HC Deb 01 June 1965 vol 713 cc1523-45

Question proposed, That this House, at its rising on Friday, do adjourn till Monday, 14th June.—[Mr. O'Malley.]

3.52 p.m.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

I realise that an extremely important debate is to take place this afternoon and that the House will be eager to come to it as soon as possible. Therefore, I shall not encroach upon the time of the House for very long, I realise, also, that more even than usually it will be accepted with some incredulity if I were to say that any of us did not wish to adjourn the House as suggested in the Motion. Even if that may not be our feeling at this moment, I think it very probable that there will be a unanimous desire to adjourn the House later in the week.

However, there are certain questions which I wish to put to the Government. I think that it would be wrong for the House to accept the Motion and to depart for the Recess without those questions being put and without some assurances being given about the answers.

First, there is an extremely serious situation in Vietnam. I do not believe that anyone who has studied the reports which have come from both Vietnam itself and Washington in the last few days can doubt that the situation there is perhaps more serious than at any time since the extension of the war a few months ago. There has been no statement by Her Majesty's Government on this matter for some weeks. There have been requests from this side of the House for a statement by the Government on the subject of Vietnam before the Recess. My first question to the Leader of the House, therefore, is whether he will arrange that a statement will be made by the Foreign Secretary to the House before we depart on Friday.

I do not want to use any extreme language, but it is possible that during the next 10 days we could have a development in Vietnam which would make the international situation almost as serious as it was at the time of Cuba. We could have a situation in which Soviet installations were placed around Hanoi and in which a decision had to be made by the American forces as to whether an attack on those installations should be made. If that were to be the case, whatever view any hon. Member might take of the situation, no one could deny its deep seriousness.

Therefore, the House of Commons should have an up-to-date statement on the Government's estimate of the situation in Vietnam and what representations the Government have made in the last few days and what attitude they may take towards any developments such as I have described in the coming days before the House is able to meet and discuss the matter afresh. That is my first question to the Government—whether we can have a statement on this supremely important international question of Vietnam before the Recess.

The second matter, which, of course, ties up with the issue of Vietnam, although it is a long way away, arises from the events in San Domingo. It may be said that the events in San Domingo are not directly our affair, but they are, because the United Nations is involved, not so much involved as many of us would wish. But this is supremely a question affecting the United Nations and in the Queen's Speech, to which we on this side of the House gave the fullest possible support, the Government opened with a declaration of their loyal and firm allegiance to the Charter of the United Nations.

There are many of us who believe that in San Domingo the Charter of the United Nations has been flagrantly breached by our allies, and there have been critical discussions inside the United Nations Security Council upon this matter, discussions which, in one sense, are unique in the history of the United Nations itself. I therefore hope that we will have a statement by the Government before the Recess on the question of San Domingo and its relation to the position of the United Nations.

We are the more entitled to ask for this statement because we have not yet had a full statement from the Government on the subject, although in the United Nations Her Majesty's Government last week, or the week before, voted for a French resolution on San Domingo when the United States was the only Government in the Security Council unable to vote for the resolution. As I say, this was a unique development in the history of the United Nations itself.

We should have a statement before the Recess from the Government on their present view of what is happening in San Domingo and whether they believe that further steps can be taken in the Security Council to deal with the situation and what steps they propose to take. There may well be critical discussions inside the Security Council during the week when the House of Commons is in recess and I do not think that there is any member of the Government—certainly, there is no back bencher on this side of the House—who would question our right to ask for such a statement by the Government on a matter affecting the whole future of the United Nations. That, of course, is not only my view. It is the view stated by U Thant, a man who on this side of the House, at any rate, commands universal respect.

The debates inside the Security Council, upon which we have not had a full report to the House and which we have certainly not had an opportunity to debate in the House, the discussions in the Security Council affecting San Domingo and the Charter of the United Nations, touched on the question whether it was right that so much power and authority in San Domingo should be given to the Organisation of American States. Many hon. Members will have read the leading article in The Guardian this morning, which quotes U Thant's comment on this situation: Recent developments should stimulate some thought by all of us regarding the character of the regional organisations, the nature of their functions and obligations in relation to the responsibility of the U.N. under the Charter. Hon. Members on this side of the House—I am not speaking for hon. Members opposite; we know how little is their interest in the United Nations—regard support for the United Nations as central to the whole of our doctrine. The British Labour Party gave allegiance to the League of Nations between the wars and has given allegiance to the United Nations ever since its origin, and it regards the maintenance and greater strengthening of the United Nations as the centrepiece of our foreign policy. Therefore, when the Secretary-General of the United Nations speaks of the United Nations facing the biggest crisis of its whole life, it is right and even essential that we should discuss it in the House.

It would have been much better if there had been a debate on the subject. It was perfectly proper for the Leader of the House to indicate, as he did a few days ago, that if there were to be a debate on this matter, it was proper that the request should come from the Opposition. There has been no request by the Opposition for any discussion of the position of the United Nations, no request by the Opposition for any discussion of San Domingo, no request by the Opposition for any discussion of Vietnam. I am very proud to belong to a party which is much more deeply concerned about these matters than are hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)

Last week my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister for a debate on foreign affairs.

Mr. Foot

That is perfectly correct. As the hon. Gentleman has said, a request was made by the Opposition for a debate on foreign affairs generally, but there was no specific request, which is what I said. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members must listen. There was no specific request from the Opposition for a debate on any of the matters I listed, and, therefore, my statement was absolutely correct.

Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he is not absolutely correct. Within the hearing of the House, my right hon. Friend made his request in the context of a specific reference to Vietnam. The hon. Gentleman should not assume that interest in foreign policy in any of its aspects is limited to one side of the House.

Mr. Foot

It is the case that, coupled with the invitation of the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) to the Government to have a debate, there was a request for a debate associated with the question of Vietnam. On that score I apologise, but what I am underlining is that no request has been made to the Government for a debate on these three kindred matters, which affect most of all the future of the United Nations. There has been no demand from the Opposition for a debate on such subjects. If there had been a demand, they could have got the debate. That is the answer to them. If they had really wanted a debate to take place, the Opposition—

Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)

On a point of order. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) once again—in fact, three times—to misrepresent what was said by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? My right hon. Friend not only asked for a debate on foreign affairs generally some weeks ago, but also asked for a debate on the United Nations.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Lady asked me whether it was in order for an hon. Member to misrepresent something or other. From the point of view of the Chair it is, because hon. Members often take the view that their opponents are misrepresenting them. It would give rise to difficulties if the Chair were to seek to adjudicate upon such matters.

Mr. Foot

I am very grateful to you for rallying so eagerly to my support, Mr. Speaker.

I can put the point in one sentence. If the Opposition had been eager to secure a debate on the United Nations, they could have had it, and everybody in the House knows it. We must give them tutorial classes if they do not know how to get debates in the House. We must tell them how it is done. They should have learned by this time, but perhaps in a year or two they will have picked up the finer points of how an Official Opposition can get debates in the House of Commons.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must not be too enthused with my support if he departs from matters relevant to the Question before the House.

Mr. Foot

It seems to me, Mr. Speaker, that you are back in your old form.

Mr. Marten

Before the hon. Gentleman goes on, would he withdraw his remarks about my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? When we ask for a debate on foreign affairs we mean much more than the limited area which the hon. Gentleman has in mind. We mean the whole lot, including these things.

Mr. Foot

This is only subsidiary to my argument, but I thought that I had stated in one sentence, and I will repeat, that if the official Opposition want a debate on anything badly enough, they can always have it. Everyone knows that.

That is not my main concern. My main concern is to invite the Government on these three essential matters, interlocked matters in my opinion, of Vietnam, San Domingo and the present situation of the United Nations, before the Recess to make the fullest possible statement to the House on Government policy in these respects.

A great responsibility rests on the Government to sustain the United Nations at its hour of gravest trial. It would be proper for a statement to be made in the House by the Foreign Secretary or by the Prime Minister before the Recess, for that would make it clear to all the nations assembled in New York how determined the Government are to carry out the pledge which they made in the Queen's Speech at the beginning of this Parliament about the United Nations.

Because I believe that, unhappily, for a variety of reasons, the international situation has taken a serious turn for the worse and because, in view of the appalling tragedy of Vietnam and San Domingo, taken together, for the moment all prospects of a détente or further moves towards a détente between East and West are ruptured, because I believe that only by reasserting the authority of the United Nations will it be possible to escape from some of these difficulties, these matters should be raised on this Motion. The House would have failed in its duty if these requests were not made to the Government at this time.

4.9 p.m.

Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)

I do not want to intervene between the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and his own Front Bench on this matter. Still less do I wish in any way to deter the Government from making the statements for which the hon. Gentleman has asked, if, that is to say, they feel that it would be appropriate in the national interest, or in the interests of the House, to make such statements.

However, whatever conclusion is reached on the Motion—and we on this side of the House certainly do not wish to oppose it—it should be reached in the light of accurate and not inaccurate considerations such as the hon. Gentleman has seen fit to try to import into the discussion.

I intervene simply to say the Opposition have at all times been eager to have a debate on foreign policy which would include both the matters in which the hon. Gentleman is rightly interested, and which I can assure him, awakes an equal interest on this side of the House, and other matters of foreign policy which may be of equal importance and almost equal urgency.

There are only two ways in which an official Opposition can secure a debate, except by co-operation with the Government, at the instance of the Government. One is by using a Supply day and the other is by putting down a Motion of censure. So far as the Motion of censure is concerned, we thought that it would not be in the national interest or in the interests of the House to put down such a Motion on this topic at this juncture. So far as the use of a Supply day is concerned, it will be within the knowledge of the House that during the passage of the Finance Bill we have not had the opportunity. We make no complaint about that, because we recognise that the Bill is unusually long this year.

But it is not correct for the House, upon this Motion, to be supplied with wholly misleading information by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale, or for an attempt to be made by him to vent his spleen on the Official Opposition when it is really directed against his own Front Bench.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)

Before we pass this Motion we must insist that the Leader of the House should give a better reply than he has so far given to requests that have been made to him that the Foreign Secretary should make a comprehensive statement. I asked him two weeks ago if my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would make a statement before the Whitsun Adjournment and my right hon. Friend replied that he was discussing the matter with the Foreign Secretary. I raised the same question again last week and I got a reply from my right hon. Friend which did not tell the House anything. He said he had discussed the matter with the Foreign Secretary and had the impression that the Foreign Secretary would make a statement, but he did not know when.

This matter is all the more urgent now than it was two weeks ago. One of the obervers of the situation, who has been a Member of this House for many years and is an ex-Foreign Secretary, Mr. Gordon Walker, writing in the Scotsman yesterday, had this to say: … there is on both sides an ominous creeping escalation. The risk is greater than it was a few months ago that the great powers may exchange direct fire. It would be a major error were the United States to lose patience and extend bombing to Hanoi or industrial centres in North Vietnam. This would be to abandon the vital principle of the use of limited and controlled force in an age of nuclear weapons. There is no American interest to Vietnam that could possibly justify the risk of a major war with China or Russia and the certainty that world opinion would turn against the United States. Through the play of alliances people are most directly and seriously involved. It is the accepted policy on both sides of the House that the Anglo-American Alliance is one of the main cornerstones of the Foreign policy of the Government and that it is a policy which involves very serious obligations on the part of the people of this country. I believe that Mr. Gordon Walker is right, and if he is it may well be that in the period during our Adjournment very serious developments, which we all hope will not happen, might, nevertheless, take place.

It has been reported that the American Secretary of State, Mr. Dean Rusk, regards the situation as grave. The decisions that have to be made within the next fortnight are decisions which concern the direct responsibility of this House for the security and for the safety of Her Majesty's subjects. In this situation I find it difficult to comprehend how any one of my right hon. Friends in the Government could contemplate the House adjourning for the Whitsun Recess without an opportunity for discussion of the international situation.

There have been reports recently about the attitude of the Government to the conflict in Vietnam. Today is not the occasion to go into great detail about that, but it is essential, however, that Parliament should know what efforts the Government are taking at present to avoid the danger reported by Mr. Gordon Walker in his article. It is surely the accepted policy of the Government that they have an important part to play. I know that in international affairs they can only work with our partners and also with people on the other side of the argument, but it would be negligent on the part of the House of Commons to depart for the Recess without receiving an up-to-date account of what the Government are doing. This ties their responsibility directly to their duty to report to the House. It would be dangerous, not only for the reputation of this particular Government, but equally dangerous for the reputation of Parliament, if we were to allow a situation to arise in which we pass this Motion without a firm assurance that such a statement will, in fact, be made.

There are other equally important factors involved in this situation. The Government has a special responsibility as co-chairman of the Geneva Conference and we have heard of invitiatives made by the Government which we hoped would succeed but which have not been successful. We have heard of a proposal to call a conference on some Far Eastern problems, and that in the negotiations to prepare for such a conference no agreement has been reached. The House of Commons must know, so that we can tell our constituents, whether there is now any hope for bringing such a conference together.

It is the belief of many commentators at home and abroad that the attitude of the Government in giving full and unstinting public approval to the extension of the bombing by the United States Air Force into North Vietnam, which has now reached a distance of only 45 miles south of Hanoi and 40 miles south of the main industrial and port installations of the Republic of North Vietnam—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think I heard the hon. Gentleman pointing out a few moments ago that this was clearly not the time to discuss the matter in detail. Perhaps he would bear this in mind.

Mr. Marten

On a point of order. I think that the point has been made quite clear by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and the hon. Gentleman that the House wants a debate next week. As the Leader of the House is here, could we not shorten the proceedings, to enable us to get on with the main debate, by asking the right hon. Gentleman to get up and answer this question?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is addressing the House and while he remains in order he is entitled to do so.

Mr. Mendelson

What I consider to be the most serious illustration of the direct responsibility of this House to the Government and to the country arises not only from the alliances to which we belong and the automatic consequences of belonging to such alliances, but from the decision, publicly stated by the Government, to give full approval to the bombing operations in North Vietnam. My submission is that unless a change occurs in the attitude of the Government and they show that they disapprove of the extension of the bombing of North Vietnam they will not be in a position to act effectively as co-chairman of the Geneva conference and to reach agreement with our partners in this enterprise.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going into the merits of some supposed policy or absence of policy. He must restrict himself to the necessity of a statement or debate before the Recess.

Mr. Mendelson

So that what the Government are asked to do should be effective, I pointed out that a certain attitude had to be abandoned and another adopted. But, whatever the attitude and the current difficulties of the Government, it is their duty, before we adjourn, to give the House an account of what they are doing. I want to clear up any misconception introduced by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), in his intervention. I have in no way asked—

Mr. Speaker

Order. No misconception was introduced by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). He was wondering whether we could abbreviate this matter. I expect that the hon. Gentleman had in mind that the House was desiring to get on with its business.

Mr. Mendelson

With respect, Mr. Speaker, I am asking for a statement to be made this week. I am not asking for anything to be done next week. I am asking for an assurance from the Leader of the House that a comprehensive statement will be forthcoming from the Foreign Secretary.

Furthermore, the general position of Her Majesty's Government in the United Nations, and, in particular, as a member of the Security Council, has not been reported upon to the House. Therefore, in his discussions with the Foreign Secretary, when, as I hope he will, he arranges for a statement to be made before we adjourn, I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that the Foreign Secretary gives us a detailed account of the instructions given to the British representative in the Security Council in recent debates and decisions on the conflict in the Dominican Republic.

There is in this international situation perhaps the gravest seed of conflict in the last 15 years. It is quite possible, in the submission of many qualified observers of the situation who have recently been in the Far East, that unless an urgent initiative is taken matters may reach a point where the conflict cannot be contained.

In these circumstances, I appeal, not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of many of my hon. Friends, for a comprehensive statement and a debate without delay.

4.22 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)

I do not wish to keep the House long from its very important debate on Commonwealth and Colonial affairs. However, I wish to oppose the Motion moved by the Prime Minister, who has since had to leave.

I thoroughly agree with the request of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) for a statement to be made by the Foreign Secretary before the House adjourns on Friday. I feel sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree with me. I mention this simply because it would not be well if it were to go out to the country that the only Members of the House who wanted a statement on this vital matter, and, indeed, who were interested in it, were members of the Left wing of the Labour Party.

I thought that the most important reason which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale adduced for commenting on the Whitsun Recess was that he wanted a statement, particularly, from the Foreign Secretary on the United Nations. This is one of many worrying matters, and it is one reason why I oppose the Motion. Many years ago I first said that one of the greatest dangers of the United Nations—and I will not go into detail—was that the world would place its reliance on a body which would be found unable to carry out its duties. This has come to pass, and, in only a passing reference, may I say that success in its recent exploits in any hot spots of the world has been significantly absent.

My main reason for opposing the adjournment of the House on Friday is this. We are in the middle of consideration of the Finance Bill. The Bill is a wreckage; that is obvious to everybody. The first part of it bears no resemblance to the Bill which was introduced. I suppose that it is no exaggeration to say—perhaps it is a slight exaggeration, but not much—that there have been hundreds of interventions by Government spokesmen saying that they would alter the Bill in this, that and the other respect on Report.

Not only have we such matters of moment as the future of the United Nations to discuss and Britain's place concerning Vietnam and foreign affairs generally, but there will shortly be—and I realise that this will be the subject of debate this afternoon—the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference. These are all matters—and there are many others besides—which require the attention of the House, and I do not see—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not follow the hon. Gentleman's argument, although I have been doing my best to do so. If it is desirable to discusss Commonwealth affairs before the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference, I do not understand why he opposes the Motion now.

Mr. Fell

We are to have a short debate this afternoon—[Interruption.] I have taken up approximately five minutes of the time of the House on a matter which I consider to be of some importance. That compares favourably with the performance of members of the Left wing of the Labour Party, who have used the occasion to make speeches on foreign affairs. I shall not detain the House much longer.

During the last 14 years, I have attempted many times to speak in debates on Commonwealth affairs, and I think that I have succeeded in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, or that of your predecessors, on one occasion. I contend that the forthcoming Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference is of the most enormous moment, and that it needs to be debated on more than one day. In addition, there are all these other matters which I mentioned which should be debated. The fact is that the Government have got in such a muddle over the wretched Finance Bill, which should never have seen the light of day, that they will have no time left to give to debate the manifold things which we should debate.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

Would not my hon. Friend agree that it would be a very good idea if we had perhaps a two-day debate on Commonwealth affairs next week?

Mr. Fell

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. That is exactly the reason for my intervention. I do not mind whether we have a two-day debate on Commonwealth affairs next week, or whether we again consider the Finance Bill next week. Judging from the statement which was made this afternoon, it looks as though it is urgent that we should discuss certain things in the Finance Bill, otherwise we should not have had the statement.

I oppose the Motion merely to facilitate the Government's business. I know that they need the rest; heaven knows, we all know that. If the course which I have suggested were adopted, we should have the opportunity not only to deal further with the Finance Bill—and at the moment I should not have thought there was a hope of our getting through the Bill until August—but to discuss these other matters of the greatest possible moment to this country, which is in dire trouble in many respects. Therefore, I am opposed to the Motion. That is not altogether surprising, because the Prime Minister has always astonished me, but this Motion is even more astonishing than most of his actions—

Mr. Speaker

The degree of astonishment created cannot be a reason for deferring the Recess.

4.30 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Bowden)

It might be for the convenience of the House if I were to intervene now. The House should be reminded that the Motion is for the Recess at Whitsun to be for exactly one week; that is to say, from Friday of this week until our return on Monday, 14th June.

I take the point made by my hon. Friends the Members for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) about the seriousness and the importance of what is happening in San Domingo and Vietnam, but I would remind them that we have already this year had rather more foreign affairs debates than we have had by this time in any one previous Session. We have had three full days. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made statements on a number of occasions on both Vietnam and San Domingo. Nevertheless, we appreciate how serious the situation is.

I would remind my hon. Friends, too, referring to the Dominican Republic, that at present representatives of the United Nations, of the Security Council, of the Organisation of American States and of the United States Administration are all engaged in the difficult task of trying to create some form of interim Coalition Government which is acceptable to both sides. A 24-hour cease-fire came into effect on 21st May, and has been indefinitely prolonged. The situation in San Domingo, therefore, while still grave, is rather more hopeful than it was.

On 11th May when my right hon. Friend made a statement in the House—a written statement, it is true—on the situation as it was then. I have given an undertaking during business exchanges on a number of occasions, and have referred the matter to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who has assured me that as soon it is possible to say anything at all that is hopeful on San Domingo or Vietnam he is prepared to say it.

With regard to Vietnam, the House will realise that the United States forces abstained from bombing for five days in the hope that negotiations would start. The object was to facilitate the commencement of negotiations which might lead to a permanent cease-fire, but the Communist Powers have adamantly refused on any occasion to negotiate. This, too, must be borne in mind.

I am sure that the debate at some point will be helpful, but I doubt very much whether it would be at this stage, when everyone is trying to reduce tension in order to arrive at a situation where fighting ceases so that we can get round the table and talk some sense into the position. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is to make a statement on the Cambodia conference, which was referred to, on Thursday of this week. I will certainly have a further word with him between now and Friday, but I can give no firm assurance that he will make a statement on either Vietnam or San Domingo, because I am sure that the House would agree that there is no point in making a statement which could exacerbate the position, and could only be helpful if there were something fresh to say.

This is not an unusually long Recess. If it so happened that the position during the Recess worsened, then, under Standing Order No. 117, the House could be recalled at any time. I believe that the House is now anxious to get on with the debate on Commonwealth and Colonial affairs, and I ask hon. Members to come to a decision.

4.35 p.m.

Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)

I am not very encouraged by what the Leader of the House has had to say. I got the impression that he did not particularly want a foreign affairs debate because of the embarrassment that might be caused by some of his Left-wing colleagues. If the House is to be fobbed off by a statement, possibly on Friday, it is not good enough. I agree with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) that the situation in South-East Asia has recently deteriorated, and could well become something far worse. We have tens of thousands of British troops in that part of the world, with families and relatives very concerned about them.

Surely, the House ought not to be given a statement; we should have had a full debate before we broke up. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) I do not suggest that the House should forgo its Recess, because I think that by Friday every right hon. and hon. Member will be glad to get away for a few days. But when one reads of 800 Australian forces leaving last week for Vietnam and British forces in Malaysia at readiness, it is just not good enough that week after week the House should be fobbed off. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has made persistent attempts to get a full debate, but it seems that the Finance Bill has got the House into real difficulties.

No one on this side of the House has been filibustering on the Finance Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—If hon. Members care to study HANSARD they will see that the speeches have been almost the shortest on record. The fact is that if we were to debate the Finance Bill for a year, we would still only be scratching at the problem. I think that the Government are hiding behind the Bill rather than discuss these important world affairs.

The Leader of the House should consider giving us a half day's debate on Thursday to discuss the Vietnam problem. No harm would be done by this House discussing the matter—except for one or two of the right hon. Gentleman's Left-wing hon. Friends who, in any case, have been well discounted. It would be healthier to have a debate on the subject before we broke up on Friday.

4.37 p.m.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

It is remarkable what a contrast there has been in the last few minutes between the speeches of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) and the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) and the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. The hon. Members opposite have demanded that time should be provided to enable this House to debate Vietnam and San Domingo. They want to discuss the Finance Bill and a variety of other topics, but the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg)—who, presumably, was speaking for the Opposition—made no such admission.

We therefore now discover that the party opposite is hopelessly divided—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone is always anxious to address himself to any topic, that whether he he understands it or not is beside the point—

Mr. Fell

With the greatest respect, the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) knows perfectly well that my right hon. and learned Friend actually said that we required a debate on this matter.

Mr. Shinwell

I agree with that immediately. I wanted to proceed on another line, but I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

It is a remarkable fact that when, the other day, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked for a foreign affairs debate he never mentioned the desirability of having a debate before the Whitsun Recess. He may say so now—

Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Kinross and West Perthshire)

If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so, I have been asking for a foreign affairs debate now for some weeks. We should have been only too glad to have had it before the Recess, but the Government set down the business for the week, and we gathered that there was no opportunity.

Mr. Shinwell

That statement is much too lame. The right hon. Gentleman may grin, but it makes no impact on my mind or on the minds of any of my hon. Friends—and if his hon. Friends behind him could see him at this moment it would have no effect on them, either. The right hon. Gentleman will have to try another tack.

The fact of the matter is that when last week, the right hon. Gentleman asked the Leader of the House for a foreign affairs debate, there was never a word about a foreign affairs debate before the Recess, nor even a reference to a statement by the Foreign Secretary on Vietnam and San Domingo. This is sheer hypocrisy. I will not use the word "humbug", because I understand that it is unparliamentary, although I would use it if it were not unparliamentary.

What is all the bother about? The Government moved a Motion which means that we want to adjourn on 4th June until 14th June—a simple Motion. My hon. Friends the Members for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) have not opposed that Motion. They do not want to be here next week—the only Members who want to be here next week are the hon. Members for Macclesfield and Yarmouth—

Sir A. V. Harvey

As usual, the right hon. Gentleman's memory cannot even go back for five minutes, otherwise he would know that I made it clear that every hon. Member would require to get away on Friday.

Mr. Shinwell

Then only one hon. Member wants to be here next week, but why should we give way to him just to let him make a speech on his favourite topic? What is his favourite topic? He has not got one. The only topic he ever engaged in was attacking his own side. We would hear him making attack on, for example, the Leader of the Opposition as he used to make attacks on the former right hon. Member for Bromley. The hon. Gentleman will recall what he used to say about Mr. Macmillan. We are not coming back for that sort of thing.

I am only too willing to come back next week. I can attend to other engagements, and I am not having a holiday. I do not need a holiday—unlike some of the decrepit, infirm Members on the other side. I do not mean those on the Liberal benches. I understand that they are conciliatory towards the Government and I do not want to offend them, because all contributions, political and otherwise, are gratefully received.

As I say, this is a simple Motion, and my hon. Friends have not opposed it. They have asked, quite properly, and in constitutional, democratic and Parliamentary fashion that a statement should be made on this very important topic before we adjourn next Friday. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has explained why he does not feel it necessary to repeat statements that have been made. He has said that he wants time to enable the Foreign Secretary to gain more information and then make a statement to the House. He said quite explicitly that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will make a statement on Thursday—[An HON. MEMBER: "On Cambodia."] If a statement is made on Cambodia hon. Members can depend on it that questions will be asked about Vietnam. My geography is not as good as it was when I was at school, but I understand that Cambodia is not remote from Vietnam—it is almost contiguous—so the subject can be raised.

The only caveat I have is that my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone managed to inject a foreign affairs speech into his comments on the Motion, but that is a matter between friends. We on this side can afford occasional differences of opinion. We are not having a debate about leadership. We have made up our minds about the leader of our party—[Interruption.] The leader of our party is highly satisfactory to hon. Members on this side, and to the party in the country—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and in an election he will be satisfactory to the electorate.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)

Order. What the right hon. Gentleman says may or may not be true. It is not, however, related to whether we adjourn on Friday.

Mr. Shinwell

It may be out of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but it is true all the same.

We are debating a few observations from my hon. Friends on this side directed to an important topic and a matter of international and national concern. That is a proper thing to do. My hon. Friends would do themselves less than justice if they did not raise these questions time and again, because they concern the minds and hearts of every right-thinking person.

There are, however, certain difficulties that appear in the minds of the Government and occasionally we must assume that the Government have, perhaps, more information than hon. Members have, more information than I have myself. I regret that. [Interruption.] Was the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) interrupting?

Mr. Marten

While I am much enjoying what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, he has in this House taken a deep interest in the Commonwealth and we are trying to get on to a debate on the Commonwealth. Could not the right hon. Gentleman show his deep interest in it by stopping filibustering?

Mr. Shinwell

I accept that rebuke. I wholly deserve it. I once made a speech on the Commonwealth during the war which gained the praise even of the late Sir Winston Churchill. I should be glad to make a speech on the Commonwealth again, but I have no intention of doing it this evening. I do not want to hold up the next debate. It is important. Indeed, we on this side have more regard for the Commonwealth than hon. Members opposite, who are concerned about going into the Common Market and betraying the Commonwealth. However, I must not go into that, at least not in detail.

I suggest that now that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has to some extent—I would not put it higher than that—satisfied my hon. Friends that there will be a statement on Thursday, we now might proceed to have a debate on Commonwealth and Colonial affairs.

4.47 p.m.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Poplar)

I will be much briefer than any who have gone before and less witty than my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), because I am lacking his youthful lightheartedness and his timeless virility. I will be not at all controversial, across the Floor of the House or in any other way, but there is one thing that was said by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House which causes me concern and which should cause concern to any hon. Members who are jealous of their duties and responsibilities and not merely here this afternoon for a giggle.

My right hon. Friend said that the Foreign Secretary would have a debate at a time when he thought that it would be useful. That implies that the Foreign Secretary or, perhaps, the Government are the only people who are capable of deciding when it is useful to have a debate. We are now talking about when the House should sit and when it should not. That is really a question of the relations between Government and Parliament and of how far there is a duty upon the Government to keep Parliament informed about what they are up to.

None of us is a child in arms. We all know that a great deal of the work of government has to go on in private. We all know that there are circumstances in which at least the early stages of negotiations, be they with hostile Powers or with allies, have to be carried out in secrecy. We all know that there are situations in which the House cannot be informed from the beginning of what is going on. Nevertheless, there is here a matter of balance. One cannot go to the other extreme and say that the Government will present the House with a fait accompli when they have done all that they propose to do and have completely committed themselves and provide the House of Commons with, at best, no more than an opportunity of rubber-stamping what they have done.

I for one do not accept the unilateral right of a Minister to claim personal omniscience to decide when it is useful to tell the House something and when it is not. The House has a right to have some say in when it should be told something. Therefore, with all the respect that I have for my right hon. Friend, he was being a bit below his normal high standard as Leader of the House. He was really saying to us, "Look, children. Uncle has got the thing under control and when he has something to tell you, he will come along and tell you. Be patient till then." That just is not good enough.

In a parliamentary democracy, we cannot consent to have Government by scrambler telephone all the time. There must be a limit. The duty of the Government is to hold the balance between their responsibilities to their partners in negotiation, on the one hand, and their responsibilities to this House, on the other. What worries me is that the balance is getting tilted. The statement of my right hon. Friend indicated that he for one did not mind the balance being tilted.

What worries me about next week's Recess, like all other Recesses, is that it gives Ministers many more hours a day to sit on their scrambler telephones. Until now, the hours spent on those telephones—[Laughter.] As I have said, there are some hon. Members who have come only for a giggle and who do not care tup-pence about the rights of the House. I am not talking to them and I am not put off by their silly sneering. [Interruption.] I am trying to make—I know that I am not very good at it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) does not behave himself better, I will not vote for him at the next election.

I know that I am not very good at explaining serious points—I lack some of the advantages of many other hon. Members—but I am trying, within the limits of my very limited capacity, to make the serious point that the House should not accept the Government's saying that they will have debates when they consider it useful without the House having any jurisdiction over when we think that it might be useful to have a debate.

On those grounds, I do not find the statement of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House at all satisfactory and I hope that he will think more about it before he takes it as being final and legally binding.

4.54 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)

For nearly the past month, I have been asking the Government to find time for a debate on South-East Asia. Quite apart from political points which may be made on either side—I do not want to enter into debate on this—I am certain that the country regards this Parliament as missing and failing in its duty unless the major matters of the day are discussed here.

I believe that we have failed in our duty, which is to discuss this precise and absolute problem which now faces us in South-East Asia, not merely in Vietnam, not merely in Cambodia, about which we are told, there is to be a statement, but in Malaysia and in relation to what the Australians and the New Zealanders are doing.

This is of vital interest to our people. Whether political points are to be scored one way or the other, this is an issue which should be debated by Parliament. That is what Parliament is for. I regard it as an error on the part of the Government not to have found time for a debate before now, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said. I suggest now that a promise should be given by the Government that in the week we return there will be a debate on the precise problems which face this country in South-East Asia as a whole.

4.56 p.m.

Mr. Bowden

I do not recall having said from this Box that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would have a foreign affairs debate when he is ready to have one. I said that I would ask my right hon. Friend to make a statement and that I was sure he would do so when he had something new to say to the House. That is precisely what I said.

I should like to correct one other point which has arisen during the discussion concerning the request for a foreign affairs debate. I do not have before me a copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT, but on Thursday of last week the Leader of the Opposition asked me for a foreign affairs debate to which I replied that I hoped that it could be arranged on a Supply day. The right hon. Gentleman certainly did not ask me for a foreign affairs debate before Whitsun, nor did either of my hon. Friends the Members for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). What they asked for was a statement before Whitsun.

I reiterate, as I said before, that I will speak to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and ask him whether he can make a statement before we rise for the Whitsun Recess in the hope that there is something new to say; and I hope that there may be. I cannot, however, promise a debate on foreign affairs between that with this assurance, the House will now and the Whitsun Recess. I hope now agree that we can pass the Motion.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Will the Leader of the House assure us that if the statement is to be made it will be made not later than Thursday, and not on Friday, when hon. Members will have been up all night and probably will have dispersed?

Mr. Bowden

I would much prefer to look at the position, having discussed the matter with my right hon. Friend.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, at its rising on Friday, do adjourn till Monday, 14th June.