HC Deb 08 June 1964 vol 696 cc42-3

Mr. D. Foot (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what instructions Her Majesty's Government have sent or intend sending to the United Kingdom representative on the Security Council regarding the discussion which is to take place in the Council today with reference to the trial in South Africa of Nelson Mandela and others.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Peter Thomas)

It is not usual to disclose our instructions to the United Kingdom representative at the United Nations. In any event, no terms of any resolution on this question are known to us.

As to any discussion which may take place on the Rivonia trial, judgment has not yet been given and it would not be appropriate to anticipate it.

Mr. Foot

I appreciate the force of the hon. Gentleman's last sentence. May I ask him whether he is aware that this matter is likely to be discussed at the Security Council either today or during the present week? Is he further aware that in many parts of the world there is great concern about this trial, more particularly in view of the fact that many of the witnesses for the prosecution have been detained and questioned for up to 90 days under the General Law Amendment Act? If it should be necessary, at the end of this trial, to ask for clemency—if the United Nations should take action in that respect—will such action have the support of Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Thomas

Yes, it is possible that this trial may be discussed in the general debate on apartheid which has started, or will be starting, in the Security Council today. As I told the House, we do not think that it would be appropriate to take any action in this matter while the trial is still on. The verdict will not be given until 11th June.

As to the last part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's supplementary question, I cannot, of course, anticipate what action Her Majesty's Government may think it appropriate to take after the verdict in this trial is announced.

Sir G. Nicholson

Is my hon. Friend aware that uneasiness in this respect is shared by people in all quarters throughout the country?

Mr. Thomas

Yes, I am aware of that. In fact, the South African Government are also aware of the strength of public feeling in this country.

Mr. Grimond

May we take it that our representative at the United Nations has also been made aware of the widespread anxiety about this matter? Do I understand that the Government are prepared to consider immediate action should that become necessary after the trial?

Mr. Thomas

I cannot, of course, anticipate what Her Majesty's Government would do in an eventuality which has not yet arisen.

Mr. Kershaw

Would not my hon. Friend agree that it would be most unfair and undesirable if contentious statements about this matter were made in public at present, before judgment is given? Is not it a fact that even after judging there is an opportunity for appeal?

Mr. Thomas

I think that it is correct that there is a right of appeal after the verdict has been given.

As to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I think that it would be inappropriate.

Mr. Brockway

Is not it the case that the Government are already committed in this matter by the vote which they gave in the General Assembly of the United Nations for the release of the prisoners in South Africa charged with offences against apartheid and for the cessation of this trial?

Mr. Thomas

I agree that we did vote in support of that resolution. After we had voted I gave an explanation of our vote to the General Assembly.