HC Deb 24 March 1960 vol 620 cc671-3

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

46. Mr. ORAM

To ask the Prime Minister which Commonwealth Prime Ministers have now accepted invitations to attend the conference in London during May.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will answer Question No. 46.

I am pleased to say that I can now tell the House that the Prime Ministers of all the other ten Commonwealth countries have accepted the invitations to the conference starting on 3rd May.

I might add that it will be a happy addition to the normal routine of this conference that the wedding of Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret will take place during its course.

Mr. Oram

If, after the recent massacre in South Africa, the Prime Minister of that country is still shameless enough to come to London in May, will the Prime Minister consult with the other Prime Ministers about ways of demonstrating collectively their utter condemnation of the recent shootings?

The Prime Minister

I hope very much that the Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa will come, as he has said it is his intention to do. If I may say so —I hope I am not being either patronising or offensive—that question shows how little the hon. Member understands the character of the Commonwealth, the strains that are necessarily put upon it from time to time, and the importance of preserving it as an instrument in the world.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is it not one of the most outstanding characteristics of the Commonwealth that it is a multi-racial association, and that its whole future depends on an absence of racial discrimination? Is it not important that this should be laid down quite plainly by the British Government? Did any of the replies from any of the Prime Ministers lay down any conditions before they accepted?

The Prime Minister

By far the most impressive demonstration of the character of the conference is its meeting in London. The fact that there are now eleven Prime Ministers, from different countries, races and traditions, is in itself a demonstration which serves exactly the purpose which both the right hon. Gentleman and I wish to support.

No conditions are made. As the right hon. Gentleman perhaps knows, there is no formal agenda. Although the United Kingdom Prime Minister acts as chairman, out of courtesy, the conference makes its own agenda and discusses what it likes. As is customary, there has been a series of exchanges between the Commonwealth Prime Ministers as to the questions that they would like to raise when they meet. Many suggestions are made so as to get some order into the discussions.

The Prime Minister of South Africa asked whether there would be an opportunity, while he was in London, to discuss certain subjects which are of concern to both Governments. I assured him that arrangements could be made for discussions to be held on those subjects, either at full meetings or at smaller meetings.

Mr. Gower

Is not the unusual nature of the Commonwealth also underlined by the fact that, although the Commonwealth concept is a democratic one, this unusual association includes countries which at present go away from being democratic?

The Prime Minister

Yes, that is perfectly true, but I do not think that I would like to enter into a debate, on an Answer to a Question, as to the character of the Commonwealth. If we really face it, it can do two things. It can disintegrate—and what has the world to gain by that?—or, by forbearance and understanding of the mutual influence one can bring upon another, it can move forward into perhaps a greater benefit to the world than ever before. We shall have a very great part to play in that.