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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 979: debated on Tuesday 26 February 1980

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Q1.

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for 26 February.

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.

Does the Prime Minister share my surprise that Mr. Bill Sirs has called the proposal of the British Steel Corporation to hold a secret ballot in order to see whether the steel workers want to vote on their pay offer "a dirty trick"?

I share my hon. Friend's suprise. Workers who have been without a pay packet for about eight weeks and who have gone without strike pay have a right to expect to be consulted about their wishes for the future.

Will the Prime Minister study today the speech of her right hon., noble and very distinguished Friend, Lord Butler? He spoke yesterday on the Education Bill. Is the right hon. Lady aware that he suggested that the Government could save public expenditure as regards sending a few pupils to private schools, and that they could use the money to maintain free school transport for children?

I noted the observations of my very distinguished right hon. and noble Friend. He went to the type of school that we wish other children to have an opportunity to attend.

During the course of her busy day, will the Prime Minister consider the insidious effect of the activities of members of the Unification Church—known as "moonies"—and the threat that is thereby posed to family unity? Will she consider taking measures to alert and protect citizens from such activities?

I am quite prepared to consider any proposition that my hon. Friend puts to me on the subject.

Will the Prime Minister reconsider her reply to the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr Steel)? Does she not agree that spending public money on private schools such as Marlborough will further divide British society? Will she consider the announcement made by the Minister, who, during the Committee stage of the Education Bill, made it clear that certain expensive schools would not be part of the system?

I obviously disagree with the lion. Gentleman. It is important to give all children the very best educational opportunities. If that includes assisted places at some schools, so be it.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consult her Treasury colleagues and to request clearing banks voluntarily to consider some form of reduced interest rate charge on smaller businesses, in view of the banks' substantially increased profits?

My hon. Friend knows that one of the problems of bank profits is that banks inevitably make high profits when there are high interest rates. That occurs when other businesses are in considerable difficulty. Banks do less well when businesses are doing well. That is certainly a difficult problem to explain. However, I do not think that we can have two-tier interest rates. Nor can we do anything to increase the amount of borrowing. That is the cause of high interest rates.

Would the Prime Minister care to try to explain something else in the light of her television discussion last night? As wage earners are apparently able to claim more when an industry is prosperous than when it is not, is she now saying that bank clerks should have a substantial increase while steel workers should get nothing?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that it is not my policy to intervene in pay claims.

2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 February.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to reflect on the decision of the executive of the Iron and Steel Trades Confereration to expel the Sheerness steel workers from union membership for exercising their desire to work?

I saw the report to which my hon. Friend refers. If it is true it brings the trade unions into conflict with public opinion. These workers wish only to carry on working—

These workers wish only to carry on working in a company which is not in dispute with its own workers. They wish to carry on working to support their families and honour business contracts, and both of those objectives should be encouraged.

Before the elections begin in Rhodesia tomorrow, will the Prime Minister give a categorical assurance that Lord Soames will call on the leader of the majority party in the election to form the Government of Zimbabwe as soon as the results are known?

I have every confidence in my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Soames to do whatever is just and proper—

I have every confidence in my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Soames as the man on the spot, to do whatever is just and proper as soon as the results are known of the free and fair elections which I am confident he will hold.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the overwhelming support of the British people for her television statement last night that she will take the strongest action to get justice for this country in respect of our contribution to the EEC? Will she take time to remind our German friends that the sooner we get justice the less likelihood there is of our withdrawing troops from Germany, since those troops are highly expensive?

It so happens that our German partners are considerable contributors to the EEC budget, and we hope that others will increase their contributions. With all due respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think we can get this issue muddled up with any question of reopening the offset agreement.