HC Deb 09 June 1964 vol 696 cc239-42

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement concerning the discussion he has held with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers about whether an invitation should be extended to the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia to attend the forthcoming Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference; and if he will give details of the communication he has sent to the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia.

The Prime Minister

With permission, I will now answer Question No. Q8.

I have now completed my consultation with other Commonwealth Governments on the question whether the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia should be invited to attend our meeting next month. I have informed Mr. Smith that the consensus of opinion is conclusive that in view of the size of the modern Commonwealth the meetings of Prime Ministers should in future be confined to the representatives of fully independent states.

I also told Mr. Smith that I would welcome a general talk with him in London either before or after the Commonwealth conference. He has thanked me for this invitation, but has asked that it should be left over pending further correspondence between us.

Mr. Bottomley

Is it not a fact that the communication represents the united views of all the Prime Ministers and not of one group alone? If we are to create a multi-racial Commonwealth, does it not follow that Her Majesty's Government have responsibilities not only towards 250,000 white settlers in the Southern Rhodesia area, but also towards nearly 4 million Africans there? In those circumstances, does he see any useful purpose being served in, at the time of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference, calling together African representatives and Mr. Smith at the same time?

The Prime Minister

The last suggestion would be in the nature of a conference, and I have no reason to believe that all the parties in Southern Rhodesia would attend.

Answering the first part of the supplementary question, I have used the phrase "the consensus of opinion is conclusive", and I think that the right hon. Gentleman would, therefore, be right in assuming that this was the feeling of a very large majority, indeed nearly all.

Mr. Turton

Will my right hon. Friend repeat the assurance which he gave to the House on 30th April this year, that it would not be the practice of a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference to discuss the internal affairs of Southern Rhodesia at any formal meeting? Will he give the House an assurance that as chairman he would rule such discussions out of order?

The Prime Minister

I never disclose to anybody the agenda of a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference, but I confirm that we do not discuss each other's internal affairs at formal meetings. But, of course, there are many occasions outside on which these matters are discussed.

Mr. Grimond

Can the Prime Minister clear up one point? As I understand, the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia has alleged that this was a breach with precedent and that Southern Rhodesia has some right by precedent to be present at these conferences. Can the Prime Minister make it clear that that is not so and that there is no breach with what has been done before? Will he make it clear that the consultations which he undertook with the other Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth and their unanimous decision, as I understand the position, may have made a new precedent, but that it is not contradictory of anything which has previously been done?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I can confirm that, and I have done so at an earlier date.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is there not a long tradition that Southern Rhodesia should be represented at this conference? Does my right hon. Friend realise that many of us will regret the absence from the conference of a Prime Minister whose Battle of Britain record symbolises the sacrifices made by Southern Rhodesia for the Commonwealth in two world wars?

While I accept what my right hon. Friend said, may we be assured that everything possible will be done at the forthcoming conference to check a growing intolerance within the Commonwealth which endangers its survival?

The Prime Minister

I hope that there will be no evidence of intolerance when the Prime Ministers meet. In fact, I am sure that there will not be. Southern Rhodesia has been a most loyal supporter of the United Kingdom in two wars and in many ways, and I hope that both sides of the House will combine and co-operate to try and find a solution to the problem of the future of Southern Rhodesia which is acceptable to the House, broadly acceptable in Southern Rhodesia, and to the Commonwealth.

Mr. Bottomley

Will the Prime Minister accept it from me that what we are all anxious to do is to secure the maximum co-operation so that good will and harmony will prevail in Southern Rhodesia? This can be done not in terms of black and white; there are blacks and whites who have to live together and the blacks are overwhelmingly the greater in number. In view of this, would not he give further consideration to the suggestion which I made, of trying to get around a conference table, at the same time as the Prime Ministers' meeting, representatives of both Africans and Europeans of Southern Rhodesia?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that I can encourage the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that his latter suggestion is practicable. What I can say is that the constitution of Southern Rhodesia provides for a multi-racial country and that if the Constitution is worked we shall have a multi-racial solution.