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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 975: debated on Tuesday 11 December 1979

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

In addition to my duties in this House I shall be having meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty The Queen. Later I shall attend part of the Save the Children Fund Diamond Jubilee Concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

Will the Prime Minister take some time today to reconsider the Government's decision to deploy American nuclear missiles in this country, particularly as such an important decision will commit future generations and Parliaments to vast amounts of public expenditure, which we cannot afford, for weapons that we shall never be able to use on our own initiative? Could not the Prime Minister at least have the courtesy to pay lip-service to open government and enable the House to debate this important issue before such a decision is taken?

I believe that it would be a calamity for the whole Alliance if the decision to modernise theatre nuclear forces was not taken at once. I have heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence say, for up to six weeks, that he was perfectly prepared to have a debate in this House. There is obviously now no time for that, but I notice that Labour right hon. and hon. Members have not chosen that subject for debate either.

We have pressed the Government for a debate on this subject, as the right hon. Lady knows. The subjects that we have chosen for Supply have been, in our view, equally important. We believe that this is a matter of Government policy. As the Government have failed to provide time for a debate on this subject, will the Prime Minister ensure that the Secretary of State for Defence makes a statement immediately on his return? We shall then press for a debate following that statement. There will be different views expressed about it. [Interruption.] I may well not find myself wholly in agreement with all my hon. Friends, but this is an important topic that should be debated in the House of Commons.

My right hon. Friend will hope and expect, with permission, to make a statement on Thursday. As to the matter of a debate, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will pursue that with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to make it crystal clear to everyone who works for the British Steel Corporation that the taxpayer will not pay for wage or salary increases other than those earned by productivity? Will my right hon. Friend make that clear to everyone in the country?

I think that it would be wrong to have the cash limits increased for the purpose of increased wages. If increased wages are covered by increased productivity, that is exactly what the whole House wants. Public funds will, of course, be available to the British Steel Corporation next year, to the tune of about £450 million, but that will not, of course, be for increased wages.

Will the right hon. Lady find a moment to refresh her memory on the advice that I offered to her in an open letter within the last fortnight, that Prime Minister Lynch would not be able, whatever his inclinations, to fulfil this part of any bargain that she might have made? Will the right hon. Lady draw the appropriate conclusions from the fact that within a fortnight that advice was validated by events?

I must confess to the right hon. Gentleman that from the open letter, which I saw, I had not drawn the conclusion that Mr. Lynch would be resigning in a short time. My recollection is that I was warned while we were in Dublin not to make any arrangements with Mr. Lynch as part of the agreement with the EEC. I did not discuss the matter of Northern Ireland with Mr. Lynch while I was in Dublin.

Following the incident at Dover yesterday when a suspected assassin was sent back to France, and considering the fact that increasing amounts of heroin are being smuggled in by Iranians, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that this country is sufficiently secure against repercussions from the upheavals in Iran? Is she also satisfied that Iranians entering this country are subject to strict vetting?

We are using the ordinary methods of vetting for Iranian visitors. On the question of numbers, up to the end of September, the last month for which figures were available, fewer Iranian visitors came to this country in each month this year compared with last year. We are not applying any particular vetting to Iranian visitors.


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

Does the Prime Minister recall her concern last week about the apparent leak from the Cabinet of the decision on pressurised water reactor stations and the fact that one will be located soon? Does she understand that most people in this country are less concerned about leaks in the Cabinet than about radiation leaks? Will she consider siting the power station not in Suffolk but perhaps in Finchley instead?

The record of safety of nuclear installations in this country is excellent. Before any pressurised water reactor could be built it would have to clear the very high standards of the Nuclear Safety Inspectorate. That would come out in any inquiry.

Will the Prime Minister find time to consult the Secretaries of State for Employment and for the Environment to see whether she can secure an effective scheme to enable council house tenants to have greater mobility in the employment market?

I agree that that is an important question. Mobility of labour is limited by the existence of council house tenancies. If someone has a council house in the area where he works he is loth to move because he is afraid that he might not get one in the new area. However, it is easier to pose that question than to find an answer, but we will continue the search.

Will the Prime Minister take a few minutes to telephone the chairman of Hampshire social services committee to find out why that committee has imposed a minimum charge of £1 a week for home helps, including those for the thousands of elderly and disabled people in Hampshire who are on supplementary benefit?

Local authority expenditure must be left to local authorities. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am the first person to criticise savings that are made in services to the public in preference to those made in administration and bureaucracy.

In support of the Government of the United States, will my right hon. Friend consider the question of freezing Iranian Government assets in this country?

There are cases which may come before the courts, and this is a matter which will have to be settled by the decision of the courts. At the moment my advice is that we could not freeze those assets under existing law.