HC Deb 22 October 1968 vol 770 cc1229-39

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Southern Rhodesia Act 1965 (Continuation) Order 1968, a draft of which was laid before this House on 14th October, be approved.—[Mr. George Thomson.]

10.13 p.m.

Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)

The House is being asked to renew very drastic provisions. I am not concerned to say that the powers should not be continued, provided that certain points are explained and dealt with so that we may understand how the powers will be exercised. There was a very anxious state of affairs when we agreed to the Act, and the powers were given on the understanding that they would be exercised in the way that the Government thought necessary. We now have the experience of quite a long period, and the House is entitled to receive, and should receive, assurances on certain matters. There is no doubt that the powers have been used to an extreme extent. I have in mind particularly the way in which a number of perfectly innocent, law-abiding people have been very unfairly treated, and are still being unfairly treated. The House should insist on certain assurances before we agree to the extension of the powers, which were of a very wide character.

I shall not argue about those sanctions which one might call Sanctions with a capital "S". The Government consider that their continuation during the period of negotiations is necessary, and I am not prepared to differ from that. But there are sanctions with a small "s", and almost every hon. Member must know of cases where individuals have suffered from them. We have numbers of cases. I shall not quote the Details—

An Hon. Member

Why not?

Sir L. Heald

We have not given any notice to Treasury Ministers. I shall give them to the hon. Gentleman outside afterwards if he wants them, together with my general opinion about his views.

We know the kind of case where a widow has come here from Rhodesia and has about £500 which she wants to get in order to buy a house. She is told by the Treasury that she cannot do it. I have had correspondence in that direction and in the other direction, where someone is going to Rhodesia to join his or her family and wants to take money out from here. We see the letters. They are not written in an altogether unsympathetic way, but they are always the same, saying that everyone must suffer from the ill-doings of others. Above all, they say that it is a question of degree of hardship. Degree of hardship is not a very easy thing to understand, outside Government Departments. Most people think that hardship is hardship. Almost every hon. Member must have had cases of that kind.

We should have an undertaking from the Government that they will now, during the period of negotiations, reconsider such cases, I see a right lion. Gentleman opposite smiling, but the people concerned in the sort of cases I have mentioned do not smile. I ask the Government to take the matter seriously and to say that during this period, when the Prime Minister has told us today that he wants to see the possibility of a return to the friendly relations that always existed between us in this country and Rhodesia—I give him all credit for it—the opportunity arises now for instructions to be given. All that is required is that instructions should be given.

I am the last person to say that Treasury officials are in any way to blame. I know enough about them to know that in cases of this kind they act with great humanity, but I have seen their letters and I have one in my pocket. The letters show quite clearly that the "extent" of hardship required to justify an exception is almost unbelievable. Therefore, I hope that we shall get a sympathetic reply.

Beyond that there is another aspect. There is the question of those in Rhodesia who have done what they were asked and advised to do by the Government and the Governor-General when U.D.I. took place. They were told that it was their duty to stay in their posts and preserve law and order, whatever they might be—policemen or anything else—and that everything would he all right. It must be known to the Governor that the other day the Privy Council gave a judgment in which it made clear that by the Act about which we are talking the whole of the machinery in Rhodesia was abolished—administrative, legal and judicial. Every aspect of government was destroyed, and so everyone was acting illegally. It has been pointed out since that all those judges, policemen and everyone else have been illegally receiving salaries ever since.

There are many people—I know of one or two—who are still engaged in their duties in Rhodesia. They are still being treated as acting illegally, and even if they have received their salaries, they are now, according to the clear statement of the Rhodesian court the other day—with which I have seen no disagreement—liable, if somebody chose to do it, to be called upon to repay the money that has been illegally paid out of the Consolidated Funds.

This may come with astonishment to some right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench. If they will read the judgment of the Privy Council in the famous Appeal No. 13—a rather unfortunate number—they will find the extraordinary results of the Act that we have passed and the situation that we now have. We have an even more extraordinary situation which is described in the Privy Council judgment in this way: The lawful Government has not attempted or purported to make any provision for … any lawful needs of the country because it cannot. This is Lord Pearce, the dissenting judge in the Privy Council. That is what he said, and it does not disagree with any of the other learned Lords. He goes on: It has of necessity left all those things to the illegal Government and its Ministers to provide. It has appointed no lawful Ministers. If one disregards all illegal provision for the needs of the country, there is a vacuum and chaos. He also said what might have been done: … the gap between omnipotence in theory and impotence in fact is wide. It would be unfortunate if common sense and fairness to the citizen were not allowed, where this is possible, to make some contribution in an attempt to bridge the gap. No such attempt has been made. There is no "British Government" of any kind, sort or description in Rhodesia today. Yet there are hundreds of men and women still working loyally and doing their job. They are, according to the action of our Government, acting illegally, and they have no business to be paid at all. The whole thing is chaos.

I believe that before we grant these tremendous powers again, we are entitled, first of all, to an assurance that these petty bureaucratic, rather bad-tempered little treatments of individuals will be looked into with sympathy, justice and decency and, secondly, that the position of those loyal men and women who have been and are today carrying on their duties will be looked into and that they will be told how they stand and will be treated fairly and justly.

10.19 p.m.

Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) has asked the Government for two assurances before we pass this Order. It seems to me that we are also entitled to ask the Government for a measure of information, because the attitude that we take to the Order, I should have thought, is bound to some extent to be influenced by the impression that we have of what other countries are doing in this situation and the extent to which this is supposed to be a co-operative effort.

After all, it has been the Government's proposition throughout that, by extending sanctions via the United Nations, we would be able to spread the burden which we ourselves were assuming. We are now being asked to carry on this burden in trade terms for a further year and, before we do so, we are entitled to some view from the Government of the extent to which other countries are playing their part.

As I suggested to the right hon. Gentleman earlier today, I think that there is statistically substantial evidence to suggest that other countries are treating the sanctions regulations with a considerable degree of contempt, and, unless the Government can provide us with some evidence to refute this, then the purpose of renewing the Order is surely somewhat open to question.

Of course I understand the case that the Government must make on behalf of this Order—that at this time, when negotiations are under way, it would be undesirable to introduce changes in the sanctions that this country itself imposes. I would be more impressed by that if I were really convinced, which I am not, that the outcome of the negotiations is going to be desirable from our point of view. But obviously that is not something we can discuss now.

But we are entitled to ask the Government—I had hoped for it at the begin- ning of this debate and now hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give it in reply—for some evidence to support the claim which he has consistently made, which is that, by the extension of sanctions on a comprehensive mandatory basis throughout the United Nations, we have ensured that other countries are not knuckling in on markets we used to enjoy prior to sanctions in Rhodesia. All the evidence seems to point the other way, but I should be delighted to hear any refutation that the right hon. Gentleman can produce.

10.23 p.m.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

I almost alone opposed sanctions from the start. I said that they would hang round our neck like a dead chicken, and they have. I have opposed all renewals, but I could not oppose their continuation just at the point of these negotiations. Surely no one really suggests that they should be withdrawn just at this moment.

10.24 p.m.

The Minister Without Portfolio (Mr. George Thomson)

I am obliged for what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has said, because it represents the heart of the matter. In our debate earlier, there was a general feeling that, while the present discussions are going on and there is hope of a settlement, no one wishes to arouse great heat over the question of sanctions. They are bound to continue during the period of the search for a settlement and, if there is an agreement, thereafter until a test of acceptance has been carried out and the steps to restore agreed legality have been taken.

Having said that in general, perhaps I can now turn my attention to the points raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald). The operation of the exchange controls is not strictly affected by the Order which we are now taking and the subordinate Orders which flow from it. They are a matter of direct exchange control by the Treasury.

Sir L. Heald

Is it not a fact that, but for the 1965 Act, they could never have been imposed?

Mr. Thomson

I was about to deal with the substance of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point and I do not want to argue on a procedural matter. I very much take this point and I assure him that the powers exercised by the Treasury are exercised with the utmost possible humanity and consideration and will continue to be so exercised. If there are any particular personal cases which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind, I, or another appropriate Minister, will be happy to look into them for him.

He raised the question of the consequences of recent legal judgments by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I can only repeat to him what I told the House at Questiton Time today—that these matters are under very active consideration by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, and the points that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made tonight will of course be carefully looked at by them.

I refer the right hon. and learned Gentleman to Chapter 5 of the White Paper which we have just been discussing. It deals with the subsequent steps after it has been established by the Royal Commission that any agreed constitution is acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole. There is one very important sentence in it which is relevant to the questions which have just been asked. It is: 'Arrangements will be put in hand to settle outstanding financial and other issues and to regularise relations between the two sides. Certainly the best way in which to deal with the range of problems raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be to see an agreement which would settle the Rhodesian problem on a basis which was not only acceptable to the House of Commons, but which proved to be acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole.

The hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) put his questions to me at Question Time, and I can add little to what I told him then. The important matter is what is happening under the comprehensive United Nations Resolution in the countries which are our principal trading competitors, and my advice is that legislative action has been or is being taken by all these countries. This afternoon the hon. Gentleman mentioned France. France has enacted the necessary legislation. The statistics with which the hon. Gentleman has bombarded me, now over 14 months, have a certain delayed action effect, as is the habit with statistics, but if it is still necessary for him to bombard Ministers with statistics in the months ahead, and I hope that it will not be, I hope that in due course he will find the results of the new United Nations resolution registered in the trade of these countries. Certainly the United Nations Resolution has the advantage for this country, an advantage which I would have thought would have had more support from hon. Members opposite, that it puts on the traders of other countries the same sort of legal obligation which we have accepted in this country from the time the I.D.I. began.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Kinross and West Perthshire)

The right hon. Gentleman said in response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) that he would consider individual cases of hardship. There are cases when for years past people have been sending Christmas presents to their relations in Rhodesia. I have come across quite a number of cases when parents have thought that they could no longer do this. This seems pretty inhuman. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will look into this sort of thing.

Mr. Thomson

I will gladly look into it, although I can in fact give a general assurance that I personally took responsibility for this and arranged a level of value for presents sent to Rhodesia, Christmas or birthday or other presents, which was certainly very generous for the sort of presents which are normally sent by grandmothers to grandchildren or by aunts to nephews and nieces.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth) rose

Mr. Speaker

It would help if hon. Members who wish to take part in a debate would do so before the Minister has sought to reply to it.

Dame Irene Ward

I want to add a word after listening to the Minister. I appreciate what you say Mr. Speaker, but I would not have intervened if I had not heard what the Minister had to say. I do not quite see how I could have interrupted before he spoke, because I want to comment on what he did say.

I want to refer to his answer to the first part of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) asked him about exchange control difficulties. Like most people in the House, I have a very great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but I must say that on these matters, I dislike the ordinary formal reply. I should have been much more satisfied if his answer to my hon. and learned Friend had been couched in more sympathetic and less formal terms.

What I would have liked him to have said would have been that he, as a responsible Minister, with I am sure, a great deal of humanity in his heart, would personally take the matter up with the Treasury, and not just hand the buck over to the Treasury. He may be satisfied, but we are not. I wanted to say that I hope that on future occasions his replies will be in ordinary sympathetic terms when dealing with these kinds of cases.

He just brought out these words—I have heard them so often. One hands in letters to Ministers and they just sign polite replies. They never do anything to help those who need help. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take note of what has been said tonight, and when he next answers letters, he will do something to meet the difficult cases which we all have, arising out of this difficult and unhappy period.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Southern Rhodesia Act 1965 (Continuation) Order 1968, a draft of which was laid before this House on 14th October, be approved.

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