Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1976 May 20 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [911/1703-10]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2786
[column 1703]

MINISTERIAL RESPONSIBILITIES

Q1. Mr. Lawson

asked the Prime Minister whether he has any further proposals for changes in the allocation of ministerial responsibilities.

Q2. Mr. MacGregor

asked the Prime Minister whether he has any further proposals for changes in the allocation of ministerial responsibilities.

Q9. Mr. Aitken

asked the Prime Minister whether he has any further proposals for changes in the allocation of ministerial responsibility.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

No.

Mr. Lawson

Would it not be a good idea if the Prime Minister were to give to one of his Ministers the responsibility for investigating his redeployed predecessor's smear campaigns? Meanwhile, can the Prime Minister say whether the security services have discovered any evidence whatever to justify the serious allegations by his right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) of improper interference by South African organisations in British political life—yes or no?

Mr. Callaghan

I am all in favour of the hon. Gentleman asking me a ques[column 1704]tion, but I am not going to allow him to give the reply as well. Those of us who have known my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) for many years know that he has a great capacity for illuminating a truth long before it becomes apparent to other people. In this case there is no doubt that as the investigation proceeds, and despite the persiflage that surrounds much of it, it will be found that attacks are being made against individual members of the Liberal Party. As to who is making them, that is not something that I can go into at this stage. The security authorities are investigating reports that have been made, but there is no evidence, apart from what is appearing about Mr. Russouw, to connect the South African Government with the campaign that has been going on. It was clear that Mr. Russouw exceeded the expectations of a diplomat in any country.

Mr. Pavitt

On a more practical and less political note, will my right hon. Friend take a long clear look at the large departments of ministerial responsibility that have existed since 1968, with a view, for example, to separating the Department of Health and Social Security into two Departments?

The Prime Minister

I had not thought of doing that. I am against scrambling omelettes and unscrambling them again. A certain amount of stability in Civil Service organisation is a good thing, if people are to know where they stand. If there were a deficiency in organisation I should certainly want to review it to see whether changes should be made.

Mr. MacGregor

In view of the continuing decline of the pound since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister, will he consider appointing a Minister of Cabinet rank to deal with public expenditure and cutting down the borrowing requirement, which is the obvious reason for the lack of confidence in his economic policies?

The Prime Minister

I am sorry if I have made all that impact in six weeks. I have a feeling that there are more deep-rooted causes for the position of sterling. Those causes extend over many years, when both my party and the hon. Gentleman's party were in power. The matter should not be treated as if it were a game [column 1705]of bingo. It is a serious question. The integrity of our currency concerns us all—or it should do. It is therefore my concern to ensure that economic and financial policies command support, not only at home but overseas. We are making great progress in that direction.

Mr. Ron Thomas

In view of the alarming increase in import penetration, the outflow of capital, the speculation against sterling and the inter-relationship between those factors, will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of one Minister being responsible for both trade and payments policies, so that we may begin to plan trade policy linked with the balance of payments and the protection of sterling?

The Prime Minister

These policies are co-ordinated. There is bound to be an increase in the level of imports as there is economic recovery, because this country depends so much on imports of raw materials, commodities and semi-manufactures. I am glad to say that exports are going ahead very well. I trust that that trend will be maintained. We have the capacity to maintain it, and the price is right. I hope that we can now achieve delivery at the right time. Coordination is the responsibility of the Cabinet as a whole. We are carrying it out.

Mr. Aitken

Will the Prime Minister consider appointing a Minister with special responsibility for immigration, in order to reconcile the apparent differences of policy that have arisen between the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on this subject? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while Home Office Ministers have been saying that there will be no increase in the 5,000 vouchers issuable to East African Asians, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said at the Dispatch Box on Monday that there might be certain circumstances in which the number of vouchers would have to be increased? who is in charge?

The Prime Minister

I am.

Mr. Grimond

Reverting to the Prime Minister's original answer, as we all agree with his assessment of his predecessor's [column 1706]capabilities, will he assure us that after the completion of the inquiries, which are of great interest to my party, there will be a statement on exactly what has been going on in South Africa in this matter?

The Prime Minister

I shall certainly consider that. Nobody in any political party should be under the threat of suspicion if it can be cleared. In some of these matters security considerations are involved, and it would not be the custom or practice for us to depart from that, but I shall suggest to my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary that he should consider whether it is possible to make a statement in due course. It may take a little time.

Mr. Edward Lyons

Will my right hon. Friend consider transferring some of the powers of the Lord Chancellor to the Attorney-General, so that there may be more accountability to the House for matters with which the Lord Chancellor is at present concerned?

The Prime Minister

If there is a particular illustration of the need for that, I shall be glad to look into it, but in one of my previous incarnations as Home Secretary I was always very careful to avoid intervening between the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor, and I recommend that caution to my hon. Friend.

Mrs. Thatcher

As James Callaghanthe Prime Minister says very firmly that he is in charge, may I ask him whether he now intends to take personal responsibility for matters concerning Rhodesia or whether he will leave them to Anthony Croslandthe Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and to Roy Jenkinsthe Home Secretary, as regards British passport holders? The Prime Minister will be aware of the urgency of the question, because on the tape there is a statement that the British High Commission in Lusaka has repeated previous advice that British citizens should consider leaving Rhodesia. Will he therefore say what contingency plans have been made, should any such people wish to come to this country, and what diplomatic initiatives he intends to take to avoid bloodshed?

The Prime Minister

I think that the distribution of functions is clearly understood. I certainly do not wish to intervene in it. [column 1707]

As I read the story that appeared on the tape, I understood that the High Commissioner had been asked a question to which he gave the reply given on many previous occasions. There was no new statement of policy, and I do not think that the right hon. Lady meant to indicate that there was. It is obvious that since sanctions we have not been in a position to give consular protection to British citizens in Rhodesia. That situation has not changed. As I understand it—from the same information as that which the right hon. Lady has—the High Commissioner, in reply to a question, pointed out once again that those who felt in need of that protection would have to leave the country if they were to get it.

As for emergency arrangements, the Government make contingency plans for a number of events, and the right hon. lady and the House may take it that the subject of United Kingdom passport holders in Rhodesia is under review.

RABIES

Q3. Mr. Adley

asked the Prime Minister if he will reallocated responsibility so as to make one Minister responsible for coordination of anti-rabies measures.

The Prime Minister

That responsibility, in so far as the campaign against rabies in animals is concerned, already rests with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Mr. Adley

I thank the Prime Minister for that answer. I realise that technical matters are handled by the Ministry of Agriculture, but is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Home Office has decided to see a delegation of Members from all parties about the police powers in this connection; that the Customs officers are responsible to the Treasury; and that questions of notification of the regulations for overseas visitors are in the hands of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? In view of the widespread concern, particularly in coastal constituencies, will the Prime Minister consider giving one Minister, if only temporarily, wider powers than he might normally enjoy to co-ordinate overall the work of dealing with the problems connected with rabies?

[column 1708]

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I have acquainted myself with a number of the facts on this situation. The hon. Gentleman's constituency is clearly one that would be immediately affected. I understand that a Minister from the Ministry of Agriculture will be present at the meeting with the deputation that the hon. Member will be leading. The various aspects of control must be in the hands of local agencies. Up to now, I am satisfied that there is co-ordination. However, a number of aspects of the problem need to be examined. For example, if I may revert to an earlier Question, I think that we should consider the possibility of making offences under the rabies legislation arrestable. I do not know what answer we should come up with, but that is the kind of issue that I am having examined. I hope that we can find some answers to it. I do not think that any hon. Member is in doubt about the gravity of the matter.

Mr. Corbett

In view of the seriousness of the threat of the introduction of the disease here, will my right hon. Friend suggest to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture that he make a ministerial broadcast and a personal appeal to so-called pet lovers not to take an appalling risk?

The Prime Minister

That is a very good suggestion, and I shall pass it on. The broadcast would probably have to be on the BBC overseas service, although clearly people going abroad and returning also need to have this information. A number of matters are being considered, such as suggestions to port officers about directing boats with animals aboard to certain specified moorings. That is the kind of thing that could be done. The Government will certainly take action to draw attention, as far as is possible, to the dreadful consequences of the disease coming to this country.

Mr. Costain

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that there are reports of rabies within a 100 miles of my constituency, and that Folkestone and Dover have the biggest passenger traffic of any port in Great Britain? The Minister of Agriculture's responsibility comes in after the disease has broken out, and we must wish to prevent it. Could not the Prime Minister arrange for the local police forces to have special powers of inspection and [column 1709]to help the Customs and immigration people?

The Prime Minister

The police have powers. Questions were asked about them 20 minutes or so ago, and were answered by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. Whether they should have more powers is a question to which we are giving consideration. There is a maximum fine of £400 on summary conviction, and on indictment there is the prospect of imprisonment. These are serious penalties and I think that they are adequate. It is now a matter of ensuring that those who try to smuggle in animals are caught.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Does not my right hon. Friend feel that offences might be much more effectively prevented if they were made subject to much more severe penalties—say, a fine of £1,000 or a minimum of five years' imprisonment?

The Prime Minister

I am never quite sure where the deterrent ceases to apply. I should not like to go into the question whether more serious penalties would have the consequences that my hon. Friend suggests. It is important that we should alarm people and awaken them to the consequences of the introduction of the disease into this country.

Mr. Burden

Does the Prime Minister agree that the many proposals put to him this afternoon indicate the gravity with which the matter is viewed? Will he therefore set up a committee which can act very quickly and can consider publicising the dangers and producing a cohesive programme that can be brought out quickly to deal with them?

The Prime Minister

There is a cohesive programme and the departmental responsibilities are properly co-ordinated. There is no confusion about responsibilities as between the various local agents who are concerned with this matter, whether they be Customs and Excise officials, police, or people from the Department of Health who are concerned about rabies in human beings. Only if we set up a special department, with special agents to deal with the matter, would there be complete co-ordination. I am sure that it is right to leave it to the local [column 1710]agencies, provided they have proper direction.

Mr. Charles Morrison

Does the Prime Minister agree that, however important the measures taken at home may be, it is far more important to ensure that the disease never arrives in this country? As to co-ordination, is the Prime Minister satisfied that enough is being done at foreign ports to reduce the possibility of the disease coming into this country? Does not this emphasise yet again the need for proper consideration of the matter, and proper co-ordination?

The Prime Minister

There is proper co-ordination in the matter. The local agencies understand their powers and responsibilities perfectly well.

As to the position in foreign ports, I am not able to give an authoritative answer. I am told that at the end of 1975 the nearest point in France that the disease had reached was about 80 miles from the coast of France, although one or two isolated cases have since been reported a few miles further west. The control measures on the Continent are different from ours, because on the Continent there is an endemic situation.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that our task is to try to keep the disease as far away as we can. But I regret that we cannot stop people trying to smuggle animals in, except, perhaps, by bringing home to them the serious consequences of their actions.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that one of the strongest recommendations of the Waterhouse Committee, which went into the whole question in great detail, was that the port authorities around our coast should be greatly strengthened? Will he investigate this and ensure that this action is taken?

The Prime Minister

I hope that some of these questions will be directed to the Minister of Agriculture. Now that my right hon. Friend has joined me on the Front Bench. I feel like Wellington when Blucher arrived. Perhaps hon. Members will table some of these detailed questions to my right hon. Friend. If they are not satisfied with his answers, I am sure that he will let me know.