HC Deb 09 November 1971 vol 825 cc832-8
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Alec Douglas- Home)

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

The purpose of the exchanges which have been taking place over the last year with the Rhodesian authorities has been to establish whether there is a basis for negotiation of a settlement within the framework of the five principles. The discussions conducted by Lord Goodman, to whom I am greatly indebted, have made considerable progress. But there remained several crucial points which present real difficulty.

I have therefore decided to go to Salisbury for discussions with Mr. Smith to see whether these matters can be resolved. I shall leave on 14th November for this purpose and shall be accompanied by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and by Lord Goodman. I do not underestimate the difficulty of the task, but if there is a will to succeed on both sides, there are grounds for hope.

If a suitable basis for an agreement is found, it will be consistent with the five principles, to all of which Her Majesty's Government attach importance. If agreement is reached we would then have to satisfy ourselves that its terms were fully understood by the Rhodesian people as a whole and acceptable to them.

The present situation benefits no one, least of all the Africans, and everyone must hope for a just and reasonable settlement to this unhappy story. After all these years of frustration I suffer from no illusions that my task will be easy; but that the effort is, in the widest sense, in the public interest, I have no doubt at all.

Mr. Healey

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the House will be grateful for his statement and will understand why he has chosen to make it today?

Is it not the case that he gave the country to understand that he would not go to Salisbury unless the officials had already reached the basis of an agreement? Are we to understand from his statement that no basis for agreement has yet been reached and that it will be his task when he goes to try to reach such a basis?

On the larger issues, the House will have an opportunity to debate these matters tomorrow. However, may I put three questions to the right hon. Gentleman? First, can he assure us that if he fails to reach an agreement on this question, the Government and their supporters in the House and outside will accept that no honourable agreement can be reached with the Smith régime? Secondly, we on this side of the House welcome the insistence in his statement that any agreement must be both understood and accepted by the African majority in Rhodesia no less than by the white minority. Can he assure the House that he will follow the precedent set by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he was Prime Minister and visit representatives of the African majority who are in detention. to ascertain their views?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to those to whom he talks that acceptance of the five principles will mean at least the repeal of most of the legislation carried out by the Smith régime since its illegal declaration of independence, in particular the repeal of the 1969 Constitution and of the Land Apportionment Act?

Sir A. Douglas-Home

In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first point, progress has been made, but I do have to find out whether there is a basis for agreement. That will be the purpose of my journey.

In answer to the first of the right hon. Gentleman's three questions, the agreement must be honourable—[Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Gentlemen will wait to hear what I have to say. The agreement must be honourable. It must be within the framework of all the principles mentioned. I have made arrangements to meet African leaders—a wide variety of them—and Church leaders, and I shall spend two days or so doing that. That I shall follow the example of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition I cannot promise, but I will do my best to see, if agreement is reached, that it is fair. I must rehearse again what I said to the House, that the present situation, if it is allowed to develop and continue, holds out no hope at all for the Africans in Rhodesia.

Sir R. Turton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the vast majority of the people in this country will wish him godspeed on his journey? Will he consider whether the difficulties could not be eased if he took to Rhodesia offers of substantial contributions towards the cradication of bilharzia and towards the accelerated secondary education programme for Africans?

Sir A. Douglas-Home

Economic assistance will obviously play a part if we are to get an agreement, and I am particularly keen, and always have been, as the House will remember, on substantial contributions to assist African education in Rhodesia.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those who may be highly critical of his policies and of his judgment never seek to impugn his integrity? That being so, would he agree and accept that any settlement based on 3½ principles spread over 50 years or five principles torn up within two years would not, by his standards, be an honourable settlement?

As his own Constitution of 1961 was torn up, before U.D.I. the African Affairs Board was treated with contempt, and even at this moment Mr. Smith is treating with contempt the Churches within Rhodesia itself, would the right hon. Gentleman agree that no settlement could be lasting and therefore honourable without copper-bottomed guarantees, either with an external guarantee or possibly with a British sovereign military base in Rhodesia itself?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman remember this: he is appropriately leaving this country to go to Rhodesia on Remembrance Sunday, and the people he will have to remember are the 4 million Africans for whom we are responsible and who have no political rights?

Sir A. Douglas-Home

I hope that when I return the right hon. Gentleman will have a better opinion of my judgment than he appears to have now. I am not likely to forget the Africans in this matter. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman might ask himself what all this is about, why we have not attached ourselves to the attempted Rhodesian settlement long ago. The only reason we are in this business at all now is that we want to help the Africans towards a better future than they are likely to have. I will certainly not be careless of this matter. I think the answer that I must give to the right hon. Gentleman when he talks about the terms of settlement is that I must come back and satisfy a majority in this House that it is fair.

Mr. Hastings

In adding my good wishes to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on his journey, may I ask whether he agrees that the security of all the peoples of Rhodesia and the stability of Central Africa can only be achieved through a settlement, and that that surely is a more important objective than a too rigid interpretation of any of the principles put forward here in this place?

Following the reference by the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) to the fact that my right hon. Friend is going on Remembrance Sunday, may I ask him also to remember the Rhodesians so many of whom fell for us in the war?

Sir A. Douglas-Home

Yes, Sir, that is true. Many Rhodesians sacrificed their lives fighting for this country during the war.

I would only add that agreement, when it is made, must not only satisfy the letter of the five principles but that in our own consicences we must feel that this is something that contributes to the Africans' future.

Mr. Bottomley

While I profoundly regret that the Foreign and Common-wealth Secretary, of all people, should be going to Rhodesia, but while expressing pleasure that he is going to meet some African leaders, may I ask him whether he can say that he will meet the truly representative African national leaders, namely, those in detention?

Sir A. Douglas-Home

I shall be considering this matter when I get to Rhodesia. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why considering?"] I shall be considering exactly whom I shall see. I have no doubt that arrangements will be made for me to see anyone I want to see if I so request.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that those of us who have no sympathy with the Smith rÉgime will welcome a genuine settlement in Rhodesia which will prevent that country moving to a complete system of apartheid?

Sir A. Douglas-Home

I always have in mind that if we were unable to make a settlement Rhodesia would virtually become part of South Africa.

Mr. Faulds

Will the right hon. Gentleman reiterate and remember that when he travels to Salisbury he will carry in his baggage not only the five principles which he first enunciated, but also—and this is a matter of some importance to him personally—his honour?

Sir A. Douglas-Home

I am concerned with my honour, but not much about my reputation.

Mr. Healey

I hope that the Foreign Secretary will answer a little more clearly the question which I and others have put to him. He will be well aware of the importance of carrying with him opinion in the African Commonwealth in this matter. He will fail to do so unless he is known to have seen the representatives of African opinion in Rhodesia who are now in detention under the Smith rÉgime. The importance of the matter can hardly be over-stressed. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give the House an assurance that he will insist on being able to see those men when he arrives in Salisbury.

Sir A. Douglas-Home

I have no doubt that I shall be able to see them—exactly which of them, I cannot say at this moment, but I shall certainly be able to see some of them.

Mr. Harold Wilson

I wish the right hon. Gentleman success in getting the kind of agreement which, knowing him, he will not sign unless it fully honours the five principles. In 1965, before U.D.I., when they were the legitimate Government, the formula used for seeing internees and others was to refer to a document for which the right hon. Gentleman himself had been responsible when he was Prime Minister, bearing the signatures of those who had taken part in a conference during his Premiership. I asked to see everyone who had been involved in that document, and that was agreed. Will the right hon. Gentleman look up that precedent and insist on seeing all of those people? Then there could not be any reasonable refusal. If there were, it would cast doubt on the bona fides of those with whom the right hon. Gentleman will be negotiating.

Sir A. Douglas-Home

As I have said, I have no doubt—and I have been in touch with Mr. Smith on this matter—that I shall be able to see anybody I wish to see.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The matter is to be debated.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order. We are conscious of the problem of the Chair when right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench want to intervene, but it is the fact that on the very important question of Rhodesia, on which strong views are held on both sides of the House, there were three questions running from the other side of the House, without a balance. I believe that thought should be given to seeing that a true balance of view is extended to the Minister when he is going on such an important errand.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have noted what the hon. baronet has said. My judgment was affected by the fact that there is to be a debate tomorrow on these matters.