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Prime Minister

Volume 13: debated on Thursday 26 November 1981

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asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 26 November.

I have been asked to reply.

This morning my right hon. Friend presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. This afternoon she is chairing the meeting of the European Council at Lancaster House.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of my constituents have nothing in their larders to feed their children on the day before they receive their unemployment benefit? After this morning's Cabinet meeting, are the Government seriously considering reducing the value of that already miserable benefit?

My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a statement next week. I ask the House to await that statement.

May we have an assurance that, in spite of Lord Scarman's recommendations in relation to positive racial discrimination, the House will never grant legal immunity to any group of people and that we shall not follow the example of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who recently withdrew charges against offenders in the Bristol riots, in the interests of racial harmony?

There is no question of legal immunity for any section of our population.

I understood Lord Scarman to mean—although it has been distorted—that we have a tradition of seeking to give everyone equal opportunities in life. That is the purpose of many policies and it is far beyond racial discrimination. I should have thought that everybody in the House was committed to that.

May I press the right hon. Gentleman further on his answer about the projected cut in unemployment benefit? There is to be a statement next week, but can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the statement yesterday by the Secretary of State for Wales in the City, in which he clearly forecast such a cut, represents Government policy? Can the right hon. Gentleman and the Cabinet understand what a disgrace it would be if unemployment benefit were to be cut when the Government have helped to create the worst mass unemployment that we have experienced since the war?

Sometimes, patience is a virtue. I am entitled to ask the House to await a full and comprehensive statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer next week. That is what I am doing.

Will the right hon. Gentleman pass on that message to the Secretary of State for Wales? Will he tell us now whether that statement represents Government policy?

I have made it clear that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a statement next week. I have nothing further to add.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that The Observer in 1976 reported the Labour Party's finance and economic affairs sub-committee as stating that by 1980 unemployment would rise to 2½ million? Is he further aware that one of the members of that Committee was the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and that another member of that Committee that forecast 2½ million unemployed in 1980 was a Mrs. S. Williams?

No doubt both the right hon. Gentleman and the lady will be able to answer for the statement that they made on that occasion.

Will the Home Secretary, with his vast experience of these matters, dissociate himself entirely from the intemperate attack on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) today? Will he assure the House that neither bombs not bombast will stop the Government from seeking a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland?

I am always hesitant about saying anything about attacks that I have not heard. I did not hear that attack. Having been subject to many such attacks in my time as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I do not like any of them, because I believe that the interests of this country rely very much on making sure that we seek to make progress in Northern Ireland, while always accepting that it is a part of the United Kingdom. That is the position that successive Governments have stood for. That is the position that we stand for. We are entitled to seek to make progress in reconciliation against that background.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 26 November.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. and learned Gentleman to the reply that I have just given.

While welcoming the Scarman report and its recommendations, and their acceptance by the right hon. Gentleman, may I ask whether he accepts that social disadvantage is the root cause of crime and that while the Government continue to fail to bring help to the disadvantaged in all parts of our society, society will continue to be at risk?

I do not accept that. I accept that there are many factors behind crime. Anyone who has had the privilege of being Home Secretary realises only too well that there are many factors. Of course social conditions and unemployment are among them, but there are many others, and none can be an excuse for crime or violence at any time.

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the House that Britain will not give in to Israeli pressure to amend the terms for British participation in the Sinai peacekeeping force, terms that are clearly linked to the Venice declaration and in particular to self-determination for the Palestinians?

I understand that the Israeli Foreign Minister is going to Washington today to discuss those matters with the Secretary of State. It would be wrong for me to comment further in advance of that meeting.

Will the Home Secretary review the events in Northern Ireland last weekend, bearing in mind that one Northern Ireland Member of Parliament has already been murdered? What level of personal protection is afforded to Northern Ireland hon. Members? What protection, if any, was afforded to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) while he was parading with his armed followers? What was the cost to the long-suffering British taxpayer?

Naturally, those are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I shall draw his attention to what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the fact that over the last six months unemployment in this country has risen at under half the rate of Germany, Sweden and Austria, and is lower than the rate in the Netherlands and Canada? Therefore, is not that a cause for cautious optimism?

What my hon. Friend says is true. [Interruption.] I am disappointed that even a phrase such as "cautious optimism" seems to be so disagreeable to the Labour Party.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her public engagements for 26 November.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Lady to the reply that I gave earlier.

Is the Home Secretary not aware that there is no feeling of cautious optimism among the women of this country, among whom unemployment has more than doubled under this Government? Is he aware that there is an increasing number of one-parent families mainly dependent on women? Is he further aware that unless something is done about child care and nursery facilities, women will be less able to compete for jobs in a diminishing market? Does not he think that that calls for an inquiry into the employment of women in this economic climate?

Those are wide matters that can be most carefully considered. They have to be considered against a background of high unemployment. If the Labour Party's policies for spending ever-increasing amounts of Government money and imposing ever-increasing rates were to be followed, there would be worse unemployment and more trouble for women in that unemployment.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how far the Government have decided to modify public service index-linked pensions in the light of the Scott report?

The Home Secretary has told us three times this afternoon to await the statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer next week. However, the Chancellor is reported as saying last week that in future sterling M3 will not be regarded as being so important. Is not that another sign of the failure of the Government's fundamental policies? Will the Home Secretary also confirm that the longer leading index has fallen significantly in recent months? Will he tell the Prime Minister to stop kidding the country that the economy is getting better?

I do not accept many of those points. They all seem to add up to the simple fact that it would be much better to wait until my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes his statement next week.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 26 November.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave earlier.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the letter in The Times today signed by 17 leading industrialists, in which they urge the Government not to be deflected from their broad strategy against inflation by the rising volume of often partisan opposition? Is my right hon. Friend aware that that is the view of every Conservative Member?

I saw that letter. I should have thought that all Conservative Members would greatly welcome its tone. I know that it will not be acceptable to the Labour Party, which just wants to spend a great deal more money.

Does the deputy Prime Minister really think that after increasing Civil Service pay in their first year by 26 per cent. and increasing VAT to 15 per cent., the Government are absolutely on course with the economic arguments that they put before the electorate at the last election?

Given the problems that the Government have faced with the world recession, the answer is "Yes".

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, looking forward in the economy, it would be sensible for all o us to settle our pay increases in line with the increases in productivity rather than having increases that may continue above 5 per cent?

It is true that low pay settlements would greatly contribute to our productive and competitive capacity, which are vital to our success.

Is it not disgraceful that the Cabinet is talking about £3·5 billion worth of cuts, which will affect those most in need, particularly those on unemployment benefit, while at the same time it proposes to spend a further £2 billion on increasing expenditue on Trident? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if the Government spend more on the larger Trident missile they will discard £100 million worth of design expenditure, cause an imbalance in the nuclear position in Europe and invite the Russians to instal more SS20s, because the larger Trident missile——

Order. I know that this is a very long question, but it will run us out of Prime Minister's Question Time.

One thing that I can say in advance of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement next Wednesday is that, as he and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have made clear, it is not a question of cuts, as the hon. Gentleman said. It is a question of a reduction in planned increases in expenditure, which is a very different thing.