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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 980: debated on Thursday 6 March 1980

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Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 6 March.

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 give a reception for representatives of British industry.

Will my right hon. Friend find time to comment on the dismal performance of Sir Denis Follows yesterday before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs? Will she consider in particular his comment to the effect that he could better judge the interests of the British people than their Parliament? On the day when Afghanistan faces further savage repression will my right hon. Friend remind us of how many other countries have agreed to boycott the Olympic Games in Moscow this summer?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I read the reports in the press. I was astonished at what Sir Denis Follows is reported to have said. As regards his remark about Parliament, I think that we are the best judges of that. Perhaps the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will find time for a debate so that our views may be made known.

Secondly, I expressed my views to Sir Denis Follows in no uncertain way in a letter that I wrote to him. That letter has been published. I told him that the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan meant that:
"for British athletes to take part in the Games in Moscow this summer would be for them to seem to condone an international crime."— [Official Report, 21 February 1980; Vol. 979, col. 274.]
Thirdly, an increasing number of countries think that it would be totally inappropriate for their athletes to attend the Moscow Games.

During the day will the Prime Minister have a word with her right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer concerning his forthcoming Budget? Will she remind him that, unless he takes serious action to assist the plight of the lowly-paid, her Government may face a winter of discontent that will make the last one look like a vicarage tea-party?

Whatever problems we may have had this winter, they have been but a pale shadow of those that were faced last winter. Of course my right hon. and learned Friend is closely considering the Budget. He is receiving many representations and no doubt he will take the hon. Gentleman's suggestion into account.

Will my right hon. Friend find time during her busy day to reflect on the present sad state of Anglo-French relations? Does she accept that whatever difficulties individual departmental Ministers may have in resolving their problems with the French, she has responsibility for maintaining and asserting the fundamental identity of interest between this country and France in all those things that really matter, such as foreign affairs and defence?

With respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think that I would fully accept the premise that underlies his question. Relations between us are good. There is a disagreement about budget contributions. We think that we should not pay as much to the European budget as the French pay. Certainly we are paying a lot more at present. There is also disagreement over the sheepmeat issue. However, apart from those two matters, we still work in close co-operation within the European framework and bilateral relations.

Will the right hon. Lady reflect further on the progressive developments in Zimbabwe? Is she aware of the press reports that there may be up to 60,000 white people leaving Rhodesia to come to this country in consequence of developments? Will she prevail on the Governor, Lord Soames, to persuade the white population to stay put and give a chance to a multi-racial society in that part of the world to make progress?

With respect, it is far too soon to make any further comments on what is happening in Zimbabwe. As far as I can see, reports coming out about the formation of a Government, which would include the other wing of the Patriotic Front and representatives of the white community, are good. I have every hope and reason to believe that the arrangements will go ahead in a spirit of reconciliation and hope for the future.

May I draw the Prime Minister's attention to a small but significant harbinger of industrial spring? Is she aware that a firm in my constituency, Lewmar Marine, operating in one of the world's most competitive environments, has achieved the unique distinction of supplying its winches to both the British and American contender for the America Cup? Does she agree that that presents a refreshing contrast to the administrative disruption threatened by the Society of Civil and Public Servants this morning?

I am delighted to hear of the success of the firm in my hon. Friend's constituency. Had I known of it, I would have invited members of that firm to join us for a drink this evening.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she list her official engagements for Thursday 6 March.

Does the right hon. Lady have time today to see her Fisheries Ministers? Is she aware that the industry has been led by them to expect that the Government will act soon over the crisis that the industry faces through subsidised competition, high oil prices and the Common Market fisheries policy? Will she take the opportunity soon to make an announcement, for the industrys benefit.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. and hon. Friends are constantly in touch with the fishing industry. They are doing their best to reach agreement both in Europe and with the fishing industry on the best way forward. We have every sympathy with the fishermen in the difficulties that they face.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the addition of 850,000 employees to local government payrolls over the past 20 years has not resulted in a proportionate increase in the quality or quantity of services to the general public? Will my right hon. Friend therefore take time to consider how to reduce public expenditure in that sector without a disproportionate effect on front-line services?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The improvement in services has nothing like matched the increase in the number of staff. In many cases equally good services could be achieved with substantially fewer staff. I hope that local authorities will take full note of what my hon. Friend says.

Will the Prime Minister take time to recall the piece in the Conservative manifesto that talked of restoring to every child, regardless of background, the right to progress as far as his or her capabilities would allow? In view of that objective, how does she explain the philistine destruction of education in Scotland, with the removal of school meals and transport, and the 25 per cent. cut in the BBC education broadcasts, which will be 100 per cent. next year?

I fully reaffirm that objective. If I may respectfully say so, there is someone standing at this Dispatch Box who is an example of it.

When we consulted local authorities about the future of education, they made it clear that they would prefer to make economies in school meals and transport services rather than in the classroom. We have followed that principle. With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman says about the BBC, it will of course, have to live within its budget. I believe that the new television licence is £34, which seems quite high to some of us. It is for the BBC to decide where it makes economies. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be pretty robust in what he says to the BBC about that matter.

Has the Prime Minister had a chance to notice that the clearing banks have announced a level of profits that is really very high? Does my right hon. Friend agree that these are essentially windfall profits and should be taxed accordingly?

I have noticed what is happening to bank profits. Indeed, I have previously commented on them from this Dispatch Box. I pointed out that the tendency is for bank profits to be high when times are bad for others and a good deal lower when times are good for others.

I must leave aside any question of taxation. We shall be giving our minds to that on 26 March.

If the problem is that times are bad, as the Prime Minister says, will she in her message of encouragement to the Conservative candidate for Southend, East, explain why company insolvencies and personal bankruptcies are increasing so rapidly?

The right hon. Gentleman may wish me to communicate certain matters to my candidate, but may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, whatever times may be like this year, the figures published indicate that car production this February exceeds that for last February?

I am sure that we are all happy to hear that car production is increasing rapidly, but will the right hon. Lady accept that if there is a rapidly increasing number of company insolvencies and personal bankruptcies people will not be able to buy those cars? Will the right hon. Lady answer my question whether she proposes to explain that to her candidate?

I propose to explain to my candidate what he very well knows—that there is only one way to try to bring inflation down, and that is the policy that we are pursuing. We should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman encouraged people not to ask for very high wages without extra production, which the right hon. Gentleman knows will only increase inflation and prices.

Is there any chance that the right hon. Lady will now answer my question?

I have answered it. Is there any chance that the right hon. Gentleman will ask for wages to be kept in line with productivity?

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 6 March.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave a few moments ago.

Will the Prime Minister take time today to study the latest available figures for the number of crimes committed in the United Kingdom last year? Will she accept that 896,000 robberies and muggings took place at a time when 1½ million people were prosecuted for traffic offences? When will the Conservative Party promise in its manifesto to switch the emphasis from traffic offences to real crime be put into effect?

The police have a duty to see that the law is observed in both instances. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is endorsing the Conservative policy to increase pay to the police and do everything possible to increase recruitment.

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher), will my right hon. Friend take time today to study the survey into expenditure by local authorities commissioned by Sir Frank Marshall on behalf of the Conservative Party? Is my right hon. Friend aware of the knowledge that has been manifest through that survey that, while local authorities have been cutting services, they have not been cutting manpower to the same degree? Will my right hon. Friend continue to impress on local authorities that it is essential that services are maintained and bureaucracy cut wherever possible?

I have seen that survey and I agree that it reveals a disappointing state of affairs. It is all too easy for some local authorities to cut sensitive services, when they should be cutting the numbers employed in the administrative bureaucracy. I endorse everything that my hon. Friend says.

Will the Prime Minister tell the mill workers of Lancashire, who do not earn high wages, who are not militant and who do not make excessive wage demands, why hundreds and hundreds of them are losing their jobs, month after month?

May I say respectfully that I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman's assessment of those workers in that industry. Labour relations have been excellent and the workers have gladly accepted new technology and new machinery. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade who, as he knows, when faced with a difficult decision on carpet yarn, took action through Europe.

Will my right hon. Friend agree that when the TUC tears up its guidelines on picketing in a fit of pique against the Employment Bill, it is only playing party politics? That is not the proper role of trade unions.

I had always thought that those guidelines on picketing properly reflected the criminal law as it stands. The criminal law is not being changed, so I trust that those guidelines will not be changed.