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Engagements

Volume 33: debated on Tuesday 30 November 1982

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Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will state her public engagements for 30 November.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall be attending a reception for the Diplomatic Corps at Buckingham Palace.

As evidence of Russian spying against this country reveals that under cover of détente the Soviet Union has not only targeted every part of this country with SS20 missiles but has sought every opportunity to penetrate our defences at home, is it not scandalous that Mr. Andropov's first threat against us, issued through the Novosti press agency today, is that he will launch those missiles against us if he believes that we may threaten him?

The threat, both covert and overt, to our security and way of life is continuous, and our safeguard must be equally continuous. It follows that we must keep strong defences and pursue multilateral disarmament with balanced and verifiable reductions in forces.

If the SS20 missiles were removed, as proposed by President Reagan and NATO, there would be no need to put the cruise and Pershing missiles in place. It follows that the initiative should be taken by the Soviet Government to remove the many SS20s that they have put in place in the last eight years.

May I first make it clear that the Opposition strongly condemn and deplore the attack on No. 10 this morning and the methods employed? It is a disgraceful way of proceeding and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms. We hope and imagine that our view is supported throughout the House.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that almost every day brings some fresh disaster to our steel industry in almost every part of the country where steel is produced? As it is now some six weeks since the Secretary of State for Industry said that he intended to shoulder his responsibilities in this respect, when do the Government intend to take a grip on the situation?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his first remark. Letter bombs anywhere are very distressing, and we are all vulnerable. Indeed, hon. Members have received them from time to time. We must therefore be extremely careful. Fortunately, Mr. Taylor, who opened the letter bomb, was only very slightly burnt, but we must take even more care in the future.

There will be a debate on steel tomorrow. The final proposals from the British Steel Corporation have not yet been received. The right hon. Gentleman is right. There is a tremendous reduction in the demand for steel worldwide and enormous overcapacity in production worldwide; yet we are still building more steel plants. The situation is extremely serious. We have not yet received the final proposals, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will, of course, listen closely to the debate tomorrow.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that her answer is unsatisfactory, because the reduction in demand for steel in this country is worse than in any other industrial country, although we have made bigger cuts than most other EEC countries? Is she aware that further jobs have been scheduled for abandonment at Sheffield. Manchester, Rotherham, Motherwell, Glasgow, Stockton and Brierley Hill since the Secretary of State said that he was taking responsibility for these matters? Does she realise that if we are to have any steel industry left the Government must take action, and that it will be no use talking about defending this country if we have no steel with which to do so?

On the number of redundancies, overmanning was greater in this country than on the Continent, so reductions have been greater. The right hon. Gentleman alleges that the fall in demand is greater in this country than elsewhere. I remind him that we had a 13-week strike, during which many people who had loyally purchased from the British Steel Corporation had to buy steel overseas, where it was made a condition of their purchases that they continue to purchase some steel from overseas. Indeed, many have said that in future they wish to have two different sources of supply and not to rely on the BSC again. Undoubtedly, therefore, that strike cut the demand for steel, as those who took part were warned at the time it would. As for the situation being worse than in other countries, I should point out that import penetration in the United Kingdom at 27 per cent. is considerably lower than in other European countries. For example, import penetration is 43 per cent. in France and 35 per cent. in Germany.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 30 November.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the conference of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament voted that Britain should withdraw from NATO? Does she agree that this is yet another instance of that organisation being at variance with the views of the overwhelming majority of British people?

I am aware of that decision by the CND conference. The narrow majority shows that the CND itself is split down the middle. To withdraw from NATO or to do anything to reduce its strength or safeguard would be to increase, not to reduce, the risk of war. It follows that we must do everything possible to secure the future of NATO, pursuing measures of multilateral disarmament, but utterly rejecting unilateralism.

They have risen because the markets took them up and the banks followed.

Does my right hon. Friend agree, as I do, with the warning given last week by the deputy leader of the Labour Party about the international dangers of planned competitive devaluations?

Yes, and I believe that I saw reports of a speech by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) overseas condemning competitive devaluation as a tool and pointing out—if he did not point it out, he should have done—that such action is an excuse for not becoming competitive.

In the national interest, will the Prime Minister defer calling a general election before the Bermondsey by-election to allow the Leader of the Opposition to show that his word is his bond and that he stands by the firm pledge that he gave to Parliament and the country—[Interruption.]

Order. I cannot hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying. No one should have to shout just to be heard in this place.

—that Mr. Tatchell would never be endorsed as a Labour Party candidate?

I have not decided when to recommend that the general election should be held, but I do not think that it will be this side of Christmas.

Has my right hon. Friend seen reports of the speech by the Leader of the Opposition in which he described the years from 1974 to 1976 as especially successful? Given that in that period the rate of inflation was more than 30 per cent. and unemployment doubled, what does my right hon. Friend suppose a slightly less than successful Labour Government might do?

I am afraid that I do not spend a great deal of time reading the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I do not recall that speech, but I know that those were the years during which the Labour Government took Britain to the International Monetary Fund, and that is where Labour policies will take us again if ever the Labour Party comes to power.

Will the Prime Minister clarify the answer that she gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and her statements at the weekend? Have the Government a target for the exchange rate, or is the right hon. Lady allowing the market to choose the rate?

We do not have a target for the exchange rate. I should have thought that that would be obvious, especially to the right hon. Gentleman. It would not be possible to defend a particular level of exchange rate, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. Equally, when the exchange rate starts to slide quickly, one cannot ignore it. Therefore, equally—as the right hon. Gentleman and even the right hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench know—the Bank must intervene to smooth transactions. It cannot do more. We do not have a particular exchange rate target. We shall continue with our policies to reduce inflation, control the money supply, contain public spending and keep down public borrowing.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for trying to restore order while I was questioning the Prime Minister. Those of us who have spent our lives fighting fascism do not need protection from the National Socialist Workers Revolutionary Party, whose members have inherited the Nazi tactic of bullying and thugism.

That was not a point of order. It is wrong to raise points of order, as the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) did, to score party political points. Points of order are not for that purpose

If the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) has a point of order, I shall listen to him. If he has not, I shall be disappointed.

So shall I, Mr. Speaker. In previous Parliaments, I can recall requests being made from the Chair that questions to Ministers, and in particular to the Prime Minister, should be related to matters over which the Minister questioned has some responsibility. You must have noticed today, Mr. Speaker, that at least three, if not four, questions to the Prime Minister, coming mostly from Tory Back Benchers, were about speeches made by Members of the Opposition, about the decisions of the CND and about alleged guarantees given by the Leader of the Opposition, none of which is in any way the responsibility of the Prime Minister. Has there been some change in what is in order here?

There has been no change. The Prime Minister was asked to comment from the Government's point of view on statements about the CND and other organisations. There is a great difference, and that is my ruling.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that you are the protector of Back-Bench Members. Last week I tabled a question to the Secretary of State for Defence, but I have not yet received a reply. However, the media can tell me what the reply is. Can you, Mr. Speaker, help me in this respect?

I shall try to help the hon. Gentleman. I shall look into the matter and write to him.