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Prime Minister

Volume 21: debated on Thursday 1 April 1982

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Engagements

Ql.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 1 April.

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 have further meetings later today. This evening I hope to dine with Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor.

Is the Prime Minister aware that she misled the House a week ago when she said that living standards were now higher than at any time under t he Labour Government? Is she aware that the Government's figures published yesterday show that real personal disposable income, which is the right hon. Lady's definition of living standards, is lower than when the Labour Government left office? Is she further aware that the truth is that living standards under the Labour Government rose continually by 13 per cent., whereas under the Tory Government they have fallen continually by 5 per cent?

I have been looking at the figures. For the first quarter of 1979 real personal disposable income was 109·8 on the index. In the last quarter of 1981 it was 111·5.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the sudden imposition of VAT on the sale of gold coins has, in the absence of foreign exchange controls, exported that business, and that British residents will now buy gold abroad? Will she consider abolishing VAT for all gold purchases in order to bring employment in that important, profitable and influential business back to Great Britain?

As my hon. Friend knows, that announcement was made yesterday. It will take some time for the markets to settle down. We shall have to see what happens then.

Will the Prime Minister tell the Department of Education and Science to end the absurd anomaly under which any unemployed young person who studies for more than 21 hours a week is immediately refused supplementary benefit, which is directly contrary to what the Prime Minister has repeatedly said about the need for people to work harder?

I thought that the right hon. Lady would know that on the whole supplementary benefit is not meant for students. Therefore, there has to be a certain limit at which it ceases to be paid to students. That has been the rule under all Governments. The question is precisely when that limit is applied. A number of questions have been put to my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and Social Services on that matter. There have been some recent modifications to the 21-hour rule. I must stress again that supplementary benefit is not for those who are more or less full-time students.

As the Liberal Party is opposed to the possession by the United Kingdom of an independent nuclear deterrent, and as the Social Democratic Party thinks that we should have one, is there not a deep split between the two parties on a matter that is of fundamental importance to the country? If by any chance those parties were to hold the balance in Parliament after the next general election, the British public would have not the faintest idea whether this country would have a nuclear deterrent.

That is but one of the things over which the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party do not agree. There is not the slightest shadow of doubt that the Government, realising that an independent nuclear deterrent has served this country well for three decades, believe that we should continue it as the best way of keeping peace.

Will the Prime Minister define the circumstances in which the country ought to launch an independent nuclear retaliation when its allies did not think it right to do so?

We have been alone before. I trust that we shall never be alone again, but I think it reasonable and prudent to make proper provision for the defence of this country should that happen. Only then could we stand up to any potential aggressor. I note the hon. Gentleman's fundamental weakness.

Later—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your support and advice? For the second time the Prime Minister has misled the House by quoting the wrong figures—

Order. No one should try to use a point of order to correct arguments—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Why not?".] Because it is wrong and is not in order.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 April.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, however sincere some of the people in the peace movement might be, the peace movement by its activities can be construed by the enemies of this country as a sign of national weakness?

My hon. Friend is right that those who make the loudest public demonstrations for peace are often those whose policies would make war more likely or would induce the feeling in any potential agressor that this country lacked resolve. My generation does not forget what happened in the 1930s. I agree with my hon. Friend.

With regard to the answer that the Prime Minister has just given about national incomes, is she aware that over the same period the top 25 per cent. of income earners in this country have come to share over 50 per cent. of total national income, yet the bottom 25 per cent. of income earners share less than 10 per cent? There is no doubt, using the same figures, that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Is that in keeping with the philosophy of the Tory party?

Many statistical analyses are published, and all of them have different methods of calculating their results. There is bound to be a considerable spread of and difference in national income.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to reflect on the great benefits that would flow to this country from the institution of a scheme of national community service? Will she also consider that while such a scheme would require a great deal of political will it would find huge underlying support in the country, and that no one is better placed to provide that will than she is?

As my hon. Friend knows, there are many opportunities available for community service under the several programmes operated through the Manpower Services Commission and the Department of Employment. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has proposed to allocate about £150 million in the last Budget, if we can get such a scheme going. He is prepared to increase it if larger numbers of people are prepared to undertake that kind of service.

It is better to go slowly than to bring in a massive scheme that would be difficult to organise.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to reflect on the fact that when there is a Tory Government and high unemployment crime always increases, as it is now doing, and as it did in the 1930s.

If the right hon. Gentleman looks, he will find no clear connection between the level of crime and that of unemployment. Even in the most prosperous countries, without high unemployment, the level of crime has increased.

If the right hon. Lady checks her facts she will find that unemployment under the Conservatives in the 1930s doubled. In the first two years of her Aministration crime figures have gone up 20 per cent., and the Home Secretary said earlier this week that there was a relationship between unemployment and the crime figures.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that it was one of many factors. If the right hon. Gentleman examines the figures he will find that crime went up during the years when unemployment was low.

If that is what the Prime Minister is saying, why did she promise in the general election campaign that her party would reduce crime?

We promised that we would put much greater emphasis on the forces of law and order. There are now 8,000 more police in England and Wales than there were. They are better paid and better equipped, and for once they have the Government wholly behind them in their work.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 April.

No doubt my right hon. Friend has today given considerable thought to the prospect of an excellent summer and an England test team that comprises the best possible cricketers available for England. Has she also found time to consider the recent MORI poll, which shows an increasing optimism about the British economy and also increasing support for the Government and for my right hon. Friend in particular? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance to the House that, with her usual vigour and determination, she will continue to fight for the best interests of the United Kingdom at home and abroad?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Long may the polls continue to go in that direction, and may the situation improve. We shall continue to bring down inflation, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Lord President will allow us enough time to watch some cricket.

In view of the murder of five soldiers and one policeman in Northern Ireland in the past week, will the Prime Minister increase the capacity of the security forces to deal with the violence, stimulated now, as it was last November, by ill-advised political initiatives?

I think that every hon. Member is aware of the sacrifices made on our behalf by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and by the armed forces who serve in Ulster. I pay tribute to them and extend sympathy to their families who have suffered tragedy of this kind.

With regard to any future initiatives in Northern Ireland, I hope that there will be a White Paper and a statement next week.

As the Prime Minister will be aware, today we hope to hive the Third Reading of the Oil mberand Gas (Enterprise) Bill, the biggest piece of denationalisation, for 30 years. Will my right hon. Friend, at an early opportunity today, or certainly within the next few weeks, have meetings with her colleagues to produce for the next Session of Parliament an even greater measure of denationalisation?

I thank my hon. Friend. As he knows, it is our policy to press ahead with further denationalisation because we believe that that is in the best interests of the people and it is a genuine way of extending private ownership in this country.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to start polishing up her speech for the United Nations special session on disarmament? If she does, will she give serious consideration to trying to break the logjam in the peace talks, and even to break the mould by saying that she refuses to go ahead with Trident and refuses to have cruise missiles in this country, and that she will pursue a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament?

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for 1 April

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris), is it not encouraging that, as a result of denationalisation measures since my right hon. Friend came into office, about 75,000 employees in public industries have become worker-shareholders in their enterprises? Is this not a giant stride towards a nationwide capital-owning democracy?

Yes, it is a considerable stride towards a capital-owning democracy. I am happy to report to my hon. Friend that not 75,000 but 90,000 people have benefited in that way.

Is the Prime Minister aware of the great anxiety among the employees of the Royal ordnance factories in my constituency and those of many of my hon. Friends about the Ministry of Defence leaks in today's press that the Government are to do an Amersham International at those factories and sell them to the private sector? As this anxiety comes on top of an unprecedented number of redundancies in the Royal ordnance factories, will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to tell us exactly what is the Government's policy?

The Government are considering how best to give effect to their policy objective of changing the constitution of the Royal ordnance factories to allow them to operate in a more commercial environment. I must give the hon. Gentleman news which I am afraid will be welcome to him, although not so welcome to some of my hon. Friends. The prospects for fast progress in privatising the Royal ordnance factories are not bright.