HC Deb 01 December 1966 vol 737 cc621-8
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would now like to answer Questions Nos. Q.2, Q.9 and Q.12.

As the House will already know, I shall be leaving this afternoon, together with my right hon. Friend the Common- Wealth Secretary and my right hon, and learned Friend the Attorney-General, for a meeting with the Governor of Rhodesia and Mr. Ian Smith.

The purpose of this meeting is to ascertain whether, within the programme of action to which the British Government are committed by the communiqué issued at the end of the recent meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers, a settlement of the Rhodesian problem can be reached on the basis of the principles to which successive British Governments have throughout adhered.

I must make it clear to the House that the fact that this meeting is taking place should not be allowed to disguise the fact that, despite the signs of movement we have had in the last week, there is still, so far as I can at this moment judge, a considerable gap to bridge.

The House will wish us to do everything in our power to get a settlement, and this we shall seek to do; but the House equally will insist, as the Government are insisting, that there can be no question of a settlement which does not honour the principles which all of us in this House stand by.

The House, I think, will further agree that a decision one way or the other cannot be delayed any longer. If no settlement on the terms which we are prepared to commend to this House is possible, then it is right that this fact should be known, and known quickly.

I shall, of course, make a full report to the House after our return.

Mr. Winnick

Is the Prime Minister aware that so many of us on this side of the House believe so strongly in the six principles that if any of those principles were to be abandoned many of us could not continue to support the Government on this issue? Would the Prime Minister agree that if we were to lose this battle with an illegal racialist régime, it would bring lasting shame and disgrace to all of us?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member need have no anxiety. If there were any question of abandoning the six principles, which the House has endorsed, I could not support Her Majesty's Government, either.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Is the Prime Minister aware that I am glad, if a little surprised, by the straightforward, almost "Yes, Sir" Answer to my Question? Is he aware that he will get the full support of the House, at least of this side of the House, to secure an agreement, and that we wish him well and hope that he will come back with an agreement with Mr. Smith?

The Prime Minister

I thank the hon. Gentleman. In all the talks about talks our position has been that if a situation arose in which we could make progress at a direct meeting of this kind, we could have this meeting. I know that the House will hope that we can get a settlement which we can commend to the House. I believe that a great deal of the progress which has been made so far—and there is a long way to go yet—has been due to the patience shown by my right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary, in what I believe to have been two historic visits, and by the line which he took, particularly last week. It has also been shown by the fact that everyone in Rhodesia, whatever some visitors from the House may have told the Rhodesians, understands the utter determination of Her Majesty's Government not to give way on any point which infringes the six principles.

Mr. Hooson

While we hope that the Prime Minister will be able to achieve an honourable settlement, and this, I feel, will largely depend on Mr. Smith, may ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is satisfied that adequate international machinery exists for the implementation of mandatory sanctions? If not, what steps are Her Majesty's Government taking in that matter?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. Of course, during and since the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, a great deal of attention and consultation has been given to this very question, and since that time these consultations have been going on. The fact of this meeting will not halt the action now being taken—the meeting of the Commonwealth Sanctions Committee on Monday—and other consultations. We hope that these sanctions will not be necessary if this meeting goes well, but I am perfectly certain that if we had not made it quite clear what the consequences would be of a refusal, or further delay, or procrastination, we would not have got to a point where I would feel justified in the meeting which will begin this evening.

Mr. Heath

Is the Prime Minister aware that the whole House will be glad that he is now going to meet Mr. Smith and that we greatly hope that it will be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to make an acceptable settlement with him? We would only like to assure the Prime Minister that he should take whatever time he feels to be necessary to achieve it.

The Prime Minister

I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much for what he has said and for the spirit in which he has said it.

Mr. Woodburn

We would all hope that Mr. Smith will bow to the will of the world in regard to what is right for the government of Rhodesia, but, if not, since this country has already imposed every economic sanction, and has practically ceased all trade with Rhodesia, would my right hon. Friend explain to the members of the United Nations that all we would be asking them to do is to carry out what we have already done?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend is correct. Knowing Mr. Smith as well as I do, I am not sure that his motive in any settlement—and I do not say this in any sense which he would consider critical—is bowing to the will of the world. He will decide what he thinks is best for Rhodesia and I think that he will now see what is best for Rhodesia in these circumstances. We have to look at wider considerations.

But my right hon. Friend is right. In what is proposed, if we fail to get agreement there is no question of surrendering our present control of this problem, so far as it is in our control. We apply sanctions, but some other countries do not and some legally cannot unless the sanctions are mandatory.

Mr. Sandys

While joining in expressing satisfaction that the right hon. Gentleman, despite his rebuke to me last week, is now to try to negotiate a compromise settlement based on the realities of the situation, may I ask him whether, in view of his earlier statement that he would be prepared to meet Mr. Smith only if Mr. Smith had become the Head of a legal Rhodesian Government, that condition has now been fulfilled?

The Prime Minister

If the courteous reply which I gave to the right hon. Gentleman last week, and which he calls a rebuke, was, in fact, a rebuke, it was because I did not consider his interpretation of the realities of the situation to be the same as my interpretation of the realities of the situation. Nor have I considered his visit to Salisbury in any way helpful, unlike the visits of certain of his right hon. and hon. Friends, if I may say so, who have taken the national view when they have been there. While it is true that the right hon. Gentleman pressed on Mr. Smith the need for a settlement—I grant him that—the right hon. Gentleman has given some wrong impressions while he has been there.

The answer to his question is that the position is that I would not have contemplated the visit today unless I had enough reason to think that we were within hailing distance of a possible solution which would involve a return to constitutional rule. I do not say that we are there—there is a very big gap to bridge—but it may be possible that the condition to which the right hon. Gentleman has drawn attention may become enough of a reality in the near future to justify my visit after what I have said.

Mr. Grimond

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the reason why we have come within what he describes as "hailing distance" is simply and solely because of a shift on the part of Mr. Smith? Secondly, can he tell us whether it is true that he is going to meet Mr. Smith at sea and why, if it is possible to conduct negotiations at all, they cannot be conducted on land in the normal way?

The Prime Minister

I used the phrase "hailing distance", but I hope that this will not be misunderstood. On sea or on the land, I hope that we shall find it easier to talk to one another rather than by that particular means. When I used that phrase I did not mean that I thought that we had now reached a position where a settlement is likely. I think that it is possible, but there is a gap to bridge. I was answering in the context of the question put to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), about the possibility of a return to constitutional rule.

With regard to the question of who has moved, I do not think that it would be particularly helpful at this moment to go into the issues. The House will be given the full story. Last time we published all of the exchanges and the House will have the full story this time, when a White Paper is published, either as a result of the success—as I hope—or sadly, in other circumstances. The House can then judge. It is too early now.

Mr. Paget

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a great many people in this country, who have felt that we were on the slippery slope to war, not only with Rhodesia but, as the inevitable concomitant, with South Africa, are very grateful indeed to him for the action which he is taking?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for the last part of his question. It is a fact that my hon. and learned Friend has never understood, in the way that we do, some of the dangers, and certainly the great dangers that would have been involved if we had taken the advice of my hon. and learned Friend at various times in this unhappy history. My hon. and learned Friend, and some hon. Members and one or two right hon. Gentlemen opposite, must examine their own records in this matter to see whether they have not made it much harder to reach the situation which now exists, and have perhaps, delayed our getting there.

Mr. Shinwell

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he can give a firm assurance that he will not allow any consideration or calculation of economic loss or gain to cause him to depart from the principles that he has laid down or from the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' communiqué?

The Prime Minister

I can certainly give that assurance to my right hon. Friend. I read some of the comments in certain papers this morning, suggesting that we have changed our attitude as a result of some calculations which I am supposed to have just seen—in the last 48 hours—about the possible effect of mandatory sanctions. This is totally untrue. It is a totally unworthy slur upon myself, and some of my hon. Friends who were named in these stories, to suggest that we would be likely, in any circumstances, to depart from the principles that we have laid down for the solution of this question.

The calculations on this issue have been made a very long time ago. We have not changed in our proposals for a settlement, nor shall we do so for any reasons of the kind mentioned by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

In his efforts to solve this national British problem, will the Prime Minister keep in mind the very strong feeling that transcends parties in the country, and possibly to some extent in this House, that if a British Commonwealth community and a British problem were to be shuffled off on to the United Nations it would be considered a humiliating failure of statesmanship?

The Prime Minister

I explained that last week there may have been some misunderstanding about the phrase "shuffled off." The mandatory sanctions ensure that other countries are able to do what we have been doing, a very different thing from discharging ourselves of the responsibility, either for the jurisdiction over Rhodesia or for the solution of the problem. The hon. Gentleman, who knows a good deal about this, and who has been to Rhodesia a number of times, can make his own calculation about the kind of humiliation that we would have suffered if we had listened to him.

Dr. Gray

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in accordance with the six principles, advance to majority rule should have a termination point, and does he further agree that this period should be brief or at the maximum, 10 years?

The Prime Minister

We stand by the six principles. The salient parts of those have been laid down by our predecessors and we have stood by them. I do not think that it would be helpful at this stage to go into any more details as to the interpretation of them. If my hon. Friend will study the Blue Book that we issued last year, he will see how deeply we have gone into the kind of considerations that he has raised.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in view of the tre- mendous importance of ending this conflict upon proper terms—I repeat proper terms—a conflict which neither side will win—it would be much better that we just extend to him our good wishes and stop further questions?

The Prime Minister

I am most grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Ashley

While many Members on this side of the House view the Prime Minister's efforts to solve this problem with sympathy and understanding, would my right hon. Friend recognise that in this case every possible difference between the letter and the spirit of the six principles is of profound importance, not only to this House but to the whole of Africa? Will he please bear this in mind?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend can be well assured from our record in this matter over two years, and indeed, from that of our predecessors, that we are well aware of those considerations.

Mr. Ian Lloyd rose——

Hon. Members


Mr. Ian Lloyd

When, during his discussion with the Governor and the Prime Minister of Rhodesia, the questions of the extent or timing of universal suffrage arise, as they surely will, will the Prime Minister give close attention to the remarks of President Ayub Khan, of Pakistan, in his luncheon speech at the Mansion House last week, when he referred to the relevance of Western democratic principles to conditions in Pakistan, which are undoubtedly common to Pakistan and Rhodesia?

The Prime Minister

We shall bear in mind the views of the other Commonwealth Heads of Government. As the House will know, the plans that have been made in case there is no agreement here have been drawn up in complete agreement with the other Commonwealth Heads of Government.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I should have taken the hint earlier. Mr. Heath. Business Question.