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Engagements

Volume 170: debated on Thursday 19 April 1990

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Q1.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 April.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Will the right hon. Lady explain why she thinks that it is fair that Mr. and Mrs. Thatcher of Dulwich will save £1,700 in poll tax as against rates this year when Mr. and Mrs. Donovan of Greater Manchester— Mr. Donovan is a retired laboratory technician and they are pensioners—will pay £531 more than they would have done, including transitional relief?

I think that we should all be better off if we lived in good Tory authorities such as Westminster. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall not be any net better off when I finish giving the extra away, nor shall I be any better off than I am now by not having taken something like £120,000 to which I am entitled on my salary.

Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 April.

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

Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning those who deliberately break the law by refusing to pay their community charge, leaving others to pick up the bill? Is not it deplorable that there are Members of the House who also practise that unlawful conduct? Surely such people are encouraged by the pop star antics and clenched fist salutes of the Leader of the Opposition.

Everyone should obey the laws that have properly been passed through Parliament, as that is what the rule of law and democracy is about. Anyone who does not is setting a deplorable example, is also putting great burdens on others and is not in any way being democratic or observing the rule of law. Everyone should condemn such behaviour.

Will the Prime Minister explain why the party of defence and law and order, which never believes that a single Labour soldier fought in the last war, now cannot even recognise a gun barrel?

I should like to say first to the hon. Gentleman that everyone is grateful to all those who fought in the last war; without them we should not now be free. So far there has never been a gun barrel made with an aperture of I m wide, which is the diameter of the proposed Iraqi pipe.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 April.

Does my right hon. Friend share my view that Ford's investment of £400 million in south Wales is a sign of investors' confidence in Britain under her Government? Does she further agree that the fact that Ford is spending some of its investment abroad because of previous trade union intransigence is a clear sign that investors are worried about the future and of what investors would do if this country were ever again to be dominated by the Labour party's trade union paymasters?

We do indeed welcome Ford's investment at Bridgend and Swansea, phase 1 of the Zeta project, which will help to sustain employment in south Wales. We very much regret that Ford chose to take the second part of that project to Cologne because, in the words of its press release,

"Another factor in reaching the decision … has been the need to ensure continuity of supply to our continental plants."
As Ford could not ensure continuity of supply from south Wales because of the activities of the unions, it was not prepared to put another factory there. The unions have driven Ford away twice—once from Dundee and once from the Zeta 2 project in south Wales.

Will the Prime Minister say why there has been no effective response from any part of the Government to the inquiries made since 1988 about the Iraqi gun contract by Sheffield Forgemasters, Walter Somers and her hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller)?

The point remains that at no time did either firm apply for an export licence for a gun or other military application. If the firms had done so, the application would have been refused.

That is not an adequate answer on such an issue. As Head of the Government, will the Prime Minister say whom she holds responsible for this shambles over the Iraqi gun contract? Which Minister must bear the blame?

Any company wanting to export something that requires an export licence has a duty to apply for that licence. At no time did either firm apply for an export licence for a gun or other military application. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said yesterday, the enormous lm wide pipes that the firms were making were described in a totally different fashion and at no time did they apply for an export licence for a gun or other military equipment. Had they done so, the application would have been refused. It is their duty to apply if they are exporting something that needs a licence.

That is the most devious evasion. The testimony of the right hon. Lady's hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove has shattered the idea that the Government did not know about this during the past two years. I repeat: which Minister is to blame?

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman ever listens to replies. If a company wishes to export something that needs an export licence—military equipment does—it is its duty accurately to describe it and to apply for an export licence for what it is exporting. No such application came for a gun or other military application. That is the fault of the companies seeking to export the product.

In forming her policies towards South Africa and the African National Congress, will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that less than two years ago the ANC publicly announced that it would accept funds from the IRA? Will she personally look into reports coming from Northern Ireland that on Wednesday 4 April two members of the ANC named Sabblae and Karoo were in Downpatrick, County Down, meeting the head of the IRA in South Down and other members?

I am certain that my hon. Friend will have checked the facts that he gives. He knows that we never, never support armed struggle, no matter by whomsoever it is proposed, and the ANC stands for armed struggle and continues to do so. In our view it is time to get down, not to rhetoric but to the nitty gritty of negotiations, and to do that in South Africa with the existing South African Government.

Will the Prime Minister list for the House her reasons for opposing local income tax, raised through the revenue system, as a replacement for poll tax? Does not she realise that it would be easier, fairer, simpler and cheaper to raise than the poll tax, and just as accountable, and that it operates in many countries with full public support? Does not she see that local income tax as a replacement for poll tax is a way out of her and Britain's poll tax nightmare?

There are several reasons why local income tax would not work. First, it is usually dealt with not where a person lives, but where he works, which, for many people, is a different place. PAYE is done in the firm for which a person works, which may be different from the place in which he lives.

Secondly, many people would not wish to divulge all their affairs again to local authorities, and they would have to do so. Those are two good reasons for not having a local income tax.