HL Deb 16 July 1964 vol 260 cc379-83

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I will, if I may, repeat a Statement which is being made in another place by the Prime Minister on the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. These are his own words:

"Honourable Members will no doubt already have seen the final communiqué issued last night at the end of this meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers but I think it will be for the convenience of the House if, with permission, I circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

"Honourable Members will wish to study the text in detail but it may be helpful at this stage if I make a few comments on this meeting.

"I would like to say first that in the opinion of those who took part in it, the meeting was judged a success. For all those who have the interests of the Commonwealth at heart this was a most encouraging meeting. I think all my colleagues in the Commonwealth would agree that we expressed our real views freely and frankly to each other; and out of it came a degree of understanding which is remarkable when one considers the diversity of the interests and peoples and cultures represented round the table.

"It is because the Commonwealth is a community of many different races that the statement at the outset of our communiqué about our relations is of such importance.

"In our review of international affairs we welcomed the gradual relaxation of tension which is of benefit to the unaligned countries as much as it is to those who are members of military alliances. But as old problems are resolved new ones take their place. So we had to consider the problem of Malaysia and all of us assured the Prime Minister of Malaysia of our sympathy and support in his efforts to preserve the sovereign independence and integrity of his country and to promote a peaceful and honourable settlement of current differences between Malaysia and neighbouring countries.

"While we maintained the convention that we do not discuss among ourselves the substance of differences between members of the Commonwealth we felt that we should note with satisfaction the friendly public statements which have been made by the President of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of India; and we expressed our hope that the problems between their countries will be solved in the same friendly spirit. The House will understand, I am sure, that despite the interest which all of us have in this problem it would be wrong for me to go beyond the words of the communiqué.

"The House will expect me to say something about Southern Rhodesia. The first point to which I would like to draw attention is that the Commonwealth Prime Ministers saw this question in the context of the continuing progress of British Colonial dependencies towards independence within the Commonwealth. The communiqué deals in some detail with this question and I will not attempt to summarise it beyond saying that it recognises two essential facts. First, that responsibility for decisions on the progress of Southern Rhodesia towards independence rests with the British Government. Secondly, that as the history of the progressive move towards independence within the Commonwealth illustrates, there are certain basic prerequisites on which all of us agree before a territory moves towards full independence.

"I have said that the problem of Southern Rhodesia is our responsibility and that all the Prime Ministers recognise that it is. On this basis, I promised to give full consideration to all the views that they expressed because the final resolution of this problem must affect all of us and all of us will benefit when it is solved.

"I have kept to the order of the communiqué but in many ways the most important part lies in the economic section and the proposals for increased Commonwealth co-operation in many fields.

"Honourable Members will find these listed in the communiqué and I hope they will feel that they are all desirable in themselves and mark a collective will to increase our co-operation and contacts. In the long term the strengthening of the Commonwealth depends on such things as development projects, administrative training, educational assistance, the pooling of medical knowledge, and increased contacts between the professions, and here I would mention the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and other initiatives of this kind which are of real and direct benefit to the ordinary people in every Commonwealth country. The proposal for a Commonwealth Secretariat is also significant. It is a symbol of the desire of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers to maintain a continuing expression of the spirit of the Commonwealth and to continue to strengthen our association for the work we shall do together in the years ahead."

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, I am greatly obliged to the Leader of the House for giving us the statement by the Prime Minister, which was in answer to a Parliamentary Question in the other House. We do not debate these things when they have been issued by this great body of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. Perhaps the noble Lord would permit me to remark that if the members of the Conference consider that it has been a success, then it is an achievement. Secondly, I greatly welcome the assurances given of general Commonwealth support for Malaysia in her difficulties; and I like the kind references that were made in relation to the matters lying between India and Pakistan. The other essential thing I note is that the British Government have made it quite clear, and it has obviously been accepted, that the question of the independence of Southern Rhodesia is a matter for the British Government. I am happy about the economic references, and I hope the Government will always remember them.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord for repeating this statement here to-day. I should like to congratulate our Prime Minister on the skill and patience which he has shown in bringing to a conclusion this most successful Conference. I have personally been in touch with some of the members of it and I feel certain the Prime Minister's efforts have played a great part in the success which has been achieved. Secondly, I should like to thank Mr. Sandys and the officials of the Commonwealth Relations Office for the hard work that they have put in during the Conference. This is not the time, as the noble Earl has said, to debate this Statement. We shall have an opportunity of discussing it in broad terms on the 29th of this month, when the noble Lord has a Motion before the House. I should like to ask one question. Is not the success of this Conference proof that those who have talked about the Commonwealth being a farce and a thing of the past have been talking nonsense, and that there is not one iota of truth in what they have said?


My Lords, I am greatly obliged to the noble Earl, the Leader of the Opposition, and to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for what they have said. In particular, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for the tribute he paid to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, which I know is endorsed by everybody in all quarters of the House. He did, I know, a magnificent job at this Conference. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord that the Conference has shown once again the strength and purpose of the Commonwealth.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he would include in the Hansard report of our proceedings this afternoon the text of the communiqué? It is probably the longest communiqué that has ever been issued after a Conference, and many of us, I am sure, would like the chance to study it in greater detail.


Yes, my Lords, I will do that.

Following is the communiqué referred to: