HC Deb 21 May 1974 vol 874 cc180-6
Q2. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of his speech at Glasgow on 5th May on Government policy towards the Press.

Q3. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of his speech of 5th May at Glasgow about the difficulties facing the Government.

Q6. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech made on 5th May at Glasgow on economic matters.

07. Mr. Wyn Roberts

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his speech at Glasgow on Government policy.

Q8. Mr. Nigel Lawson

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech at Glasgow on 5th May on the Government's problems.

Q12. Mr. Kin nock

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech at Glasgow on 5th May on the implementation of Government policies.

The Prime Minister

I did so the following day, Sir.

Mr. Lamont

With reference to the Prime Minister's absurd suggestion in that speech that certain sections of the Press were out to make Parliament unworkable, why is it that he still cannot realise that the function of the journalist and the television man is limited to getting news and getting it into newspapers and on to television? Does not the Prime Minister realise that those are not my words but are a quotation from his secretary, Mrs. Williams, in her description of his own attitude to the Press?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. Concerning what I said in the House, the Press would fail in these endeavours if it were not for the fact that certain Members of the Opposition had aided it in what it was trying to do. On the general question, the House had an extremely constructive debate on the Press last week. I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the somewhat lengthy speech I made last Tuesday on all the points he has raised.

Mr. Skinner

Is not the fact of the matter that in that speech the Prime Minister's words were to the effect that there was a clear intention that certain sections of the Press and Tory back benchers wanted to make this Labour Government unworkable? If that is so, has not my right hon. Friend an obligation to the Labour Party and its supporters outside the House to seek a fresh and full mandate? Would not this week be a most appropriate time to do that?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I said that there were some who were seeking to make Parliament unworkable and who had obviously failed. But my hon. Friend is certainly nattering right hon. and hon. Members of the Opposition——

Mr. Skinner

I would never do that in my life.

The Prime Minister

It is most uncharacteristic, but for once my hon. Friend is flattering them if he is suggesting that they are making Labour government unworkable. The successes of the present Government are clear to the whole country, as we have seen, and hon. Members opposite know that. They are whistling to keep up their spirits, which are not very good these days. But certainly Conservative Members—I defend them from my hon. Friend's charge— have not sought to make the Government unworkable, because they never vote against any major Government measure.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Was not the point about that speech that the invective and innuendo that was indulged in against unnamed newspapers and unnamed Members of Parliament are calculated to bring this House and the Press into disrepute? Could not the right hon. Gentleman for once, either inside or outside the House, speak like a Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister

There are certain precedents that I would not want to follow —despite the fact that the hon. Gentleman used to brief him. But concerning imputations against the Press, if they have been condemned by anything I said, it was not by my words but by their actions in certain cases. The hon. Gentleman objects to people being unnamed, but I am surprised that he wants to rise and identify himself.

Mr. Kinnock

Does not my right hon. Friend think that by the vehemence of that speech he may inadvertently have won some sympathy for Her Majesty's loyal abstentionists, so much so that a former Labour voter is now willing to let bygones be bygones and to take the Conservative Party into his protective care? Will my right hon. Friend explain why the Conservative Party seems to be more worried about the fact that Labour has lost that vote than the fact that it is gaining that vote?

The Prime Minister

I am always trying to invoke sympathy for people suffering, as I said in that speech, from withdrawal symptoms. Concerning the Conservative Party, however, there is no ministerial responsibility for anything that it does—nor, apparently, is there Opposition responsibility either.

Mr. Roberts

Does the Prime Minister agree with Miss Joan Maynard's view that the best way to get rid of muckraking is to get rid of the muck?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. That is certainly true. Indeed, because of great anxiety on certain matters among a very small minority of local authority representatives, the Leader of the Opposition rightly set up the inquiry under Lord Redcliffe-Maude—who has now reported; I hope that his report will be available in a day or two—and I have announced the establishment of a Royal Commission on corruption. If the hon. Gentleman is sensitive about my use of the word "muck-raking" in that speech, I shall try in future, in respect of certain hon. Members of the Opposition, to give up using that word and to use the words "smearing" and "mud-slinging" instead.

Mr. Lipton

Is it fair to blame the Press entirely for making Parliament unworkable when the Opposition Chief Whip himself made a notable contribution to that end last night?

The Prime Minister

I am sorry that I was not able to be present last night, but I will study the record.

Mr. Lawson

In addition to displaying his persecution complex, in that speech the Prime Minister touched on industrial relations. Can he, therefore, explain to the House why his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland deplores political strikes whereas his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment exalts them?

The Prime Minister

That question was very laboured. As to a persecution complex, the hon. Gentleman will know that I used to enjoy all the attacks he made on me, both when he was a City editor and when he was editor of the Spectator: there was no question of that. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office rightly deplored, as I hope all Members of the Opposition deplore, what has been happening in Northern Ireland this week. This is not only a political strike; it is a sectarian strike which is aimed at destroying decisions taken by this House of Commons, both as regards power sharing and by the elected Assembly. It is being done for sectarian purposes having no relation to this century but only to the seventeenth century.

With regard to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has said on these matters, he has rightly referred to the ultimate right, which has been accorded by all Governments, to strike on industrial and economic matters. However, in so far as the previous Government tried to inhibit that with the Industrial Relations Act, when the crunch came they never dared to use it.

Mr. Bidwell

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when he announced his intention to set up a Royal Commission on the Press he was being far too kind to the Press when he talked about the appalling lack of public faith in the Press? I think that those were more or less his words. Is it not, in effect, a healthy public scepticism about the Press? If that were not so, my right hon. Friend could never have been returned as Prime Minister again.

The Prime Minister

I think that we dealt with these matters fully. Most hon. Members, on both sides of the House, dealt with these matters fully and very fairly in the debate last Tuesday. What was then said about the Press, whether friendly or critical—there was a mixture of both—has been fully accepted by most sections of the Press.

Mr. Heath

The Prime Minister knows —I will reassert it in the House in public—that Her Majesty's Government will have every possible support from the Opposition in dealing with the situation which has arisen in Northern Ireland. We believe that they should take all necessary action with the security forces to ensure that barricades are not allowed to remain, because we have learned the lesson of what happens when they are built up for some days. In all of this the Prime Minister is aware that we shall support him entirely, knowing that this is a political strike against the creation of the Assembly, against the Executive and against the Sunningdale Agreement.

Is the Prime Minister aware that in supporting him and his administration against a political strike we believe that he must now recognise that respect for authority is indivisible, and that whereas he and his colleagues were prepared to support political strikes in this country against an action approved by Parliament we shall not do that. We will support the established Government in Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister

I am only too ready to agree that in the matter of Northern Ireland the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have given this Government the same full-hearted support on everything that it has been necessary to do, within the basis of a continued policy involving a series of Governments, as we gave to the right hon. Gentleman's Government—and that was totally extended both by voices and in the Division Lobby.

However, if the right hon. Gentleman draws any parallel whatsoever between what is going on in Northern Ireland— intimidation, clubbing, threats to wreck any shop which remains open to supply food, interference with food and the rest of it—and anything that happened on the Industrial Relations Bill, it proves once again that he does not understand the trade union movement of Great Britain, and he has almost suggested that he does not understand what is going on in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Heath

What I do understand is that when the Government are really faced with a situation, as they are in Northern Ireland, they are forced to stand, and when they are in opposition they will always give way to political action in this country and to intimidation.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman always has an obsession about this. [Interruption.] Of course he has. It was the obsession which brought the three-day working week and which planted him back on that bench. There is no parallel, as the right hon. Gentleman knows.

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