HC Deb 11 November 1982 vol 31 cc664-6
Q1. Mr. Tilley

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

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 evening I will be presiding at a dinner for the Royal Academy trust appeal.

Mr. Tilley

Will the Prime Minister find time to congratulate the chairman of the 1922 Committee on his reselection—sorry, re-election? If she does so, will she remember that he is also the chairman of the newly formed and newly licensed Freddie Laker Holidays? Will she take the opportunity, after having booked a one-way winter cruise for the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), to ask whether the thousands of people who lost money under the old Freddie Laker venture will get their money back from the new one?

The Prime Minister

I gladly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) on his re-election. On Conservative Benches we do not have to be reselected. With regard to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the Government naturally regret the fact that many Skytrain passengers are still waiting to be repaid the money that they lost after the failure of Laker Airways. The new package holiday company is properly constituted. The Civil Aviation Authority is obliged to consider any application purely on its own merits. The regulations do not provide for a role for Government either in deciding an application or in handling appeals against a decision.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Has my right hon. Friend noted the sad occasion of the death of Sir Richard Barlas, who was widely regarded as the greatest Clerk of the House in living memory and who was held in the greatest esteem and affection by so many hon. Members?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. As you know, Mr. Speaker, Sir Richard Barlas served the House with total dedication for 33 years and for three years as our most distinguished Clerk of the House. I believe that the whole House will join in paying tribute to him and in offering our sympathy to his family.

Mr. Foot

May I join the right hon. Lady in offering our sympathy to Lady Barlas and in expressing our thanks for the service that Sir Richard gave to the House over such a long period with such distinction?

May I take the right hon. Lady back to the answers that she gave a couple of days ago in the House? Can she now tell us how much she proposes to claw back from the pensioners? Has she had a chance to refer to paragraph 2.25 of the autumn statement, which states that the reduction of expenditure may be £180 million? Is it not an utter absurdity, when the Government are calculating that they might reduce income tax by £1 billion or £2 billion, that they should try to recoup such a sum from the pensioners?

The Prime Minister

After next November, pensioners will have exactly the amount that they would have had on the basis of protecting them against increased prices. In addition, this year they have received an extra 2 to 2½ per cent. Bearing in mind that 1 per cent. extra on retirement pensions costs £150 million, the extra amount this year will be about £375 million. We are talking not about clawback but about an extra amount provided for this year.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Lady has at least now had the courage to produce the figure. Will she confirm that this matter will have to be carried through by legislation? In those circumstances, does she think that she can carry such a mean and miserable measure through the House? The Labour Opposition will certainly fight it all the way, and I imagine that there are still some hon. Members on the Conservative Benches.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has not understood. The £375 million is the extra amount provided for this year over and above that which would have been required for inflation. That amount has been met by the working population through their contributions. We have given an extra amount this year.

Mr. Latham

Will my right hon. Friend consider a constructive suggestion on how to confront the new French domestic protectionist campaign and the problems of cars coming in from Spain at an unfair tariff? Will she direct that all these cars and so on should be unloaded at Melton Mowbray, which is just as good a dock as Poitiers?

The Prime Minister

I am aware of the reported regulation to which my hon. Friend refers. We have discussed with the French Government some of their proposals for restricting imports into their country and pointed out that we cannot continue with an open trading system if other countries put up barriers against trade from this or other countries. We shall vigorously pursue the Spanish issue through the Community. It is totally unfair that we should have an import barrier of 4 per cent. while Spain, for the same cars, has an import barrier of 37 per cent. We must pursue that through the Commission.

Mr. David Steel

For the last couple of weeks there have been reports about the right hon. Lady's intention to set up a Department of her own in Whitehall. When will she make a statement about this and what would be the cost of such a Department?

The Prime Minister

I am not setting up a Department. I have a Prime Minister's Office. From time to time there have been considerable changes in that office. Under previous Prime Ministers a policy unit was established, and before that a Central Policy Review Staff, which belongs to the Cabinet Office. The CPRS used to have a foreign affairs unit. It does not do so at present, and I feel that we should have some foreign affairs advice in addition to the other advice available in No. 10, but through the Prime Minister's Office, not a non-existent Prime Minister's Department.

Q2. Mr. John Townend

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

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Townend

Is my right hon. Friend aware that because of the widespread resentment at the high level of water rates there is little public sympathy for the water workers' wage claim? Does she agree that their work is not comparable with that of the miners and, therefore, that any pay increase should be more in line with the pay of NHS and local authority manual workers?

The Prime Minister

I understand that negotiations with the water industry are taking place today. The Government are not a party to them. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that there will be no public sympathy at all for those who seek to disrupt essential services purely for their own personal benefit.

Mr. Meacher

Is not the proposed Britoil sale infamous, bearing in mind that two years ago those shares were valued at £2 billion to £2½ billion, whereas today it is estimated that the sale of 51 per cent. of the shares will not produce 51 per cent. of that valuation or anything like it, but something even less than half? Is this not a colossal rip-off at the taxpayers' expense? If the district auditor would see fit to penalise such actions at local level and surcharge councillors, as he would, should not the Secretary of State for Energy be compelled to get the agreement of the Comptroller and Auditor General before proceeding with this act of robbery?

The Prime Minister

No. The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. My right hon. Friend made a full statement yesterday. An offer has been made and full details are available. It is to be made by a tender which is designed to achieve a fair market price for what is being sold.

Mr. Hal Miller

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the result of the Northfield by-election, and the speeches that we have heard from the Opposition Benches this past week, clearly show that the Labour Party has no credible alternative policies to put before the country and that, of the scurrilous smears and ludicrous claims strewn around the streets by the Liberals and their allies, the only one that has any semblence of truth is that the Liberal Party could stop us winning—in other words, that a vote for the Liberals is a vote for Labour?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and cannot improve on one word of what he said.