Engagements

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th November 1989.

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Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford East 12:00 am, 30th November 1989

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 30 November.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and 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 dinner given by the 4th Battalion of the Royal Green Jackets to mark the retirement of my right hon. Friend the noble Lord Holderness as its honorary colonel.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford East

Does the Prime Minister agree that in the weeks coming up to Christmas the ambulance service will be under increasing pressure, and that the walkout in London yesterday only underlines the seriousness of the situation? Will she now instruct the Secretary of State for Health to refer the matter immediately to arbitration?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I understand that the accident and emergency service is being provided by National Health Service ambulance crews over most of the country. They are answering 999 calls, and dealing with urgent admissions, transfers of very sick patients and journeys for patients who need various treatments. In London, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire, the emergency service is being supplemented by vehicles and crews provided by the armed forces and the police. With regard to the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, he is aware that these negotisations are conducted in the Whitley councils, which make no provision for arbitration.

Photo of Mr William Clark Mr William Clark , Croydon South

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 30 November.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I just gave.

Photo of Mr William Clark Mr William Clark , Croydon South

Has my right hon. Friend noted that Toyota, Nissan and the German firm Reinshagen have announced substantial investment in the British car industry? Is this not proof positive that the overseas investor has complete confidence in the British economy? It is a far cry from the days when the British taxpayer had to pay £3,500 million of taxpayers' money to British Leyland.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I agree with my hon. Friend. We welcome this manifestation of confidence in British industry today. It will enable us to bring the car industry back to its former glories. When all that investment is on stream, we shall be producing some 2 million cars a year in this country, whereas we were producing only 1·1 million in 1979. It is also a tribute to the change in trade union law in this country, which eliminated some of the previous difficulties, restrictive practices and continuous strikes that nearly destroyed the car industry 10 years ago.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

When the Prime Minister responded to my question on Tuesday, did she know that the sale of Rover had been assisted by £38 million worth of under-the-counter handouts, and that on the best estimates available Rover was looking forward to three years of significant profitability?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I answered the right hon. Gentleman as I shall answer him again today—the Government struck the best deal that they believed they could in all the circumstances of the sale. The circumstances of the sale were that the extra cash injection at the time of final privatisation brought the total funds injected by the taxpayer into British Leyland up to £3,457 million since 1975. I understand that the forward forecasts of profits were before interest had been paid on capital. That is hardly a profit.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I rather felt on Tuesday that we had not had the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and I feel that now. Is it not clear from what we now know in detail, that the Government were less than honest with the European Community, deceived Parliament, and sold the British taxpayers short, and that the whole affair has been a rip-off? What will the Prime Minister do to get the British people's money back? Is not this the time for her to give the public apology for which I asked on Tuesday?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

No, Mr. Speaker. If there was a rip-off, it was the almost £3 billion which the British taxpayer had paid since 1975 to keep British Leyland-Rover going. The amount was growing because of the Varley-Marshall assurances and already in March 1988 it had reached £1·6 billion. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman remembers that when we attempted to sell British Leyland-Rover in 1986, our efforts were frustrated by the hysteria with which the sale was greeted by the Opposition. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) called our efforts "anti-British in effect" and did infinite damage to the prospect of a successful sale to other buyers who may have been interested. He went on: Can we now be assured … that there will be no question, during the lifetime of the Government, of Land Rover or any other part of the British Leyland Group passing out of British control?"—[Official Report, 25 March 1986; Vol. 94, c. 787–88.] That prevented many other prospective buyers from coming forward, so much damage had been done by the Opposition's strictures on overseas car companies.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Truly me thinks that the Lady doth protest too much. Did she or did she not know on Tuesday that the sale had been sweetened with £38 million worth of handouts from taxpayers' money?

Hon. Members:

Answer.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will make a full statement later this afternoon. The Leader of the Opposition should be perturbed that the car industry could not succeed without enormous cash injections from the British taxpayer—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] That company constantly put its hands into the taxpayers' pocket—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The Prime Minister must be given the chance to reply.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

We had the irony that among companies producing cars in Britain some, such as Ford, paid money into the British Treasury while others, such as British Leyland, took rather larger sums out of it. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Chingford

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider her reply to the Leader of the Opposition? Does she agree that there has been a rip-off—the rip-off of the billions of pounds that were swallowed up by Leyland over many years?

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The right hon. Gentleman should declare his interest.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Chingford

I have no interest to declare. Does my right hon. Friend further agree that the Leader of the Opposition would benefit from some instruction about the cost of a contingent liability of £1·6 billion and the value to the taxpayer of getting rid of it?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. Had British Leyland-Rover not been privatised, it would have continued putting its hands in the pockets of the British taxpayer indefinitely. Then we should soon have been in difficulties with the Commission because of heavy subsidies to British industry.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon , Newry and Armagh

I am sure that the Prime Minister and the House will join me in condemning the horrific, sectarian murders last night in Northern Ireland. In view of the continuing loss of life, hope and quality of life in the north of Ireland, will the Prime Minister please take the Northern Ireland problem off the backburner and, along with the Northern Irish political parties and the Irish Government, as specified in the Anglo-Irish Agreement and again in the Queen's Speech, set about taking the problem by the scruff of the neck and solve it once and for all?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

First, I gladly join the hon. Gentleman in expressing our horror at the murders and our sympathy for the victims' relatives. Although the hon. Gentleman cannot respond immediately, I ask him to bear in mind that it is easier to say what he said towards the end of his question than to put it into practice. I pay tribute to the work of the security forces, whether the police or armed forces. We shall never be able to solve the problem entirely until we have the full co-operation of all people in providing evidence to bring the criminals to justice from whatever side of the sectarian boundary they come.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 30 November.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

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

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who favour the European social charter must also favour her Government's abolition of the closed shop? Is there not a lesson in that for the Leader of the Opposition?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Yes, Mr. Speaker. One of the good aspects of the social charter—we disagree with many; most in fact—is that it would require the abolition of the closed shop—a measure which this Government will introduce in the trade union Bill which will be presented to the House later. If the Opposition are in favour of the social charter. I hope that they will support fully our trade union measures.

Photo of Mr James Lamond Mr James Lamond , Oldham Central and Royton

Is the Prime Minister aware that in answering my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) everything she said showed how conscientious ambulance men and women were in answering emergency calls? Is she aware that at the end of her answer when she sought refuge by saying that the matter was for the Whitley councils, she showed that she was not prepared to treat the dispute as the emergency that it is? Is it not high time that she stepped in to ensure that the dispute goes to arbitration?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I described where the ambulance service was honouring its undertaking as an accident and emergency service and carrying out its duties in that respect. As the hon. Gentleman knows, nine tenths of the work of the ambulance service in the miles of calls it answers do not involve accidents or emergencies, but bringing in-patients and out-patients to hospitals. Naturally, we wish that service to be restored. The hon. Gentleman already knows that a fresh offer which will last for 18 months has been made to ambulance crews. We hope that they will accept it.

Photo of Mr Vivian Bendall Mr Vivian Bendall , Ilford North

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 30 November.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

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

Photo of Mr Vivian Bendall Mr Vivian Bendall , Ilford North

In view of the historic events taking place in eastern Europe, will my right hon. Friend confirm that Britain will maintain her military commitment to NATO and encourage other member states to do likewise?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Yes. I think that the members of the European Community, and I am sure the Heads of Government when they meet at NATO next Monday, will reaffirm that it is vital to continue NATO which has given us peace for the past 40 years. Both the concept and practice are good. It is vital to retain NATO and the Warsaw pact which provide the machinery through which we are negotiating conventional and chemical arms reductions. We are fortunate to enjoy peace. We must always have the means to keep the peace and NATO is that means.

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Leader of the Liberal Democrats

How is it that the Prime Minister trusts the Vietnamese Government so little that she is prepared to risk aiding the Khmer Rouge in order to be able to kick that Government out of Cambodia, and yet trusts them so much that she is prepared to use force to repatriate the Vietnamese boat people into their hands? When will the Government get rid of one or other, but preferably both, of those shameful policies?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, we do not support the Khmer Rouge. We have supported the non-Communist resistance. If the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the representation in the United Nations, he will know that that is determined by the United Nations credentials committee which presently supports the Democratic Alliance of which Khmer Rouge is a part. Is he suggesting as some people are that one should support the Hun Sen Government? Hun Sen and some of his people were members of Khmer Rouge and as a puppet Government were previously kept in power by the Vietnamese.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Vietnamese boat people. Those who are genuine refugees—and that again is determined by the United Nations—will not be returned. Those who are illegal immigrants will be returned and it is customary under international law for countries to receive their own immigrants back into their country. If the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should ever get to a position where we cannot return illegal immigrants to their country of origin, he is proposing international chaos.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Will my right hon. Friend take a little time today to reflect on two outstanding achievements? First, will she reflect on the 70th anniversary of Lady Astor the Member for Plymouth, Sutton, taking her seat in this place as the first woman Member of Parliament? Secondly, will she reflect on her own outstanding achievement as Britain's first woman Prime Minister?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We would all do well to remember that this is the 70th anniversary of the day on which Lady Astor took her seat in the House. It was a momentous day for women and a great tribute to all the suffragettes who had worked so hard to see that day. We must also be grateful to Lady Astor for the magnificent way in which she discharged her duties so that many of us could follow after. I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning my "first" and hope that it will continue.