HC Deb 18 June 1979 vol 968 cc917-20
Mr. Emery

(by private notice) asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement about the situation in Ghana and the decision of the British Government to recognise the new Ghanaian Administration.

The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Ian Gilmour)

According to our reports, the situation in Ghana is calm and the new Government are in control of the country. Elections are being held today for a civilian Government. We have watched developments in Ghana over the past two weeks closely. Once we were satisfied that our criteria for recognition had been met, recognition was accorded the new Administration.

Mr. Emery

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many British people who have been Friends of Ghana since its independence are shocked and aghast at the reports of lawlessness, brutality and executions that have taken place for the first time ever in Ghana? What further representations can he make, perhaps through the Commonwealth Secretariat, to try to ensure that people who are arrested by the Revolutionary Council can have normal human rights accorded to them, know the charges against them, and be given a proper means of defending themselves?

Secondly, if reports are correct—and sadly enough they were correct about the execution of General Acheampong and Lieutenant-General Utuka—that a kangaroo court has already sentenced to death General Akuffo, the immediate past Head of State, General Kotei, who is the retired head of the Army, and Colonel Felli who is the well-respected recent Foreign Minister, and that there are perhaps more than 50 others on the execution list, what action can Britain take to summon public opinion to stop this type of terror in a Commonwealth country?

Sir I. Gilmour

It is unfortunately true that General Acheampong and Lieutenant-General Utuka have been executed. They were executed after we had afforded recognition to the Government. At present we do not have full information about the trial procedure. If it was as my hon. Friend stated, we shall regret it very much. However, until we get fuller information I am reluctant to comment. If anything is taking place along the lines that my hon. Friend has suggested, we would make full representations, either through the Commonwealth Secretariat or some other means, to the Government of Ghana that the natural laws of justice should be applied.

Dame Judith Hart

Will the Lord Privy Seal accept that in the light of the very deep friendship with Ghana, which has been expressed comparatively recently in our assistance to its troubled economy, he should recognise in particular General Akuffo's courageous decisions, including his determination that the elections taking place today for a civilian Government should go ahead? Will he assure us, without giving details that might be embarrassing, that he is making every possible representation? Secondly, will he consider making an immediate approach to Flight-Lieutenant Rawlings to say that if he spares the lives of General Akuffo and others they could be admitted in thiscountry?

Sir I. Gilmour

I appreciate what the right hon. Lady says. Our first concern is to get the full facts. Secondly, we must see what we can do about the trials that are taking place. I shall certainly consider the right hon. Lady's suggestion seriously and immediately.

Mr. Ronald Bell

In the light of the prompt and exact application of the British rules for recognition of regimes, may we take it that my right hon. Friend will equally promptly and exactly apply those rules to Rhodesia, Taiwan, Transkei, Chile and a number of other countries?

Sir I. Gilmour

Ghana and Rhodesia are not comparable, because Rhodesia is not an independent State. Ghana is an independent State and, following a change of Administration, the normal criteria for recognition apply. In Rhodesia the question is one not of recognition but of restoring legality.

Mr. James Johnson

I accept what the Lord Privy Seal said in answer to the question about Her Majesty's Government being no longer the policeman of the world—still less of the Commonwealth. However, is he aware that there are many hon. Members like myself who have looked upon Ghana as being tolerant and an example to other African States where whites, blacks and different creeds and religions could live together? Many of us, who may have members of our families working in Ghana, are dismayed—even shocked—by what has happened. Even acknowledging the blatant corruption of the Acheampong regime in the past, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will convey to the Ghanaian Government the feelings expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart), who said that urgency is the essence of the matter.

Sir I. Gilmour

We deeply regret the lack of tolerance that has been shown. On any view, it is different from that which has been shown in the past. I accept entirely the hon. Gentleman's remarks and I understand his feelings, which are widespread in the House and in the country. I accept the urgency of the matter and I will act upon it.

Mr. Speaker

I shall call the two hon. Members who have risen to their feet in addition to the Opposition Front Bench spokesman.

Mr. Robert Taylor

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he will not discuss the future of Rhodesia Zimbabwe with Flight Lieutenant Rawlings?

Sir I. Gilmour

Yes, I give that assurance.

Mr. Aitken

Will my right hon. Friend give some thought to changing the criteria upon which we recognise countries? Is he aware that many in this country would support such a change if it made the Government less enthusiastic to recognise any regime—be it Iran or Ghana—that was conducting a wave of bloodthirsty and revengeful executions?

Sir I. Gilmour

My reaction this morning was much the same as that of my hon. Friend. Our criteria for recognition have placed us in considerable difficulties. However, the alternatives also have disadvantages. I am told that virtually all Governments since 1950 have looked at the matter and have not altered the criteria. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall re-examine the matter.

Mr. Shore

In view of what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) and other Members, may I also press the right hon. Gentleman to make urgent representations to the Government of Ghana? It appears that a number of political leaders are under threat. Will the right hon. Gentleman convey to the Government that to many in this country the mix of secret trials and public executions is peculiarly odious?

Sir I. Gilmour

I wholly agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Secret trials and public executions are peculiarly odious. If the facts are as we believe them to be, I will make those urgent representations. I undertake to do so.