HC Deb 11 June 1975 vol 893 cc410-8
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. James Callaghan)

I will, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, make a statement on Rhodesia.

I told the House on 21st May that I was considering the next steps to be taken in the matter of Rhodesia and that I hoped to make a further statement in the near future. I have since been in touch with the Presidents of Zambia, Tanzania and Botswana, with the Prime Minister of South Africa and with Mr. Smith. I have also had further talks with ANC leaders who returned to Salisbury from the Kingston conference through London; and last week I had a useful discussion with Bishop Muzorewa.

All are agreed that the urgent objective is to get discussions going to secure a peaceful solution to Rhodesia's problems by negotiation, though of course there are substantial differences of emphasis between them about how best to achieve this.

I have concluded that the time has come when the Government should be directly in touch with Mr. Smith at ministerial level. Accordingly, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will visit Salisbury later this month—the precise date is still to be worked out—for discussions with Mr. Smith, with ANC leaders and others. He will consult with all concerned about the modalities and the timing of the next steps.

Her Majesty's Government are ready to convene a constitutional conference on Rhodesia. I think it is accepted that there would need to be a formal conference to reach final agreement on a solution based on majority rule for Rhodesia. Some argue that this should come only after a basic agreement has been reached between the Africans and Europeans within Rhodesia. But the progress which has been made on that basis during the past six months is hardly encouraging. Certainly, the more progress that can be made the better, and I am pleased to see that further meetings between the two sides in Rhodesia are in prospect. I believe and hope that both Mr. Smith and the ANC are ready to discuss substantial matters, such as the franchise, in these meetings, and I have urged all concerned to do so.

Lest there should be any doubt, however, I should like to state quite clearly now that it is my intention to convene a constitutional conference as soon as the Government consider it opportune to do so. Questions about timing and preliminaries and modalities for a conference are matters which my right hon. Friend will explore further with the parties directly concerned when he visits Salisbury.

The House will see that I am not setting a deadline for the commencement of a conference. If, as I hope, both sides in their direct talks began now to negotiate issues of substance, I would not be dogmatic as to the timing of the Government's proposed conference. But a start must be made before it is too late, and if it is clear in due course that substantial progress is not resulting from the direct talks between Mr. Smith and the ANC, it will then become the Government's responsibility to call the parties together.

Everybody who has followed the affairs of Rhodesia knows only too well of the wide gap between white and black Rhodesians which remains to be bridged and of the significant changes of attitude that are required. I hope that the ANC itself, when it meets in congress on 21st and 22nd June, will define its policy in terms of a peaceful and multi-racial solution. It is my expectation that my right hon. Friend's visit will assist in these matters.

The House will also wish to know more about the question of assistance to Mozambique over the implementation of sanctions, which was advocated by the Commonwealth Heads of Government in the communiqué issued after the conference in Kingston last month. Since then we have been in further consultation with the future leaders of Mozambique. We have indicated that the British Government are ready to make available a generous programme of development assistance in order to assist them in countering the economic problems which would arise for Mozambique from the application of sanctions against Rhodesia. It is our intention that such assistance in countering the problems posed by sanctions should be provided under the auspices of the United Nations, and we hope that other member Governments of the United Nations will also be prepared to assist Mozambique generously in this way.

In conclusion, I should like to take this opportunity to emphasise that the Government remain pledged to do all that lies within their power to promote a peaceful settlement in Rhodesia as the alternative to the violence which, as the Commonwealth Heads of Government recognised in Kingston, will otherwise be inevitable. It is up to people in Rhodesia to seize now what may well be their last chance to settle their differences and determine the future of their country without resort to further bloodshed—the last chance, too, perhaps to secure a future in which all races, black, white, Asian and Coloured, have their place. Her Majesty's Government are ready to do all we can to help them do this. But the basic opportunity is theirs.

Mr. Maudling

May I thank the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary for his statement and say that the Opposition wish the Minister of State all success in his mission? We note that any development assistance to Mozambique will be within the United Nations framework, and that is important. In general, I think we all recognise that the problem of Rhodesia is critical and urgent. While we cannot ourselves express a view on particular solutions at this stage, if the collective wisdom of the House of Commons can contribute to a solution, we shall be happy to take part in it.

Mr. Callaghan

I am obliged for the way in which the right hon. Gentleman put his views and those of his hon. Friends. It is my earnest hope that Mr. Smith and the ANC will themselves be able to reach a solution that is agreed between them. That is undoubtedly the most likely way in which we shall get a permanent and lasting solution. It is against that background that, to give confidence to both sides, I have indicated that, if those talks seem not to make progress, Her Majesty's Government will be ready to step in to help. First, I hope that they will continue to make more progress in the next two or three months than they have made so far.

Mr. Bottomley

My right hon. Friend knows that the last thing I want to do is to make his unenviable task more difficult, but he will recall that on other occasions I have said that it is a mistake for the Government to get involved in the Rhodesian problem. Will not my right hon. Friend at this late hour urge upon the Rhodesians, both African and European. to get together and resolve the problem for themselves?

Mr. Callaghan

My right hon. Friend speaks with great authority on these matters. What he says is exactly in accord with my approach. In my contacts with Mr. Smith and the ANC, both in writing and in conversation, I have urged them to try to solve this problem themselves but, at the end of the day, if they cannot themselves solve the problem, there is still a basic responsibility on the House of Commons and upon the Government of this country to see what they can do.

Mr. David Steel

We on the Liberal Bench register our support for the statement which has been made by the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. We particularly welcome the choice of the Minister of State as the envoy in this task in view of his record in these matters. Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear to Mr. Smith that intransigence on his part or, to be more accurate, on the part of some of his supporters, can, sadly, only serve to encourage those within nationalist movements who believe that violence is the only way forward?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, Sir, I will certainly do so, and I have done so. It is unfortunate that frequently extremists of both sides can prevent a sensible solution. In this case there is a growing awareness that time is short and that Rhodesia is approaching a watershed. Undoubtedly, within a matter of months there will be a determination to go either one way or the other, and it is our job to see that there is a peaceful solution if it is at all possible.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

I wish my right hon. Friend well in his efforts to solve this long-standing and difficult problem. Will he confirm that the basis of the discussions from the point of view of Her Majesty's Government will be the six principles, bearing in mind that the sixth principle becomes increasingly important as time progresses?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, Sir, that still underlines the approach of Her Majesty's Government. As my right hon. Friend says, as the Africans are now engaged in talks with Mr. Smith—and who would have thought it possible that leaders who were in prison a few months ago should now be actively engaged in talks with Mr. Smith?—-it is increasingly important that any agreement that is reached should be acceptable to the African people.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about talks being possible between the various leaders in Rhodesia, but is it not also encouraging in this difficult situation that Rhodesia's neighbouring States—particularly Zambia—are anxious for a settlement? Is not that a helpful factor? Will the right hon. Gentleman be a little cautious when he refers to the future leaders of Mozambique, because that country is very unstable?

Mr. Callaghan

There is no doubt that the President of Zambia, together with other neighbours of Rhodesia, including South Africa, have played and are playing a moderating part in respect of those with whom they have influence. That is one of the hopeful factors. There is no doubt that the new leaders of Mozambique will take over in very difficult circumstances for themselves, and it is our task to help them as much as we can.

Mr. Dalyell

If we are serious about helping the new leaders of Mozambique, is it not sensible under United Nations auspices to undertake a joint programme with the Brazilians, who are Portuguesespeaking and have already pioneered in this sphere?

Mr. Callaghan

I know of my hon. Friend's good heart, but Mozambique will be an independent country on 25th June. One of the reasons for my being a little reserved in what I have said is that I think that the new Government of Mozambique must reach some of these conclusions themselves. We are willing and ready to discuss with the incoming leaders the best forms of approach, and the kind of proposal that my hon. Friend has made will be borne in mind.

Mr. Michael Hamilton

There have been reports recently of mercenaries being recruited in this country to conduct sabotage and acts of terrorism in Rhodesia. If these reports are accurate, will this trade be discouraged in the interests of a worthwhile discussion?

Mr. Callaghan

I would certainly hope so. I have no information about this matter, but if the hon. Gentleman cares to table a Question I shall look into it. Clearly mercenaries recruited to fight on one side or the other will hamper the prospects of negotiations at this stage in the discussions in Rhodesia.

Mr. Kinnock

I express my support for my right hon. Friend's views on Mozambique and couple with that the hope that the support will be generous enough to make Smith's pips squeak. As regards the resolution of the present situation, whether that results from ANC-Smith talks or from tripartite talks between my right hon. Friend, the ANC and Smith, how does my right hon. Friend propose to enforce the consequences of the talks without giving the Smith régime even more time?

Mr. Callaghan

We have already had preliminary discussions on aid to Mozambique. Once they become a fully-fledged and legitimate Government after 25th June, it will be possible to make a further announcement. I hope that it will be of considerable help. As regards the second part of the talks, whether bilateral or tripartite, I think I must see how the talks progress before I make a further report on what we would do to enforce the consequences. I would not want to over-rate the prospects of this country, several thousands of miles away, being able to enforce a solution, which we have not so far succeeded in doing in the past 10 years.

Mr. Rifkind

Will the right hon. Gentleman give a boost to negotiations by stating that any agreement that might be reached between the ANC and Europeans in Rhodesia would meet British conditions so far as acceptability and so far as Mozambique are concerned? Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House whether the commitment to give financial help is in terms of a once-and-for-all payment or an open-ended commitment for an indefinite period of years?

Mr. Callaghan

I do not think that it would be proper for me to give a blank cheque to anyone who is discussing this problem in terms that this House will in all circumstances accept the consequences or that the Government will recommend them. I think that we would need to wait and see what emerged. Clearly any agreement that is reached between representative leaders of the ANC and Mr. Smith and his Government would naturally command a great deal of weight in this House. I do not think that we can go further than that. As regards aid to Mozambique, I would prefer to defer an answer to that question, except to say that nothing that the British Treasury ever does is open-ended. We have made specific proposals, but in deference to the new Government in Mozambique I think I should not announce them until they are ready.

Mr. Luard

Is not the success of these talks likely to depend crucially on the attitude of the South African Government and the pressures that they are willing to bring to bear on Rhodesia? Will my right hon. Friend consider gently suggesting to South Africa that the willingness of this country to bail out South Africa in the United Nations, as we did only two or three weeks ago, will be sharply reduced unless it is willing to bring this kind of pressure to bear?

Mr. Callaghan

South Africa has considerable influence in this matter, but I do not think that it would be right for me to make a bargain with South Africa. On an issue of this sort we must judge our reaction in the United Nations by reference to the resolutions put up there and not by reference to what we think South Africa will do if we take a particular course of action.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

May I assure the Foreign Secretary how much I personally welcome, first, his realistic assessment of Britain's power in this context and, secondly, his refusal to suggest even any possibility of horse-trading with South Africa, which I am certain would not work. As over the past 10 years events have clearly demonstrated that successive British Governments have been less than fully briefed on the complexity of this situation, will the Foreign Secretary ask his right hon. Friend who is to represent him in Salisbury to take with him the most excellent article that appeared in the Financial Times three weeks ago, which pointed out how complete and far-reaching is the interdependence of Rhodesia and the countries on its borders?

Mr. Callaghan

My right hon. Friend will have heard the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he will do a great deal of reading before he goes to Salisbury. Perhaps I should add, for the benefit of the House, that I have been in touch with the South African Government and that my right hon. Friend will be visiting Pretoria, too, during the time he is in Rhodesia.