HC Deb 14 November 1968 vol 773 cc609-13
Q4. Dr. John Dunwoody

asked the Prime Minister what consultation he intends having with other Commonwealth leaders about the situation in Rhodesia; and if he will make a statement.

Q5. Mr. Wall

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement about his continued discussions with Mr. Ian Smith.

Q9. Mr. Arthur Lewis

asked the Prime Minister whether he will give an assurance that he will not take any irrevocable steps to negotiate a settlement with the illegal Smith régime in Rhodesia until such time as the forthcoming Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference to be held in January has the opportunity of discussing and voting on the proposed terms for a settlement

The Prime Minister

On the progress of the talks with Mr. Smith, I have nothing to add to the reply which I gave on 12th November.

On consultation with the Commonwealth, my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio has visited Commonwealth African leaders in the last few days, and we shall continue to keep in close touch with Commonwealth Governments on developments in Rhodesia.—[Vol. 773, c. 201.]

Dr. Dunwoody

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is continuing and mounting anxiety and dismay in many parts of the Commonwealth at the rumours coming out of Salisbury? Can he deny that any further concessions have been offered to the Smith régime, and assure the House that he will meet Commonwealth leaders before, rather than after, any settlement?

The Prime Minister

I am not responsible for rumours coming out of Salisbury. I have noted that there has been an outburst of Press speculation and, inevitably following this, even some financial speculation over the past 24 hours. Nothing I know justifies any of the statements that have been made suggesting that an agreement is very near. As I told the House when my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio went to Salisbury, the differences remaining, while narrow, are very deep and represent very deep differences of attitude. Nothing that has happened since then would justify any change in that assessment.

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, we have made it clear that an agreement can be reached on the basis of the "Fearless" proposals. We are prepared to consider alternative methods of securing the same guarantees, but they must be no less effective than those proposed on "Fearless". There cannot be any withdrawal from the "Fearless" position.

Mr. Wall

I welcome the continuation of the discussions. When does the Prime Minister expect them to be concluded, and does he expect the conclusion to be final one way or the other?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that the House will wish me to speculate on how long they will take and I would not want to suggest that a timetable has been imposed by either side. That is important. I hope that my right hon. Friend may be in a position to report to the House exactly on what has happened on both sides of the talks in Salisbury. I do not want to speculate about what may happen there, but it would be my right hon. Friend's duty to report back to his colleagues—before any further definitive position were taken up—on whether there was sufficient movement in Salisbury to make a statement possible.

Mr. Lewis

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his answer in relation to Question No. Q9 and give the assurance asked for, as only a few weeks are involved? If he cannot give such an assurance, can he give a good, logical reason why he is unable to do so.

The Prime Minister

I have already dealt with this several times in the House in the last two or three weeks and I hope that it is clear, and that my hon. Friend understands, that there can be no definitive settlement—nothing leading, for example, to proposals or legislation before this House—until the people of Rhodesia as a whole have been consulted on any proposals we might wish later to put. I am sure he will feel that the last word should not necessarily be with him or with me or with the House or with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, but with the people of Rhodesia.

Mr. Heath

Will the right hon. Gentleman be assured that, whatever criticism he may find himself subjected to, the great mass of the people in Rhodesia and Britain now want an honourable settlement to this long-standing dispute? Will he also be assured that he is right to authorise the Minister without Portfolio to persist in examining the different ways upon which the implementation of the five principles may be achieved in order that we can have a settlement?

The Prime Minister

It has been plain all along that the great mass of the people of Rhodesia and Britain have wanted an agreement to be reached on the basis of an honourable settlement, and a very honourable settlement was available to Rhodesia before U.D.I. If the right hon. Gentleman cares to compare the "Fearless" proposals with those which we offered when I went to Salisbury in 1965, he will find that there could have been a very honourable settlement then. It was the unfortunate action of 11th November, 1965, which has caused all the misery and suffering and all the problems we have had in this House.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Has my right hon. Friend seen the resolution which was adopted on 7th November by the overwhelming majority of the General Assembly of the United Nations, including the vast majority of the members of the Commonwealth, and which declared that no settlement would be acceptable which granted independence to Rhodesia before majority rule?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend will no doubt have heard my comments on the two resolutions. One of them—I am not sure whether this was the resolution of 7th November or not—sought to instruct Her Majesty's Government to take military action against Rhodesia. I take it that, in common with most other right hon. and hon. Members, my right hon. Friend rejects that instruction.

Sir C. Osborne

In view of the fact that the alternative to an agreed settlement is too horrible to contemplate, and could include turning Rhodesia into a second Congo, will the right hon. Gentleman persist in his patient efforts to seek a solution which will satisfy the people in this country who want a settlement?

The Prime Minister

Of course we want a settlement. I indicated, at the close of the debate on Rhodesia recently, what I thought the alternatives might turn out to be. I cannot say that they are too horrible to contemplate if that were interpreted as meaning that we must therefore be prepared to reach an agreement on any terms, however dishonourable. Our terms were set out in the "Fearless" document and we stand by them