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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 23: debated on Tuesday 4 May 1982

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


Pensioners (Cost Of Living Index)


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what has been the increase in the pensioners cost of living index in the last 12 months.

The retail price index for one-person pensioner households increased by 10·9 per cent., and that for two-person pensioners by 11·2 per cent. over the year to the first quarter of 1982.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is unfair that some pensioners have to spend up to 10 per cent. of their incomes paying standing charges for gas, electricity, water and telephone? Will he take steps to help? How is this factor weighted and calculated in the index?

My hon. Friend asks principally a question that is not for me to answer. Whether standing charges have a disproportionate effect on pensioners is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and others. Standing charges are reflected in the pensioner indices both in the price indicators and in the weights, which are based on the actual expenditure of low-income pensioner households, as reported in the family expenditure survey. Indeed, my hon. Friend might like to look back to a full description of the construction of these indices in the June 1969 edition of Employment Gazette.

Does the Secretary of State accept that standing charges are affected by the Government's policies, generally? Is he aware that the standing charges for gas have quadrupled in the two and a half years since the Government came to office, and that electricity standing charges have increased by two and a half times? Will the Secretary of State now accept some responsibility for initiating a review into the effect of the standing charges and other burdens on pensioners?

I thought that I had explained the position clearly to the House, but obviously the hon. Gentleman did not quite follow what I said. I suggest that he reads my answer in Hansard tomorrow.

In considering increases in the cost of living for pensioners, will my right hon. Friend recall that not so long ago Conservative policy was to increase pensions every six months, not every 12 months? Does he realise that at least two member States of the European Community find it possible to increase pensions every six months? If the reason for not doing so is purely administrative difficulty, could not the Government overcome it so that those who die during the last six months of the period have some benefit during the last few months of their lives?

My hon. Friend should consider two matters. First, inflation has been brought firmly under control since the idea was first mooted. It is now only just over 10 per cent. and falling. The prospect of long-term single figure inflation is within our grasp. The position is very different from that during the term of the previous Government. Secondly, by November, on the next uprating, the pension will have been increased by 68 per cent. since we came into office compared with an expected increase in prices over the same period of 65 per cent.

Temporary Short-Time Working Compensation Scheme


asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people were helped by the temporary short-time working compensation scheme in the last 12 months for which figures are available.

A precise figure is not available, but I estimate that almost 1·3 million people have shared short-time working under the scheme in Great Britain in the past 12 months.

Would my right hon. Friend like to elaborate on the actions that he has taken to deal with the present unemployment problems and compare those actions with what was done under the previous Government?

We have dramatically increased the amount spent on special employment measures. Indeed, at a time when Government expenditure as a whole is tending to decrease, expenditure on special employment measures this financial year has increased by 50 per cent. over the previous year.

Is the Minister aware that the recent decline in the number of textile and clothing workers covered by the short-time working compensation scheme has nothing to do with the alleged recovery in the economy, and that trading conditions in these industries remain seriously depressed? Will he look favourably at the two proposals from the trade unions and employers in the industries—that firms that have already used their full entitlement can reapply after a suitable time, and that firms that go back to full-time working before using their full entitlement can save the unused portion for later use if demand declines again?

I am ready to consider constructively any proposal to help the textile industry. I have recently received two deputations about the scheme from firms and groups in textile areas. The temporary short-time working compensation scheme is not a counter-cyclical measure to help the textile industry. It is designed to support jobs that are basically viable in the medium term.

Employment Bill


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is planning to hold meetings with members of trade unions to discuss aspects of the Employment Bill legislation.

As I have made quite clear, I am of course always ready to meet appropriate representatives of trade unions to discuss matters relating to the Employment Bill.

What is my right hon. Friend's estimate of the degree of support for the legislation among trade union members?

It is clearly very high, as has been shown for a long time by successive surveys by a large number of opinion survey companies, independent of the Government.

As the Engineering Employers Federation has come out against the Bill, is there not now the clear impression from both sides that it would lead to confrontation and disturbance in work places rather than to the reverse?

The right hon. Gentleman's question is based on a false presumption. At the Financial Times conference the director general of the Engineering Employers Federation stated:

"The Federation broadly supports the Government's step by step approach to the reform of industrial relations. The proposals now going through Parliament will introduce several valuable reforms for which the EEF pressed"
when responding to the Green Paper.

Is it not a matter of great regret that the TUC, while using £1 million of its members' money to conduct a leaflet war against the Bill, has failed to consult the Government on matters of detail within it? Even at this late stage will my right hon. Friend press trade union leaders to consult him on such matters as the definition of a political dispute to see whether the Bill can be further improved before Report?

My hon. Friend is correct. The trade unions have not even consulted their members or given them the choice about contributing lop a head to the campaign. I have certainly done what my hon. Friend asks. On the last occasion, as recently as 25 February, I stated in writing to Mr. Murray:

"I would like to repeat the offer I made in my letter of 23 December to discuss these and any other matters you may wish to raise with me."
That was referring to the issues in the Employment Bill. He has not accepted my invitation.

Has the Secretary of State not made it absolutely clear by his behaviour and that of his Ministers in the Standing Committee that concluded last week that he is not prepared to listen to reasonable argument? Can one wonder that the TUC is not prepared to waste time on a dialogue with the deaf? Is it not clear that the Engineering Employers Federation is not alone in having serious reservations about the consequences of the measure for industrial relations? It is joined by the General Council of British Shipping and the Institute of Personnel Management in expressing serious concern.

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman chooses to continue on the Floor of the House his Committee filibuster. My invitation to Mr. Murray on 23 December to talk to me about the matter was brushed aside. It could not have been brushed aside because of our proceedings in Committee, as they had not then started. I entirely refute what the right hon. Gentleman says about our unwillingness to listen to reasoned argument. The problem was that there was not much reasoned argument.

Training Boards


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a further statement on the training boards.

We intend to lay orders winding up 16 boards and reducing the scope of three others in two batches. We hope to lay the first batch within the next few days and the second about a month later.

Before the axe falls on the Road Transport Industry Training Board's facility, the MOTEC at Livingston, will the Minister pay it a visit?

As I made clear to the hon. Gentleman when he came to see me, I have watched the matter of the Livingston MOTEC carefully. Its future is a matter for the Road Transport Industry Training Board.

Will my hon. Friend make it clear beyond peradventure that he will not lay an order before the House concerning a training board unless he is absolutely satisfied that the voluntary arrangements are satisfactory now and for the long term?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said on numerous occasions that he will not lay an order to wind up a board until he is satisfied that the voluntary proposals are satisfactory.

Is the Minister not recklessly leaving industrial training to market forces? Are not his voluntary schemes so discredited that he has to give them an alias—"non-statutory"?

The Government's policy is to clear away unnecessary bureaucracy. I have great confidence in the employers organisations coming forward with perfectly satisfactory voluntary training arrangements.

Does my hon. Friend agree that in the early years the training boards did a good job, but that, unfortunately, as time went on their performance varied, and while some still did a reasonable job others became bureaucratic and overstaffed?

I could not put it better. As time went on some of the boards lost the confidence of employers who were within their scope.

Did the Minister read in the Sunday Times the remarks of David Mitchell, the outgoing director of the Food, Drink and Tobacco Industry Training Board that the Minister was desperate to save his face and that he needed at least a piece of paper to show that the industry was capable of voluntary training or he would end up with egg on his face? Is he aware that he appears before us today metaphorically covered in yolk? What does he intend to do about it?

Since that report, for which of course I am not responsible, Mr. Mitchell has written to me stating that in many respects the voluntary arrangements are perfectly satisfactory.

Unemployment Statistics


asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people are registered unemployed in the United Kingdom; and what is his latest estimate of the number of unemployed who are not registered as such.

At 15 April the provisional number of people registered as unemployed in the United Kingdom was 3,007,726. The latest information suggests that in 1979–80 about a third of a million people were seeking work but were not registered as unemployed.

Is the Secretary of State not ashamed of the fact that if one takes account of the unregistered unemployed and all those who are on short-time working and special employment schemes—some of which are of questionable value—the true figure for unemployment is over 4 million? Is it not about time that the Tory Party hired Saatchi & Saatchi to design a new poster showing an ever-increasing dole queue with a caption declaring that Thatcherism is not working?

The hon. Gentleman, like most of us, has, I fear, a liking for some subjective interpretations of highly selective statistics. He is aware, but does not care to recall, that in the past, when unemployment was admittedly lower, surveys showed that between 10 and 20 per cent. of the registered unemployed were not actively seeking work or were not concerned about being out of work. As there are about 10 million people of working age who are not at work he could just as well call that, instead of 4 million, the total of unemployed. We should stick to the form of statistics used for many years by successive Governments.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is wrong to blame the economic policies of the Government for unemployment? The stance of some trade union leaders, with restrictive practices, unreasonable wage demands and frivolous strikes, has in many cases priced us out of jobs. Does my right hon. Friend agree, therefore, that blame for unemployment must be laid at the door of the trade union leaders?

Yes, indeed, and facts speak louder than words in many ways. In a firm such as the Jaguar motor car company wage restraint, increased productivity, better attention to quality, and greater consideration for the customer have meant that the company has increased its sales and is taking on more workers. The way ahead is to solve the problems of the past and to satisfy the customer.

If the right hon. Gentleman believes that it is best to keep to the method of compiling statistics used by previous Governments, why, after October, is his Department compiling unemployment statistics to include only those eligible to receive benefits and not those registered for work? In a letter to me from his Department he agreed that 65,000 women will be removed from the unemployment figures, not because they are not unemployed, but because they do not qualify for benefit. Why is he altering the method of collating statistics when he has just defended it?

The right hon. Lady knows the answer to that question. It is a consequence of, amongst other things, voluntary registration. Where there are any changes from the exact form—I use that expression to mean the general form of statistics that we should maintain—the statistics that are issued will be annotated—for example, in the way that the statistics that are issued now clearly show the estimate that is made of the effect on the total of unemployed by the special employment measures.

The right hon. Gentleman cannot say that that is a fiddle, because that is exactly what the Department did when he was a Minister.

Employment Act 1980


asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is satisfied with the operation of the Employment Act 1980; and if he will make a statement.

The Employment Act 1980 came into force just over one and a half years ago. It is still too soon to make any final judgment about its effectiveness, although it has clearly constituted a substantial first step in promoting much needed reforms. We have, of course, taken full account of the way in which the Act has operated in drawing up the measures contained in the Employment Bill.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the step-by-step approach in the Act to industrial relations has been vindicated by events? Will he resist all future approaches to depart from a cautious approach to industrial relations?

I agree with my hon. Friend that there has been complete justification of the step-by-step approach and the importance of not moving ahead of public opinion. We were very careful when framing the Employment Act 1980 to include only proposals that had massive support from every section of British industry.

Is the Minister aware that when the Act was introduced Tory Ministers said repeatedly that one reason for its introduction was to ensure that there would be a reduction in unemployment arising from the removal of alleged restrictive practices? Is he further aware that since that date there has been an increase in unemployment nearly every month, rising to nearly 4 million?

My recollection is that when the Act was introduced it was made abundantly plain that it was introduced to deal with easily identified abuses. This year's Bill has also been introduced to deal with abuses. The general public were calling upon us to make sure that they were dealt with.

Is it not a fact that management and unions are carefully operating the 1980 Act? Will my hon. and learned Friend draw to the attention of trade unions the fact that they should use the ballot procedures not just on whether there should or should not be industrial action, but on their rules and procedures?

Certainly it is a great disappointment that after public moneys have been made available the TUC should still be saying that unions should not take these moneys to increase democracy in the trade union movement. That is a shocking attitude, particularly when the unions are taking public moneys for the training of shop stewards. The unions must realise that unless they quickly reform their attitude public pressure will grow for further steps to be taken. I agree with my hon. Friend that the 1980 Act is being used sensibly. It has been used to give remedies to people who have lost their jobs through closed shops, secondary picketing and secondary action.

If the 1980 Act is so satisfactory, why are the Government introducing a second Bill and promising to introduce a third?

I thought that it was abundantly plain that new abuses had arisen since the passing of the 1980 Act.

Hon. Members may shout, but I should have thought that it was obvious that new abuses have occurred in closed shops and in union labour only clauses in contracts.

Training Boards


asked the Secretary of State for Employment which statutory industrial training boards scheduled for abolition in 1982 he has visited; and if he will make a statement.

I met the chairman and a number of members of every industrial training board last year before the Government took decisions on their future. I have made it clear that as and when any issue arises, I am always ready to discuss it personally with the chairmen of training boards.

Does the Minister agree that it is wrong to abolish the statutory training boards in such industries as distribution, paper products, and food and drink? Is not the way in which the boards operate with insufficient budgets and staffing a horror story? Have not the TUC and the CBI expressed concern at the incompetent manner in which the Department is handling these matters?

Does my hon. Friend agree that where a single firm, such as Hoover at Perivale, is replaced after tragically folding, with several different types of concerns on the same site, industrial training boards do not have a direct application and that new mechanisms for training workers for the new jobs are required?

I agree with my hon. Friend that we need a more flexible attitude towards training, and that is one of the principal elements in the new training initiative.

Is the Minister aware that there is general widespread unease about the proposed abolition of the training boards? Given the obvious lack of training in this country compared with our major competitors, will he please ensure that on the proposed voluntary arrangements we can establish what are the criteria and how the voluntary arrangements work on the basis of them, so that we can reverse his disastrous decision at the earliest opportunity?

I am not aware of the general unease, except from certain vested interests. I am aware that the Government have put training high on their list of priorities with the publication of the new training initiative, the backing to it and the £1,000 million a year given to the youth training scheme.

May I remind my hon. Friend that one of the training boards due for abolition relates to the footwear and leather industries. Is he aware that about 500 further redundancies in that industry were announced last weekend in Northamptonshire alone? Will he therefore give some indication on behalf of the Government that there is some confidence in the future of the industry? Many of my constituents are extremely concerned that, with the abolition of the training boards and the continued decline of the industry, the Government might be abandoning a traditional, hardworking and loyal industry?

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government have no lack of confidence in the footwear industry and that the proposed abolition of the Footwear, Leather and Fur Skin Industry Training Board should not give that indication.

Unemployment Statistics


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the unemployment rates for the Northern region and the United Kingdom, respectively.

At 15 April the rates of unemployment in the Northern region and the United Kingdom were 16·3 per cent. and 12·6 per cent. respectively.

Are not those figures disgraceful, particularly in view of the fact that in the Northern region unemployment has increased every month since this Government came to power? Instead of giving the usual bland and complacent reply that we always get on these occasions, will the Minister take note, and recommend the implementation, of many of the practical proposals that are made regularly by Labour Members? How long is he prepared to tolerate this desperate situation in the North?

The hon. Gentleman will know that, like him, I share dismay at the persistently high level of unemployment in the Northern region, which goes back over many years and is partly due to the fact that its dependence on traditional industries, notably shipbuilding and steel, have made the region extremely vulnerable to the downturn. However, large sums of money indeed—£400 million in the latest financial year—are being spent to try to make prospects there better, and there are some signs that jobs are coming along.

Is the Minister aware that the unemployment rate in the North-East is about to take a further leap? If the closure of the British Rail engineering works in Shildon takes place, unemployment will increase by a further 2,500 in that small town of 14,000 people. Will he take note of the fact that those employees of British Rail Engineering have done everything that has been required of them? They have been co-operative, have cut their costs, and for many years industrial relations have been excellent. Will the Minister give his attention to this problem and say what he is prepared to do about it?

I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the British Rail Engineering Ltd. works at Shildon, Bishop Auckland. Both he and I can join together in hoping that productivity on British Rail will show some prospects of improving so that BR can expand.

Is the Minister aware that that was a complacent answer? In view of the appalling unemployment situation in the Northern region, which has doubled since the general election, is it not about time that the so-called Secretary of State for Employment got off his bottom and did something about it?

If the hon. Gentleman really thinks that the doubling in the level of unemployment since the general election has no connection whatever with the previous Government's appalling record of allowing pay and productivity to get out of step, he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is satisfied that assessing unemployment on the basis of the jobless in travel-to-work areas is the most efficient method of determining unemployment statistics.

Yes, Sir. The purpose of the unemployment rates calculated by my Department is to measure an area's need for jobs. I am satisfied that travel-to-work areas, which are relatively self-contained labour markets, are the smallest areas for which such unemployment rates can usefully be calculated.

Does not the Minister agree that assessing the number of jobless, particularly in the regional city areas, produces a statistical nonsense? Is he aware that in Manchester the travel-to-work area embraces Moss Side and Wimslow; in Liverpool it embraces Toxteth and Allerton; and that in Birmingham it embraces Handsworth and Solihull? Surely areas such as those, which contain such wide social disparities, produce statistical nonsense if used to assess unemployment.

We know that great social problems are posed by high concentrations of unemployed persons in small areas. That is one of the reasons why we have an urban programme, from which Manchester and Oldham are benefiting. However, statistics that show unemployment in very small areas really prove nothing. The size of a travel-to-work area is determined by commuter patterns, so that one can discover what jobs are available to those who are able to travel to them.

I recognise that some parts of Manchester have high levels of unemployment, but is my hon. and learned Friend able to indicate the level of unemployment in Manchester generally compared with the North-West?

Nobody denies that the situation is serious, but unemployment in the Manchester travel-to-work area is 13·2 per cent., whereas it is 15·3 per cent. in the North-West as a whole.

Is the Minister prepared to review the boundaries of travel-to-work areas where there have been substantial changes in travel-to-work patterns in recent years?

We are always prepared to look at special cases, but the current travel-to-work area network was last reviewed in 1978 on the basis of the 1971 census. The network will be reviewed again when we have the complete figures of the 1981 census.

"Employers' Guide To Disabilities"


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will discuss with the Manpower Services Commission ways of bringing to the attention of employers the "Employers' Guide to Disabilities" published by the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, of which he has received a copy.

The Manpower Services Commission is bringing the guide to the attention of employers through a variety of means, and in particular is planning to do so through the contacts its disablement resettlement officers have with individual employers. I am glad to have this opportunity warmly to welcome the guide, which will be a valuable aid to those concerned with the employment of disabled people.

Is my right hon. Friend and his Department aware that often a disabled person is a conscientious and dedicated worker, because a job means so much to his self-respect and to his acceptance among the able-bodied? Will he continue to ensure that employers at the highest level realise the enormous importance of taking their share of employment from among the disabled?

Yes. I particularly endorse and note my hon. Friend's concluding point. As to the quality of disabled people in work, there is no doubt that, having taken on disabled people, many employers discover that they have a premium in their dedication, commitment and reliability.

Is the Minister aware that, in addition to seeking to persuade employers, the Royal association is also in favour of retaining and strengthening the quota system, which has statutory backing?

Jobcentre (Ponders End)


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with conditions for staff and applicants at Ponders End jobcentre.

The employment office at Ponders End is in premises shared with the unemployment benefit office. Both these offices are at present overcrowded and conditions for both staff and applicants are not satisfactory. The commission proposes to open a small jobcentre in Enfield, just over a mile away, to which some work will be transferred. This will relieve pressure on both the employment and benefit offices.

I recognise the inadequacy of the present premises, but does it really make sense to open a new centre that is both further away from jobs locally and a greater distance for many people to travel?

The employment office at Ponders End is well known to my right hon. Friend, who not long ago registered there for his national service. I know that the conditions there have been unsatisfactory, and it was necessary to make some changes. I am told that this jobcentre, close to but not in the main Enfield shopping centre, is in the area where most of the job-seeking clients live and shop.

New Training Initiative


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will now make a further statement about the new training initiative.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the progress of his plans for a new youth training scheme.

With permission Mr. Speaker, I shall answer questions 15 and 17 together, and I hope that the House will forgive a slightly longer reply on this important matter.

I have received from the Manpower Services Commission the report of the youth task group, which the commission published today. The commission has endorsed the report.

The task group puts forward proposals that are of significance for future training arrangements for young school leavers, both employed and unemployed. The Government will consider the recommendations carefully, with a view to an early decision this summer, so that preparations can be made for a new scheme to replace the youth opportunities programme in September 1983. I understand that the Select Committee on Employment will be considering the report and I shall be glad to take into account any views it forms.

Despite a number of significant differences between the task group proposals and those of the White Paper, there is much common ground. They share the objective of proper training. Both give priority to the unemployed, including a guarantee to unemployed 16-year-olds, and both would develop the youth opportunities programme this year to lead into new arrangements from September 1983.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are grounds for general satisfaction that the TUC, CBI and other organisations in the task group have been able to agree on proposals to submit to the Minister, and does he accept that this is a significant and welcome step forward on the already commendable White Paper that he presented to the House?

I am glad that all sides have been able to make an agreed report to me, and although at the moment I cannot say in advance of my consideration what my final conclusion will be, I welcome that agreed report and the fact that the employers' side has been willing to put in large sums of money, above what the Government have proposed putting in.

Will my right hon. Friend, as he develops his scheme, allow for continued expansion of the more worthwhile community service activities that are taking place at the moment? This is for two reasons: first, to expand the range of opportunities available to young people; and, secondly, to provide alternatives for those young people who find themselves in areas where the scheme that he is developing will not, unhappily, be able to develop quite as aptly as it will in other parts of the country.

I hope that alongside everything we do on the basis of this training scheme there will continue to be a substantial role for voluntary service generally.

Will the right hon. Gentleman look into the instances in East Anglia where the Manpower Services Commission is reluctant to finance training for work on allotments? In view of the substantial amount of land and the high incidence of unemployment, will the Minister perhaps, have a word with the MSC?

If the hon. Gentleman were willing to write to me about any particular problem—or perhaps, more effectively, to write to the chairman of the MSC, which has direct responsibility for these matters—I am sure that he would find that either the chairman or I would be helpful if we could be.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, as well as creating over 5,000 redundancies at Shildon, Norwich and Swindon, the British Railways Board also intends to put into mothballs the apprentice training school at Swindon? Does he agree that this would be a disgraceful waste of excellent training facilities, and will he give me an assurance that he will do everything possible to make use of these facilities instead of closing them?

I am sure that the chances of making good use of such facilities would be enormously increased if the staff of British Rail were willing to make full and proper use of the capital investment made in British Rail and get on with increasing productivity and moving on to better and more flexible ways of working.

Will the Secretary of State accept that the MSC report excludes any element of compulsion for the youth training scheme? Will he accept that, so that we can have the maximum of speed and the maximum of support both throughout the industry and the House?

Should not the Secretary of State for Employment have been better briefed before coming to the Dispatch Box to reply to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart)? The workers in British Rail Engineering have contributed magnificently to productivity agreements, and over the past 10 years their record has been faultless.

I am sure that great strides have been made in increasing productivity in the engineering works. However, the engineering works do not exist in their own right, but as a support for running the railway. There is clearly a pressing need for greater productivity on that railway.

Training Boards


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the total number of staff of industrial training boards, of all grades, made redundant up to 30 March 1982 on account of the winding up of 16 of the boards.

Between 16 November 1981 and 30 March 1982, 424 ITB staff had been made redundant as a result of the proposed winding-up of 16 industrial training boards.

What evidence does the Minister have that the work of these people is being replaced in any way by individual employers in private industry?

The majority of employers' organisations have come forward with voluntary proposals on a satisfactory basis. When the orders are laid before the House it will have an opportunity to debate them.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the training that took place within industry was largely carried out by the companies themselves and that, in later years, the training boards had become a bureaucracy monitoring that training?

I agree that training in industry has been almost completely carried out by industry itself and that the boards concerned were monitoring that training. In some cases, at least, they had become rather over-bureaucratic.

The Minister will recall that last week, before the Select Committee, his right hon. Friend gave an undertaking to supply the Select Committee with information about the voluntary arrangements that were replacing the boards to be wound up, but refused to give an undertaking that that information would be made available to the House before we debated the winding-up of the boards? Will the Minister think again about that and recognise the importance of the House having the fullest information before it reaches this crucial decision?

I recall that my right hon. Friend made it clear last week before the Select Committee that he would provide the information to the Select Committee. He will also inform the House of the progress being made towards voluntary training arrangements.

Prime Minister



asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 4 May.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the right hon. Members for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) and for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). In addition to my duties in the House I shall have further meetings later today.

In view of the terrible loss of life in the South Atlantic and the rapidly escalating military confrontation, will the Prime Minister make a further effort today to reach a peaceful solution to the situation, involving probably the United Nations?

We all regret the loss of human life in the South Atlantic, but our first duty is to protect, and to minimise the danger to, our own forces in the South Atlantic, who are there because we all agreed that we should send a task force——

—because we all agreed that we must stop the invader, and because the vast majority of people in the House recognise that the best way to stop the trouble is to withdraw the forces from the Falkland Islands. Of course, the effort to seek a peaceful solution continues, and will continue vigorously. My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary will be reporting later on his visit to the United Nations. We shall pursue a peaceful settlement either there or through other means.

Will my right hon. Friend say over and over again that until the Argentine Government withdraw their troops from the Falkland Islands, every injury and fatality in the Southern Atlantic is absolutely due to the action of the Argentine junta?

Yes, it was the Argentines who broke the peace with unprovoked aggression. They are on British sovereign territory and there are British people under the heel of the junta. We sent the task force to rectify that situation. We hope to do so by all peaceful means and shall continue to try to do so. In the meantime, our first duty must be to protect our boys.

May I press the right hon. Lady on the question of the sinking of the cruiser and the tragic loss of life involved? We are all deeply concerned about it, just as we all are deeply aware that the origin of the crisis was the aggression by the Argentine. None the less, the Government have direct responsibilities in this matter, and the right hon. Lady especially so. Can she tell us what political control there was over this development, which was a major development? Can she say what calculations about the minimum use of force entered into those considerations?

Returning to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts), can the right hon. Lady tell us exactly what are the next steps that will be taken by the Government to try to deal with the situation? There is always the danger that such an event as the sinking of the ship will recur and that it can put our Service men in danger. We on the Labour side of the House are as determined to protect them as anybody in the country.

I wholly share the right hon. Gentleman's view that we must protect the lives of our own Service men, whose great skill and courage we applaud and admire. With regard to that particular event, and all events other than the mere tactical ones in the South Atlantic, the task force clearly is and was under political control. I want to make it perfectly clear that after the announcement of the maritime exclusion zone—I referred to the matter in the House last week—there was another announcement on 23 April, which was communicated to the Argentine Government and also to the United Nations. It may help if I read it in full:

"In announcing the establishment of a maritime exclusion zone around the Falkland Islands, Her Majesty's Government made it clear that this measure was without prejudice to the right of the United Kingdom to take whatever additional measures may be needed in the exercise of its right of self-defence under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. In this connection, Her Majesty's Government now wishes to make clear that any approach on the part of Argentine warships, including submarines, naval auxiliaries, or military aircraft which could amount to a threat to interfere with the mission of the British forces in the South Atlantic will encounter the appropriate response".
The warning was given to the Argentine Government, I repeat, on 23 April. It was reported to the United Nations on 24 April.

All of us can understand the documents that have been put in the Library on this matter, but the right hon. Lady has not fully explained why such a development as this occurred in the circumstances in which it did occur, nor has she explained why the maximum amount—or, at any rate, a considerable amount—of force was used to carry it out. None of these things has been explained. They will need to be explained much more fully to the country and to others. Does the right hon. Lady appreciate that these are important matters for our own Service men, whom we wish to protect as much as anyone? They are also important for the support that this Government may command throughout the world in these matters. If the right hon. Lady and the Government do not appreciate that the sinking of the cruiser raises great questions of this kind, she does not understand the situation.

May I make it perfectly clear that the worry that I live with hourly is that attacking Argentine forces, either naval or air, may get through to ours and sink some of our ships. I am sure that that will also be in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. There was clear aggressive intent on the part of the Argentine fleet and Government. It could be seen first in their claims. They previously claimed that they had sunk HMS "Exeter", that they had damaged HMS "Hermes", leaving it inoperative and badly damaged, and that they had brought down 11 Harriers. That was clear evidence of Argentine aggressive intent. The right hon. Gentleman may also remember the persistent attacks throughout the whole of Saturday on our task force, which were repelled only by the supreme skill and courage of our people. He may also know, or will hear from my right hon. Friend, of the very heavy armaments that the cruiser carried, and, of course, the cruiser was accompanied by two destroyers, which were not attacked in any way.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, of all the uses to which the word has been put in the last weeks, the word "paramount" applies most of all now to the safety and lives of our Service men in the south Atlantic? Will she further agree that the House of Commons, having agreed to send the task force to back up our diplomacy, cannot now flinch from the consequences that may occur, however serious they are?

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. Our first duty is to our own forces, who are there on our orders and with our support. We must look after their safety. Our second duty is to see that we try to use minimum force. However, that cruiser and the asssociated destroyers—and, of course, there are other task forces of the Argentine Navy also at large in the South Atlantic, not far from the exclusion zone—posed a very obvious threat to the men in our task force. Had we left it any later it would have been too late and I might have had to come to the House with the news that some of our ships had been sunk.

Falkland Islands


asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on the Falkland Islands.

My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and for Defence will be making full statements after questions on recent diplomatic and military developments respectively.

When the Prime Minister referred to political control, did she herself, personally and explicitly, authorise the firing of the torpedoes at the "General Belgrano"?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the task force is and was under full political control.

Would not some of the ignorant and irresponsible questions coming from the Opposition have been avoided if the Leader of the Opposition had done his duty to his party, to the country, and as a Privy Councillor, by availing himself of the invitation from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to acquaint him with matters to which we, who are not sworn of the Privy Council, do not wish to have access because we have confidence in her handling of this affair and in Her Majesty's Forces?

It is for the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he will avail himself of any offer to talk on Privy Councillor terms.

It is for the right hon. Gentleman to decide whether he will avail himself of the invitation.

Apart from that, it may concern right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on that side. He did not wish to do so. In the meantime, I beg him to have some regard for the practical considerations that affect our operations in the South Atlantic.

Would the right hon. Lady care to read to the House what she said about the matter of consultations on "Panorama" a few days ago? Will she also repeat to the House what I think she understood well before, namely, the attitude that has been taken by many Opposition leaders in previous times, who thought that they would be failing in their duty to the House of Commons if they were to gag themselves? If the leader of the Liberal Party wants to do it, he is perfectly entitled to do so. I should be very happy if the right hon. Lady would read to the House and country her own words on this subject.

I do not quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman's decision in any way. I made an offer available to him on the same basis as I did to the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Liberal Party and to the leader of the SDP in this House. Whether he takes it up is a matter for him. I have been in a similar position. There have been times when I have taken the offer up and times when I have not.

On the subject of the cruiser, how can anyone maintain that such a ship, armed in that way, and accompanied by those destroyers, was not a threat to our forces? Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that the first communiqué about the sinking from the Argentine side said that the ship was all right, except for damage to its steering? If that were true, does it not show that minimum force was then used?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The cruiser posed a real threat to our forces then, and would have continued to do so in the coming days.

In view of these events in the South Atlantic, has not the time now come for a fresh, direct approach by Her Majesty's Government to the junta proposing that the Argentines evacuate the Falkland Islands, so that negotiations can then be entered into directly between us? After all, we are still not at war with the Argentine.

At the moment we prefer to make our approaches through a third party. Mr. Haig did valiant work, and it is clear that he is still interested in trying to bring about a solution, both through his own efforts and, as the right hon. Gentleman may have read, through certain initiatives that are being undertaken by Mr. Haig through the Peruvian Government, and which we are pursuing vigorously. We have not gone through the junta itself. It is not easy to see with whom one would be negotiating, whether it would be the president, other members of the junta or the generals behind it. Throughout, that has been a very difficult problem.



asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 4 May.

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

Is my right hon. Friend aware that she still has massive support for her Government's policies on the Falkland Islands? Is she also aware that there are two former colonies in the world today with populations of fewer than 8,000 and about 20 countries which have; less land area than the Falkland Islands? Will she ensure; that Britain does not deviate from its determination to demonstrate that armed, unprovoked aggression must never pay?

I believe that what my hon. Friend says about there being small countries in the Commonwealth and countries with smaller areas than the Falkland Islands is correct. I entirely agree that unless Britain manages to stop and undo the Argentine aggression, many other small countries and territories will go in fear that they may suffer the same fate.