HC Deb 24 June 1969 vol 785 cc1218-27
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on Rhodesia.

In answering Questions on Rhodesia yesterday, I commented on the results of the referendum held on 20th June. I said that the constitutional proposals for which the Rhodesian electorate had voted could never form the basis of an honourable settlement with this country and that there could be no prospect of such a settlement until there had been a real change of attitude on the part of the Rhodesian Europeans.

One important aspect of the referendum result is its implications for the position of the Governor, Sir Humphrey Gibbs. Everyone in this country has felt the highest admiration for the courage and dignity with which he and Lady Gibbs have steadfastly upheld the cause of legality in Rhodesia. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The messages which he has received from Her Majesty the Queen on a number of occasions since the illegal declaration of independence have testified to Her Majesty's deep appreciation of his conduct over a long and difficult period. Her Majesty's Government and all Members of the House share in that appreciation and have often expressed their own feelings of respect. It is right that we should again express that admiration and respect today.

On 11th June, before the referendum, the Governor issued a public statement about his own position. In that statement he said that, if enough of the electorate voted for the Rhodesian Front proposals for them to be put into effect, then, in all probability, it would be impossible for him to continue to be Governor of Rhodesia, since the door to further negotiation would have been closed by the Rhodesian electorate, who would have demonstrated their wish to break all ties with Her Majesty the Queen and with Britain.

In the light of the results of the referendum, I have been in consultation with the Governor, who has not changed his view. I have come to the conclusion that in all the circumstances it would not be justifiable to ask the Governor to remain any longer at his post. I have, therefore, advised the Queen that he should be permitted to resign. Her Majesty has graciously signified her agreement and also the hope that, before long, Sir Humphrey and Lady Gibbs will be able to come to this country so that they can take leave of Her Majesty in person. I have notified the Governor accordingly.

In view of this decision, and of the referendum results, Her Majesty's Government have decided that it would serve no useful purpose to maintain the United Kingdom Residual Mission in Salisbury and that Rhodesia House in London should be closed. The necessary instructions have been sent to the Residual Mission and the Head of Rhodesia House was informed this morning. We have proposed a period of three weeks for closure on either side.

We shall, of course, stand ready to resume links whenever there are people in Rhodesia who share our principles and with whom we can talk. As I told the House yesterday, it will remain our policy to work for an honourable settlement when that day comes.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

May I immediately express the admiration and gratitude of this side of the House for the way in which the Governor has discharged his duties? He was placed in an almost untenable position and he has displayed patience, dignity and loyalty which are exemplary and indeed inexhaustible. The House would like, as the Foreign Secretary has done, to include Lady Gibbs and to wish them both every happiness, whatever the future may hold. It is with deep regret that he has to leave his office. One must conclude that, in the circumstances of the referendum, it was inevitable.

But why does the right hon. Gentleman propose to remove the Residual Mission? Surely this is in contradiction to what he said yesterday, that It will remain our policy to work for such a settlement when there are people in power in Rhodesia who share our principles".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1969; Vol. 785, c. 994.] The right hon. Gentleman is removing the last point of contact with such people in Rhodesia. Will he resist the resolutions which are now floating round and being put forward in the United Nations which order Britain to sever all communications with Rhodesia? Will he instruct Lord Caradon to exercise the veto on such resolutions if necessary?

Mr. Stewart

In the light of the referendum results and of the statements by Mr. Smith during the referendum campaign, we must realise that it is quite unrealistic to imagine that we could reach any settlement with him or with his supporters. Therefore, it would not be right either for Rhodesia House to remain open here or for our Residual Mission to remain there. If at any future time there are people in Rhodesia who have power and who could agree with the principles which the whole House has established on this matter, they would have no difficulty in making their wishes known. However, I think that it must be clear now that there must be a severance of ties with the illegal régime.

As to what is sometimes called the communications sanction, I think that anyone who has studied this matter knows that there are arguments both ways. We are making a fresh study of what would be involved in this in the circumstances that now prevail.

Mr. Heath

May I press the Foreign Secretary to reconsider this question? He is breaking off any point of contact with Britain by anybody who is opposed to the present Administration in Rhodesia. He is removing any point of contact. May I suggest to him that this is in clear contravention of what he does in any other case in the world? Even when we disagree with a régime, and we have broken diplomatic relations with a régime, we still maintain a point of contact through another diplomatic mission.

This will be the only case which I can recall from my experience of the Foreign Office in which we have deliberately refused to have any point of contact whatever. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore reconsider this decision, because I believe that it is unwise, however much emotional satisfaction it may give to backbench Members behind him?

Mr. Stewart

I think that the right hon. Gentleman has failed to notice that this is a unique case. We are not dealing with a foreign country; we are dealing with a rebellion. I think that, in view of the decision which the Governor felt it right to take—that it was not possible for him to remain at his post because the Rhodesian electorate, such as it is, had deliberately decided to sever their ties with Her Majesty and this country—it would be quite wrong for us to condone that.

As to the practicalities, if at any time there were any possibility of our being able to resume discussion with people in Rhodesia who accept our principles, and who were in a position to put them into effect in Rhodesia, if those circumstances were fulfilled there would not be the smallest difficulty in resuming contact.

Mr. George Brown

Does it follow from this decision that we no longer have a special responsibility, as distinct from our share of responsibility as a member of the United Nations, for the situation in Rhodesia? Is it, therefore, the intention of the Foreign Secretary to make it clear to the United Nations, many of whose members have voted for sanctions while leaving us to carry them out, that we accept from here on the same responsibility but no more responsibility than other members of the United Nations?

Mr. Stewart

We must remember that, despite what has happened, and despite the decision which I have announced, the legal sovereignty over Rhodesia is still vested in Her Majesty—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am not sure whether hon. Members opposite contest that.

On the wider question which my right hon. Friend has raised, it has always been my view that this is a responsibility that the rest of mankind ought to share with us through the United Nations. That is the way in which we have always approached it at the United Nations and we shall continue to do so.

Mr. Winnick

Are we now to understand that there will be no negotiations with the illegal régime as long as the Rhodesian Front holds power? Will my right hon. Friend make a contrast between the behaviour of Sir Humphrey Gibbs during the last few years and that of the Rhodesian lobby in this House, who always put loyalty to the illegal régime first?

Mr. Stewart

As I have made clear, it would be totally unrealistic to suppose that there could be any useful discussions between Her Majesty's Government and the Rhodesian Front. There is here a fundamental cleavage of principle, and it would not be right for us to condone that by maintaining our Mission in Salisbury.

In reply to the latter part of my hon. Friend's question, I think that we all know the facts. We know what certain persons in this country have said about this matter, and we can all draw our own conclusions and make our comparison between the behaviour of those persons and the dignified attitude of Sir Humphrey.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Does the Foreign Secretary recognise the contradiction in his own statement? He has said that he is eager to reopen talks if the opportunity arises, but he has ended the contact which would make that possible. Does not he see that only those who are emotionally involved can support his action and that people outside look at it as petulant or panic-stricken?

Mr. Stewart

That is not so. I have already explained three times that there will not be the smallest difficulty for anyone in Rhodesia who accepts the principles on which alone a settlement could be made getting in touch with Her Majesty's Government. We have throughout—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are on a serious issue. Noise does not help.

Mr. Stewart

We have throughout this period been in contact with a great many people in Rhodesia holding a wide range of views. That is still possible. What would be wrong would be to maintain a Residual Mission in Salisbury which would, in effect, be countenancing the decisions reached by the Rhodesian Front against the whole attitude of the Governor as instanced by his judgment in this matter.

Mr. Faulds

Now that Smith and his supporters have made inevitable the war of liberation solution to the Southern Rhodesian problem, will my right hon. Friend consider what moral and material assistance should now be given to the Freedom Fighters of Zimbabwe?

Mr. Stewart

That is a very different question. I have never believed that a wise solution to this problem could be achieved by the use of force. I believe that the decision taken by the Rhodesian Front inevitably means the isolation of their country from the world and is a policy that cannot in the end be maintained. Sooner or later, that will be apparent to them all.

Mr. Evelyn King

Were not sanctions originally justified to this House upon the ground that they would induce an agreement, and, if so, is not that no longer credible? Do sanctions then continue as a punishment, and, if so, is not the difficulty of that that they punish the British taxpayer and the Rhodesian African and not the Rhodesian European?

Mr. Stewart

No, Sir. The statements of the illegal régime itself make it clear that it was the pressure of sanctions that made it willing even to discuss at all. The discussions failed, but if the Rhodesian illegal régime were allowed to suppose that sanctions could be dropped there would be very little prospect of getting, as in the end there must be, a situation in which there are people in Rhodesia who would be prepared to come to terms. I think that was in the mind of our predecessors in Government when they themselves threatened sanctions.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

May I ask the Foreign Secretary two questions? First, is it a fact that the African chiefs, although nominated by the illegal régime, have declared against Mr. Smith's constitution, and that, therefore, the whole of African opinion, all the 4½ million, are united against him?

Secondly, will the Secretary of State himself go to the Security Council in New York and use his great authority and the power of world opinion to ensure that sanctions are loyally carried out?

Mr. Stewart

I believe it is true that not merely the opinion of the minority European electorate, but the immense weight of African opinion as well, was against the proposal. I see that it has been claimed by Mr. Smith that there is African support for his proposal. There is no evidence whatever for that. One would have supposed, if he thought that there was African support, that he would have given the Africans the opportunity to express their opinion.

Returning to the previous question, the hon. Member may have noticed a letter to The Times last November, written by Mr. Mkudu, the Opposition Leader in the Rhodesian Legislature, on the effect of sanctions, in which he said: No one need suppose that African voices will be raised in favour of ending sanctions. To do that would be parting with our children's heritage for a mess of pottage. As to action in the Security Council, what is imperatively needed is the rigorous observance of the existing sanctions. Her Majesty's Government have been most careful to observe sanctions and to co-operate fully with the United Nations Supervisory Committee in dealing with any cases of reported evasions of sanctions. We shall press strongly at the Security Council for the resolute observance of the policy which the Council has already laid down.

Mr. David Steel

We on this bench accept the logic of closing the respective Missions now that the Smith régime has finally renounced the authority of Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's Governor. Will the Secretary of State take his own logic a stage further and make it explicit that the "Fearless" proposals are now withdrawn by Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Stewart

I said yesterday that the action of the illegal régime and the result of the referendum had pushed the "Fearless" proposals off the table. When there are people in power in Rhodesia who share our principles, those proposals would be available as a starting point from which discussions could begin.

Mr. Paget

Does not the withdrawal by Her Majesty's Government of the Governor amount in practice to a recognition of the fact that this is now a foreign country? Secondly, has not the effect of isolating Rhodesia by sanctions reduced the number of those who wish to retain the link with England, and will not further isolation drive them further and further into the arms of South Africa?

Mr. Stewart

The resignation of the Governor does not in the least imply that this is a foreign country. It must be remembered that in the eyes of the whole world this is an illegal régime. That is the decision of the Security Council which I trust all nations will continue to respect. That is one additional reason for not keeping a Residual Mission in Rhodesia and for the closure of Rhodesia House in this country. It is for those in Rhodesia who want a settlement on principles that we could accept to try to increase their influence in their own country.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I wish to press the right hon. Gentleman on the question of communications which he says the Government are reconsidering. He has just said that the Government think it a good thing to have a wide range of contacts with people in Rhodesia. Will he therefore say, here and now, that he will resist any instruction from the United Nations which will mean that these communications can no longer take place?

Mr. Stewart

There would be no question, if a resolution were passed by the United Nations, of making it impossible for a Rhodesian who wished to have with us a sensible contact from coming here and doing so. But this is a rather different thing from what is sometimes known as the communications sanction. We are carrying out a fresh study of what, in present circumstances, that would involve.

Mr. C. Pannell

Will my right hon. Friend not worry too much about the closing of the Mission in Rhodesia or the closing of Rhodesia House? Surely the illegal régime has all the sympathy and contacts it needs on the benches opposite?

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

Is it not abundantly clear that the maintenance of communications and points of contact does not necessarily imply de jure recognition and, still less, approval of another régime? Is there not abundant precedent for this in, for example, the maintenance of contact and communication with the then illegal régime in Russia from the date of the revolution until recognition in, I think, 1922?

Mr. Stewart

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not fully seized of the unique nature of this case. Not only is this régime in rebellion against the Crown. It is also a régime which the whole world has rejected and has refused to recognise. It is, moreover, founded on a racial principle which, if persisted in, will be disastrous to Rhodesia, to Africa and to the rest of the world. We have to treat this as a special case.

Mr. William Hamilton

Would my right hon. Friend not consider some direct negotiation with friends and allies who are flouting the United Nations policy on sanctions, particularly countries like West Germany and Zambia? Will he say whether it is the Government's intention to continue financing or helping to finance the university in Salisbury.

Mr. Stewart

The amount of Government finance to that university is now very small indeed. It is for certain British universities with contacts there to decide what would be the right policy for them.

As for possible sanction-breaking by other countries, it is our practice, if we have evidence, to draw it to the notice of the country concerned and, in some cases, of the United Nations.

Sir John Rodgers

Will the Foreign Secretary carry his answers a little further and give a categoric assurance to the House that he repudiates the idea that in seeking a solution force should be used?

Mr. Stewart

That has been made clear many times and I do so again.

Mr. Luard

The Foreign Secretary said that other members of the United Nations shared with us the responsibility for enforcing the sanctions. Does that not include South Africa and Portugal? Can he say whether our Government will be accepting proposals from the United Nations to extend the sanctions to South Africa and Portugal? If not, can he say whether, in return, sufficient assurances will be demanded from them that they will bring the necessary pressure to bear against the Smith régime?

Mr. Stewart

No, Sir, we could not undertake to agree to an extension of sanctions of that kind. The House will have seen reports of the speech by Lord Caradon at the United Nations which made our position clear.

Mr. Michael Hamilton

Will the personal financial sacrifice of the Governor be remedied?

Mr. Stewart

That is perhaps not a matter for discussion here, but I have it in mind.

Mr. George Jeger

Has my right hon. Friend considered all the implications of withdrawing our Residual Mission from Salisbury? Has he considered what might happen if a British subject visits a relative, perhaps parents, in Rhodesia, voices his views against the Smith régime publicly, and is then thrown into prison without trial? Who will represent him, who will visit him, and who will take up his case?

Mr. Stewart

Everyone must recognise the nature of this régime and the risks which civilised people run if they visit it.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is a serious matter. But we must move on.