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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 979: debated on Thursday 21 February 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 21 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, including one with Mr. Vance.

Does the Prime Minister accept the principle that it should pay people to work? If so, will she call in her Education Ministers this afternoon and ask them why they have adhered to arrangements for school meals and transport which ensure that a family man on supplementary benefit would be several pounds a week worse off if he took a job? A man on family income supplement would be similarly worse off if he worked overtime.

The hon. Gentleman is referring to one of the problems that we have with the poverty trap. As the hon. Gentleman knows, one of the best ways to deal with that is to reduce the heavy rates of income tax.

Does my right hon. Friend think that it would be helpful if the Leader of the Opposition stated clearly where his Party stands on the picketing that took place at Hadfield's last week and at Sheerness yesterday? Does she agree that all that we have had from the right hon. Gentleman so far has been a deafening silence on a vital issue?

I trust that the Leader of the Opposition will condemn everything except that which is permitted by the law, namely, peaceful picketing.

In the course of a busy day will the Prime Minister take some time out to look at the A-level course in economics, as there are many on this side of the House, and indeed in the country, who, because of the disastrous economic policies being pursued by the Government, believe that the Government have not even reached A-level standard?

The hon. Gentleman knows that the important issues do not depend upon A-level economics. The important issue is to persuade people to live within their means, and to get rid of excessive spending and excessive borrowing.

May I ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister if her attention has been drawn to reports today that the EEC is once again contemplating sending subsidised butter to Russia? Will she confirm that she regards that as intolerable, and that she will inform Brussels accordingly?

I am very happy to confirm the remarks of my hon. Friend. It is disgraceful that subsidised butter sales are to be started once again to Russia. It is very offensive not only to politicians on both sides of the House, but to every housewife who would like to have a similar opportunity in this country. We shall certainly inform Brussels accordingly.

Is the Prime Minister aware that this morning a notice was published in the name of the Boundary Commission for England making revised recommendations for constituencies in Essex, even though since 31 December the number of members of the commission has been less than the statutory quorum?

Will the right hon. Lady take steps to have the notice withdrawn, and for the activities in the name of the commission to be suspended until the membership is properly constituted and there has been an opportunity for the members to meet and deliberate?

I understand that that report was completed last year and that the previous Boundary Commission gave instructions for it to be published. That is what has happened. The new Boundary Commission for Wales has not yet been appointed nor, indeed, has agreement been reached with the Opposition on who should be members of it. Agreement has been reached in respect of England, but the two are being held up until there is full agreement on both.


asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for 21 February.

After a year that has seen more working days lost in strikes than any year since 1926, is my right hon. Friend prepared to pay tribute to the plain good sense of the British Leyland workers, who by their decision yesterday demonstrated their understanding that one cannot strike one's way to prosperity and that strikes lead to loss of jobs and low living standards?

I certainly pay tribute to that decision. I thought that it was a triumph for common sense.

Has the Prime Minister had time to consider the report published yesterday about the tragic death by battering of baby Carly Taylor in my constituency, as well as the statement by the director of social services that about 500 babies are at risk in Leicester alone, which means about 100,000 for the country as a whole? Can she give an assurance that in these times of increasing hardship and deprivation, those who care for the needy and the inedequate will have the resources that they require and will not be starved of them by Government cuts?

I hardly think that that terrible case can be attributed to that particular cause. I share the hon. and learned Gentleman's concern over each and every case of cruelty to children, particularly those that are as totally tragic as the one to which he referred. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services will, of course, be discussing it with the local authority social services.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today—[HON. MEMBERS: "Write a letter."]—to allay widespread fears about the future of the sub-post office net work by drawing attention to the reassuring statements made by her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services on Tuesday?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I believe that the case was fully deployed in that debate. In fact, as my hon. Friend knows, we were trying to give an extra element of choice to those who wish to take their social security benefits in a different way. It is in keeping with our policy to have an element of choice, but it is not in keeping with that of the Opposition.

[HON. MEMBERS: "Write a letter.] I do not write stupid letters. Does the Prime Minister agree with the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) that the get-tough attitude in international relations can only worsen those relations and can be dangerous for nations? Does she agree with that point of view?

During his time in Government, my right hon. Friend was the first to see that this country had proper defence forces to protect its security. I was a member of his Government and was proud to be so.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 21 February.

Will my right hon. Friend have time today to arrange a meeting between the Leader of the Opposition and the workers from Sheerness and Longbridge so that he has the opportunity of learning about aspects of industrial and economic matters of which he has no knowledge at present?

The demonstrations at Sheerness showed very much that workers today are interested in the right to work and the right to go to work unhindered. They are to be congratulated as is their management. Congratulations should also go to the police for the excellent way in which they carried out their duties which are both to protect the right to work and also the right to picket peacefully.

As the right hon. Lady has suggested that she is concerned about children, as she did in her reply to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), will she consider the appalling delay in the Government's response to the proposals of the Milk Marketing Board which will provide hundreds of millions of gallons of milk for our children at negligible cost to the United Kingdom Government, as the bulk of the moneys would be found by the Community? Can we not see children provided with milk, and money obtained from Europe, as the right hon. Lady is supposed to be concerned about these matters?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the sale of milk to children in schools. That is done through the local authorities.

Will my right hon. Friend today find time to send a letter to Sir Michael Edwardes congratulating him on the recent performance of Leyland Vehicles—that part of British Leyland which makes trucks, buses and tractors? Its export orders are at record levels and it is launching products on programme. Is she aware that Leyland Vehicles has now returned to a profitable situation?

I am aware that certain parts of British Leyland are working extremely well and profitably, and I hope that they will soon be joined by other parts. The news about production in January was excellent. For the first time, the volume car workers in British Leyland met their production targets. I hope, therefore, that they will be successful in selling more of them to the British people.

In her meeting with Mr. Vance this afternoon, will the Prime Minister report that there are some of us who have had in-depth meetings with the Indian High Commissioner and other Asians who are not apologists for the Soviet Union but who see Afghanistan in various tones of grey rather than black and white? They believe that that issue certainly does not constitute a reason for not going to the Olympics.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, like many of his hon. Friends, fundamentally disagree with him. The Soviet Union marched into an independent country and is still there in very great armed force. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the excellent suggestion made yesterday in the European political group on cooperation that in future Afghanistan should be a neutral country, rather like Austria, and, therefore, have her security guaranteed.

Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), will my right hon. Friend care to guess the opinion of the Kremlin now of the Common Market's capacity to act against aggression in the future?

I hope that the opinion of the Kremlin about NATO, which is really the defensive mechanism, is that it is a formidable Western alliance with formidable adherents particularly Great Britain.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 21st February.

Will the Prime Minister today read the written answer published in Hansard on 6 February, which showed that our deficit in trade in manufactures with the EEC in 1979 was in excess of £4 billion, which is in addition to the cost of the CAP and the budget? In view of that, will she tell us the main economic advantages of British membership of the EEC?

With great respect, I think that the hon. Gentleman misses the point. We have the same opportunity of markets in Europe as Europe has here. I hope that in future we shall take more opportunity to export to those markets.

Will my right hon. Friend find time to distance the British Government from the proposed commission into the alleged crimes of the former Shah, as such a commission is the wrong response to blackmail, is unlikely to be fair and will gravely damage the future authority of the United Nations?

Many of us have great sympathy with what my hon. Friend has said. But we are anxious to support the United States in any moves which will manage to secure the release of the hostages.

Did the Prime Minister read the report in The Sunday Times of last Sunday to the effect that heart patients in King's College Hospital are likely to die within days because the hospital lacks a few million pounds? The Government are spending £5 million on a refit of the Royal Yacht "Britannia". Does the Prime Minister think that that is a civilised or humane sense of priorities.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, this Government have kept up expenditure on the National Health Service in real terms. We have even increased the cash limits to accommodate increased pay for nurses. The hon. Gentleman's criticism is thoroughly unwarranted.