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Volume 32: debated on Thursday 25 November 1982

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asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 November.

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 be having further meetings later today.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the mean and niggardly intention of her Government to claw back £90 million from pensioners in 1983 is meeting with widespread criticism and resentment among the British people, including the working population, to whom she referred in a reply to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition last week? Is she further aware that it has been made clear that people will accept the additional financial burden? In view of that, does not the right hon. Lady think that she would be wise and prudent to abandon the whole despicable measure?

There is little that I can add to what I said before. The 11 per cent. in pension and benefits increase that takes place this year adds £375 million in respect of pensions over and above what would have been necesary to keep them in line with inflation. If one takes the figure of 11 per cent. for all the benefits this year, it has added about £700 million to the bill. This is an addition, not a clawback. For next year, decisions will be taken at the time of the Budget. As the hon. Gentleman knows, in a full year there is a contingency amount of about £180 millon. How that amount is disbursed will not be decided until the Budget next year.

Does the Prime Minister recall the manifesto commitment

"We shall cut income tax at all levels"!
Is she aware from the figures that were announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday that that pledge has been redeemed only for households where the weekly income exceeds £587? When will the right hon. Lady extend that to all other levels, at which most people exist, particularly the poorer people?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. and learned Friend substantially reduced the standard rate of income tax. I look forward to hearing from the right hon. Gentleman precisely what cuts he proposes to enable us to cut income tax further.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this year we shall export 31 per cent. of our products and that half of that will be to the European Community? Would it not be absolute folly to withdraw from the European Community, thus making it even more difficult to increase pensions as we have done this year?

I confirm that we export about 31 per cent. of our GDP. We are an exporting nation. About 43 per cent. of our exports go to the European Community. Because of our membership we attract a large amount of inward investment and a large number of jobs. Any suggestion that we withdraw from the European Community would dislocate our trade and cause dismay and concern to industry and to those whose job it is to create wealth and jobs.

Will the Prime Minister take time today to ask the South Atlantic fund when it will make direct payments to Service men who were disabled, in many cases severely, in the South Atlantic conflict? Moreover, is it not despicable that the Ministry of Defence should have been clawing back the London weighting allowance from severely disabled ex-Service men during periods of hospitalisation?

I have already been in touch with the South Atlantic fund to ask what is happening about those who are disabled. As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, the fund has made about £1·9 million immediately available to those who are disabled. It has paid out temporary sums varying from £2,000 to £20,000 to some of the disabled until the final assessment can be made. I am already in touch with the fund about whether further capital sums should be paid out. It assures me, as I believe it has assured everyone, that every need of those disabled in the Falkland campaign will be fully met.

Will my right hon. Friend have time today to look at public expenditure? Does she agree that if public expenditure were increased this year by £5,000 million, rising in year five to £18,000 million, that would lead not only to massive inflation, but to massive rates of interest, the collapse of sterling and a return to being under the control of the IMF?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It would do just that, but that is what one would expect from the Labour Party.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 November.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that British Leyland has a purchasing policy of going abroad as much as possible—although it was saved by the intervention of her Government and the previous Labour Government—and is now putting in grave, if not mortal, danger the motor components and machine tool industries that supply British Leyland? In the light of the miraculous effect that we saw after the group of eight descended on No. 10, will she call on the 10 major suppliers of machine tools and components to British Leyland and agree a programme with them whereby British Leyland will buy British, and if Government support is necessary, will she commit herself to that?

British Leyland will also have to consider the price at which it can sell its products. I hope that people will buy British, but I do not say that to protect any kind of inefficiency. If we are to buy British, we have a right to expect that British components will be fully up to the price competitiveness and design of those from overseas.

Despite the problems that are facing various of the international financial centres, will my right hon. Friend please assure the House that under no circumstances whatever will Her Majesty's Government tolerate an extra-territoral freeze on financial assets in the British branches of foreign banks, as took place in the Iranian asset freeze?

My hon. Friend is talking about attempts to exercise extra-territorial jurisdiction on this country by overseas Governments. We shall continue to resist attempts by overseas Governments to apply their jurisdiction to the United Kingdom.

Has the Prime Minister read the text of the answers given to me by Treasury Ministers in the past three days about tax burdens? Does she agree that, as a matter of fact, a reduction in the basic rate of tax of 9½p in the pound would be required to get us back down to the tax burdens that she started with in 1979?

If that is the reply given by the Treasury, it is obviously correct. I should also like to know from the hon. Gentleman, bearing in mind that expenditure has to be covered by tax or by borrowings at a reasonable interest rate, precisely what measures to cut public expenditure he will support to get income tax down to the level that he desires.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Labour-controlled GLC has spent over £500,000 on its political magazine The Londoner, over £300,000 on political campaigns and £220,000 on minority groups such as the English Collective of Prostitutes, Lesbian Line, and the Teenage Gay Rights Group? Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a waste of money, particularly when it is combined with roaring rates that are driving industry, jobs and people out of London?

My hon. Friend is correct. It is a disgraceful waste of money and a disgraceful imposition of increases on the tax burden, especially for small businesses.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 November.

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

During the course of the day, will the right hon. Lady take the advice of a former Conservative Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Macmillan, who said in the debate on the fair wages resolution in the House of Commons that the resolution was: The great protector of the standard of life of the mass of the working classes. Will the right hon. Lady tell the House why she is seeking to abolish this piece of legislation and why she thinks she knows better than Mr. Harold Macmillan?

There is something even more fundamental than that. The protector of the standard of life is the capacity to produce goods at a competitive price and of a design that will sell. There is no other protector for our country as a whole.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to turn her attention to the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe? Is she aware that public support for the large-scale financial support that we give Zimbabwe could rapidly disappear if that country were to go along the road to a one-party dictatorship and cease to respect basic human rights?

We are especially concerned about some of the reports of the absence of human rights for some of those in the air force who have been detained, and we are concerned about reports of torture of those people. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made strenuous representations to Mr. Mugabe when he was in Zimbabwe. We are always concerned about failure to observe or uphold human rights, especially as we made provision for this in the constitution that we gave to Zimbabwe.

Although it seems evident that the right hon. Lady is determined not to answer any questions, particularly if they touch upon her election promises, may I ask her whether she has now had time to consider the deplorable answer that she gave me on Tuesday about the deployment of the MX missiles by President Reagan and the Government of the United States? It is being said on the other side of the Atlantic that Congress should ask again and again whether the United States needs a weapon that buys so little time and ignites so many risks. That is the view expressed by the New York Times. Is she prepared to let this new impetus be given to the arms race without the British Government having anything to say on the matter?

The MX missile was sanctioned by the Carter Administration. The proposed deployment of 100 MX missiles is only half of what the Carter Administration envisaged. With regard to the relative numbers of inter-continental ballistic missiles, the United States has 1,052 and the Soviet Union 1,398. If we take total strategic systems, including submarine-launched ballistic missiles, the United States has 1,958 and the Soviet Union, 2,704. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman was as concerned for our defence as —[Interruption.]

I am extremely concerned, as I imagine every sane man and woman in this country is to stop the nuclear arms race, which is the biggest threat to the world. So far the right hon. Lady has shown not the slightest interest in such matters. When the United States Government take a step that could give a great impetus to that race the right hon. Lady comes to the House and says nothing about it. Is it not a fact that President Carter's proposals about these missiles were very different from those that President Reagan has now authorised? Is it not the fact also that many spokesmen for President Carter and his party in the United States have condemned President Reagan's proposal? Is it not the case that, as I have said, the New York Times agrees—[Interruption.] I know that the Conservative Party has never shown much interest in this matter, but the Labour Party will try to stop the arms race. Has the right hon. Lady had any discussions with the United States Government on this most important new weapon that is being introduced into the arms race?

We have not had discussions recently. We stand by multilateral disarmament as the way to reduce nuclear weapons, unlike the right hon. Gentleman, who has been naive enough to support unilateral disarmament. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is President Reagan who has put forward proposals for multilateral disarmament, both for nuclear and conventional weapons. We are awaiting a response from the Soviet Union. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will turn his criticisms to the Soviet Union instead of the United States.

I am quite prepared to direct criticisms on these matters at either the United States Government or the Soviet Government. We want to discover whether the British Government have any policy on these matters. The right hon. Lady's answers show that she is prepared to let this new breed of weapon be established without any voice from Britain whatever. When will she do her duty on these issues?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that we fully support multilateral disarmament. We totally criticise the Soviet Union's deployment of SS20s on a colossal scale. I have never heard the right hon. Gentleman criticise that. [Interruption.] We totally criticise the Soviet Union's possession of a stockpile—[Interruption.]

Order. The Prime Minister must be allowed to continue. I have said before that disagreement is no reason for shouting down, especially in this place.

We totally criticise the Soviet Union's possession of a stockpile of chemical weapons to which Britain has no reply. Our policy is to have a balanced reduction of armaments on a multilateral basis, which must be verifiable. That is the only sure way to peace and security. The right hon. Gentleman's policy would put peace at risk.

I must correct the right hon. Lady because she obviously has not studied the matter. I and my hon. Friends have frequently criticised the establishment of the SS20s by the Soviet Government. She should withdraw her remark. However, I am more concerned to pursue the other matter. When will the right hon. Lady say anything on these matters that happens to be slightly different from saying "Ditto" to President Reagan?

I am delighted to hear that the right hon. Gentleman criticises the SS20s. Therefore, I hope that he will criticise the Soviet Union for putting them in place and direct his attention to that. I have now heard him criticise them for the first time.

I hope, too, that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we should have every bit as much strategic nuclear weaponry at our disposal as the Soviet Union, every bit as much intermediate nuclear weaponry at our disposal as the Soviet Union, and that we must negotiate to try to reduce conventional weapons. Our policy is clear and sound—multilateral disarmament on a balanced and verifiable basis. I hope that he will accept and agree with that. It would be a great advance.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the heated exchanges and scenes of the past five minutes, would you consider leading a sizeable deputation of right hon. and hon. Members from this House to visit the Northern Ireland Assembly to demonstrate how reasonable that Assembly can be?

Order. I do not require help on that one. I know the Speaker of that honourable House and I therefore understand why its Members are in such good order.

ara: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you also recall that because of policies adopted by the Government the loyal Opposition in that honourable House do not feel that they can take their place.