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Engagements

Volume 20: debated on Tuesday 16 March 1982

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Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 16 March.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the President of the Council of Ministers and the President of the Commission of the European Community. Later I was present at the arrival in London of His Majesty the Sultan of Oman. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall attend a State banquet given by Her Majesty the Queen in honour of the Sultan of Oman.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to read again the promise that was made to the House by the Secretary of State for Social Services two years ago to the effect the 5 per cent. abatement of unemployment benefit would end when that benefit was brought into tax? Is it not a gross breach of faith with the House and the unemployed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer now proposes not to give back that 5 per cent? Why should the unemployed, of all people, be subject to double taxation?

Final decisions on that matter have yet to be taken. If extra is to be found, it will probably come once again from the national insurance contributions.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the key issue in the North-West of England at the moment is one of law and order? Will she be willing to break with tradition and allow another debate on capital punishment in the lifetime of this Parliament?

I accept that the question of law and order is one of those foremost in the public mind, and for good reasons. We have already had one debate on capital punishment. I would have considerable doubts about whether another one would produce a different result, but this is a question for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Does the right hon. Lady think that there is any connection between the record rates of crime and of unemployment that have come about under her Government?

No, Sir. There is not a direct relationship in any way. The right hon. Gentleman has only to look at the way in which the crime figures rose through periods of increasing prosperity and decreasing unemployment. They rose steadily. For obvious reasons, street crimes take place very much in the centres of our cities. Idle hands get to mischief. However, in my view that is not the reason for the sharp increase in crime.

Will the right hon. Lady apply her mind to what is likely to happen to crime and unemployment figures if the community enterprise programme of the Manpower Services Commission is cut by the Secretary of State for Employment? Does she not think that that could also contribute to crime and unemployment?

The community enterprise programme is being expanded by a further 5, 000 to 30, 000.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that her Government's policy of giving high priority to law and order has provided the police with the resources that they need to meet the present crime wave? Does she think that it would be timely if the police were to let it be known that they intend to make the fullest use of their new strength and that they will not be intimidated or deflected from their duties by any attempts to defame them as racist?

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. The Government have increased the number of police by 8, 000 in England and Wales and ensured that they are properly paid and properly equipped. Those who undermine the police are those who attempt to brand them as racist or attempt to undermine them in other ways.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 16 March.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that last August, in explaining away his claim that the recession was ending, the Chancellor of the Exchequer defined the recession as a situation in which industrial output and production were falling? As industrial output and production have fallen for each of the past three months, is not the conclusion inescapable that the country is now in the grips of a renewed recession?

No, it is not. It is up over the low point of last year. The hon. Gentleman must wait for some more figures. The hon. Gentleman knows full well, and probably has read, some of the reasons that the Statistical Office gave in the press release for the figures. Yes, the figures were bad. Yes, there was an unprecedented period of bad weather at that time. Yes, there were many strikes. It is not those on the Government Benches who help to support strikes. I hope that we shall soon get some better figures. When we have them I shall be pleased, and doubtless Labour Members will be displeased.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to study the statement made by President Brezhnev about the deployment of SS20 missiles west of the Urals? Does she agree that the statement falls far short of what might be needed, in that it leaves available deployment east of the Urals that is just as dangerous and does not reduce the number of missiles to the west? Does my right hon. Friend accept that the statement is a nasty reminder to us all of the extent to which the Soviet Union has been increasing its deployment of nuclear missiles over the past three years?

Yes, I agree very much with my hon. Friend. President Brezhnev's statement ignores two facts. First, it freezes the total superiority of the Soviet Union in these weapons—

It freezes the total superiority of the Soviet Union in these theatre nuclear weapons. Secondly, it ignores the fact that the SS20s can just as well be deployed and targeted on the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe from beyond the Urals as they can from this side of them.

Will the Prime Minister take time today to bear in mind that pensioners and others have lost two or three weeks' pension or benefit because of her Government's new calculation of benefits and their miscalculation of inflation? Will she compensate them for this amount by introducing an Easter bonus?

No. The hon. Gentleman talks of an Easter bonus. Under this Government the pensioners have had a bonus each Christmas, which they did not have under the Labour Government.

Will my right hon. Friend take time in the course of today to note that since the Budget of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer both interest rates and building society rates have fallen and are likely to do so again soon?

Is it in the remotest degree conceivable that that would have happened if, instead of my right hon. and learned Friend's Budget, we had had the £9, 000 million inflationary programme presented by the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) a few days before?

Of course, in that case neither interest rates nor building society rates would have come down. What would have happened to the exchange rate I tremble to think. The inflation rate would have increased precisely as it did when the Labour Government inflated the economy. It went up to 26·9 per cent. under that Government. It would do so again and would go even higher if the right hon. Gentleman's programme were implemented.

Is the Prime Minister aware that Imperial Tobacco Ltd. has announced 2, 500 redundancies throughout the United Kingdom? As the Exchequer has received so much finance from the tobacco industry, will the right hon. Lady ask her Ministers to consider the social consequences of the redundancies and make representations to Imperial Tobacco.

I can understand the hon. Gentleman's concern for those in his constituency who will be without work. I am sorry, but one cannot urge people to purchase more of the products associated with smoking tobacco. It is a matter of personal choice for the public. We shall have to see whether we can get alternative work for those who will be without work.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 16 March.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is widespread support in Scotland for the decision that the United Kingdom should continue to maintain its own nuclear deterrent? Will she further accept that disarmament negotiations are better conducted from a position of military strength rather than military weakness?

I genuinely agree with what my hon. Friend has said. The Government, like their predecessor, of which the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) were members, believe in keeping a nuclear deterrent as a safeguard for our strength. We also believe that it is far better to negotiate for disarmament from a position of strength. I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to negotiate a position on disarmament. I hope to go to the opening part of the second UN special session in New York to make a contribution on behalf of the United Kingdom.

Will the Prime Minister try to find a little time today to read and analyse the press reports of yesterday and today on the issue raised by the French on the development of a European independent defence policy? Is she prepared to subscribe to the belief expressed by President Mitterrand that the Western European Union provides a ready-made forum for the development of such a policy?

We should be very wary before we have in Europe a scheme that applies only to Europe, while at the same time we have the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It seems to me that that would not in the end unite the Western world in defending its own interests. It would have the possibility of dividing it, especially from its friends across the Atlantic, who are the ultimate guarantors of Europe's freedom.