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Volume 32: debated on Thursday 18 November 1982

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asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 18 November.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. Later I took part in the presentation of the Humble Address to Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of the birth of Prince William of Wales. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today, including one with President Masire of Botswana. This evening I shall be attending a State banquet at Hampton Court Palace given by Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in honour of Her Majesty the Queen.

Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to say that she comprehends the humiliation and hopelessness that engulfs the homes of those who are made redundant? Will she consider restoring urgently the 5 per cent. cut in unemployment benefit? As a further boost to unemployed people will she consider sacking her Secretary of State for Employment, who has the most diseased mind in British politics?

I am well aware of the difficulties faced by those who are made redundant. The real solution is to make more goods at prices and designs that will sell. There is no other way to secure more jobs. I utterly disagree with the hon. Gentleman with regard to my excellent colleague the Secretary of State for Employment.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that at the meeting next week of the European Council of Ministers the Government will support the European Parliament's proposal for a common election system in Europe?

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to note the remarkable position with regard to food prices since the last general election? Will she recollect that during the period of the Labour Government food prices rose by 120 per cent., whereas since the 1979 election they have risen by only 32 per cent.? That figure is less than the average increase in inflation during that period.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Labour Government's record in increasing food prices was disgraceful. [Interruption.] Our record has been much better. The average annual rate of increases in food prices under the Labour Government—[Interruption.]

Order. The House knows that the Prime Minister must be heard. Any right hon. or hon. Member who is called to speak is entitled to be heard.

The average annual increase in food prices under the Labour Government was 16·8 per cent. Under this Government the average annual increase is of the order of 8 per cent.

Perhaps we could have a special Question Time for planted questions. I am sure that the right hon. Lady will appreciate from this morning's news that the future of Tadworth hospital for children now rests with the Government and with her. Will she take immediate steps to instruct the Secretary of State for Social Services to provide the money to keep that hospital going?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, at a meeting last night the board of governors recommended that the services at Tadworth Court be transferred to Queen Mary's hospital, Carshalton, which is only a few miles away. The Secretary of State is considering that proposal as well as the proposal from the charities. He will, of course, receive representations before he reaches his final decision, which will be made as quickly as possible. There is no question of patients being turned out of the hospital or of services being ended.

I asked the right hon. Lady what she was going to do about it. Some of us have corresponded with the Secretary of State on behalf of our constituents for several months. I believe that all Opposition Members are agreed that the hospital should be kept open. That means that something like £1·5 million is needed. When the Prime Minister said at her party conference that the National Health Service was safe in her hands, was she excluding Tadworth hospital for children?

There is a proper procedure to go through and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will go through it sympathetically.


On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have always understood that personal insults are out of order in the House. You may not have heard the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) accuse a right hon. Member of having the most diseased mind in British politics. Should not the hon. Member for Flint, East be told to withdraw that remark?

This point of order gives me a chance to tell the House that no one's arguments are advanced by sheer personal abuse. It adds nothing to anyone's argument. I should have thought that most hon. Members have an argument to advance and need not use personal abuse.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 18 November.

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

Is the right hon. Lady aware of the report produced by Strathclyde regional council, which shows that the closure of Ravenscraig steelworks will result in the direct loss of 13,500 jobs at the very least? Given the despair and uncertainty caused by current steel closures in an area of massively high unemployment, will she give an assurance that the Government will not even contemplate the option put forward by the British Steel Corporation for the closure of the Ravenscraig works?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is discussing the future of the steelworks in the context of the future of steel production and the need not to take precipitate action in the short-term but, instead, to consider the longer-term position. He will consider the whole question of the future of the steelworks and I hope that he will be in a position to announce his decision before Christmas. Action will not be precipitate or taken on a short-term view, but on a longer-term basis.

Has my right hon. Friend yet been able to consider a subject that was studiously avoided by the nations that voted recently at the United Nations for a resumption of negotiations between Britain and Argentina? Now that the graves of hundreds of the Argentine junta's victims are being uncovered, what steps will my right hon. Friend take to inquire into the whereabouts of those British subjects who disappeared in 1976–77, and to demand an explanation?

As my hon. Friend knows, we have made representations about those British subjects who are known to have disappeared. Fortunately, fewer British subjects have disappeared than other nationals, but each and every one is a human life. Those people disappeared under the Argentine's military Governments. That is another reason for not negotiating in any way with the Argentine Government over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to do what I did this morning—[Interruption.] When the public hear the guffaws from male Members of Parliament they may be able to reach a judgment about a very serious matter. Will the Prime Minister do what I did this morning and visit the breast cancer unit at the Royal Marsden hospital, where she will learn that 1 in 17 women in Britain are likely to suffer from breast cancer at any one time? If that unit closes, some of the women who would have been saved will die. Is the right hon. Lady prepared to tell the House now that she will find the money to save that unit?

The Royal Marsden is a postgraduate teaching hospital, managed by a special health authority, which is directly accountable to the Secretary of State. The allocation to that authority has not been cut and the authority is undertaking a review of all its activities so that it can decide its priorities.

When the right hon. Lady has occasion to count the cost—as I am sure that she does—in terms of casualties and suffering, of the constitutional arrangements recently imposed on Northern Ireland, will she consider how she can best use her personal authority to restore confidence in the Government's commitment to Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the commitment to Northern Ireland is enshrined in legislation. There will be no change without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. I agree that terrorism is grave, but we shall continue to wage an unrelenting war on it. We have great confidence in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Defence Regiment and our Armed Forces. I pay tribute to the excellent way in which they continue to discharge their duties.

Will the Prime Minister use her influence today to ask Opposition Members to place in the Library a list of the goods that they have bought from British manufacturers out of concern for unemployment, and a list of the goods that they have bought from foreign manufacturers? In that way, we shall know the depth of their emotional concern for Linwood and Ravenscraig.

I am sure that the Opposition will have heard my hon. and learned Friend's comments. It is important to try to buy as many British goods as possible, always assuming that their quality, design and price can compete with those from abroad. We are in business not to try to protect inefficient companies but to persuade people to buy British when there is a proper and effective choice.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 18 November.

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

Will the right hon. Lady find time today to consider the issue of science policy? Is she aware that the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts sent to discover which Minister was in charge of it and received the reply that she was? Given the absolute pledges made by two Leaders of the House that responsible Ministers will attend Select Committees, will she come and tell the Select Committee about science policy? It is an important issue, upon which the regeneration of British industry depends.

Responsibility for the research aspect of science policy lies with the Department of Education and Science. There is a Minister and a very well known organisation for it. The research and technological grants given by other Departments are a matter for them. I stress that science policy is not a thing apart and separate from Departments. It should be a part of each and every Department. It would be wrong to try to sever it and to make it into a separate Department.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 18 November.

Has my right hon. Friend seen today's reports that the Treasury is apparently considering the abolition of tax relief on mortgage interest? Will she reaffirm the Government's commitment to home ownership and their determination to maintain tax relief on mortgage interest?

I saw those reports. I have no idea where they came from. There is no truth in them and there will not be so long as I remain First Lord of the Treasury.

When the Prime Minister addressed the NATO Assembly in Westminster Hall yesterday and reached the passage in her speech that referred to the pledge of member States to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, based on human liberty, democracy and the rule of law, did she notice any uneasy stirrings among the representatives of the Turkish Government? Does she agree that that military Government have broken every one of those matters by placing many trade unionists and leading people in the peace movement on trial simply for trying to exercise the freedoms of which she was boasting yesterday?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Turkish Government are committed to restoring democracy, which is a jolly sight more than the Soviet Union is.