HC Deb 22 March 1960 vol 620 cc239-41
Mr. Gaitskell

(by Private Notice)asked the Prime Minister how many citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies were killed or wounded in the riots which took place in South Africa yesterday.

The Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. C. J. M. Alport)

I have been asked to reply.

My noble Friend has asked the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom in South Africa to make the necessary inquiries.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the Minister aware that we deeply deplore this tragic event? Will the Government either themselves sponsor or contribute to a fund for the benefit of the dependants of those who have died?

Mr. Alport

The dependants of any citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies in the countries of their origin would be eligible for such assistance as would normally be available either from the local government or through tribal authorities, but the circumstances here are quite different from those of an earlier disaster that took place. Persons who take part in a riot, or bystanders where a riot is in progress, are, as I think the House will agree, in a position different from that of those who, in the course of their employment, become victims of industrial or natural disaster.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many will feel that he is taking an excessively narrow view of this problem? Would it not be a gesture which, I should have thought, would receive general support in this country if the Government were to take the initiative in creating a fund of the kind which I have mentioned?

Mr. Benn

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that it is high time that somebody on the Government Front Bench had the courage to speak up against the brutal oppression now being practised in South Africa?

Mr. Hamilton

If the Minister is not prepared to consider the starting of a fund, will he not, on behalf of the Government, deplore the massacre and the policies from which it has ensued?

Hon. Members


Mr. P. Williams

Would it not be best for the facts to be established first?

Mr. Donnelly

Could the Minister say whether he has lost his tongue?

Mr. Alport

I have given a perfectly clear Answer to the Question which was asked me originally and which was in order. I think that it would be advisable, as I suggested to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and to the House, that we should await any information which comes from His Excellency the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom in South Africa.

Mr. Gaitskell

Pending that information, would it not be wise at least for the Government to express regret at what has happened? What possible objection can there be to that?

Mr. Alport

Civil commotion at any time in any part of the world is always to be regretted.

Mrs. Castle

Is it not a fact that some of these atrocious, oppressive acts are being carried out with the help of arms sent from this country? Is not the minimum that the Government can do to show their horror at these atrocities to stop supplying the South African Government with armoured cars and other weapons that enable them to tyrranise over African peoples?

Mr. Alport

It has been the policy of successive Governments, of both political parties, to help other Commonwealth Governments to meet their armament requirements.

Mr. Brockway

May I ask whether it is not desirable, in addition to expressing sympathy towards the relatives of those who have been killed, to indicate to the South African Government that the whole House endorses the criticism of the policy of apartheid which has been expressed by the Prime Minister of this country, and that we hope that these incidents will lead to the ending of this humiliation of any people in South Africa who have a drop of coloured blood in their veins?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is a long way from the Question, or any answer involved in the Question.

Mr. Callaghan

On a point of order. There have been extraordinary adjournments of the House in the past, on the death of a distinguished statesman or a distinguished Member of the House. Would it not be seemly, in view of the shock that this has caused to the whole of Britain, if you, Mr. Speaker, were to use your powers to suspend the sitting of the House for one hour from now?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) speaks of adjournments in such circumstances, but he asks me not to adjourn but to suspend. My refusal is not to be taken as intimating any view about sympathy, or absence of sympathy, but my answer is "No". I do not think it right for the Chair to use its power of suspension in this kind of context.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Will my hon. Friend ask the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition if he will reconsider his decision—

Mr. Speaker

No; we have finished with supplementary questions in so far as they related to that Question.