HC Deb 17 December 1975 vol 902 cc1368-71
2. Mr. Rifkind

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he proposes to take to facilitate a settlement of the Rhodesian constitutional problem with a view towards enabling the British Government to recognise Rhodesia as an independent State.

7. Mr. Maker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the rôle to be played by Her Majesty's Government in helping to secure a settlement of the constitutional problem in Rhodesia.

14. Mr. Luce

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress was made by the Minister of State in his recent discussions on Rhodesia in Zambia; and whether he will make a statement.

17. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will report on the most recent discussions between the United Kingdom Government and representatives of the people of Rhodesia.

Mr. Ennals

I visited Zambia and Tanzania from 4th to 8th December for talks with the leaders of those countries on Southern African questions, and with leaders of the Rhodesian nationalist movement on Rhodesia.

I took the opportunity to urge on all concerned the vital need for a negotiated settlement in Rhodesia. If it becomes apparent during negotiations that there is anything we can do to facilitate their successful conclusion, Her Majesty's Government will be ready to consider this.

Mr. Rifkind

Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House whether the British Government recognise Mr. Nkomo as being the main spokesman of African opinion in Rhodesia? Have they stressed to Mr. Nkomo and the Rhodesian authorities that any successful outcome of the present negotiations will have to be agreed and ratified by the British Government and Parliament before the legal independence of Rhodesia can be recognised?

Mr. Ennals

On the first part of the question, I have made clear in this House before that it is not for Her Majesty's Government to choose who should be representative of the African nationalist interests. In the course of my visit, I had discussions not only with Mr. Nkomo but with Bishop Muzorewa and the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, and we have not sought to put an imprint upon one or the other.

On the second part of the question, it is true that if negotiations between Mr. Smith and the representative Africans produced a basis of agreement that was within the Six Principles, Her Majesty's Government would welcome it, but the final decision must be taken by this House. That is fully understood by Mr. Smith and by Mr. Nkomo and his team.

Mr. Hooley

What steps are being taken to concert United Kingdom policy with the policy of the Organisation of African Unity, especially Tanzania and Zambia? Is it still Government policy that there should be no independence before majority rule? What steps are being taken to prevent the continued hanging of African political prisoners?

Mr. Ennals

One of the principal purposes of my visit was to have discussions with President Kaunda and President Nyerere in order that we could keep each other well informed and act together in so far as that is possible. As for the OAU, after my return I took the opportunity of sending a message to the organisation's chairman in order that he could know something of the discussions.

On the point about no independence before majority rule, we have made it clear that we do not want, in advance, to impose restriction on the nature of the negotiations that will take place between Mr. Smith and, at this stage, Mr. Nkomo. We shall look very carefully at whatever results from the talks, but if we were to say automatically that there should be no independence before majority rule now, it would rule out the possibility of an interim Government.

We have made it very clear that, apart from their illegality, further trials and executions of political prisoners would hinder progress, and we have urged the authorities in Rhodesia to make clear that there will be no such executions.

Mr. Blaker

Bearing in mind the ultimate responsibility of this House, is it not important that the Government should have some means of keeping themselves informed about the progress of the current talks? What means do they have?

Mr. Ennals

We are keeping in touch with those who are participating in the discussions. It would be very difficult and, I think, unwise for us to have a representative there. We have not been asked by either side to be involved in the negotiations. There is a danger that if we were to send a representative to Salisbury it would in some way be taken as a form of diplomatic recognition. That would be quite wrong in the case of the illegal régime. We are finding ways of keeping ourselves posted on the developments.

Mr. James Johnson

The only man who can move events in the short term is Mr. Smith, and the only man who can move Mr. Smith in the short term is Mr. Voster. What are the Government doing in this respect to secure some understanding with South Africa in the matter?

Mr. Ennals

We are, of course, in touch with the South African Government on this question. I agree with my hon. Friend that much depends on the influence of the South African Government upon Mr. Smith. But I do not think that this is the only form of influence upon him. He must by now be aware that if he does not take this opportunity of negotiating a just and peaceful settlement it seems inevitable that there will be armed conflict. It is important that those in Rhodesia should recognise that time is running out and that if there are no major concessions now they will be facing a situation that is disastrous not only for the African people but for the Europeans in Rhodesia, too.

Mr. Luce

Further to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker), is it not extremely important at this stage for the British Government to be kept continually apprised of the rapidly changing situation in Rhodesia? In view of that, is it not essential to have some means of developing a regular flow of information from Rhodesia?

Mr. Ennals

I have already dealt with that. There are considerable difficulties about this, and I spelled them out. The point that the hon. Member raised will be borne in mind. It is important to keep informed. At present we are satisfied that we are well informed about the progress of the talks.

Mr. Lee

I welcome the general tenor of my right hon. Friend's views, but will he enlarge a little more on the question of the interim Government? Am I to understand that any such interim Government would certainly have to be instituted before there was any question of the recognition of independence? If not, we would seem to be going back on the promise of no independence before majority rule.

Mr. Ennals

My hon. Friend's view would gain wide acceptance in the House. However, it would be unwise at this stage to make a firm commitment before knowing the nature of the proposals that might result from the negotiations, if they make progress. It would therefore be best for the House to look at the proposals when they are submitted to us.