Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1976 Mar 16 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [907/1122-28]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2281
Themes: Executive, General Elections, Labour Party & socialism
[column 1122]

PRESS (ROYAL COMMISSION)

Q1. Mr. Blaker

asked the Prime Minister whether he has yet received the Interim Report of the Royal Commission on the Press.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade hopes to make a statement tomorrow, when the Report is published.

Mr. Blaker

Is the Prime Minister aware that, bearing in mind his announced intention to resign, I could not possibly ask him the supplementary question I had in mind when I put this Question down? However, before he leaves office will he undertake to satisfy the curiosity of the House and the Press on one matter? Will he say, perhaps in his next volume of memoirs, what he meant when he talked in September 1974 about “cohorts of distinguished journalists” ?

The Prime Minister

I am sorry that the hon. Member felt unable to ask the [column 1123]question, because I have the answer ready. Even he will know that his supplementary question does not arise out of the main Question. He will probably have heard, and if not he will read, that the Interim Report deals with economic issues of the Press. What I said, and what I shall give evidence on to the Royal Commission, related to other aspects of the Royal Commission's work.

Mrs. Thatcher

In spite of the political battles, we wish Harold Wilsonthe Prime Minister well, personally, in his retirement. His decision has come at a time of great financial difficulty and of unprecedented parliamentary events. Is he aware that the best way to resolve the uncertainty and to give the new Prime Minister the authority re-required would be to put the matter to the people for their vote?

The Prime Minister

I thank the right hon. Lady for her opening words. They are in accordance with the traditions of this House. She is absolutely right, in that, whatever differences may divide us in this House on policy and political philosophy, on occasions such as this nice, kind words like hers have been uttered. I hope that I shall not spoil the atmosphere by saying that I totally reject the second part of her question—I am not sure that she is all that keen on it either. [Interruption.] My reason for saying that is that there has been a certain degree of hubris about recent by-elections. The right hon. Lady should remember that the Conservatives lost Brosmgrove the year after they came to office and that a majority of 11,800 was turned into a majority, the other way, of 1,800. Macclesfield was nearly as bad, in the following year. She will find that the swings in the recent by-elections are much smaller than is normal at this stage in a Government's life.

Mr. Thorpe

rose——

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe.

Mrs. Thatcher

rose——

Mr. Speaker

Will the right hon. Gentleman do the right hon. Lady the courtesy of giving way?

Mr. Thorpe

Yes, of course, Mr. Speaker.

Mrs. Thatcher

If I may answer a question for once—which the Prime Minister [column 1124]frequently invites me to do—will he try three weeks on Thursday? We shall be ready.

The Prime Minister

I am glad that the right hon. Lady has said that for once she will answer a question from me. It is the first time that it has happened in 12 months. We have been asking what expenditure cuts the Opposition would make. The right hon. Lady's whole case depends on the votes of last week.

My right hon. Friend who succeeds me will have the responsibility—[Hon. Members: “Who?” .] For a long time we have had the practice of democratic elections, not the scatty system which the Conservative Party introduced, but for which the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) would have been Leader of the Conservative Party.

Mr. Thorpe

May I continue on this happy note of inter-party unity? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are less interested in whether he has received the Interim Report on the Press than we are about his activities, which will be reported in the Press tomorrow?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that every Prime Minister who is worth his salt generates controversy? The right hon. Gentleman has been no exception—I am sure that he would not wish to be so. No doubt there will be occasions when evaluations will be made, but this is not the occasion on which to make them. Is the Prime Minister aware that hon. Members in all parts of the House are delighted that he has decided to stay as a parliamentary colleague of those of us who sit in the House? We shall be interested to see where he will sit and who his neighbours will be. Is he aware that it is a very good thing for party leaders to have their predecessors along side them, so that they may be present to impart valuable advice from time to time?

Finally, may I say—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is a special occasion.

Mr. Thorpe

Finally, may I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the one quality which he will now have in great abundance is the leisure to enjoy more time with his wife, his children and his grandchildren? We wish him well and wish him a long life.

[column 1125]

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for drawing the attention of the House to the fact that the Question is about the Interim Report of the Royal Commission on the Press. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his generous words. I note what he said about it being desirable for a party leader to have his predecessors beside him. I can certainly say that in the case of this party my successor will have his predecessor not only beside him but behind him.

Mr. Atkinson

When choosing his seat will my right hon. Friend take into account that he is an ex-chairman of the predecessor of the Tribune Group? Does he not think it significant that the Leader of the Opposition offers him warm good wishes while ostentatiously not doing so to her own predecessor, the Conservative ex-Prime Minister?

As regards the Press, does my right hon. Friend recollect that his Cabinet colleagues were extremely critical of the Daily Telegraph offering the Tribune Group space to put its case when he himself included its political correspondent in this year's Honours List?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend has raised many questions. It is true that together with some distinguished right hon. and hon. Friends, such as Aneurin Bevan and John Freeman, I was chairman of a group that did not then call itself the Tribune Group. My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that when the then Shadow Cabinet asked us to cease meeting we had one meeting to decide to cease meeting. I do not think that he has had such a request yet, but it is an idea. There is a very marked difference between the philosophy of the group of which I was chairman and some of the philosophies we have heard—but I do not want to be churlish on such an occasion as this.

As regards the Royal Commission on the Press, and the Daily Telegraph, I do not believe that what a newspaper prints or does, or refuses to do, has anything to do with the Honours List. It is the duty of the Prime Minister to propose those who have served this country in one way or another. In this case I was concerned with one of the most distinguished journalists to have served this [column 1126]country. I have not agreed with everything he has written—nor has anyone else—but he is one of the most distinguished journalists to have served Britain as a doyen of the Lobby, to have served the House.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept the best wishes of my hon. Friends and myself without qualification? I point out that unlike the Leader of the Conservative Party and possibly the Leader of the Liberal Party, my party would welcome an election right away. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to draw the attention of his successor to the necessity of an urgent Scottish Government Bill before my hon. Friends and myself are saddled with the task of directing the pattern of Government in England as well as Scotland.

The Prime Minister

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very kind words. Of course, I know that his party would welcome an election. I am not in the slightest degree surprised that it would like one as quickly as possible, so that it could start to win votes before telling Scotland the real meaning of what it is advocating.

Mr. Powell

Is the Prime Minister aware that following the disastrous policies towards Northern Ireland which were perpetrated by the previous Administration, the representatives and people of Northern Ireland will look forward to a period of greater stability and peace under the policies which he has inaugurated?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who on occasions such as this always speaks what is in his mind. I am grateful to him for what I think he meant as a compliment—[Interruption.] Well, I know that he meant it as a compliment.

I want to make it absolutely clear that I welcome the support given by the whole House to what my right hon. Friend announced last week on Northern Ireland but I do not want there to be any doubt that when in opposition we fully supported the policy of the Conservative Government. We thought then, and think now, that they were right to pursue that policy. That is why we gave them our support.

We are glad to feel that there is still no danger of the terrible problem of Northern Ireland becoming a matter between the two Front Benches. I support [column 1127]what was done by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border and the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), when he was Prime Minister. I thank the right hon Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) for what he said about our present policy, but I want no misunderstanding about the past.

Mr. Heath

As the Prime Minister and I faced each other across the Table for 10 years of our leadership of our respective parties, may I say that any man who has been able to lead his party as skilfully as he has for 13 years and been Prime Minister for eight years, having won four General Elections, deserves the fullest tributes for his achievements during that time? May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the courtesies that he always extended to me when I was Leader of the Opposition and for the way that he responded to my invitations during the time that I was Prime Minister? May I congratulate him, after his retirement from office, on joining the party which is the only one to have doubled in numbers in the course of a year?

The Prime Minister

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the generosity of what he has said. It is characteristic of him. As for what he said about my relations with him, I should like to reciprocate. When he was Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, and since that time, we have always enjoyed very courteous relations and tried to help each other.

I query the last part of his question, about the doubling of the party. In fact, I think that there are already four previous Prime Ministers—the right hon. Gentleman, together with Lord Eden, Mr. Macmillan and Lord Home of the Hirsel——

Mr. Heath

I meant in this House.

The Prime Minister

I know, but there are parties outside the House as well, now. The right hon. Gentleman has received from me the tie of what The Times called the most distinguished club in England, which I am now about to join. I refer, of course, to the Chequers tie which is given to all those who have been there. It is always a matter for consideration how long—perhaps 13 years—the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) may have to wait to get one of those ties.

[column 1128]

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in deciding to relinquish his post as Prime Minister and the leadership of our party he will most justifiably and honourably have the good wishes not only of the Parliamentary Labour Party but of all the ordinary folk in the great Labour movement outside this House? One feature which distinguishes it is that it was his decision to relinquish his office and the leadership of the party. He goes without any knives in his back. [Interruption.]

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend. Of course, that is true. We have our different ways in the different parties. I have always found the knives of the Conservative Party, as I have watched events over 30 years, less kindly and more lethally planted—[Hon. Members: “Oh!” ] Opposition Members have not begun to study these matters. They will have many years in opposition in which to do so.

I thank my hon. Friend especially for his reference to the party and the country. Although I intend to go on answering questions, as I always do, with complete candour—I have answered 12,000—until my successor is appointed, I have made it clear that, despite certain suggestions, my decision was not a sudden one. I intimated it to you, Mr. Speaker, many months ago.

Mr. Speaker

That is correct.