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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 978: debated on Thursday 14 February 1980

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Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 February.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I shall attend the reception for the winners of The Queen's Award for Export and Technology.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports of thousands of so-called pickets in violent disturbances outside Hadfields this morning? Is she aware that the pickets were led by a notorious Communist who, like them, had no connection with the dispute and whose true purpose was to create a revolutionary situation? Do we need an alteration in the law to control such a demonstration?

My hon. Friend is a very distinguished lawyer, and I hesitate to reply. As he knows, there are two aspects here. The civil law is being changed—I believe it is in clause 14 of the Employment Bill—and I hope that we shall find a solution to that problem in that, in future, people will be able lawfully to picket only at or near their place of work. Of course, an injunction could be taken against any who were not within that category. On the criminal law, I wholly agree with my hon. Friend's implication that the law is there, and that numbers are both intimidating and obstructive, and that their presence is meant to intimidate. I also agree that it is very difficult at present to enforce the criminal law effectively.

I wonder whether the Prime Minister would take a moment to tell the house and the country which aspect of her economic and industrial policies has been most successful so far?

Will my right hon. Friend address herself again to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), and consider limiting the right to assemble and demonstrate to the area within the view or hearing of any place where there is an industrial dispute?

I think that it would be best if we proceeded with the Employment Bill as it now is. There are very considerable restrictions on the right to picket contained in clause 14. I understand that it has yet to go through Committee and Report stages. If any amendment is needed, there will be the opportunity to make it.

Will the Prime Minister find out why the Chancellor of the Exchequer is at present making speeches on industrial relations? Is it that he now expects his monetary policies to fail disastrously and is busy searching for scapegoats?

My right hon. and learned Friend is making speeches on that subject because he is very good at it.

Q2 Mr.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 February.

Will my right hon. Friend note that the ISTC has assets of about £11 million and yet has not paid out strike pay? Does she not think that it is now time for unions, rather than the taxpayer, to accept the responsibility for the hardship that they inflict upon their members, many of whom are on strike against their will?

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, a number of unions do pay out strike pay and are paying it out during this strike, but not the ISTC, which has large amounts of money invested. As my hon. Friend knows, we stated in our manifesto that we would deem certain amounts to be paid from union funds and to be set against supplementary benefits. I am happy to tell him that those plans are going ahead. I hope that we shall be in a position to make an announcement soon.

Will the right hon. Lady give the House her views on the possible closure of a number of small sub-post offices, bearing in mind the inconvenience which that will cause many people and the danger to many pensioners in cities, who are worried about having to collect their pensions on a fortnightly instead of a weekly basis?

Reports on this are very premature. There was a study undertaken that indicated that quite a large number of people would prefer to have their pensions paid through bank accounts. Some already do have pensions paid through bank accounts, but that has to be quarterly. If there is a possibility of giving a larger choice to people, we shall try to do so.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider the fact that Britain is represented in the International Olympic Committee by my Lords Exeter and Luke? My Lord Exeter was elected to that position by no living Englishman. The only Englishman who voted for my Lord Exeter was Lord Luke. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the International Olympic Committee has recently decided to stage in Moscow this summer a re-run of the 1936 Berlin Olympics?

As far as the decision of the International Olympic Committee to continue to hold this year's Olympic Games in Moscow is concerned, the Government have had to decide what steps to take next. We have decided to advise British athletes not to go to the Games in Moscow.

Will the Prime Minister dwell upon the picketing that is taking place within the steel industry? Will she reflect upon the reasons for the hostile picketing that is taking place? Will she ensure that the Government grasp the nettle and become actively involved in the dispute? If, as she says, the Government are deeply concerned about the economy, is it not about time that they entered into the dispute, to get the matter resolved in the interests not only of the steel workers but of the economy?

I think that I can identify two questions in that one question. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a right peacefully to picket. That does not seem to viewers the right that we are seeing exercised outside Hadfields at present. Those who undertake to do picketing in any other way attract great criticism on the part of the British public, who prefer to see these things better done. With regard to the steel dispute itself, I believe that the unions and management have to get together, and would prefer to get together, to sort it out themselves.

In view of the commendation given by the Prime Minister to the steel workers in the private sector at Sheerness, will my right hon. Friend in her busy day today convey to the chief officer of police whose force is involved at the Hadfields works in Sheffield our support and sympathy for those officers who have been seriously injured in the lawlessness that is taking place? Will she reaffirm to the country the basic and the moral right of workers not in dispute to go to their places of employment without hindrance?

I shall be happy to convey my hon. Friend's message to the chief constable and to all the police for the excellent way in which they have carried out their difficult duties. Picketing of this kind puts a tremendous burden upon them, but they carry out their duties magnificently I am also happy to confirm that it is the right of ordinary law-abiding citizens to go about their business lawfully and to attend their places of work without hindrance. It is the right of a person, where there is not a dispute, to carry on that business, to have access to it, and to have access to it by suppliers and customers.

May I ask the Prime Minister whether she will make a statement on Government policy in relation to those investigators of cases where applications for social security benefits have been applied for and stopped? Is she aware that in St. Helens we have had a case of perjured evidence, and of social security officers who have been refusing to accept genuine medical certificates as sufficient evidence for the granting of benefit?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a proper appeal procedure for these matters, and that must be exhausted first.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list hear official engagements for Thursday 14 February.

Will my right hon. Friend take time during the course of the day to pay a tribute to the shipbuilding workers for their sense of realism in accepting the economic facts of life and accepting an 11½ per cent. pay increase in return for voluntary redundancies and reduced overtime? At the same time will she also urge trade union leaders to echo the words of the secretary of the boilermakers, Mr. John Chalmers, when he said:

"We recognised that there was an availability of nothing. It was the old problem of jobs versus wages."

I believe that we must have heard the same broadcast in the early hours of this morning. What struck me very much was that the union member who was talking said

"there would have been no extra money unless we had earned it, so we had to set about earning it."
He followed that by saying
"If we had not, there would have been job losses."
It seems an excellent example of earnings being available and self-financing if there is increased productivity and efficiency.

Does the right hon. Lady agree that for any economic policy to be accepted in Britain there must be a strong element of social justice about it? Will she listen to the voices from many sections of the community who believe that her stubborn insistence on allowing the market forces free play is ruining manufacturing industry and posing a threat to our democratic way of life?

With respect, I think that that is absolute nonsense. The market consists of people being able to spend their own wages in their own way.

Why are the Government attempting to penalise British athletes who have been training for years to compete with other nationals in Moscow when they can, if they deem it necessary, take political action such as withdrawing the British Ambassador? Why are the athletes being penalised?

As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, the Moscow Olympic Games, like their predecessors in 1936 in Germany, will be used substantially for propaganda purposes. We are saying that athletes are just like any other kind of citizen. They have the same rights and responsibilities towards freedom and its maintenance as every other citizen.

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 14 February.

In view of the Prime Minister's failure to instil public confidence in British industry, which is apparently causing many promising young people to emigrate, will she assure the House that if her Mark decides to desert Britain, he will do us a favour and take his mummy with him?

If we are both so promising, would it not be better if we stayed here?

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the splendid answer that she gave to my hon. Friend, the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) would have greater national effect it it were publicly backed by the Leader of the Opposition?

Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman will be patient. I normally take points of order after statements and I see no reason to change the rule.

Order. The hon. Gentleman is a responsible Member of the House. It must be a point of order of great urgency if he wishes to press it now.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you recall any other occasion when an hon. Member's constituency came in for such free comment in Prime Minister's Question Time, when the hon. Member was not called? I am referring, of course, to the constituency of Sheffield, Attercliffe, in which the firm of Hadfield's is situated.

Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's feelings, but that is not a point of order. He well knows that.