HC Deb 23 November 1966 vol 736 cc1401-8
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on Rhodesia.

We have now studied Mr. Smith's reply to the terms for a settlement put forward by the British Government. In spite of some further elucidatory exchanges, I have to tell the House that there remains a very wide gap of principle which would have to be bridged before there could be any settlement which we could honourably commend to Parliament.

However, the Governor has made an earnest appeal to my right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary to pay a further visit to Salisbury to discuss with him the present critical position. In view of the Governor's courageous stand over the past 12 months, my right hon. Friend has decided that this is right. Accordingly, he proposes to leave tomorrow for a short visit to Salisbury. Should Mr. Smith wish to take the opportunity while my right hon. Friend is in Salisbury to convey any further views to Her Majesty's Government, my right hon. Friend will, of course, again make himself available for a meeting under the Governor's aegis.

I hope to make a further statement to the House early next week, after my right hon. Friend's visit.

Mr. Heath

Is the Prime Minister aware that we welcome the fact that the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs is to pay a further visit to Salisbury? We believe it right that he should have further talks with the Governor, who has requested them, and with Mr. Smith. We very much hope that this will be a further stage towards a negotiated settlement.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I feel it right that my right hon. Friend should meet the Governor. All of us hope that it will still, even at this late hour, be possible to bridge this gap. But it is, as I have said, a gap of principle; and, if this gap is not bridged, we would not be prepared to commend to the House a settlement which fails to meet the principles which this Government and our predecessors have insisted on as a basis for a settlement.

Mr. Thorpe

Would the Prime Minister agree that the loyalty to the Crown and the sense of duty and courage which the Governor has shown in very difficult circumstances should, and probably do, commend themselves in every part of the House and that, therefore, any request from him should be met, if possible?

Would the Prime Minister further agree that, in view of the six principles which are agreed in every part of the House, and which have never been opposed in the Division Lobbies, and as, for the past six months, Her Majesty's Government have tried to negotiate on the basis of those six principles, if the present talks do not meet with success that will indicate that Mr. Smith is not prepared to call off his rebellion and return to constitutional rule?

The Prime Minister

I very much agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said about the Governor. I am sure that the whole House agrees with him. When I review what the Governor has had to put up with over the last year in his own country, I am sometimes a little ashamed of the way some Members of the House have shown their support for Mr. Dupont.

It is quite true that the principles have been accepted by practically the whole of the House, by all parties, and, certainly, I would not be prepared to commend a settlement which was in conflict with those principles, or which failed to give copper-bottomed guarantees that those principles will be carried through. It is true that these principles have never been contested in any Division in the House and I am perfectly confident that they never will be.

Mr. Manuel

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House quite clearly how much longer we are to have the continued experience of Ministers trotting off to see the Governor and Mr. Smith while all the time all that is happening is that Mr. Smith and his régime are digging themselves more firmly in? We shall need to call a halt to this sooner or later, and the sooner the better.

The Prime Minister

The answer to that question was set out in the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference communiqué, which was agreed to by all the members of the Commonwealth. My hon. Friend had his answer when that communiqué was published.

It is not true that Ministers have been trotting off in the way he suggests. My right hon. Friend—this was understood by the whole of the Commonwealth at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference—went to Salisbury to discuss with all sections of Rhodesian opinion the decisions which the Commonwealth had reached. I think that it is absolutely right, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, that my right hon. Friend should accede to this request from the Governor.

If Mr. Smith seeks the opportunity of my right hon. Friend's visit to put new proposals to him which show that he is, even at this late stage, prepared to accept the six principles, and to convert them into reality, no one will be happier than my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Wall

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs will carry with him the good wishes of both sides of the House? Could the Prime Minister say that, if progress is made in Salisbury, this will lead to a meeting between himself and Mr. Smith?

The Prime Minister

I shall be very happy to meet Mr. Smith or any other Prime Minister of Rhodesia when Rhodesia has returned to constitutional rule. I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for conveying at this late stage his good wishes to my right hon. Friend, because on his last visit my right hon. Friend was made painfully aware of the extent to which Mr. Smith has been encouraged in the view he has taken and in his doubts about the resolution of this Government and this House by some of the remarks addressed to him by unofficial visitors from this House who claim to speak for more than themselves.

Mr. Driberg

Since Mr. Smith does hold these views, and since he is an unrepentant racialist, what is the use of this continual dickering with him? Is it not obvious that no Government of which Mr. Smith forms part can possibly be trusted to advance towards majority rule within the foreseeable future?

The Prime Minister

I am not going to describe Mr. Smith or anyone else as an unrepentant racialist. I am totally opposed, as all of us are in this House, to racialism in any form. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not all."] Well, I hope that we are, and I hope that those who take a different view will register their decision in the Lobby when the time comes. That applies whether to white racialism, or, as I have occasionally had to say in Commonwealth conferences, to another, danger, that of African racialism.

Certainly, I do not believe that this problem will be solved by statements of the kind my hon. Friend has made. It is not a question of dickering. We have made clear for two years our position on the future of Rhodesia, and in so doing have followed our predecessors in what they at that time also made clear. We made clear, also, this year, from January onwards, our willingness, without negotiating with or recognising an illegal régime, to talk about the future. This was from January onwards; it was not taken up till April.

As to trusting any particular group in Rhodesia, the fact that they declared an illegal régime rather than accept the honourable terms we had offered a year ago does cast doubt, and this is why we have insisted on certain things in the present Constitution being entrenched and guaranteed beyond all doubt. The gap still remains about that.

Mr. Ronald Bell

In view of the immense importance of achieving a negotiated settlement of this unhappy fratricidal conflict, will the Prime Minister ensure that the Secretary of State goes to Rhodesia not only in a receptive frame of mind, as I am sure he will, and as the Prime Minister said he will, but also in a constructive frame of mind, and willing to make suggestions, as a compromise involves initiatives from both sides?

The Prime Minister

Her Majesty's Government have taken repeated initiatives here. As regards the mood in which he goes, my right hon. Friend will go in accordance with the principles laid down by this House and never challenged by any hon. Members within the House. It is on that that he must stand. As to his being receptive and constructive, this he has always been.

The hon. and learned Gentleman used the word "fratricidal". I do not think that kith and kin arguments are to be based on colour. The whole world is our kith and kin, and the sooner this is recognised by all hon. Members the sooner we can reach the right solution on Rhodesia.

Mr. James Johnson

Will my right hon. Friend define his words "copper-bottomed guarantees"? He must know that many on the benches behind him are extremely sceptical of the words of Mr. Smith.

The Prime Minister

Her Majesty's Government, on my own visit to Salisbury in October, 1965, put forward proposals which many of my hon. Friends might have been doubtful about, I know, but which we felt provided an honourable settlement. The fact that this was turned down and recourse to illegal methods was taken by the then Government in Salisbury underlines the need to secure something more than words from those who would have to operate any constitutional settlement. This is what I mean by copper-bottomed guarantees. At the end of the day, when, either as a result of an agreement we are able to publish our proposals, or if, as may be the case, as a result of disagreement, we have to publish our proposals, my hon. Friend will see the type of guarantees on which we have insisted.

Mr. Goodhew

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the Secretary of State will consult the Governor on any mechanics he may be proposing for the actual means of return to constitutional rule?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. He did that. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman thinks my right hon. Friend did on his visit. There were the fullest consultations with the Governor. The hon. Gentleman must recognise that the Governor has put up with an awful lot in the past year both from his own fellow-countrymen and from some of ours as well. As regards a return to constitutional rule, this must be quite unequivocal. There cannot be any argument about this, and my right hon. Friend is fully seized of the Governor's point of view.

Mr. Maxwell

While continuing to hope against hope that Mr. Smith will accept the six principles, could my right hon. Friend tell the House, U.D.I. having survived a year and South Africa having declared formally and firmly that she will not allow the Rhodesian régime to fail, what is the use of continuing these negotiations, and, if they fail, what will be the consequences to Rhodesia and to the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister

On two counts my hon. Friend's question is hypothetical. In the first place, the South African Government have said nothing of the kind. In the second place, as my right hon. Friend is about to go out there, and it is up to Mr. Smith to put forward proposals for bridging the gap, I think that it would be premature for me to start talking about the situation which will arise if the gap is not bridged.

Mr. Hastings

Will the Prime Minister confirm that we may still expect a full debate on this matter in the early future so that some of us may have a chance to point out what we perfectly sincerely believe to be the appalling dangers to this country of a failure to reach agreement?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, as soon as the position becomes clarified a debate ought to be held. Whatever differences we may have, I think that the House has shown the greatest patience over the past few months in not pressing for detailed information. I recognised that before and after the Summer Recess. At the earliest possible moment, the earliest moment compatible with trying to reach a solution, a statement must be made and it must then be debated.

Mr. Faulds

Does my right hon. Friend realise that many of us on this side believe that he has given the rebel Smith quite enough chances to come to heel? Will he make a categorical reaffirmation of the Government's intention that, when law and order breaks down in Rhodesia, as it will under the Smith régime, they will adopt the customary colonial fashion for imposing order?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is dealing with a hypothetical situation. To take the point which I think he has in mind, I have repeatedly stated Her Majesty's Government's position. I have nothing to add to it and nothing to subtract from it.

Sir S. McAdden

Will the Prime Minister, in an effort to solve the differences which exist on this matter, tell us how many of these principles are at present causing difficulty and which are the points outstanding?

The Prime Minister

That is a perfectly fair question and I should like to answer it. The real issues, when I said that there was a wide gap to bridge, relate to the six principles, and there is also the very important principle of the mechanism of return to constitutional rule. But I do not think that it would be helpful in the job which my right hon. Friend has to do in the next few days for me to go into that now.

If we do reach an agreement—I have expressed my doubts about the possibility of it, though I have said that I hope we can—what differences there have been up to now will not matter very much because the House will have to judge on the terms of the agreement; though I repeat that the agreement will be 100 per cent. within the six principles, or we shall not commend it to the House. If we do not reach agreement, the House will be fully informed of those of the principles on which agreement could not be reached.

Mr. Hale

Will my right hon. Friend bear again in mind what I know he has had in mind, that it is now nearly 60 years since South Africa was granted self-government after a debate in which, on both sides of the House, the most solemn assurances were given that the Africans of South Africa would advance to participation in governing their country? Will he bear in mind—I know he will—the great difficulty of accepting assurances on this which come from someone who has already broken certain solemn assurances? It is not easy to see what guarantees can be given for the future if any measure of self-government is now given.

The Prime Minister

I have stated that the fact that our offers in October and November, 1965, right up to my final telephone call with Mr. Smith on the morning of U.D.I. were refused and recourse to illegality was taken instead must be taken into account both in a return to constitutional rule and in connection with any underwriting of guarantees for the future. There must not only be words, but guarantees going beyond words in the agreement.

Mr. Frederic Harris

Is there any association between the cancellation of the visit of the Minister of State to President Kenyatta and to Uganda and the right hon. Gentleman's statement?

The Prime Minister

No connection at all. The House will be aware of the circumstances of the Minister of State's visit. It has nothing to do with this. It is right to tell the House that after my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had decided that it was appropriate for him to respond to the Governor's request, our Commonwealth colleagues were informed. But in terms of chronological time, that could not have affected the Minister of State's visit.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

I appreciate the great patience shown by the Government, but will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Smith régime will be unable to use these talks as a subterfuge for further delay, which would be more beneficial to it than to the ends we may attain?

The Prime Minister

Her Majesty's Government have been prepared to discuss this matter from the moment I authorised the previous Commonwealth Secretary to visit Salisbury last January. This was rejected by Mr. Smith, or was associated with intolerable terms of recognition and entry. The Government have shown their patience over many months. The timetable was set out in the communiqué issued by the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, following our own proposal. There is now a real sense of urgency on which we and not just our Commonwealth colleagues are insisting, but this House will want to know the final position by next week.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must get on.