HC Deb 26 February 1981 vol 999 cc969-72
Q3. Mr. Leighton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 26 February.

Mr. Whitelaw

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend is visiting the United States of America.

Mr. Leighton

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the prevalence of cases of unscrupulous meat traders who have caused the introduction of unfit meat, horsemeat and even in some cases Kangaroo meat, for use in sausages, hamburgers and canned meat products? Does he think that the maximum fine of £100 on conviction by successful prosecution by environmental health officers is in any way adequate?

Mr. Canavan


Mr. Whitelaw

I would not in any way wish to associate myself with the hon. Member's accusations. If they are true, he must substantiate them. As I do not associate myself with them, the rest of his question does not arise.

Mr. Cormack

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether approval was sought for the takeover of The Observer? If not, why not?

Mr. William Hamilton

The right hon. Gentleman has never heard of it.

Mr. Whitelaw

I understand that Lonrho representatives met Department of Trade officials this morning. I am told that it was made clear at that meeting that the agreement to transfer The Observer is conditional on any necessary Government consents being obtained. On the information we now have, the Government believe that consent will be required. No application for consent to a transfer has yet been received in respect of either Lonrho's acquisition of The Observer or Atlantic Richfield's stake in George Outram. Any question of a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission is therefore premature.

Mr. Foot

On the question of the purchase of The Observer, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that approaches should have been made to the Government at an earlier date?

Mr. Eggar


Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Gentleman promise to give a report to the House on the matter? Can I ask him a further question on what we regard as a matter of extreme urgency for this country and the world? Will the right hon. Gentleman send an urgent message to the Prime Minister, whether she is in the White House or not, expressing to her the rising concern in this country and elsewhere in Europe about the supply of arms to El Salvador?

Will he take account of the fact that there are suggestions that huge extra supplies of military equipment are being prepared to be sent by the United States to El Salvador? Will he take account of the fact that many of us in this country and throughout Europe would regard it as deeply offensive if such supplies and American intervention were to go into El Salvador on the side of tyranny and reaction?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the first point about The Observer, when this matter has been further clarified and when an application is made, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will consider these matters and will report to the House.

On the question of El Salvador, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is fully aware of the extreme concern in this country and in the House. My right hon. Friend went to America well aware of those facts, which will be raised in her discussion with the President. The right hon. Gentleman would be the first to appreciate that for me to make any comment on what he has said about a tragic and difficult situation, at a time of such delicacy in the talks, would be most unwise. I do not intend to do so.

Mr. Foot

Surely the right hon. Gentleman can undertake to convey to his right hon. Friend the feeling in the House that has been expressed and that most of us are concerned about freedom, even if some Conservative Members are not. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the British Government will be supporting the proposal of the West German Government for forms of intervention or mediation which might assist in alleviating this tragedy?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, of course I shall make certain that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister appreciates the concern of the House and what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I would be departing from my sensible previous position if I risked a response to what he said subsequently.

Mr. Amery

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever may be the shortcomings of the Government of El Salvador, the Cuban Government have been guilty of aggression in Angola and Ethiopia as well as in Nicaragua and now, on fairly good evidence, in El Salvador? Will he therefore, in any communication to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, explain that the balance of opinion in the House is in favour of supporting the Americans in this matter?

Mr. Whitelaw

The points which my right hon. Friend has raised are well known. They are well known to the Prime Minister and they will of course be part of the discussions which she will have with the President.

Q4. Mr. Dubs

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her public engagements for 26 February.

Mr. Whitelaw

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I have just given.

Mr. Dubs

Is the Home Secretary aware of the increasing concern in this country about the activities of racists, Fascists, and Nazi organisations? Is he aware that they are provoking attacks on black and Asian people? Is he also aware that ordinary people are being put on "hit" lists by those organisations, with the result that they are receiving threatening and offensive letters and phone calls? Will he give the House his assurance that his present investigation into those racist organisations will be sufficiently authoritiative and wide-ranging so that in the near future he can come to the House with firm proposals for action?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am aware of the concern expressed by the hon. Gentleman. I am aware of the troubles and of the evidence of these attacks, which all hon. Members would strongly condemn, no matter where those attacks came from. My investigations will be pursued vigorously and urgently. I add that everyone in the House would wish to condemn—

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Whitelaw

I hope that it would be everyone. If the hon. Gentleman will wait for what I shall say, he may find that it may not apply to him. I would not be surprised if it did not. However, what I shall say will apply to most other hon. Members. That is that we all condemn extremist actions, from wherever they come. They do not all come from one quarter.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

While deputising for the Prime Minister, can my right hon. Friend find time to pay yet another visit to Southend, where an energetic Conservative council is saving its ratepayers £500,000 this year by implementing the first ever privately run municipal cleansing service, as a result of which the council has announced a reduction in its rates?

Mr. Whitelaw

I well remember my last visit to Southend, which I do not suppose contributed to my hon. Friend's satisfactory election to the House. I hope that it did. If it did, I should like to congratulate him and his council on what they have done. It might be a lesson to some spendthrift Labour local authorities which like spending their ratepayers' money.

Mr. James A. Dunn

Will the right hon. Gentleman convey to his right hon. Friend the grave anxiety over the reported threatened closure of the port of Liverpool? As a deputy to the Prime Minister, will he, as an immediate act of urgency, call a conference of those concerned to see what can be done to alleviate that threat?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have seen some of the reports. I accept that these are matters of grave concern. Exactly what is happening is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. I shall make sure that I discuss that with him and I shall report to him the proper anxieties of the hon Gentleman.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern expressed by lovers of our summer game at the attitude of the Guyana Government over the possible selection of Robin Jackman to play for England? Will he accept that there is support on the Government Benches for the England selectors picking whoever they choose in the hope that we will win the Test match?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am sure that there is widespread agreement in the House that the selectors should pick the best people for the tour. However, there may well be misunderstandings, which I hope current discussions on the spot will clear up. In the hope that the misunderstandings will be cleared up and the tour proceed in the best interests of the game of cricket, I believe that it would be wrong for me to comment.

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