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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 949: debated on Tuesday 2 May 1978

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asked the Prime Minister if he will list his public engagements for 2nd May.

In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I hope to have an Audience of Her Majesty The Queen.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people will welcome the Government's decision to send the Chief of Defence Staff to Peking to try to forge closer defence links with that country? Is he aware that many will also welcome the forthright statement made by the Chief of Defence Staff, appropriately enough on May Day? Will he take this opportunity to make it clear to those in his party who echo the Kremlin line that he approves of the way in which Sir Neil Cameron is doing his job and that he will do nothing to prevent his continuing to do his job?

It is true that the Government seek to improve relations with China. That has been why a number of Ministers and others have visited that great country in recent years. We shall continue to improve relations with China, but I emphasise that that will not be at the expense of our relations with any of the other major countries in the world. I do not believe that that will be the policy of either party.

When taking an Audience of Her Majesty this evening, will my right hon. Friend ask Her Majesty whether it is possible for her to give more favourable consideration to attending more often the Football Association Cup Final?

The discussions that take place between the Prime Minister and the Queen are, by all the usual conventions, kept confidential. The answer to my hon. Friend's supplementary question is "No, Sir".

Why does the Prime Minister not stand up for what Sir Neil Cameron said this week? Why did he not stand up for the defence chiefs last week? Why does he not do more to sort out the pro-Soviet grout, on his side of the House? Are not those hon. Members the real mischief-makers in defence affairs?

I am not quite sure what the right hon. Lady is intending concerning relations with the Soviet Union, but a year ago, after her visit to China, I understood her to say that she did not wish to see relations with the Soviet Union impaired. No more do I. I hope that that is still her view.

As for standing up for what has been said, I gather that Sir Neil Cameron was responding to a spontaneous toast by the local comander of the unit that he was visiting, and that he made an unscripted and impromptu reply.

In case there is any misunderstanding, or in case the Conservative Party wishes to change the constitutional conventions, I repeat that the formulation of British foreign policy is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Ministers. The remarks made by Sir Neil Cameron on this occasion should not be regarded as altering, extending, modifying or changing in any way the present relationships between Britain and China or between Britain and the Soviet Union.

Will the Prime Minister, therefore, say whether he supports Sir Neil Cameron or not?

This is a matter in which there is a constitutional relationship between the Chiefs of Staff and the British Government. I certainly should not enter into that kind of discussion with the right hon. Lady on this matter. What is important in our relations with the Soviet Union, which the Opposition do not seem to take very seriously, on occasion, is that we should continue to work for detente and for a measure of disarmament. If the Opposition do not wish that, they have changed their policy since the right hon. Lady put it forward as her policy a year ago.

Does my right hon. Friend think it coincidental that over the past few weeks there have been many attempts to drive a wedge between the Government and the Services? Will he say that, whatever his general views, the views expressed by the Defence Chief in Peking were unwise, to say the least?

I think that the various things that have blown up over the last few weeks have been coincidental. I do not think that Sir Neil Cameron went out of his way, because he has made only one public speech on this matter, to which no one would take any exception at all. I think that he made one or two remarks which, as the Opposition spokesman on defence said on the radio at 1 0'clock, might have been phrased a little differently, but that is an entirely different matter. I do not think that the right hon. Lady is helping our relations with both these Powers by putting the kind of question that she has been putting this afternoon.


asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his official engagements for 2nd May.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier today to the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley).

As the Prime Minister betrayed the Armed Forces of the Crown in his statement last week about their pay settlement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."]—will he now not betray their professional head and give a clear statement today—preferably now—that he gives unequivocal support to the views expressed in China by the Chief of the Defence Staff?

The Chief of the Defence staff said that he was speaking on military matters, not on political questions. In so far as he was speaking on military matters, of course he would have the support of Her Majesty's Government. However, in so far as he was speaking on political matters, it is for him to support the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Does my right hon. Friend understand that, as a result of earlier exchanges, at the next election the Leader of the Opposition will jettison "The Right Approach" in favour of Mao Tse Tung's "Little Red Book"?

I note that there is a difference in the right hon. Lady's attitude according to which Communist regime she happens to have visited. Both Yugoslavia and China are in her good books. She has visited both countries. The Soviet Union is not in her good books. She has not yet visited it. I do not know whether her opinion will change if she does, but I promise her that my opinion will change about neither of these States according to whether I visit them or not. Neither of them fits my concept of the way in which this country wants to go.

If there is to be this burgeoning planned friendship with the Soviet Union about which the Prime Minister is talking, what does he have to say about the fact that there are three Russian tanks for every NATO tank at the door of Central Europe at the moment?

I have as much to say about that, which is not related to my official engagements for today, as I have said on earlier occasions, namely, that I think that it is a source of considerable disquiet. I have often said that the Soviet Union, by building up its armed forces in this way, is undoubtedly adding to the tension that exists. But that is nothing to do with picking and choosing between various Communist regimes, which the right hon. Lady is seeking to do.

Could my right hon. Friend leave aside for the moment the urgings of the Opposition and, in the light of what Sir Neil Cameron said, state the Government's overall position on the possibility of arms sales to China?

I could not do that in reply to a question this afternoon. A number of considerations have to be borne in mind and they are being taken into account now. There has been no formal discussion on this matter with the Chinese.

For once, my question relates to the Prime Minister's engagements today. Could he fit in one further engagement today and listen to the regional election results tonight on the radio from Scotland and note the profound defeat that the Labour Party will have at the hands of the Conservatives?

Unfortunately I cannot get Scotland on my set. When I tried to listen to the news on the set in my hotel in Glasgow early this morning, all I could get was punk rock music.