HL Deb 02 December 1987 vol 490 cc1057-9
Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords—

Noble Lords


Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, this is not the same Question. I want to appeal to the House to support me in protesting against the refusal of the Leader of the House to accept a Private Notice Question of which I gave him notice last night. The test of the right of a Private Notice Question is urgency. My Question relates to the lives of five men and one woman in South Africa known as the Sharpeville Six, whose appeal for clemency against the death sentence was rejected yesterday. I suggest that it is a bona fide matter of urgency. Surely, the lives of men and women are more urgent than anything else.

I draw the attention of the House to the statement made by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in another place on 18th November. Talking about another case, Mrs. Lynda Chalker said: Frankly, if we expend credit in making appeals to the South African Government about cases that are clearly criminal cases we shall devalue our representations and risk the consequences that the South African Government will take less notice of the appeals for clemency which we always make in cases of political character, such as that of the Sharpeville six".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/87; col. 1060.] There could not be a clearer statement by the Government that they regard the trial of the Sharpeville Six as a trial of people who have committed political acts.

We are meeting today under the shadow of the execution of five men and one woman. Let me draw the House's attention to the fact that an official government report placed in the South African Parliament stated: The 'incomprehensible lack of sensitivity and communication' shown by the authorities created a crisis that could have been avoided". That is a description of a crisis within which the act that the six were accused of took place.

In short, the Question that I put to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House was as to whether Her Majesty's Government would make immediate representations for clemency to the South African Government and raise the issue urgently with the Security Council. I believe that the Government will do so—

Noble Lords


Lord Hatch of Lusby

I simply want to give the Leader of the House the opportunity of stating that the Government intend to take action. I do not ask him for any specifics. I believe the Government will take action, but I ask him to assure the House that the Government are going to take the most productive action. If he will assure the House of that, that is the purpose of my Question.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having given notice to my office that he seeks to question my ruling on his Private Notice Question. As the House knows, I have the very difficult duty placed upon me by the House of deciding whether a Private Notice Question on any particular subject fulfils the criteria which enable me, in the interests of the House, to give it priority.

I have given much thought to this Private Notice Question. I do not in any way seek to be involved in the matter concerned in giving an answer because that would not be within my position. My position is simply to decide whether a Private Notice Question fulfils the criteria which are set out perfectly clearly and to judge it on behalf of the House.

I have made that consideration. I have decided for better or worse that the noble Lord's Question does not fall within those criteria. I trust that I am right but, as always, it is a matter for the House. I have done what I believe to be my duty as Leader of your Lordships' House. I have come to the conclusion that the Private Notice Question should not be allowed.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that while it is entirely appropriate and in order for the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, to question him as to the rightness or otherwise of his decision, it offends against the procedures of the House when a noble Lord makes a statement both in advance of and following his Question.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I do not wish to exacerbate the position any further. I have done my best in difficult and, I accept, emotional circumstances to come to the decision which I feel the House expects of me. I have done so, and I hope the House will feel that it is better for me not to comment further.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

I am obliged to the noble Viscount for the statement he has made. I entirely accept that he has performed his duty in making his decision. Nevertheless, I feel sure—although I understand that he is unable to say anything about the matter—that Her Majesty's Government will do their best in the circumstances of the case under consideration.