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Rhodesia (Pearce Commission)

Volume 828: debated on Tuesday 21 December 1971

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I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the composition and terms of reference of the Pearce Commission on the test of acceptability of the proposed settlement with the illegal Rhodesian régime."
I have, Mr. Speaker, given you notice of this application.

We have heard today from the Leader of the House a most unhelpful statement concerning this tremendously important matter. This House still has enormous responsibilities of trusteeship for 5 million Africans in Rhodesia, and these are not likely to be relinquished.

This matter was emphasised by the Foreign Secretary in the debate on 1st December, when he said:
"It is important from every point of view that it should be thorough and be seen to be fair."
The right hon. Gentleman went on:
"It is important"

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but applicacations under Standing Order No. 9 are becoming very like speeches on the merits, and that is an abuse of the procedure of the House.

I merely wanted to emphasise the importance of the composition and terms of reference of the Commission.

The Foreign Secretary said:
"It is important to get the right people on the Commission,"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December, 1971; Vol. 827, c. 475–6.]
In the last few days, before the House has had an opportunity to debate these matters, the remaining members of the Commission have been appointed and they are due to go to Salisbury between 4th and 11th January to start their deliberations. I respectfully submit that it is a matter of great urgency for this House to consider these two important questions.

Concerning the two members of the Commission who, it would appear, were announced late last week, one of them, Sir Frederick Pedler, has important industrial connections with Rhodesia. He has shareholdings in a company which is closely involved with Rhodesia, the Central African Steel Corporation of Rhodesia. I think that this is a matter about which this House should know and be able to discuss.

I have no doubt that these are men of considerable integrity, but we have to ask ourselves the, question: how will the Africans consider their appointment? The fact is that none of the suggestions which were made in the debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)—for example, to have an African member of the Commission and that it should include some of the people whose names he specifically suggested—has been accepted by the Government. I submit, therefore, that the composition of the Commission is strongly open to doubt. We are not to be told who the assessors will be before the House goes into recess. Therefore, it will be a fait accompli, and I submit that that is an abuse of this House.

Regarding the terms of reference, yesterday a very important Press conference was held by Lord Pearce, reports of which have appeared in The Guardian and The Times. I suggest that the following important points have emerged from that Press conference. Is the Commission to be given access to the radio network which is the principal means of communication with the Africans?

Order. I really cannot allow the hon. Member to continue. This is an abuse of the procedure of the House. The hon. Member is asking whether I will allow a debate under Standing Order No. 9. He has already sufficiently indicated his grounds for doing that. He must not go further into the merits or make the speech which he would make if the application were successful.

I do not wish to abuse the procedure of the House in any shape or form. I am anxious to convey to the House why I consider—

Order. The hon. Member is under no obligation to convey anything to the House. He has to convey to me a reason why I should allow an emergency debate under Standing Order No. 9.

I am trying to convey to you, Mr. Speaker, the urgency which I feel should attach to these problems which this House will not have an opportunity of debating before the recess. I am seeking to stress that certain important problems arose out of the Press conference yesterday to which the House has had no answers at all. Those problems concern communication with the Africans, about which Lord Harlech had something to say yesterday which cannot prove very satisfactory, and certain matters affecting the way in which African opinion is to be able to express itself to members of the Commission having regard to the fact that leaders of African opinion are still being detained by the illegal régime. I submit that these are matters of grave and weighty importance and that it would be quite wrong for the House and the country to be kept in ignorance of them simply because it happens to suit the Government.

In those circumstances, I urge that there is a case for allowing these matters to be debated before the House goes into recess.

The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) was kind enough to give me notice that he intended to make an application under Standing Order No. 9.

I must tell the House that I am worried about the procedure under Standing Order No. 9. It in no way reflects upon one side of the House rather than the other. However, time after time we have had what are really speeches on the merits in making applications for debates under Standing Order No. 9. There are other ways of ventilating these matters.

I simply have to decide, in the light of the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure with regard to the administration of Standing Order No. 9, whether I think that this is an appropriate way to deal with this matter. I am afraid that, as I had to say four or five times last week, I do not think that Standing Order No. 9 is the appropriate way to ventilate these matters. I think that other ways must be found. I am afraid that I cannot accept the application.

Bill Presented

Historic Churches Preservation

Mr. Patrick Cormack, supported by Mr. Marcus Worsley, Mr. Edward Bishop, Mr. David Steel, Mr. Ernie Money, Mr. Anthony Blenkinsop, Dr. Tom Stuttaford, Mr. Ron Lewis, Mr. Norman St. JohnStevas, Mr. Greville Janner, Mr. Sydney Chapman, and Mr. Alexander Lyon, presented Bill to make further provision for the preservation of churches and other ecclesiastical buildings of historic and architectural importance and of the character of the area surrounding them; and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday, 24th March and to be printed. [Bill 58.]