§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)
Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I should like to make a statement on Rhodesia.
The House will have heard with deep sadness of the illegal declaration of independence by the men who until that declaration constituted the Government of Rhodesia.
The House is aware from statements made in this Chamber by the previous British Government and the present one of the long record of discussions aimed at agreement on independence to be conferred by the only legal authority capable of granting independence, by this Parliament acting on legislation introduced by the British Government. I do not intend to retrace the course of those negotiations which have now continued over a period of three years, but I must repeat that at every point over those three years successive British Governments have warned the Rhodesians in the strongest terms that any so-called declaration of independence not carrying with it the authority of the British Parliament would be illegal and invalid.
Before informing the House of the consequences that follow this illegal act, I think that hon. Members will wish me to say something of the discussions between the British Government and the then Rhodesian Government since I last reported to the House on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, and again yesterday, my colleagues and I had a series of meetings with Sir Hugh Beadle, then and now Rhodesia's Chief Justice. In his capacity as Chairman-designate of the Royal Commission he discussed with us every aspect of the working of that Commission which could affect the issues still in dispute 350 between the two Governments. He returned to Rhodesia overnight authorised to explain to Mr. Smith and his colleagues the precise position of Her Majesty's Government on all these questions, including one to which the House attaches great importance, the effect on the working of the Royal Commission of the state of emergency and the steps that would have to be taken to ensure that the Royal Commission would still be in a position, despite the state of emergency and the regulations made under it, to see everyone it needed to see and to obtain the views of the Rhodesian people as a whole on the basis of a free expression of opinion, without restriction or intimidation from any quarter.
Yesterday afternoon I sent a detailed message to Mr. Smith explaining our position on all the outstanding items, but adding that Sir Hugh Beadle would be in a position to give further clarification on every point, including the problem of the interim report which I have referred to in earlier statements in this House. On the last outstanding point which held up agreement, namely, the extent to which each Government would give an assurance in advance that they would accept a unanimous report from the Commission, we made a proposal to the Rhodesian Government which would fully meet every demand they had made.
We asked them the following question, and I quote:
"If the United Kingdom Government undertook to commend to Parliament— whose sovereign rights must be reserved —a unanimous report by the Royal Commission to the effect that the 1961 Constitution was acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole as a basis for independence, would the Rhodesian Government give a corresponding undertaking that if the Royal Commission submitted a unanimous report to the effect that the 1961 Constitution was not acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole as a basis for independence they would abandon their claim in this respect and would agree that a Royal Commission should then proceed to devise a new constitution for Rhodesia which would give effect to the five principles enunciated by the United Kingdom Government in their statement of 9th October, 1965, and would be acceptable to the people of 351 Rhodesia as a whole as a basis for independence?"
I must tell the House that what was proposed in that message to Mr. Smith —which he was in a position to report to his Cabinet at 8 o'clock last night—met every requirement to which he had referred in messages, formal and informal, which I had received from him.
Evidence was nevertheless accumulating throughout yesterday that, despite this, the then Rhodesian Government were hell-bent on illegal and self-destroying action. So throughout the small hours I was in touch with Salisbury, with Her Majesty's High Commissioner, and I arranged an early morning telephone call to Mr. Smith himself which took place several hours before the illegal declaration. I began by telling him that there were no outstanding points between us, and I said that I was sending a senior Minister to Salisbury empowered to sign, on behalf of the British Government, an agreed minute recording the basis on which the Royal Commission could be set up this week and start its work.
I must tell the House that in that conversation I went through every single item of dispute between the two Governments concerning the establishment of the Royal Commission. I spelt out yet again our attitude on them. I proved beyond any possible reasonable doubt that every point they had made was fully dealt with on terms that must be satisfactory to them. Every point was discussed in that telephone conversation, and by the end of the conversation he had no further queries and no further points to raise. There was no suggestion that there was anything still in doubt. Yet after this he went on to say that the position of the two Governments was irreconcilable. This is what he said to me. I am bound to say that when I heard this I told him that if anybody could now say that this position was irreconcilable and justified illegal action I thought they wanted their heads examining, or they must have a death wish on them.
Mr. Smith, who gave me no indication that a decision to take illegal action had been taken, went on to say that his Government were then—while I was speaking to him—in the midst of discussing this, and he took it that it would not be right 352 of him if he did not tell me that the feeling seemed to be that it looked as though this thing had gone too far.
I will not at this stage inflict on the House the comments that I made on this statement, on Mr. Smith and on his colleagues. But I should add that Mr. Smith went on to say, in a perfectly frank and— if I may use the phrase in the circumstances—almost friendly conversation, that his Cabinet and he himself regretted that this had happened at this stage because, he said, "You find yourself"—that is me —" in the position that has gone too far not because of actions on your part." I am glad to feel that Mr. Smith, at any rate, agrees with the claim I made to the House on my return from Salisbury that I had done everything any man could do to avert this disaster. He was saying that the action they were taking was not being taken because of any action on my part.
I am bound to tell the House that I was speaking in the early hours of this morning to a confused and unhappy man. He has been, in these past weeks, under intolerable pressures from some of his colleagues and from the unreasoning extremists of the Rhodesian Front; but it must not be forgotten that it was Mr. Smith who called the Rhodesian Front into existence.
I ended the telephone conversation with a heavy heart feeling that reason had fled the scene and that emotions—unreasoning racialist emotions at that—had taken command regardless of the consequences for Rhodesia, for Africa and for the world.
The Government conceive it as their duty to publish all the exchanges that we and the previous Government have had with the Rhodesian Government over these past months and, indeed, longer. When these exchanges are published, I will call the House to witness that this Government—as did their predecessors— have done everything in our power to avert this disaster, and to witness that even as this day dawned—as today dawned less than four hours before this illegal declaration—we had created a situation settling every difference between the two Governments, providing for the immediate dispatch of a senior Minister to proceed to Salisbury, who, as I have said, was empowered to sign an agreed minute creating the conditions in which the Royal Commission could have been appointed in this very week.
353 I still find it incredible—and the House, when it reads the records, will find it incredible—that this action should have taken place this morning. But, as I have previously warned the House, the differences between us have not been differences of legal drafting; they have not been the differences of normal political interchange. They have represented a deep difference of philosophy—a gulf that we now know could never be bridged because it was a gulf covering all the differences between different worlds and different centuries. At every point when agreement was near we were told that our positions were irreconcilable. This was because there were men in the then Rhodesian Cabinet who were determined at all costs that agreement should not be reached. I challenged Mr. Smith today, as I did—and my right hon. Friends will confirm this—in my last meeting in Salisbury, with this fact, and to his credit Mr. Smith had the honesty to admit it in my telephone conversation this morning.
I felt the House was entitled to this frank assessment of the last stages of these discussions. Now I must inform the House of the action that has been taken, the action that is being taken, and,-that will be taken—some of it subject to the necessary powers being given by Parliament to the Government.
I repeat that the British Government condemn the purported declaration of Independence by the former Government of Rhodesia as an illegal act and one which is ineffective in law. It is an act of rebellion against the Crown and against the Constitution as by law established, and actions taken to give effect to it will be treasonable. The Governor, in pursuance of the authority vested in him by Her Majesty The Queen, has today informed the Prime Minister and other Ministers of the Rhodesian Government that they cease to hold office. They are now private persons and can exercise no legal authority in Rhodesia.
The British Government wish to make it clear that it is the duty of all British subjects in Rhodesia, including all citizens of Rhodesia, to remain loyal to The Queen and to the law of the land, and to recognise the continuing authority and responsibility for Rhodesia of the Government of the United Kingdom.
354 The British Government are in close touch with all other Commonwealth Governments about the consequences of this illegal act and about the measures we should take. The British Government will, of course, have no dealings with the rebel regime. The British High Commissioner is being withdrawn and the Southern Rhodesian High Commissioner in London has been asked to leave. Export of arms, including spares, have, of course, been stopped. All British aid will cease. Rhodesia has been removed from the sterling area. Special exchange control restrictions will be applied. Exports of United Kingdom capital to Rhodesia will not be allowed. Rhodesia will no longer be allowed access to the London capital market.
Our Export Credits Guarantee Department will give no further cover for exports to Rhodesia. The Ottawa Agreement of 1932 which governs our trading relations with Rhodesia is suspended. Rhodesia will be suspended forthwith from the Commonwealth Preference Area and her goods will no longer receive preferential treatment on entering the United Kingdom. There will be a ban on further purchases of tobacco from Southern Rhodesia. We propose to suspend the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement in its relation to Rhodesia and to ban further purchases of Rhodesian sugar. We shall not recognise passports issued or renewed by the illegal Southern Rhodesian regime. A further statement will be made on citizenship questions.
We shall bring before Parliament on Monday a general Enabling Bill to deal with this situation. It will, first of all, declare that Rhodesia remains part of Her Majesty's Dominions and that the Government and Parliament of the United Kingdom continue to have responsibility for it. It will go on to give power to make Orders in Council, to enable us to carry through the policy I have stated, and there will be a Government statement tomorrow giving more details of the action we would propose if Parliament agrees to the Bill. I am sorry it is not ready at the moment, for reasons the House will understand.
Lord Caradon, British permanent representative of the United Nations, is asking the President of the Security Council to call an early meeting to consider the situation—
§ The Prime Minister
It is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to keep control of this situation. For that reason, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be leaving for New York this evening.
It is the duty of everyone owing allegiance to the Crown in Rhodesia or elsewhere to refrain from all acts which would assist the illegal régime to continue in their rebellion against the Crown. Members of the armed forces and the police in Southern Rhodesia should refrain from taking up arms in support of the illegal regime, and from doing anything which will help them to pursue their unlawful courses. Public servants in Rhodesia should not do any work for the illegal régime which would tend to further the success of the rebellion. It is the duty of all private citizens owing allegiance to the Crown, wherever they may be, in Rhodesia or outside, to refrain from acts which will give support to the illegal regime.
The House will have an opportunity of further debate when the Southern Rhodesia Bill comes before the House next week. But I understand also that discussions are proceeding through the usual channels about a possible special debate on Rhodesia tomorrow instead of the wider intended debate on defence and foreign affairs. For my part, I will reserve further comment until we debate these matters more fully.
But I cannot end this statement about a problem with which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other colleagues and myself have been so intimately concerned for so long without expressing the deep sense of tragedy which each of us feels—personal tragedy, but not only personal tragedy. It is a tragedy affecting a great people, including 356 many thousands who have made their homes there and who are plunged into a maelstrom not of their own making, and of millions more who are denied the inalienable human right of self-expression and self-determination.
Heaven knows what crimes will be committed against the concept of the rule of law and of human freedom for which this House has always stood: this progressive unfolding of the regulations which have been signed under the state of emergency—and there are more to come—are an ominous warning.
The illegal régime which now claims power and authority in Rhodesia marked its usurpation of authority with a proclamation which borrowed for the purposes of small and frightened men the words of one of the historic documents of human freedom, even to the point of appropriating the historic reference to "a respect for the opinions of mankind".
I would repeat to them and to the Rhodesian people as a whole the words I used in my farewell statement on leaving Salisbury, which also quoted these words:When, nearly two centuries ago, the American States declared their independence from a British Government, which, to say the least, was remote, oppressive and unimaginative, they insisted that their actions be inspired by ' a proper respect for the opinions of mankind '. Nor were they alone in the world. Could anyone say that either of these things would be true of a Rhodesia which chose illegally to claim its independence?It would be unworthy of this Government, of any British Government, as it would be unworthy of this House, to allow this challenge, offensive as it is to all our cherished traditions, and to the wider aspirations of the whole of mankind, to go unanswered.
We did not seek this challenge. The House will concede that we did everything in our power to avoid it, but now it has been made, then, with whatever sadness, we shall face this challenge with resolution and determination. Whatever measures the Government, with the support of this House, judge are needed to restore Rhodesia to the rule of law, to allegiance to the Crown, these measures will be taken. And I am confident that we shall have not only the support of this House, not only the support of the nations of the world, but we shall have the clear and decisive verdict of history.
§ Mr. Heath
Is the Prime Minister aware how deeply we on this side of the House also deplore the unilateral declaration of independence by the former Government of Rhodesia today, with what distress we heard this news and with what feeling we share what he described as the tragedy of the present situation? I will not, nor I am sure will any right hon. or hon. Member of the House, today wish to say anything which could add to the dangers of the present situation.
We are grateful to the Prime Minister for the account he has given of the last stages of the discussions. This is not the time to go into them, but we would agree with him that, in view of the many questions which arise as a result of his statement and the possibility of the Enabling Bill, it would be convenient for the House to debate this matter before the Bill itself is debated. We would be prepared to offer to change the business of the House tomorrow from foreign affairs to a debate on Rhodesia, if that is convenient to the right hon. Gentleman, in the hope that we might discuss foreign affairs a little later.
May I put two or three major questions to the Prime Minister? It has been reported from Salisbury that the Governor, in addition to dismissing the Ministers, has also suspended the Constitution. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any truth in this matter? Secondly, by bringing the matter before the United Nations, could the Prime Minister say whether his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will continue to emphasise the position which has always been maintained so far—that this continues to be a British responsibility? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
Thirdly, as far as the individual proposals are concerned for action which the Prime Minister has described in some detail, is he aware that we would wish to examine each of these on its merits? We understand, of course, that some flow from the present situation of an illegal Government and that some are the decision of the Government. In examining them on their merits, we would do so against the criterion—what is the purpose of the Government's policy in taking each of these actions and the extent to which—[Interruption.] It is essential in this critical situation that we in this House 358 should be clear what is the purpose of the policy being pursued. We hope that it will be possible for the Government to do this tomorrow and in the debate on the Enabling Bill.
Finally, is the Prime Minister aware —as I am sure the whole House is—of the importance at this time, in every action which is taken and every word which is spoken, of maintaining our own national unity and thus helping to maintain the unity of the Commonwealth, to which we hope that at some future date an independent Rhodesia will be able to return?
§ The Prime Minister
Although the right hon. Gentleman was kind enough not to mention this, I apologise for the fact that for the second time this week I was unable to observe the usual courtesies with this statement. He will understand why. I could not start dictating what I have just said until after 1.30 p.m., for reasons which he knows.
I welcome the fact that he has lent his voice and that of his party to deploring and condemning this illegal action. I agree with what he said about the paramount need to preserve national unity in dealing with this tragedy—it is a tragedy not only for Rhodesia but for all of us— as a first step towards a united Commonwealth in which—I absolutely agree with his words—we hope that a free Rhodesia will play a very important part.
We have certainly had no confirmation that the Constitution has been suspended. As far as I am aware, the Governor has no power whatever to suspend the Constitution. The Constitution was conferred on Rhodesia by an Act of this Parliament. It can be amended, so far as certain parts of it are concerned, only by further Acts of this Parliament, and certainly in the present situation that would be required. I hope to say a little more about the purpose of the Enabling Bill in relation to the Constitution when I make a fuller statement, I hope, tomorrow.
But while certain amendments may be necessary if we are to protect the necessary rights of the Crown in Rhodesia, and while we could take power to suspend the Constitution, I want to make it clear that it is not possible to take away the Constitution of Rhodesia and to replace it with a new Constitution except by separate and specific legislation passed by this Parliament. Indeed, the first 359 purpose of the Enabling Bill will not be to enable us to create a new Constitution for Rhodesia. I hope that that is clear.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that the Foreign Secretary is going to New York. I can certainly confirm that my right hon. Friend will emphasise the position in the United Nations that Rhodesia is a British responsibility. Indeed, in one sense this is another part of the tragedy of the situation. It is more of a British responsibility today than it was yesterday, because now the responsibility lies directly on this country and on this House, as no other House and certainly no other Government will have any legal right to exercise power in Rhodesia. But the extent to which what has happened in Rhodesia will create a difficult situation in Africa and the Commonwealth makes it a matter of world concern, and those who deny this are burying their heads in the sand. It is only by our being able to prove to the United Nations that we are ourselves taking our responsibilities—and this will need the fullest support of the whole House—that we can stop other people from engaging on perhaps dangerous courses of action which we should all regret.
The right hon. Gentleman said that those measures which I have mentioned today and other measures which will follow should be examined on their merits and that the criterion in this examination should be the purpose which we all have in mind. That is absolutely right and absolutely fair. Our purpose is not punitive. We do not approach this tragic situation in a mood of recrimination. Our purpose is to restore a situation in Rhodesia in which there can be untrammelled loyalty and allegiance to the Crown and in which there can be, within whatever rules this House lays down, a free Government of Rhodesia acting in the interests of the people of Rhodesia as a whole. There may be different views about how that can be brought about in this difficult situation. There may be different views about the severity with which measures should be applied and how quickly to reach that situation. There will be no difference in the House, I am sure, about the fact that it is our duty, and that we have as a House to perform 360 that duty by discussing the basis on which we can restore the rule of law, legal Government and freedom in Rhodesia.
§ Mr. Grimond
May we express our deep regret at this deplorable and illegal act by the late Government of Rhodesia? May we also express our sympathy and support for the Governor and for all those who remain loyal to their oaths in Rhodesia? May we say that we fully support those measures which are proposed by Her Majesty's Government. We understand that many of them will come into operation forthwith and we understand that they are taken, as is the clear duty of the Government and the House, in defence of the rule of law and the ideals of a multi-racial Commonwealth. May I ask the Prime Minister two questions? Does he intend to take any specific steps about oil supplies? Secondly, while acknowledging that this is a British responsibility, if it is to be raised at the United Nations, as he said, will other nations be asked to support us in the economic steps which he has outlined?
§ The Prime Minister
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about the Governor, who is known to many of us in all parts of the House. He is one of the greatest of Rhodesians, and he has gone through a very critical time with great courage and great wisdom in these months. When my colleagues and I left Rhodesia I felt a very special touch of sadness in leaving His Excellency, and I hope that I am not betraying any personal secrets when I say that he was in tears when we left. I think that he at any rate knew what was coming, and I am sure that the thoughts and prayers of the whole House will be with the Governor and Lady Gibbs, not only in his capacity as representative of the Crown, but as a very great statesman who will go through a very, very difficult time.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about oil supplies. We have no proposals to make on this subject. As I have said before, I think that the solution of this problem is not one to be dealt with by military intervention unless, of course, our troops are asked for to preserve law and order and to avert a tragic action, subversion, murder and so on. But we do not contemplate, as I have made very clear, any national action, and may I say 361 any international action, for the purpose of coercing even the illegal Government of Rhodesia into a constitutional posture.
The right hon. Gentleman's question reminds me of something which I should have said about the United Nations. We intend to inform the United Nations of our responsibilities and of the measures which we are taking, and we shall ask for the support of other countries in those economic measures, because it is obvious that some of them could be frustrated if there were no general support for them. But it must be understood that it will not be necessary for us to ask. Indeed, anyone who has studied the attitude of the United Nations on the Rhodesian question and on the South African question will know that it will be a question —[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—I hope that hon. Members will try, however difficult, to be worthy of this situation which we face. If not, there are other places in the building to which they could repair while this debate is going on. I think that the problem will be to avert excessive action by the United Nations. As for the economic sanctions, I think that it will be right for us to concentrate on trying to get other nations to follow our lead rather than seeing them get too far ahead of us.
§ Mr. John Hynd
May I assure my right hon. Friend, on behalf of the constituents I represent, that they all regret the situation in which we find ourselves and applaud the action which has been taken by Her Majesty's Government? May I, therefore, ask two questions? First, in regard to the position of the Governor, what is his present statutory position in view of the present situation? Secondly, in the interests of the commercial concerns which are involved, what action is being taken in regard to the ships which are now on their way from Rhodesia to this country?
§ The Prime Minister
As to the position of the Governor, he is the Governor of Rhodesia, acting in the name of The Queen. I want to make it quite clear that we shall not recognise any orders which he has been forced to sign, conferring his powers on any other people, private persons or whoever they might be. As to the civil servants concerned, we all recognise the cruel dilemma which many people in Rhodesia will be facing. 362 It is our view—as I have said; and I believe that the Governor has made this statement in Rhodesia—that it is the duty of public servants to carry on with their jobs, to help to maintain law and order, certainly the judges and the police, at this critical time but that they must themselves be the judges of any possible action which they might be asked to take and which would be illegal in itself or illegal in the sense of furthering this rebellious act. I hope that those who are concerned with, say, hospital administration, education and the normal functioning of Government will feel able to carry on; unless and until they reach a point when their consciences tell them that they cannot.
To answer the question about ships on their way towards this country, I do not see that any problem arises there from the point of view of goods and cargoes due to be landed, but I think that we had better wait until after we have had a chance to debate some of the orders which have been or which will be made.
§ Mr. Henry Clark
Will the Prime Minister assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will take no action and will make no statement which would in any way encourage or be thought to encourage civil strife or hostilities in Rhodesia? [Interruption.]
§ The Prime Minister
Yes, Sir. I hope that it will be recognised that throughout this period of discussions our predecessors and ourselves have done everything in our power to avoid doing anything to exacerbate the situation in Rhodesia by civil strife or any action of this kind. I hope that the House will feel that the statement which I made in Rhodesia could have been regarded as a very salutary warning to both sides to avert from any action which was violent or illegal.
§ Mr. Taverne
Will the measures which Her Majesty's Government are having to bring forward include any offer of compensation to those public servants in Rhodesia who find themselves unable to support the rebellion, for the period during which the rebellion lasts?
§ The Prime Minister
This is a difficult problem. To do it by a kind of general blanket offer of compensation would, of 363 course, create difficulties for this House; there is the control of the public purse and so on. I will be quite frank in saying that the Governor has our authority in that where any public servant feels that he is being asked to take action which affronts his conscience or which, in his view, is contrary to his allegiance to The Queen, then where that public servant suffers financially or in any other way from the exercise of that discretion or conscience, I am certain that the whole House will feel that we have a responsibility to him at the end of the day, when order is restored. The case will have to be made. We have to control Government expenditure in this matter with proper rules, but the Governor has our authority to give that indication to those who approach him.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Is the Prime Minister aware that many of his sternest opponents respect very much a great deal of what he has said and done during these recent terrible weeks but that, at the same time, not all of us are entirely convinced—[Interruption.]—just because he said so, that he has done everything possible to avert this situation, which we deeply deplore? May I further ask him whether, despite the emotional feelings which we all may have at this present moment, he does not agree that ultimately it is along the lines of conciliation rather than coercion that the solution, in the interests of Her Majesty's subjects in Rhodesia—African more than European —must be found?
§ The Prime Minister
Yes, Sir. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening words, but, as to what he said after that, if he feels that there is anything more we could have done to avert this situation I hope that when he studies the full record he will tell us, because I am only too ready to be instructed in this matter. I believe that we have done everything we possibly could.
§ The Prime Minister
I will be glad to answer the hon. Gentleman further in the debate. At dawn this morning I offered to Mr. Smith to send a senior Minister to sign an agreed minute providing the conditions to recommend to The Queen the establishment of a Royal Commission. At every stage when we have been in touch we have met every point outstanding, as the hon. Gentleman will see when he studies the full record.
On his final point, I think that I agree when he uses the word "conciliation ". Our aim must be, first, to make this illegal action impossible and then to create among the great mass of the Rhodesian people, who I believe want to see this, independence on a reasonable basis and to create a situation in which we can have ordered Government. However, if by conciliation the hon. Gentleman means appeasement of those who have committed this illegal, unnecessary and irrational act, then that is not my definition of "conciliation".
§ The Prime Minister
I have no such evidence. We have been in touch in the last few weeks with very many Governments, not only Commonwealth Governments but the particular Governments to which my hon. Friend has referred. Certainly I have no reason at all to suppose that either of them have encouraged the Rhodesian Government in this course or are lending any form of financial or other support to the action that has been taken.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This is a grave and important matter, but I gather from what the Prime Minister said and from the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition that we shall be debating this question tomorrow and that we shall also be debating it on Monday. I think, therefore, that we must now move on to the next business.