Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1976 Oct 28 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [918/694-703]
Editorial comments: Around 1515-1607. A division took place at the end of Questions to the Prime Minister when Nicholas Ridley spied strangers.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2318
Themes: Defence (general), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Labour Party & socialism
[column 694]

BLACKPOOL

Q1. Mr. Blaker

asked the Prime Minister when he last paid an official visit to Blackpool.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

I last paid an official visit to Blackpool on 25th April when I addressed the annual conference of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers.

[column 695]

Mr. Blaker

Is the Prime Minister aware that when my constituents hear that Mr. Ponomarev worked closely with Stalin and therefore is an accessory to the slaughter of millions of his countrymen, that he played a prominent part in organising the invasion of Czechoslovakia and that his present objective is to mastermind the destruction of our own liberty, they will find it difficult to understand why he was invited here by the Labour Party and particularly why he has been received by the Prime Minister?

Hon. Members

Answer.

The Prime Minister

I wanted to give hon. Members opposite the chance to have their demonstration before I answered. [Hon. Members: “It has not started yet.” ] If it has not started, that was a pretty good beginning. I say to Opposition Members that insulting words do not make for good relations between us and a powerful country of great importance to the whole future of Western Europe. If I had to sum up the attitude that we should adopt I would do it in the words not, alas, of the present holder of that name but of his predecessor, Winston Churchill, “Jaw, jaw is better than war, war.”

Mr. Heffer

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that much of the Press comment about the visit is misguided? When the National Executive of the Labour Party invites a delegation to this country from the Soviet Union in response to a delegation that visited the Soviet Union two years ago, it does not determine who is on that delegation. We should have objected if my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), who is a Jew and a Zionist, had been refused admission to the Soviet Union by the Russians.

Mr. Sandelson

rose——

Mr. Heffer

Is it——

Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Heffer.

Mr. Heffer

rose——

Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Speaker

Will the hon. Gentleman complete his question?

[column 696]

Mr. Heffer

I have no intention of repeating it, Mr. Speaker. I have already made it clear that I am merely asking my right hon. Friend to confirm that this matter should be put in perspective, and I am by no means a great friend of the Soviet system.

The Prime Minister

The position is quite clear. We have both trading and political connections with the Soviet Union. It is the judgment of Her Majesty's Government that these political connections should be strengthened. That is also the view of large numbers of people in this country concerned with the commercial future of Britain. If the Opposition want to take another view, they had better make it clear.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is James Callaghanthe right hon. Gentleman aware that what he does as Leader of the Labour Party in his desire to support the invitation of his own Left is not a matter for us——

Mr. Heffer

Rubbish.

Mrs. Thatcher

—but that what he does as Prime Minister of Great Britain is a matter for us, and we totally condemn his decision to invite Mr. Ponomarev to see him and to receive him? Is he not aware of the propaganda use that will be made of this visit in every Iron Curtain country in the world? Does he not think it both a major diplomatic blunder and a particularly insensitive decision to receive Mr. Ponomarev during the week of the 20th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady is wrong in almost every particular, but if she is enunciating the doctrine——

Mr. Goodhew

My right hon. Friend speaks for Britain.

The Prime Minister

—that in the distant and probably never to be achieved circumstance in which she might occupy this Dispatch Box she never intends to meet a member of the Politburo, she had better make it clear now.

Mr. Greville Janner

Will my right hon. Friend accept that there are many of us here who think that the argument as to whether these people should be here is sterile, because they are here, and who believe that the occasion should be taken not to abuse them but to condemn [column 697]their abuse of minorities in the Soviet Union and, in particular, the imprisonment of Jewish people last week as a prelude to this visit?

The Prime Minister

The attitude that Her Majesty's Government have taken in relation to the matters raised by my hon. and learned Friend is well known. Both my predecessor and I have used opportunities available to us to make our attitude known on the questions that particularly concern my hon. Friend. We shall continue to do so. Frankly, the Opposition are making asses of themselves.

Mrs. Thatcher

Does the Prime Minister think that soft soothing words will have any effect whatsoever on that régime, especially in the week when he says to the whole British people that he is threatening to withdraw our only deterrent, which is the forces on the Rhine?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady not only misrepresents what I said about that—[Interruption.] If the House is not careful, I shall read the lot, and then hon. Members will see what the position is. Not only does the right hon. Lady misrepresent what I said on that particular subject, but she misunderstands the other situation. The truth is that although the representations to the Soviet Union on these matters are best conducted privately, and certainly not against this kind of background, they have had an impact, as I think is known to both my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) and others, and we shall continue to make them in that way.

Mr. Greville Janner

Hear, hear.

Mr. Madden

Does the Prime Minister agree that sections of the Opposition, including the Leader of the Opposition, seem to be displaying, not for the first time, a high degree of hypocrisy on these matters?

Mr. Goodhew

The Race Relations Bill last night.

Mr. Madden

Judging by the comments of the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon, is this not inconsistent with the fact that an official Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs has recently [column 698]visited Russia? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way of making representations against a system that many of us on the Labour Benches abhor is by the legitimate use of protest and democratic objection to facets of Russian life that we detest?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that it is hypocrisy. I think that it is total and utter naivety.

Mr. Grimond

Does the Prime Minister agree that there are many people in Britain who feel that, whatever the Labour Party may do, it was a mistake on his part to receive this man and, further, that they see no reason for doing so? Does he really believe that this type of appeasing gesture and the refusal to take part in the ceremony at the Katyn Memorial do any good to us at all? There is no evidence that the Russians take the slightest notice of it, and I should have thought that it damaged those who look to us from behind the Iron Curtain.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has no experience of ministerial life at all. [Hon. Members: “Cheap.” ] He is totally unaware of the way in which these matters take place. Of course leaders of the present Opposition have met members of the Presidium and the Politburo on many occasions, and I shall certainly continue to do so if I think it to the advantage of the people of Britain. The right hon. Gentleman is totally and absolutely mistaken.

Mr. Churchill

Has the Prime Minister forgotten the words of the late Aneurin Bevan when, in a memorandum to the national executive of the Prime Minister's own party, he said:

“The Communist Party” ——

Hon. Members

Reading.

Mr. Churchill

Yes, I am reading his words:

“The Communist Party is the sworn” ——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman had better speak from memory. He is not allowed to quote.

Mr. Churchill

Has the Prime Minister forgotten the words of Mr. Bevan when he said that the Communist Party was the sworn inveterate enemy of the [column 699]Socialist and Democratic Parties and only associated with them as a preparation for destroying them? Does he or does he not dissociate himself from that view?

The Prime Minister

I know the deep sincerity with which the hon. Gentleman holds his views and the occasions on which he has protested about meetings with Soviet leaders of this sort. I fully understand that. However, I am just as capable of looking after myself as he is. If quotations were in order, Mr. Speaker, I should have quoted exactly the comment of the hon. Gentleman in May 1975——

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Could it not wait?

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

My point of order is that if it is out of order for my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) to read a quotation, it must be out of order for the Prime Minister to do so.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I was waiting. The Prime Minister had not started quoting. I was waiting to pounce.

The Prime Minister

So, am I, Mr. Speaker. However, in view of the deep opposition, and its sincerity, to these discussions with Mr. Ponomarev, I should like to remind the House that when the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) in May 1975 had lunch—not even just met, but had lunch with, believe it or not—a senior adviser to Mr. Brezhnev, he said—[Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] I should not like to read what he said, but I want to inform the House—[Hon. Members: “Why not?” ]. Because it would be out of order. The hon. Gentleman's opinion at the time was that it was very important that there should be contact with people such as a senior adviser—[Hon. Members: “Reading.” ]—to Mr. Brezhnev in order that they might see how democracy functioned, because, frankly, we have to live with these people. [column 700]I do not admire the hon. Gentleman's consistency, but I envy him his cheek.

Mr. Ridley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the presence in the Chamber of a man who holds this free Parliament in contempt, I beg to move, That Strangers do withdraw.

Notice being taken that Strangers were present, Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order No. 115 (Withdrawal of Strangers from House), put forthwith the Question, That Strangers do withdraw:——

The House proceeded to a Division——

Mr. Greville Janner (seated and covered)

On a point of order Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that most hon. Members would wish these particular guests to see——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman must have his head covered.

Mr. Janner

I am already covered, Mr. Speaker. I carry this tiny skull cap with me for such occasions. In view of the fact that most hon. Members, on reflection, would feel it right that the guests should see how the democratic process works and hear our protests at their behaviour, may I ask the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) to reconsider the matter?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order for me, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows.

Mr. Gow (seated and covered)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the strangers to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) took objection have now left at the first sign of fury from my hon. Friend, it seems rather pointless to pass the motion. Would it not be appropriate on this occasion to call off the Division?

Mr. Speaker

I have no power to call off a Division.

The House having divided: Ayes 80, Noes 192. [column 703]

Question accordingly negatived.

The Prime Minister

No war with Russia anyway!