Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

HC Stmnt: [South African Prime Minister (Visit)]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [61/157-66]
Editorial comments:


Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 6310
Themes: Trade, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (International organizations), Commonwealth (South Africa), Sport, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Security services & intelligence, Civil liberties, Race, immigration, nationality, British policy towards South Africa
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South African Prime Minister (Visit)

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a brief statement about the visit of P. W. Bothathe South African Prime Minister and Sir Geoffrey HoweForeign Minister on Saturday 2 June.

We had over five hours of discussions. I was accompanied by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Howethe Foreign Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), the Minister of State. The meeting was a working one, and the discussions were comprehensive and candid. They covered the problems of southern Africa as a whole, including Namibia. There was considerable discussion of the internal situation in South Africa. I made clear to Mr. Botha our desire to see peaceful solutions to all the region's problems.

On Namibia, we agreed that early independence for Namibia was desirable and should be achieved as soon as possible under peaceful conditions. We also agreed that all foreign forces should be withdrawn from the countries in southern Africa so that their peoples can settle their destinies without outside interference. The withdrawal of South African forces from Angola is an important first step in this process.

On the internal situation in South Africa, I expressed our strongly-held views on apartheid. I told Mr. Botha of my particular concern at the practice of forced removals and raised the question of the continued detention of Mr. Nelson Mandela. Mr. Botha gave me an account of his government's recent constitutional measures and of the appointment of a Cabinet committee to make proposals for the political future of the black population outside the homelands.

I believe that the South African Prime Minister now understands much more clearly where Her Majesty's Government stand on all the major issues. My talks with Mr. Botha are part of the process through which we and other western and African countries must continue to press for the sort of changes that we all want to see in southern Africa.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

I thank the Prime Minister for responding to my request for a statement about her discussions with Prime Minister Botha.

Is the Prime Minister aware that her invitation to and reception for Mr. Botha at Chequers gave enormous satisfaction to the South African Government and to the friends of apartheid, and caused grave offence to millions of people in Britain, throughout the Commonwealth and many other parts of the world?

Is the right hon. Lady further aware that reports of her meeting with Prime Minister Botha published and broadcast in South Africa differ so radically from the reports published in Britain that they are an insult to her and to the spokespersons who made the reports on her behalf, especially since I and my right hon. and hon. Friends recognise that as an individual the right hon. Lady is strong in her condemnation of the vile system of apartheid?

This is the first visit by a South African Prime Minister to Britain for 23 years. It constitutes a diplomatic coup for the South African Government. Can the right hon. Lady explain why, unlike her three Conservative predecessors in that period, she issued an invitation to Prime Minister Botha? What has changed in this Government's attitude [column 158]compared with the attitude taken by previous Conservative Governments? Was there any consultation with our Commonwealth partners before the Prime Minister's visit? If not, why not?

While the benefit to South Africa is obvious, can the right hon. Lady identify any compensating gains either for the cause of human rights and political freedom in South Africa, or for the cause of human rights, political freedom and self-determination in the countries of southern Africa? Will the right hon. Lady affirm that no discussion of arms supply—including the selling of the Coastguarder aircraft—took place during the meeting at Chequers? Will she take this opportunity not only publicly to affirm her detestation of and opposition to apartheid—[Interruption]—which is clearly not shared by all her hon. Friends on the Back Benches—but to tell the House what action she intends to take to back her well-advertised words of disapproval? What measures does she intend to take to stop South African dirty tricks operations from the embassy in London?

On Namibia, can the right hon. Lady reaffirm that there has been no change in the Government's opposition to any linkage between Cuban troop withdrawals from Angola and the independence of Namibia, and no change in the Government's insistence that United Nations Security Council resolution 435 must be the basis for a transition to independence in Namibia?

Will the right hon. Lady tell us—[Interruption]—as she takes these matters much more seriously than many of her Back Benchers—whether Prime Minister Botha indicated in any way whether he felt that withdrawal of South African forces from Angola was an important first step—and I emphasise “first step” —in the process.

Does the right hon. Lady accept that her decision to invite Prime Minister Botha was wrong, and remains wrong? Does she further accept that nothing was conveyed on Saturday that could not have been equally clearly and forcefully conveyed by means other than an invitation and accommodation by the Prime Minister of apartheid? Will not her invitation be seen here and elsewhere as an act of appeasement?

I hope that the right hon. Lady's future actions will demonstrate the strength of her opposition to apartheid and also that her view on Namibia is implacable so that she can prove those who think that she has been appeasing South African opinion to be absolutely wrong.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Stefan Terlezki (Cardiff, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your ruling. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has called me a Fascist. I expect him to apologise and to withdraw his remark.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not quite sure who the hon. Member is——

Mr. Terlezki

The right hon. Gentleman called me a Fascist.

Mr. Kaufman

Conservative Members have been heckling my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) on racialist grounds. They have been uttering Fascist noises, and I do not withdraw what I said.

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Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a phrase that we wish to hear in the Chamber. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.

Mr. Kaufman

I shall certainly withdraw the word “Fascist” on your direction, Mr. Speaker. I do not withdraw the word “racialist” .

Mr. James Tinn (Redcar)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I thought I heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) say that he applied the term collectively to a number of Conservative Members.

Mr. Speaker

It matters not whether it was applied to a single hon. Member or collectively. It was still out of order.

The Prime Minister

I am constantly urged by Opposition Members to have dialogue with countries whose internal policies are not ours and with whose internal policies we fundamentally disagree because they deny human rights. I do not see how they can urge me to have dialogue with the Soviet Union and not with South Africa. It is a characteristic example of double standards.

With regard to it being the first visit for 23 years, I remind the leader of the Opposition that Prime Minister Botha had an official invitation to Portugal and was received by the Socialist Prime Minister and the President and had successful talks there; that he then went to Switzerland, where he was received by the President of that country; and that today he is in Bonn, where he is being received by Chancellor Kohl. Does the right hon. Gentleman want us to be the only country which is not talking to South Africa, although it has enormous strategic importance to this country? [Interruption.] I suppose that strategic importance is of little concern to him.

No request for arms was made. As for the embassy in London, Mr. Botha and the South African Government are well aware of our view that the diplomatic rules must be upheld and embassies used specifically for that purpose.

I made clear our view that United Nations resolution 435 is the way ahead. It will be clear from what I said that we agree that it is best for all foreign troops to be withdrawn from southern Africa.

My answer to the right hon. Gentleman's final question is that the decision to invite the Prime Minister here and to talk to him was right.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

In view of the crisp intervention of the Leader of the Opposition, may I ask my right hon. Friend to agree that the constitutional process might be advantaged if the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) were to return? Will she confirm that her reference to all foreign forces in southern Africa included the Cubans and Angolans?

The Prime Minister

I was so referring by the use of the phrase “all foreign troops” from southern Africa. Although we do not have a specific linkage, we believe that that withdrawal should take place in parallel with independence for Namibia.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Will the Prime Minister accept that those of us who believe that the visit was a profound mistake are nevertheless grateful that the South African Prime Minister was slipped in and out of this country without ceremony like some undesirable package? Is she surprised—[Interruption.] I do not propose to make myself heard above a babble.

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Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I only mentioned that David Owen went to South Africa.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I appeal to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) kindly to refrain from making constant interruptions from a sedentary position. They are boring the whole House.

Mr. Steel

Was the Prime Minister surprised at the outcome of the propaganda in South Africa relating to Mr. Botha's visit, or was it as she expected?

I have three questions for the right hon. Lady. First, does she intend that the United Nations timetable for Namibian independence should be kept to? Although there is reference to “early independence,” may we be told whether any progress was made on that? Secondly, what answer did she get to her questions about the detention of Nelson Mandela? Thirdly, does her reference to the future of the black population outside the homelands means that she is falling for the line of setting up puppet black states within the territory of South Africa?

The Prime Minister

I note what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I note also that the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) visited South Africa when he was the Labour Foreign Secretary and, I believe, had conversations with Mr. Botha at that time.

Independence for Namibia, we say, must come under resolution 435—that is, in a way acceptable to the international community—and I do not believe that that will occur until there is, in parallel, also the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. I have nothing further to report regarding Mr. Nelson Mandela.

As for my reference to constitutional changes—and one must recognise that there have been more such changes during the lifetime of the present Government in South Africa than under any previous Government there—a Cabinet Committee has been set up and the phrase which I used, which was

“to look at the constitutional future of the blacks outside the homelands” ,

is one of the terms of reference of that committee.

Mr. Terlezki

In view of President Reagan 's offer to the Russians to negotiate on the non-use of conventional arms in Europe and his preparedness to halt or even to reverse the deployment of cruise missiles, does my right hon. Friend agree that the President is adopting a reassuring approach to disarmament, peace and security in Europe?

The Prime Minister

The Western Alliance has the same approach to peace with freedom and justice in Europe and wishes naturally to enter into negotiations with the Soviet Union to secure peace with justice and freedom at a lower level of weaponry and, therefore, a lower level of expenditure than at present. We would very much like the Soviet Union to return to the nuclear negotiating table and to negotiate on large ballistic missile weapons and intermediate weapons.

Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Was the question of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Terlezki) relevant to the statement?

Mr. Speaker

I heard nothing irrelevant in it.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

When the Prime Minister is in France tomorrow, will she reflect——

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Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

She will not.

Mr. Rees

I shall be there and I shall reflect on the issue that I am about to raise with the right hon. Lady. Will she bear in mind that Mr. Botha spoke out during the war against the involvement of his soldiers and airmen in fighting against Germany? Indeed, he spoke out vividly in support of Hitler.

The Prime Minister

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will remember also that many South Africans came and fought in the battle of Europe.

Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

Will my right hon. Friend consider asking Mr. Chernenko to come here for conversations with her? If he comes, will she discuss with him how Dr. Sakharov is getting on? Finally, will she ask Mr. Chernenko about his dirty tricks?

The Prime Minister

The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is “Not yet” . However, my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Howethe Foreign Secretary is going to Moscow to see Mr. Gromyko in July. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising once again the position of Dr. Sakharov, who was exiled from Moscow to Gorki and is in need of medical treatment, as is his wife. That is a reminder that we have dialogue with countries which have no human rights as we understand them.

Mr. Winnick

Why does the Prime Minister not recognise that South Africa is different from other dictatorships—the Opposition deplore all dictatorships—in that it is the only system in which people are discriminated against from birth onwards because of the colour of their skin? That is why South Africa has been condemned time and time again. Will she bear in mind also that the South Africans who died in the second world war while fighting against Nazi Germany were, in the same way as all the others who fought against Hitler, fighting against a racial tyranny which today is modelled in South Africa?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that there are many in South Africa who are working for a system in which people are not discriminated against by the colour of their skin. I am the first to say that discrimination because of the colour of one's skin is totally and utterly wrong. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he is urging upon me dialogue with a country which denies to all people freedom of speech and freedom of worship, and that, too, we condemn.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

Will my right hon. Friend understand that the continuation of the Gleneagles agreement means that sport is discouraged with South Africa because of conditions whereby selection takes place on the basis of race, colour or ethnic origin? Did she reassure Mr. Botha that if those conditions do not exist for certain sports consideration might be given to excluding those sports from the agreement? Will she take it from one who has recently returned from South Africa that the English rugby team is doing a magnificant ambassadorial job for Britain in promoting multiracial sport in that society?

The Prime Minister

I am well aware that there are people in South Africa who are promoting multiracial sport, and in some cases it exists. I say to my hon. Friend, as I said to Prime Minister Botha, that I do not see any possibility at present of revising the Gleneagles agreement.

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Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

What quid pro quo did the British Government receive from the enormous benefit that accrued from the Botha visit? Is the Prime Minister aware that a request for armaments was unnecessary, as there is abundant evidence that the armed forces of South Africa are amply sustained through the activities of the British and the Israelis?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, we have honoured the United Nations embargo against South Africa, and we shall continue to do so. No request for arms was made. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not continue to make that accusation against the British Government.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Does my right hon. Friend remember how much condemnation there was from members of the Labour Cabinet, the Labour Members on the Opposition Benches and the Labour party throughout the country when the Labour Foreign Minister went to South Africa and spoke to Mr. P. W. Botha?

The Prime Minister

There cannot have been any, because it must have been the collective responsibility of the Cabinet.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Did the Prime Minister specifically raise with Mr. Botha the well-documented examples of activities by the South African security services from their embassy in London? Have all the links between British and South African security services been broken? Has the right hon. Lady given instructions that the British security services are to prevent a repetition of what has happened in the past?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, in the House we do not discuss security. We have frequently made it clear to the South African Government that an embassy is for diplomatic purposes only. They are well aware of that, especially since the Libyan episode.

Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that every year many thousands of seamen from Britain and other Western powers traverse the sea route around the Cape? Is it not vitally important for the well-being of those seamen that there should be an efficient air-sea rescue service of long-range aircraft, backed up by Sea King helicopters, to lift the people who become casualties at sea? Is that not outside the scope of an arms embargo? Would it not be of benefit to us all to reinforce the air-sea rescue services around the Cape?

The Prime Minister

I confirm what my hon. Friend says. South Africa is of great strategic importance to this country. She fully discharged her maritime responsibilities under international law, and we are grateful for that.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Did Prime Minister Botha ask the Prime Minister to close the African National Congress office in London? Will the right hon. Lady give the House an assurance that that office will be free to operate throughout her term of office?

The Prime Minister

I made it clear that we cannot possibly close offices such as the ANC or the PLO, unless anyone there contravenes our law.

Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if general trade sanctions were imposed on South Africa, and for as long as South Africa continues to be politically ostracised, the nationalist voice in that [column 163]country will be raised in defence of apartheid? Is it not much better, if we are to encourage progress socially and politically in that country, to talk face to face, as my right hon. Friend has done, rather than talk back to back, as the United Nations often does?

The Prime Minister

Yes; I agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that the many people in South Africa who are working for the same things that we are welcome the visit to this country.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Who does the Prime Minister think obtained most advantage from the visit, Mr. Botha or herself?

The Prime Minister

I expect that we both secured advantage from the visit, but I happen to believe that we should not restrict our discussions to those with whom we agree.

Sir William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the latest argument put up against the discussions that she has been reporting on in some church and other circles—that apartheid is, and this is the word, “institutionalised” in South Africa and that it is exceptional for that reason? Is not Marxism institutionalised in the Soviet Union? Is it not——

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

That is not Marxism, mate.

Sir William van Straubenzee

How greatly we should miss our resident comedian. Is it not as right to talk to one regime which is abhorrent as it is to another?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I agree with him. Marxism denies freedom of speech and worship and prosecutes those people who practise either, and yet we are asked to talk to them and we do.

Mr. Nellist

Is the Prime Minister aware that we are not fooled by every cheer that comes from the Tory Benches every time that South Africa is mentioned? She let the cat out of the bag with one word in her statement. It is the strategic importance of southern Africa to big business in this country and elsewhere which matters far more than the rights of working people, black or any other colour, in that country. Why does she not admit that it is the investments of Britons in South Africa, and the profit men in the mines and elsewhere which are uppermost in her mind, not banning orders, pass laws or the detention of Nelson Mandela? That is the sugar icing on the cake.

The Prime Minister

It has been our experience that the overwhelming majority of British people like their freedom in this country to be well and truly defended, and strategic interest means something to them.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

In view of the importance of the Cape route to the freedom of the Western world, did my right hon. Friend discuss with Mr. Botha defence matters and closer co-operation in defence between our two countries?

The Prime Minister

No, we did not go into those matters. On the whole, we were discussing the position in southern Africa, but naturally one discussed the way in which South Africa discharges its maritime duties under international law.

Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Stockton, South)

Is the Prime Minister aware that on these Benches—[column 164][Interruption] When my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) was Foreign Secretary he would have been in gross dereliction of his duty if he had not had discussions with the South African Government to try to achieve a settlement of the UDI problem in Rhodesia and the Namibian crisis which existed then. What was the reaction of the South African Prime Minister to the right hon. Lady's representations about Nelson Mandela? Has she had any discussions with President Reagan about the settlement in Namibia? Are there any proposals from the American Government on the Namibian settlement, as has been publicised in some newspapers?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the answer is “No” . I shall see President Reagan this evening. With regard to the earlier part of the question, as I said in one of the answers I gave before Prime Minister Botha came, South Africa was helpful to us in securing a settlement of the Zimbabwe matter, a settlement that eluded the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen).

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

Will my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways of showing the South African Prime Minister what we think about apartheid is to have him here and to tell him face to face? Will she look for an opportunity to go to South Africa if invited—preferably with a multiracial group—and say the same thing there? Will she also make it plain to hon. Members that, instead of just expressing their opposition to the South African Prime Minister's visit, they could have expressed as much pleasure in greeting Chief Gatsha Buthelezi when he came here two weeks ago with virtually no publicity?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend has great personal experience of South African matters. I agree that it is best for us in this country to say to Prime Minister Botha and his Ministers that we do not see how one can discriminate between people on the basis of the colour of their skin, and that that is totally wrong. I believe that it is effective when we make that clear, and that it is effective when the Prime Minister travels across Europe and it is made clear to him in all the countries through which he travels.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

Does the Prime Minister honestly believe that she was able to influence Prime Minister Botha on any aspect of South African policy? If not, does the right hon. Lady not accept that the invitation to Prime Minister Botha to visit this country was an insult that the British people could well have done without?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

Was there any particular significance in my right hon. Friend's earlier reply when she said that the withdrawal of South African troops from Namibia would be an important first step in the process there? Does that mean, for example, that the timetable for South African withdrawal has been brought forward? That would be very welcome.

The Prime Minister

No. I referred to the withdrawal of South African troops from Angola, which is nearly complete.

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Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

How vigorously and with how much determination did the Prime Minister press for the release of Nelson Mandela? What did Mr. Botha say in reply? Did he say that he would review the position? Did he say that he would take note of what the Prime Minister said and discuss it with his colleagues, or did he say nothing and ignore what the right hon. Lady had to say?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that they take a very different view of that case from the view that we take. I have nothing further to report, other than the fact that I raised the question of Mr. Nelson Mandela with the South African Prime Minister.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingam, Selly Oak)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that most of us think that she was right to talk to Mr. Botha? Will she agree that this House concentrates upon the problems of South Africa as though it was the only oppressive regime on that continent? Would not the House spend its time well if it concentrated on the problems of the black African country of Zimbabwe, where Bishop Muzorewa has been in prison because he lost the election and where people in Matabeleland have been murdered solely because they belonged to certain tribe? Apartheid is not the only murder. What goes on in the tribal system of Africa sometimes makes South Africa seem one of the more virtuous countries on that continent.

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend raises some relevant points, and the House would do well to consider them.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Is there not something bogus about the hue and cry from the Opposition about the visit of Mr. Botha when not a whisper was raised against the visit of the President of Israel? In moral and physical terms, there is very little to choose between those two regimes.

The Prime Minister

I do not agree with what my hon. Friend says about the two regimes. I welcomed Chaim Herzogthe President of Israel to London and had very helpful conversations with him, and I had long and interesting conversations with Mr. Botha.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the Opposition talk about the homelands and South Africa, and object to the Venda nation having autonomy and independence, they are guilty of double standards? Many of the same voices call out for independence and autonomy for the Scottish nation.

The Prime Minister

I shall not involve myself in that argument at present.

Mr. Marlow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The word “Fascist” has just been used in connection with myself. Could the hon. Gentleman who used that word clarify what he said? If he said what my hon. Friends thought that he said, would he withdraw that word?

Mr. Winnick

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Were you saying earlier that to describe someone as a Fascist is unparliamentary? Is it not a fact that those who condone racial tyranny, those who find excuses to invite here the Prime Minister of a regime which is based on constitutionalised racial tyranny, and those who support [column 166]such measures, may well, in the view of a number of Opposition Members, be Fascists? Why should we not be allowed to say so?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that I need any help on this matter. Every hon. Member knows that the phrase poses dishonour—[Interruption.] The phrase has a connotation in this country which is well known, and I do not think that it should be used in the House. If the hon. Gentleman used that phrase, I ask him to withdraw it, as did his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). Did the hon. Gentleman use that phrase?

Hon. Members


Mr. Winnick

I shall not take into account the baying from Tory Members. We know their views about South Africa.

Mr. Speaker

That is beside the point. If the hon. Gentleman used that phrase, will he, in the light of what I have said, withdraw it? I did not hear it myself. If he used it, will he, in honour, withdraw it?

Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) exhibits all the manifestations of Fascism. I say that in all seriousness. Whatever connotations one puts on that term is another matter. The hon. Gentleman is an authoritarian. He believes in the kind of racist regime——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is seeking to justify the use of a word which I have just ruled is not parliamentary.

Dr. Miller

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I shall not withdraw it. In addition to the accusations which are made against him, the hon. Gentleman is an anti-Semite. That is surely the manifestation of a Fascist.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let us dispose of this matter in a civilised manner. As I have already said to the House, we all know that the word Fascist has a connotation here which is not pleasing. It has a reverberation back to an anniversary which we are to celebrate tomorrow. I do not believe that the House would wish it to be used here against any hon. Member. If the hon. Gentleman used that word, will he please withdraw it? That will dispose of the matter.

Dr. Miller

My conscience will not allow me to withdraw. Of course I used the word. I have said it to the hon. Gentleman personally. I do not use the word as a mere expression. The hon. Gentleman is a very poor example of an hon. Member.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Member, who is an experienced Member of this House, will not——

Dr. Miller

I am a very mild man.

Mr. Speaker

I know that the hon. Member is a very mild Member and that he has every reason to know the meaning of the word, but I hope that, as I have asked him to withdraw that word, he will now do so. He would not wish to disobey a request from me.

Dr. Miller

In view of the plea that you have made to me, Mr. Speaker, I withdraw it.

Mr. Nellist

Some time ago, Mr. Speaker, as is recorded in Hansard, the hon. Member for Suffolk [column 167]Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who is the chairman of the Conservative party, accused me of being a Red Fascist. The incident was considered by the occupant of the Chair during that debate, and no request for withdrawal was made. Was that because I was one of the newest and youngest Members of the House, and it was the chairman of the Conservative party who used the phrase? Is it all right for Tories to call Labour Members Fascists but a different matter when Labour Members call Tories Fascists?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I was not present at the time and I do not know of the incident to which the hon. Member refers. However, I think that in future we should not use that word here.

Mr. Ewing

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is interesting to hear you say that you were not present and did not hear what took place because only 10 days ago you chose to examine the record of an incident three days after it took place. My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) was then told to withdraw a remark that he had made. Surely the same rule ought to apply in an even-handed way. If the incident of which my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) complained has been recorded in Hansard, you are surely under an obligation to examine the record as was the case with the incident involving my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. If the allegation to which my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East referred appears in Hansard, surely you should tomorrow ask for a withdrawal of that comment.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We are wasting a lot of time. When words such as this are used, points of order must be raised at once. One cannot possibly go back into the record several weeks or months to rake over the use of such words. As I have said, I hope that we shall not hear this phrase used in the House.

Mr. Kinnock

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In a genuine effort to be helpful may I point out that the word “Fascist” , like some other words, is bandied around, [column 168]frequently with great passion and sincerity. It is nevertheless a matter of perception and philosophy. May I ask you whether, despite the heated exchanges, you will pause for reflection before you make a final ruling about the use of such a word, as I believe that the House would benefit if you proceeded in that way?

Mr. Speaker

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his conciliatory comments, but I must tell him and the House that, in relation to the discussions that we have had this afternoon, everybody knows exactly what the word was intended to mean. We all know that we do not impugn the character of any right hon. or hon. Member. That was the intention of the use of the word today, and I therefore rule that it is not a parliamentary word and hope that we shall not use it in the House.

Ms. Clare Short

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask you most sincerely to reconsider your ruling——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have a heavy day ahead of us. I have nothing more to say on the matter. The House fully understands the point that I am making and nothing that the hon. Lady can say will help me or make me change my mind.

Ms. Short

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. There are in Britain today openly Fascist parties that call themselves Fascists and contest elections to the House. I put it to you most sincerely that you have made a dangerous ruling. It cannot be unparliamentary to use the term “Fascist” , which is a serious political term, in the House when we have organised Fascist movements in Britain. I sincerely ask you to reconsider your ruling.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Lady has made a significant point. It is perfectly true that there are Fascist parties that contest elections, but they have not been elected to the House.