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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 973: debated on Thursday 8 November 1979

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Q1.

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 8 November.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with President Kaunda of Zambia. This evening I shall preside at a dinner for President Kaunda.

Why the indecent haste to rush through the Rhodesian legislation today and repeal sanctions next week? Does not the Prime Minister realise that she is taking the risk of jeopardising a peaceful settlement simply to appease the Right-wing racialists on her own Benches?

I thought that my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal dealt with the statement and all the questions superbly yesterday. I have nothing new that I can usefully add.

Will my right hon. Friend take time during her busy day to contact the governors of the BBC to express extreme concern about the way in which the "Panorama" team seems to have encouraged the IRA to break the law in Northern. Ireland?

We got in touch with the BBC the moment we saw this report in the newspapers this morning. Since then the BBC has issued a statement saying that what happened would appear to be a clear breach on the part of the "Panorama" team of standing instructions about filming in Ireland. [Interruption.] I am reading the statement. The governors have asked the acting Director-General to complete his inquiries quickly and report back to the board on action to be taken.

My hon. Friend will know that this is not the first time that we have had occasion to raise similar matters with the BBC. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I think that it is time that the BBC put its house in order.

Following the evidence of this treasonable activity on the part of the BBC "Panorama" team in setting up what was a joint operation with the IRA, may we have an assurance that the names of those concerned will be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions?

I think that this is a matter for the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions. I think it right that I should leave these matters in their capable hands.

Will the right hon. Lady—as I am sure she understands—convey the feeling of the whole House that it is not the duty of the media in this country to stage-manage news but to report it, and that affairs of this kind, in which the BBC, or anybody else, sets out deliberately to manufacture news to prove a point, are distasteful to and considered reprehensible by every one of us?

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I should like to make it clear that the BBC said that there was no question of this programme being transmitted.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 8 November.

Will my right hon. Friend find time in the course of a busy day to telephone her European NATO colleagues and urge them to resist the blandishments of President Brezhnev in his attempts to make unilateral reductions in nuclear arms? Does she agree that the West must stand united in the face of the deliberate and continuing military buildup on the part of the Warsaw Pact countries?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that the first duty of the Western Governments is to provide for their own security. If we wish to negotiate on disarmament we should do so from a position of strength and not of weakness.

It is noteworthy that President Brezhnev's remarks were made at a massive military parade in East Berlin, at a time when the Russians have far more modern theatre nuclear weapons than we have. Therefore, we must bring our own up to strength and up to full modernisation.

During the course of the day, will the Prime Minister consider the humane action of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in attempting to secure the release of the American hostages in Tehran? Does the right hon. Lady support that action? Will she also note the constructive part that that organisation is now playing in world affairs? Is it not time that the Government recognised the PLO?

The hon. Gentleman knows that we are doing everything that we can to assist our friends the Americans in the grievous situation in which they find themselves. Because of that situation, I think that the less said that might do anything to aggravate it the better.

Having regard to the prevalence of the crime of mugging, extending, according to reports, to British Legion poppy sellers, will my right hon. Friend spare time today to discuss with her right hon. Friend the Home Secretary ways of speeding up measures to enforce law and order?

I saw a report in the press to that effect. If that is happening, it is about the most reprehensible and disgraceful action that anyone could possibly imagine. We have given great priority to law and order, and we shall do all that we can to protect poppy sellers.

As the Prime Minister is in favour of public expenditure cuts, will she consider cutting unemployment benefit, by providing public investment to create jobs in the North-West?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have to get more genuine jobs going, and those come from fostering small businesses in the private sector. We cannot go on staying in yesterday's jobs or putting more into nonproductive jobs when we wish people to put more of their effort into productive jobs with real prospects for the future.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will state her official engagements for 8 November.

Amidst her many preoccupations today, will the Prime Minister pause to think that they would all be wasted in the event of a Third World War? Therefore, will she ask our representatives at NATO to negotiate on Mr. Brezhnev's offer on disarmament? If she argues that we can negotiate only through superior military strength, and if the Russians adopt the same attitude, it becomes a logical impossibility for one side to be stronger than the other, and hence the arms race will end in disaster.

Our best insurance policy against a Third World War is to have regard to our own defences. I think that it was an American President who said "We should never fear to negotiate, but we should never negotiate from fear".

Will the Prime Minister find time today to consider replacing the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? The right hon. Gentleman has been dithering since his appointment six months ago, he must be held responsible for the failure to provide security for the Ulster people and he is about to embark on a conference without considering the views of the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member will have anticipated my reply, which of course is "No, Sir". I hope that he will look with interest at the White Paper on future proposals for Northern Ireland when it comes out in about the third week in November.

Will the Prime Minister spare a little time in her busy day to speak to the Secretary of State for Defence and urge him to make a decision on the order for 77 Chieftain tanks for Vickers at Elswick which negotiated the tender? Is she aware that it is five and a half months since my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cowans) and I first entered into correspondence with her asking for an urgent decision on this issue? Is she further aware that the Vickers plant at Elswick is to go on short time on Monday—probably a two-day week—due to her dilatory action?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has been very active in this matter and has raised it before. He knows that it is under consideration and that the answer partly depends on the further orders for tanks that we hope to receive.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 8 November.

The Prime Minister will be aware that the residual sanctions that will remain in force against Zimbabwe-Rhodesia after the coming week will permit a degree of discretion to the Government in their enforcement. Will she give instructions to her Ministers to interpret or to apply those remaining sanctions with discretion and flexibility, if only to ensure that British firms are enabled to make the appropriate preparations to establish sales forces in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, ready for the resumption of legality?

The remaining sanctions, which are the vast majority which do not come under the 1965 Act, stay until they are positively revoked. We would expect them to be revoked the moment a British Governor sets foot in Rhodesia. Beyond that I will, of course, draw the mechanism to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

I should like to revert to the Prime Minister's meeting with President Kaunda today. Having already had the advantage of a conversation with him, I shall not be surprised if he raises a point similar to that raised by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner). In these circumstances, and as President Kaunda will be here today and tomorrow, will the right hon. Lady consider, at this very late stage, that as the business proposed for Monday, which has not yet been announced, is not vital it could be of great use to the House if we were to take the Second Reading of the Bill today and the Committee and remaining stages on Monday? If she accepts that suggestion I shall use what influence I have, whatever it may be, or however small it may be, with my hon. Friends to ensure that the Government get the Bill, perhaps late on Monday night or Tuesday morning. That would give us the opportunity for discussions with President Kaunda and for reflection.

We are always prepared to consider things through the usual channels. However, as the right hon. Gentleman indicated, our fear is that his influence might fall just a bit short of securing the full guarantee. If we can have that guarantee—[Interruption.] We should have to get the Bill away from the House on Monday, to be in their Lordships' House on Tuesday. If the right hon. Gentleman feels that he can ensure that, I suggest that we consider it through the usual channels.

I give that undertaking on behalf of my hon. Friends if the Committee stage is put back to Monday, although we shall have to go very late in view of the number of amendments that have been tabled. Indeed, we shall go very late tonight and tomorrow if we take them today. I am not bargaining. I am trying to put forward a sensible suggestion. I am commenting on the fact that there are a number of amendments which, if I read the House aright, will take us a long time to deal with tonight or tomorrow. We all know that the length of hon. Members' speeches can depend upon whether there is an understanding. I can enter into an understanding, if the right hon. Lady will, to deliver the Bill to the House in time for her to get her sanctions, even though we are opposed to them. The right hon. Lady has a majority in the House. We shall argue the case, but we shall get the Bill through in time for her to take whatever action is necessary on that matter if she will fall in with the proposal that I have made.

I suggest that it be further considered through the usual channels.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 8 November.

I accept the necessity for control of Government expenditure, but will my right hon. Friend spend a few moments today talking to the Secretary of State for Social Services about the new heating allowances? It is not intended that those who receive rent and rate rebates should receive these allowances. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that would be unfair because many hon. Members have advised pensioners in their areas to take rent and rate rebate allowances rather than apply for supplementary benefit, with which they would get the heating allowance, and thereby get a little more money?

I am aware of that factor, but I hope that the people affected in that way will consider whether it is to their advantage to take their supplementary benefit allowances rather than rent and rebate allowances. The generous heating allowances under the new scheme can be as much as £50 per person. Pensioners might find that it is better for them to go for supplementary benefit than for rent and rate rebates.