HC Deb 18 November 1968 vol 773 cc896-912
The Minister without Portfolio (Mr. George Thomson)

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister informed the House on 1st November, I left for Salisbury on that date to assist in the consideration by Mr. Smith and his colleagues of the proposals for a settlement which we put to them on board H.M.S. "Fearless", set out in Command 3793.

I was in Salisbury from 2nd to 9th November; and again from 13th to 16th November after visiting Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya and having conversations with the Heads of State of these countries.

While in Salisbury, my delegation and I held nine full-scale meetings with Mr. Smith and certain of his colleagues and advisers, in addition to a number of informal exchanges of view. No time limit was set for my visit and I left only when both sides were agreed that no useful purpose could be served by my staying longer.

Together with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, I saw representatives of many different sections of Rhodesian opinion, ranging from Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Sithole to the Chairman of the Rhodesian Front.

Throughout my talks with Mr. Smith I stood firmly by the "Fearless" proposals, and I made it clear to him at all times that any settlement must be fully consistent with the six principles. Some progress was made on certain points, on the basis accepted on both sides that agreement on them would be contingent on an overall agreement being reached.

But this measure of understanding was overshadowed by the number and weight of the points on which we were not able to reach even a contingent agreement of that kind. Mr. Smith and I agreed that we had reached a stage where it would be right for the public to know the facts about what still divided us and what, after prolonged talks, we had found ourselves unable to resolve. I also listed to Mr. Smith the items which I told him I felt obliged to explain to the House. I think that the House has a right to know these and I apologise for taking up time by giving them in detail.

The first of these was, of course, a second safeguard for unimpeded progress to majority rule and against retrogressive amendments of the Constitution. We made it clear in the "Fearless" White Paper that we were prepared to consider alternative methods to achieve this, although we believe that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council would provide the best instrument.

I must emphasise that, to be acceptable to us, any alternative method must be fully as effective as that provided by the Judicial Committee. Mr. Smith, however, showed no interest in the other forms of judicial safeguards mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in this House on 22nd October.

In these circumstances, I put forward a further alternative proposal for a second safeguard of a different character, which would not only begin in Rhodesia but would also leave the last word with the Rhodesian people. Under this proposal the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council would have the task of deciding whether a proposed amendment was of such a kind that the second safeguard should be brought into operation. This question would only come before the Judicial Committee on an initiative either by an agreed number of members of the Rhodesian Parliament, or by the Constitutional Council in Rhodesia.

If the Judicial Committee considered that the second safeguard should be brought into operation, my proposal would then place fairly and squarely in the hands of the people of Rhodesia themselves, including the African majority, the responsibility and the power to decide whether the amendment should be proceeded with in the Rhodesian Parliament or not. They would take this decision in a referendum of the A and B roll electors voting separately.

This seemed to me both to provide the necessary safeguard for the first and second principles and to avoid the objection which had been raised against our earlier proposal—namely, that it placed the final responsibility for what was in essence a political decision in the hands of a judicial body which did not form part of the political system of Rhodesia. But Mr. Smith told me that he totally rejected the principle on which this alternative proposal was based. I asked Mr. Smith whether he had any proposals of his own for a second guarantee. But he had none to offer.

This is a fundamental point of difference between us. But it is not by any means the only important issue of principle on which we differ.

For example, there is the question of the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council sitting as an ordinary court of law, as opposed to acting as a second safeguard. Mr. Smith and his colleagues would not commit themselves to agree to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council continuing, as in the 1961 Constitution, to hear appeals in such cases.

Other major disagreements also remain. The chief of them, taken in the order of the "Fearless" proposals to which they relate, are as follows.

First, the régime wish to extend the period under the 1961 Constitution for which the legislature can approve the proclamation of a state of emergency. This, as the House will know, is a period of three months at a time.

Hon. Members in all part of the House will share our deep concern over a proposal which would mean lengthening the period for which Rhodesian citizens would be held in detention without charge or trial, and without the Rhodesian Parliament having the opportunity to scrutinise the need for the state of emergency and, if it thought proper, to end it.

Secondly, the régime wish to alter the composition of the legislature as proposed in the "Fearless" document. While accepting a blocking quarter of directly and popularly elected Africans, the régime wanted either fewer elected Africans in the Senate or else more A roll seats in the Lower House and more European seats in the Senate. Again, we could not accept this.

Thirdly, the régime wished to balance an extension—as in both the "Tiger" and "Fearless" proposals—of the B roll franchise by an alteration of the present arrangements for cross-voting. Their suggestion was that the proposed extension of the B roll franchise should be accompanied by a reduction in the existing value of B roll votes cast in elections in A roll seats. That value is at present 25 per cent. Their proposal was that it should be reduced to 10 per cent.

This may seem to be a complex and technical issue. But its essence, I ought to explain to the House, is that it would postpone the date when majority rule might come about. Obviously, we could not agree to such a proposal.

Fourthly, the régime wished to eliminate the "delimitation" formula which is also included in both the "Tiger" and "Fearless" proposals. This provides that as the number of Africans on the A roll increases, the Africans' chances of capturing A roll seats should increase proportionately.

Fifthly, the régime wished to extend the criteria which the Judicial Tribunal should apply when considering whether detainees and restrictees should be released to take part in the test of acceptability. The "Fearless" proposals already cover cases where the Tribunal is satisfied that the person concerned would himself be likely to commit, or to incite or conspire with others to commit, acts of violence or intimidation.

This is an adequate safeguard for the preservation of public order. The regime wanted to add to this cases where, without any guilt on the part of the individual concerned, others might respond with violence to his release. This, again, we could not agree to.

Sixthly, there were important differences between us over the treatment of those Rhodesian public servants who, since I.D.I., have felt bound to leave Rhodesia in order to remain loyal to the Crown. We felt that, as part of the necessary process of wiping the slate clean, if a settlement were reached they should have the choice of reinstatement or compensation. Mr. Smith said that he could not possibly agree to their reinstatement, although compensation was another matter.

Each of these points, taken individually, is important. But more significant still is that all of them taken together indicate that the régime are not at this stage ready to commit themselves to the necessity of accepting majority rule except in an impossibly remote and indefinite future.

I do not want to be unfair to Mr. Smith on these points. He did say that he believed that if it were possible to reach agreement on the question of the second safeguard our differences on the other points which I have mentioned could be quickly resolved. That may or may not be so. In so far as Mr. Smith meant that he would expect us to give way on them, I made it absolutely clear to him that there could be no question of our doing so. I cannot speak for his own readiness to change his position on them. I can only tell the House, as I have sought to do, the position he took on them when talking to me.

To sum up, my discussion with Mr. Smith showed, in the words of a Press statement issued before I left Salisbury, that there remains fundamental disagreement on several major matters of principle. We both felt that a prolongation of my stay would not enable us to resolve that disagreement. So I have come back to report to my colleagues and to the House how things stand.

Nevertheless, the proposals in our "Fearless" White Paper and the alternative suggestion in the second safeguard which I put to Mr. Smith in Salisbury remain on the table for consideration, for discussion and, I would hope, for acceptance when reflection in Rhodesia has brought wiser counsel. Meanwhile, of course, sanctions will continue, together with all the other consequences that have flowed from illegality.

My report, I recognise, is a gloomy one. I myself found the last fortnight disappointing and saddening. So fair an opportunity has been turned down that, I am afraid, I could not feel otherwise. But to repeat what I have said before: we for our part are not slamming the door, and perhaps one day the response from the other side of that door will be more constructive than it has so far been.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The House is grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving us an account of his latest discussions in Salisbury. The House may note that the discussions have not been broken off by Her Majesty's Government and I think that a great many will hope that they will be renewed, although, probably, not before the Prime Ministers' conference in January.

The general picture which the right hon. Gentleman has given is disappointing, but has not he reported something of real and concrete importance when he is able to put on paper that Mr. Smith accepts a blocking quarter of directly and popularly-elected Africans? Is not that really the essence of the matter for the protection of the Africans? Therefore, this is surely something gained. [Interruption.] Well, we have our different opinions.

If the right hon. Gentleman and the Government want a second check, can he tell me what Her Majesty's Government's attitude is to a treaty reinforcing the blocking quarter for a number of years? It is a little difficult to assimilate and put a proper value on these differences as revealed by the right hon. Gentleman. Will he consider giving us information in a rather fuller form, perhaps during the next week or two?

Mr. Thomson

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the position on the blocking quarter is something gained. It is certainly a big change from the position which Mr. Smith took up when the right hon. Gentleman was in Salisbury and an even bigger change from the position which he took up when I was last there 12 months ago. It was a change that Mr. Smith envisaged while he was taking part in the talks on "Fearless", although subsequently one was left in a certain ambiguity about what his final position might be. I think that that has now been cleared up, though I want to make it absolutely clear that his agreement on that is subject to an otherwise acceptable package to him. I do not want to misrepresent Mr. Smith's position.

The right hon. Gentleman is, I think, asking why we do not feel that this itself is satisfactory to us. The answer is that the blocking quarter is, in present circumstances in the Rhodesian Parliament, too fragile a safeguard on its own at this stage in time to be adequate. As time passes, and more Africans come into the Rhodesian Parliament, that particular safeguard will become a stronger one. At the moment, however, it is, in Mr. Smith's view, a bare blocking quarter, and in our view a blocking quarter plus one.

The right hon. Gentleman has asked about a treaty. This was discussed in Gibraltar in "Fearless". Mr. Smith seemed to find no interest in this proposal. Of course his objection, as he puts it, in principle is to any second safeguard that is external to the Rhodesian Parliament, outside the four walls of Parliament. His objections to the Privy Council are, I think, even stronger to something that would involve the British Government.

Mr. Thorpe

The right hon. Gentleman said that Mr. Smith would not commit himself to independence for the majority in the indefinite or remote future. Would he agree that this is the explanation for the rejection of the "Fearless" and "Tiger" proposals, and, indeed, for U.D.I. itself? Would it not be a great disservice if we pretend otherwise than that unless there is a change of heart the same outcome will come from any future talks?

Mr. Thomson

I think that it is accepted that there is a deep difference between the attitude expressed by Mr. Smith and our attitude. It has always been our point of view that his attitude on this central point must change before there can be a settlement, otherwise the settlement would not be consistent with the principles that we have laid down and, given the fact that force is absolutely ruled out, it is necessary to be ready all the time to search for possibilities of a negotiated settlement, provided that it is an honourable one—which exactly meets the right hon. Member's point.

Mr. Mackintosh

In view of my right hon. Friend's admirable suggestion for getting round Mr. Smith's objection to a second guarantee, and his continued objection to any external check on a revision of the Constitution, will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether he formed the impression that Mr. Smith was already contemplating, after independence, some alterations or changes in the settlement? If so, what faith would my right hon. Friend have in any settlement which could be agreed on paper terms if Mr. Smith is already contemplating some sort of subsequent alteration?

Mr. Thomson

It would not be helpful to speculate along that line. We have been seeking to make an agreement which contained such safeguards that one could do one's duty of trusteeship to the African majority in Rhodesia and give them the best possible chance of achieving majority rule. That is what is represented by the alternative safeguard which I presented to Mr. Smith.

Mr. Michael Foot

How is it possible for the Government to say that these proposals still lie on the table for accepttance by Mr. Smith when we have made pledges to the Commonwealth, on behalf of the Government, backed by the vote of this House—that there shall be no independence before majority rule—which conflict with leaving this on the table for acceptance at some time? Have not the Government yet learned that Mr. Smith and his régime are bitterly opposed to majority rule in any form? Cannot the Government act on that fact, which is now evident to the whole world?

Mr. Thomson

I do not accept that our leaving these proposals on the table is in any way inconsistent with any pledges which we have made to the Commonwealth—still less inconsistent with decisions which have been taken in this House.

With regard to the Nibmar pledge, the position is as it has been for a long time. There has been no change in the circumstances such as to justify a review of the Nibmar pledge. That is where we are now.

Sir R. Cary

The right hon. Gentleman has told the House that he is feeling rather gloomy and crestfallen, but he has expressed some hope that these negotiations could, at some future date, be taken further. May I thank him and his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for the efforts which they have both made to bring the "Fearless" talks to fulfilment?

Mr. Thomson

I am obliged to the hon. Member for those remarks. I think that if we are to carry this forward—which is the case for leaving these things on the table—it must be recognised that we now need a major move on Mr. Smith's part.

Mr. Bottomley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are relieved that there has not been a settlement on the basis of the "Fearless" proposals? Some of us believe that, ultimately, it could lead only to violence and bloodshed. I welcome that part of my right hon. Friend's statement concerning the firm application of economic and allied sanctions. Will he not go further and reaffirm that there shall be no independence before majority rule?

Mr. Thomson

I dealt with my right hon. Friend's last point in answering my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). I warned Mr. Smith that an inevitable consequence of a failure to agree at this stage would be that sanctions would go on and would be likely to intensify. But the immediate question is for the new Supervisory Committee of the United Nations. It is for other countries to do as well as we are doing in the sanctions field.

Mr. Sandys

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that most people in this country are extremely glad that he has not slammed the door and that the possibility of a resumption of negotiations is still left open?

Mr. Thomson

My position is simply that in the absence of force and physical powers to solve the Rhodesian problem the only alternative is to seek a negotiated solution. We must never give up the possibility of that, but it must be an honourable solution.

Mr. William Hamilton

Can my right hon. Friend say whether, in his discussions with the African leaders, they came anywhere near agreeing even to the "Fearless" proposals? Will he give an undertaking that no further initiative will come from this Government, but that the next step must come from Mr. Smith, and that, meanwhile, sanctions will be tightened and made more comprehensive?

Mr. Thomson

I can confirm my hon. Friend's last point. I have said that, while we will leave our proposals on the table, the next move must come from Mr. Smith.

My talks with the various African leaders were confidential, but I can say that I heard different points of view in different places.

Sir F. Bennett

On the same point, without breaking individual confidences can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he did not find a certain amount of support in the least likely quarters for his attempt to reach a settlement with Mr. Smith, and that this is a factor about which Mr. Smith should think in respect of the attitude of some of his closest neighbours?

Mr. Thomson

I do not want to break any confidences anywhere. I think that there was a good deal of recognition that it was right for us to talk and see what could be done. I was much interested in collecting as many views as I could in a short time. I do not pretend that I was able to cover all the ground, but I gathered as many viewpoints as I could inside Rhodesia, from political and other groups.

Mr. Paget

Is my right hon. Friend aware that since the continuation of the present state of affairs is injurious in Rhodesia, only dedicated racialists can fail to share the sincere regrets which he has expressed? Does he further agree that Mr. Smith's very intransigence shows that he feels that he will be bound by what he eventually agrees to, and does not intend to follow what has been the African custom of ignoring the constitution once he gets independence?

Mr. Thomson

I do not wish to speculate on Mr. Smith's motives. I had better leave the position as I indicated at the end of my statement.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Does the right hon. Gentleman, whose efforts in Rhodesia hon. Members on both sides of the House accept, yet recognise that all that past negotiations have done and all that future negotiations will do is merely to entrench the consequences of two inherently disastrous decisions—first, the illegal declaration of independence and, secondly, the decision to respond to that declaration with sanctions?

Mr. Thomson

I cannot accept for a moment that those two matters can be put on equal scales. The tragic blunder—and we all accept this—was the declaration of U.D.I. Once that blunder was made there was bound to be the kind of reactions to it that have flowed from it. I was looking up what was said to Mr. Smith by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) when he was Commonwealth Secretary in the days when he was desperately trying to dissuade Mr. Smith from declaring U.D.I. He told him what would happen, and it has happened.

Dr. Gray

Is there any change in the Nibmar pledge? Did my right hon. Friend make it clear to Mr. Smith that no agreement could be implemented until the Prime Minister had been released from that pledge by other Commonwealth Governments, including the Canadian Government?

Mr. Thomson

I made the position on Nibmar clear to Mr. Smith, as I did to other African leaders, and as I have made clear to this House.

Mr. Hastings

While regretting the outcome of the talks as much as anybody in the House, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he does not agree that perhaps the major factor on the other side is the fear of a return to the bestial intimidation suffered in Rhodesia a few years back when nationalist politics were rife? Is he satisfied that sufficient account was taken of this on this side?

Mr. Thomson

I am convinced that the best and quickest way to get away from violence in Rhodesia is to get a settlement which guarantees the political future of the African majority in that country.

Sir Dingle Foot

Does not the result of the negotiations reaffirm the view expressed by some back benchers on this side of the House that there is no compromise or formula which would be acceptable to the Smith régime and which, at the same time, could be honourably accepted by any British Government?

With regard to my right hon. Friend's talks with the African leaders, are we to understand from his earlier reply that they did not wish their views to be made known by him to the whole world?

Mr. Thomson

With regard to my talks with Mr. Sithole and Mr. Nkomo, because of their detention, both of them inevitably were not in possession of the full details of our proposals. My hon. Friend and I sought to put them in possession of the details, and left a certain amount of documentation with them. We asked them not to come to any final conclusion on our proposals until they had had a chance to study them.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Would it not have been helpful and more likely to achieve a settlement in the future if a joint statement could be agreed for release when these talks are adjourned, rather than that the right hon. Gentleman should give his version and then, no doubt, Mr. Smith give his version?

Mr. Thomson

We agreed a joint Press statement to mark the end of the talks. We also agreed—and I am grateful to Mr. Smith for this, despite what I read in the Daily Telegraph this morning—that nothing would be said in Salisbury until I got back to London and reported to this House, just as we agreed after "Fearless" that we should say nothing in London until Mr. Smith got back to Salisbury. However, to carry it further would be to ask a good deal.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that sanctions have begun to produce a devastating effect on the Rhodesian economy, with the result that devaluation of their currency is now in sight—[Laughter.] Perhaps right hon. and hon. Gentleman opposite will read the Daily Telegraph. Is not the real hope that sanctions will bring the Smith régime to the ground?

Mr. Thomson

I can confirm to my right hon. Friend that my impression is that sanctions are beginning to have a very deep effect on the Rhodesian economy, though I do not think that the ordinary man in the street in Rhodesia is aware of it. That is an economic phenomenon with which we are not unfamiliar in this country sometimes. The fact that sanctions are having an effect on the economy was one of the reasons that led to the present round of talks.

Mr. Wall

Were there not two major difficulties: first, the elected blocking quarter, which we understand Mr. Smith has accepted; and, second, the matter of appeals to the Privy Council? Would the right hon. Gentleman consider publishing a White Paper showing Her Majesty's Government's proposals on the second issue, including the treaty which has been referred to by my right hon. Friend, which is an Act of a sovereign Power? Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman make a guess as to when the talks are likely to resume?

Mr. Thomson

No, I am not a good guesser. As for a White Paper, I hope that, when the hon. Gentleman reads what I said, which, I appreciate, was very detailed, he will feel that it covers a good deal of the ground. I would not rule out his suggestion, but that would mean joint consultations with Mr. Smith.

Mr. John Hynd

In view of the fact that Mr. Smith's firm rejection of any guarantees can only have one result, can my right hon. Friend say on what information Her Majesty's Government felt that it was likely to be useful for him to make this excursion, and can we be assured that he will not be running backwards and forwards to Rhodesia at Mr. Smith's whim until we have firm assurances on the main points?

Mr. Thomson

I have given a firm assurance on my hon. Friend's last point. On his first point, if he doubts the usefulness of entering into the talks, I cannot agree with him. It was useful to find out whether the point had come when Mr. Smith and his colleagues were prepared to accept a settlement guaranteeing the future of the African majority. The only kind of agreement that we can accept has not yet been reached, but the only alternative to force is to be ready to seek a negotiated settlement, provided that it is an honourable one.

Sir C. Osbome

If the desire of the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Sir Philip Noel-Baker) were vouchsafed and the Smith régime were brought crashing to the ground, did the Minister form any impression out there whether there would be a substitute for the Smith regime with whom he could deal? Secondly, is there evidence that guerrilla fighting from the north will affect security inside Rhodesia?

Mr. Thomson

In the present situation, it is not helpful for me to speculate about what is happening inside Rhodesia. I know what I hope will happen. I hope that there will be changes of attitude in Rhodesia which will make a settlement possible.

Dr. John Dunwoody

In the absence of any agreement, and as a constructive suggestion, would my right hon. Friend consider offering educational opportunities in Britain for Rhodesian Africans comparable to those which we would have been prepared to finance in Southern Rhodesia under the "Fearless" agreement?

Mr. Thomson

I note my hon. Friend's opening words, "In the absence of any agreement". I hope that it will be accepted everywhere that the absence of agreement and the details of our disagreements that I have given destroy for ever the rumour about there being some sort of secret agreement. One of the most depressing features of my visit was how difficult it has been to destroy that lie.

As for my hon. Friend's constructive suggestion, I would be happy to look into that, but, of course, we do a certain amount already and no doubt we could consider doing more.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

What, in practical terms, would an external safeguard add to the blocking quarter, which we note Mr. Smith has accepted? In the event of a breach of an agreed constitution, what would Her Majesty's Government do? Would they use force?

Mr. Thomson

I can understand that the hon. Gentleman did not follow in detail the alternative which I put forward, which left the final decision, just as it did the initial decision, firmly inside Rhodesia. The final decision is with the ordinary voters of all races in Rhodesia. That is not an external safeguard, but it is one which was turned down by Mr. Smith just as decisively as he turned down the proposal concerning the Privy Council.

Mr. Judd

Contrary to the views of the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), would my right hon. Friend accept that there is every reason for the British people believing that Her Majesty's Government already have gone far enough, and that the only possible outcome of the talks is the withdrawal of the "Fearless" proposals?

Mr. Thomson

I thought that the views of the British people were probably reflected fairly accurately in a public opinion poll conducted by the Sunday Times, from which it appears that the majority believed that we were right to seek an agreement while believing that it would be wrong to enter into a dishonourable settlement.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Did I understand my right hon. Friend to say that the two accepted leaders of African opinion in Rhodesia had not been informed of the "Fearless" proposals before he saw them? If that is so, what confidence does it give us that Mr. Smith will allow accepted African opinion to be voiced during the interim period?

Mr. Thomson

I was seeking to give an accurate account of the situation in which I found these two African leaders. I would remind my hon. Friend that it was one of the most important features of our proposals, and one from which we would not move an inch, that there should be a test of acceptance in which there would be ample time for all leaders of opinion in Rhodesia to make up their minds for or against our proposals, to campaign for or against them, and make sure that the final verdict was accepted internationally as representing the opinion of all in Rhodesia.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Reverting to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison), in the event of the Privy Council deciding that the entrenched clauses had been breached, and the Rhodesian Government opposing that decision, can the right hon. Gentleman explain how the Privy Council could put its verdict into effect?

Mr. Thomson

We were seeking to find the most adequate safeguards on the matter that we could. As I sought to explain, Mr. Smith's objection to the Privy Council was that he regarded it as external to Rhodesia and the Rhodesian Parliament. Therefore, we put up an alternative which met those objections, but, equally, he rejected it.

Mr. Winnick

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in my view, the majority of people active in the Labour Party will heave a sigh of relief that no agreement was reached with the Rhodesian Front, because they detest the racialist nature of the dictatorship operating in Rhodesia at the moment?

Mr. Thomson

We must all have our individual emotions on this matter. My hon. Friend will not expect me to share his kind of relief, because, unlike him, I knew from the beginning that Her Majesty's Government would not surrender our principles or obligations to the people of Rhodesia.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Though this is important, we must move on.