HC Deb 11 April 1968 vol 762 cc1583-5
Q5. Mr. Blaker

asked the Prime Minister why he has decided to merge the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Office.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the Answer I gave on 28th March to a Question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell).—[Vol. 761, c. 332 and 1726–31.]

Mr. Blaker

Does the Prime Minister recall that when I urged him on 6th June of last year to make this change he refused to do so? Will he accept my congratulations on his change of mind and explain what has occurred since last June to account for it?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. This was a decision which, as I have said many times in the House, obviously had to come one day. I did not think that it was right at that time. I do think that the time has now come; and, after the reactions I have had from Commonwealth countries, I think that this announcement has now been accepted without some of the dangers that a number of hon. Members and I myself foresaw at an earlier stage.

Mr. John Lee

Does not my right hon. Friend think, whatever the organisation and methods advantages of this merger, that it increases the suspicion of the Government's growing indifference to the Commonwealth, especially when coupled with the about-face on the Common Market and our weak-kneed treatment of the Rhodesian rebellion?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend must be responsible for the words he uses in his supplementary questions. I do not feel in any sense that in the Commonwealth there is a feeling that we are turning our backs on the Commonwealth. The decision on the Common Market is one which has been discussed with the Commonwealth under successive Governments. I have nothing to add to what I said in the recent debate on the question of Rhodesia.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

In order to allay apprehensions in dependent territories falsely claimed by foreign Powers, would the Prime Minister consider that some of them might wish to be associated with the Home Office rather than with the Foreign Office, as are the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man?

The Prime Minister

I know that this is an idea which has been advanced on a number of occasions in relation to Gibraltar. It is not our view currently that that is the right answer, as I have said more than once in the House, but it is a matter which at the right time might be considered. It is not a proposal which we would be putting forward at this time. Nor should we propose to move in such a direction unless it was the clear wish of those in Gibraltar which up to now it has not been, though there are certain moves of opinion there.

With regard to allaying anxieties in other territories, it is important that we shall now have one Minister—my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—responsible both for negotiating with potential take-over bidders and also for the welfare of the inhabitants.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Will my right hon. Friend try to ensure that there is high-level Ministerial co-operation with other Commonwealth countries in the institutions of the United Nations, as there always used to be in times past, to great advantage?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. This, I think, is one of those areas where there is the very closest consultation, and this has been revived and furthered by my noble Friend, Lord Caradon, who has regular meetings with his Commonwealth colleagues. My right hon. Friend will be the first to understand the difficulties we have in some of our Commonwealth consultations—for example, on the question of Rhodesia. Were we not taking the line that we are in the Security Council—that is going to be hard enough—we should be in an impossible position with the rest of the Commonwealth at the United Nations.