§ Mr. Ronald Bell
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 refusal of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, expressed 564 today, to make immediate representations to the Government of Botswana for the return to their parents of the 400 schoolchildren who were abducted on Monday from South-West Rhodesia, being children for whom Parliament has asserted direct responsibility by the Southern Rhodesia Act 1965".That this is a specific matter hardly needs argument. There was an armed raid on the school and the children were removed and marched over the frontier into a neighbouring country. It is, therefore, plainly specific. The importance of the matter is also fairly clear, because the removal of 400 children—who are British subjects and, by statute, citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies—into a neighbouring country by armed force against the will of their parents is plainly an important matter.
The question that remains is whether it is urgent enough to justify the use of Standing Order No. 9. I venture to think that there would be no doubt about the urgency of this matter if the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs had said in blank terms that he would make no representations to the Government of Botswana, but he qualified his refusal by saying that he would not do so because he had received two conflicting versions of the facts and he wanted to ascertain which was true.
The first conflicting version of the facts is that which is familiar to us about the abduction of the children at gunpoint and their being marched across the border. The second, from the Government of Botswana, as reported in the Press this morning, is that the children are there in a voluntary capacity and therefore the Government of Botswana do not intend to take any action.
The Secretary of State's statement this afternoon implies inevitably that if he comes to believe that the children in Botswana, in these circumstances, express the view that they are there voluntarily—one has to remember the circumstances in which they were taken and are at present kept—he intends to make no representations to the Government of Botswana. That ignores completely the rights of the parents, who are British subjects and citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies.
The indisputable fact—which has nothing to do with the versions reaching the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs—is that the parents of the 400 children feel that their children 565 have been forcibly abducted away from their custody into a neighbouring country, over a political frontier, that the Government of that country said yesterday that they would not return them, and that the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has said, in effect, though not explicitly, that if he comes to believe that the children say that they are there voluntarily he will do nothing about it.
It is in those circumstances that I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that the matter is not only specific and important but urgent, within the meaning of the Standing Order. This is reinforced by imagining the feelings of those parents at this time, imagining what anguish they must have to put with and will have to continue to put up with if no action is taken.
There is an element of urgency which nobody can deny, and accordingly, Mr. Speaker, I ask your leave to make use of the Standing Order to bring the matter to the immediate attention of the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and learned Gentleman gave me notice this morning that he would raise this matter. I beg hon. Members' pardon. I am wrong. This matter arises out of the business this afternoon. The hon. and learned Gentleman had made approaches about another question, the details of which the House will understand I cannot go into.
566 The hon. and learned 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 refusal of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to make immediate representations to the Government of Botswana for the return to their parents of 400 schoolchildren who were abducted on Monday from South-West Rhodesia, being children for whom Parliament has asserted direct responsibility by the Southern Rhodesia Act 1965".I have given very serious consideration to what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, and I have borne in mind that we may well be faced with a repeated number of incidents in that part of the world. The decision I reach today must in no sense be taken as a precedent in regard to incidents in that part of the world. I am ruling on this incident alone, where the 400 children have disappeared.
I am satisfied that the matter raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 9. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman have the leave of the House?
§ The leave of the House having been given—
§ Mr. Speaker
The motion for the Adjournment of the House will now stand over until the commencement of public business tomorrow.