HC Deb 07 March 1968 vol 760 cc652-9
Q6. Mr. Molloy

asked the Prime Minister if he will now make a further statement on Rhodesia.

The Prime Minister

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would now like to answer Question No. 6.

As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary yesterday undertook that a further statement would be made about Rhodesia as soon as the Government had reviewed the situation arising from the events of the past few days. The House will wish to know that, in addition to the promised expression of the Government's view, which will be made available as soon as possible, discussions are taking place through the usual channels about the most appropriate arrangements to enable the House as a whole to express its opinion on these matters.

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this whole matter is now a test for Britain, for the British Parliament and for the whole concept of the British Commonwealth, and that if some action is not taken we shall not merely be condoning murder, but legalising lynch law—of which, I hope, all hon. Gentlemen opposite disapprove? Will my right hon. Friend consider calling an emergency meeting of the Commonwealth to take some kind of action to bring down this régime, for unless this is done swiftly the blood that has been let loose this week might result in a blood bath which I warn my right hon. Friend could take place in Africa because of the vulgar actions of this illegal régime?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend said, this is a matter, first of all, for Parliament, and I would have thought that the reaction of all hon. Members in all parts of the House in the past three days has shown the sense of shock and horror which is felt in this House.

To answer my hon. Friend's question about the Commonwealth, my right hon. Friend and I are, of course, getting in touch with Commonwealth Prime Ministers because these are matters of deep concern to the whole Commonwealth, but I am far from convinced that, at this stage at any rate, an emergency meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers would be the right way to handle this matter. My hon. Friend will be aware that the matter has now been brought before the Security Council, so that it has become, as one must have expected, a matter for deep international concern.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Having been critical of the Commonwealth Office from time to time, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he is aware that some, at least, of my hon. Friends very much welcome the tone of the statement issued by the Commonwealth Office and made public in the Press; on, for example, the front page of The Times this morning?

The Prime Minister

I would want to look again at that particular point because my right hon. Friend is, I understand, not quite sure to which statement the hon. Gentleman is referring. [Interruption.] This is no laughing matter, and I hope that even the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) would agree. Certainly my right hon. Friend and I very much appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has said about the Commonwealth Office, and I know that it has been the view in all parts of the House that, in this very difficult situation, my right hon. Friend has conducted himself not only with great firmness but also with dignity.

Mr. Gardner

In view of Press reports today of some most unfair comments at the United Nations on Her Majesty's Government, and while appreciating that my right hon. Friend faces this diplomatic difficulty in tackling this problem, would not my right hon. Friend think that an emergency meeting of Commonwealth heads might be worth while, if only to allay this sort of criticism?

The Prime Minister

I have made it clear that if this were thought by the Commonwealth to be the right way of dealing with the immediate problem, then it would naturally be something which we would want to consider. I am not yet convinced, however, that it would be the right answer. However, we will maintain the very closest contact with all our Commonwealth partners. I am, of couse, well aware, as is the House, of the deep feeling which exists in Commonwealth countries, particularly in African Commonwealth countries—but by no means exclusively them—and we will have to see what emerges from our consultations with them.

Sir C. Taylor

Did the right hon. Gentleman read the column in the Daily Mirror this morning, written by George Gale, which I believe considerably reflects the attitude of many people in this country?

The Prime Minister

I would be sorry to think that it expresses the attitude of many people, or of any hon. Member of this House.

Mr. Manuel

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the great anxiety that exists in many quarters in Britain, arising from the murder of the three Africans, because of the fact that more than 100 other Africans in Southern Rhodesia are presently in prison with the death sentence hanging over them? Is he aware that unless something tangible is done resulting from the action that has taken place, we may be placing the lives of these 100 Africans in jeopardy?

The Prime Minister

The question of the other 100 who lie under sentence of death, many of them having spent very long periods in the death cell, must, of course, be a matter of deep concern to all who have any responsibility in dealing with this question—by no means all of them for murder; many are under mandatory death sentences under the repressive legislation in Salisbury. It is precisely for that reason that I appealed yesterday for some restraint, whether in action or words. Despite the natural desire of my hon. Friends—indeed, of us all—to find some way immediately of hitting back, I do not recommend that we should seek to deal with this situation by gestures which, however self-satisfying, are ineffective and meaningless. We must look at the whole deep lesson of the last three years, which came to a head this week—to the fact that, so far as some of these people are concerned, what we have been dealing with, even negotiating with and fighting, is essentially evil, and the House must recognise that this is so.

Mr. Hirst

While welcoming the Prime Minister's assurance that before making a further statement he will look at the matter in the full concept of the total period of three years, will he include in that the grave burden of responsibility which rests on the Government by way of their gross mismanagement of this problem from beginning to end?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his views on these matters. We do not accept his strictures. Looking back, if there is one part of our record in this matter where I think that we took very great risks, it was to offer to men of that character the right of independence and self-determination, without majority rule applying, and in circumstances where we would have had to trust their word as to the operation of the rule of law on an agreed constitution. What appalled us all—including, I hope, the hon. Gentleman—was the affidavit by Lardner Burke, which said that whatever the highest court of all, the Privy Council, decided, he would take no notice of it but would go ahead and hang them—a direct flouting of the rule of law, with which this House must he concerned.

Mr. C. Pannell

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that the tragedy we have been witnessing is that quite humble people have been used by personally-minded men for ends which were base ones? When considering that, will he consider the position of the Governor, who has been in the forefront of this agitation, and consider whether it is not now time to remove him from the exposed position which he holds so that we can deal with this frontally between London and Rhodesia if need be?

The Prime Minister

I know that the whole House will want to pay tribute to the steadfastness of the Governor over these three years in a very lonely exposed position, for the wise advice he has been able to tender and the essential link he has provided, but it perhaps underrates the determination of the Governor to suggest that he would want such a suggestion to be made at this time. He is now in one sense more exposed and lonely than ever and he has the bitterness of realising how much he has been let down by those he trusted.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Following the question asked by the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), can the Prime Minister say whether in fact on this occasion the Governor was informed of the decision as to what advice should be tendered and whether he was asked to communicate it to the de facto Government of Rhodesia? If, as I understand, we are to have a debate on this subject fairly soon, will the Prime Minister bear in mind that there will be a general desire that all the necessary factual information should be available? Will he give an assurance that it will be possible for hon. Members on either side of the House who want information of a purely factual nature to get it from the responsible Minister in some way or another before the debate?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. We shall do our best to ensure that this information is available, and I think the hon. Member will be better served by getting it in that way and not from sources which some hon. Members have relied on in the past. So far as the Governor is concerned, my right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary yesterday made clear what communications there had been with His Excellency before the advice was given last Saturday. As to the suggestion that we should have asked him to communicate with what the hon. Member calls "the de facto Government"—which is not a phrase we can accept because, of course, it is still subject to further judicial process and consideration—I do not think it would be right for us to suggest that the Governor could get in touch with Mr. Dupont.

Mr. Orme

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of the British Press comment this morning, particularly George Gale's article in the Daily Mirror and the cartoon in the Daily Mail, is below the usual standard of the Press, and the inference that the policy of this Government is responsible for what has taken place is absolutely untrue, for the responsibility rests on those who deny the vote to the majority of people in Rhodesia?

The Prime Minister

Of course, what the Press says on these matters, as on all other matters, must be a matter for the British Press. The difference between our Press and the Press of Rhodesia is that our Press comes out every day with every column filled with print and there is no interference. There is not, as on Monday, a very large part of the Rhodesian Herald censored and the exclusion of any reference to the resignation and the words of Mr. Justice Fieldsend and Mr. Justice Denby-Young. So far as the British Press is concerned, it must be free to write what it wants to write, and it is.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Will the Prime Minister say whether the factual information which he has promised before the debate will be issued in the form of a White Paper? Will it include the con siderations which in this case led to the recommendation as to the Prerogative of Mercy being exercised by the Secretary of State instead of the ordinary established procedure of recommendation by the Governor?

The Prime Minister

I thought my right hon. Friend had given all the possible information he could to the House on this matter. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that the situation facing my right hon. Friend on Friday evening was, first, a refusal of an appeal to the Privy Council, which is the highest court in these matters, a refusal based on an affidavit by Lardner Burke in which he said he would not be bound by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Furthermore, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware, there were strong rumours of preparations immediately to hang the men concerned before even an application could be made on Monday morning to the Privy Council. In those circumstances I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would feel, as has been so clearly stated in all parts of the House, that my right hon. Friend's advice was right in the circumstances.

Mr. Hector Hughes

The Prime Minister has said, very properly, that this grave matter is being brought before the Security Council. Would he elaborate that a little with a view to indicating the urgency of the matter?

The Prime Minister

One cannot, of course, know exactly what the Security Council will do in these matters. In addition to the procedure of an individual country having to raise the matter with the Security Council, the Security Council has to decide whether it wants to hear a particular question or to raise a particular question. It would be premature at this stage, therefore, to forecast whether there will be a debate in the Security Council and what its outcome would be likely to be.

Mr. Hastings

May I ask whether the same high principles in regard to independence which the Prime Minister has enunciated were in his mind when he decided that we should leave Aden?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman and hon. Members have put that question many times. We have a responsibility in the case of a country where uniquely since the history of South Africa—unique in all the decolonisation—independence has been proposed without adult manhood suffrage. We had a special responsibility to lay down the principles under which there would be guaranteed unimpeded progress to majority rule. Those principles were laid down by the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), and he has stuck to them ever since including his recent visit there. I think we are right to stand by the principles agreed in this House. The situation in Aden, where there was no proposition of that kind, was entirely different.