HC Deb 03 March 1976 vol 906 cc1312-9

Mr. Teddy Taylor (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the announcement this morning by the President of Mozambique that he has declared a state of war against Rhodesia.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Edward Rowlands)

The reports which I have seen do not confirm that the President of Mozambique has declared war against Rhodesia. I understand that President Machel, in a broadcast, spoke of frontier violations by Rhodesian security forces which amounted to a war of aggression. He reaffirmed Mozambique's support for the liberation struggle and called for defensive preparations, including the building of air raid shelters.

The British Government's policy is that an early settlement, based on majority rule, by peaceful means is essential. We regret that the illegal régime has so far failed to take advantage of the opportunities for a settlement. The need for Mr. Smith to accept majority rule in order to safeguard the peaceful future of all the people of Rhodesia is now even more important.

I welcome President Machel's announcement that his Government intend to apply forthwith full United Nations sanctions against Rhodesia.

Mr. Taylor

Will the Minister at least make it clear that he and the British Government will deplore an invasion of Rhodesia by Mozambique? Is he taking any steps, diplomatically or otherwise, to dissuade Mozambique from invading, or inviting Cuban mercenaries to invade, Rhodesia? If bloodshed becomes inevitable, will he at least give Rhodesia a chance to defend itself by scrapping British sanctions and providing Rhodesia with arms at least comparable to those of the invading forces?

Mr. Rowlands

As I told the hon. Gentleman in my reply, President Machel has not spoken of war against Rhodesia. That is a wrong interpretation of the report we have received. The easiest and simplest way to solve the problem is for the Smith régime to take action on an urgent transition to majority rule.

Mrs. Hart

Will the Minister confirm that what the President of Mozambique has announced is the closing of the border and the application of economic sanctions against Rhodesia? Will he recall the understanding which was reached between the United Kingdom Government and the Government of Mozambique in May last year on the supply of British aid to Mozambique? Is he aware that there has been no aid to Mozambique since then? Will he persuade his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to take urgent action to fulfil the understanding that was reached almost a year ago?

Mr. Rowlands

The British Government fully support the proposals made at the Kingston Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting for an international programme of aid for Mozambique to help to offset the effects of sanctions. We have subsequently been in contact with the Mozambique authorities with a view to sending out a team of officials. That is the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Sir Frederic Bennett

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there are many of us who hold no particular brief for Mr. Smith? I hope that the Minister will take me seriously on that matter. Is not the best way to prevent a dangerous situation becoming even more dangerous to reassert British sovereignty in Rhodesia? I am suggesting not that we should sustain the illegal régime but that we should seek to prevent a dangerous situation becoming even worse because of invasion from outside. Would this not establish—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Many hon. Members wish to put supplementary questions.

Sir F. Bennett

Will not the Minister protect the interest of the majority of the people of Rhodesia?

Mr. Rowlands

I am sure that the best way to solve the problem is for Mr. Smith to take urgent action towards majority rule, which is the wish of the majority of the Rhodesian people.

Mr. Hooley

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is now a dangerous drift towards a racial war in Southern Africa? Would it not be advisable for the Foreign Secretary to suggest the convening of an urgent meeting of the Security Council to determine the threat to peace under Article 7 of the Charter and to take appropriate action?

Mr. Rowlands

We shall carefully consider this move. The Security Council has been closely involved in the Rhodesia situation for the last 10 years. I shall consider the matter again.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

I accept that any agreement between Mr. Smith and Mr. Nkomo would considerably ease the position. Are Her Majesty's Government giving any incentive to Mr. Smith to reach such an agreement? If an agreement is reached, will his position and that of other Europeans in Rhodesia be any safer? If the Minister cannot give such an indication, should not Mr. Smith be extremely alarmed at what is happening in Mozambique? If the Minister can give such an indication, how does he propose to give it?

Mr. Rowlands

I do not think that I can go further than what was said by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary yesterday. We have been considering what further action and steps we can take.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will my hon. Friend ask the Foreign Secretary to consider providing material, including military aid, from this country to liberation movements which seek to free themselves from oppression?

Mr. Rowlands

Our proposals to join an international programme of aid to Mozambique are entirely for peaceful purposes.

Mr. Thorpe

Is it not a fact that any legal régime in Rhodesia enjoying majority support of the people will be entitled to receive the protection of the Crown and will obtain it?

Mr. Rowlands

That is not the present situation.

Mr. Arthur Bottomley

Is my hon. Friend aware that we are all concerned to see a peaceful solution in Southern Africa? The question is exactly how we can help. Did not the statement made yesterday by the Foreign Secretary show what the Government feel about this matter, and did he not stress the urgency of the situation? Therefore, could not the Commonwealth Secretariat be brought in to seek to bring the parties together in an effort to reach a peaceful solution?

Mr. Rowlands

We are willing to consider any means by which we can promote a peaceful solution of the problem and will consider all the ways in which we can do so. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, he is considering the report of Lord Greenhill and others.

Mr. John Page

Will the Minister now answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) about whether Rhodesia is still a Crown colony even though its régime does not receive Government approval? If it is a Crown colony, does not a residual responsibility fall upon Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Rowlands

It is not a question of approval. It is a question of illegality. This Parliament has reaffirmed time and again that it is an illegal régime.

Mr. Newens

Will my hon. Friend assure the House that in no circumstances will assistance be given for any action which would assist the Smith régime, because such assistance or action would not be in the interests of the Rhodesian people, black or white, who have to face the fact that minority rule must end immediately?

Mr. Rowlands

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary put the Government's position very clearly yesterday. There is no question of giving military support to an illegal régime.

Mr. Tugendhat

Would not the Minister agree that the use of words like "state of war" is extremely unhelpful in the present situation? Is he aware that we all desire most earnestly the speedy resolution of the problem and that the only chance of achieving that will be a transition to majority rule? Does he also agree that unless this takes place quickly the men of violence on both sides will gather strength and all hope of a peaceful transition will be lost?

Mr. Rowlands

The hon. Gentleman has courageously said what the vast majority of the House knows to be true.

Mr. Evelyn King

Did not a previous Labour Government, supported, I think, by the Minister, ask the House to pass a solemn Act declaring that the Smith régime was illegal and that responsibility for the government, and therefore the welfare, of Rhodesian people, black as well as white, lay exclusively with this House? Is that not so? Will the Minister admit it—

Mr. Rowlands

Rhodesia remains, in law, one of Her Majesty's dominions. That is the legal position.

Mr. James Johnson

Does my hon. Friend accept that in this dynamic situation, when history is moving so quickly, the people who are now speaking for black Africans are those leading the guerrilla forces in the bush? Should we not be getting in touch with those leaders in anticipation of the future?

Mr. Rowlands

The future lies in urgent negotiations between Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Smith. That seems to be the most constructive way forward. Let us hope and pray that these negotiations will come to an urgent and successful conclusion and achieve a transition to majority rule.

Mr. Walters

Does not the gravity of the situation in Africa warrant an urgent meeting of the Security Council? Should we not at the same time press with our European partners for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Africa?

Mr. Rowlands

As I said earlier, we shall certainly consider carefully whether this matter should be referred to the Security Council. There has already been an initiative by the EEC countries in a statement recently.

Mr. Grocott

Has my hon. Friend received any confirmation of reports in the Press of atrocities committed by security forces in Rhodesia? If there is even a grain of truth in them, does that not suggest that even at three-quarters past the eleventh hour the Smith regime has not remotely begun to come to its senses?

Mr. Rowlands

I have no information to confirm or deny such reports.

Mr. Churchill

In the event of the Soviet Union sponsoring a war of national liberation against Rhodesia, which side would the British Government take politically, morally and diplomatically?

Mr. Rowlands

This is a hypothetical question. The position which both main parties in the House have supported for a long time is the need to achieve a peaceful transition to majority rule in Rhodesia. That is the side we are on.

Mr. Flannery

No matter how much the Conservative Party continues its traditional role of running away from democracy, does not my hon. Friend agree that the only chance of peace in Rhodesia is for the minority to engage in the process of democracy and see that the majority have "one man, one vote" in order to institute a democratic regime in that country?

Mr. Rowlands

I agree. The only answer lies in an early transition to majority rule.

Mr. Townsend

Will the Minister make it perfectly clear that he totally condemns guerrilla activity from Mozambique into Rhodesia?

Mr. Rowlands

We condemn any form of military action in that part of the world. The answer lies in a peaceful transition to majority rule, but I fear that the situation could be created where violence will become the norm. It is in the interests of Mr. Smith and all the Rhodesians to move as rapidly as possible towards majority rule.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Is the hon. Gentleman saying categorically that in his speech, which was monitored in London, President Machel did not use the words "state of war exists" or that, if he did use them, he did not mean them? Since a threat to peace unquestionably exists in this part of the world, will the hon. Gentleman take seriously the propositions that the matter should be raised again in the Security Council and that the Government would be wise to keep in step with their EEC partners and President Ford?

Mr. Rowlands

I stated in my original reply that our reports were that the President spoke of frontier violations by Rhodesian security forces which amounted to a war of aggression and that he called for defensive preparations including the building of air raid shelters. We have no report of his using the words suggested by the hon. Gentleman or referring to a state of war against Rhodesia. I have already said two or three times that we shall consider what further action might be taken in the Security Council.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot pursue this matter any further now.

Mr. John Page

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the evasive and inaccurate replies given by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands), whom I believe to be a Minister, I beg leave to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Mr. Speaker

There are words normally used—other than those used by the hon. Member—in these instances.

Mr. Cormack

As I advised your office as soon as I could, Mr. Speaker, I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the deteriorating situation in Rhodesia". This application speaks for itself and I do not wish to detain the House long. By whatever standards one examines it, this is an urgent matter of the utmost importance and it is specific.

It is quite clear from the answers we have received from the Minister—I do not comment on the content—that this is a matter which needs the widest discussion in the House at the earliest possible opportunity.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) seeks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, the deteriorating situation in Rhodesia". As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take account of the several factors set out in the Order but to give no reasons for my decision. I have listened carefully to the hon. Member, but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.