HC Deb 13 June 1967 vol 748 cc305-9
Q7. Mr. Sandys

asked the Prime Minister whether he has received any information which indicates that Mr. Ian Smith would be prepared to resume talks with the British Government, with a view to making a renewed attempt to reach a negotiated settlement.

The Prime Minister

The House will be aware of the reports which have recently appeared suggesting willingness on the part of Mr. Smith to resume talks. I should now tell the House that if in fact Mr. Smith, with the authority of his Rhodesia Front colleagues, is prepared to enter into meaningful discussions, by which I mean discussions leading to a solution which Parliament could accept, and has any specific suggestions to make which would lead in that direction, Her Majesty's Government would readily consider them. But we must be satisfied that any such suggestions result from a genuine willingness to seek such an acceptable solution and that those who make them do so with the ability to give effect to any agreed solution.

To this end, my right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary and I have asked the noble Lord, Lord Alport, to pay a visit to Salisbury in a few days' time—[Interruption.]—for an exchange of views with the Governor. While he is there, he will also be available to see representatives of all sections of Rhodesian opinion and to receive any views or suggestions which anyone in Rhodesia may wish to put forward. There is, of course, no question of his negotiating on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. On his return he will report whether in his view there is any real indication of a situation arising in which meaningful attempts can be made to reach an acceptable settlement.

Mr. Sandys

May I thank the Prime Minister for his reply? Without wishing to probe at this stage, since it would be rather unhelpful, into exactly what he means by "meaningful", may I quite simply ask him whether he is aware that there will be, I think, widespread relief that some new moves are now at last being made—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—on both sides to try to bring an end to this tragic dispute?

The Prime Minister

I have repeatedly stated what our position is. After the "Tiger" episode, when, despite the fact that Mr. Smith said that he had authority to settle, he ran away from it and finally was overthrown by his colleagues, naturally the Government have to be most careful in this matter. It is well known that the extremist members of Mr. Smith's regime not only vetoed the settlement but are most allergic to any proposals for talks now. My right hon. Friend and I have therefore asked Lord Alport, who was a distinguished Minister in this House at the Commonwealth Office, and High Commisioner in Salisbury, who has a very great knowledge of these matters—I do not see why it caused so much laughter on the Front Bench opposite when I mentioned his name. However, I think that he does carry the confidence of the House and will be able to do a very satisfactory job in Salisbury in finding out what the position is.

Mr. Faulds

Can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that, whatever the outcome of these contacts, there will be no independence in Southern Rhodesia before majority rule?

The Prime Minister

The position on no independence before majority rule, which has been proclaimed by the Government, by the Commonwealth and by the House, remains unchanged. Certainly Lord Alport has no authority to go back on that decision. I have said in the House in answer to the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) that, if there were a substantial change in circumstances, we should be prepared to discuss the situation which arose with the rest of the Commonwealth, but there would have to be a substantial and guaranteed change in circumstances.

Mr. Maudling

The Prime Minister is no doubt aware that that was an extremely important answer. Is he aware that the first part of his answer would make any meaningful discussions quite impossible? Will he therefore emphasise very much the second and far more hopeful part of his answer, although it contradicted the first part?

The Prime Minister

It did not contradict the first part. There was nothing new in what I said, because I have said it in answer to the right hon. Gentleman before, as the right hon. Gentleman will remember. In fact, he expressed satisfaction, I think, at the time. What we have also to emphasise—this is a point we do not get from certain right hon. Gentlemen—is that this is an illegal regime in a treasonable situation, that they have since—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That used to be a subject of great concern in the House, whatever party was asked to deal with it. Since the talks on H.M.S. "Tiger", there have been two very serious steps away from the six principles. One is the Emergency Powers Act giving power to detain without trial and without a state of emergency. The other is the recent development in connection with the censorship laws and further evidence of interference with the judges. In view of this, we really would need to be satisfied that the illegal régime was being sufficiently changed, and was changing its ideas, if we were to regard the circumstances as having changed.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be resolute opposition from many Members on this side of the House to any weakening of the insistence that there can be no settlement short of "Nibmar" in Southern Rhodesia?

The Prime Minister

Our position was stated in December. It was endorsed by the House. We have to find out now whether there is a willingness to return to constitutional rule. They were always in a position to be recognised, under the existing Constitution or the amended Constitution, if they went back to constitutional rule. Sanctions would come to an end at that point. It is one of Lord Alport's jobs to see exactly what the temperature of the water is there and what authority those who are saying to their friends in this country that they want talks have to speak on behalf of colleagues who in the past have overruled them.

Sir J. Rodgers

Will the Prime Minister confirm that he would confine himself in trying to seek agreement purely to the six principles and not to any other extraneous matters? Second, was my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition consulted before the appointment of Lord Alport?

The Prime Minister

On the first point, the six principles have been laid down by, I think, all of us in the House, though I have expressed my anxiety about some of the new developments, for example, again, the new methods of segregation of population as between African and European population, which fly still further in the face of the fourth principle.

On the second question, no, there was no consultation.

Hon. Members

Why not?

Mr. William Hamilton

Why was Lord Alport appointed by the Government to conduct these investigations? Is there any precedent for a Labour Government appointing a former Tory Minister to conduct investigations of this sort? Was any Labour Minister willing or able to go, and if he was, why was not he sent?

The Prime Minister

There are abundant precedents both for appointments of ex-Tory Ministers by Labour Governments and for appointments of ex-Labour Ministers by Tory Governments, some in the recent memory of all of us in the House. The noble Lord was asked to go because, as I have said, he has unrivalled knowledge of the situation in Salisbury and of the personalities, and he was a distinguished High Commissioner there for several years. It would have been quite inappropriate for one of Her Majesty's present Ministers to go on this operation, for reasons which, I think, the whole House will understand. I should have thought that Lord Alport's appointment would commend itself to the whole House.

Mr. Grimond

So that the House may be clear as to the basis on which Lord Alport goes on this visit to Rhodesia, will the Prime Minister tell us whether it is the Government's position that they cannot agree in any circumstances to independence before majority rule unless the whole of the Commonwealth agrees to it first?

The Prime Minister

I have made clear now three or four times that, if there were a substantial change in circumstances, a complete change in circumstances from those that ruled when the Commonwealth met last September, we should be prepared to discuss the matter with the Commonwealth. I did not say what would be the outcome of those discussions. I am not at this moment willing to give one out of the nearly thirty countries a veto. We shall certainly want to take the view of the Commonwealth as a whole on such a question, but the right hon. Gentleman will realise that we have a very long way to go before reaching that stage. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, has first to come back and satisfy us that there is a genuine desire for real negotiations, that there will be no going back on agreements reached if there were any form of negotiations, and that there will be no overruling by the extremist wing of the Rhodesia Front of any agreement come to.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We are already five minutes past the end of Question time.