HC Deb 26 January 1971 vol 810 cc341-2
Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the arrest of the Dean of Johannesburg in South Africa. The matter is specific enough. It is the detention of a British subject in South Africa under an Act of the South African Government which is reviled throughout the world as being against all judicial principles. The Dean has now been in detention for some six days without any charge having been preferred against him. He was initially refused any access by consular officials. Even now there have been only two visits. So far as I am aware, he has not yet received any ministrations of any kind. The matter is specific enough.

Is the matter important enough to warrant the Adjournment of the House? I submit that it is on two grounds. The first is that the detention of any individual for whom this country has the duty of protection is of immense importance to this House. If we decline to act now, then the difficulty will increase for any British subject in any other country where laws of this nature abound and which thinks it can get away with imprisoning a British subject without circumspection. It is of considerable importance for this House to discuss the matter and express its views in order that the South African Government should be in no doubt about the concern felt in this country about their actions.

It is important in an even wider context. We have been discussing the subject of the South African arms deal which is at the root of the Government policy, and of course the policy of apartheid in South Africa is under constant attack. If the fate of this distinguished British subject who has been working in Southern Africa for so many years is typical of the way in which that kind of fruitful contact is to be treated, it undermines the whole case for the Government's present Southern African policy. It is, therefore, of considerable public importance that these matters should be discussed.

Is it urgent? I submit that it is indeed extremely urgent. When the Dean was arrested there were initial comments by the head of the Security Services that he had been arrested under the Terrorism Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial and without charges, and that no charges were to be preferred against him.

That was changed, because there were then announcements by the Ministry of Justice suggesting that charges would be preferred. That announcement was made at the weekend, but no charges have yet been preferred. Therefore, it seems likely that for some time the South African Government will play this cat and mouse game with this distinguished British Anglican priest in order that they can get away with what they have inevitably got away with in South African prisons —namely, torture and interrogation which goes beyond the normal questioning of a witness.

It is highly important that this gentleman should be brought to trial upon charges which can be recognised as specific offences against South African law or that he should be released. If that is not done, there is real danger to the life of this man who, after all, suffers from a heart condition and may suffer the fate of another internee of the South African Government who died of a heart attack whilst under detention.

I submit that it is of vital and urgent importance that this whole matter should be discussed by this House.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, the arrest of the Dean of Johannesburg in South Africa". The House knows that, under Standing Order No. 9, Mr. Speaker is directed to take into account the several factors set out in the Order, but to give no reason for his decision.

I have given careful consideration to the representations that the hon. Member has made, but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.