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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 974: debated on Tuesday 27 November 1979

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Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will state her official duties for 27 November.

Will the Prime Minister consider whether it is in the interest of the British people for us to press on 12 December for cruise missiles to be sited on British soil? In particular, will control over launching lie with the Pentagon, with the inevitable retaliation against this country?

I am certain that it is in the interests of our people to be armed so that we can deter any potential threat from any aggressor. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said earlier, the need now is for us to modernise to equal the extensive modernisation and supply that has been made by the Soviet Union.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider the serious position of Charing Cross hospital? The lives of patients are at stake because of unofficial industrial action. Will she consult her right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Employment and for Social Services to see whether, in consultation with the unions, a non-strike agreement or clause can be contained in conditions of employment for hospital employees in order to avert this sort of action?

We were all appalled and repelled by the scenes outside Charing Cross hospital yesterday. We are repelled by the difficulty that the hospital is experiencing in receiving proper oil supplies. The scenes that we saw seem to show a callous disregard for common humanity. They reflected unjustly on trade unionism, because most trade unionists were just as horrified as others by the scenes. This morning my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services made clear that if the siege of oil is not lifted we shall be prepared to authorise whatever action is necessary to ensure that the supplies of oil get through.

Will the Prime Minister take time to meet the Federation of Old Age Pensioners to explain to it, so that it can explain to its members, that while she and the Government—unlike the Labour Government—cannot take time to phase out television licences she can give £60 million to private education?

The hon. Gentleman is very much aware of the problems of having special rates for television licences for one group of the community. It is especially difficult when many families have a parent living with them. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had to announce an increase in the television licence. The increase was inevitable if we are to receive the sort of service that people expect from the BBC.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to look at the many interesting photographs in the press of the Opposition Front Bench spokesman the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield)? Will she seek to discover whether the activities of the hon. Gentleman represent the official policy of the Opposition?

Fortunately, I am not responsible for the official policy of the Opposition—thank goodness.—[Hors. MEMBERS: "Who is?"] As far as British Leyland is concerned, the previous Government appointed an extremely good manager in Sir Michael Edwardes. We have backed him, and we must continue to leave the resolution of the problem to him.

Will the Prime Minister take time today to discuss with the Secretary of State for Industry the fact that he misled the House yesterday about the number of times that he had met the chairman of Rolls-Royce in the absence of the chairman of the NEB? He also misled the House in another respect, because the whole board of Rolls-Royce had not threatened to resign—it was only the chairman.

I never knew my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to mislead anybody—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman has a particular point, perhaps he will take it up with my right hon. Friend.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 27 November.

Will the right hon. Lady take time to explain why it is that when the West has 11,000 targetable nuclear warheads against the Warsaw Pacts's 5,000—[Interruption.]

I hope that Conservative Members are not showing their ignorance of the facts. Why, when the West has an overwhelming superiority in the strategic sphere, does the Prime Minister believe that we should seek overwhelming superiority in theatre weapons? Will she make clear—as she did not in her reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun)—whether she will have control over those weapons and be able to determine whether or not they are used? Or will that control be in the hands of the President of the United States?

The hon. Gentleman knows that to be successful with a policy of deterrence it is necessary to deter at each and every level. I can hardly accept that the West has overwhelming superiority against the Soviet Union—I do not believe that it has. We have to have sufficient power through our Allies to deter at the strategic level and sufficient power among ourselves to deter at the theatre nuclear force level. That still leaves the vexed question of conventional forces, in which the Warsaw Pact countries have a great superiority.

Does not the right hon. Lady agree that there will be a long period between the taking of the decision on 12 December and the moment when the cruise missiles can be added to the armament of the West? Therefore, while we should not allow the Soviet Union to determine our decision on 12 December, which must be what we regard to be in our interest, we should use the intervening period to negotiate seriously with the Soviet Union. We should negotiate both on Mr. Brezhnev's at present inadequate offer and on the possibility of the withdrawal of the SS20s, which would remove a large threat from Europe.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are always prepared seriously to try to negotiate genuine disarmament. As he in particular will be aware, the latest weapons, such as the SS20s, are already being provided to the Warsaw Pact forces. We have no modern reply. Yes, we must have the modernisation of the theatre nuclear forces. Yes, we are always prepared genuinely to negotiate on disarmament. But I had understood that the Soviet Union was somewhat reluctant to negotiate on disarmament at the theatre nuclear force level if we put in sufficient to deter. But we are ready to try.