HC Deb 20 October 1966 vol 734 cc396-8
06. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Prime Minister if he will now make a further statement on the negotiations with Mr. Smith about the future status and government of Rhodesia indicating what progress has been made towards securing for all the people of Rhodesia full access to equality of franchise, education and other rights of citizenship.

The Prime Minister

My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that since the present régime in Rhodesia is illegal there can be no question of negotiations with Mr. Smith. As to the rest of the Question I would refer my hon. and learned Friend to the Answers I gave to Questions on 18th October.

Mr. Hughes

Is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister satisfied that this controversy between constitutional legality and illegality is being watched not only by the Commonwealth but by the whole world and may have very important consequences to the British Commonwealth of Nations?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. Anyone who had sat, as I have done, in the Chair of the Commonwealth Conference for 14 hours a day for 10 days would be in no danger of forgetting the wise words of my hon. and learned Friend, but this is no longer a question of constitution and legality but a question of a return to legal rule on which all parties in this House have insisted, and also a question of honouring the principles on which all parties in this House have insisted with regard to progress to majority rule and satisfaction for the people of Rhodesia as a whole in an ultimate settlement.

Mr. Heath

When are the Prime Minister and the Commonwealth Secretary prepared to make a full statement to the House about the talks carried on in recent months between the Commonwealth Secretary and Mr. Smith and officials on both sides? I think he will agree that the whole House has been very patient in this matter. When will a full account be given?

The Prime Minister

I agree that the House has been very patient. Only in the headier air of a seaside town did the right hon. Gentleman let his patience go a little and he made some statements about Rhodesia which are not justified either by the facts or the principles which his party upholds, but I certainly undertake to the right hon. Gentleman that at the earliest possible moment my right hon. Friend and I will make an appropriate statement. I think the House will be aware that Sir Morrice James is on his way back to this country after seeing Mr. Smith this week and we are to have from Mr. Smith his comments on the proposals which have been made. I shall obviously need to study them. The whole House will realise that we are at a critical stage, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will carry his patience a few days further. I shall certainly make a full statement at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Apart from the legalities, has the Prime Minister observed that the High Court in Salisbury which we all respect—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—the High Court in Salisbury which we all respect has held that under the present régime there has been no diminution of the rights of citizens under the 1961 Constitution?

The Prime Minister

I think the hon. Member is not only summarising a 108-page judgment, but over-simplifying it and slanting it a little bit in what he has said. As far as the rights of individuals are concerned, I referred on Tuesday to the proposals now for a constitutional amendment Bill giving chiefs, the paid executives of the Government, criminal jurisdiction. In regard to the judgment itself, I think the Leader of the Opposition was in error and I was in error in attempting in this House to construe that judgment since it is now under appeal. I think it would be better to wait for the appeal to the Privy Council before we try to draw final conclusions as to what the law is.

Mr. Molloy

Does the Prime Minister realise that the very High Court referred to in the previous supplementary question is now itself under reported threat because of what it said?

The Prime Minister

I am not aware of any theats to the judges in Rhodesia. There have been rumours and suggestions of this from time to time, but I am not aware of any current threat to their position. I am aware, as the whole House is, that the régime there has given notice of some further amendment—which would be quite illegal—to the 1961 Constitution and which would seriously derogate from the existing human rights, such as they are, in Rhodesia at the present time.