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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 980: debated on Tuesday 4 March 1980

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Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 4 March.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the country welcomes the resolve, expressed in her Airey Neave memorial lecture, to continue dispelling illusions about economic reality? Will she dispel, in particular, the illusion that the nation can afford to pay wages in the public sector in conformity with the rate of inflation? Will she bear that in mind when considering the doctrine of comparability, and any proposals emanating from the Clegg Commission?

I agree with my hon. Friend that none of us can automatically have pay indexed to inflation, because the country has to earn its keep. If we do not earn it, the pay is not there and the result will be inflation.

With regard to the point on the Clegg Commission, we are still picking up the tab for many pay claims that were referred to Clegg before the last election. The previous Government referred many cases from the public sector to Clegg, and we are honouring the awards that have been made.

Did the Prime Minister see the photographs of the recent National Front demonstration, and did she note the age of some of the participants? Some were of about school age. Will she ensure that local education authorities, such as ILEA, have sufficient funds available, over and above those funds that are already available, to eliminate the threat to the rule of law imposed by racialism?

The hon. Gentleman will know that if there is any contravention of the law, the matter will be for the police, and if there is any question of public order, the police have powers to deal with it. We have no sympathy with the aims and objectives of the National Front whatsoever.

Now that President Carter has apologised to Israel for the United States vote in the United Nations, will the Prime Minister consider this an appropriate time—now that the results of the Zimbabwe elections are known—to demand an apology from the United States for its hostile vote against the United Kingdom when Zimbabwe was being debated in the United Nations?

If he looks at the speeches that were made in the Security Council, my hon. Friend will see that the United States told other members of the Security Council that Britain did not need any lessons from the other members on how to conduct free and fair elections. The United States has been very helpful to us in our duties in Rhodesia.

How does the Prime Minister reconcile her Government's policy of encouraging exports to the Soviet Union with her advice to the British Olympic Committee?

The Government's policy on exports to the Soviet Union continues, except in two regards. We should not in any way substitute for the wheat which the United States is not providing, and we should attempt to reduce the amount of technology that we export to the Soviet Union, provided that our partners are prepared to do the same.

With regard to the Olympics, as the hon. Gentleman knows, to continue to hold the Olympics in Moscow would be taken as a tremendous feat of propaganda for the Soviet Government and for the Soviet system. That is something with which we could not possibly agree.

While on the subject of illusions, will the Prime Minister help to dispel the illusion that a 17 per cent. minimum lending rate helps to contain inflation, and has little or no effect on exchange rates?

As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, no one could be more anxious to reduce the 17 per cent. interest rate than I am. As he knows, with his expertise, the best and quickest way to do that is for the Government to take less of the supply of money into their own coffers and to borrow less. Therefore we must reduce public spending.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 4 March.

Will the Prime Minister indicate by what rationale the Government are now taking on 1,000 extra staff to check social security fraud—which is officially estimated to cost the United Kingdom less than £4 million a year—when there are only 270 tax fraud staff in the Inland Revenue, and when tax fraud is estimated by the chairman of the Inland Revenue to cost the country between £2,000 million and £3,000 million a year?

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, the Government's action in trying to track down fraud has been largely welcomed by the people of the country. As he knows, every time that someone takes money from social security by fraud the amount available for unfortunate people is reduced. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Inland Revenue must have around 79,000 or 80,000 staff, which should be abundant to track down fraud.

Will the Prime Minister accept that the House is disappointed by the decision of the British Olympic athletes not to boycott the Olympic Games? Will she congratulate the British athletes on exercising an option that was denied to the people of Afghanistan?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government can only advise, and people are free to make their own decisions. I do not believe that a final decision has yet been made. A number of people will delay that decision until the last minute—by which the invitation has to be accepted. I believe that that is much later. However, I hope that there will still be some delay before the final decision.

On several occasions during the last few weeks the Prime Minister has mentioned the right to work. Is there any level of unemployment that the Prime Minister would find unacceptable?

The greatest increase in unemployment in this country in the post-war period took place under the previous Government. Unemployment is no part of my policy whatsoever. We shall do everything that we can to see that it does not rise as fast as it did under the previous Government.