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Her Majesty's Government (Opposition Motion)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th June 1976.

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Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 12:00 am, 9th June 1976

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

On the matter of Rhodesia, I think that the next step is that which will be taken as a result of the meeting between Dr. Kissinger and Mr. Vorster. We are, of course, closely in touch with Dr. Kissinger about this. There are also contacts with Mr. Vorster.

That is not to say that we contract out of this situation. However, there are times when the baton has to be handed to others, and we then pick it up again. We have carried it a long way forward. For example, we have influenced American policy considerably in the American attitude towards Rhodesia, and if American strength, in every sense, can be used with South Africa in order to ensure that majority rule is established in Rhodesia, whatever the combination of countries may be, that will be a service to the whole of the people of Rhodesia. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is very closely in touch with the situation and will continue to be so.

I am much obliged to the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden).

I hardly like to be unkind to the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition, as she has been so considerate—but I must be, because I have written it down. In political matters, I am afraid that the Opposition, as the right hon. Lady showed by her questions, have a gaping void where there should be a policy on all the matters that I enumerated. We have heard nothing of what the Opposition would do. On economic matters the Conservative Party is split down the middle between the monetarists and the pseudo-Keynesians, with the right hon. Lady oscillating between them, floating from the arms of Leeds, North-East to the arms of Surrey, East, while the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), looking slightly bewildered and baffled, tries to cut in on this excuse-me dance that is going on.

The right hon. Lady has said that she is in favour of large public expenditure cuts now. They would hit at the young, the improverished, the poor, and they would hurt the sick. Somehow I cannot understand why the right hon. Lady believes that from the conflict and confrontation that would ensue she would then secure support for a Conservative Administration in the country.

The right hon. Lady would throw away the atmosphere that is beginning to pervade British industry and to spread into the rest of the country. Indeed she has already begun with what was grandiloquently called last weekend a parliamentary fight to the death—although after Monday and Tuesday I thought that it was looking a little tattered. Was there ever a more reluctant army wheeled into motion than that on this particular issue this afternoon?

If by some mischance the motion were carried tonight, there would be a General Election. I put on record my own very clear view that whatever party advantage might ensue, a General Election at this time would be against the national interest. This week the miners have pledged their co-operation for another year. The National Union of General and Municipal Workers has done the same, and I see that NALGO has done the same this morning, as have many other unions in previous weeks. Next week the TUC Special Congress will set its seal of approval. Would the right hon. Lady throw all that away? I think not. Her Shadow Cabinet must bear responsibility for not restraining her on this motion of confidence. She was reported in the Daily Express this morning as saying You have either got it or you haven't". The Opposition have got it all right; all of them. In any case, it is not for me to intrude upon the Shadow Cabinet. I leave the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) to sum up the country's views of the Shadow Cabinet. In case the House missed it, let me repeat what the hon. Gentleman said. I am not surprised that the right hon. Lady herself had to take these decisions. The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar summed up the Shadow Cabinet a week or two ago like this: They are an unconvincing lot of also rans". The Government will press ahead with our objectives. The result of the vote tonight will uphold us. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members who come winging back from Afric and Cathay, and Cathay and Afric, will feel that their journey was really necessary. More seriously, I hope that after tonight my right hon. and hon. Friends the Northern Ireland Ministers will be able to return to their posts of duty in Belfast.

For what purpose has all this clamour and clangour been? I say that it is to satisfy an impatient and imperious vanity.