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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 983: debated on Thursday 1 May 1980

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Q1.

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 1 May.

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 the Prime Minister take time off today to answer more fully the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor), and the accusations being made to the effect that the right hon. Lady openly condoned the use of Diego Garcia by Carter's task force, as a result of his decision to intervene in Iran and secure the release of the hostages?

I cannot get myself into a position where I have to confirm or deny movements through allied bases. There is nothing that I can usefully add to that reply.

Order. If the hon. Gentleman's point of order relates to the reply that he received, it might be better to raise it at the end of Question Time, as otherwise it will take up the time of other hon. Members.

I was encouraged to read in the press that the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: " Question."] Is the Prime Minister aware that it was stated in the press that the Government are reviewing their public sector buying policy? Will she confirm that that is true? Does she agree that the Government should positively encourage Government Departments and public sector buying bodies to buy British? That would do much to help industry at a difficult time.

My hon. Friend is quite right. I referred to this matter in the debate on the confidence motion. Our policy is to encourage all Departments to buy British as far as possible, commensurate with getting good value for money.

Talking of encouragement from the press has the right hon. Lady had an opportunity during her busy day to read the magnificent May Day issue of the Daily Mirror? Has she given instructions—I trust that she has—that it should be read by all members of her Cabinet, wet or dry?

I have glanced at the Daily Mirror. I did not think that it was worth doing more than that. I noted a picture of shoes, kept for children to wear at a school in The Wirral. I made inquiries. There has been no change in practice at that school since the election.

Now that the dust has settled after Monday night, does my right hon. Friend think that EEC Governments, and the French Government in particular, will be able to accept a far-reaching reform of the budget so that a smaller proportion of Community money would be spent on the agricultural policy and on funding agricultural products that go straight into surplus? Is not that fundamental to the whole issue?

We require two things: a reform of the common agricultural policy, and ass change in the way in which the budget is financed. It would have helped if the proposed price settlement had represented a smaller proportion on agriculture. Unfortunately, it did precisely the opposite. Those two things will have to be brought about. The opportunity will be when the 1 per cent. VAT ceiling is reached, but we shall have to press for both reforms very hard.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 May.

Will the Prime Minister today find a moment to re-read the Conservative Party manifesto, particularly that section entitled " Helping the Family "? Will she compare it with the annual report of the NSPCC, published this week, which notes an increase in family tension as a result of diminished support for families from public funds? How do the conclusions of that respectable body, sponsored by Her Royal Highness the Princess Margaret, square with the Conservative commitment to support family life?

With respect, there have been problems with which the NSPCC has been dealing splendidly over the years, and I do not believe that those problems have changed since the election. I believe that it is a disgrace that there is even need for such a society, but so long as there is cruelty—and it occurs at all levels of income throughout society—we shall need such a body. As to the more detailed reply which I could give the hon. Gentleman, since the Government have been in power, with the increases in benefit which they have already made, coupled with those which have been announced, by next November lone parents will have benefited by a 50 per cent. increase in the child benefit addition, low-wage income earners with children, including single parent earners, will have been helped by the doubling of the family income supplement, and there are many more things proposed.

While the Prime Minister, quite rightly, only glanced at the Daily Mirror, will she look rather more carefully at The Sun, which reveals that 85 per cent. of the population and 75 per cent. of trade unionists are against the futile strike which is due to take place on 14 May?

I saw that article, and I think that it shows enormous common sense on the part of those who are being called upon to take part in the day of action.

While thanking the Prime Minister for the courtesy of her reply to myself and two of my hon. Friends relating to the letter we sent her about Diego Garcia, in which she reiterated what she has already said to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), may I ask her to confirm that if the base at Diego Garcia was used by the Americans in the rescue attempt in Iran, British permission should have been received?

I am being asked the same question in a different guise, and there is nothing that I can usefully add to what I have already said.

Will my right hon. Friend, who is giving such positive and dramatic leadership to the free Western world and to our country in a time of difficulty, take a little time out of her busy programme to study the philosophy and policies of Benjamin Disraeli, who believed in the national interest above all else and the good sense of one nation of all people, in order to sustain her in the wonderful work which she is doing?

I shall certainly try to do so, perhaps during next Monday's bank holiday. Like my hon. Friend, I am a great admirer of Disraeli, and staunchly believe, as both of us do, in true Conservative policy.

Order. The House ought to listen because we do not know what is coming next.

—who only glances at the Daily Mirror from time to time, is the Prime Minister proud of the fact that she has cheated the old-age pensioners by introducing a 54-week session, and punished schoolchildren by pushing the price of school meals through the roof? Is she proud that she is seeking revenge upon the miners by removing State liability from the pneumoconiosis scheme and the miners' voluntary retirement scheme? Is she really proud that, at the general election, she led a party which peddled a pack of lies?

I rather thought that under the Tory Government it was reported that some miners now had an income of £10,000 a year. I am very proud of the Government's record during the past year. I am proud of the fact that the married pension has gone up by £12·25p a week; that by next November the disabled will have been helped by a 45 per cent. increase in mobility allowance; that by next year no fewer than 2 million needy people will receive help with their fuel bills—which in real terms means £20 million more than in the last year of the previous Government; that we have cut the standard rate of income tax by 3p in the pound; that we shall have compulsory tenants' rights to purchase council houses, and that we have managed to get the Employment Bill through this House.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 May.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply which I gave some time ago.

As the Prime Minister is said by the press to enjoy the nickname of " the Iron Lady", can she say just how much she enjoys the prospect of cutting unemployment benefit in real terms by 5 per cent., cutting by a similar amount the benefits paid to pregnant women and cutting the benefit which is paid to invalids in real terms?

I believe that this year it was right to cut the increase in unemployment benefit by some 5 per cent. below the level that it would otherwise have been, because I believe that it is right to have a larger difference between those in work and those out of work.

In her review of public sector orders, will my right hon. Friend try to ensure that a fair share goes to small firms, as that would help them very much?

I shall endeavour to do that. As I have gone around firms in the country, I have noticed that quite a lot of public sector ordering is done through small firms because they are excellent with regard to delivery dates and industrial relations.

Is the right hon. Lady so proud of the cuts in real benefits which have been carried through in the last two Budgets? Is she proud enough of that to publish the full list in the Official Report? Is she proud of the fact that she has pushed up the rate of inflation to 20 per cent., that the unemployment figures have gone up to more that 1½ million and that the mortgage rate has gone up to 15 per cent.? As the " day of action " is partly a protest against all those things, can she advise us to whom we should send our protest? Should it be sent to the Secretary of State for Industry, the Chancellor of the Exchequer or No. 10 Downing Street?

I am proud of the Government's records as a whole, including the fact that, in spite of everything the right hon. Gentleman has said, the standard of living rose last year by 6 per cent., that we have just had a very good month for exports and the fact—which I forgot previously—that we settled the Rhodesian problem.

In the same generous spirit as that of the right hon. Lady, may I congratulate her and the Government on the settlement of the Rhodesian problem? We were all very glad to see it, because that represented a real U-turn on their part. Will the right hon. Lady now tell us whether she is still proud of the speech which she delivered in Australia on that subject?

Yes, because in that speech in Australia I said that the sanctions issue would be resolved by November, and it was.

Will my right hon. Friend consider this afternoon warning the TUC, in connection with the calling out of its members on 14 May, that neither the law nor the Government will protect them by one penny from action for damages which might result?

It is my understanding—although it would need to be confirmed with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General—that the " day of action " on 14 May would not be a trade dispute of the kind which would give immunity from action in a court of law.

Is the right hon. Lady preparing any measures to help combat the serious rise in unemployment in Britain?

I am every bit as concerned as the hon. Gentleman about rising unemployment figures. They have not yet passed the peak that was reached by the previous Government. I fear that they will rise during the coming months. We shall do everything we can, but we need help and support from the rest of the country. Unemployment will rise if some groups demand increases in pay which are too high and take away the jobs of others.

Has my right hon. Friend read the account in the press today of the preposterous resumption of surplus butter sales to the Soviet Union by the EEC? Has she also read that that butter is not being sold at subsidised prices to the Soviet housewife, but in a way which greatly profits the Soviet exchequer? Does not that constitute a subsidy from the European taxpayer to the Soviet exchequer at a time when it cannot possibly be justified?

I read that report, and I should like to make it clear that the United Kingdom voted against that sale. However, it is not one that requires the unanimous support of each and every member of the Community. I confirm what my hon. Friend said, that the normal export refund was higher in this case than previously. I condemn this sale totally.