HC Deb 08 November 1961 vol 648 cc982-5
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now make a statement about the visit of Her Majesty the Queen to Ghana.

I told the House on Monday that I thought it right that my right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary should pay a second visit to Ghana. This he has done and he returned to this country this morning. My colleagues and I have now had from him a full appreciation of the position based on his personal inquiries on the spot.

As I told the House on Monday, Her Majesty's safety is and must be our first consideration. Of course, no Royal tour is without risk. Her Majesty knows this as well as any Member of the House. She has never been deterred in undertaking previous tours because of the personal risk to herself, which is inevitable, especially when great crowds are assembled. Happily, she has come triumphantly through these trials with the enhanced affection and admiration of all.

After considering carefully and anxiously all the information before us, collected and assessed by those best qualified to do so, the Government have reached the conclusion that the degree of risk attaching to this tour is no greater than that which has been present in many of her previous journeys.

There are those who will ask how this conclusion can be reconciled with the explosions which have taken place in Accra during the last few days. That was one of the questions which was in the forefront of my mind when I decided that it would be right for my right hon. Friend to visit Ghana again. He has given us his first-hand assessment of the significance of these incidents. While he was in Accra he took the opportunity to tour the Royal route in company with President Nkrumah and he saw for himself the unmistakable friendliness of the crowds. We have also had throughout, as I have said, the expert advice, based on thorough investigation on the spot, of those in this country best qualified to do this sort of work. We have had the ready co-operation of the Ghanaian authorities.

I can assure the House that on the information and advice available to them the Government have formed the view that the explosions do not indicate any intention by those concerned to perpetrate acts of violence during the Queen's visit which would endanger Her Majesty's safety. We have, therefore, no reason to fear that this journey will involve any special and additional risk to Her Majesty's safety.

On the other hand, there can be no doubt the cancellation of this visit, so long promised and so eagerly awaited by the people of Ghana, would seriously impair the invaluable contribution made by Her Majesty's journeys towards the strengthening of the ties which bind together the many peoples of the Commonwealth.

Her Majesty's Government have, therefore, advised the Queen that she should proceed with her visit to Ghana. We are, of course, at once informing other Commonwealth Governments, with whom we have been in touch throughout.

May I, therefore, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the whole House, send Her Majesty our warmest good wishes for the success of her West African tour and a safe return.

Mr. Gaitskell

The decision as to what advice to offer Her Majesty in connection with her visit to Ghana is one which can be taken only by Her Majesty's Government, and all that the Opposition, and, indeed, the rest of the House, can do is to be sure that every possible inquiry has been made. It is, I think, perfectly clear from the Prime Minister's statement and the visit of the Secretary of State for the Colonies that this has been done, and in the circumstances all that remains for us to do is to join the Prime Minister in wishing Her Majesty a very happy and very successful tour.

Mr. Turton

Is it not peculiar that the Commonwealth Governments have not been asked to approve the decision, which many people throughout the Commonwealth will regard as subjecting Her Majesty to unnecessary risks? Can the Prime Minister explain the procedure under which Her Majesty, as Head of the Commonwealth in this matter, has to accept the advice only of the Prime Minister of this country? May I, at the same time, join my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman in wishing Her Majesty god-speed on her journey.

The Prime Minister

We have been in touch with all the Commonwealth Prime Ministers. I have sent them personal messages, and I think I can say that no Commonwealth Government has expressed a contrary view.

The purely constitutional question, which is somewhat involved, I set out last Tuesday. The House will remember that the original visit was to have taken place in 1959. At that time Ghana was a monarchical State and Her Majesty would constitutionally have been advised by the Ministers of that State. Ghana has since become a republic and, therefore, the responsibility was assumed by Her Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom in this case, as in the case of India and Pakistan, and that procedure has been followed, and, as far as I know, accepted by all Commonwealth Governments.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu

Is the Prime Minister aware that even those of us who have been most anxious that the Queen should not go to Ghana are now foremost in wishing the best for her safety, and have always been convinced that the great majority of the people of Ghana would give her a most tumultuous welcome, the warmth of which could not be exceeded anywhere?

The Prime Minister

I am sure that what the House has said will give the greatest pleasure to the Queen. Of course, we have all been anxious, as the right hon. Gentleman properly said, and the risks have to be weighed as best we can. All the life of royalty and the tours of Her Majesty involve considerable risks. She accepts them proudly. I am sure that the House will give her the greatest sense of strength in her task.

Mr. Brockway

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we all appreciate the responsibility that lies on his shoulders for giving advice, and the responsibility similarly lying upon the shoulders of the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations? Although criticisms may be voiced in this House about particular features of the Administration in Ghana, is it not now clear that, both in this House and in the British Press, very inaccurate statements have been made about the support of the people of Ghana for the Administration there? In view of those circumstances, is it not desirable that upon the occasion of the visit of the Queen it should be made clear that all the people of this country wish well to Ghana in her future and in her relationship to this country?

The Prime Minister

The first part of what the hon. Member has said raises questions not suitable for this occasion. Her Majesty is Queen and Head of the Commonwealth, and she serves as a symbol of unity and helps to create it. I am sure that the concluding sentence of the hon. Member, added to the other remarks which have been made, represents the views that we all share.

Sir S. Summers

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the background to the decision of the Government that he has just announced, expressed as he has expressed it, will go a very long way to allay the uncertainties and fears of many people in this country?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said, and for his anxiety. I am sure that what he has said will be very helpful to us all.