HC Deb 12 December 1967 vol 756 cc211-22
The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. George Thomson)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on Rhodesia.

On 14th November, I gave the House a report on my visit to Rhodesia. As I said then, Mr. Smith and I agreed in Salisbury that we should consult with our colleagues and reflect on our positions. This Her Majesty's Government have now done. I promised to make a full statement as soon as we had considered all the implications and I am grateful to the House for the indulgence which it has shown in not pressing for details.

I feel that the time has now come when the House should know the full position, especially since there has been a widely observed contradiction between my statement that the talks revealed new and fundamental divergences and Mr. Smith's public assertion that there is no great difference between us. I think that the facts should now be known so that the House can judge for itself.

During our 10 hours of talks in Salisbury, Mr. Smith proposed a number of changes in the draft constitution worked out on board H.M.S. "Tiger". Since the details are lengthy, I will, with permission, circulate them in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but I should like to try to summarise their more important features.

Put simply, the most important effect of Mr. Smith's changes would be to remove the safeguards provided by the "Tiger" arrangements against what the second principle called retrogressive amendment of the Constitution. The main change he proposed was that all the African members of the Senate should be Chiefs. This would mean that African elected representatives would no longer have it in their power to block amendments which would weaken the protection given to Africans against discriminatory legislation or place obstacles in the way of progress to majority rule. In other words, there would not be enough of them to make up a "blocking quarter".

I fully recognise the important place of Chiefs in African society. But in good conscience I could no more accept the Chiefs now as the proper guardians of African political rights than right hon. Gentlemen opposite could accept the Chiefly Indaba as representative of African opinion as a whole in October, 1964. Moreover, it must be recognised that the Chiefs are dependent on the Rhodesian authorities for their pay and allowances, and in the last analysis for their appointment or dismissal.

Because of its implications for the procedure for constitutional amendment, this proposal for a change in the composition of the Senate is a fundamental one. In addition to this, Mr. Smith went on to press for the removal of a further safeguard proposed in the "Tiger" discussions. This was the safeguard providing that amendments to the specially entrenched provisions should be made subject to appeal to a Constitutional Commission consisting of the Rhodesian Chief Justice and other judges, with the further right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Mr. Smith wished to drop this safeguard.

As the House will realise, the changes I have mentioned so far run directly counter to both the first and second of our principles—that there should be guarantees both of unimpeded progress to majority rule and against retrogressive amendment of the Constitution.

Mr. Smith further proposed the abolition of the system of cross-voting embodied in the 1961 Constitution and a reduction, as compared with the "Tiger" arrangements, in the number of B Roll African seats. These proposals would derogate from the third principle, which calls for immediate improvement in the political status of the African population—and would also substantially delay progress towards majority rule.

Mr. Smith made certain other suggestions about the Constitution. As these were put to me they do not necessarily involve fundamental departures from the six principles, and I indicated that we should be very ready to consider them if a general settlement were in prospect.

To sum up, it is the considered view of Her Majesty's Government that the main changes I have described are fundamentally incompatible with the essential principles agreed by both sides of the House. They could not, therefore, form a basis for discussion of a possible settlement which could honourably be commended to Parliament. This is what I gave Mr. Smith in Salisbury as my own immediate reaction. I have now confirmed it to him as the considered view of Her Majesty's Government and have expressed the hope that he will reconsider I he position which he took up during our talks.

Failing this, the House will understand that we have no alternative but to pursue the policy of sanctions in conjunction with the United Nations. Meanwhile, we stand by our pledges to the Commonwealth, including, of course, our declaration on Nibmar.

I refuse to despair of the régime's recognising the dead end in to which they lire leading Rhodesia. For our part, we are certainly not going to slam any doors. Her Majesty's Government remain ready to discuss any proposals for a settlement in Rhodesia that are consistent with principles to which both sides of the House are committed.

Mr. Maudling

The Secretary of State has made a very serious statement, which both sides of the House will wish to consider before they give any judgment on it. No one would want to take any step or say anything that could impede the still remaining chances of an agreement. Certainly, on this side of the House we want above all to have an agreement. We do not want to do anything that might prevent an agreement being reached, and I understand from the right hon. Gentleman's statement that there is still a door open. I have just one question for him. Will he inform the House straight away when he receives Mr. Smith's reply?

Mr. Thomson

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman says. I confirm that it is our desire to obtain a settlement, but, of course, one that must be consistent with principles accepted on both sides of the House. I shall inform the House as soon as I receive a reply from Mr. Smith.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Leader of the Opposition spoke for almost everyone when he said on 10th December, 1965, that the whole House abhors the aspects of the police State which have been and are being introduced into Rhodesia today? Is it not a fact that after two years it has become quite apparent that talks will not bring about a change of heart in the rebel régime? When can the right hon. Gentleman give us details of the tightening of sanctions to make them really effective?

Mr. Thomson

I should not like at this stage to take the pessimistic view of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party that there is now no prospect of making further progress, although I freely confess that the outlook is not very promising in the light of what I have just described.

On the question of sanctions, I said in my statement that we are bound to continue, in conjunction with the United Nations, the pressure of sanctions on the régime. As the House knows, the Commonwealth Sanctions Committee is presently discussing this, and as soon as there is something to report I shall tell the House, although I have told the House on other occasions that the essence of sanctions arrangements is that one does not give notice to those whom they affect.

Mr. Roebuck

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us on this side of the House will want to congratulate him on the patience he has exhibited in dealing with a bunch of thugs? But will he take note that there is serious concern about the breaking of sanctions by a number of other countries, particularly the French and the Japanese? Can he say that he will take action with his colleagues to try to stamp out this sanctions busting by other countries?

Mr. Thomson

Yes, Sir. One of the subjects I have raised in the Commonwealth Sanctions Committee is precisely the need for joint action to make sure that all the countries which voted for the mandatory resolutions are taking all practicable steps to ensure that firms under their jurisdiction honour those resolutions.

Mr. Rose

Is my right hon. Friend aware that sanctions will be effective only if they are universally applied and backed up by other means? If we do not intend to tighten the screw, would he consider placing the matter fairly and squarely before the United Nations as its responsibility?

Mr. Thomson

The matter is already before the United Nations. We are operating under mandatory resolutions of the organisation. I would ask right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House who have differing views on the question to be realistic about the operation of sanctions. It would be quite wrong to believe that sanctions are not having an important effect on the Rhodesian economy. But, equally, it is wrong to believe that there is a dramatic short-cut to 100 per cent, effectiveness with sanctions. What sanctions do, I hope, is to place clearly before the Rhodesian community the plain choice between continuing with rebellion and economic stagnation, on the one hand, and returning to legality and economic expansion, on the other.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is not the important effect of sanctions which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned to consolidate all European and much African support behind Mr. Ian Smith's Government? Are not the new difficulties and differences to which he has referred the result of the protraction of sanctions and the failure of the Government to reach a settlement earlier?

Mr. Thomson

No, Sir. I do not accept that. I think that the impression of consolidation of African opinion behind the Smith régime of which the hon. Gentleman talks is the result of the censorship imposed by the régime and not a result of the sanctions.

Dr. Gray

Will my right hon. Friend pursue sanctions more ardently and seek new ways of making life uncomfortable for that racist and illegal régime?

Mr. Thomson

I hope that my hon. Friend will not need to complain about my lack of ardour, but I try to pursue these matters, together with other associated matters, realistically.

Mr. Turton

As the continuance of the disagreement will damage everyone in Central Africa and this country, will the right hon. Gentleman give serious consideration to the suggestion of Sir Roy Welensky that the matter be submitted to a Commonwealth mediator, preferably Sir Robert Menzies?

Mr. Thomson

I think that when the right hon. Gentleman has seriously studied the statement I have just made, and, in particular, the more detailed material that will be in the OFFICIAL REPORT, he will discover that Mr. Smith has departed from the principles which we understood that he accepted in such a way that it is very difficult to see what rôle a mediator could play in the circumstances.

Sir Dingle Foot

Did my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to discuss with Mr. Smith the continued detention of the African political leaders, who represent far more people in Rhodesia than do Mr. Smith and his colleagues?

Mr. Thomson

That was one of the questions I raised directly with Mr. Smith, and it is closely linked with any possible test of acceptance, assuming that one could reach the stage of establishing a constitution that conformed with our principles and pledges.

Mr. Sandys

While I hope that these very serious differences can be narrowed, does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, in view of the obvious failure of sanctions—he must be realistic about that —the British Government will have to accept terms which are less favourable than those which they asked for a year ago, or else they will get no settlement at all?

Mr. Thomson

No, Sir. I do not accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said. With respect to him, I think that the great majority of the House is ready to seek a settlement only within the six principles, of which he is one of the joint authors.

Mr. William Hamilton

Since successive bouts of negotiation have widened the gulf between Her Majesty's Government and the illegal régime, will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that the next initiative for talks, if there be one, does not come from our Government but from Rhodesia?

Mr. Thomson

I think that the first thing to do is to await what response I get from Mr. Smith to the announcement I have now made.

Mr. Hastings

Is it not indisputable that the growth of an internal opposition to the present Rhodesian Government of the kind which Her Majesty's Government might approve depends entirely upon an agreement? Has the Secretary of State ever considered that?

Mr. Thomson

The hon. Gentleman, not for the first time, is putting the cart before the horse. He is saying that one should accept a settlement on Smith's terms in order to create an opposition in Rhodesia against that settlement, if I understand him correctly.

Mr. Bellenger

As my right hon. Friend has given the impression that there is nothing much more to do in the way of negotiations with the Government of Rhodesia—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not a Government."]—what legal steps are to be taken by this country to make the break complete? Will he give the House an opportunity of debating these issues at an early date?

Mr. Thomson

The question of a debate on Rhodesia is for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Have the Government made any assessment of the continuing cost to our own balance of payments of implementing the sanctions policy? What estimate have they made of the length of time, in view of our present financial stringency, that they can continue to bear this great burden?

Mr. Thomson

Careful estimates have been made. Although balance of payments calculations of this character are extremely complex, because one must try to guess what the situation would have been had there been no U.D.I., I will tell the hon. Gentleman what I have said on other occasions—that the cost to this country, although grievous, is a great deal less than the estimate generally made. But this is a cost which I think that we must bear in support of the principles which both sides of the House £e have accepted.

Mr. Raphael Tack

How long is the door to remain open—until 1970, or 1980, or 1990? When Mr. Smith again slaps Her Majesty's Government in the face, will they turn the other cheek again or blockade Lourengo Marques and take other sterner measures?

Mr. Thomson

I have made our position on the question of sanctions clear. The first thing is to make sure that the existing sanctions are implemented as effectively as possible. Other measures are under study by the Commonwealth Sanctions Committee.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Will the right hon. Gentleman produce as quickly as possible a White Paper analysing the application of sanctions in other countries and identifying what legislative provision has been made in other countries for the application of sanctions and how far this has proved effective?

Mr. Thomson

The Secretary-General of the United Nations published at the end of last week a lengthy report containing the information from the member countries of the United Nations about the degree in which they are implementing the sanctions resolution. I will ensure that this report is placed in the Library of the House. Certainly, in the first instance, it will give the right hon. and learned Gentleman a good deal of the information he seeks.

Mr. Maxwell

What positive assistance, if any, are the Government receiving from the Government of South Africa to bring the illegal régime back to legality?

Mr. Thomson

As I reported on 14th November, I took the opportunity to pass through Pretoria to discuss the Rhodesian problem with Dr. Müller, the South African Foreign Minister, and also to raise with him the direct matter that faces us—the presence of South African forces on Rhodesian soil.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Will not the right hon. Gentleman accept that everything in his statement merely indicates a growing gap between two political philosophies —[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]— and that the whole policy of sanctions is an intolerable price imposed on the people of this country for a bargain which steadily gets worse as the months pass?

Mr. Thomson

I agree with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, but I am not sure, because of the noise, whether or not I understood him to say in the second part that he wished to close the gap by abandoning our democratic philosophies and adopting the kind of philosophy Mr. Smith has.

Mr. Kelley

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the time has arrived when we must determine whether the sanctions policy is to be abandoned and whether we should approach the problem of a solution of the Rhodesian question by approaching people in Rhodesia who have other ideas than those of Mr. Smith about the political future of that nation and trying to attain an agreement with those who are opposed to the present régime?

Mr. Thomson

I still believe that the best method of bringing peaceful pressure to bear on the régime and of seeking a peaceful outcome to the problem is through the application of sanctions under United Nations authority.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on.

Following are the details:

The proposals put to the Commonwealth Secretary by Mr. Ian Smith at their talks in Salisbury on 9th November, 1967 for the amendment of the constitutional proposals in Part I of the "Tiger" Working Document (Cmnd. 3171, pp. 87 and 88) were as follows:

Composition of the Legislature

2. Paragraph 2 of the Working Document provided for a Legislature consisting of two Houses, composed as follows:

Legislative Assembly


3. Paragraph 8 of the Working Document provided that the Specially Entrenched provisions of the proposed Constitution should require a vote of at least three-quarters of the total membership of both Houses voting together. The total membership of both Houses together would be 93, three-quarters of which would be 70 (to the nearest whole number), so that a proposed amendment would fail to be carried if twenty-four members refused to support it. The 17 "B" Roll seats in the Legislative Assembly could be assumed to be filled by Africans or persons acceptable to Africans as their representatives, and together with these members the 8 elected African members of the Senate would supply a total of 25 elected representatives of Africans, i.e. one more than the minimum "blocking quarter" of the total membership of both Houses together required to prevent amendments of Specially Entrenched provisions.

4. On 9th November Mr. Smith pressed for all the African members of the Senate to be Chiefs (elected by the Chiefs' Council). At the same time he said that he would wish the numbers of members in the various categories in the two Houses to be altered as follows:

Legislative Assembly


The total membership of both House together would then be 89. The number required for the passage of an amendment to a Specially Entrenched provision would be 67, and the number required for the "blocking quarter" would be 23. Against this number, the Africans' elected representatives would be able to count on supplying only the 15 elected to the "B" Roll seats in the Legislative Assembly, unless and until Africans were elected to "A" Roll seats. Eight "A" Roll seats would have to be won before the "blocking quarter" could be made up of the Africans' elected representatives.

5. It should also be noted that, under the changes proposed by Mr. Smith, the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly which could be counted on as returning the Africans' elected representatives from the start would be reduced from 17 to 15, while the number of seats likely to be held by Europeans, at least to begin with, would remain unchanged at 50.

Constitutional Appeals

6. Paragraph 8 of the "Tiger" Working Document provided that, in addition to the three-quarters majority of the total membership of both Houses together required for the passage of an amendment to a Specially Entrenched provision, there should also be a system of appeal against such an amendment. Such an appeal would lie in the first instance to a Constitutional Commission in Rhodesia, consisting of the Chief Justice and other judges: with further appeal as of right to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

7. Mr. Smith said on 9th November that this system of appeals was objectionable in principle and should be dropped.

8. Quite apart from his objections in principle, he had the following objections of detail to the proposed machinery for the appeals and to the formulation of the permitted grounds of appeal:

(a) the Working Document provided that amendments subject to appeal should not come into force until the time for appeal had expired or the appeal had been finally disposed of. He objected to the delay which this would cause to the commencement even of legislation eventually held to be unobjectionable. In offering to consider whether it would be possible to meet Mr. Smith on this point, the Commonwealth Secretary reminded him that the "Tiger" discussions had envisaged arrangements for the rapid disposal of these cases and for summary rejection of frivolous or vexatious appeals;

(b) the Working Document provided that an appeal might be brought on the ground that the amendment in question "discriminates unjustly or has the effect of discriminating unjustly between the races…". Mr. Smith objected to the phrase" or has the effect of…" on the ground that it greatly widened the scope of the provision and was in fact contrary to what had been agreed on the "Tiger". The Commonwealth Secretary said that he was advised that the account of the relevant discussion on page 81 of Cmnd.3171 was accurate: he commented that this appeared to be a drafting point which could be left to be settled by the constitutional draftsmen;

(c) the other permitted ground of appeal was that the amendment in question "contravenes any of the provisions of the Declaration of Rights contained in the Constitution". Mr. Smith objected that this would have the effect of making it impossible to amend the Declaration of Rights. The Commonwealth Secretary replied that the reference was clearly intended to be not to each and every amendment affecting the Declaration of Rights, but only to those held by the Courts to derogate from its fundamental principles.


9. The 1961 Constitution provides for the country to be divided into 50 "constituencies" (to have as nearly as possible the same numbers of "A" Roll voters) and 15 "electoral districts" (to have as nearly as possible the same numbers of "B" Roll voters). All the voters in a constituency or an electoral district, whichever Roll they are on, can vote in elections in that constituency or electoral district; but in a constituency in which there are more than one-quarter as many votes cast by voters on the "B" Roll as by voters on the "A" Roll, the number of "B" Roll votes received by each candidate is to be reduced proportionately so that the total number of "B" Roll votes received is equal to one-quarter of the "A" Roll votes received: and vice versa in the electoral districts.

10. This system is known as cross-voting, and serves to give "B" Roll voters an influence in the election of members from the (primarily "A" Roll) constituencies, and likewise "A" Roll voters an influence in the election of candidates from the (primarily "B" Roll) electoral districts.

11. The "Tiger" Working Document provided for this system of cross-voting to continue. Mr. Smith proposed on 9th November that it should be abandoned, so that "B" Roll electors would vote only for the "B" Roll seats, for which "A" Roll electors would not vote.

12. In addition to pressing for the abolition of cross-voting (see paragraph 11 above) Mr. Smith pointed out that it was presumably a slip for paragraph 3 of the "Tiger" Working Document to say that cross-voting would be applied to "all seats", since some seats were expressly described as to be elected by voters of a specified community and on a specified Roll: thus, the 12 European seats in the Senate were to be elected by Europeans on the "A" Roll. It was agreed that the clear intention was that cross-voting should be applied only to the "A" Roll and "B" Roll seats in the Legislative Assembly.

Delimitation Commission

13. Paragraph 4 of the "Tiger" Working Document provided that alterations in the composition of both Houses and in the number of seats should be effected by the Special Entrenchment procedure; it also provided for the incorporation in the Delimitation Commission's terms of reference of an agreed formula regarding the Commission's "over riding objective" in dividing the constituencies. Mr. Smith argued on 9th November that it was not right—and had not in fact been agreed in the "Tiger"—that both the "agreed formula" and Section 37 of the Constitution should be made Specially Entrenched provisions. It was agreed that this question would require further legal study if sufficient progress were made on other points to justify it.