HC Deb 13 February 1979 vol 962 cc971-3
Mr. Ronald Bell

After that circular operation, Mr. Speaker, I desire to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a definite and important matter which ought to have urgent consideration, namely, the shooting down of a Viscount airliner near Kariba in Rhodesia yesterday evening. It is indeed important that Standing Order No. 9 should not be devalued. I think that this is a most suitable occasion for invoking it. I should point out to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) that on the only two subjects on which in the past I have sought to use Standing Order No. 9 I have succeeded.

I do not think that I need to say anything about the definite nature or importance of the episode to which I draw attention. The question of its urgency alone arises.

Last September a similar incident occurred. A civil airliner was shot down in almost exactly the same position—again by Russian missiles—with the loss of 48 civilian lives. That happened in the middle of the Summer Recess. In consequence, it was not raised in Parliament and no reference to it is to be found in Hansard. If it had been raised in the House we might not be in this situation today, because the voice of this House is heard in Africa and its views are taken into account.

Since that incident in September, British arms have been pouring into Zambia for the express and expressed purpose of guarding against retaliatory raids the bases where we know the terrorists live and train and from which undoubtedly both attacks came.

I claim that, while the victims of this latest atrocity are still unburied, we are entitled to know where the Foreign Office stands in this matter, in terms of the future. Last September no word of condemnation was uttered by a Foreign Office Minister about the role of the Patriotic Front in that episode. There was no room for doubt, because Nkomo claimed responsibility for it.

Mr. Jessel

He has done it again.

Mr. Bell

I believe that he may well have done it again. On that occasion he undoubtedly did. There followed what has been well called a deafening silence from the British Government and from this House—not a word.

On this second occasion, last night, the attack was again launched from Zambia—a neighbouring territory, which is a member of the Commonwealth—with weapons supplied by Russia. Again, there was not a word of condemnation by the Minister of State this afternoon. Nor, on past form, can one expect any condemnation of the Patriotic Front leaders.

I seek to move the Adjournment of the House under the provisions of Standing Order No. 9, which is the recourse of the private Member who wishes to call the Executive to immediate account and, indeed, the only recourse open to a private Member for that purpose. I ask that the Foreign Secretary should tell the House in the immediate future whether he is yet sickened by the fruits of his own policy of collaboration with the Patriotic Front, or whether the Foreign Office must still be glutted with more English blood and how much, and whether—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman must not now make the speech that he would make if the application were granted. I always allow a certain amount of latitude, but the hon. and learned Gentleman has reached the end of it.

Mr. Bell

I felt, Mr. Speaker, that on a subject of this kind it was my duty to go fairly near to the end of your latitude. My purpose is to show why this matter is not only definite and important but urgent. It is essential that the House should pronounce on this matter at the earliest possible moment.

We live in extremely troubled times, when you, Mr. Speaker, in recent weeks have considered 37 applications under Standing Order No. 9, all matters dealing with our domestic affairs. If this matter is not given the attention of Parliament in the immediate future, it will undoubtedly be brushed aside by further crises in our internal affairs.

I therefore ask you, Mr. Speaker, on this occasion to exercise your discretion under the Standing Order in my favour.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) seeks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely, the shooting down of a Viscount airliner near Kariba in Rhodesia yesterday evening. I listened, as did the House, with anxious concern to the hon. and learned Gentleman's application. The House is aware that I have a limited choice in this matter and can decide only whether the matter should be debated tonight or tomorrow. I regret to have to inform the hon. and learned Gentleman that his submission does not fall within the submission of the Standing Order and therefore I cannot submit his application to the House.