HC Deb 18 April 1961 vol 638 cc971-5
Mr. S. Silverman (by Private Notice)

asked the Lord Privy Seal what reports he has received from Her Majesty's representatives in Cuba concerning the invasion of that country and what action relating thereto Her Majesty's Government proposes to take at the United Nations.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Edward Heath)

As telegraphic communication with Havana has now been cut off, we have very little information about the confused situation there beyond what has appeared in the Press. Late last night, however, Her Majesty's Ambassador at Havana was able to report by telephone that so far as he knew no harm had come to any British subject in the island.

This matter has been raised at the United Nations by the Cuban Government and is at present being debated in the Political Committee of the General Assembly.

Mr. Silverman

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that it is painfully obvious that an invasion on this scale could not have been prepared, or could not have taken place, without long and elaborate preparations in some other territory? Is he further aware that the American Government have publicly declared their sympathy with the invaders, and does he not consider that it is vitally important that Her Majesty's Government should take some initiative at the United Nations to see that this dangerous situation is brought to an end at the earliest possible moment? Will he say what initiative the Government propose to take?

Mr. Heath

We have no clear information about the scope of these operations, or their location, or their source of origin, but the American Secretary of State said quite clearly yesterday, at his Press conference, that they did not originate in the United States and that American forces were not intervening and would not intervene.

As regards our position, we are in the closest contact with our delegation in New York at the United Nations and we must await the course of that debate and also such information as we can obtain about the situation in Cuba.

Mr. Healey

Because of the dangerous international implications of the present events in Cuba, particularly arising out of a Note which the Soviet Government have addressed today to the United States Government, will Her Majesty's Government support an inquiry by the United Nations into allegations that foreign States are supporting the current invasion of Cuba?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to inform the United States Administration that the many friends that it has won throughout the world by its vigorous and progressive policies in many fields would be deeply dismayed if it turned out that the United States Administration were smudging this image by the illegitimate use of violence to solve political problems in a way all too reminiscent of the precedent set by Her Majesty's Government at Suez?

Mr. Heath

The American Secretary of State defined very clearly yesterday the position of the American Government, and I have already referred to that.

As regards any inquiry into any allegations which may be made, we will have to consider that at the United Nations in the light of the requests which are made.

Mrs. Castle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, according to Mr. Stanley Burch, the correspondent in New York of the Daily Mail, the troops now invading Cuba were trained at camps in Florida with American arms and American provisions, and that he adds: Make no mistake about it—the U.S. contribution and commitment to this operation is immense."? Because of that, is it not clear that it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to declare vigorously on every possible occasion in the United Nations that it is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations, as well as to the Treaty of the Organisation of American States for this kind of attempt to overthrow a Government from outside to be undertaken by any member of the United Nations?

Mr. Heath

I have, of course, seen various reports of this kind, but we have no clear information about them or about their justification. I think that we must await the course of the debate at the United Nations, and until the situation becomes clear, before we instruct our delegate on the action that he should take.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Can we take it that the British West Indies Squadron is not steaming about in the path of the invaders?

Mr. Silverman

Does the right hon. Gentleman seriously contend that in a situation of this kind it is a sufficient discharge of the responsibilities of Her Majesty's Government in the dangerous state of the world now to sit back and wait for the continuance of a debate and to take no initiative themselves either to obtain information or to do anything else about it? Is it not clear that the situation is exactly like the situation in Laos? How do they hope to succeed in the one if they ignore the other?

Mr. Heath

The matter is being handled at the United Nations at the moment, and I should have thought that it would have been wise and prudent for us to have information about the situation before we instruct our delegate as to the action he should take.

Mr. Gower

Is there not evidence that the leaders of the present revolt were formerly associated with the present head of the Cuban State when he seized power? Is not that evidence that there is some difference among the Cubans themselves?

Mr. Hale

Whether there is a difference between the Cubans themselves, and wherever these invading forces come from, is it not already abundantly apparent that a heavily armed act of aggression has been committed on an independent country which is a member of the United Nations? Is it not, therefore, vitally necessary that the right hon. Gentleman should declare at once that Britain has no lot or part or sympathy with an armed act of aggression on an independent country, and will not be dragged into any sort of association with this gross and grave breach of international law?

Mr. Heath

I think that that illustrates the desirability of finding out what the situation is. There are others who would argue that this was an attempt by some Cubans to overthrow their own Government and substitute another one.

Mr. Paget

Is not there some danger that the United Nations may become a sort of holy alliance in which Governments band themselves together to impose themselves on their subjects and to resist all forms of change? Is there not that aspect which should be borne in mind?

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate this matter now.

Mr. Silverman

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask your leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, to call attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the neglect or refusal of Her Majesty's Government to take effective steps at the United Nations to secure an end to the invasion of Cuba and the immediate threat to the peace of the world inherent in that invasion.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 in order to call attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the neglect or refusal of Her Majesty's Government to take effective steps at the United Nations to bring to an end the invasion of Cuba and the immediate threat to the peace of the world inherent in that invasion. I regret that I do not feel able to accede to the hon. Member's request. I do mat think that it falls within the rules governing this matter.

Mr. Silverman

Would you care to clarify that Ruling, Mr. Speaker, to show in what respect it falls outside the relevant Standing Order?

Mr. Speaker

As the House and the hon. Member know, I tried to avoid giving reasons, because they promote argument. But one thing which will be apparent is that there is no superfluity of information available upon the matter at the moment.

Mr. Silverman

In that event, would I have your leave to raise the question again, when more information is available, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is entitled to make application at any time and I will be very glad to consider it as best I may upon its merits in the circumstances at the time.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Would it make any difference to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, if you were aware that a serious position has arisen owing to a Note which has been sent from the Government of the U.S.S.R. to the Government of the United States of America?

Mr. Speaker

No, not on that Motion.