HC Deb 20 January 1983 vol 35 cc474-8
Q1. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 20 January.

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, including one with Afghans who are resisting the Soviet occupation. Later today I shall be leaving for an official visit to Yorkshire.

Mr. Taylor

Between those important meetings, will my right hon. Friend have time to consider the implications of strikes in essential monopoly public services, such as the Health Service and the water, gas and electricity industries, where disruption can cause serious health hazards and possible danger to life? Will she consider setting up a Royal Commission, or some other body, to draw up revised and fair terms and conditions of employment that would preclude the right to strike, such as we have for the police and armed services?

The Prime Minister

I note my hon. Friends remarks about a Royal Commission, but "no strike" agreements tend to be expensive. My hon. Friend mentioned the water industry. There is an agreement in that industry to solve disputes through arbitration, which is binding upon both sides. I understand that the employers and unions are negotiating through ACAS. I hope that the negotiations will be successful and that the threat to strike will be withdrawn.

Mr. Foot

The position in the water industry, with possible strike action, is serious. Will the Prime Minister, as a Government, do everything possible to ensure that the discussions at ACAS are allowed to succeed? Will she, as a Government, ensure that no steps are taken that would injure the possibility of successful negotiations? The unions have wanted that from the beginning, and they want it now. They want fair treatment from the Government.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman knows that there is a threat to strike. I understand that that is in breach of the agreement, which is to resolve disputes through arbitration. I join him in hoping that the discussions through ACAS will be successful.

Mr. Foot

I would not invite the right hon. Lady to say anything that would make a settlement more difficult—I would not wish to do so. I am sure she will understand that there have been ballots throughout the industry. There is strong support among its workers, who feel that the proper negotiating machinery has been interfered with and that the Government have intervened. Will she encourage the discussions at ACAS to succeed through genuine negotiation? I am sure that a settlement could be reached on that basis.

The Prime Minister

I have already wished the negotiations well, and I repeat that.

Mrs. Faith

Without in any way criticising the tribunal that sat in Liverpool yesterday, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a matter of anxiety that Michael Fagan was released from hospital yesterday without any surveillance? Would she further agree that the Mental Health Act 1959 should be amended so that in future it should be possible for mental health tribunals to impose a supervision order on people leaving hospital, if that is thought to be necessary?

The Prime Minister

I recognise the deep feelings that my hon. Friend has expressed. I understand that the judge who presided in this case made a hospital order without also making a restriction order, which it was open to him to make. The hospital order put the decision on to the medical tribunal. Had the judge made a restriction order as well, the matter could have gone to the Home Secretary. At present we must obey the existing law, which was drawn up in 1959.

Mr. David Steel

Has the Prime Minister seen the report of the Central Statistical Office, published yesterday, which showed that manufacturing output in November was the lowest since the mid-1960s? Is that not a remarkable achievement after four years of her economic policy?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is correct in what he says about manufacturing production. That is, of course, only part of production. The GDP over the same period is considerably up. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the middle 1960s. The index of manufacturing production is at its lowest since 1967. On the same basis, GDP is up 26 per cent. on the 1967 figure.

Viscount Cranborne

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, in seeing this afternoon the survivors of the Logar massacre in which 105 unarmed civilian Afghan people were massacred by Russians, she has earned the gratitude of the Afghan people and struck a blow for the self-determination of that country?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. These people are brave and courageous resistance fighters. We must do everything that we can to support them.

Q2. Mr. Alton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 20 January.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Alton

Has the Prime Minister had time to consider the case of the 7½-year-old child in my constituency who has become addicted to glue-sniffing? Does the right hon. Lady agree that, in view of the massive increase in solvent abuse, there is a desperate need for new legislation to prevent the sale of such solvents to young people, and to establish centres to help children who become addicted to glue-sniffing?

The Prime Minister

I know of that case and I am aware of how deeply we all feel about it, and how worried we all are that there is an outbreak—if that is the right word—of glue-sniffing in certain areas. The hon. Gentleman will know that it is not easy to stop such action by legislation. I doubt whether legislation would have much effect upon it. He will also be aware that in Liverpool and many other local authority areas voluntary bodies are working with the authorities to tackle solvent misuse and alert youngsters to the dangers so that they may be responsible for their own health. He will also have seen an announcement by the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security to the effect that he is consulting the authorities, retailers and voluntary and statutory bodies to see what they can do to help.

Mr. Best

In view of the interest being shown in Scottish seats by some Opposition Members, does my right Friend agree that that could constitute a good case for devolution, if not outright independence, for Scotland?

The Prime Minister

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the ingenuity of his question. I am sure that whatever happens he will be returned for his seat in Wales.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

During the Prime Minister's busy day, could she take the opportunity to ask for the relevant papers from the European Assembly, which has apparently passed a resolution condemning her and the British Government for saying that we should buy British whenever possible? The British Government representative made an abject apology and said that it was not the policy of the British Government that we should buy British, because that is against Common Market rules. Are we to be told by this bureaucratic "Jenkins" assembly that we cannot ask people to buy British?

The Prime Minister

I feel a good deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says. We are free to choose what we buy. I hope that British goods will soon be better than those of any of our competitors. I believe that we should be free to buy British.

Q3. Mr. Stanbrook

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 20 January.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Stanbrook

In view of the legitimate anxiety felt by the people involved, may I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm this afternoon that for the rest of this Parliament the Government will continue to maintain the real value of supplementary pensions and benefits?

The Prime Minister

We have done so until now. I confirm that we shall do so, at least for the rest of this Parliament.

Mr. Faulds

Will the right hon. Lady consider today whether the cost of her electoral trip to the Falklands should be borne by the British taxpayer or whether the charges should more properly be put to Conservative Central Office?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman's question is both small-minded and typical.

Mr. Banks

Is it not a matter for profound regret that the Argentine forces possess Exocet missiles? In the light of the reports of possible Argentine attacks upon the Falkland Islands and dependencies, will my right hon. Friend make it abundantly clear to the Argentine regime that if any attacks were to take place we should have to consider our options for taking retaliatory action in the form of sanctions, or force if necessary?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is correct to raise this matter. Bearing in mind that Argentina has not agreed to the permanent cessation of hostilities, let alone renounced the use of force, the possibility of further attacks has been ever present, and the troops are alert. I hope that if there are further attacks they will be firmly repulsed. If there were attacks we should have to consider very carefully what to do, apart from repulsing them.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will the Prime Minister reflect upon the fact that although five major steel plants have been saved, decimation is taking place in practically every steel town, particularly in Lanarkshire? Will she be mindful also of the mass unemployment in Scotland and tell us that she will change her policies and get people back to work?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is aware that world steel capacity is greatly in excess of world steel demand.—[interruption.] Hon. Gentleman may not like that. They never do like the facts, but they cannot overcome those facts. Our job is to try to achieve as big a share of the home and export markets as we can. As the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) reminded us a few moments ago, it helps steel output if people buy goods that are made substantially of British steel.