Thailand and Laos

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th May 1962.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Ashfield 12:00 am, 17th May 1962

I beg to ask leave, Mr. Speaker, to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance namely, the decision of Her Majesty's Government to send British military forces to Thailand if and when a request is received for such forces, in conflict with their obligations under the United Nations Charter. I urge, first, that this matter is definite because nothing is more definite than a decision to commit British troops to foreign soil. The Prime Minister has made it perfectly clear that the decision in principle has already been taken and that all that is awaited is a formal request from Thailand; and that if and when that request comes the troops will automatically go.

Secondly, this is a matter of urgency. The matter has been flung upon the House and the country at the shortest possible notice. The Government's decision is likely to be carried out within the next day or two—perhaps within the next twelve hours—and I hope that it will not be suggested that this is a matter which can be left until next week's debate on foreign affairs, because in the meantime the decision will have been implemented. If the House is to be in a position to take any action whatever on the matter, it must do so today. This is the last opportunity that we shall have to prevent the Government from implementing a decision which may result, eventually, in a disaster for the people of this country and the world.

That brings me to the final point, public importance. I should have thought that it was clear that the prospect of the engagement of military forces—and, after all, military forces are not used for peaceful means—in an area such as South-East Asia, which is already a powder keg which might be set alight at any moment, is one of the utmost public importance to the people of this country and of the world.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

The hon. Member was good enough to give me warning, so that I have a fair copy of the writing of his application now to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the decision of Her Majesty's Government to send British military forces to Thailand in conflict with their obligations under the United Nations Charter. I do not think that I can, consistently with precedent, leave that to the House. Perhaps I can explain this. The gloss, as it were, or comment, as it were, which adds "in conflict with their obligations under the United Nations Charter," I would have, in common sense, to treat as a matter of dispute. As regards the rest, the decision having been arrived at, the House will have a full opportunity of discussing this matter on Thursday next on the debate on the Adjournment. In those circumstances, I do not think that this comes within Standing Order No. 9.

Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Ashfield

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, may I say, first, that I had inserted some words which were not in your fair copy?

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

May I be allowed to amend that. I am sorry that my confidence was a little too exuberant. I should have read as the matter, namely, the decision of Her Majesty's Government to send British military forces to Thailand"— I have some difficulty reading the hon. Member's writing— if and when a request is received for such forces,"— and the remainder of it goes on as before— in conflict with their obligations under the United Nations Charter. It does not affect the view I expressed.

Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Ashfield

That correction is rather important, Sir, because it makes the position clear. I would have thought that there is an argument with regard to urgency, namely, that although a decision in principle has been taken the decision has not yet been implemented. It would, in fact, be possible for the House, by having a debate on the matter and a vote censuring and defeating the Government, to stop the implementation of the decision.

But if we wait to do that, or to seek to do it, until next Thursday, it will be too late to do so, because it is almost inevitable, in the circumstances of the case as known to the House, that the request will be received and acted upon well before next Thursday. Therefore, I must say that I do not understand how this Standing Order No. 9, under which we have the privilege to raise matters on the Adjournment, can have any significance unless it can have a practical effect. A practical effect would surely be to censure the action of the Government and, if possible, to make them alter that action. We can only do that, I submit, if we discuss this matter today. But we certainly cannot do it if we leave that discussion to next Thursday.

On the point about the United Nations, I would only say that Article 51 of the Charter lays down quite specifically that individual or collective selfdefence can be undertaken if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations. In this case—and the case is, after all, that of Thailand—there is no doubt whatever that no armed attack has taken place against Thailand.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

The hon. Member must not be allowed to argue that point. It is quite obvious really that it is, from my point of view, in the discharge of my duty, a disputed proposition, or one that is in dispute, and I must so regard it.

The House will understand my difficulty. I cannot, in ruling on these matters, on abundant precedent, take into account a whole lot of situations and dangers which really are hypothetical in character, so far as I am concerned, at this stage. I am faced with a decision taken by Her Majesty's Government for which they can be reprimanded, should the House desire to do so, next Thursday. I cannot regard that as sufficiently urgent.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

I submit, with respect, that a part of your Ruling is based on a misconception. There is all the difference in the world between a debate on the Adjournment in the ordinary way and a debate under Standing Order No. 9, in that under Standing Order No. 9 the debate has to be on a definite matter. The reason why it must be on a definite matter is so that the House may give instructions on that definite matter if it wishes to the Government.

Next Thursday, there will be no such opportunity. It is true that there could be a vote at the end of the day, but nobody would know on what specific matter, or any specific matter, the vote would be apparent. It would not serve the purpose which is intended to be served by Standing Order No. 9 if the circumstances are suitable to be taken under that Standing Order.

I am submitting, therefore, that if the other circumstances would justify your allowing the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey) today, there is nothing in our debate next Thursday which would militate against that Ruling. The fact that next Thursday's debate is not necessarily one concerning foreign affairs, let alone about this specific matter, would seem to indicate, as the hon. Member for Ashfield said, that unless we have this opportunity today we shall never have it.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

I appreciate the force of what the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) says, but I do not think that I am allowed to follow that under Standing Order No. 9. The test seems to be how early will the House have an opportunity of discussing the matter in question. There will be plenty of opportunity on Thursday. I cannot help thinking, with respect to the vast experience of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, that if he succeeded in defeating the Government on a vote at the end of Thursday's debate, that it would have some marked effect in this field.

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

The object of Standing Order No. 9, as I understand it—and I have attempted to use it before—is the right to arrest a definite decision of the Executive. That is to say, hon. Members, or one who does not agree with an action which is proposed by the Executive, attempts, with other hon. Members—if they rise in their places later—to stop or vary the action that is proposed by the Government by debate and vote.

I recall a previous experience when, regarding Cyprus—and you may remember this, Sir—was anxious to arrest an action of the Executive. It was their proposal that British forces should take up action against Eoka at a particular, inappropriate time. I wished to arrest and stop such Government action. Today is another occasion when there is a specific case—Thailand—and a specific commitment of British troops to a particular area. If Standing Order No. 9 is to be of help to any of us who wish to arrest Government action, and if this Motion is not accepted, it is imperative to consider whether the Standing Order is not in grave jeopardy.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

Perhaps I might persuade the hon. Member to look at this in another way. Part of his quarrel is with an engagement entered into a long time ago, I cannot remember when. The Prime Minister is saying that if one of the S.E.A.T.O. allies asks for so-and-so it is entitled to have it. Hon. Members cannot, in every exercise of what I might call a treaty obligation, without committing myself to any argument about it, make use of Standing Order No. 9 to complain about the fulfilment of the obligation undertaken before.

The next matter which I think it is wise to remember is that this is a Parliament—a deliberative place—and is not an executive body like a local government body. What we do is to keep Ministers, as I understand it, on a string. We confer on them executive discretion to do things and we deal with them in our own particular way if they do a wrong in our view. But this is, in effect, a decision already taken, as they say, pursuant to some obligation which will arise when a request is received, the obligation being much previous in date. I hope that I have explained how one's mind works in these things.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

Referring to one reply you made, Mr. Speaker, in which you said that it is partly a complaint against the original treaty or obligation which the Government may have entered into, surely, as the Government have made clear, what they are exercising is their discretion. They are not bound to respond to a request from Thailand if they get one. They can decide whether or not to accept it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey) is protesting that he thinks that the Government have exercised their discretion wrongly. Surely that is a definite matter and does not raise the question of whether the original obligation should have been entered into. From the exchanges that have taken place it would appear that we are in grave difficulties about Standing Order No. 9. If it is not to be applied in this case, and if it is to be left till next week, the action will have been taken, and, therefore, the House will have been denied the right of arresting the action at the only time we could. This is, surely, the precise occasion when Standing Order No. 9 should be used. If it is not to be used in these circumstances it is difficult to consider any other circumstances in which it could be used.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

The hon. Member is very persuasive. What will happen between now and next Thursday is for me a matter purely in the world of hypothesis. I cannot tell. The fact that the specific request which apparently starts this fulfilment of a decision already made has not yet arrived seems to me to make the matter even less urgent. I am not blackmailing myself about whom I shall be able to see on the day, but the hon. Member may be able to discuss the matter on Thursday.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

Do I understand from your Ruling now, Mr. Speaker, that if, in the next two or three days, the Government actually physically respond to the request from Thailand and send troops, then it would be open for an hon. Member, and likely to have your favour, to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, so that there could be specific discussion of that fact and a specific vote on it?

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

Before you rule on that, Mr. Speaker, may I ask whether we would not be in a greater difficulty than ever if we waited for the request to be made and waited further for the Government to comply with it, so that the troops had already gone? Would we not face the danger that if we asked for the opportunity to move a similar Motion in those circumstances you might feel yourself bound to rule that there was no urgency in that the act which we wished to prevent had already been carried out? That would make the position more difficult than ever.

As to its being hypothetical, the Prime Minister has indicated precisely what he would do on a certain hypothesis. His statement was hypothetical to that extent. But what he has done quite definitely is to say that, if the hypothesis should be satisfied, he will then comply with the request, although he would have no obligation to do so, although it is an administrative, discretionary matter which the House can control. If that is so, and if it is established that by waiting longer we would lose the opportunity of ever restraining the Government from doing it, is it not quite clear that the opportunity is now, here, today, or not at all?

Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Ashfield

May I recall to your mind, Mr. Speaker, the fact that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) asked the Prime Minister whether he would make a statement to the House before taking a definite decision to commit British forces to Thailand, the Prime Minister's reply was that the decision had already been taken? He then went on to say that the troops will be sent when we receive a request. Therefore, all that is in doubt, as it were, at the moment is the question of the making of the request.

There appears to be little doubt that such a request will in fact be made. There may be an element of hypothesis about that, but we can be certain that if there is to be any opportunity of hon. Members intervening between the decision of the Executive and the implementation of that decision, then we have to do so today and that it is useless to say that we can wait until next Thursday.

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

May I refresh your mind, Mr. Speaker, about what the Prime Minister said? He pointed out that the S.E.A.T.O. conference was already in progress at this moment and, judging by the statements which are being made, or have been or are about to be made, by the Prime Ministers of New Zealand and Australia, it occurs to me that what the Prime Minister was indicating was that an invitation would be arriving from S.E.A.T.O. in a fairly short time. I suggest that that time will be before next Thursday.

The Prime Minister has already indicated to the House what action the Executive propose to take if that invitation arrives. If the House is to exercise its duties—and, personally, I am not quite sure, from what we have already discussed, whether this decision is wise—and if hon. Members wish to exercise a restraining influence on the Executive, then the opportunity under Standing Order No. 9 must be the way and now the only time we can possibly stop the Executive from taking action with which we fundamentally disagree. For back benchers, is this not a fundamental point of principle for the House of Commons?

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Govan

In your first reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey), Mr. Speaker, you said that we would have an opportunity next Thursday fully to discuss this matter. From exchanges across the Floor of the House it is clear that we are already committed to discussing Berlin and disarmament. If those commissions are to be carried out next Thursday, it will be quite impossible fully to discuss the situation in Laos and Thailand. Perhaps you will take that aspect into consideration when you are being pressed on this request to debate Laos today.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

The Prime Minister has told us not merely that consent will be given, but which arm of the Services will be used; that he has had conversations with the Australians and New Zealanders, and we know that another ally of ours has already, as I understand, landed troops in Thailand. Therefore, it is quite clear that Her Majesty's Government have made very detailed arrangements, in consultation with others, about what they will do if they receive this request.

Tomorrow is a day on which we are always subject to some difficulties, even about keeping a quorum at some stages of the day. After that, we shall not meet again until Monday. In view of the conversations which have already taken place and the preparations which, we are told, have been made, and the knowledge that S.E.A.T.O. is meeting while we are having these exchanges here, if Standing Order No. 9 does not apply to the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey), except perhaps for the last few words, which I would have thought not essential to the Motion, it is difficult to imagine to what it could apply, especially after what was said in the last Report of the Select Committee on Procedure about the more compliant attitude which, in future, would be adopted towards these applications.

I am very much like the hon. Member for the Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates), and I hope that he will not feel offended because I say so. I am not clear yet what the right course is. We have not had a sufficient indication from the Government about the motives which are actuating them, or about the other suggestions which might be made to them. But this is quite clear to me: if these troops once move, this House, in conjunction with Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America, can take only one action after the Prime Minister's statement today. That seems to be so terrific a situation, in the present state of the world, that the House practically loses all its powers over these things if, in the circumstances which confront us at the moment, my hon. Friend's Motion cannot be moved.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

I shall leave this to the House. Does the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey) have the leave of the House?

The pleasure of the House not having been signified, Mr. SPEAKER called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and less than 40, but more than 10, Members having accordingly risen

Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Ashfield

I claim a Division, under Standing Order No. 9, Mr. Speaker.

Question put, That leave be given to move, "That this House do now adjourn":—

The House divided:—Ayes 36, Noes 173.

Division No. 192.]AYES[4.22 p.m.
Brockway, A. FennerLipton, MarcusSilverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Castle, Mrs. BarbaraLoughlin, CharlesSmith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Davies, Harold (Leek)Lubbock, EricStross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)
Ede, Rt. Hon. C.Mackie, John (Enfield, East)Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston)MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles)Thorpe, Jeremy
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)Mendelson, J. J.Wainwright, Edwin
Grimond, Rt. Hon. J.Oram, A. E.Warbey, William
Hart, Mrs. JudithParkin, B. T.Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Hill, J. (Midlothian)Pavitt, LaurenceYates, William (The Wrekin)
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)Probert, ArthurZilliacus, K.
Kenyon, CliffordRankin, John
Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)Silverman, Julius (Aston)Mr. Swingler and Mr. Monslow
NOES
Agnew, Sir PeterGardner, EdwardNicholson, Sir Godfrey
Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard
Barlow, Sir JohnGower, RaymondPage, Graham (Crosby)
Batsford, BrianGreen, AlanPage, John (Harrow, West)
Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)Gresham Cooke, R.Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)
Beamish, Col. Sir TuftonHall, John (Wycombe)Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)Price, H. A. (Lewisham, W.)
Biffen, JohnHarris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)Proudfoot, Wilfred
Biggs-Davison, JohnHarvie Anderson, MissPym, Francis
Bishop, F. P.Hastings, StephenQuennell, Miss J. M.
Bossom, CliveHayman, F. H.Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Bourne-Arton, A.Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir LionelRees, Hugh
Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics. S. W.)Heath, Rt. Hon. EdwardRidsdale, Julian
Box, DonaldHiley, JosephRippon, Geoffrey
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J.Hill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)Robinson, Rt. Hn. Sir R. (B'pool, S.)
Boyden, JamesHill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)Robson Brown, Sir William
Braine, BernardHill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Brown, Alan (Tottenham)Hinchingbrooke, ViscountSharples, Richard
Browne, Percy (Torrington)Hirst, GeoffreyShaw, M.
Bryan, PaulHolland, PhilipSkeet, T. H. H.
Buck, AntonyHopkins, AlanSlater, Joseph (Sedgefield)
Bullard, DenysHornby, R. P.Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)
Carr, Robert (Mitcham)Howard, John (Southampton, Test)Spearman, Sir Alexander
Cary, Sir RobertHughes Hailett, Vice-Admiral JohnStanley, Hon. Richard
Channon, H. P. G.Hughes-Young, MichaelStevens, Geoffrey
Chataway, ChristopherHulbert, Sir NormanStodart, J. A.
Chichester-Clark, R.Hutchison, Michael ClarkStorey, Sir Samuel
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Sir WinstonJames, DavidStudholme, Sir Henry
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)Summers, Sir Spencer
Cleaver, LeonardJennings, J. C.Tapsell, Peter
Cole, NormanJohnson, Eric (Blackley)Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.Johnson Smith, GeoffreyTaylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)
Cordle, JohnKaberry, Sir DonaldTeeling, Sir William
Corfield, F. V.Kerans, Cdr. J. S.Temple, John M.
Costain, A. P.Kerr, Sir HamiltonThomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Coulson, MichaelLagden, GodfreyThomas, Peter (Conway)
Courtney, Cdr. AnthonyLambton, ViscountThompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Craddock, Sir BeresfordLeburn, GilmourThornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin
Critchley, JulianLegge-Bourke, Sir HarryTilney, John (Wavertree)
Cunningham, KnoxLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon
Curran, CharlesLindsay, Sir MartinTurner, Colin
Dance, JamesLitchfield, Capt. Johnvan Straubenzee, W. R.
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir HenryLloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Doughty, CharlesLongden, GilbertWalder, David
du Cann, EdwardLucas-Tooth, Sir HughWalker, Peter
Duncan, Sir JamesMcLaren, MartinWard, Dame Irene
Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir DavidMaclay, Rt. Hon. JohnWebster, David
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Bute & N. Ayrs.)Wells, John (Maidstone)
Elliott, R. W. (Nwcastle-upon-Tyne, N.)Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)Williams, Dudley (Exeter)
Emery, PeterMcMaster, Stanley R.Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. EvelynMacmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Errington, Sir EricMaddan, MartinWilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Farey-Jones, F. W.Marten, NeilWise, A. R.
Finlay, GraemeMatthews, Gordon (Meriden)Woollam, John
Fisher, NigelMawby, RayWorsley, Marcus
Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Freeth, DenzilMaydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. HughMontgomery, FergusMr. Michael Noble and
Gammans, LadyMore, Jasper (Ludlow)Mr. Gordon Campbell.