HC Deb 29 July 1982 vol 28 cc1225-8
Q1. Mr. Heddle

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 29 July.

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 have further meetings later today.

Mr. Heddle

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider the remarks reported to have been made by the secretary of the Confederation of Health Service Employees to the effect that he would recommend that his members should break the code of conduct and put patients' lives at risk in pursuit of a 12 per cent. pay claim? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be tragic news for the Health Service, and especially for patients, if a union enjoying monopoly power were prepared to put self-service before public service?

The Prime Minister

I join my hon. Friend in wholly condemning any action that would break the code of conduct, which would result only in bringing maximum misery and harm to the sick, the old and the injured and would be utterly disgraceful. I hope that the Health Service unions will listen to what I understand is the advice of the TUC, namely, that any such action would be quite unacceptable.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

In view of the widespread comment in the Irish media on the dressing down administered on Tuesday by a Foreign Office Minister to the Irish ambassador, will the Prime Minister consider whether it would be right for a formal statement to be issued on behalf of Her Majesty's Government making clear the nature of the intimation and the background to it? Is the right hon. Lady aware that many people in the House and out of doors hope that the forthcoming recess will be an occasion for her to secure some modicum of peace and relaxation?

The Prime Minister

On the right hon. Gentleman's first question, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, made it perfectly clear to the Irish ambassador that no commitment exists for Her Majesty's Government to consult the Irish Government on matters affecting Northern Ireland. That has always been our position. We reiterate and emphasise it, so that everyone is clear about it.

Mr. Concannon

What about the constitution?

The Prime Minister

I said, "on matters affecting Northern Ireland". [Interruption.] Does the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) wish to ask a question in the middle of my reply to a supplementary?

I thank the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) very much for his kind remarks and fully reciprocate them.

Sir John Eden

On that last point, will my right hon. Friend have a really good holiday, knowing that it is extremely well earned and that the vast majority of people in this country want the benefit for many years to come of her strength of purpose and clarity of vision?

The Prime Minister

Depending upon events, I hope to be in a position to take a good holiday after this momentous year. As I have said to my hon. Friend and others before, I do not think that I could take more than another 10 years such as this has been.

Mr. Foot

May I join the apparent sense of jollification by saying to the right hon. Lady how relieved and grateful we are for the U-turn that she has taken regarding the "Atlantic Conveyor"? That will help a number of workers in the shipyards to have decent holidays as well as some work. Does the right hon. Lady agree that it is appalling that there should have to be a war to get work into British shipyards? Does she further agree with the head of British Shipbuilders that this is a vote of confidence in British Shipbuilders? Will the right hon. Lady guarantee that it will have that vote of confidence for years ahead?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman struggles too hard with his question. The "Atlantic Conveyor" was lost in unique circumstances—circumstances in which we had the support of the whole House and of the people. I felt very strongly, as did almost everyone, that the ship should be built in this country. As I said on Tuesday, it was necessary to obtain the co-operation of three parties to the rebuilding. One, certainly, was the Government. Another was British Shipbuilders and the suppliers to British Shipbuilders. The third was the work force and Cunard. We secured that co-operation, with the result that the order has been placed in the North-East, and I am very pleased indeed that it has. All the calculations are based on the ship being delivered on time.

Mr. Foot

If the right hon. Lady will not accept congratulations from me, perhaps she will accept them from Lord Matthews, who certainly believes that there has been a U-turn? Does the right hon. Lady agree that if we cannot build ships in British yards it will not be much use making speeches or having sermons preached about Britannia ruling the waves?

The Prime Minister

The Government played their part, British Shipbuilders reduced its price and Cunard took some increased cost upon itself. That was all very good. However, everything depends upon the delivery date being before the end of August 1984. When the representatives of the TUC came to see me they, and those who are concerned with the shipbuilding industry, pledged faithfully that they would secure delivery by that time. It is a matter of honour that they do so.

Mr. Michael Marshall

Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that the aerospace and defence industries will be gathering at Farnborough in a few weeks' time? Will she care to add her voice to those who have made an assessment of the performance of British defence equipment in the Falklands and, indeed, the performance of all those who worked in the industry to sustain our fighting forces?

The Prime Minister

I hope that the excellent performance of the defence equipment in the Falkland Islands campaign and the splendid people who operated that equipment will accrue to our advantage at the Farnborough air show. If I may select one piece of equipment, the performance of the Sea Harriers was outstanding. Not one Sea Harrier was lost in aerial combat.

Q2. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 29 July.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Janner

Will the right hon. Lady have time today to discuss with her ministerial colleagues the Government's proposals to set aside the fair wages clauses in the 1946 fair wages resolution relating to Government contracts? The proposals have been shamefully tucked away in a written answer just before the recess. Does the right hon. Lady recognise that this is a potential return to slave labour for Government contracts and a return to the eighteenth century, from which we thought we had emerged a long time ago?

The Prime Minister

My reply to the hon. and learned Gentleman is "absolute nonsense". Nearly all the claims made under the fair wages resolution are made by unions on behalf of relatively well-paid members. The resolution has little, if any, relevance to the issues of low pay. The Government have scrupulously observed their international treaty obligations and will continue to do so. Some of our major competitor countries—some of whom have well-paid employees—never ratified that convention, including the United States, West Germany, Canada and the entire Eastern bloc.

Mr. Myles

Will my right hon. Friend take time before she goes on her well-earned holiday to remind the Health Service workers that they have security of employment, unlike many other people? Does she recall the words of the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) that one man's wage rise could be another man's job loss?

The Prime Minister

It is quite true that, working within cash limits, as we must, the more that is taken out in wages, the more jobs will be lost. The extra wages have to come from the total budget and there is loss of equipment, which means the loss of jobs for others. I agree with my hon. Friend that the National Health Service workers and many, not all, public sector workers, enjoy security of tenure. The offer to the National Health Service workers is a final offer and I hope that they will accept it.

Mr. Conlon

In view of the American resistance to the invitation of British Steel and the Prime Minister's appeal on Tuesday to Cunard to display patriotism, will the right hon. Lady today discuss with the Home Secretary why his Department is ordering a £1 million antenna from an American company when the work can be done here, to specification and at the right price? Is she aware that this would immediately save 40 jobs at Marconi in Gateshead and probably secure this high technology industry for Britian?

The Prime Minister

I shall, of course, draw those facts to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I am not familiar with any rival arguments that there may be. I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend. The position of British Steel in relation to the United States is extremely serious for the industry. The United States had not agreed to negotiate with us on a bilateral basis and we are, therefore, pursuing the matter vigorously through our membership of the European Community.

Mr. McQuarrie

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a common fisheries policy has not yet been agreed, despite strenuous efforts? If there is no agreement by 31 December this year, can my right hon. Friend assure the House that there will be no sell-out of the British fishing industry and that the Government have a contingency plan to save the industry?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If there is no agreement by the end of this year the position will be serious. We have, of course, made vigorous representations that the present arrangements should continue until we reach an agreement. I hope that we shall make much more progress in September, if not reach agreement, which would be better. The only country that is holding out against the agreement is Denmark.

Q3. Mr. Dormand

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 29 July.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Dormand

Will the Prime Minister give further consideration to the measures announced early this week concerning the long-term unemployed? Does the right hon. Lady appreciate that the number of long-term unemployed is the most important indicator of the state of the economy? Does she realise that measures such as job-sharing, hire purchase arrangements and an increase in the number of enterprise zones are not only incompetent but dishonest in dealing with this problem? Why does not the right hon. Lady have the guts to admit that her policies have proved wrong and say that she will now embark on a controlled, selective reflation of the economy?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman voices a fundamental fallacy. He thinks that a Government can control the demand for the volume of goods and services bought from British industry. No Government can possibly do that. A Government can only control—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is mouthing rubbish from a sedentary position. May I reciprocate the remark?

The only thing that the Government can do is to control the volume of money in the economy. How much of that money goes to increased prices, how much to increased imports and how much to purchasing more goods at home depends upon the population of Britain. In the decade from the 1970s to the 1980s, of every £100 of extra money in the economy, £95 went either to increased prices or to increased imports and only £5 went to increased output.