causing untold damage to the railways.

Mr. Peyton

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be interesting to know whether the Leader of the Opposition first consulted Mr. Sidney Weighell before he plumped in support of ASLEF?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. Mr. Sidney Weighell on another occasion, when referring to the leader of the Labour Party, said that what he had been saying was what he expected the leader of the Labour Party to say.

Mr. Foot

Is the right hon. Lady aware that what I plumped for was the settlement proposed by Mr. Len Murray, which her Government and the British Railways Board are now apparently rejecting? I urge the right hon. Lady once again to examine the proposals for a settlement, which are still available, and which are the basis on which a real solution could be secured?

The Prime Minister

No, they are not. The right hon. Gentleman has become, and remains, the strikers' friend.

Q3. Dr. Mawhinney

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 13 July.

The Prime Minister

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

Dr. Mawhinney

Has my right hon. Friend seen reports that, because of strike action and picketing by NUPE members at St. Thomas's hospital, six wards, including a children's ward, have had to be closed and the number of operations per day has been reduced from 120 to 30? Does my right hon. Friend really believe the unions claim that their action is not affecting the sick?

The Prime Minister

I understand that the facts given by my hon. Friend are correct, that about 1,000 operations have been postponed. That means that the unions are damaging patient care.

Mr. Hoyle

You are!

The Prime Minister

I do not believe that that is what trade unionism stands for. What has been offered is a final offer. It is the percentage that has been accepted by the Armed Forces, the Civil Service, the doctors and the teachers and should now be accepted by the National Health Service workers.

Mrs Renée Short

Is the Prime Minister aware that, in my constituency—

Mr. Skinner

The Prime Minister is the workers' enemy.

Mrs. Short

I hope that my hon. Friend will let me have a go. Is the Prime Minister aware that the Goodyear tyre plant in my constituency, which is the largest employer, has recently declared further massive redundancies of about 560 workers? Is she further aware that that is in a town where there is 17 per cent. unemployment, and in a country where there are more than 3 million unemployed, a million of whom have been out of work for more than a year? What does the Prime Minister intend to do to restore the prosperity of the West Midlands region, which was one of the most prosperous regions in the country before her Government came to office?

The Prime Minister

We shall restore the prosperity of the West Midlands and every other region only if our companies and their work forces are competitive in the goods that they produce. There is no other way. Only by that means shall we be able to get a larger share of world trade. The hon. Lady will perhaps have noted that the number of imports, particularly in semi-manufactures, rose last month, which means that we are still not yet competitive and have a long way to go.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Leader of the Opposition is not merely the strikers' friend, but, in addition, by his support of ASLEF, is putting at risk the jobs of thousands?

The Prime Minister

Yes. I believe that that is precisely what is happening, particularly in some of the heavy and chemical industries, which rely on the railways for moving their products.

Q4. Mr. Alton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 13 July.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Alton

Is the Prime Minister aware that during the last 12 months, 349,000 homes in the United Kingdom were broken into, and that in my area of Liverpool, one home is broken into every 20 minutes? Will the right hon. Lady explain what action she intends to take to increase the paltry sum of £23,000 made available to the national victims' support scheme each year? Will she also agree to provide intruder alarms for all people of pensionable age?

The Prime Minister

I cannot agree to provide intruder alarms for everyone. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have done everything possible to bring the police forces up to establishment, to pay them exactly what the Edmund-Davies committee stated and to see that they are properly equipped. We also rely on the standards of ordinary citizens to see that crime is prevented by doing as much as they can to keep the police informed and to help them and support them in their difficult duty.