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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 982: debated on Thursday 17 April 1980

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Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 17 April.

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.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to study the article written by the general secretary of the electricians' union which points out that the coming day of action is tantamount to a political strike which will damage the economy? Has she noticed the growing number of trade unionists who are appalled by this call and who see it as an irresponsible act?

I have had a look at that excellent article. I go through the press very carefully each day. I noticed that the author said that:

"Democracy cannot function if Government policies are to be changed, not through the ballot box, but through the disruption of industry by political strikes."
It is quite clear that the day of action will do this country nothing but harm and will further damage the trade union movement.

In view of the Prime Minister's interest in summit meetings, will she find time today to take the initiative to organise a summit meeting involving the USSR, the USA and Europe with the avoidance of nuclear war high on the agenda?

No, Sir. I do not think that such a summit meeting is likely to be successful at the moment. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are two other summit meetings in prospect, one a European Council and the other an economic summit meeting, both of which will take place in June.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to write a charming letter to Sir Denis Follows not necessarily describing any part of his anatomy, asking him to have regard more to the wishes of the British electorate as expressed through their democratically-elected representatives in this House than the wishes of the International Olympic Committee?

I am perfectly willing to do that if my hon. Friend thinks that it will help. I believe that the situation has changed since the British Olympic Committee took its last preliminary decision. It has changed in so far as the United States Olympic Committee has decided to advise its athletes not to go to Moscow. An increasing number of other Governments are following that lead. I think that many of our own people will wish to reconsider the decision.

Will the right hon. Lady be consulting her colleagues about yesterday's Department of Employment figures that showed pay rises over the 20 per cent. level? Does she intend to continue to rely on high interest rates and public spending cuts, both of which are hitting the economy hard, and try to fight inflation with one arm tied behind her back, or is she prepared to reconsider her attitude towards income policy?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that average earnings figures are too high from this year to last year. I hope that we are coming to the end of this particular round. At the end of every period of incomes policy there is an unwinding because the tactic used at the end of any incomes policy after about three years is always the same—namely, to refer the claims to some commission. We are getting through to the end of this and this particular round has taken into account the increases in Clegg, which are partly a hangover from the previous Administration.

Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity today to condemn the decision of the Lewisham council to endeavour to control the action of the police politically?

I will indeed. I deplore the decision of the Lewisham council to attempt to withhold its precept, not this year but next year. I should like to express full confidence in Sir David McNee and the Metropolitan Police. What they need is support and not criticism.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 17 April.

How many protests were made at the Cabinet meeting against the Budget, the policies of which doom British manufacturing industry to bankruptcies, depression and lengthening dole queues? Will the right hon. Lady abandon her divisive policies? Does she really want to divide Britain into the industrial North against the prosperous South?

The hon. Gentleman knows that in many parts of this country, as is shown by surveys, the Budget was welcomed and generally regarded as fair. The Cabinet, as usual, was in full support behind my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure, in her busy day, that she supports the resolve of her Ministers to ensure that no further taxpayers' money is given to British Leyland workers to encourage them in their intransigence?

As my hon. Friend knows, the cash limit for British Leyland has been fixed. It is clear that a large number of British Leyland workers wish to stay at work and are urging their fellows to do so. The management of British Leyland has coped extremely well with previous troubles and I have every confidence that it will do so again and that people will return to work.

Reverting to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones), how does the right hon. Lady explain, if the Budget has been so generally welcomed, the report yesterday that business confidence is at its lowest ebb since records were first kept?

The right hon. Gentleman frequently assails me with forecasts of gloom or doom and record forecasts. He always ignores what is much more important to those who gave their views on the Budget, namely that in the past year the standard of living of the British people rose by about 6 per cent.

Do not the Government and the Prime Minister understand that we cannot tolerate a forecast—by the Government themselves—that manufacturing output in this country will decline through the lifetime of this Parliament? When will she alter her policies?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that GDP is not wholly determined by manufacturing industry. I agree that we want a good manufacturing base. Manufacturing output will be likely to rise if we do not have so many strikes.

As my right hon. Friend is rightly considering economic sanctions against Iran, will she also consider economic sanctions against Russia, since the premature decision of the British Olympic Committee not to boycott the Olympics is more likely to be reversed if it is convinced that the Government are doing everything possible to deter Russian aggression in Afghanistan?

As my right hon. Friend knows, economic sanctions against Iran will be considered at the meeting of Foreign Ministers on Monday and Tuesday. I do not think that economic sanctions against Russia would be likely to get through.

Returning to the foray of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Sir G. Page) into Lewisham, may I ask whether the Prime Minister would not agree, on reflection, that it is utterly unreasonable for London ratepayers to be expected to pay for the police without having the control that ratepayers have in other parts of Britain? Would she not think it more equitable that, if the Government wish to keep the Metropolitan Police outwith the control of London people, they should pay for it themselves out of taxation?

The system of policing the capital, with the Metropolitan Police being under the Home Secretary, has stood for a long time. The capital city needs different arrangements from the rest of the country and most of us have full confidence in the present system.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 17 April.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether the money supply now shows signs of coming under control?

Will the Prime Minister take into account that, although there are long-standing arrangements for the control of the Metropolitan Police, there are questions relating to the police in other areas? In the light of the verdict in the Jimmy Kelly inquest, will she ask her right hon. Friend to reconsider the means of inquiry, to ensure that there are no long delays?

My right hon. Friend said that he would consider whether any further action was appropriate after the inquest verdict had been given. The unanimous verdict was death by misadventure and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be considering whether to take any other action.

As the Leader of the Opposition has expressed such interest in business confidence, will my right hon. Friend invite him to join her in protesting against the day of action on 14 May and to use such influence as he may possess to call off that ridiculous charade?

I agree that the greatest shot in the arm to business confidence would be for the Opposition to do more to condemn strikes.

If the right hon. Lady will consult the TUC at the same level and with the same regularity as did the previous Government—with the result that 12 months ago inflation was half the present level, business confidence was much higher, unemployment was lower and business investment was much higher—I will advise my hon. Friends to abandon the day of action.

The previous Government did not have the courage to take the right financial decisions and had to call in the IMF. That is a fact which the right hon. Gentleman tries to, but cannot, ignore. His Government finished up with the worst winter of discontent that this country has ever seen.

Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity today to look at the amendments tabled to the Employment Bill, particularly the amendment in my name and those of some of her hon. Friends dealing with existing closed shops, about which the Bill does nothing, but about which the amendment would do something? Will she consider the possibility of the Government supporting that amendment?

I shall, of course, look at the amendment, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will deploy his case extremely well during the Report stage of the Bill. I will have a look at it.

On the question of Iranian sanctions, as so much American policy is now conducted by television or press leak, will my right hon. Friend consider telling the House early next week whether it is true that a deadline of 11 May has been set, as is reported all over Washington today? That is a serious matter and the House should be kept informed of how these matters are moving.

I am happy to accede to my right hon. Friend's request. I know of no such deadline.

Will the Prime Minister turn her mind again to the IOC? Does she not know that the statutes of the IOC expressly forbid national Olympic committees from violating the statutes by politicising the Olympic Games? Is she not therefore conniving at breaking up the IOC by dragooning the British committee into breaking the international statutes of the IOC?

The Olympic Games are based on the concepts of peace and prosperity. I hardly think that either concept will be satisfied at the present time. I urge the British Olympic Committee to reconsider its decision. I believe that even the athletes who go will not take part in an Olympic Games of the usual sort, because athletes from so many countries will be absent.

Bearing in mind the great harm that the Clegg commission has done to the economy, will my right hon. Friend at long last get rid of it? Is she aware that it has done more harm to Britain than Moss Evans?

The long-term future of the Clegg commission is under consideration. I stress that we are coming to the end of this round, which was a hangover from the previous Government. We shall reconsider the future of the Clegg commission.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I know, Sir, that you are not responsible for the content of answers given or comments made by right hon. and hon. Members, but you may have heard the Leader of the Opposition refer to his friends in the TUC as his "hon. Friends." That may well be an illustration of the relationship—

I should be obliged if the Leader of the Opposition would let me get away with that.

I wish only to apologise humbly to the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley). If that is the level of the hon. Member's contribution, I hope that he will remain seated on future occasions.