HC Deb 23 May 1972 vol 837 cc1224-37
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.

On 25th November, 1971, I announced the appointment of a Commission under Lord Pearce to ascertain whether the proposals for a settlement which I had agreed with Mr. Smith were acceptable to the Rhodesian people as a whole. The Pearce Commission has completed its difficult task with independence and devotion, and the text of its comprehensive report will be in the Vote Office when I sit down. The Government are very grateful to Lord Pearce and his fellow Commissioners.

Lord Pearce and his Deputy Chairmen have reached the conclusion: first, that the great majority of those who gave their opinions to the Commission had a sufficient understanding of the content and implications of the proposals to pass judgment on them; second, that the proposals were acceptable to the great majority of Europeans; third, that the majority of Africans rejected them. The Commission has therefore concluded that the people of Rhodesia as a whole did not regard the proposals as acceptable as a basis for independence.

The Commissioners explain in detail their reasons for reaching this conclusion, their approach to their task and the methods which they used for testing opinion. They consider the extent and effect of intimidation, the validity of the claim that the chiefs speak for their people on political matters, the measure of understanding of the proposals and the reasons given for acceptance or rejection of them. Inevitably, there are some paragraphs which deal with particularly contentious issues and which will be widely and properly debated both here and in Rhodesia.

Honourable Members will find in the report a wide variety of views expressed by people of all races. I hope that particular attention will be given to those opinions and memoranda given by persons who are clearly intent upon furthering multi-racial co-operation. They illustrate very clearly the dilemma facing anyone who tries to re-establish in Rhodesia the basis for a multi-racial society.

The choice lies starkly between a compromise settlement, which by definition will not wholly satisfy anyone but which will gain for the Africans substantial new opportunities for advancement, and a rapid and complete polarisation of the races and the prospect of conflict.

It may be that on further reflection the majority of Rhodesians, African and Europeans will decide to choose the way of compromise and to work together for orderly political change. I devoutly hope so for the sake of all Southern Africa.

When hon. Members have read the report, I hope that they will study once again the terms of the proposed settlement. Although the proposals have failed to gain acceptance, they still represent a genuine attempt to find a sensible and in all the circumstances a just solution of Rhodesia's special social and political problems.

It will be apparent to hon. Members that the negotiations of November followed by the Pearce Report have created a situation in which many new ideas will be current and in which positions which hitherto have been inflexible could become more fluid. It is clear, therefore, that in these circumstances there must be time for reflection, particularly by Rhodesians, for the problems of Rhodesia can essentially only be solved by Rhodesians themselves.

Her Majesty's Government feel that plenty of time should be given in which the position can be clarified and that meanwhile no door should be closed. We feel that the best atmosphere for constructive discussion and advance will be provided if we maintain the situation as it is today, including sanctions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—until we can judge whether or not an opportunity for a satisfactory settlement will occur. If there are to be processes of consultation inside Rhodesia they are likely to take some time, and meanwhile the status quo will remain.

Mr. Callaghan

First, we all wish to join the Foreign Secretary in thanking Lord Pearce and his Commissioners for their work. Secondly, on a point of detail may I ask this question: since the right hon. Gentleman said that sanctions will continue, does this include the Beira patrol? Thirdly, may we also take it that there will be provision for a full debate on this matter in the House at an early stage? If so, I have no doubt that the time will be provided by the Government.

As for the account of the report given to the House by the Foreign Secretary, is it not clear that on this occasion, the first opportunity the African people have had to declare their view, they have given an unmistakable verdict? Although I have not seen the Pearce Report, I have had the advantage of reading what all the newspapers have had to say about it. Does it not follow from this that if there is to be a constructive dialogue, if people are to think again, it will be much better if the Africans are brought in at the beginning of the discussions rather than allowed to exercise a veto at the end?

Does the Foreign Secretary intend to communicate to Mr. Smith that it is the view in this country that Mr. Smith should embark on discussions with the African leaders at an early stage, including Bishop Muzorewa? If he will not undertake to do this at that stage, could the Foreign Secretary give an undertaking that at no stage, however fluid people's positions may become—positions which hitherto have been inflexible—will the Government recommend a settlement which goes outside the ambit of the five principles? If one did not know the Foreign Secretary, one could say that suspicious people could place many varying interpretations on the wording used in the statement. However, I am bound to say to the Foreign Secretary that I am sure this is not in his mind. Therefore, I am asking for a very clear undertaking that he intends the five principles to remain as a foundation of the Government's policy, and I repeat that the Africans should be brought into consultation as soon as possible so that Mr. Smith and his fellow European Rhodesians can see that their future lies in so doing.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his thanks to Lord Pearce and the Commissioners. I can answer his points of detail quite shortly. Since the Beira patrol is part of the sanctions arrangements it will remain. As for a debate, I am sure that this can be arranged through the usual channels. I ought to tell the House that the report is long and it will take some time to absorb the whole of it.

The right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the Africans have answered "No". When he reads the report he will find that some Africans, though by no means all the Africans, are opposed to the proposals, and a great many of them think that there is no guarantee that the proposals will be carried out by the Smith Government. There are various aspects of the matter which the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt digest when he reads the report.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the next stage must be discussions inside Rhodesia between the racial groups. This is something I should like to see happen; I cannot ensure that it does happen but it ought to happen.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the five principles. I have never seen any difficulty about those principles. The proposals were within the five principles that Mr. Smith and I made, and any future proposals must be within the five principles. I should not at this stage like to commit myself exactly to the method which should be used in regard to the fifth principle in future; we are looking at the matter entirely anew and completely blind. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] When hon. Members have read the Pearce Report, they will conclude that it will be difficult to have the same sort of operation within a short time scale or within a year or something like that, but we shall keep a completely open mind on this matter.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he is in danger of undermining his whole position by his use of the words in the latter part of what he has just said? Does he accept that, in whatever way it is construed, the voices of the African people must determine whether an agreement is acceptable? If so, apart from what I agree is the second-rate approach of a Pearce Commission, can the right hon. Gentleman see any other method of doing this than by inviting the Africans to vote on the proposals on the basis of "one man, one vote", as they clearly understand what is before them?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

When the right hon. Gentleman has read the Pearce Report he will see that it is not easy to decide this matter. But I accept that any future arrangement must be within the five principles. I think that when hon. Members have read the report they will see that it is wise to reserve opinion as to the exact method to be used to decide how the opinions of the Africans and the other races in Rhodesia should be represented to Her Majesty's Government in the event of any new solution being found.

Mr. Sandys

While accepting the view of the Foreign Secretary, which I think all reasonable people must share, that the verdict of the Pearce Commission must be accepted and that in the circumstances there is no alternative but to maintain the status quo, may I ask my right hon. Friend, who referred to the need for a period for reflection, whether in addition to reflection he will also undertake confidential consultations with other Governments in Africa and elsewhere before the announcement of any new policy decisions?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

We have kept in close touch with all the Governments of Africa on this matter, especially our Commonwealth partners. We shall continue to do so. Again in answer to the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), I stress that I hope that he will not pursue the line that I am trying to do something that is not straightforward. I am not. I have made a straightforward report to the House and I have said quite clearly that we accept the findings of the Pearce Commission. But on future policy, when we are in an entirely unknown situation and when a new situation will be created in Rhodesia, we must retain a certain flexibility of approach. But, yes, we shall keep in touch with all those Governments.

Mr. David Steel

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that his experience and that of the previous Government suggests that Mr. Smith and his Government are not people with whom it is possible to negotiate on any honourable basis? While it is right to keep the door open, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake that any future negotiations will include representatives of the African majority at the negotiating table? Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman has talked about maintaining the status quo on sanctions. Is he prepared to consider making them more effective, and has he studied the proposals of the African Bureau in its interesting document on the working of sanctions?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will direct his strictures on sanctions to people other than us. We are the only country which has been keeping sanctions. Every month we draw the attention of the United Nations to breaches of sanctions, but no one takes the slighest notice. That is a very unsatisfactory situation, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that. In any future negotiations—and I cannot foresee that there will be any—it is my opinion that the initiative must come from the different races in Rhodesia acting in concert. Then Her Majesty's Government will have something that they can consider constructively.

Sir Robin Turton

In view of what my right hon. Friend has said about the way that sanctions are being evaded, to the extent that only British businessmen are keeping them and that every other country is evading them so that last year Rhodesian exports were in value within 3 per cent. of the pre-sanctions level, will not a policy of continuing sanctions make a compromise settlement more difficult and drive Rhodesia towards South Africa?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

We have given this matter very close consideration. What we in this House must try to do is to create a climate in which in Rhodesia and internationally these latest developments—first, the proposals for a settlement and, secondly, the Pearce Report—can be considered in an orderly way. On the whole, the preservation of the present position in relation to sanctions gives the best opportunity for these matters to be considered in a sober and constructive way.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Since the Africans have made it clear that they will not consent to anything to which they have not been party, and since it is clear that Mr. Smith is unlikely in the near future to include Africans in the negotiating process, is it not obvious that somehow we have to intensify sanctions? Would it not be right for Her Majesty's Government to go back to the United Nations and make the very point that the right hon. Gentleman is making now, since the climate of opinion, especially amongst the Afro-Asian bloc, has changed since sanctions were first imposed and there is now a real desire to make them work?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The machinery is there for making sanctions as effective as they can be. It is the will of the different countries which is absent. The machinery is there, and we have played our full part in bringing breaches to the notice of those who breach sanctions. But the political will is not there in some cases.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

While I warmly endorse my right hon. Friend's plea that we should study not only the Pearce Commission's report but also the original terms offered, and having myself been one of those who supported the previous Government on the imposition of sanctions in the first place, may I ask my right hon. Friend at least to realise that there must come a time when it no longer makes sense to go on, as it were, cutting off our economic noses to justify our political faces? Therefore, in asking us for time to contemplate what has happened and, it is to be hoped, for the Rhodesians themselves to contemplate the future, will my right hon. Friend realise that there must be some time limit within which this may take place and that some new initiative in the United Nations to make clear one way or the other whether sanctions are to be fully implemented and continued or abolished must come?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I am asking for time from the House on this matter because I believe that the stake is very high. The chances are very slim. But if we can create a multi-racial society in the Continent of Africa through multiracial co-operation, this is a prize that we should not throw away lightly. I am very conscious of what my hon. Friend says but, nevertheless, I think that what we are proposing is right because we are playing for a big prize.

Mr. Michael Stewart

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's answers about sanctions, does he agree that the publication of this report is an appropriate opportunity for a new move at the United Nations to get the more effective observance of sanctions, that the right hon. Gentleman ought to be able to mobilise for this purpose the support of Commonwealth countries and many other countries in Africa and Asia, and have not those countries which will be our partners in the European Economic Community a special duty to help us about this?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I see exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is after. I can only answer him in this way. He tried very hard. I have tried very hard. Neither of us has so far been successful.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Can my right hon. Friend give any indication of the extent to which intimidation might have been involved one way or the other? I have no doubt that he is aware that there are widespread allegations of this.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Lord Pearce reports that no intimidation was used on behalf of the Rhodesian Government, and that very extensive intimidation was used by various African organisations. But he concludes that the intimidation used did not affect the opinion of the great majority of the Africans, and so he reports.

Mr. Faulds

Now that the Foreign Secretary and his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have failed in their disastrously misjudged efforts to legitimise a bastard régime—[An HON. MEMBER: "It takes one to recognise one."]—and I do, will the right hon. Gentleman now consult the people of Southern Rhodesia by calling together a constitutional conference of their true representatives? What steps did the right hon. Gentleman take to ensure the future safety and freedom of those in Southern Rhodesia who were courageous enough to voice their opinions about that tatty police State?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition will remember that we did not rejoice when he failed to bring off a settlement, and I hope that there will not be rejoicing, so to speak, on the other side of the House if now we have not reached a settlement ourselves.

Mr. Faulds

Answer my question.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I shall, but the hon. Gentleman must allow me to do it in my own way. I hope he will remember that if this settlement, or something very like it, does not go through the Africans will forfeit a great deal, and many advantages. There will be no justiciable declaration of rights, there will be no abolition of the income tax regulator which controls the number of seats for Africans in Parliament, there will be no halt to racial discrimination, there will be no development programme for the African development areas and the tribal trust areas, and there will be no progress towards majority rule. The hon. Gentleman must recognise that if there is no compromise settlement of this sort the Africans will forfeit all those things, and I must bring that home to the House.

Mr. Evelyn King

Were not sanctions initially commended to the House, I think by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson), on the ground that they would pressurise Mr. Smith into an agreement? Is it not a fact, rightly or wrongly, that agreement was reached? Is it not therefore inevitable, whether immediately or later, that the grounds on which sanctions are continued must erode as there is no logical basis left for them?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

There is a great deal of truth in what my hon. Friend has said, but I have to decide what is the best climate that can be created for constructive discussions inside Rhodesia. I think, therefore, that it is better, on balance, to go on as we are, because it is in that climate that the races in Rhodesia would have some chance to get together, and, in particular, I have in mind the international effect of ending sanctions now.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I can endorse what he said, that the then Opposition did not rejoice when we failed to get agreement on HMS "Tiger" and HMS "Fearless"? In fact what happened was that the right hon. Gentleman who was then the Leader of the Opposition capitalised at his party conference on what he called "a great divide" over Rhodesia. Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware—since he brought this up—that he and all his right hon. and hon. Friends voted against a Motion after Mr. Smith rejected the "Tiger" settlement which condemned the Rhodesian régime for rejecting those proposals?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I can only speak for myself. I believe that at all times during the debates on the attempts which the right hon. Gentleman was making to get a settlement we supported him right the way through. I hope that we can in this House from now on try to get some inter-party agreement on the main ingredients which there should be in any future settlement in Rhodesia. I cannot say that the chances are good. The room for manoeuvre of any Foreign Secretary is very much limited as a result of the Pearce Report's rejection of the proposals, but one must still hope that there is a prospect. I repeat that if we cannot in every way try to create a multi-racial society in this part of Africa the outlook for the whole of Southern Africa is very dim, indeed.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

While hoping that my right hon. Friend, proceeding from the present basis, will be able to build a bridge yet again with Rhodesia, may I ask whether he will circulate as a background paper for the benefit of the House a list of those countries which are carrying out sanctions, those which are in breach, and also the effect of an intensification of sanctions on a country such as Zambia, which, if it were to apply sanctions, would itself almost become bankrupt?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

What it amounts to is that many countries are evading sanctions.

Mr. Wilson


Sir Alec Douglas-Home

No. Governments do not admit to it, but the evasion is going on. I shall consider my right hon. Friend's suggestion about circulating a report on the evasions. I think that it might be useful.

Mr. Paget

As it is the black African countries, and in particular Zambia, which are the foremost of sanction breakers—[An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."]—is not the prospect of tightening sanctions at the United Nations rather remote?

Secondly, is not the real choice between a satellite State attached to South Africa and an independent Rhodesia with a somewhat, or very, unsatisfactory constitution? In the choice between those unfortunate alternatives, do we not have some responsibility to the Africans to see that the more disastrous choice is not made?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I think that the particular position of Zambia is understood. It has bought a great deal of grain from Rhodesia. I think that from the start the particular geographical position of Zambia has been understood.

My answer to the last part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question is "Yes", but I hope the House will realise how little responsibility we have left, and how little authority we can exercise in this matter. Provided that the House understands that, I think it will recognise that there has to be a compromise settlement between the two extremes, right and left, in Rhodesia.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us welcome his statement as the logical conclusion of a sadly unsuccessful attempt to negotiate an honest and honourable settlement, and that in view of that many hon. Gentlemen opposite should find it possible to withdraw the unkindly remarks which they made to him when he embarked upon this policy?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I do not think that I should ask any hon. Gentleman opposite to withdraw anything that he has said but, in response to what my hon. Friend has said, I re-emphasise that this is a very serious matter. If we miss the chance of creating a multi-racial society in that part of Africa the whole position in the southern part of Africa will harden and polarise on racial lines, and that would be the worst thing that could happen for this country or, indeed, for any other.

Mr. James Johnson

While fully accepting the right hon. Gentleman's sincerity in all these matters, may I ask whether he realises that today he uttered the same platitudes that he uttered during the debate when we discussed the matter before the Pearce Commission went to Rhodesia?

Does the right hon. Gentleman not feel as all the other African States adjoining Rhodesia do that Smith is beyond redemption, if I may use that word? As Smith came to the negotiating table only because of sanctions, is not the honourable and logical course to step up sanctions to the utmost possible limit which this nation can?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The hon. Gentleman must realise that we are not guilty here. If he reads the Pearce Report he will find that the sort of sweeping strictures that he has made are not made by the Commission.

Mr. Harold Wilson

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's strictures on other Governments, including by implication in his answer to my hon. Friend the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart), European countries, and his invocation of what he said was our experience, is he aware that, while the previous Government took up a considerable number of cases where they found that there was contraband of this kind going on, in almost all cases of which my right hon. Friend and I had knowledge action was taken by the Government, and had it not been it would have been a matter to be taken up between Foreign Secretaries, and we always accepted that responsibility. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that Governments, including European Governments and others associated with this matter in so many ways, are actively conniving at breaches of sanctions? Is he saying that when Her Majesty's Government bring up cases action is not taken on them, or is he just saying that traders are slipping in behind the backs of Governments concerned? It is a serious allegation that the right hon. Gentleman has made.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I made no allegation whatsoever, as the right hon. Gentleman will see if he looks at what I have said. We must appreciate that we in this country have done everything we can, yet sanctions are being breached by a number of countries. I shall not go any further into the methods which have been used.

Mr. Faulds

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I asked the Foreign Secretary a very important question as to what steps he had taken to ensure the future safety and freedom of those who had given evidence to the Pearce Commission in Rhodesia. I received no answer.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a matter of order.

Mr. Faulds

The Foreign Secretary wishes to answer.

Mr. Hastings

I think that it would be generally agreed in the House that, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, this is a matter of very great importance indeed. Many of us have followed this question for seven years or more with great care. Would it not be possible to extend the question period a little, by half an hour or so?

Mr. Faulds

Perhaps the Foreign Secretary would answer.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is a matter for my judgment. There has been an indication that there will have to be a debate in due course on this matter, and right hon. and hon. Members will want to read the Report. This is a matter for my discretion, and I have to protect the other business of the House.

Back to