HC Deb 06 December 1966 vol 737 cc1157-60
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Richard Crossman)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short announcement about business.

Following the statement by my right hon. Friend yesterday, the business for Wednesday and Thursday has been rearranged to allow on those two days, of which Thursday will be Supply [6th Allotted Day], a debate on Rhodesia.

Mr. Heath

I am sure that it is in accordance with the wish of the House that we should have this two-day debate on Rhodesia. The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that there are some right hon. and hon. Members who would have preferred to have longer to consider the Government White Paper and the Prime Minister's statement, but in view of what the Government regard as the urgent necessity of having the debate at once we accept that it should be on Wednesday and Thursday.

Can the right hon. Gentleman still assure the House that his undertaking that no action will be taken by the Government until after the debate will be carried out? As the debate is being held at the first and earliest opportunity, surely it is possible for the Foreign Secretary to wait until the House has debated the matter and expressed its view, of which the Government can then take account before action is taken in the Security Council.

Mr. Crossman

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said. What I can tell him is that no irrevocable commitment will be undertaken. That is what we have emphasised all the way through. We all appreciate that part of the negotiations was bringing Mr. Smith right up to the deadline. There is no doubt that we got the little movement which we did get by doing so. However, we have paid the price in the sense that we have had to have out debate right up against the deadline at the same time. But I can give an assurance that no irrevocable commitment will be undertaken by the Government before the debate is completed.

Mr. Heath

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain what he means by the expression "up against the deadline"? The undertaking in the White Paper and in the Commonwealth communiqué refers to action in the Security Council before the end of the year. Therefore, there are still another three weeks to go, and the Security Council can meet at 24 hours' notice or even shorter. Why, then, can the Foreign Secretary not wait to listen to the debate for even 48 hours before taking action?

Mr. Crossman

I gave no kind of assurance that the Foreign Secretary would not fly to New York before the debate started. What I said was that the Government would not take action until the debate had been completed. That is true.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the deadline. It was clear, as my right hon. Friend said, that one of the things that we were seeking to do was to impress upon Mr. Smith the urgency of reaching a decision against that deadline. All this could be discussed during the two-day debate.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

When the right hon. Gentleman says that the Government will take no irrevocable action, does that mean that the Foreign Secretary will not lay out a programme of mandatory sanctions until after the debate in this House?

Mr. Crossman

What I mean, clearly, is that if we want to retain control of events on the other side of the Atlantic the Foreign Secretary has to fly today.

Mr. Winnick

Is it not clear that what the Conservative Opposition are trying to do is delay indefinitely any action being taken?

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

In view of the very great importance of today's debate, and the wish of most hon. Members to listen to it, will the Leader of the House do what he can to make sure that no Standing Committees are sitting upstairs, bearing in mind, in particular, the problems of the 30 hon. Members who are exiled in Committee Room 10?

Mr. Crossman

I agree about the importance of this debate. I also agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of making good progress on Committees upstairs.

Mr. Sandys

Is this not another example of the Government's contempt for Parliament?

Mr. Crossman

I must say to the right hon. Gentleman that, if he believes that, he will believe anything

Mr. Barber

I would like to press the right hon. Gentleman in respect of Standing Committee D upstairs, which is considering the Iron and Steel Bill. Will the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that it is intolerable that 30 hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick), who has just joined us, will have no opportunity of speaking at all in this debate? Will the right hon. Gentleman also not recognise something much more serious, which is that if it should be necessary, at the end of the two-day debate, to reach a decision, 30 hon. Members will not even have heard any of the arguments? Is that not making a mockery of Parliament?

Mr. Crossman

I must say that that, coming from the right hon. Gentleman who is largely responsible for the fact that the Bill is not being reported out of Committee, is slightly comic.

Mr. Grimond

Could the Leader of the House refresh our memories? Was there not an opportunity to debate the possibilities and the effect of sanctions quite recently on Orders in this House?

Mr. Crossman

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He is quite correct in his recollection.

Mr. Heath rose——

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. May I deprecate hon. Members shouting across the floor at the tops of their voices?

Mr. Heath

As the Leader of the House addressed a personal appeal to the House on many occasions on his own behalf and on behalf of the whole Government not to debate sanctions or Rhodesia on those Orders, ought he not at least to have the decency to say that he asked the House not to?

Mr. Crossman

That is perfectly true, but I was asked whether the opportunity, was there—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] As I said at the same time, it is perfectly true that we both agreed through the usual channels that it was wiser not to, but the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked whether the opportunity was not there. The answer is, yes, it was there.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Elysian Morgan.