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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 931: debated on Thursday 12 May 1977

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asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12th May 1977.


asked the Prime Minister what are his official engagements for 12th May.


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 12th May.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the Writers' Guild of Great Britain. This evening I shall be holding a reception at No. 10 Downing Street in honour of delegates to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Parliamentary Seminar.

Will the Prime Minister find an opportunity to state why he finds it necessary to replace our existing excellent Ambassador in the United States? Does this mean a return to his predecessor's system of domestic patronage?

No. It is in accord with appointments made on many occasions since the war. I have looked up the records and I see that since 1948 there have been eight ambassadors to the United States, of whom four have been non-political appointments and four non-career appointments. This appointment is in accordance with that.

As the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference is now less than one month away, can the Prime Minister say who he expects to attend and who he expects not to attend?

I regret to say that I do not have a list yet from the Commonwealth Secretary-General as to who will be here or who has accepted his invitation. I am watching the situation very carefully.

On the question of the new Ambassador to Washington, will the Prime Minister agree that this appointment recognises brains and ability rather than orthodoxy and docility? Had the appointment been that of a diplomat, there would have been no complaints from either side of the House. Does my right hon. Friend recall that, had President Kennedy succumbed to charges and paid any attention to jibes about relatives and daughters, the American people would never have enjoyed the services of Robert Kennedy?

I have read the newspapers and heard the criticisms that have been made. I considered this proposal when it was put in front of me, and the easiest course would have been to say "No". [HON. MEMBERS: "Why didn't you?"] That is a matter of judgment, and it could be said that my judgment is wrong. It would have been easy to say "No". I considered the matter, but in view of Mr. Jay's qualities and high calibre—of which I have seen no criticism at all—I believe that this is an imaginative appointment. The only question is whether I was right in my judgment and whether, because he is my son-in-law, I should have refused the appointment. Frankly, I thought that if that was the only ground for my saying "No", I had no right to do so. My judgment may have been at fault, but that is the basis on which I approved the appointment.

There are many of us on this side of the House who welcome this evidence of the Prime Minister's determination to strengthen and develop the personal relationship with President Carter. However, is the Prime Minister satisfied that the exceptional talents of Sir Peter Ramsbotham will find a full outlet as Governor of Bermuda?

Sir Peter has served with distinction and I have no criticism to make of him. Indeed, when I became Foreign Secretary he was on the point of taking up his post and as incoming Foreign Secretary I confirmed him in that post. However, with a different Administration and a lapse of three years, it is open to the Foreign Secretary to take a different view of the nature of the task. On that basis he came to me with the proposition. Although the appointment is the Foreign Secretary's, I do not wish to shug off responsibility at all. I am sure that I could have said "No", but on the basis of the argument that the Foreign Secretary put to me I said "Yes".

Will my right hon. Friend accept that many of us recognise the considerable abilities of the new Ambassador to Washington, but if he runs across the Home Secretary will he consult him to see whether this appointment falls within the purview of a marriage of convenience?

I am happy to say on these domestic affairs that my daughter has been happily married for 16 years and has produced three grandchildren for me. Somehow, I do not think that when Mr. Jay proposed to her he had in mind the possibility either that I would become Prime Minister or that he might be appointed Ambassador to the United States.