HC Deb 15 June 1964 vol 696 cc934-7

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how the United Kingdom delegate on the Security Council of the United Nations voted on the emergency resolution on 9th June urging the Government of the Republic of South Africa to renounce the execution of persons sentenced to death for acts resulting from their opposition to apartheid and to grant an amnesty particularly to the defendants of the Rivonia trial; and how other members voted.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I will, with permission, now answer Question No. 37.

The United Kingdom delegation, together with those of the United States, France and Brazil, abstained on this resolution, which was not a mandatory one. The delegations of Bolivia, Nationalist China, Czechoslovakia, the Ivory Coast, Morocco, Norway and the Soviet Union voted for the resolution.

Sir Patrick Dean said that our main reason for abstaining on the resolution had been its timing and the possible adverse effects which its passing at that time and our vote in favour of it might have had on the verdicts at the Rivonia trial. He said that the reaction to our intervention at the very time when the trial was sub judice might not have been at all in the interests of the defendants at the trial.

As regards the present situation, I understand that the convicted men have 14 days in which to apply for leave to appeal. Her Majesty's Government consider that it would not necessarily be in the interests of the men themselves to make representations to the South African Government while the question of any appeals is still undecided.

The House will be aware that we have made strong representations on the occasion of the vote of the General Assembly on 11th October and have told the South African Government of the strong feelings in this country on trials based on arbitrary laws. We naturally deplore the absence of any political means of expression for African political leaders in South Africa, as also the arbitrary nature of the laws under which they have been brought to trial.

Mr. Brockway

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the very wide and deep feeling of indignation in the country and throughout the world on account of the prison sentences in this trial? Is he aware that many of us have felt humiliated that during the last five days, when Members of Parliament have continually pressed for a statement by the Government, there has been an ignoble silence upon the Government benches? Is the right hon. Gentleman able to say why the United Kingdom delegate abstained on the resolution when it came before the Security Council although our delegate voted in favour of the resolution in October when trials were also sub judice?

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what pressure was exerted on the Government to abstain on this occasion? Will he now press for the release of these prisoners, including Mr. Goldberg—whose wife is listening to this Question and Answer—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] Will he press particularly in the case of Mr. Goldberg, who holds a British passport?

Mr. Butler

The Government are well aware of the very deep feelings on this matter in the country and in the House. The Government feel just as strongly as others who feel about it, both in the House and outside. We have been under no pressure whatsoever, nor has any pressure been attempted to be exerted. Our action has been governed entirely by what we think is best for the men concerned. That is why we have acted as we have done both at the United Nations and elsewhere.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Does my right hon. Friend realise that many of us on this side of the House who, like hon. Members opposite, want to see in South Africa more representation of and more consultation with the non-whites still believe that Her Majesty's Government have been perfectly correct in the attitude they have taken up?

Can my right hon. Friend explain why the Security Council thought it proper to take up this particular case and not other such cases in Africa, as, for example, the mass flogging of Zanzibaris who have not the right of peaceful demonstration, as still remains in South Africa—Zanzibaris who are picked on for their race and their opinions?

Mr. Butler

I note what my hon. Friend has said, but I cannot be responsible for what is chosen by the United Nations in the way of resolutions.

Mr. Gordon Walker

While we welcome the words the right hon. Gentleman has spoken today, which represent the views of both sides of the House, may I ask whether he is not aware that it would have been better if these same views were very clearly and strongly expressed by our representatives at the United Nations? [HON. MEMBERS: "Zanzibaris?"] This trial is the question before us. This is one of the issues in the world in which each country has to stand up and be counted and the time has come when we must do that without any equivocation.

Mr. Butler

Our action at the United Nations was taken without equivocation. If the right hon. Gentleman will read the speech made by Sir Patrick Dean, he will see that he expressed the sentiments which we all feel. The fact that we abstained was in the best interests of the men concerned.

Mr. Thorpe

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why, if it was right to abstain because the matter was sub judice, it was also right to vote when the matter was sub judice in October, when the Rivonia trial had been going on for four months? Will he press particularly the case of those persons detained for 90 days at a time without trial? May we hope that one day even this Government may be prepared to forgo economic profit in order to enforce principle?

Mr. Butler

On this occasion we acted in the light of information received. I think that our decision has proved to be the right one in the circumstances.

Mr. Gower

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the fact that it is a hopeful thing that it appears from what we have heard that at least the judiciary in South Africa has acted independently on this occasion? Is that not a hopeful sign in the midst of so much which is of deep concern?

Mr. Butler

I should not like to comment on the situation in South Africa. I would prefer to leave things as they are.

Mrs. Castle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the relatives of the condemned men believe that only the pressure of world opinion saved them from the death sentence? Would he agree that, even so, these men, the most moderate and able leaders in Africa, are to be imprisoned for life unless that world opinion exercises itself again? In view of this fact, will Her Majesty's Government, in the interests not only of the humane cause of the men themselves but the peace of the world and peaceful development in South Africa, now throw their whole weight behind the demand for the release of these men from the terrible and wicked sentences which have been imposed upon them?

Mr. Butler

I can only hope that world opinion will exert itself and that the opinion of this House will be made quite clear in South Africa. That may be one advantage of our meeting today. But I cannot go further than I have done in my Answer.