HC Deb 25 July 1967 vol 751 cc325-32
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

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

I undertook to inform the House of the noble Lord, Lord Alport's impressions following his visit to Rhodesia. Lord Alport has made a very full oral report to my right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary and myself of his findings and recommendations. He has reported that, and I quote the words he has himself suggested: after weighing the evidence obtained by him during his three weeks' visit to Rhodesia—during which he had an opportunity of meeting and discussing with a very large number of People the problems inherent in the achievement by negotiation of a solution honourable to both Britain and Rhodesia and which Her Majesty's Government would be prepared in due course to recommend to Parliament for its acceptance—he has concluded that, while in his opinion there can be no certainty at this stage regarding the eventual outcome of such a negotiation, the prospects of achieving success are likely to become less rather than greater with the lapsing of time. Lord Alport considers that it would be advisable in the interests of British policy, as in those of all races in Rhodesia, that Her Majesty's Government should take the initiative in setting on foot the preliminaries to a negotiation for a settlement. I should like to express the thanks of the Government for the extremely thorough way in which Lord Alport has undertaken his task. He saw over 1,000 Rhodesians, representing all races and every shade of opinion, on the political future of Rhodesia. The House will be aware that he was refused permission to see certain detainees he asked to see, though he did have the opportunity of talks with other representatives of African nationalist opinion.

While he met a number of people, including influential members of the Rhodesia Front, who are opposed to any settlement which does not amount to a complete surrender by the British Government of the principles we have sought to uphold, he is convinced that a majority of the Europeans, and, indeed, many of the Africans he met, are anxious for a negotiated settlement with Britain.

I must, however, make clear to the House that, despite Lord Alport's very thorough discussion with leading members of the régime, I cannot regard his report as providing conclusive evidence that, to quote the phrase I used when I announced his mission, Mr. Smith, with the authority of his Rhodesia Front colleagues, is prepared to enter into meaningful discussions … discussions leading to a solution which Parliament could accept".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th June, 1967; Vol. 748, c. 305.] Equally the noble Lord was not in a position to bring back any guarantee that, if any meaningful agreement were to emerge, Mr. Smith would not once again, as after "Tiger", be overruled by the extremist members of his régime.

Lord Alport, in his meetings with Mr. Smith, felt himself precluded, in my view, rightly, by the terms of his mission from entering into any discussions which might be regarded as a negotiation. Lord Alport tells me, however, that Mr. Smith indicated to him that he had all along said and believed that a constitution based on the "Tiger" proposals—which were themselves based on the 1961 Constitution—was acceptable. But, Mr. Smith told Lord Alport, there were some aspects of the "Tiger" constitution which he and his colleagues would like to see changed; there were, he said, some details which had been arrived at quickly, under pressure of the timetable, and these needed looking at again. Since the "Tiger" talks, Mr. Smith said, one or two other points had occurred to him which he believed were reasonable and would improve the Constitution.

Lord Alport has now recommended that, without commitment, we should proceed to clarify what these points are. The Government are, therefore, authorising the Governor, to whose steadfastness and courage once again I would pay full tribute, to undertake this task.

I must make clear that, in taking this limited step, Her Majesty's Government fully reserve their position on N.I.B.M.A.R., and on the return to legality and the kind of broad-based Government of national unity which would be required for any major step forward. No doubt Mr. Smith, for his part, will continue during this process to assert what he calls his independence.

Our partners in the Commonwealth have been informed of this decision. We shall continue to keep in close touch with the whole Commonwealth and it is intended that the Commonwealth Secretary, during the Recess, should have discussions with leaders of African Commonwealth countries about all aspects of the Rhodesian problem.

Mr. Heath

My right hon. and hon. Friends and myself welcome the statement which the Prime Minister has just made that he is authorising the Governor to enter into talks with Mr. Smith and his colleagues about the "Tiger" constitution and amendments to it. We believe that in those circumstances it is right that both sides should reserve their position about the remaining problems.

Is the Prime Minister aware that a number of questions come to mind, but that I do not propose to raise them this afternoon because I wish the discussions which are to be carried on to be successful? I hope that it will be possible to reach agreement about a constitution which will provide an honourable settlement and that the Government will then find themselves in a position to move on to discussions about the interim arrangements and a final settlement.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Prime Minister aware that all parts of the House would wish to be associated with his remarks of gratitude to Lord Alport for the work he has done? May I ask, first, whether the noble Lord indicated that Mr. Smith would be more likely to accept a test of public opinion to see whether there was support for independence on the basis of the 1961 Constitution and would abide by it? Secondly, was there an indication of Mr. Smith's willingness to lift those matters of racial discrimination which have been introduced since U.D.I.? Thirdly, is there any acceptance of the inevitability of ultimate African majority rule?

The Prime Minister

Since, as I have said, Lord Alport felt—and this was what we said to him—that he was not to negotiate, he was not, naturally, in a position to press Mr. Smith for his views on a number of those questions.

With regard to the testing of Rhodesian opinion—acceptability, the fifth principle—Mr. Smith has always understood, and in his more constructive moments, has fully accepted, the need for a Royal Commission or similar process to test the acceptability to all sections of Rhodesian opinion.

With regard to recent developments in Rhodesia such as those mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, as I have said we certainly view these with concern. One at least—that relating to equality of treatment between races—is a clear breach of one of the principles. Clearly, in any ultimate settlement there would have to be a sharp reversal of such a development, and, indeed, of other developments which have taken place earlier.

As to censorship and the release of the detainees, it was fully accepted in H.M.S. "Tiger" that if there were to be a satisfactory test of public opinion, censorship must be lifted and, wherever possible, detainees released in accordance with an agreed procedure so that there could be a free expression of political and other opinions in Rhodesia during that period.

Mr. James Johnson

While in no way denying the sincerity of the value of the work done by Lord Alport, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend is aware that no section of African opinion, save, perhaps, Hastings Banda, was in favour of the mission going out? In this context, therefore, is my right hon. Friend aware that the Africans will welcome the fact that he has today said that there will be no settlement except on N.I.B.M.A.R. terms?

The Prime Minister

I said, as I have said all along, that we reserve our position fully on this. We stand by what we have said on N.I.B.M.A.R. I have indicated that we shall require a very substantial change of circumstances before it would be possible to go back to our Commonwealth colleagues for any change in that direction. During the very limited process which is now beginning, there will certainly be no change at all in our attitude on these questions. As I have said, to be fair to Mr. Smith, I suspect that he would not make any change in reserving his position on his so-called independence.

Mr. Winnick

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it will be to the lasting credit of our country that, even at a time of economic difficulties, we have refused to abandon the 4 million Africans and to abandon the six principles? Can my right hon. Friend tell us what action is being taken in the meantime to make sanctions work and bite?

The Prime Minister

We have fully stood by the six principles at all times and we have had the support of a great number of hon. Members, in all parts of the House, including those who first put forward two of the most important of these principles. We shall continue to stand by these principles.

With regard to sanctions, it is clear that while, in the early months of this year, two or three countries were still substantially importing Rhodesian exports on the basis of orders placed before mandatory sanctions came into effect, there has been a very sharp fall—one country, for example, showing a fall of 99 per cent.—in the spring compared with the figures earlier in the year.

The sanctions will, of course, continue during the process which I have described and I think that there is a widespread feeling in other parts of the world that the sanctions will not be fully effective until something is done about the seepage of oil through Mozambique into Rhodesia.

Mr. Sandys

If it is not the kiss of death, may I warmly welcome the Prime Minister's announcement?

The Prime Minister

I would never regard any statement by the right hon. Gentleman as the kiss of death—to me, anyway, but if the right hon. Gentleman, who has still considerable influence in Rhodesia, is going to spread the sort of story he spread last week about our intentions about majority rule, I would regard any approach from him, if not as the kiss of death, as the kiss of dishonour.

Mr. Whitaker

In view of Lord Alport's statement last November that no British Government could reach a settlement with the Smith régime while retaining their honour and integrity, will my right hon. Friend make it a pre-condition of any further talks that those who represent the majority of Rhodesians participate?

The Prime Minister

What I have announced this afternoon is an extremely limited step. The question of who represents the majority of Rhodesians is an extremely difficult one to answer, because one of the greatest difficulties—and this is why I have in the past expressed my doubts about how soon after African majority rule it would be right to proceed to full independence—is the divided leadership and lack of constructive leadership of the Rhodesian Africans.

My hon. Friend will be well aware that other African countries feel concerned, as we are, and as my hon. Friend is, for the future welfare of the Rhodesian Africans. Many of them have worked constructively to try to get some good leadership of them within their own country. It is an important part, I think, of any future step in this that my right hon. Friend should be visiting Africa for discussions with the heads of African Commonwealth countries about the matters my hon. Friend has raised.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

In the context of Commonwealth consultations the right hon. Gentleman referred specifically and quite properly to consultation with the heads of African Commonwealth countries. Would he make it clear that the Commonwealth Secretary will also, if occasion offers, seek consultation with Commonwealth countries on the widest possible basis so as to tap the whole reserves of Commonwealth statesmanship to assist in a successful outcome?

The Prime Minister

Yes, but this is a continuous process. My right hon. Friend has been in close touch, as I said in my statement, with all Commonwealth countries, not only the African countries; and I have had the opportunity myself, during these last few weeks, of discussing this question—for example, with the Prime Minister of Canada and Australia, the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, and the Prime Ministers of Malaysia and Singapore. Certainly, this is a continuing process.

Mr. Ashley

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the immense good will he has on this side of the House for all the efforts which he has made to achieve an honourable settlement in Rhodesia, but could he give us the assurance that any agreement would depend not just upon consultation with all sections of opinion in Rhodesia, but also on the consent of the black Africans?

The Prime Minister

That has always been a requirement of the fifth principle. As I have said—this goes back a long time before we came into office—any permanent settlement, certainly any scheme for independence, must be acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole. A good deal of thought has gone into the question how this can be ascertained on terms which this House, because this House has the ultimate responsibility, would consider to be a fair test.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

The whole House will concede to these negotiations whatever degree of optimism it can, but why is the Prime Minister so absolutely reluctant to accept that any real settlement of this problem must bring into focus the realities of power in the whole of Southern Africa, however repugnant to both sides of the House some features of the régime may be?

The Prime Minister

The question of the realities of power as well as the realities of the principles which this House has proclaimed must be central to this issue. One thing I would not be prepared to do—and I have seen some of the statements by the racialist members of the Smith régime about Lord Alport himself, and about the "Tiger" constitution which they say only poltroons and morons would accept—would be to hand over Rhodesia to a partly Fascist régime, particularly in view of the very serious danger that when that had happened they would get rid of Mr. Smith who, by their standards, is a Liberal, and would form a full-powered Fascist régime and a police State in Rhodesia.

Mr. Wyatt

While it is true that exports from Rhodesia have dropped, is it not equally true that imports into Rhodesia have advanced enormously? Will my right hon. Friend represent to the United Nations that it is very unfair to expect us to lose our export trade to Rhodesia while other countries are busy picking it up?

The Prime Minister

There has been some trade going on both through South Africa and Mozambique, but both exports from Rhodesia and exports into Rhodesia have been sharply falling over these months. Individual cases have received a lot of publicity, as is quite right. While I would certainly agree with my hon. Friend that where other countries are conniving in this—I have already mentioned Mozambique, for which Portgual is responsible—I think that there will be very strong world opinion that Mozambique should come into line with what the other 90 countries are doing.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must proceed.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order. Is it not the custom here that hon. and right hon. Members refer to other hon. and right hon. Members as hon. or right hon. Members? Is it in keeping with the customs of the House to use the phrase which the Prime Minister used in relation to my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) when he suggested to him that he was dishonourable in his conduct? Is it accepted that that should take place?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman suggested any other Member was not honourable.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

He did.

Mr. Speaker

I heard something about a kiss—a kiss of dishonour, I think. I do not, however, think it bore the implication the hon. Member suggests.