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Volume 84: debated on Tuesday 29 October 1985

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asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 29 October.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

In welcoming my right hon. Friend back from her travels, may I ask her to find time today to note that her demonstration of resolute leadership and statesmanship in Nassau and New York — [HON. MEMBERS: "Reading"]—not only gave the Conservative party a lead in the opinion polls, but made us favourites to win the next general election? Will she maintain that resolute leadership on the international scene to combat the killer drugs trade, which is one of the country's growing social evils?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he knows, I raise the vital problem of drugs in whatever international forum I attend, whether the United Nations, Nassau, or an economic summit or the European Council, because I am anxious to get as much co-operation as possible. It is necessary not only to take action in this country; but to try to stop the cultivation overseas of the plants which are used to make these drugs. We have recently given more money for that. We have also increased the numbers of Customs officers and the Metropolitan police. I find increasing consciousness in statesmen of all countries that we must together take action to defeat this menace.

As the Prime Minister is partially responsible for the security services, will she, in the light of the expensive fiasco of the Cyprus spy trial, reconsider her persistent refusal to countenance the setting up of a parliamentary supervisory committee on the security services? Is she aware that the United States Congress has such a committee? Why should we not have one? Will she consider it in the light of the report which Lord Hooson is preparing on the lessons to be learnt from the trial, of which I will send her a copy?

No. I believe that we have taken the right decision on the fundamental matter. The only problem that arises immediately for me, as distinct from those that will be dealt with in a statement later by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, is the Security Commission. I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that I decided in June 1984 that, given the gravity of the apparent breaches of security and the length of time the trial proceedings would be likely to take, it would be right to make an immediate reference to the Security Commission. The reference was not announced at the time, in order not in any way to prejudice the course of justice. In view of the acquittals, I will, of course, consult the chairman of the Security Commission and report to the House in due course.

May I take the first opportunity that we have had in the House to congratulate the Prime Minister on becoming an old-age pensioner during the recess? Is she aware that if this had happened under a Labour Government and she had been entitled to claim benefit, she and Dennis would have got £9·50 a week more than they would get under this Government?

I note that under a Labour Government we would frequently have missed our Christmas bonus, which we would never have done under this Government.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 29 October.

I recognise that there has been rapid growth in business productivity and excellent growth in new businesses under my right hon. Friend's leadership —those facts are undeniable—but will my right hon. Friend, as a scientist, turn her attention to the future standards of science in our community? Is she aware that there is grave concern in the scientific community about the way in which we are losing our strength in the world of international science which is the seed corn of our future wealth?

I know that my hon. Friend takes a great deal of interest in this subject, but I do not think that the problem is a lack of scientific work being done here. The problem is that we are not so good as our competitors at turning that work to technical advantage and industrial profit. I believe that we should concentrate on that aspect. On the question of pure science, I recently opened the new Spallation neutron source which is an excellent way of exploring the structure of matter, and which will be of great advantage to this country. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will concentrate his attention on how the results of our work can be turned into industrial profit and jobs.

If a member of the right hon. Lady's Cabinet makes a speech criticising the policy of her Government, should he resign, or should he be sacked?

I think he would realise that he has a very tolerant Prime Minister.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 29 October.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who try to undermine the police have special blame from the rest of the community? Will she take this opportunity to confirm that she will make available to the police the men and equipment that may be needed to ensure that there will never be any no-go areas anywhere in the United Kingdom?

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is vital that there should not be any no-go areas in the United Kingdom, but for that purpose we need not only the numbers of police, properly equipped, but the full cooperation of the local citizenry and leaders of the community, because keeping law and order is the task of the whole country as well as of the police.

In condemning international terrorism in all circumstances, will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to condemn the action of the French Government in relation to the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand?

I think that the French Government have already made their apologies on that matter. We are doing all that we possibly can to assist New Zealand in finding the facts.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to go to the South Bank to see the statue of Nelson Mandela erected by the GLC and unveiled yesterday by Oliver Tambo, president of the African National Congress of South Africa? While Mr. Tambo is in this country, will she seek to have talks with him to find out what is really going on in South Africa and explain to him why her Government are still the mainstay of the racist regime in South Africa?

The answers to the hon. Gentleman's questions in the order in which they were raised are, first, no, and, secondly, that I note that at a press conference in the House on 25 October Mr. Tambo said:

"We are going to step up the struggle. It is going to accelerate. The ANC embraces violence. We are going to intensify the struggle."
Then, in the TV-am programme on Sunday, he said:
"The ANC will go to every conceivable length to destroy the apartheid system in South Africa. The escalated armed struggle cannot avoid the use of guns."
Is that what the GLC supports?


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 29 October.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the anxiety felt in this country about air safety. Can she confirm that the Government have every confidence in the integrity and professionalism of the accident investigations branch? Does she condemn the acts of a television company which is conducting the trial by television of a matter that is still under investigation—the fire disaster at Manchester airport?

I do not believe that we can find out the causes of such a terrible accident in that way. I visited Manchester airport. It is a most impressive airport. One can only be impressed by the services which came to the aid of all the people on that aircraft during that terrible, tragic accident. I met the Chief Inspector of Accidents. I have every confidence in him and in the fact that he will conduct a full and wide-ranging investigation into that accident. Because of the complexities, the final report will take many months to produce. It is that investigation that will sort out the causes.

In the current Government discussions on public spending, the Foreign Secretary wants more for overseas aid, the Secretary of State for the Environment wants more for housing and the Secretary of State for Social Services wants more to maintain child benefit. Does the Prime Minister support them, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer in resisting them?

Does the Prime Minister realise that the overwhelming majority of taxpayers, who also have strong consciences, now have a Prime Minister who is prepared to watch the spread of starvation in the Third world, further decay of housing in our country and the further impoverishment of families? Does she think that, with her attitude, she truly leads a nation that is of good conscience?

All the expenditure that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to make comes out of the pockets of those people—that is a fact that he is always trying to run away from—and 40 per cent. of income tax comes from those on average earnings and less. I do not notice them saying that, they have sufficient take-home pay. If they were saying that, we should not have so many wage claims, which he supports all the way along the line.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 29 October.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that she has overwhelming support among thousands of workers whose jobs depend upon trade with South Africa for her stand against sanctions? Did the Commonwealth conference consider taking action against Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Uganda, whose security forces are responsible for far more deaths resulting from police action against rioters than are those in South Africa?

My hon. Friends know that, among other matters, I can see little point in sanctions which will create more unemployment in this country, only to create more unemployment in South Africa. That seems to me to be a ridiculous policy and one that would not work.

With regard to the other matter, violence is never acceptable as an instrument of political change. The sooner we get that message home, the better. The Opposition will not agree with that, but the Government say that violence is never acceptable as an instrument of political change.

In her opposition to international terrorism, would the Prime Minister care to comment on the Israeli bombing attacks in Tunis and the American piracy in forcing an Egyptian plane to land in Sicily, which then nearly led to Italian troops, in defending Italian sovereignty, having to shoot American soldiers who wanted to take the Palestinians straight to the United States?

With regard to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, we have in fact condemned the attack on Tunis.

With regard to the second part, an act of piracy had already occurred in taking over a cruise ship. I believe that the United States was fully justified in attempting to bring those pirates to justice.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 29 October.

Will my right hon. Friend join many Conservative Members in welcoming the final passage today of the Transport Bill, which will lead to a wider spread and more reliable public transport system, which has been fast disappearing over many years?.

Yes. I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. I shall be better pleased when the Bill completes its passage. It will end a system under which fares were going up and up, subsidies were going up and up, and services were going down and down. I believe that we shall get better service as a result of the passage of the Bill.

Is it the Prime Minister's intention to restore to the inner cities the £2,000 million of resources that have been removed over the past few years?

Since 1979 the Government have allocated £1,900 million in urban programme grams to inner cities. The urban programme has more than tripled from £93 million in 1978–79 to £338 million in 1985–86 —[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has the brains to work it out for himself. The programme has more than tripled, from £93 million in 1978–79 to £338 million in 1985–86. We need to look not only at the amounts but at the use to which the money is put. We want to get far more value for money rather than increase the money available.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In future, could you try to restrict the amount of time taken by Ministers in replying to questions? Some of the statements, which were not replies, were supercilious and, indeed, stopped me asking question No. 15, which is very important.

Order. It would be a very good practice in the House if questions and answers could be briefer.