HC Deb 25 January 1983 vol 35 cc782-4
Ql. Mr. Greville Janner

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

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 this evening.

Mr. Janner

In view of the growing financial crisis, as evidenced by the latest unplanned fall in the value of the pound against the dollar, and as the situation is likely to worsen during 1983, with increasing unemployment, can the Prime Minister confirm that she is now considering calling an early general election?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir.

Mr. Neubert

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to study the excellent report by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis on his proposed measures to combat the level of crime in London, which reveals, among other factors, that the number of demonstrations requiring the attendance of 100 police officers or more has in recent years risen from an average of one a week to one a day?

Mr. Cryer

That is because we have a Tory Government.

Mr. Neubert

Is it not clear that people such as the Leader of the Opposition, who has endorsed the candidature of Peter Tatchell, and the CND, will encourage the taking of politics on to the streets and will do no good to law and order in London, or to themselves?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend and I am glad that the proposals of the Metropolitan Police were received so well yesterday. I believe that the Metropolitan Police are doing an excellent job.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

On exchange rate policy, is the Prime Minister still adamant for inactivity?

The Prime Minister

At the moment exchange markets are very active because of uncertainty about the price of oil. Naturally we are affected as an oil currency. There is very little that Government can do at a time like this to stop the uncertainty in the markets or the fluctuations that that causes.

Sir William Clark

Does my right hon. Friend agree that irresponsible speeches by Opposition Members, especially the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, do no good at all in maintaining confidence in sterling? Would it not be a good idea if the Opposition sometimes tried to defend Britain rather than their own political ambitions?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend that the underlying financial position of sterling is strong. If we hold to that, it will tell in the end.

Mr. Foot

I understand that the right hon. Lady does not wish to make a statement on exchange rate policy, but will she at least give us a guarantee that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not attempt to deal with it by the foolish methods that he was using a couple of weeks ago?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated the other day in his speech that he thought there was no good reason either for the exchange rate to fall or for interest rates to rise.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

On my right hon. Friend's way to the House this afternoon did she see posters announcing that the pound had fallen into a black hole? She will be aware that over the weekend OPEC seems to have fallen into something similar. She will have observed that about $45 out of every $64 received from the production of a barrel of crude is entirely attributable to the taxation imposed by Governments. When the producer Governments begin to reduce their tax take, as they undoubtedly will, to meet the market situation, will she use all her great authority to ensure that consumer Governments, including our own, do not increase their take?

The Prime Minister

I believe that my hon. Friend is broaching matters that are more likely to be considered in about March this year. I believe, in general, that a fall in the price of oil, although the speed of change causes difficulty, is beneficial to the world economy in general.

Q2. Mr. Strang

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

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Strang

Turning to the important question of the American cruise missiles, will the Prime Minister give the House and the country a straight "Yes" or "No" answer to this question? Will the British Government have the right to veto a decision by the American President to fire the British-based cruise missiles?

The Prime Minister

The position is exactly the same as it has been for the past 30 years.

Mr. Canavan

"Yes" or "No".

The Prime Minister

The use of United States bases in the United Kingdom in an emergency would be a matter for joint decision by Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government in the light of circumstnaces prevailing at the time. It is the same rule as existed under the Labour Government, and has existed for the past 30 years. I am aware that concern has been expressed about the effectiveness of the arrangements and I have satisfied myself that they are effective.

Mr. Fairbairn

Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity of seeing the eye-witness reports of the atrocities committed by Russian officers in Padkhwab-E-Shana, Afghanistan, in murdering 105 Afghan patriots? Has she also seen the reports of torture by those officers in Kabul prison? Will my right hon. Friend bring these matters urgently to the attention of the appropriate authorities and will she remind the unilateralists inside and outside the House that those are the people to whom they would commit our civil liberties and our human rights?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for bringing this matter to our attention. I have recently had eye-witness accounts from some of the resistance fighters in Afghanistan of the terrible murders that they have witnessed, some in their own village. We should always keep that in mind. We shall do everything possible to help the people of Afghanistan to rid themselves of the occupying force.

Mr. Maxton

Does the Prime Minister agree that it is an appalling indictment of her Government's attitude to the Third world and to aid to developing countries that the press interpreted the move of the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) from the Home Office to be Minister for Overseas Development as a demotion and a punishment?

The Prime Minister

I am not responsible for the attitudes of the press. I think that my right hon. Friend is absolutely the right person for that job. I regard it as an extremely important job, which he will do supremely well, as he did his previous job.

Mr. Tapsell

Because of the often exaggerated view of sterling as a petro-currency and its bearing on our exchange rate, should not greater emphasis be given to the fact that the £7 billion of revenue from North Sea oil in the present fiscal year is less than 3 per cent. of our gross domestic product; that it provides only 6¼ per cent. of the Government's total revenues and that, contrary to the Treasury forecast in the autumn statement of a deficit, it now seems likely that there will be a surplus on our balance of payments in 1983–84 of £1½ billion?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, particularly for putting the oil revenues into perspective, and also the percentage of the GDP. I had the same figures, which I was hoping to get out. My hon. Friend has done my job for me.

Mr. Ron Lewis

As it has been widely reported that the Prime Minister never uses British Rail, and arising out of the "serpent" or Serpell report, will she give an undertaking that there will be no Beeching-style cuts for as long as she is Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister

I give an undertaking that the report will be studied fully and carefully and premature concluions will not be reached.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that freedom, democracy and the rule of law have never been cheap and that one of the things we enjoy in the House is the right to table questions to Ministers? The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has placed more than 300 questions to Ministers on Falklands matters at a cost to the public purse of more than £12,000. [HON. MEMBERS: "Quite right".] Is she aware that this could not happen in Argentina or Russia?

The Prime Minister

I propose to stand up for those rights, but I sometimes wish that they could be less prolifically used by certain people.

Mr. Dalyell

Is it not true that any cost concerning questions that I have placed on the Order Paper relates less to policy issues or to obtaining easily available facts than to the great cost of many Ministers and officials getting together to try to synchronise their answers to hide the truth?

The Prime Minister

I am not sure that that question was addressed to me. If it was, the answer is "Nonsense".

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