HC Deb 21 May 1969 vol 784 cc443-9
Sir Alec Douglas-Home

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the situation concerning Rhodesia following Mr. Ian Smith's broadcast last night.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)

Mr. Smith announced at a political meeting in Rhodesia on 7th May that the constitutional proposals which he advocated would sound the death-knell of majority rule. Last night's broadcast has not, therefore, surprised us, though it provided saddening confirmation of the régime's attitude.

I have not yet seen the official text of the constitutional proposals which Mr. Smith was publishing in Salisbury this morning. But it seems clear that they are broadly in line with those which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister described on 18th February as … a complete and flat denial of at least five of the six principles".—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 18th February, 1969; Vol. 778, c. 204.] If the door is now being slammed it is not by us, but by the régime. We have made repeated attempts to reach an honourable settlement. Mr. Smith said last night a number of things with which I could not agree; but there is one point he made which I accept and which is central to our inability to reach agreement. Mr. Smith said: Throughout the entire series of discussions the British have been obsessed with the question of majority rule". I accept that. It is the first of the principles which we inherited from our predecessors and it is basic to our dispute with the illegal régime.

I think that it was generally recognised, both in the country and in this House, that, in the "Fearless" proposals we made a very fair offer. Some people thought it went too far. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister resisted pressure at the Commonwealth Conference to withdraw these proposals, but Mr. Smith and his colleagues have turned them down.

We now await the results of the referendum of the minority electorate, which has been arranged for 20th June. Let us hope that those who are able to vote on that day will choose a wiser course for the whole future of their country than the disastrous counsel urged on them by Mr. Smith.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

If the early reports of the proposed constitution are right, then, of course, this country could not be a partner in that kind of constitution.

The Foreign Secretary has referred to the referendum and until it is held all hope is not dead. Can he give, in a suitable form, as he did before, the substance of the exchanges between Her Majesty's Government and Mr. Smith during the last few months? This would help us in making up our minds as to whether there is any prospect for the future.

It might also be right to have a short debate after the Whitsun Recess after seeing that information, if only to show before the referendum that there could be an honourable and dignified alternative as a basis for independence for Rhodesia.

Mr. Stewart

On the first point, my answer is, "Yes, Sir". Our exchanges with the régime have taken place under an agreement with them that, subject to notice from either side, they would remain confidential. Now, in the light of Mr. Smith's broadcast, we propose to give this notice and to arrange as soon as possible thereafter for publication of a White Paper giving the text of our exchanges with the régime since the Salisbury talks last November.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the question of a debate is not for me, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be aware of the House's feeling on the matter. I think that the right hon. Gentleman said that there was an honourable alternative available. I take him to mean an honourable alternative to what Mr. Smith is proposing. That is certainly so and we have made it clear very often.

Mr. Sandys

While I realise that the prospects are not promising, may I appeal to the Government even at this eleventh hour to make a further last attempt to settle this lamentable dispute by negotiation?

Mr. Stewart

The right hon. Gentleman refers to "negotiations". Brushing aside all the elaborate details, and so on, our position can be described as follows: we have been prepared, and are prepared, to be flexible on details, on form, and even, within reason, on timing. But there is one matter that is not susceptible to compromise. Any settlement, to be acceptable, I would have thought, to anyone in this House, must be a settlement which would mean unimpeded progress within a reasonable time towards majority rule. I think that every right hon. and hon. Member would feel it to be the least one could require. I am afraid that it is inescapable from Mr. Smith's pronouncements that he does not accept that. If at any time any régime in Rhodesia is prepared to accept it, then we shall have a different situation.

Mr. George Brown

The situation in Rhodesia is not, as we all know, concerned only with that. I ask my right hon. Friend, since the so-called Prime Minister of the illegal régime has thought himself safe enough to make his announcement, whether my right hon. Friend has had any discussions with the South Africans recently about the situation.

Mr. Stewart

I think that my hon. Friend knows that, over a long period, we have had discussions with the South African Government and with other Governments about this whole problem.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Would my right hon. Friend agree that this latest announcement of Mr. Smith is no more important than his announcement of U.D.I.? What is important, now as then, is what the Government's response will be to the announcement? Will he not agree that, in coming to their conclusion on the referendum, the electors in Rhodesia might find it helpful to know that, if they decide in favour of Mr. Smith, the proposals made in "Fearless" will no longer lie on the table?

Mr. Stewart

To pursue the metaphor of the table, if Mr. Smith's proposals were accepted by the referendum that would mean that they had, in effect, pushed those proposals off the table. Whether any subsequent or wiser choice could put them back again, we do not yet know. It is quite clear that Her Majesty's Government and, indeed, all the Governments of the world—because this is mankind's problem—must resolve to pursue steadily the present course of denying recognition and maintaining sanctions against an illegal régime which denies human rights.

The importance of Mr. Smith's broadcast, I think, is that it now presents to those people in Rhodesia who have a vote a choice which they can still make—a choice between a course which means disaster for their country and one which could reconcile not only the different races in Rhodesia to one another but Rhodesia itself to mankind.

Mr. Thorpe

If the terms of Mr. Smith's broadcast are confirmed as accurate, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it will come as no surprise that those who started this rebellion should be the first to break off negotiations? While the ultimate application of the six principles will thereby become more difficult to implement, none the less, the adherence to them of the majority of this House, and the Government, in particular, is, if anything, strengthened in the face of this new development.

Mr. Stewart

I would agree with both the things that the right hon. Gentleman says. It has been clear all along that Her Majesty's Government have been extremely anxious to reach an honourable settlement. We have faced one example of intransigence after another and there is certainly no doubt—I trust that there is none in any part of the House—that we are all committed to the six principles.

Mr. Paget

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I do not regret what has happened any the less because I foresaw that this would be the result of a sanctions policy? Is he aware that, in effect, this means that Rhodesia becomes a protectorate of the Union of South Africa? Is there much point at this stage in our injuring ourselves by maintaining sanctions against a portion of the territory of South Africa?

Mr. Stewart

Obviously, I cannot accept the proposition that this is a result of the policy of sanctions. It is inescapable, when one considers the history of this matter, that this is the result of the determination of a certain number of people in Rhodesia to maintain a policy which permanently denies equal justice to a large number of their fellow subjects. The premise, therefore, of my hon. and learned Friend's question falls down.

Mr. Hastings

Since the Government have said that the purpose of sanctions is to bring the Rhodesians to the conference table, and since, regrettably, the referendum may lead to a situation in which further negotiations are impossible, would the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to the House what, specifically, will be the purpose of sanctions then?

Mr. Stewart

The purpose of sanctions is to bring home to those who are responsible for policy in Rhodesia the unrelenting hostility of the whole of mankind to the racialist principles on which their policies are based. I am certain that no one in the House who has any responsible knowledge of this subject would expect that, because of this statement or because of a possible result of the referendum, we should either condone what is happening in Rhodesia or relax the measures now being taken against it.

This may take a long time, but the issue is so great that I do not believe that we or any other nation can neglect our responsibilities.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Will my right hon. Friend tell the electorate of Rhodesia in plain terms that Mr. Smith, like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), is living in a dream world, and that his policy of permanent serfdom for the Africans can only prepare the way for the eviction of all Europeans from Rhodesia?

Mr. Stewart

I believe that, in the long term, this is true. What gives this matter its really serious and tragic connotation is that, while it may be possible in Rhodesia, as in some other parts of the world, to maintain for a time régimes which exalt tyranny and deny justice, those who try to do that lay up fearful retribution, either for themselves or for their successors.

Mr. Evelyn King

Were we not told initially that the purpose of a policy of sanctions was to impel Mr. Smith to an agreement? Is it not a fact that that is now shown to be a proven failure—

Mr. Shinwell

So what?

Mr. King

—and that, therefore, the cost of it has fallen overmuch upon Great Britain, while other nations have breached it? Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake not to reinforce sanctions?

Mr. Stewart

No, Sir. The object of sanctions must be to bring about a situation in which, in the end, whoever is able to do so in Rhodesia comes to terms not only with us but with mankind and with justice. If the hon. Member is saying positively that we should, at this stage, abandon sanctions and recognise the illegal r—gime, he should say so without equivocation. If his question does not imply that, it has no significance.

As to the comparative burden of sanctions on us and on other countries, it was with that in mind that Her Majesty's Government proceeded to the step which made sanctions mandatory, so that they would apply to other countries as well as to ourselves. I was sorry that we did not have the hon. Member's support on that occasion.

Mr. Crawshaw

Would my right hon. Friend agree that those hon. Members who have supported Mr. Smith since U.D.I. could best serve the interests of Rhodesia between now and the referendum by making it clear that even they are not prepared to accept the terms which Mr. Smith has put forward?

Mr. Stewart

It is my belief that no one in this House would say that he could accept the terms which Mr. Smith has put forward. I hope that that is so. If I replied—as I did to the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King)—possibly polemically to some questions, as I was obliged to do to his, I hope that that will not cause any of us to overlook the fact that there should be one thing on which the whole House is united—that we must reject the establishment in Rhodesia of a régime based on the kind of principles which Mr. Smith outlined. I hope that that is common ground with all of us.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Could the right hon. Gentleman say what the realistic future will be, if—as I would regret deeply—Rhodesia becomes a republic and is then recognised by other countries? Does he mean that we will go on imposing sanctions in the 1980s and the 1990s? Where is the end of it?

Mr. Stewart

There is no sign whatever of any other country desiring to recognise this régime and I trust that nothing will be said in the House which would encourage any other country to do so.

Mr. Winnick

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the latest news shows the complete futility of any British Government trying to reach an honourable settlement with the Rhodesian Front leaders? As all that is now being proposed in Rhodesia is totally meaningless and illegal, is it the intention of the British Government to press at the United Nations for stiffer sanctions against the illegal régime?

Mr. Stewart

I must leave the second question until we know the results of the referendum.

As for the futility of trying to seek an honourable settlement, I think that we were right to try to seek such a settlement. While there was any chance whatever of its being sought, I was most anxious that nobody should be able to say that the chance of an honourable settlement was thrown away by any unnecessary inflexibility on our part. I believe that that must now be clear to anyone who has studied the matter.

Sir C. Osborne

As a settlement with Mr. Smith now seems to be impossible, have the Government considered trying to contact business, financial and farmer leaders in Rhodesia to see whether there is another point of view which may be held by the responsible people in that country? Before the right hon. Gentleman agrees to the stiffer sanctions that may be demanded, will he tell the House roughly what they would cost?

Mr. Stewart

At this stage the latter question is entirely hypothetical. We are aware that there are other points of view in Rhodesia and, as I have explained to the House in answers to earlier questions, it happens quite frequently that people from Rhodesia come here and we have discussed with them and heard their views, and this will continue.