HC Deb 04 November 1974 vol 880 cc697-9
Mr. Ian Lloyd

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 reported abrogation of the Simonstown Agreement. Anyone seeking leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 must be acutely aware that the procedural needle through which the subject must pass has, quite rightly, a narrow eye and that some very large camels have attempted to pass through it. They usually fail because one of the three dimensions fails to fit Standing Order No. 9. I submit, however, Mr. Speaker, that all three criteria are fully satisfied by the case I wish to put to you.

First, the matter must be specific, and this one is specific, in my view. The Government's decision, although no firm statement has been made, was widely reported on television and in the Press during the weekend. If the news has come from a leak—and there is no official statement—then, like any significant radioactive leak, it has set all the geiger counters clicking from one end of NATO to the other.

There are three reasons for the importance of the matter. First, such a decision, whatever view one may take of its merits—and I take none—would affect the strategic disposition of Her Majesty's Forces in peace or war and the repercussions would be far-reaching.

Secondly, the decision would affect the whole balance of our economic interests in Africa, whatever view one takes of the relationship between our interests in Southern Africa and those in other parts of Africa, euphemistically described as "emancipated States". Thirdly, there is overwhelming evidence of a dramatic and continuing change in the dispositions of NATO and Soviet bloc naval forces in the Indian Ocean, and any British decision which affects that balance must be, as the Foreign Secretary himself admitted today, of the utmost importance.

I base my case for urgency on two arguments. The first is the widespread evidence that a vital decision either has been taken—and the right hon. Gentleman did not dispute this—or is about to be taken by Her Majesty's Government without Parliament having had any significant opportunity to consider its merits. If the decision has been taken, it is a national scandal, and the Government should be called to account immediately. If it is about to be taken, Parliament should be consulted at once and the Government should publish their criteria and evidence and he prepared to defend their judgment in the House. This is too important a matter to be swept under any procedural carpet or left to the tender mercies of 14 Questions on the Order Paper next Wednesday.

Secondly, the matter is urgent because the House was entitled to assume that no major policy decision would be taken ahead of the defence review. If that is not so, the House is entitled to assume or to conclude that other faits accomplish of even greater significance are about to be perpetrated, and the Government should be prepared to say at once exactly what they are.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd) was kind enough to give me notice of his intention. He wishes to seek an emergency debate on the reported cancellation of the Simonstown Agreement. I have listened to him carefully and had regard to the exchanges which took place earlier in the House. My decision in no way reflects upon the importance of this matter. I simply have to decide whether I should allow a debate either today or tomorrow on the matter under Standing Order No. 9. I am afraid that my answer must be "No". Other means must be found of discussing the matter.