HC Deb 30 July 1965 vol 717 cc907-10

11.6 a.m.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Arthur Bottomley)

It is, I think, the general wish of the House that I should inform hon. Members before the Recess of the present situation on Rhodesia. As the House will be aware, my hon. Friend the Minister of State has recently returned from a visit to that country.

After the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' meeting, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister informed the House of our intention to go forward with the negotiations which were begun last February by the Lord Chancellor and myself, and which had subsequently been continued by correspondence and in discussions between Mr. Smith and the British High Commissioner in Salisbury. Mr. Smith also suggested, following the general election in Rhodesia, that the discussions should be resumed at Ministerial level, and it was agreed that my hon. Friend should visit Rhodesia for the purpose of further and fuller exploration of the possibilities of a settlement.

During the course of a week's stay, my hon. Friend has had four meetings with Mr. Smith, in which possible constitutional solutions have been frankly examined without commitment on the part of either Government. It was, of course, understood that the content of the talks should remain confidential. In addition to these discussions my hon. Friend took the opportunity of meeting and talking to many people from all walks of life and of all shades of opinion in Rhodesia. My hon. Friend has made his report to the Prime Minister and myself. We shall be studying it carefully and the House will understand that I cannot go further than that at the moment.

Mr. Sandys

The Prime Minister of Rhodesia is reported to have said that he put specific proposals to Her Majesty's Government and that the ball is now in the British Government's court. Would the right hon. Gentleman confirm whether or not that is the position?

Mr. Bottomley

As I said in my original statement, constitutional solutions have been frankly examined, and it is true that suggestions have been made on both sides. I do not think that it would be useful to disclose in public, while these confidential talks are continuing, what has been said.

Mr. Grimond

With reference to possible constitutional solutions, would the Secretary of State take this opportunity of reiterating the pledges given by the former Government and the present Government that there will be no major constitutional change without the full consent of the majority of the people of Rhodesia? Would he also assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will not depart in any way from the pledges given against giving independence to Rhodesia without the full consent of the people during the coming Recess?

Mr. Bottomley

To answer the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, it has been said time and again that we will not transfer power to Rhodesia except on the basis acceptable to the people as a whole. To answer the second part, it is clearly understood that it is not possible to make any constitutional changes in Rhodesia without the authority of this Parliament.

Sir G. de Freitas

Would my right hon. Friend tell us of the meetings which the Minister of State had with representatives of the African Nationalists?

Mr. Bottomley

My hon. Friend had talks with representatives of the African Nationalists, both those who belong to the party of which the Reverend Sitole is the Leader and also the party led by Joshua Nkomo. He also met members of the United People's Party, which is now the official opposition party and which is made up of African, European and Asian members. In addition, he met industrial, trade union, banking and religious representatives.

Mr. Braine

May I ask the Commonwealth Secretary two questions? First, did his hon. Friend meet representatives of the chiefs? Secondly, can he say whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to call for any changes in the 1961 Constitution as a condition for independence?

Mr. Bottomley

It is well known that I met the chiefs at the indaba when I was there in February, and quite recently when they were in London I had an opportunity of meeting them. I am well informed as to the views of the chiefs about the transference of power to Rhodesia.

With regard to the 1961 Constitution, the considerations which guide the Government—I have said this before and I am glad to have the opportunity of repeating it—are to provide guarantees that future constitutional development should conform to the principle of unimpeded progress to majority rule together with an immediate improvement in the political status of the African population and progressive elimination of racial discrimination.

Mr. Ennals

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we on this side welcome the initiative that was taken and the assurances which he has given this morning concerning the principles on which independence could be granted? Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that as the negotiations proceed he will continue to make contact with the African parties as well as with the Government?

Mr. Bottomley

I am sure that in saying that the proceedings so far are satisfactory, my hon. Friend includes in his remarks, as I do myself, thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who did a most useful job. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] In connection with consultation with the Rhodesian representative bodies, we have already carried this out and there is no intention of making a change.

Mr. Wall

While I welcome the continuation of the negotiations, may I ask whether the Secretary of State would not agree that the final answer can come only through a compromise by both sides and that that compromise should be based upon the 1961 Constitution, which provides for majority rule in due course and provides for all the conditions which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned?

Mr. Bottomley

I have already given a reply in answer to the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine). I have nothing further to add.

Mr. Thorpe

May I ask two questions? First, can the Secretary of State take any further his reply of Wednesday last about the imminent appointment of a diplomatic representative from Rhodesia to Lisbon? Secondly, has he seen the Written Reply to me yesterday by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when I asked whether he will give an assurance that no official announcement regarding Rhodesia will be made during the Parliamentary Recess to which the Prime Minister replied: No. If there is anything to announce which ought to be announced I do not feel it right to await the reconvening of Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th July, 1965; Vol. 717, c. 171.] Does that suggest that Her Majesty's Government feel that a final solution is imminent and that a decision may welt be taken while the House is in recess?

Mr. Bottomley

Does the hon. Member's question relate to the constitutional changes or to the appointment in Lisbon?

Mr. Thorpe

It relates to the constitutional changes.

Mr. Bottomley

As to the constitutional changes, I have made it clear that Parliament is sovereign. Therefore, power cannot be transferred to Rhodesia except with the approval of this House. I have nothing further to add with regard to the Lisbon appointment. The position is as I stated it on Wednesday. It is a matter of status. There is clearly a misunderstanding on this, but I have no intention of departing from the views which I have already expressed.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We must pass on.