HC Deb 17 June 1968 vol 766 cc723-7
The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. George Thomson)

Mr. Speaker, with your permission, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement.

I told the House on 14th May that I would look sympathetically at the possibility of review arrangements in Rhodesian passport cases. Since then I have been studying the most effective way of offering safeguards to the rights of individual passport holders normally resident in Rhodesia consistent with the prosecution of our sanctions policy as a whole.

I have, therefore, decided to set up an Advisory Committee to review the special cases in which U.K. passport facilities have been withdrawn in consequence of the Government's policy towards Rhodesia.

I am glad to be able to tell the House that Mr. Justice Cairns has agreed to be Chairman of the Committee. I have also been able to secure the services as members of the Committee of Sir William Murrie, formerly Permanent Under-Secretrary of State in the Scottish Office; Sir William Oliver, formerly Vice Chief of the Imperial General Staff and High Commissioner in Australia; and Mr. F. J. Pedler, Deputy Chairman of the United Africa Company.

The precise wording of the terms of reference is still under consideration and I will circulate them as soon as possible in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Broadly, however, they will be as follows.

The Committee will scrutinise and report to me on all the cases in which the decision has so far been taken to withdraw passport facilities in accordance with the statement made to the House by the then Commonwealth Secretary on 25th January, 1966. It will also scrutinise all those cases in which it is decided that a U.K. citizen, or any other person who would ordinarily be entitled to enter this country freely, should be denied entry in accordance with Article 12(1)(b) of the Order which we will be debating later today.

If a person wishes to have his case reviewed by the Committee, I will arrange for this to be done.

These are important decisions for which I must remain accountable to the House. The final responsibility for deciding action in individual cases must therefore, remain with me, but I can assure the House that I will give the fullest weight to the Advisory Committee's reports and recommendations.

As an additional safeguard, in view of the public disquiet at the danger of arbitrary action, I have decided to define and make public the categories of person against whom action will be taken.

First, sanctions-breakers. Second, those who by reason of the offices they hold must be regarded as giving active support to the illegal regimé; for example, Rhodesian Front members of what purports to be the "Parliament" in Rhodesia. Third, those others whom, in the terms of the U.N. Resolution, we have reason to believe have furthered or encouraged the unlawful actions of the illegal régime. A person in this last category will in future be notified and will be told the grounds upon which this decision has been taken.

I should like to take this opportunity of expressing the Government's thanks to Mr. Justice Cairns and the members of the Committee for agreeing to undertake this important task.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for examining this matter and making the statement that he promised. I think that there can be no criticism of the membership of the Advisory Committee. However, we note that it is advisory only to the Secretary of State. Is it not true, therefore, that there is no appeal from him? I think that we would find that unsatisfactory, especially after the case of the Ombudsman and Sir Frederick Crawford. Will the findings in each case be made public?

When the right hon. Gentleman said that the categories will be notified, which is what we asked, will the directors of subsidiaries of British companies in South Africa or Rhodesia automatically have their passports taken away, or automatically be listed as having broken the law? I do not want him to give a snap answer on that, because it is extremely important, and he will realise the economic significance of it to this country.

Mr. Thomson

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's doubts about the Committee's remaining advisory. However, I would remind him that there are many precedents, under previous Administrations as well as this one, for dealing with this kind of matter in this way. The final responsibility here is bound to be mine, and I have no wish to shirk it. But he will perhaps accept that I am bound to give the heaviest weight to the recommendations coming from the Committee. The House is vigilant in these matters, and I hope that I am properly sensitive to that vigilance.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Will the right hon. Gentleman look carefully at cases of directors of subsidiaries of British companies operating in South Africa or Rhodesia? Under the Order which we are about to debate it looks as if they will automatically be put in the position of breaking the law and, therefore, of having their passports removed.

Mr. Thomson

I think that it would be better if that were looked at in the course of the debate which we are about to begin, in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will deal with the legal provisions of the Order.

Mr. Michael Foot

Has my right hon. Friend any proposals for extending these arrangements to cases other than Rhodesia? Many of my hon. Friends have urged over a great number of years that there should be a proper reviewing procedure for those who have their passports taken away. Cannot we have a system which deals with all those who had their passports taken away by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite?

Mr. Thomson

I said in an earlier debate that I was sure that the issue then raised was only the beginning of a genera] debate about safeguards in cases of passports. The point made by my hon. Friend is not strictly my province. My province is Rhodesia, which is a special category causing special anxieties to the House. Fortunately, it is fairly easily definable. In the light of our experience with the Advisory Committee, I am sure that my hon. Friend's suggestion is likely to be looked at sympathetically in the future.

Sir D. Renton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are people with family connections and respectable interests in both countries? Will he give an assurance that such people will not have their passports taken away as a result of the Government's sanctions policy?

Mr. Thomson

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is confusing two different groups of people. I am dealing here with the relatively small category of people coming within one of the three heads that I have mentioned who, in one way or another, are giving active support and encouragement to the régime. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is dealing with a wider group of people who may be either British or Rhodesian passport holders, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has assured the House that the most sympathetic and humanitarian consideration will be given to those kinds of people.

Mr. Hastings

In the event of the tribunal recommending that action should not be taken in a given case and, nevertheless, the Government deciding to take it, can the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that, on application, it will be possible for the Parliamentary Commissioner to review such a case?

Mr. Thomson

I am sorry. I cannot give that guarantee. I understand the hon. Gentleman's interest in this, and I can tell him that the case of Sir Frederick Crawford will fall within the terms of reference of the Advisory Committee. My reason for issuing the certificate to the Parliamentary Commissioner, which I felt bound to do in his case, did not arise from any unwillingness to see his case dealt with by an independent tribunal, but lay in the wider issues of foreign policy involved in that question. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Referring to the categories of sanctions breakers, can the right hon. Gentleman say how an ordinary citizen in Rhodesia can go about his daily life without making use of such commodities as petrol or hospital equipment brought into the country in breach of the Government's sanctions policy?

Mr. Thomson

I would not define as sanctions breaking the category referred to by the hon. Gentleman. He need have no anxiety about anybody coming within that category.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the police are included in the second category, and, if so, will he recall that the Prime Minister, at the time of U.D.I., told them to remain at their posts and perform their duties?

Mr. Thomson

I wish to publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT, once the details are worked out, a full list of the individual office holders who will come within that particular sub-head of this restriction. In general, what my right hon. Friend said about the need of the ordinary public servant to carry on the normal business of maintaining society in Rhodesia is, of course, not affected.