HC Deb 08 July 1965 vol 715 cc1807-9
Q2. Mr. Ian Gilmour

asked the Prime Minister if he is still satisfied that no conflict of interest is involved in the joint holding of a Cabinet post and the office of General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, in view of the fact that the union is opposed to the incomes policy of Her Majesty's Government; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, no conflict of interest arises. No statement, therefore, is necessary.

Mr. Gilmour

But is not the most likely explanation of the Minister of Technology's conspicuous failure to lend his support to the First Secretary's incomes policy the retention of his trade union office, or does the Prime Minister consider that if the Minister of Technology had attended his union's conference this week the Government's economic policy, instead of being rejected by 800 votes to 16, would have been defeated by only 800 votes to 17?

The Prime Minister

That sounds very laboured. The hon. Gentleman must realise that on all matters decided by the Government—I would hope this would be true of all previous Governments—there is full collective responsibility for all decisions. That members of a Government who have had active associations with outside organisations should therefore derive that kind of slur from the hon. Gentleman, that they must necessarily, in their Cabinet capacity, be taking instructions from outside organisations, would be totally wrong.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

This is a serious supplementary question which I want to put to the Prime Minister on this subject. He said that if he was satisfied that there was a conflict of interest in this case, he would act. How can he say that there is no conflict of interest when in their debates in the last two days members of the Transport and General Workers' Union came out contemptuously against the First Secretary's incomes policy and also against the Government's policy on Vietnam? Is it not quite clear that a conflict of public interest arises? Will the Prime Minister consider telling his right hon. Friend that he must choose which job he will hold?

The Prime Minister

I am sorry to see that, despite having held the office of Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman does not know what the words mean. The phrase "no conflict of interests" means that in the discharge of his capacities as Minister, he is not in any way subject to any pressures, or any conflicts, upon him not to do the job of the Minister properly. The right hon. Gentleman himself was a member of the National Farmers' Union and during that period, except in election years, there was strong criticism of his Government by that union. I would not suggest that there was any conflict of interest. Like Ernest Bevin before him, my right hon. Friend has no executive responsibility within the union. He is on leave of absence and 100 per cent. of his time is on Government work.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is an important difference in that, although the ex-Prime Minister was a member of the National Farmers' Union, nobody ever dreamed of making him the general secretary? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Our enthusiasm is preventing us from making enough progress with Questions.

Mr. Godber

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer a simple question on this matter? Does the Minister of Technology support the Government line? If so, why does he not say so and, if not, why does he not resign?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. All Ministers support the Government's policy on all questions which have been decided. If the right hon. Gentleman is to take silence on any question as indicating dissent, I can give him a whole string of cases proving that the last Government were divided from beginning to end.

Mr. Grimond

The Prime Minister has told us that the right hon. Gentleman in question has no executive duties; has he any duties in connection with the union? If so, people would feel that that was undesirable. However, if it is merely to establish his right to return to the office, that is no different from the numerous people who return from Government to the numerous directorships which they held before taking office. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

I much enjoy the noise, but it stops us from getting on and there must be less.

The Prime Minister

I have certainly noticed that many right hon. Gentlemen return to their previous employment, not least the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), who has been in and out several times.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We must get on.