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Engagements

Volume 12: debated on Thursday 12 November 1981

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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.