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Prime Minister

Volume 12: debated on Thursday 12 November 1981

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Engagements

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for Thursday 12 November.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider reports in the national press to the effect that major and leading positions in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament are held by card-carrying members of the Communist Party? Will she spell out to the nation that it is only by pursuing realistic policies directed towards multilateral disarmament that we are likely to bring about peace, and that that will not be brought about by policies that pursue the blind folly of unilateralism?

I saw certain newspaper reports which must give great cause for concern to many of those who joined CND and who are well-intentioned and honourable people, even though we believe that they are misguided. I wholly agree that the way to achieve peace with freedom is to pursue multilateral disarmament, so that we can retain our security at very much lesser expense to the nation.

Will the Prime Minister today discuss with the Secretary of State for Employment the appalling unemployment on Merseyside, with 130,000 or 20 per cent. of the population out of work? Is she aware that the situation will be further aggravated by 1,000 jobs being lost at the BL plant at Speke and 500 jobs going with the closure of the P and O line? Does she agree that the appointment of her right hon. Friend as Minister with responsibilities for Merseyside was purely window dressing?

I certainly do not accept the hon. Gentleman's last contention. When my right hon. Friend went to Merseyside, morale rose. He is keen to do every single thing that he can for Merseyside. That is an extremely important factor. He has set up the equivalent of a regional office there to see what we can do to bring extra jobs to the region. He has invoked the interest of the private sector in the area in a big way. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said about the P and O Line yesterday.

Will the Prime Minister find an opportunity today to ask the Leader of the Opposition whether he accepts or disowns the statement made by his Front Bench spokesman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—

Order. Although the question was appropriately worded, the right hon. Lady is not responsible for such matters. I presume that she does not want to be. She can be asked only about those things for which she is responsible.

If, during the day, my right hon. Friend could turn her mind to the subject of referendums, would she reflect on the suggestion that, if it is appropriate to ask people by that device whether they want their rates to go up, it would also be proper to invite them to verify their opinion on a subject that has consistently divided the public will and the House for the past decade, namely, the return to the statute book of capital punishment?

There is a great difference between a local poll and a national referendum. On the matter to which my hon. Friend referred, I think that national referendums have hitherto been only advisory. I do not think that a referendum on that matter would make any difference to the way in which the House voted.

Complaints Against The Police

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on her policy towards the reforming of procedures for complaints against the police.

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has informed the House, we are considering, in consultation with the Police Advisory Board, what changes in the present system may be necessary. A working group under the chairmanship of my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State is expected to report back to the board shortly.

Does the Prime Minister agree that it is essential that the police have the confidence of 99 per cent. of the population? Does she further agree that if that is to be achieved there must be effective democratic control and discussion of police policy, a simple procedure whereby minor complaints may be investigated and apologies given quickly, and, finally, a full, independent inquiry into major complaints against the police?

All of those matters are the subject of consideration in reports to the Police Advisory Board. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will consider them all together when they arrive soon.

Is not the first aim of those who wish to revolutionise society to undermine public confidence in the police? Does the Prime Minister therefore agree that, accepting that the police are not perfect, there is a powerful duty upon the Government to give maximum support to those who stand between the population and the forceful overthrow of law and order?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As I made clear in my speech to the House a few days ago, we give our unswerving and unequivocal support to the police in carrying out their vital duties to uphold law and order for all our sakes.

Does the Prime Minster also welcome the statement by the Police Federation, following the last exchanges in the House when strong views were expressed on both sides, that it now feels that it would be in the best interests of police-public relations if there were an independent system of inquiry into complaints against the police?

That is one of the matters that will have to be taken into account by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary together with a number of other reports at present in preparation, and also any recommendations that the Scarman report may make.

Will my right hon. Friend resist all suggestions for further democratic control of the police, which is merely a code word for Livingstonian interference with the police, and instead concentrate upon the real need to restore public confidence in a genuinely independent element in the police complaints procedure? Would not that best be achieved by setting up a police Ombudsman procedure?

My hon. Friend's point about an independent element in police complaints procedure is at present under consideration by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who will make a decision when he has received all the reports. With regard to democratic control of the police, the police must be absolutely free of any political control in making their operational decisions.

Engagements

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 12 November.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some minutes ago.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the average family in Great Britain has had to pay an extra £12·25 per week this year in direct and indirect taxation, compared with only 69p extra in rates? Does she agree that even in Greater London her own increases in taxation have been four times the increase in Londoners' rates? Do not those figures show that her unprincipled attack on local government is no more than a smokescreen to cover the fact that she has imposed massive increases in taxation and living costs on all families in this country, in complete contradiction of her election pledges to reduce taxation?

I look forward to receiving the hon. Gentleman's suggestions for reductions in public expenditure on both a national and a local level, so that both national taxes and local rates may be reduced. It would be entirely dishonourable to suggest that one can increase public spending and reduce taxes at the same time. With regard to the figures that the hon. Gentleman gave, the amount of taxation paid by the average family is clearly much greater than the amount paid in rates. If the hon. Gentleman had considered the percentages, however, he would know that the percentage increase in taxes for a typical family with two children was almost exactly the same as the percentage increase in their rates—before the latest supplementary rate increases.

Will my right hon. Friend consider the consequences of the intrusion into Swedish waters of a Soviet submarine, which was clearly established to be there for the purposes of espionage and nuclear warfare? Does not this emphasise the vital importance of unity and co-operation among the countries of the Council of Europe as well as within the EEC? Will she therefore confirm that it remains Britain's policy to support and participate in the Council of Europe?

On the last point, it remains Britain's policy to participate in the Council of Europe, which we recognise performs a valuable function and which includes countries that are not members of the EEC, such as Sweden. The incident to which my hon. Friend refers highlights the need to be extremely diligent and to keep our defences on the alert.

Returning to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), do I take it that the Prime Minister has confirmed the figures that he gave? Does she not find it astonishing that the average family in this country is now paying an extra £12·25 per week in Government-imposed taxation? How does she reconcile that with her election statement that she was determined to build real incentives for all into our tax system?

I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). The percentage increase in rates and taxes for the average family was approximately the same before the latest supplementary rate demands were issued. On the right hon. Gentleman's specific question, taxation would have been very much higher under a Labour Government. I look forward once again to hearing his proposals for reducing public expenditure. Otherwise, we must conclude that the right hon. Gentleman is giving notice that he would simply print the extra money so that Britain would once again be on the way to the IMF.

I am asking the Prime Minister to confirm that under the Conservative Government taxes for the average family have risen by more than £12 per week. Does she think that that is what she told the electorate at the general election?

Taxes for the average family have indeed increased. As I have frequently explained to the right hon. Gentleman, if we are to maintain prudent and sound financial policies, we should not finance increases in public spending by printing money, as I believe that the right hon. Gentleman would. At least we have the honesty to finance them properly by taxation.

Will the Prime Minister, in the course of her busy day, find time to consider initiating four or five major capital projects to be financed by the City?

If capital projects can be financed by the City, it is naturally at liberty both to finance them and to set them up. The trouble with some of the schemes put to us is that either they require Government guarantee or they are schemes started by monopoly industries that could put up the price sufficiently to finance the borrowing. That would have a very adverse effect on the private sector.

Can the Prime Minister clear up one discrepancy between her statement about Mr. Leo Long's espionage activities and the statement of the Attorney-General? The right hon. Lady said that there was one other individual to whom inducements had been given, and the Attorney-General said that there were a few other individuals. Will the Prime Minister tell the House what are the facts and what number the Attorney-General was referring to in speaking of a "few" individuals being offered inducements to confess?

If the hon. Gentleman looks closely at both statements he will find that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General gave the numbers, a few, to whom an informal inducement had been offered. I gave the number—[Interruption.] This is extremely important and I am trying very hard to get it right in response to a question from the other side of the House. I am trying to get it accurate. He gave the number of cases, a few, in which informal inducements had been offered. I gave the number from whom a confession had come as the result of an informal inducement. The two are perfectly compatible.