HC Deb 20 May 1976 vol 911 cc1703-7
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)


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- 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 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 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 the 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 the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and to the 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.

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.

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