Rhodesia (Executions)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th March 1968.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Croydon South 12:00 am, 11th March 1968

(by Private Notice)asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest hangings carried out by the illegal régime in Rhodesia.

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

As the House knows, two more men were hanged in Salisbury this morning. I understand that the fate of four whom it was intended to hang today has not yet been decided by the régime, and that in nine cases out of more than 100 who are under sentence of death the regime has decided not to proceed to execution. Nothing that I could say would add to the abhorrence which we must all feel at the further demonstration provided by this morning's hangings of the illegal régime's disregard of the rule of law. As I told the House on 6th March, Her Majesty's Government are considering what measures should now be taken. A further statement will be made on this matter as soon as possible. I am sure that the House will agree that in present circumstances there can be no question of resuming contacts with the illegal régime?

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Croydon South

Is the Commonwealth Secretary aware of the continued anger at the actions of this blood-stained and illegal regime in hanging these men despite worldwide protests? Are these to be the continuing features of the Rhodesian way of life? Could we know what tougher action is to be taken by the Government, with mandatory sanctions if necessary, to bring down this régime?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I have undertaken to make a statement to the House as soon as possible, and I shall certainly do so.

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet

Of course, very great emotions have been aroused in this matter, but will the right hon. Gentleman agree that until the further statement to be made by the Government is debated it would be wrong to do or to say anything which would impede our long-term objectives and, to get the facts straight, will he make absolutely clear the nature of the crimes for which these men were convicted?

Hon. Members:

And how long ago?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

In answer to the final question by the right hon. Gentleman, the two men hanged this morning were convicted of murder on 10th October, 1964—murder of a sub-chief. I think the right hon. Gentleman has taken the point, as the House has taken the point, that everyone in all parts of this House abhors these particular killings as killings, but the question that has affronted the House is, of course, the fact that these men were under sentence of death for periods considerably longer than two years and that in the last resort they were refused the right of leave to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth West

Will my right hon. Friend agree that ultimate responsibility for everything which happens in Salisbury rests in this House and that therefore we must discuss at the earliest possible opportunity how we can make measures effective, which so far have not been effective, in dealing with the illegal régime?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I understand the strong feelings in all parts of the House about this, and I have undertaken to make a considered statement as soon as possible. I think that the House, in the light of that statement, will want to decide whether it wants to take further action.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that most hon. and right hon. Members agree that in this difficult matter he has acted with great dignity and restraint? Could he tell us when it will be possible for his statement to be made, and will he accept that hon. Members in all parts of the House would like it to be made in a matter of days?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

Yes, I accept that and I am as anxious as any hon. or right hon. Member to see this statement made, but there are a number of things which have to be taken into account, including the situation at the United Nations, but I will make it as soon as I can.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

Will my right hon. Friend agree that what is happening in Rhodesia now and what may happen in the foreseeable future transcends the dispute between our Government and the régime in Rhodesia? In the circumstances, could we not try a rather different initiative by asking the United Nations to pronounce on this matter in the name of humanity?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

The Human Rights Commission at the United Nations has already expressed its condemnation of the illegal hangings in Salisbury. I think the matter is likely to come before the Security Council of the United Nations before very much time has passed.

Photo of Mr Derek Walker-Smith Mr Derek Walker-Smith , Hertfordshire East

In regard to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), does the Secretary of State appreciate that it is inconsistent with the claim to sovereignty to place the matter within the jurisdiction of the Security Council? Secondly, will he now consider the preparation and publication of a White Paper so that the House, before debating this matter, can be in possession of the full factual information and background?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I should like to consider whether it would be more for the convenience of the House to have a White Paper or simply a statement from me which could be subsequently considered. The first point raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman I do not accept at all. He knows perfectly well that this has been argued out a great deal ever since the illegal declaration of independence. Our legal responsibility in respect of Rhodesia is not in dispute, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, but this is also, of course, an international problem, an international problem which has been made more acute and more provocative by the actions taken by the illegal régime during the past fortnight.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Reading

While we are waiting for the statement, does not my right hon. Friend realise that this Smith creature will go on with illegal killings week by week? What we want to know from my right hon. Friend is what action we can take now.

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I appreciate my hon. Friend's deep sense of feeling. If he has any suggestions—

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

—I would be happy to consider them with others we are considering, but I think the House would agree that in a matter of this gravity it is important to consider these matters, certainly as seriously as possible, but also as timely as possible before coming to conclusions.

Photo of Sir Knox Cunningham Sir Knox Cunningham , South Antrim

Are we to understand that the right hon. Gentleman recognises and approves the mercy which has been shown to those Africans who have been reprieved?

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Smethwick

You whited sepulchre. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I hope the hon. and learned Member will seriously consider the implication of the words he has just used. I do not know whether he was purporting to accept from the Opposition side of the House that the man who has usurped the functions of the Crown in Rhodesia has the right to exercise the prerogative of mercy. If so, I ask him to consider the implication of what he has said very seriously. The words I used in my main Answer this afternoon were very carefully chosen—the illegal "régime has decided not to proceed to execution" in certain other cases.

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We on this side of the House distinctly heard the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds)—

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Smethwick

I distinctly said it.

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

—bawl across the House both a blasphemous and a disorderly statement. The words were, "You whited sepulchre"—blasphemous and disorderly. Would you, as it was addressed to you, Mr. Speaker, cause this to be withdrawn?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I think that the last thing that Mr. Speaker would want to rule on is as to what is blasphemous. I did not understand the highly metaphorical and emotional expression of the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) as being a reflection on the Chair, but I would hope that the hon. Member for Smethwick would allow other people to express opinions when he also claims the same right for himself.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Smethwick

Further to that point of order, Sir. That biblical expression was, of course, not directed at you. In a moment of heat I am afraid I used a slightly unparliamentary expression. To you, Mr. Speaker, I apologise. To the other gentleman I do not.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I can recognise a biblical quotation when I hear one.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you aware that in all my experience in the House, which goes back many years, the term "whited sepulchre" has never been regarded as unparliamentary? All it does is to reflect on the poor vocabulary of my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds).

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I am grateful for the historical experiences of the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Sir John Langford-Holt Sir John Langford-Holt , Shrewsbury

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it not in the circumstances be quite unreasonable to hold the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) as being responsible for what he says?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

That is not a point of order.

Photo of Mr Alex Lyon Mr Alex Lyon , City of York

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread resentment on this side at the suggestion which has been made in some quarters of the House and in some parts of the Press that the original hangings were partly caused by the intervention of the British Government? Does he regard the present hangings as being partly caused by the intervention of His Holiness the Pope?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I do not think that I would like to comment on either half of my hon. Friend's question.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House, so that we may know, or possibly put a list in the Library, those Commonwealth and ex-Commonwealth countries which still retain the death penalty for murder?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

If the hon. Gentleman would table a Question I should be happy to ensure that it was answered. I do not think that the question has any relevance to the matter which is moving the House now. This is not a question of the merits or otherwise of capital punishment. This is a question of an illegal regime carrying out illegal executions.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should not be concerning ourselves either with Parliamentary expressions or with biblical points of order, but with how we could possibly save the lives of some people in Rhodesia who are under sentence of death? Has there been any intervention, either unofficial or official, between the British Government and the regime in Rhodesia?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I agree with my hon. Friend that what we ought to concentrate on in these issues is the exercise of mercy and common humanity and the saving of the lives of people who have been under the shadow of the death sentence for so long. The Governor in Rhodesia, as the Queen's representative, is not recognised in any way at all by this illegal régime.

Photo of Sir Charles Taylor Sir Charles Taylor , Eastbourne

Will the Secretary of State tell us whether the illegal régime in Rhodesia is or is not the de facto Government?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I am somewhat surprised that in these circumstances there are the number of hon. Members that there are on the other side of the House who seem to be anxious somehow or other to justify what this regime has done. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer"] I am about to answer the question. I set out very plainly in considered statements last week exactly why we profoundly dissent from the view of the law which was expressed by the Chief Justice of Rhodesia, Sir Hugh Beadle; and to that view we adhere.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Smethwick

In view of this morning's events and last week's events, will my right hon. Friend consider the immediate withdrawal of our residual mission from Salisbury and the closing down of Rhodesia House in London, however inconvenient that may be for some habitual cocktail sippers on the other side who frequent it?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

No. I think that my hon. Friend has in this matter got things out of perspective. I say nothing about the post that exists here, but our residual mission in Salisbury has played a quite notable and quite heroic rôle in very difficult circumstances, and the last thing that they find themselves engaging in these days is cocktail sipping.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Buckinghamshire South

Will the Secretary of State confirm that in respect of the two men hanged this morning no reprieves had been granted? Would he explain how in those circumstances the rule of law was broken by the execution of a sentence which was passed before independence?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

The hon. Gentleman is, if I mistake not, more learned in the law than I am. I should have thought that he would have known immediately that the deprivation of the right of people to resort to the ultimate court of appeal on a capital charge is about the grossest breach of the rule of law that one could think of.

Photo of Mr Hugh Delargy Mr Hugh Delargy , Thurrock

Mr. Speaker, is it not sadly significant that so far not one word of regret at these hangings has come from the other side?

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Chigwell

Having been perhaps foolish enough to telegraph to Salisbury in the hope that clemency might have been extended in the earlier cases, perhaps I might be permitted to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether in fact his reference to the rule of law was not a little ill-considered, since the sentences carried out, whatever we may think of the humanitarian aspect, are sentences of Her Majesty's judges and the preservation of law and order in Rhodesia is a matter of high concern to the House. Would not he consider that?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I respect what the hon. Gentleman said in his opening phrases about his own desire to see mercy exercised in these cases. As I explained to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) earlier, we dissent fundamentally from the view of the law taken by the Chief Justice of Rhodesia, Sir Hugh Beadle, in respect of these cases. That judgment itself sprang from an affidavit of one of the—I do not wish to use provocative language, but one of the people in the régime—telling the High Court of Rhodesia that, whatever it did, the régime would not stay the execution of these men to allow them their ultimate court of appeal at the Privy Council.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

I think that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) was a little unjust in saying that nobody from this side had regretted recent events. Certainly we have done so. When the Secretary of State makes his balanced statement to the House later this week, would he remember that there are 4 million Africans in Rhodesia for whom the House has been trying to do something for years so as to ensure that they have a fair future in a non-racial society?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

Yes, Sir. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. It is precisely that fact that none of us can ever forget. It is precisely how best to serve the interests of the peoples of all races in Rhodesia, but especially of the majority race in Rhodesia, that is exercising our minds. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the words I used in my statement went no further than the comments he made in his own public statement about the present difficulties which have been created.

Photo of Mr Edward Leadbitter Mr Edward Leadbitter , Hartlepools, The

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, regrettable though these hangings are in themselves, they have nevertheless increased the differences between this country and Rhodesia and at the same time have brought closer the possibility of conflict between Rhodesia and the emergent States which are her neighbours? As the patience of the Prime Minister in the past has held off a conflict in this area, would not my right hon. Friend agree that the urgent step necessary at this point of time is to approach the United Nations in order that there may be some containment in this area and conflict avoided?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

As I told the House, the United Nations is actively seized of the matter, as it has been for a long time. Some of the operations of Her Majesty's Government have been done under resolution of the United Nations. I think that developments at the United Nations during the next few days will be of critical importance.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. Mr. Peart—statement.