HC Deb 01 November 1968 vol 772 cc335-44

11.5 a.m.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now make a statement on Rhodesia.

In the debate on 22nd October, I informed the House of my proposal that my right hon. Friend the then Commonwealth Secretary, now Minister without Portfolio, would be available to fly to Salisbury if it was felt that this would assist in the consideration of the Government's proposals put forward in H.M.S. "Fearless". In the course of that debate, I informed the House that a communication had just been received from Mr. Smith and said that I hoped to make a statement about it when we had had time to study it.

The Government have now completed their study of Mr. Smith's reply and have pursued the matter further in exchanges with Salisbury. In the light of this study and these exchanges, I felt that my right hon. Friend should go to Salisbury, and he left this morning.

Mr. Maudling

We on this side of the House welcome this visit by the Minister without Portfolio, and we hope very much that it is successful.

Mr. Bottomley

As the overriding principle is that any basis for independence is acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole, are arrangements being made for the Minister without Portfolio to see those leaders of national African opinion who are detained without trial and who hold views contrary to those of the Smith régime?

The Prime Minister

This is a point which has been made to the régime. My right hon. Friend will be discussing arrangements for doing this as soon as he arrives.

Mr. Thorpe

The Prime Minister will have studied the General Assembly's resolution that there should be no independence before African majority rule. Although the Minister without Portfolio goes with the best wishes of the House, is the Prime Minister aware that, on the basis of the words and actions of Mr. Smith over the past few months and years, many of us feel that a settlement on the basis of the "Fearless" talks would not be worth the paper that it is written on?

The Prime Minister

I dealt with that specific question and, indeed, the wider question in the debate a few days ago. As for the General Assembly resolution, the right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that that has now been followed by a further resolution, saying, as usual, that Britain must use force and settle it that way. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it is one thing in the United Nations to pass irresponsible resolutions of that kind, leaving us to do the dirty work. It is quite another thing for Britain to carry out her responsibility to the people of Rhodesia, including 4 million Africans, which is what we are doing.

Mr. Michael Foot

Can the Prime Minister give the House any better assurance than we have had so far that the proposals that he made in H.M.S. "Fearless" would lead to majority rule in Rhodesia by a reasonable date? Can my right hon. Friend give us a date? Will he recognise that it is because we do not believe that there is any such guarantee that growing numbers of hon. Members on this side of the House would oppose to the limit of our ability any Rhodesia Independence Bill based on those terms?

The Prime Minister

I fully understand the feeling of my hon. Friend and many others of my hon. Friends on this. From the 1961 Constitution onwards, there has been provision for an automatic expansion in the African participation in the A roll, which would lead in a measurable period of time—there have been different estimates—to majority rule in Rhodesia. We are concerned in the "Fearless" proposals, as we were in the pre-U.D.I. proposals, to ensure that nothing is done or can be done to set that back by retrogressive amendments to the Constitution. That is the whole issue which has been between us in Gibraltar and still is.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

Considering the advantages to our balance of payments that a settlement would bring, would the Prime Minister allow in these negotiations for an improvement on the £5 million towards African education, which is not a vast sum considering the numbers involved?

The Prime Minister

There would be some marginal improvement in our balance of payments in a settlement. This has been much exaggerated in the past and, certainly, since we have been prepared to pay the price over the years, and it is now being more easily absorbed in the economy, I would not contemplate any weakening of essential safeguards to deal with the balance of payments.

On African education, the contribution of £50 million over 10 years which is proposed by this House is a very generous one. Compared with the present and past rate of African educational expenditure in Rhodesia, it is a very marked increase, particularly since it would have to be matched £ for £ by additional contributions from within Rhodesia.

Mr. Mendelson

Will my right hon. Friend recall that, in the same debate to which he referred, towards the end, he was pressed to tell Parliament the contents of Mr. Smith's reply and that he then gave the undertaking to the House that, after studying it, he would tell the House the contents of that reply? Would he now, this morning, honour that undertaking, because Parliament and the country have a right to know what the Government are negotiating?

The Prime Minister

Throughout these discussions, we have not been publishing the exchanges between the two sides, except the results of negotiations. To have published the reply would not have added much to my hon. Friend's knowledge of this subject, or to that of the House. The negotiations, with which he is justifiably concerned, will be entirely within the statement which I made to the House in our recent debate, a statement which I ended by quoting a Conservative newspaper saying that there is a limit to what Parliament can agree to, and that limit has been reached. It will be within that position.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

If one is genuinely concerned with the advancement of the African population—

Mr. Faulds

As the hon. Member is.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

—yes, indeed—should one not wish the Minister without Portfolio well in attempting to seize what may be the last chance for the British Crown and connection in Rhodesia and the multi-racial principles of this House?

The Prime Minister

We are all concerned with the welfare of the Africans, not only in education, and not only with their welfare, but with safeguarding all their rights, which is what we are concerned to ensure with the "Fearless" proposals. There has not always been quite so much enthusiasm in the past from all quarters of the House on that point.

Mr. Roebuck

If the Minister without Portfolio is not proceeding to Salisbury on the basis of the reply sent to my right hon. Friend by Mr. Smith, on what basis is he proceeding there? What will be the position if the illegal Smith régime refuses to allow the Minister to see the imprisoned African leaders?

The Prime Minister

I do not want to anticipate at the moment the position about Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Sithole.

With regard to the earlier part of the question, my hon. Friend will have noticed that in my original statement, I referred not only to Mr. Smith's reply but to further exchanges there have been with Salisbury since that time. It is on that basis that my right hon. Friend is going to Salisbury, but his instructions are, of course, strictly within the terms which I laid down in the House a few days ago.

Sir R. Cary

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his right hon. Friend will go to Salisbury with the good wishes of the majority of hon. Members and the British people?

The Prime Minister

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he says. My right hon. Friend will also go fortified by the fact that, in that debate, although many of my hon. Friends then felt that we had gone too far, no hon. Member on either side felt that we had not gone far enough.

Mr. William Hamilton

Does my right hon. Friend feel that the differences between the point of view of Her Majesty's Government and that of the Smith régime are so small as to warrant this visit by my right hon. Friend? Can he give an undertaking that no agreement will be reached and signed unless and until the Commonwealth Prime Ministers release him from the Nibmar undertaking?

The Prime Minister

On the first point, I feel that the situation justifies my right hon. Friend going. Without going into any specific points, I would not say that the differences are small. I would say that they are narrow in content but very deep. That depth, of course, represents some of the issues which we debated recently.

On Nibmar, there is, of course, no difference whatever in the position from when we last debated it. We should require a substantial change of circumstances to put the point to our colleagues in the Commonwealth. I should mention that we have kept in close touch with Commonwealth Governments on the developments right up to this moment.

Miss Quennell

If the points of dispute between the Smith Government and Her Majesty's Government are resolved, and the points of concern to the House are met, would the Prime Minister tell the House what Her Majesty's Government's approach to the United Nations in connection with the mandatory sanctions would then be?

The Prime Minister

As set out in the "Fearless" proposals, the first step, of course, would be, if it were possible to reach an agreement about a future constitution, that this must be submitted to the test of acceptability to the people of Rhodesia as a whole. This is the fundamental matter in the whole operation, and it was three years ago, before U.D.I. That is why, while I understand my hon. Friend's concern, it will be for the people of Rhodesia themselves, including the African people, to make their views known. They shall be the judges of their future, not anyone outside.

Mr. Judd

Would my right hon. Friend accept that, for many of us in the House, it is impossible to wish the Minister without Portfolio well on this journey? Would he further agree that the under- taking given to the Commonwealth on Nibmar was on the basis of multilateral consultations, and that any release from our commitment on that point can be only after multilateral consultations within the Commonwealth?

The Prime Minister

On the opening of that question, I know that my hon. Friend has represented many times, in the House and outside, the strength of his feeling on these matters. I think, however, that he would still wish my right hon. Friend well, because he has fought so hard at all times—as we all have—for the essential safeguards for the six principles.

As for Nibmar, we are already in touch, as I said, with Commonwealth Governments and this will continue should there be any developments requiring a further approach to them.

Mr. James Johnson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us do wish the Minister without Portfolio well in his mission? Is he aware that, if the Minister were to see the leaders in the camps, he would discover, as some of us have done personally, that they are adamantly opposed to a settlement on these terms? How much weight does my right hon. Friend attach to this? Does he attach as much as we do to getting the assent of the leaders of the political movements in the territory?

The Prime Minister

I think that I was the last person from this country, and certainly the last Head of any Commonwealth Government, to see both leaders, and the first person ever to bring them both together. I was left in no doubt of their own feelings and those of their immediate lieutenants. The test of this at the end of the day must be the views of the Rhodesian people as a whole, as expressed in the test of acceptability on which we have insisted.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Suppose that, after due inquiry, it were to emerge that the people of Rhodesia as a whole did not want majority rule? How would that affect the position?

The Prime Minister

That is an extremely hypothetical contingency. I thought that this is what the hon. and learned Gentleman might ask, so I should make it clear that, if the people of Rhodesia as a whole, for any reason, were to reject any settlement reached, that settlement would be off; it could not be proceeded with.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Since my right hon. Friend said last week that there could be no further concessions by the British Government, and that, therefore, Mr. Smith is faced with the prospect of saying either "Yes" or "No", what is the Minister without Portfolio going to discuss in Salisbury?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend has rather over-summarised my statement. I said, on the adequacy of safeguards, that there could be no "give" in our position; we had to have adequate safeguards. I said that we had been prepared to discuss a number of alternative ways of providing a check outside the action of the Rhodesian Parliament. This we are still prepared to discuss. I thought, in addition, that there were other matters requiring further drafting and clarification, and other matters needing tying up, over and above what was discussed in "Fearless". These include, particularly, the whole question of the test of acceptability, the proposed Royal Commission and the conditions in which that Royal Commission would be doing its work. These must be settled in much more detail.

Sir G. Sinclair

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us on this side, who share the anxieties of the whole House at this time that any settlement should result in the welfare and prosperity of all sections of the community in Rhodesia, are wholeheartedly behind the Minister without Portfolio in his forthcoming efforts to reach an agreement on the basis of the "Fearless" proposals?

The Prime Minister

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I took it as the message of the last debate that hon. Members who are behind my right hon. Friend's attempt to reach an agreement on the "Fearless" proposals will equally be behind him in any refusal to reach an agreement if conditions were insisted upon which we regarded as providing inadequate safeguards for the six principles.

Mr. Faulds

Why was it not made a condition of the visit to Salisbury of the Minister without Portfolio that he should be free to see whomsoever he wished to see? Moreover, if he is free to do so when he gets there, will some regard be paid to the African majority point of view?

The Prime Minister

I said that, in view of the present situation, I did not want to go further into questions about a meeting with Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Sithole.

Mr. Faulds

I asked about it being a condition.

The Prime Minister

As regards any meeting my right hon. Friend has with them or other leaders of African opinion, great attention will, of course, be paid to what is said, but at the end of the day neither they nor Mr. Smith—nor, I submit, we in this House—should have the last word. The last word should be with the people of Rhodesia as a whole.

Mr. Winnick

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the tremendous concern in the Labour Party throughout the country about the "Fearless" offer, and, no doubt, further concessions which will be offered to Salisbury in the coming few days? If the Rhodesia Front is to be given legal recognition, will that not really amount to a complete betrayal of over 4 million non-whites in Rhodesia, despite all the paper safeguards?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend rather spoiled the weight of his contribution by unwarrantable assumptions about the making of further concessions. I have explained the basis on which my right hon. Friend will go. Certainly, if any hon. Member of the House thought that it was a sell-out of 4 million Africans, as my hon. Friend suggests, he would not be associated with it, and neither would I. We have a trusteeship responsibility for them. We can best discharge it by getting an agreement which provides adequate safeguards for them. We should not be discharging that responsibility for them if we were to allow a situation unnecessarily to arise—I say unnecessarily to arise—in which they were plunged deeper and deeper into apartheid and economic misery.

Dr. David Kerr

Would my right hon. Friend agree that a settlement of the Rhodesian conflict in terms acceptable to this side of the House, to the United Nations and to African leaders north of the Zambesi will be likely to improve our balance of payments by a considerable amount? Will he accept, also, that, in the light of what has been said by my right hon. Friend's supporters on this side, by The Times and by the Trusteeship Committee of the United Nations, it would be wise to listen to the antagonism expressed in these terms to the "Fearless" proposals and not to the siren voices of hon. Members opposite who are more interested in the political and economic exploitation of 4 million Africans?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend has put his finger on what has been one of the greatest difficulties in this matter over the past four years and more, and which every right hon. Gentleman recognises to be the most difficult and complicated problem which any British Government have had to face. Our predecessors found it, and so have we. The difficulty is that whatever one does which is right in one context will be wrong in about four or five others. If I have to produce a solution which meets the requirements of all those mentioned by my hon. Friend, including The Times as well, it will become even more difficult.

As regards the views of the United Nations and of African countries north of the Zambesi, which I certainly take more seriously, I should point out that, if we were to give full effect to their views, we should have a bloodbath in Southern Africa—they are attempting so to instruct us—and I do not believe that that would be for the higher welfare of the African people of Rhodesia or any other part of Southern Africa.

Mr. John Lee

Supposing that an agreement were reached, what measures does my right hon. Friend have in mind either for this country or jointly with other countries to ensure that, when independence comes, Mr. Smith or anyone else does not tear up the constitution and all the provisions which we have made by way of safeguards?

The Prime Minister

That was dealt with at length in the debate by my right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary and by myself. That is why we are insisting on double-banking guarantees on these questions. My hon. Friend will know that a lot of African constitutions have been torn up after independence.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson

In reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), the Prime Minister said that he declined to publish the letter from Mr. Smith on the ground that it would not add to his knowledge. Will my right hon. Friend accept that the House is, perhaps, in some confusion over this and explain why it adds to his knowledge but not to the knowledge of other Members?

The Prime Minister

It is a little difficult to go into the text of the document because of the rules of the House. The reason I said that it would not add to my hon. Friend's knowledge is that it did not add much to mine. Further exchanges have.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Peart. Business Statement.

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