HC Deb 20 April 1964 vol 693 cc883-4
Mr. G. M. Thomson

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations what steps he is taking to secure the safety of the staff and the property of the United Kingdom High Commission in Southern Rhodesia in view of the disturbances which have taken place outside it.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

The demonstration referred to did not involve any danger to the staff and property of the British High Commission.

Mr. Thomson

Is it not very unsatisfactory that some hundreds of Africans, including more than 100 African women, should be arrested for protesting about policies with which, presumably, Her Majesty's Government disagree in principle?

Would not the Minister agree that the best way to protect British life and property in Southern Rhodesia, to say nothing of the British reputation in the world at large, would be to make strong representations to the new Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia that the best way to safeguard the future of the European community there is to get Mr. Joshua Nkomo and the Nationalist leaders of Southern Rhodesia round the table instead of throwing them into gaol?

Mr. Sandys

The question of arrests is, of course, not the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.

I feel, with regard to the second part of the hon. Member's question, that he is perhaps trying to stretch his supplementary on his Private Notice Question, which was on an urgent and very limited issue, to cover wider issues of policy.

Mr. Bottomley

On the point that the Government have no responsibility, is it not a fact that the Constitutional Council which the Secretary of State helped to establish did, in fact, express doubts whether the Preventive Detention Act was legal or not? In those circumstances ought not the Secretary of State to consider making some representations?

Mr. Sandys

Yes, the Constitutional Council is a part of the Constitution of Southern Rhodesia and should be allowed to work within that Constitution. It has certain powers of advice and certain delaying powers, which it will exercise, no doubt, as it thinks fit within the framework of the Constitution. It is not a matter for Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. It would be quite improper for the Government to seek to intervene at an intermediate stage in the operation of the Southern Rhodesian Constitution.

Mr. Marsh

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that probably the position is made more difficult in Southern Rhodesia by the uncertainty about the future of Southern Rhodesia at the present time? Does he not think that it would assist if he were to make a quite unequivocal statement that in no circumstances would the Government tolerate a unilateral declaration of independence by the Southern Rhodesian Government?

Mr. Sandys

The Private Notice Question related to the safety of the staff and property of the British High Commission. I think that the hon. Member's question goes far beyond that.

Mr. Hastings

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that, whatever the future of Southern Rhodesia may be, very many people in this country will regret bitterly the brutal and deliberate provocation organised by a small group of nationalists in Salisbury over the weekend?

Mr. Sandys

I do not wish to make any comment on any aspect of this question in reply to the Private Notice Question, which was addressed to a specific and very limited issue.

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