Engagements

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st February 1990.

Alert me about debates like this

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.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Opposition Spokesperson (Local Government & Poll Tax), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Does the Prime Minister agree that in her speech to the National Childrens Home regarding the responsibility of fathers for the physical and financial well-being of their children living in a separate household, she understood that she would strike a chord with many people who normally do not agree with her policies? Will she tell the House why, among other policies that discriminate against fathers who try to take that responsibility, the Government in 1988 introduced a Budget which imposed income tax on payments made by fathers to their children in a way that helps to sustain them in a fashion that hon. Members in all parts of the House would wish to see?

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments about that speech—that fathers should take responsibility for children, particularly for illegitimate children, because they need the support. As he will be aware, there will be changes in taxation for married couples coming into force in the new financial year, and I shall put the particular point he raises to the Chancellor.

Photo of Mr Michael McNair-Wilson Mr Michael McNair-Wilson , Newbury

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 February 1990.

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 Michael McNair-Wilson Mr Michael McNair-Wilson , Newbury

After so many years of acrimonious dissent, does my right hon. Friend not think it rather optimistic to expect the Northern Ireland party political leaders to reach some agreement over a devolved administration for their Province? Instead, perhaps the Government should set up a review into the shape and structure of regional and local government in Northern Ireland. I remind her that it is exactly 20 years since Sir Patrick McCrory produced his report on the structure of local government in Northern Ireland. Is my right hon. Friend aware that a new review would be a timely contribution ahead of any talks that may take place between the party political leaders?

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

We would all wish to see greater involvement in local government in Northern Ireland of local government people. We have considered that on many occasions and put it to the several parties. I do not think that we could bring it in unless we had the agreement of the different parties to proper devolved local government, and we have not yet succeeded in that. My right hon. Friend has asked the parties to come in and talk, and I am sure that that would be one of the first matters that he would wish to put to them.

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

The Prime Minister has made it clear this week that she was given seriously inaccurate information about the case of Mr. Colin Wallace and that that incorrect information caused her to mislead the House. Will she therefore, as head of the Security Services, make a full statement to the House? Will she also commission a form of inquiry that has the power to ensure that the full truth is told about the alleged efforts to discredit public figures and Members of Parliament of several parties, including her party, and to subvert elected Governments?

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

First, my statement to the House on 6 May 1987 stands. It is not affected by the new information. Secondly, Mr. Wallace was a civil servant employed by the Ministry of Defence at the Army headquarters in Northern Ireland as an information officer. It seems right, therefore, that a statement was made by a Minister at the Ministry of Defence on Tuesday and will be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence today. The statement made by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces indicated that there is an inquiry into Mr. Wallace's case before the Civil Service appeal board, to be conducted by Mr. Calcutt QC and there is also an inquiry in the Ministry of Defence on how certain documents came to be overlooked.

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 am sorry, but that answer does not begin to address the very basic questions. I put it to the Prime Minister that the information which, in her words, has "now come to light" somewhat offsets the credibility of her statement in May 1987 that there was "no evidence" of misuse of information by any members of the security services. Surely, that fact alone justifies a full inquiry.

As the Wallace case raises serious issues of civil liberties and serious allegations of efforts to discredit Members of Parliament and to undermine elected Governments, it would be intolerable if the Prime Minister proposed to do absolutely nothing other than to hide behind anonymous civil servants.

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

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman's assertions are correct. In so far as new information came forth, and in so far as that has affected earlier statements, the details were given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and set out in very considerable detail in his statement to the House. My own statement on 6 May 1987 was not affected by the new information and the new information provides no evidence of attempts to undermine or discredit Ministers. This is a matter of the presentation of Mr. Wallace's case to the Civil Service appeal board. That has been put correct. In so far as the new information affected anything that Ministers have said during this Administration, we came straight to the House, a statement was made and letters were written to people who might otherwise have had incorrect information. The statement was, in accordance with tradition, shown to the former Ministers with responsibility for defence and for Northern Ireland in the previous Labour Administration and their comments were invited.

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

Is not the Prime Minister aware that throughout the House and among wider interested parties, there is a strong opinion that neither the Calcutt inquiry, for all its worth, nor the internal inquiry by the Ministry of Defence is broad enough or open enough to satisfy the public interest? Can she explain how she made a statement in May 1987, based honestly on the evidence that then existed, and how, by her own reckoning, new evidence, new details and new facts have "now come to light"? How can she claim, in the light of all those circumstances, that her statement then still stands and should not be liable to any form of reconsideration or revision?

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

Because, for the third time of asking, the new information does not provide any evidence to undermine my statement to the House on 6 May 1987. It is of a much narrower kind than that, as was set out by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces in his very detailed statement, which I commend to the right hon. Gentleman for detailed reading.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine , Henley

Will my right hon. Friend recognise the seriousness of the description of the Leader of the Opposition about the events that are alleged to have taken place? Which Government were in power when those events took place?

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

The documents that have been mentioned refer to events in 1974–75, a very long time ago, which is why the statement made by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces was, of course, shown to the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), and to Lord Mason, Lord Carrington and Lord Whitelaw. Comments were invited. These are matters which occurred in 1975 or earlier.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South and Morley

The fact that Lord Carrington and Lord Whitelaw were brought into the consultations—and most of the documents—proves that what happened against many of us took place in 1971, 1972 and 1973. It is no good saying that it was just under a Labour Government. The right hon. Lady was a loyal member of the Cabinet at that time. Surely it is not just a matter of a Labour Government. It went on under both Governments. Indeed, there is evidence that the Prime Minister of the day was maligned as well. Surely what the right hon. Lady said about the dirty tricks of Wright cannot possibly cover what has now been revealed.

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

Once again I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the statement which he saw and which was made in very full detail. These events took place about 15 years ago. There is nothing in the new information which was the cause of the statement to the House which casts doubt on my own statement of 6 May 1987, which was about very much wider matters.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill , Bournemouth West

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recruitment of more paramedically qualified staff to the ambulance service is needed to improve the service? Will she confirm that an offer has been made that will enhance that recruitment? Does she share my puzzlement that the union leaders seem to be opposed to it?

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

In the ambulance service, particularly the accident and emergency part of the service, we need more people with higher medical qualifications. At the moment there are very few—too few in our view—for the topmost efficiency of the service. That is why those people have been offered a 16·3 per cent. increase in pay over an 18-month period. It is to attract those people into the service which we wish to improve.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 February.

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

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

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I thank the Prime Minister for the fact that at least in her letter to the Treasury Select Committee, by way of its Chairman, she expressed regret that in letters she had previously sent there were errors as a result of the false information which she had been given. Now that she has expressed this personal regret, and yet again has had to give account for things that happened before she took office as Prime Minister, and for the fact that she had to relay to the House information that has proved to be incorrect, will she not think again both about the need for a wider inquiry into the implications of this matter and about the accountability of the security services? Is it not the case that when Ministers are not directly answerable to Parliament for things, those things are less adequately covered by civil servants' accountability to them?

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

In so far as there have been statements made that were incorrect or needed clarification, we came to the House and corrected those statements immediately. I think that that is greatly to the Government's credit. As soon as there was a need for a statement, we made it. With regard to the Security Service, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, there was legislation that set up both a commissioner and a tribunal. That was a great advance, and I do not think we need any further inquiries now.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Does not the right hon. Lady agree that this issue is far wider than the mere dismissal of Colin Wallace? Does not she know that at the Northern Ireland Assembly all the parties called for a public sworn inquiry into the Kincora scandal? These things will not go away, and the time has come for a full, open and honest uncovering of these matters so that people in Northern Ireland may know that the dirty tricks that were carried on have come to an end. Surely those at the receiving end have a right to have their say and put their case.

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

The new information in the papers does not in any way substantiate Mr. Wallace's allegations in respect of the Kincora boys home. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there has already been an inquiry into the matter, and the new information does not affect that; nor does it provide any evidence of attempts to undermine or discredit Ministers. My statement of 6 May 1987 therefore stands.

Photo of Mr Bill Michie Mr Bill Michie , Sheffield, Heeley

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 February.

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

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

Photo of Mr Bill Michie Mr Bill Michie , Sheffield, Heeley

There is growing support for the ambulance crews who are in dispute with the authorities and with the Government, and the Prime Minister is becoming more and more isolated in her stance. Even more concern is being expressed over the harder line being taken by management and some police authorities. After an accident in my constituency on Sunday night, crews were turned away by the police in favour of the Red Cross. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ask a question."] I cannot obtain an answer. I need an assurance from the Prime Minister

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

Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask the Prime Minister a question.

Photo of Mr Bill Michie Mr Bill Michie , Sheffield, Heeley

May we have an assurance from the Prime Minister and the Government that she is not instructing the police or management to frustrate the work that the ambulance crews are trying to do in dealing with incidents of this nature? We need that assurance now.

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

The police have had to step in where the accident and emergency services were not operating properly—and we all wish that they had been operating properly. As for the pay claim and the offer that has been made, many people would consider that an amount varying between 9 and 16·3 per cent.—for the more highly qualified—is reasonable. We expect those who deal with sick people, and on whom those sick people rely, to return to their first duty.