HC Deb 20 June 1974 vol 875 cc671-9
Q1. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Prime Minister whether he has plans to visit Rhodesia; and if he will make a statement.

Q2. Mr. Redmond

asked the Prime Minister if he will seek to pay an official visit to Dublin.

Q9. Mr. Adley

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Christchurch, Dorset.

Q11. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Ormskirk.

Q17. Mr. Bates

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make an official visit to Bebington.

Q19. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Prime Minister whether he will pay an official visit to the new local authority district of Mid-Sussex.

Q20. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to visit Scotland.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I have at present no plans to visit Rhodesia, Dublin, Christchurch in Dorset, Ormskirk, Bebington, the new local authority district of mid-Sussex, or Scotland, Sir.

Mr. Heath

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is raising a point of order. Mr. Heath.

Mr. Heath

It directly affects the future conduct of business. Is it not an abuse of the existing traditions of Prime Minister's Questions that the Prime Minister—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Heath

As it directly affects the conduct of business, I should like your ruling, Mr. Speaker, whether it is not an abuse of the tradition of Prime Minister's Questions that Questions of the nature which the Prime Minister has just grouped together should be answered in this way, because this obviously deliberately limits the number of supplementaries which you can call about a particular place to which the Prime Minister has referred.

The Prime Minister

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the right hon. Gentleman is allowed, when other hon. Members are not, to raise points of order during Question Time—[Interruption.] May I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, on that point of order, that the right hon. Gentleman frequently changed his practice about grouping, and that it is widely recognised in the House that, for example, just before the last recess, when I was asked, in a Question, to visit Derbyshire, more than half the time of questions on my Derbyshire non-visit related to Chile, on which I had answered Questions for 40 minutes two days earlier?

Mr. Skinner rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am quite willing to pursue this matter further at the end of Questions. Meanwhile, I rule that nothing has occurred with which the Chair should interfere. Mr. Evans.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On very many occasions you, with the approval of the House, have quite rightly said that you deprecated points of order during Question Time because they deprived Members of having their Questions answered. Even this afternoon, about 10 minutes ago, you rightly deferred hearing a point of order that was about to be raised by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). But having allowed the Leader of the Opposition a privilege that is not given to any other Member, and now having had this point of order, hon. Members have already been deprived of five minutes of Question Time.

Mr. Speaker

They have also been deprived of another two minutes by the hon. Gentleman. I have said that I am quite willing to pursue this matter later. I have to exercise my judgment on these matters. I did so. We shall now continue with the supplementary questions.

Mr. Evans

The intention of my Question was to get the House to consider the issue of Rhodesia. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has no intention of making that unnecessary journey, but does he realise that as a party we have put positive proposals on the illegal régime in Rhodesia, that in the past 25 years two-thirds of humanity have been liberated, and that the only colonial territories left are in that part of southern Africa? Now that the Portuguese dictatorship has been overthrown, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau will soon reach independence. As the custodian of the party's manifesto, will my right hon. Friend ensure that we carry out the policies in that document?

The Prime Minister

I was trying to save the time of the House so that we could make progress. I am sorry that time has been lost.

There is only one point on which I disagree with my hon. Friend. What he said about policy in relation to Rhodesia is not only the view of our party, and Her Majesty's Government; the previous Government, following the proposals put forward by the Pearce Commission, also took the view that we could not as a Government or a House, agree to any proposals for Rhodesia which did not carry the support of the African as well as the white population. We have all said that. There have been talks recently between the Smith régime and Bishop Muzorewa and the African National Council, and a delegation from the ANC is coming to visit me in the very near future. Whatever it may have been in the past, I do not regard the matter as now being an issue of division between the parties.

Mr. Redmond

As the Prime Minister apparently is not moving around very much, will he send someone else to Dublin, in view of the serious situation that could arise if, by any accident, this country left the Common Market, while the Irish Republic will, as we know, stay in? Would not that be an absolute death blow to the long-term chances of peace in the island of Ireland? Should we not have contingency plans to guard against that?

The Prime Minister

I think that Common Market membership is a separate question from that of the grave situation in Northern Ireland. Whilst I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, I had not thought of Common Market membership as necessarily a solution to the deep-lying problems of Northern Ireland. I do not feel that it is necessary for me to go there. We are in close touch with the Government of the Irish Republic, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland visited Dublin recently.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I am very sorry that my right hon. Friend finds that he is unable to make an official visit to Ormskirk. Will he take note of the unacceptably high level of unemployment in the area of Kirkby in my constituency? Will he also take a personal interest in the workers' sit-in at the New Are factory there and give whatever assistance he and the Government can give to their attempts to create a workers' co-operative? Further, will my right hon. Friend note the desire of my constituents for the speedy implementation of the Labour Party's proposals for an extension of public ownership and the preservation of the right to work?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the way in which he has approached a question about which he and I have been concerned over many years. I have visited the Ormskirk constituency many times—more, I think, than my hon. Friend—and Kirkby, which was in my constituency until recently. I am very concerned about what has happened to the plant, which was saved from closure two years ago, but there are great problems in any Government's putting money into the factory in such a situation. The right hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Chataway) was very helpful to the factory, and consulted me at the end of last year about his anxieties. The collateral which the then Government thought would be available, in terms of premises, against the Government loan does not now seem to be available. There are heavy losses. We are concerned now to save the factory itself for employment much more suited to the purposes for which it was built. It is one of the best engineering premises in the North of England. We are now concerned with finding alternative employment there. We do not rule out, if necessary, the Government's taking over the premises and providing them for suitable management.

Mr. Adley

As the Prime Minister has just expressed his great concern about jobs, if he is unwilling to come to Christchurch, perhaps he will be willing to receive a deputation of my constituents who are working on Concorde at BAC, Hurn, near Christchurch, explain why his Government are still prevaricating about Concorde, and tell them that he has come out firmly in favour of the aircraft and that he will allow production to proceed as quickly as possible.

The Prime Minister

I know and understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about the future of the Concorde project, which is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House—including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry—who represent other areas involved, such as Weybridge, Bristol and the engine-producing areas. The Government have been going into the matter very fully I do not think it would help if I said anything further this afternoon, but I take very seriously what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Stonehouse

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the new idea of answering Questions together? It is bound to lead to questions and answers being very diffuse, and may well ensure that Questions from No. Q2 onwards are not dealt with.

To return to Question No. Q1, what comment has my right hon. Friend to make on the announcement of a general election in Rhodesia? Will he make it clear to all concerned that there is no question of this Government's taking any account of an election based on such an undemocratic electorate? Will he take note of the need for the long-standing political detainees, such as Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Sithole, to be released to enable them to engage in meaningful negotiations on behalf of the majority?

The Prime Minister

I did this grouping today hoping that we could make more rapid progress than we have done in recent weeks, but we lost seven minutes at the beginning because the Leader of the Opposition wanted to celebrate the end of the phoney war by raising a point of order.

With regard to my right hon. Friend's substantive question about Rhodesia, I entirely endorse what he said. The calling of a so-called general election by an illegal Government carries no weight at all in this House, because very few in the House purport to recognise that there is a legal Government in Rhodesia. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend's strictures on that illegal régime for the illegal detention of Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Sithole, as well as many others. Both have now been detained for a period of 10 years—in the case of Mr. Nkomo without trial.

Mr. Renton

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for answering my Question, which, as it stands at No. 19 on the Order Paper, I was not totally expecting.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is all very interesting, but the hon. Gentleman must ask a Question.

Mr. Renton

If he had visited Mid-Sussex the Prime Minister would have found that many of my constituents were interested in the date of the next General Election. Will he advise us what progress he is making into his investigation of voting at a General Election on what might be called a shift basis?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said. It is obvious that I have pleased one hon. Member by grouping a number of Questions, all of which were put down on the same day—in which I am following the Leader of the Opposition—and enabling the hon. Members concerned to put their Questions. I did not realise that the hon. Gentleman was not expecting it, but I am happy to feel that he is glad to have had a chance to put a supplementary question on the matter.

With regard to the date of the next General Election, which is being pressed on the Government so avidly by the Leader of the Opposition, I have no immediate information to give the House. When I have, I shall see that the House is informed, of course.

With regard to what I think the hon. Gentleman called staggered voting, the 1945 precedent—[Interruption.]—Some hon. Members, including some of the interrupters, who will not be back next time, would of course like to have elections when many of their working-class voters are away. I do not think it likely that a recommendation would be made for a July election which would involve the 1945 rules. I do not think that it is likely, and I hope that it helps the hon. Gentleman for me to say so.

Mr. James Johnson

I revert to Salisbury. Is my right hon. Friend aware that according to information that some of us have there was a fair chance of Smith making some agreement with Bishop Muzorewa and his people in the ANC? Is my right hon. Friend saying today that if that were possible he would be against it, or would he lend his best efforts to that end?

The Prime Minister

I did not say that I would be against it. I think that the Government's attitude is that of their predecessors. If there were meaningful talks—and I think that there have been talks between Mr. Smith and his col leagues on the one hand and Bishop Muzorewa and the ANC on the other—and if those talks produced a scheme that looked like commending itself to the African population as well as to the white population, that is something that we would all take very seriously. However, we would have to be satisfied, as our predecessors insisted that they would have to be satisfied, that such a scheme was acceptable to the African population.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Will the right hon. Gentleman come to Scotland, where on 28th February he would have found that unemployment had fallen sharply, that job vacancies were at an all-time high, that industry was in a good state and emigration was at an all-time low? If he went to Scotland today he would see the total uncertainty which industry is facing because of the wild nationalisation plans put forward by the Secretary of State for Industry.

The Prime Minister

I am not sure whether I heard the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). Did he say something about February? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes.") In February, Scotland was on a three-day week like the rest of the country. The numbers signing on unemployed or temporarily stopped at that time were the highest since the war. I do not know whether Scotland had the same experience as the rest of Britain—I suspect that it did—but what the Government did was to end the three-day week in two days.

The hon. Gentleman referred to unemployment figures. He will have seen the statement which was made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland comparing the present level of unemployment in Scotland with a figure miles beyond 100,000, which was never reached from 1964 to 1970, which the hon. Gentleman was always concerned to defend when he was a Scottish Minister.

Mr. Dykes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask for your guidance because the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, who, incidentally, appears to be treating Question Time more and more like a bad version of the Clitheroe Kid, during Questions on visits to various places, grouped all the visit Questions together without exception, save the Question which I tabled—No. Q6—about visiting all the capital cities of the European Economic Community. Do you think, Mr. Speaker, that that was right and justified, or was it done because my Question was more difficult than some of the others.

The Prime Minister

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman's point is one that I was considering, and I should like to think about what he said. We are all learning—some of us—on these matters. The reason that I did not include the hon. Gentleman's Question—I admit that perhaps it was wrong not to do so—was that the answer to all the other Questions was that I was not proposing to visit the places concerned. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am going to Brussels next week. I was in Germany yesterday. I should very much like to consider the point that the hon. Member made.