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Volume 80: debated on Thursday 13 June 1985

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asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 13 June.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall be attending a banquet given by President de la Madrid of Mexico.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider the growing menance of drug abuse, especially the threatened cocaine flood from the United States? In view of the vast profits that are made from these dealings, will she take the strongest possible steps to deal with drug pushers? When will my right hon. Friend introduce legislation to ensure that any profits or drugs that the pushers acquire can be confiscated?

We hope to introduce legislation on this matter during the next parliamentary Session. As my hon. Friend is already aware, we have added 160 new posts to Customs and Excise especially for tracking down drugs. Last Tuesday, it was announced that we would add a further 50 investigators to Customs and Excise to track down drugs. All police forces now have specialist drug units. The police are devoting more manpower to drug investigations. I hope, therefore, that we have equipped ourselves well should there be any diversion of cocaine from the other side of the Atlantic to this side.

Will the Prime Minister now tell us, honestly and plainly, whether there are figures for gainers and losers from her social security proposals— yes or no? Has the right hon. Lady or any of her Ministers seen such figures—yes or no?

As I made clear in my letter to the right hon. Gentleman, the purpose of issuing a Green Paper was to set out—[HON. MEMBERS: "Let us have the answer."] — the main themes and principles in proposing a new social security structure. The proper time to produce figures is when decisions have been taken on the structure. We shall provide a range of illustrative figures when the White Paper is published in the autumn. By that time we shall have taken decisions on the structure. Then we shall provide a range of illustrative figures for the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members.

The Prime Minister's refusal to give a straight answer to a straight question will be noted by the whole country. It is entirely consistent with the approaches that she has taken on the whole matter. If the right hon. Lady will not answer that question on gainers and losers. will she publish the report of the pensions review committee, which included Mr. Stewart Lyon, so that the whole country can make a judgment on the advice that was tendered to the Government?

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not quite expect the answer that I gave. As to the latter part of his question, Mr. Lyon was an expert adviser, but the Government do not always have to take expert advice —[Interruption.] Indeed, we could be criticised if we did. I notice that it is reported that Mr. Lyon said:

"the final proposal to phase out Serps was ingenious".

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Metropolitan police have had a 5 per cent. increase this year, that there is a need for an examination into manpower and overtime, and that the police, who have been so well treated by this Government, cannot expect to be exempt from examination of their expenditure?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the police have been extremely well treated by this Government. Expenditure on the police generally has increased from £1·1 billion in 1978–79 to £2·8 billion in 1985–86, and spending on the Metropolitan police has increased from £291 million in 1978–79 to £763 in 1985–86. Against that background, we are justifiably proud of our record in respect of the Metropolitan police and the police throughout the country as a whole.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the word "ingenious" is always used of every successful burglar?

It is precisely because this Government do not wish to burgle future generations that we are looking at the present scheme to ensure that it is soundly financed by contributions from this generation, rather than staying with the old scheme which would put the burden on our children and grandchildren.

Order. There is no injury time during questions, and therefore I shall take the hon. Gentleman's point of order afterwards.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that at present contributions from 2·8 workers pay one pension, and that if SERPS is not altered 1·6 workers will in future pay one pension? That is surely an unsustainable charge on such workers.

I do not believe that the present SERPS system is deliverable. The burden on our children and grandchildren would be absolutely intolerable, and they would not be able to meet it. As my hon. Friend knows, the expert advice indicated that if SERPS were to be carried on the benefit would have to be substantially reduced, even though the contribution would have to remain the same.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 13 June.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that the "World in Action" programme the other evening said, in effect, that she was lying about the sinking of the General Belgrano—

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that "lying" is not a word that we use in the House, especially about one another.

Is the Prime Minister aware that "World in Action" said, in effect, that she was not telling the whole truth about the sinking of the General Belgrano? Is she aware that many people regard this as Britain's Watergate, as the Falklands war was used cynically to win a general election and many people on both sides lost their lives needlessly.

The whole matter of the Belgrano was thoroughly debated in the House when the Government motion that the sinking of the Belgrano was justified and that the first duty of the Government is to protect the lives of our people was passed without one dissenting vote from any part of the House.

Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to note that The Times newspaper today carries so many job advertisements that a separate eight-page supplement has been printed to contain them, the Daily Telegraph carries 10 pages of job advertisements and even The Guardian has five? Does she agree that that is a sure sign of a buoyant and expanding economy and is bad news for the Labour party and those whose profession it is to talk this country down?

I believe that it is a sign that more jobs are being created. I hope that those who are without jobs will go anxiously after those vacancies and that many more will be employed as a result.

As larceny now seems to be the right description of the Government's proposals for the state earnings-related pensions scheme, will the Prime Minister admit that Mr. Stewart Lyon proposed that the scheme should be retained but modified and its ultimate cost reduced, but that that option was not discussed by the Secretary of State's advisory team? Does she agree that that option should now be put to the House with Government figures so that we can decide whether it is viable?

I thought from their early declarations on the reviews that members of the SDP were supporting abolition of SERPS very vigorously, but with the alliance one never quite knows. The Green Paper made it clear that one of the options considered by the Government was to restrict SERPS rather than to phase it out. The reasons why the Government concluded that that was not the right option are set out in detail in paragraph 7.9 on page 23 of the Green Paper.

Will the right hon. Lady take time today to discuss with her right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the plight of the small dairy fanners in Northern Ireland, who are the only dairy farmers in the whole of the United Kingdom with herds of 40 cows or fewer who will have to carry the cruel EC cross of the milk quota?

I am very much aware of the problem in Northern Ireland. I believe that too few people took up the outgoers offer. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is considering the matter now.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 13 June.

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

Instead of attending yet another banquet this evening, will the Prime Minister take time to read the report in today's Daily Mirror about a woman who is to have an abortion after breathing in fumes from a weedkiller containing the chemical 2,4,5-T? Having cut the health and safety inspectorate by 20 per cent. in the past four years, will she now support the campaign by the Transport and General Workers Union and others for a ban on that chemical, which was used by the United States as a killer in the Vietnam war?

The matter is now under consideration by the Health and Safety Executive.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 13 June.

Has my right hon. Friend had time to study the speech of our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Maurice Macmillan memorial lecture on Tuesday evening, in which he described the emphasis that he puts on wider share ownership and wider property ownership as one of the bases of the Government's policies? Does my right hon. Friend remain committed to the principle that further share and home ownership are the bases for further responsibility in society and for further economic and social progress?

Yes. I saw that speech and, as my hon. Friend knows, owner-occupation is at an all-time record because of the Government's policies. Moreover, the number of individuals who own shares has risen rapidly. It fell during the lifetime of the Labour Government. It fell from 2·5 million in 1958 to 1·75 million in 1979. It is now rising substantially. The British Telecom share issue alone has 1·7 million shareholders —a figure equal to the total number of shareholders in 1979.

I shall now take the point of order of the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop).

It is sometimes difficult in the Chaiŕ to hear what is being said in the House, but it is sometimes difficult to hear in the House what is being said in the House. It must have been obvious to everyone in the House that the Opposition deliberately drowned my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's answer — [Interruption.]—just as they are trying to drown this point of order. They succeeded in drowning my right hon. Friend's reply to the somewhat mischievous question of an ex-Prime Minister. [HON. MEMBERS: "Mischievous?"] I raise this point of order—[Interruption.] I am happy to wait.

I shall put it when I can be sure that you can hear it, Mr. Speaker. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I rose on a point of order earlier to ask you to enable the Prime Minister to repeat her answer so that the House and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), who asked the question, could be allowed to hear her answer.

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. Over the centuries our predecessors have fought for freedom of speech in this place and it is a very bad example to others if we fail to preserve that freedom. It is perfectly true that Prime Minister's questions have been very noisy, but I had detected a rather better tone of Prime Minister's questions in the past several weeks and I hope that that will continue.