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Engagements

Volume 19: debated on Tuesday 2 March 1982

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Q1.

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 2 March.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the Saudi Arabian Minister of Planning. in addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to tell the people that all law-abiding citizens of our nation have the right to travel where they want and when they want and that that should apply whether they be holidaymakers, business men or sportsmen, including cricketers? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right that we should seek to help a country that is friendly to the West, and to help the Prime Minister of that country, who is carrying through a progressive programme, rather than hand over Southern Africa to our enemies?

Citizens of this country are free to travel, as far as we are concerned. No restrictions are placed upon them.

Has the right hon. Lady had the chance to study carefully early-day motion 289, to which the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) subscribed? Does she not think that that early-day motion is deeply humiliating to the House of Commons? The early-day motion deals with the cricketers who have gone to South Africa.

Will the Prime Minister take early steps to show how strongly she disapproves of all the views expressed in that early-day motion? Will she make it clear that the Government are determined to carry out the Gleneagles agreement and to uphold the Test and County Cricket Board in carrying out its proper functions? Will she make it clear that as a Government and as a country we entirely repudiate the sentiments expressed by about 30 of her followers in that early-day motion?

We are signatories to the Gleneagles agreement. We reaffirmed it and we try to uphold its terms. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, our powers are limited to persuasion. The Test and County Cricket Board did everything that it could with regard to the cricketers who have gone to play in South Africa. However, it did not know when the visit was going to take place. In so far as it did know, it attempted to persuade people not to go. We try to uphold the Gleneagles agreement. That has to be done by persuasion. In the end the decision is up to each of the persons concerned, because they are in a free country.

Will the right hon. Lady recognise that this is not only a question of persuasion, although that, of course, enters into it. It is also open to her—indeed, it is her duty to the House and to the country—to condemn early-day motion 289, which is deeply offensive to human rights? Have the right hon. Lady and her Government fully considered the threat to the Commonwealth Games? If the condemnation is not sufficiently strong, the games might be threatened. I am sure that the right hon. Lady does not wish to see that situation arise. Will she not use her authority to try to ensure that the Commonwealth Games are maintained and that this country plays its proper part in the games?

We believe in the Gleneagles agreement. We shall do our best to uphold it. My hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport has seen the Test and County Cricket Board. We do not, however, have the power to prevent our sportsmen and women from visiting South Africa or anywhere else. If we did, we would no longer be a free country. The Gleneagles agreement recognises that we can act only by persuasion. We have tried to do just that.

In our free country, is it not the duty of the Head of the elected Government of what is also a Commonwealth country to make clear her own condemnation of what has happened?

My hon. Friend the Minister responsibile for sport, on my behalf, has made the views of the Government perfectly clear—

His remarks are already on the record. He has seen the Test and County Cricket Board. In the end, our capacity to act is limited to persuasion.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 2 March.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Labour-controlled Humberside county council is levying a rate 61 per cent. higher than that levied by the Conservative council last year? Will my right hon. Friend accept that, in an area of high unemployment, this will reduce job opportunities? Will the Government consider taking further action to protect hard-pressed industry and working people from the ravages of such Marxist councils?

I am well aware that Humberside has announced that it will increase its precept by 61 per cent. This is the highest increase of any of the shire counties. It comes, of course, from a Labour council. Many people who have been transferred to Humberside from Lincolnshire wish to goodness that they were still in Lincolnshire. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that local rates are the biggest tax paid by industry and that higher rates cost jobs. My hon. Friend knows that a Bill is before the House to prevent supplementary rates—that council also had a supplementary rate—and that there is a Green Paper on the restructuring and the future of the rating system. How far we can advance will depend upon the reaching of a conclusion on the best way to go about the matter.

Will the Prime Minister say why the Government are proposing to introduce a new version of the retail price index for the purposes of uprating the poorest beneficiaries on supplementary benefit, using a formula which, if applied this year, will deprive the unemployed and pensioners on supplementary benefit and supplementary pensions of £90 million?

The present Act is related to the retail prices index as it is now.

While agreeing with my right hon. Friend's first answer on the question relating to sport in South Africa, may I ask her to confirm that those cricketers who decided not to go were making a more significant gesture in terms of freedom for people in South Africa, who are unable in many cases to move around in their own country or to travel abroad?

I know that some cricketers were persuaded not to go by the action of the Test and County Cricket Board. I believe that they are probably making their stand on apartheid in South Africa.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 2 March.

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

Bearing in mind the Prime Minister's admission in the House last Thursday that had the shares of Amersham International been disposed of by tender a much higher price could have been realised, will she, as a matter of urgency, consult her right hon. Friend the Leader of the House with a view to tabling the necessary manuscript motion today, which would allow the notice of objection by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) to be debated and voted upon separately today, to give the House the chance to express its view on this very sordid business?

What can be voted upon separately is a matter not for me but for the Chair, and possibly for the Leader of the House. It is certainly not a matter for me. With regard to Amersham International, I did not necessarily say that the tender would have produced a higher price in any way. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware of the fact that before the event occurred a number of commentaries appeared, one of which—I refer to the Investors Chronicle—stated that the share was "a shade ambitiously priced."

Bearinng in mind that the price of most industrial shares is 10·6 times historic earnings and for companies in the health and household sector 13·8 times historic earnings, a price of nearly 19 times forecast earnings would appear to have been about right.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of how eagerly many of my constituents in Southampton are looking forward to the privatisation of the British Transport Docks Board? We.have suffered almost 12 months of disputes. We hope that the privatisation will produce stronger management with better organisational ability and that this will mean more prosperity for the 19 ports under the British Transport Docks Board.

I am glad that my hon. Friend takes that view. I am sure that the result will be a better bargain and a more efficient operation and that it will also be better for the consumer.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the widows of coal miners have been issued with notices by the Inland Revenue informing them that the pensions of their late husbands are now to be taxed? What does she intend to do about it?

I rather think that we have a Budget in the offing. I ask the hon. Gentleman to contain his impatience.

Reverting to an earlier question, does my right hon. Friend agree that, regardless of the circumstances, no individual sport will flourish in this country unless there is loyalty and trust between the competitors and players and their governing bodies? Is it not a sad day when money is more important than the game?

The Test and County Cricket Board has done its best loyally to uphold the Gleneagles agreement and has given advice. In the end, of course, while many of us may agree with my hon. Friend, in a free country it is up to the persons concerned freely to make their decisions.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 2 March.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that when my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) raises the issue of widows of coal miners being taxed on miners' pensions of about £6 out of a net income of less than £37 a week, the reason is that, in last year's Budget, she and the rest of her gang marched into the Lobby to ensure that personal allowances were not raised in line with inflation? Does this not show that the Government are concerned with lining the pockets of their supporters, by the sale of Amersham shares, to the tune of £25 million, while making people receiving less than £37 pay taxation? Has she not a duty in the next Budget to repair that damage?

Taxation is levied not on a particular pension but on total income, in accordance with personal allowances rules, which are fixed by each Finance Act. It is usually the subject of the Budget each year. It would be much easier to reduce direct tax if people thought more of reducing direct public expenditure.

In the course of her busy day, has my right hon. Friend heard rumours that pension fund managers, acting on behalf of mineworkers and railwaymen, were substantial subscribers to Amersham International shares? If that rumour is correct, will she congratulate those pension fund managers on exercising their skill and expertise on behalf of hundreds of thousands of working people?

I do not know whether the rumour is true, but pension fund managers have a duty to make the best investment for their beneficiaries. If they did that, they presumably did it because they thought that it was a good investment in the long run.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As it is rumoured that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Health (Mr. Howell), who speaks on behalf of the Opposition for sport—

Order. Every instinct in me tells me that it is wiser to ask the hon. Gentleman to remain seated.