Sharpeville Six

– in the House of Commons at 9:59 pm on 14th March 1988.

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Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs) 9:59 pm, 14th March 1988

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask your permission to raise a matter about which I have notified you and the Office of the Foreign Secretary. I hope that it is not a matter that divides the House in any way at all. I refer to the news that has been made known today that the South African Government intend to execute the Sharpeville Six on Friday.

I ask whether the Foreign Office will make a statement to the House on the action that it intends to take to express the outrage of the entire House of Commons at the barbaric decision to execute six people for murder, not one of whom was said by the court or by the court of appeal to be in any way involved in the murder. It was said that the only way in which they could be regarded as involved in the murder was by common purpose. The appeal judge himself said that he assumed, for the purposes of my judgment, that it has not been proved in the case of any of the six accused convicted of murder that their conduct had contributed causally to the death of the deceased. It is barbaric that six people should be executed for murder. It is barbaric that six people should be executed for the murder of one person. Above all, it is barbaric that six people should be executed for a murder in which they were in no way whatever involved.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I ask that the Government, on behalf of the entire House of Commons, take up with the Government of South Africa the revulsion that all civilised people will feel at this latest example of a police racialist state in South Africa, and that the Minister of State or the Secretary of State report at the earliest possible moment to the House of Commons what Her Majesty's Government, on behalf of a united Parliament, are doing to try to prevent the vile acts that the South African Government plan for Friday.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I shall respond as briefly as I can. We have been told that the President of the Republic of South Africa has turned down the appeals for clemency on behalf of the Sharpeville Six. The right hon. Gentleman already knows that we have made representations bilaterally with our European partners. We have made repeated calls for clemency on humanitarian grounds. We have supported a statement issued by the President of the United Nations Security Council, calling for the sentences to be commuted.

We note what the right hon. Gentleman said. We share the widespread concern throughout the international community. There is no change whatever in Her Majesty's Government's position. We deplore violence in South Africa, from whatever quarter it comes. We have called for clemency, as I have already said. Even at this late stage we sincerely and earnestly hope the South African Government will heed the united call of everyone for clemency in these cases.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I warmly accept the sincerity with which the right hon. Lady expressed her views. Will she tell us whether, during the course of this evening, the Prime Minister has made any further direct appeal to President Botha?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

Would that I could answer the right hon. Gentleman. I simply do not know the answer to his question, having come here from another function. I should not like to mislead him or the House. I hope that he will allow me to respond to him in the morning.

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber

Briefly, further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask that tomorrow the Minister takes the opportunity to make a full and considered statement on the issues, as I am sure that the House would welcome that? May I also take this opportunity, on behalf of my hon. Friends, to give support to what has already been said by the right hon. Gentlemen on the Labour Front Bench?

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I do not think that we can take this matter any further tonight.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. It is obviously a matter that the House may wish to return to; these are not points of order for me. I have allowed the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) to raise the matter.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I have allowed the right hon. Gentleman to raise the matter as a matter of urgency at this time. I do not think that we can take it any further tonight.

Photo of Mr Dave Nellist Mr Dave Nellist , Coventry South East

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you confirm that on at least three or four occasions —in my memory of the five years that I have been in the House —you have ruled that when a Minister rises to the Dispatch Box on a point of order and especially on the second occasion, you will thereafter treat it as a statement and allow questions to the Minister? If necessary, I will go to the Library and find those references because if you rule now —[Interruption.] Hang about, I am talking to Mr. Speaker, not to Conservative Members. If you rule now, Mr. Speaker, that you will take no further questions on the Minister's statement, would you at least give me an undertaking that if my searches in the Library prove correct, you would expect—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I am not having the hon. Gentleman using threats of that kind to me.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman is quite right. When we have had such matters raised at the proper time, after Questions, that has been the case in the past, but this is an occasion in the evening. I have listened to the Minister of State say that it is difficult for her to say more than she has said about this matter. Therefore, I do not think that we can take it any further tonight.

Photo of Mr Dave Nellist Mr Dave Nellist , Coventry South East

If I could just finish my sentence—

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the interest of the good order of the House — unfortunately, the Leader of the House is not present at the moment—I should like to know whether there will be a statement on this matter tomorrow. It is a matter of good order. It is no good saying that we can return to this at another time, for the simple reason that six people will be executed on Friday. Therefore, there is an element of urgency, not least on their part, in this respect. All that one can do, through you, Mr. Speaker, is to invite the Chief Whip of the majority party to say at the Dispatch Box that there will be a statement tomorrow so that we can have a proper discussion.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the House is unanimous in condemning what undoubtedly will be judicial murders, in the hope that the view expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and the Minister of State is the unanimous view of the House of Commons, and bearing in mind that the executions, or what one might more rightly describe as the murders, will take place on Friday, will there be an opportunity between now and Friday for the House to he able to make its view clear, not simply arising from a point of order, rightly raised by my right hon. Friend?

We are aware, Mr. Speaker, that tomorrow is Budget day and it may well be that matters on which we would make applications cannot be dealt with then because it is Budget day, but will there be some opportunity for the House to declare its views collectively so that the South African authorities know that the British House of Commons is totally opposed to what my right hon. Friend rightly described as a barbaric act and—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. It is precisely for that reason that I imagine that the right hon. Member for Gorton raised his point of order. He was asking whether a statement would be made.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I have already said to the House that I have listened to what the right hon. Lady had to say. It seems to me that it is difficult for the House to ask questions of a Minister who has very little direct knowledge, for reasons that she has already stated; she needs time to make investigations.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Clearly it is for the Government to make a statement tomorrow and it is obviously within the power of the Government to decide whether or not such a statement is to be made. You have clearly seen tonight, Mr. Speaker, the extent of interest that there is in this issue. Would you now indicate that you are sympathetic to a private notice question being tabled on this matter in the event that the Government do not seek to make a statement?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I do not do things like that openly.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford East

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Chief Whip is in his place and the Leader of the House is not present. We are entitled to a Government statement to the effect that the Leader of the House will make a statement to this House on this issue tomorrow. I believe that the Patronage Secretary has a duty this evening to come to the Dispatch Box and say that such a statement will be made.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Vice-Chair, Labour Party

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is a pity that the Prime Minister is not here to listen to the representations that have been made by Opposition Members. There is another way in which you, Mr. Speaker, could be of some considerable help. Taking into account the fact that this matter will undoubtedly be raised before the end of the week, perhaps tomorrow, would you consider, in your capacity as Speaker of the House, sending a message to the South African Government asking for the sentences to be commuted? Although there may be a small element known as the "goose-stepping tendency", which does not agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, you would he commanding the respect of the great majority of the House if you sent such a message.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

The hon. Gentleman knows that I act only with the authority of the whole House.

Photo of Mr Dave Nellist Mr Dave Nellist , Coventry South East

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given what we have gone through in the past seven hours, I am sure that you will agree that it would be highly unusual if a Minister came to the House tomorrow at 3.30 pm to make a statement, even on something as urgent as the Sharpeville Six, so concerned are the Government to start on time with the business scheduled for that afternoon. I appeal to you again, Mr. Speaker because the Minister, on a point of order, has effectively made a statement. That Minister has direct responsibility for that area of the continent and deals with it on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis. Will you not now allow questions to he put to her as she has effectively made a statement from the Dispatch Box?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I have already said to the hon. Gentleman that there is not much point in asking questions of the Minister when she has said that she is unable, because of the lack of time, to obtain the details with which she could give meaningful replies. I think that that is the problem that the House faces.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are extremely grateful to you for the way in which you have allowed this matter to be raised. I know that you will accept that, were it not Budget day tomorrow, we would be seeking other means in which we could raise this matter in a more prolonged way on the Floor of the House. May I put it to you that perhaps we could consult you outside the Chamber to see whether there is a way in which — well before the scheduled executions—we could find a way of raising this matter again on the Floor of the House?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I should always be pleased to see the right hon. Gentleman if he feels that that is helpful, but I should have thought that the most useful way in which to deal with this matter would be consultations through the usual channels rather than through me.