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Engagements

Volume 75: debated on Tuesday 12 March 1985

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Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. After my duties in the House, I shall be leaving to attend the funeral of the late President Chernenko.

Has the right hon. Lady's attention been drawn to the point raised in the House yesterday about the outrageous remarks of the chairman of the National Coal Board, Mr. Ian MacGregor? Does she think that he is really up to the job when he is capable of saying that the miners—according to the Sunday Telegraph

"are now discovering the price of insubordination and insurrection.—And boy, are we going to make it stick!"
What kind of a clown have we in that job? Will the right hon. Lady consider sacking him and thus help to promote peace in the coalfields?

I have every confidence in Mr. MacGregor, the chairman of the National Coal Board.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that determined action by the Conservative councillors on the Greater London council has resulted in a saving on the rates of 3p in the pound for each of the London boroughs? Does she agree this is a very significant saving for London ratepayers?

Yes. I think that the determined action of this Government, coupled with the determined action of Conservative councillors on the GLC, has been of great benefit to the ratepayers of London.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

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

Could the right hon. Lady find time today, or very soon, to reflect upon the position of those communities, some of them in my own constituency, where scarcely any teenagers are in normal employment? Does she not even begin to understand the consequences of such a situation, and may we at least have an assurance that Government economic policy will not be maintained until our societies are utterly corroded?

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we have done a great deal, and we hope to continue to do more, under the youth training scheme, the technical education initiative in schools and many of the computer centres to enable young people to get better skills to enable them eventually to get better jobs.

When my right hon. Friend goes to Moscow tomorrow, will she make plain to the Soviet people the strong feelings, which I am sure are shared by many of us, that, with the sadness of the death of their leader, we also have high expectations because Mr. Gorbachev, on his visit to this country, opened the doors of peace and friendship, which has given hope to the people of this country that the interests and aspirations of the people of the world can be met and that we can live in peace together?

I think that that will be the wish of everyone when we go to the funeral in Moscow. I think that we may take heart from the fact that the negotiations, which were due to begin in Geneva, have begun, and we all wish that they end successfully in agreement.

May I first agree with every word of that last reply? Today and tomorrow, will the Prime Minister take the opportunity, when she meets representatives of our Western allies in Moscow, to discuss with them the star wars initiative?

I am grateful for that reply. Will the right hon. Lady be reflecting to them the view expressed today by her predecessor, her right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), that star wars would be decoupling, destabilising and a diversion of resources? Since that is so obviously true, why must the right hon. Lady still trail along toadying behind the Americans? Why does she not do what a real friend would do and tell them they are wrong, honestly?

I believe that the United States is right to do research. It would be very difficult to get an agreement on research only, because there is no way of verifying what research is going on. When it comes to deployment and testing, that is already covered by the antiballistic missile agreement, and that is why I would expect it to be dealt with in that way.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her trip to Moscow should certainly not lead to the decoupling of the West from its allies, as has just been suggested, but she should try to persuade the Russians to negotiate sensibly and then get the peace and disarmament that we are all looking for?

Yes, I think that it has been the unity and strength of the West that has brought the Soviet Union back to the negotiating table at Geneva.

While the Prime Minister is in Moscow, will she make it clear that not only does she welcome the restart of the Geneva talks today, but that she is willing to make a contribution to them by indicating in principle that the Polaris deterrent should be counted in in East-West negotiations?

No, I do not believe that either our own independent deterrent or the French independent nuclear deterrent should be counted in. Ours amounts to only some 3 per cent. of the Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles. When that is brought down enormously — very substantially indeed — the situation might be changed, and we might be prepared to consider a different course.

In all the euphoria over the new Soviet leader and his charming wife, does my right hon. Friend agree that the most welcome sign of a change of attitude would be a halt to the genocide that is still going on in Afghanistan?

That would be very welcome indeed. I am reminded, as my hon. Friend suggests, that this year is the 10th anniversary of the Helsinki accord. Doubtless that is a matter for us to reflect about and take action upon.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

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

Will the Prime Minister justify to the House how the Government can cut the real value of the heating allowance to old and disabled people and the housing capital investment programme on the one hand, but allow the cost of Trident to treble on the other hand? Is the right hon. Lady proud of the fact that to millions of our fellow countrymen and women she has become the personification of all that is unjust in our society?

The heating allowance has not been cut. It has gone up greatly, ahead of anything that the last Labour Government had and is far ahead of any increase in fuel costs. The cost of Trident will be paid at the time when it falls to be due. We do not know precisely what the dollar-pound exchange rate will be at that time.

When my right hon. Friend meets Mr. Gorbachev tomorrow or the day after, will she please ask him about the foreign policy that he wishes to implement, knowing that he may well reign over the Soviet Union for the next 20 years? Will my right hon. Friend ask him to ensure, sooner rather than later, that the Soviet Union withdraws Soviet troops from Afghanistan, dismantles the SS20s and adheres to the Helsinki final act? That is the only way to ensure peace and prosperity for all mankind.

I think that my hon. Friend has encapsulated the point and I cannot improve on the excellence of his question.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

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

Will the Prime Minister repeat the exact words that she used during the 1979 general election campaign when she said that she had no intention of raising prescription charges? Will she tell the House by what percentage they have gone up since 1979?

Yes, sir. I have the transcript of the press conference here with me. Word for word I shall say exactly what the hon. Gentleman asked me:

"I doubt very much whether any responsible Government could say that over a period of five years, regardless of what happened to the value of money, they would not put up prescription charges. I doubt whether they could."

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), as Ken Livngstone recommended to the GLC the setting of a rate within the legal limit, and as he now appears to be in some difficulty about his nomination in Brent, East, will my right hon. Friennd commend him to those concerned for his new-found respect for the rule of law?

I am very pleased that in spite of all the political posturing a legal rate has been set. I am doubly pleased that it has been so, despite the advice of the Labour party conference, which we all saw on television last autumn. I hope that other rate-capped authorities will follow the example and set a legal rate.

Does the Prime Minister share my regret that Cardinal O'Fiaich's remarks in Boston and the speech by Bishop Duffy in London appeared to support the IRA's demand for British withdrawal from Northern Ireland? Would it not be much better if these gentleman were to take the Pope's advice and concentrate on saving souls?

The troops are in Northern Ireland to protect the fundamental rights of the people. I believe they do their task excellently and we would wish to congratulate them upon it.

Q6.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

Will my right hon. Friend urge those teachers who are taking selective strike action to go back to work and stop the damage to our children, including some in my constituency of Surbiton? Does she share an interest with me in hearing the attitude of Opposition Members to the action taken by some teachers?

I make it clear again that I deplore the action of those teachers who, to pursue a pay claim for themselves, will harm the interests of the children in their care. That is the view taken by most parents and by most people. I applaud the action of the teachers who will not go on strike but who are bearing a particularly heavy burden because some of their colleagues have done so.

Has the Prime Minister's attention been drawn to a report on the front page of The Times today concerning the killing of 34 Lebanese villagers in an Israeli attack, which has been described as inhumanly ferocious? Does the Prime Minister know that there is a motion of censure before the Security Council at this moment on behalf of the Lebanon, which the United States intends to veto? Can the Prime Minister tell the House what her instructions are to the British representative? Will we, this time, exercise political and moral independence of the United States?

We deplore the appalling violence in south Lebanon and Beirut. It underlines the need for an early and complete Israeli withdrawal, co-ordinated as far as possible with the Lebanese authorities. Retaliation and counter-retaliation will solve nothing and will only add to the tragic suffering of civilians. We do not say how we shall vote while the motion is still being considered and the debate continues.

Q7.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Basildon district council managed to set a rate within the limit placed upon it by the House, without cuts in services? Is she further aware that, without that limit, the ratepayers of Basildon would have had to pay double the rate increase?

I congratulate Basildon on its action. It is clearly taking the view that we have urged on many councils, that we need to get better value for money out of existing moneys rather than increase them.

When the Prime Minister sees President Gorbachev, will she tell him that there are many of us on both sides of the House who have been extremely critical of Soviet policies in the past but who nevertheless remember that it is nearly 40 years since we fought together and won the war against the Nazis? We shall also be commemorating 40 years since the liberation of the concentration camps, and we hope he will, in his regime, usher in a renewed era of goodwill based upon the final act of the Helsinki agreement.

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for his message. He will be aware that I also hope that the Helsinki final accord will one day be implemented fully. The 10th year since it was signed is as good a time as any other.

On a point of order, arising out of questions, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance because I fear that the Prime Minister inadvertently, in her reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks)—

Order. I shall hear the point of order, but I can already sense that it is an extension of Question Time.

The right hon. Lady may have inadvertently misled the House about an election pledge that she gave on prescription charges in the Health Service in 1979.

Order. There is a perfect opportunity to debate this matter later on. This is not a matter for Question Time.