HC Deb 03 February 1977 vol 925 cc756-819

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ronald Bell.]

Leave having been given on Wednesday 2nd February under Standing Order No. 9 to discuss: The refusal of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to make immediate representations to the Government of Botswana for the return of four hundred schoolchildren abducted on Monday from South-West Rhodesia.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you have ruled that the debate on which we are about to embark is a matter of urgent public importance, and when the House has supported your decision—as it did yesterday—is it not the grossest discourtesy to the House and to the Chair that the Foreign Secretary should not be present to deal with this great debate? Can we have an assurance that the right hon. Gentleman will appear later?

Mr. Speaker

It is not for me to say who comes to speak for the Department, but I have no doubt at all that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks will have been noted. What I am concerned about is that every Administration is answerable to this House, but who is chosen to answer is not a matter for me.

3.59 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)

On Sunday evening last, a small band of armed guerrillas came to the Manama Mission School of the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Mission and at gunpoint rounded up 384 children, five teachers and two priests. In order to show the parity of their motives, the guerrillas broke open the mission safe and stole £1,300 and marched the children, teachers and priests off towards the Botswana border.

Four children and one priest escaped fairly quickly from their captors, possibly on the long journey to the frontier. Ten more children and two teachers have since escaped and returned. About 370 children remain somewhere in Botswana. All these children are minors and should be in the custody of their parents. Appeals have been made to the Botswana Government and to the International Red Cross, so far without result.

The Botswana Government are reported to have said that the children had fled to Botswana to escape death at the hands of the Smith forces, who, the spokesman said, shot innocent people to maintain a killing quota of 10 guerrillas to one Rhodesian soldier. That seems to be the "contradictory" account from Sir Seretse Khama's Government which the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary referred to yesterday and which was his excuse for inaction. I suggested yesterday, Mr. Speaker, in my submission to you, that even if that remarkable explanation were believed—I wonder whether anyone does believe it—it quite ignored the fact that these were children and that they have parents.

But how much plausibility is there in the Botswana story? Here is the relevant part of the report in The Times on Tuesday from its own correspondent: The pupils had been rounded up from their dormitories where they had been before"—

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Was the correspondent named actually there at the happening?

Mr. Bell

If the hon. Member will listen, he will see where the correspondent got his information from: The pupils had been rounded up from their dormitories, where they had been before attending the mission's evening prayer service. A boy aged 16, one of those who escaped, said, 'They made us line up outside the school, then told us to run. They made us run out of the gate and down the road. After a while, we began walking and twice they made us lie down and hide when planes came over. They said they would shoot us if we didn't do what they said. We crossed the Shashe River into Botswana and there they let us have a rest. We all lay down and when they called out for us to get up. I lay hidden and watched my friends going away. My sister was among them.' So they went away into Botswana, and, unless someone does something about it, they will not be seen in their homes for a long time, and perhaps never.

Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Referring to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), may I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to tell the House whether his informant, who presumably is The Times correspondent, was there? Did he interview the boy? If he did not, who told him? Who was his informant?

Mr. Bell

I think that the correspondent of The Times did interview him—

Mr. Litterick

The boy does not say so.

Mr. Bell

If the hon. Gentleman will listen, he will find that the accumulation of evidence is quite devastating. He need not bother about these fiddling little points.

Everyone but the Foreign Secretary knows what this is all about. He seems not to know. He said to me yesterday: There have, of course, been innumerable incursions on the part of Rhodesians into Botswana territory in recent months. These border incidents will occur, whether we like it or not, in consequence of Mr. Smith's rejection of the British proposals."—[Official Report, 2nd February 1977; Vol. 925, c. 532.] So this was one of those border incidents which will occur, whether we like it or not". I am almost tempted to stop and ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he likes this one or not. The right hon. Gentleman said that such incidents occur in consequence of Mr. Smith's rejection of the British proposals. So, of course, it is Mr. Smith's fault.

My censure of the Foreign Secretary in this debate is on two separate grounds, on the first of which I think that most hon. Members on either side will stand with me. I have little doubt that it is upon this consideration that three Labour Members were good enough to rise in my support yesterday. I can at least discern a difference between the mass abduction of children and some of the other border incidents which occur.

It was, I think, Litvinov who once said that peace was indivisible. So also are good and evil. What person of normally decent instincts is not repelled and even sated with horror at some of the things being done in the name of politics in many parts of the world? There was the terrible massacre recently in another part of Rhodesia as a result of one of these raids over the border, in which all the men of a village were killed. They were forced by armed guerrillas to lie side by side on the ground, and their wives and children were made to sit a few feet away and watch the men being machine-gunned to death as they lay there. I am not aware of anyone having recorded any official protest or made any official expression of horror at that episode.

In another quite different part of the world, hon. Members will have read on Tuesday, in one of these political raids over the frontier, villagers were massacred and the children all had their throats cut and were described as lying around like rag dolls with clusters of flies under their chins.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)

As the hon. and learned Gentleman can discern with absolute clarity matters of good and evil, which he has described as indivisible, would he address his mind to the raids by Rhodesian forces into Mozambique and the attacks on camps there? Could he fit them into his classification of good and evil?

Mr. Bell

I had little doubt that the hon. Member's intervention would not at all be upon the point that I had just made.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

They have sunk pretty low; let them intervene.

Mr. Bell

Those last two episodes were, of course, much more savage examples of inhumanity than that which we are discussing today, but they fall into the same evil category of inhumanity perpetrated in the name of politics. Such happenings should be condemned wherever they occur without benefit of partisanship, and, when they occur on territory with which we are closely connected and in respect of which we have at least some element of responsibility, a supine impartiality on the part of the Secretary of State deserves the most forthright condemnation.

I turn to the second and more controversial ground of my attack on the Secretary of State. He should learn, if he does not know—he should know—that this episode and nothing to do with Mr. Smith's rejection of Mr. Ivor Richard's terms. Have his departmental advisers really given him that advice, or was that phrase of his yesterday just another of the Foreign Secretary's detached, off-the-cuff observations on world affairs?

Abduction across the Botswana border by Nkomo's men has been going on for several months, since long before Mr. Richard's proposals were formulated, long before the Geneva Conference broke down. It is not particularly directed at Mr. Smith, although his name may occasionally be mentioned as an excuse for something. Does not the Foreign Secretary even read the newspapers?

Has the right hon. Gentleman read, for example, the report from Gwanda on 20th January, some considerable time before this happened, by Richard Cecil, another correspondent of The Times, describing the massive campaign? It is headed, Nkomo men launch mass kidnapping drive to build up terrorist army. It describes this massive campaign of gunpoint recruiting and abduction from Botswana for a Nkomo Matabele army. In the last two and a half months 1,500 Africans have been scooped up in armed raids into the Matabeleland area of South-West Rhodesia, in which the episode that we are discussing occured. The only special element of this last raid is that the victims were children.

What Mr. Cecil said was: In one recent incident, 124 Africans were abducted from a beer hall and marched at gunpoint into Botswana. Eighteen of them managed to escape. He talked to some of them, and they described how armed terrorists came to their kraal and recruited or abducted young men in Mr. Nkomo's name. One was told: 'Come and be one of Mr. Nkomo's soldiers so he has an army after independence' "— after independence. We want no people from ZANU … only people who will fight for Nkomo. The correspondent says that wholesale abduction at gunpoint is now more common than gentle persuasion and promises of a university education in Russia. He also says: Generally the guerrillas wait until a large group of villagers gather for a social or administrative event. Then they pounce and set off at speed for the border with their captives. … Once across the border of Botswana, the terrorists brief the villagers: They are to become soldiers in Mr. Nkomo's army, and one day they will come back, 'some on foot and some in airplanes.' They must tell the Botswana authorities that they came willingly, 'otherwise we will know that you belong to Smith and you will be shot'. That was in The Times nearly a fortnight before this episode. It describes events that have been going on during the preceding three or four months. Was the Foreign Secretary unaware of all this? If he was aware of it, how could he speak yesterday in those bland terms of two contradictory versions, one from Sir Seretse Khama's Government and one, of course, from the Rhodesian Government, as though the two were equally worthy of belief? [Interruption.] I suppose hon. Members will be saying soon that it was a legal raid.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

The hon. Gentleman has been quoting Press cuttings. He will presumably have seen the Press reports in The Times and The Guardian today, which he has not yet got round to quoting, which state that the Botswana Government, which is a legal Government headed by Sir Seretse Khama, who is recognised by hon. Members on both sides of the House as being a great African leader, have accepted a Rhodesian request that the International Red Cross should investigate the alleged abduction of children from a Rhodesian mission school. One report goes on to say: Mr. Philip Steenkamp, permanent secretary to President Seretse Khama of Botswana said today that both the Red Cross and the press would be welcome to talk to the children who were today moved from villages near the Rhodesian border to Francistown in the northeast of the country. In a further statement, which I shall briefly go on to mention—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is only a three-hour debate. We cannot have quotations that are too long.

Mr. Bell

In the interests of everyone else, the hon. Gentleman should make his own speech when the time comes. I am happy to make mine and to give way on particular points but not to allow the hon. Gentleman to make his speech in the middle of mine. However, the hon. Gentleman has anticipated the next thing that I was about to say, so I shall now say it and comfort him.

The underlying reasons for all this are obvious and ought to be well known in the Foreign Office. Indeed, I suspect that they are well known to everyone except the Foreign Secretary, who is probably not in very close touch with world affairs.

Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)

It did not happen in Grimsby.

Mr. Bell

It did not happen in Grimsby.

Majority rule should mean, in practice, Mashona control, because they are the majority, and Bishop Muzorewa enjoys undoubted majority support. But the Mashona are a moderate people, willing to live and work happily with the Europeans and to reach agreement with them. Their leaders, too, are moderate. So they are useless to the Russians. The Russian Ambassador in Zambia, who now weaves the web, has forced the conjunction of Nkomo and Mugabe and has secured the endorsement of them by the African Presidents. Thus the majority Mashone are shut out. Nkomo and Mugabe reckon that after independence on their terms—not those now proposed, the British proposals, or anything like them—the Mashona will rise against them. They therefore want to build up their guerrilla forces first—hence the raids.

That is what it is all about. It is about nothing else. It has nothing to do with Mr. Richard's proposals, which have only just come along. Also, Nkomo and Mugabe are a little less fond of each other than were David and Johnathan, and Nkomo has had his succession as heir apparent virtually snatched from him by Mugabe, so he, Nkomo, is building up his private army in Botswanaland with the connivance of that respected African statesman Sir Seretse Khama, who is basically a Matabele himself, though, like Nkomo, not of the pure Matabele tribe—[An HON. MEMBER: "Disgraceful."]—it is no good saying "disgraceful"; it is absolutely true—and of Nkomo's friend Kamada and of the Russian-dominated Tanzania.

The purpose is the building of an army for use after independence—not against Mr. Smith. Those 370 children are in the pipeline to Francistown. [Interruption.] My information is that the captured Africans are taken over the border into Botswana. They are then taken to Francistown and flown from Francistown to Zambia, where they stop, and then from Zambia to Tanzania, where they are trained and indoctrinated, and a few specially selected ones go to Russia.

The interruption bears it out that these children, who a few days ago were in their village and who have only just crossed the border, are already in Francistown on that familiar route. They are in the pipeline—then by air to Zambia and on to Tanzania. That is why I say that their parents have lost them, unless the Foreign Secretary wakes up and exercises the pressure that he can exercise on Sir Seretse Khama, who knows perfectly well what game is being played on his territory and has been played there for anything up to the last six months.

Is it seriously suggested that Sir Seretse Khama does not know that from his relatively small territory raids are going out into South-West Rhodesia to capture hundreds of Matabele at a time, bring them into his country, take them up to Francistown and load them into aircraft leaving Francistown for Lusaka? Is it seriously suggested that Sir Seretse Khama knows nothing about that? It is absolutely beyond belief.

Am I then asked to believe that the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs does not know about this, has not known about this for several months past and is in total ignorance of it? I know that he has a rather disdainful attitude to the details of these tiresome events, but, even so, some broad perception of their nature must have percolated through to him. If that is so, what was he playing at when he gave me that answer yesterday? He said that there had been two conflicting reports and that until he found out which was right he did not propose to make any representations to anyone. Was he surprised to read this morning that these children are already at Francistown ready for the airlift?

I note that the Secretary of State is not taking part in this debate. I do not know why he has put up the Minister of State to speak. I hope that the Minister of State will tell us what the Government intend to do in order to ensure that these children are not flown to Zambia. We do not want any mollifying phrases. It is time that the Government showed at least one African President that they have a little red blood in their veins, which they have never shown to any African president in the past.

There have been persistent references to incursions from Rhodesia across the Botswana border. These have been going on for months. Of course the Rhodesians have tried to rescue some of the abducted people, and have at times succeeded. They have also made some pre-empted strikes on terrorist camps because they knew that abductions were being prepared. Is there not a material distinction between an attack on a terrorist camp to stop an abduction or to rescue abducted people and a raid from Botswana, which actually occurred on Sunday, to snatch 384 schoolchildren away from their parents and send them on to a form of terrorist exile? These are questions to which we want answers today.

As far as I am concerned, unless I get a direct and reassuring answer to this question I would hope that we will divide the House. This will indicate to the Government in general, and the Foreign Secretary in particular, our view of the total unreality of the whole Government attitude to the controversy in Rhodesia now. The Foreign Secretary does not seem to realise what is happening.

There are two stages to this question. A good many people disagree with me about the first stage—the issue of the practicality of majority rule in Rhodesia. I took one view but many people took another. But everyone must realise that that stage has gone, because the principle of majority rule was insisted upon and conceded. We are now in the second stage, which is quite separate—that is, the technicalities of that process, the shape it will take and who is to exploit it and make use of it and for what purpose. That is the second stage of the game.

I do not think that the Foreign Secretary, with his preoccupation about the white minority régime, has recognised that he is totally naive about this second stage. He does not realise that he is surrounded by ruthless and highly-skilled manipulators who, having seized on the Kissinger acceptance of the fact of majority rule, are now manoeuvring for position in a most complicated pattern, with a degree of dedication and ruthlessness which is quite strange to democratic Governments. Unless the Foreign Secretary drops his attitude of detached ignorance and plays chess with these people, we shall have a blood bath in Rhodesia. [AN HON. MEMBER: "It is chess with machine guns".] It will not be just the abduction of children or the building up of Nkomo's army by raids on British territory, but after independence the whole thing will turn into a bloody battle in which the main sufferers will be the Africans—the Matabele and the Mashona.

I level this reproach against the Foreign Secretary, and I would much rather that he answered it himself than put up someone else—a spokesman—to do it for him. I hope that we get a satisfactory answer to these questions.

4.26 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Affairs (Mr. Edward Rowlands)

I believe that it might be helpful for me to intervene at this stage to give the House an outline of the position as we know it and of the action the Government have taken. I resist the temptation to follow the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) in his series of personal gibes and comments. I shall concentrate on the immediate issue at stake.

We all agree that this emergency debate is not just about the situation in Southern Africa but is about the children themselves. The House will join me in deploring the involvement of schoolchildren in the present Rhodesia conflict. I shall tell the House what we have done to help and will give a brief summary of the position.

According to Press reports, the Rhodesian authorities claim that a small group of guerrillas entered Rhodesia from Botswana and at gunpoint forced 400 children of the Manama Mission secondary school to return with them for purposes of guerrilla training. On the other hand, the Botswana Government in an authoritative statement said that of the large number of students involved, some of whom they had interviewed, not one supported the allegations of the Rhodesian authorities that they had been abducted by armed guerrillas.

The hon. and learned Gentleman has quoted from certain sources. Other reports indicate that there is an alternative explanation. That explanation is that, following repeated visits to the school by the Rhodesian security forces, it was the decision of the children themselves to leave. The Botswana Government claim that the children decided to leave because the Rhodesian security forces kept visiting them, and the British Government are not in a position to determine the true position. The only thing that could be said to be certain about the whole incident is that a large group of children has crossed the border from Rhodesia to Botswana.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Can the Minister explain why 18 of the children escaped from liberation? Is he suggesting also that five teachers and two priests were on the march of freedom?

Mr. Rowlands

All I am telling the House is that there are conflicting reports and that we are not in an authoritative position to decide what is true. All we do know is that the children have left Rhodesia. Their welfare must be of immediate concern to us. Why this has happened must be established, and we need to know the truth.

I shall report to the House on the action we have taken. The moment we heard of the incident, our High Commissioner in Botswana discussed the matter with the Botswana Government. She was informed that urgent inquiries were being made, but as the border area was affected by local flooding it was difficult to ascertain the facts.

Last evening we received a further report from our High Commissioner in Botswana saying that she had been informed by the authorities that the main body of children, numbering 380, were at Kobojango but that they were to be transferred to Seleb-Pikwe and Francis-town, where there were better facilities for their welfare. The Botswana authorities told our High Commissioner that of the large number of children who were interviewed all had agreed that they had left Rhodesia willingly to escape harassment by the Rhodesia security forces. [Interruption.] I am not arguing as to what is the truth. I am saying simply that we have had these reports from the Botswana authorities.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)


Mr. Rowlands

I cannot give way. I must develop my speech.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Will the Minister give way on an important point?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. If the Minister does not wish to give way, he must not be pressed.

Mr. Rowlands

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides are anxious to know what action the Government have taken to secure the welfare of the children. Surely that is the most important matter of concern.

Because of our concern for the welfare of these children, I have instructed our High Commissioner in Gaberones to make immediate representations to the Botswana authorities urging that these children should not be moved outside Botswana until the full facts have been established by an independent body—

Mr. Rees-Davies

That will be too late.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I must ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to refrain from interrupting in the Minister's speech.

Mr. Rowlands

We have instructed our High Commissioner in the manner I have described. The Botswana Government have said that they would welcome intervention by the International Red Cross. I believe that that would be extremely helpful, and I accordingly asked our mission in Geneva earlier today to speak to the Red Cross. I learned later that the Red Cross is sending a representative to Gaberones tomorrow, and I have asked our High Commissioner there to remain in close touch with the Red Cross. I have asked that a member of the High Commission staff should visit the children with the Red Cross representative.

I hope hon. Members will agree that this is both helpful and immediate and that this is the action that is required to help on this first and most immediate problem concerning the welfare of the children.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Will the Minister now give way? The most important point that he has not yet dealt with concerns what has happened with regard to the children's parents. Have they been contacted? What is their view about their children being seized? Has not the hon. Gentleman recognised that this is virtually a white slave trade? Is he aware that it is therefore reportable to the United Nations, since the abduction of these children without the consent of their parents is contrary to the laws of the United Nations?

Mr. Rowlands

Emotive terms such as "white slave trade" can scarcely help in relieving the situation we now face concerning the welfare of the children. I have outlined the action that we have taken with the Botswana Government, in connection with the Red Cross and in terms of ensuring that a member of the High Commission staff visits the children with the Red Cross official. If hon. Members were not trying to develop some wider political argument, they would accept that this was a reasonably constructive approach and a practical way of dealing with the immediate problem concerning the welfare of the children.

Sir Bernard Braine

The Minister has not touched on one important point which is fundamental to a proper and fair consideration of the whole matter. Do the Government accept or not a responsibility for all people living in Rhodesia? Are these black Africans—parents and children—British subjects for whom, in the last analysis, Her Majesty's Government have a responsibility? If that be so, ought not the Government to be acting on behalf of the parents as well as the children?

Mr. Rowlands

The hon. Gentleman knows that we have no representation in Rhodesia. We have no consular facilities there. He must acknowledge all the practical help and assistance that we have been trying to give through the mission that we have in Botswana. Since we are not represented in Rhodesia, we have no means of checking the views of the parents or of talking to them.

I hope hon. Members will agree that the most immediate and specific matter of concern must be the welfare of the children. I have given an account of the action we have tried to take.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South West)

Not many people in this House would doubt that the children are probably alive, but surely the Minister should recognise the validity of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) about the parents. If the children are minors, as it would seem, they have been abducted. Cannot the Government be unequivocal in their condemnation of this action and say quite properly that the place of the children is with their parents?

Mr. Rowlands

There are two conflicting reports about what happened—[Interruption.] There is no way, until we get an authoritative version, of knowing what happened, and, therefore, the Government cannot take a definitive view.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

Those of us who know the British High Commissioner in Gaberones have confidence in our staff there. Does the Minister agree that it is very important that the right questions are asked of these children? Secondly, it is important that we should have an undertaking that a member of the High Commission is there when the children are questioned. Thirdly, it is important that the person who goes has a full knowledge of the various languages and dialects spoken. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that unless these factors are satisfactorily guaranteed much of the questioning might be useless?

Mr. Rowlands

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's points. However, we have been trying to make these arrangements for only 24 hours. We are awaiting a response from the Botswana authorities. I cannot give a straightforward guarantee that a multilingual representative of our High Commission will be associated with the Red Cross representative, but within our power, and within the practical effort we can make, everything that it is possible to do will be done. I am sure that all hon. Members will recognise our approach as being reasonable and civilised. I wish that some hon. Members, instead of trying to score points, would accept that we are doing our best for the welfare of the children.

Mr. Rost

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. There should not be points of order on this. If the Minister does not desire to give way, he should not be pressed.

Mr. Rost

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was under the impression that the Minister had given way. He was looking directly at me when he gave way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It appears that the Minister was not giving way.

Mr. Rowlands

I have given way consistently and regularly, and I have done my best to explain more than adequately the efforts that we are endeavouring to make to help with the welfare of the children. I wish that hon. Members would concentrate on that issue. I do not believe that I can say more now or that the Government could do more than we are already doing.

Nevertheless, if after the full facts have been established it appears that there is a need to make further urgent representations to Botswana, the Government will not hesitate to do that. In view of the remarks made by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield yesterday and today, I want to point out that Sir Seretse Khama is one of our oldest and most established friends in Africa. He is a compassionate and peace-loving man, and I am sure that he wishes to do everything possible to satisfy world opinion that the welfare of these children has been properly safeguarded.

4.42 p.m.

Mr. John Davies (Knutsford)

I wonder whether the Minister of State either heard or read the Secretary of State's response to the question that was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) yesterday. In response to that question—which gave rise to this debate—the Foreign Secretary said: I have no intention of making an approach to anybody until we discover which of these is true."—[Official Report, 2nd February 1977; Vol. 925, c. 532.] The Foreign Secretary was talking about the contrasting statements.

I wonder that the Minister of State can now come to the Dispatch Box with a long story about action taken by he Government which has clearly resulted from the Government's anxiety about the granting of the emergency debate. What fills most people with deep anxiety and great anger is the feeling that the Foreign Secretary—whose current absence I undertand, because he is away doing something that he cannot avoid doing, but I shall return to that matter later—has dealt with the matter with the serene Olympian detachment that characterises his whole approach and with apparent indifference to the issues involved. If one of the children were his, what would he be thinking? How could he then possibly say in response to the questioning of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield that he had no intention of doing anything at all?

Mr. Ioan Evans

The right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) has taken a selective quotation. If he read the preceding paragraph, he would see that the Foreign Secretary said that the Government had received two totally contradictory accounts of the matter, one from Sir Seretse Khama's Government and one from Rhodesia. The Foreign Secretary was not prepared to prejudge the matter. He wanted to find out what the situation was.

Mr. Davies

I felt sure that the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) would make a totally irrelevant comment, and he did so. I said that the Foreign Secretary meant what he said more in relation to what he regarded as a dubiety about the question.

It is intolerable that the Foreign Secretary should have to be provoked into taking even the action that he has now taken. He has not even given the assurance for which my hon. Friends asked about the representations that have been made. It was only after the strength of opinion had been shown that anything was done. It should not have required our intervention to secure this action. This is characteristic of the Foreign Secretary's treatment of matters relating to the problems of Southern Africa. It is not surprising that we are distressed and disturbed each time the Foreign Secretary deals with such matters.

On that count alone, I am inclined to ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to join me this evening in marking our total disapprobation of the way that this and other matters are being handled, particularly in such a tense situation.

It is not my intention to use this occasion for a wide-ranging discussion on Southern African problems, and no doubt, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would not allow it if I tried. This is not in any sense a substitute for a proper debate on Southern African affairs. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has for a long time been asking for a major full-day debate on foreign affairs with particular reference to Rhodesia and Southern Africa. I reiterate the need for that. This emergency debate has no bearing on that matter.

I want to refer again to the Minister of State's inability to answer the question of why the British Government do not consider themselves entitled to take more forthright action. The Government have taken standard diplomatic action of the kind that it is open for any country to take in the circumstances. But we are not any other country. We are a country with an absolutely fundamental and leading interest in the problem. After much hesitation and tardiness, causing goodness knows what damage, the Foreign Secretary has ultimately brought himself to accede to the belief that there will have to be British involvement in an interim phase in Rhodesia—if that is ever procured. Surely that justifies our doing something different from the standard action that could have been taken by any Power or any humanitarian people concerned with the frightening consideration of children disappearing, for whatever reason, out of their place of education.

It is totally unconvincing to hear that the Government consider that it is even a sustainable alternative that the decision to leave was taken by the children themselves. Surely, children in any country or circumstances have some regard for their parents and take some account of them. Four hundred children would not simply light-out without considering their parents. That is irrational and unbelievable.

I join the Minister of State in believing that Sir Seretse Khama took no rôle in this. I do not believe that he was in any way involved in such a discreditable business or that it was even his general wish. We all know of the difficult circumstances in which he now lives. Having said that, however, that is no reason why we should seek to evade in any way our responsibility to pursue the matter much more vigorously than hitherto. Nothing was done until the question was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield. It was only then—

Mr. Rost

Can my right hon. Friend extract from the Minister the information that he has refused to give to me? Was the inquiry initiated after the incident took place on Sunday or after the announcement that there would be an emergency debate?

Mr. Davies

The Foreign Secretary is now here. It would be interesting if the Government would respond and say at what stage they decided to take the action that has been outlined by the Minister of State. I wonder whether the Minister of State or the Foreign Secretary would care to answer.

Mr. Rowlands

I have told the House that as soon as the incident became known our High Commissioner approached the Botswanan authorities to find out the score and followed up with further representations when it became clear where the children were. We conducted the normal diplomatic approaches. What extra action does the right hon. Gentleman suggest we should have taken?

Mr. Davies

Why does not the Minister of State go there now? It would be a welcome departure from the normal arrangement under which someone is given incomplete authority to conduct negotiations in that part of the world. How can the Minister reconcile his remarks with what the Foreign Secretary said yesterday? I remind the Minister that his right hon. Friend said: I have no intention of making an approach to anybody until we discover which of these is true."—[Official Report, 2nd February 1977; Vol. 925, c. 532.] It is inconceivable that the remarks of both the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State are exact: they are incompatible.

Mr. Robert Hughes

The right hon. Gentleman has repeatedly said that he is dissatisfied with the Government's standard approach. He has been challenged more than once to say what should have been done. Is his sole contribution to suggest that the Minister of State should go to Botswana?

Mr. Davies

That would certainly be determined action—which is not what we have seen hitherto.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

When my right hon. Friend is asked what further should be done, will he suggest that our High Commissioner should not be content merely with interviewing the authorities in Botswana but should seek an audience with the children themselves and the adults accompanying them and interrogate the parents? The Red Cross performs an invaluable function in the relief of distress, but it is not an interrogative body and other processes are required to establish the truth.

Mr. Davies

I entirely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. There are many lines of determined action which could have been taken earlier but which were taken only when they were provoked.

I find the Minister of State's remarks characteristic of the many occasions when the Government ask what the Opposition would do in certain circumstances. The Government are responsible in these matters; they have the command of the diplomatic services and the boundless numbers of advisers to give them guidance on what should be done. It is ridiculous that the Government should cravenly shelter behind trying to find an alternative recipe from us.

Mr. Litterick

The right hon. Gentleman does not know what he would do.

Mr. Davies

We have made suggestions. If the hon. Gentleman does not take the trouble to listen, that is too bad.

Mr. Cormack

My right hon. Friend will remember that when the unfortunate Mr. Hills was in trouble in Uganda the Prime Minister himself went there to intercede on his behalf.

Mr. Davies

I remember that occasion clearly. It is in sharp contrast to anything that is considered appropriate in this case.

The issues with which we are concerned are of deep importance from the humanitarian point of view and have evoked an inadequate and frigid response from the Foreign Secretary and his Ministers. On that ground alone, if on no other, it would be right for us to divide the House at the end of this debate to signify how deeply we feel about the indifference being shown to the issues involved here.

Unfortunately, the matter goes much further. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield who is honourably responsible for bringing this matter before the House, has listed a series of incidents and there can be no doubt about their proliferation and the terrible likelihood that they are bound to increase and increasingly bring about a state of utter chaos with terrible damage in the areas concerned.

I ask the Foreign Secretary to have regard to the United Nations Charter. Hon. Members would do well to remember that we and practically every other country are signatories to that document, which says: All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered. I am deeply concerned that there seems to be a progressive development of accepting the escalation of acts of violence and aggression in Southern Africa with a view to a settlement. This attitude seems to have gained so much ground that the principles underlying the United Nations Charter are being undermined not only by countries in that part of the world and elsewhere but by us in our failure to realise that every time we accept as normal that such events should take place we accept an apparent transgression of the most solemn document of its kind to which we have lent our name.

These issues raise matters of profound importance and have been totally inadequately met by the Government. The issues which may flow from what has happened are almost limitless in their horror and danger.

4.57 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Orbach (Stockport, South)

I have been to Botswana within the last two months with a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation, which met most members of the Cabinet there and visited the border with Rhodesia, where we saw refugees, both black and white, who had left Rhodesia and were heading towards the ferry to cross the Zambesi.

The right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) talked glibly about the United Nations Charter, but Rhodesia is not a signatory to that Charter. Rhodesia decided to set up a rebel Government and take a unilateral decision—

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)


Mr. Orbach

What does the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) mean by that remark?

Mr. Goodhew

The Labour Party is pathological about Rhodesia. That is why Labour Members do not understand what my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) has been saying to them.

Mr. Orbach

"Pathological" is a strong word, and as an ex-Chairman of the Tavistock Clinic and Vice-Chairman of Maudsley Hospital, I think I know a little more about mental pathology than does the hon. Member for St. Albans. I am accusing him not of being pathological—just of being stupid.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Is it not a fact that we are talking about an illegal régime that has been universally condemned in the United Nations and is recognised only by members of the Tory Party and the Vorster régime?

Mr. Cormack

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This debate is about the fate of a large number of children—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order. These are matters for the Chair to decide.

Mr. Orbach

I was not going to take up the time of the Chamber for very long, because a number of hon. Members, particularly on the Government side, want to take part.

The Government of Gaberones are a responsible Government and will be responsive to the representations made by the Foreign Office. I have a high regard for the British High Commissioner there and I am certain that he will not send one of his staff—[HON. MEMERS: "She."] I think I can be forgiven for that, because I have been to two places, Botswana and Lesotho, and, for a moment, I made a mistake. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) wish to speak?

Sir Bernard Braine


Mr. Orbach

I want to make a serious suggestion in the same spirit as those already made. I suggest that we carry out a raid on Botswana, bring the children home to Beaconsfield and ask the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) if he will welcome them there. He represents a constituency that is named after a great anti-racialist. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman, too, is an anti-racialist. I am certain that he would be happy to see these 400 children brought to Beaconsfield.

However, the fact is that no one here is aware of what has taken place. We are waiting for information. When we get the appropriate information I am sure that the Government will act against both the illegal régime in Rhodesia and the legal régime in Gaberones in the proper manner.

5.2 p.m.

Mr. Reginald Maudling (Chipping Barnet)

I agree with the Minister of State on one point, and that is respect for Sir Seretse Khama. My only fear is whether he has control over what goes on inside his own territory. On any account or on any explanation so far given, it is a very bad business. If it is true—and the evidence appears to point that way—that 400 schoolchildren were abducted by armed guerrillas, that is an act of consummate evil which should be condemned by all concerned.

I find it hard to believe that all these children were thirsting to leave their own homes and go across the border, and were given that opportunity by the arrival of armed guerrilla forces. Even if that explanation is true, I do not think it is credible. They are children. What about their parents? That, surely, is the point. Even if these guerrillas liberated the children from the thraldom that they were suffering in Rhodesia, their parents should be able to have their wishes and desires.

I am glad that the Red Cross is conducting an investigation. Its prestige is enormous. But it should be recognised that the Red Cross will be talking to children who are susceptible to excitement, to emotion and to fear, and it should also get the views of the parents. There is no reason whatever why the Red Cross should not be able to do this, because the views of teenage children in these circumstances, without the views of their parents, are not adequate.

Mr. Rowlands

I have received notice that following the various representations made the Botswana authorities are quite happy for the parents to go to Botswana, meet their children and talk about the matter. This will assist the right hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Maudling

How very big-hearted of them to let parents see their abducted children. It really is impossible to believe that all the children were waiting to desert their homes and their parents, and it must be proved that that is the case.

Mr. Robert Hughes

The right hon. Gentleman made a perfectly legitimate point that it was necessary for the Red Cross to consult the parents of the children to ascertain their wishes, but when my hon. Friend points out that facilities are to be made available for the parents to visit the children, the right hon. Gentleman goes off the deep end and complains about it.

Mr. Maudling

I certainly do, because it is totally inadequate to say to these parents, whose children have gone many miles across the frontier, "If you like, you will be able to see your children, in a foreign country". We should be sensible. If the Red Cross is to produce a full and comprehensive picture of what happened it must see the parents at their homes. If the Red Cross asked to do that I am sure that it would be entitled to do so. That is the only way to get at the facts.

It is a bad business, for many reasons. I was shocked at some of the things that the Foreign Secretary said in reply to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) who so rightly raised this matter. The Foreign Secretary spoke about border incidents. Is this really a border incident? Is it a border incident when 400 children leave their school, their homes and parents to go to a foreign country where they may never see their parents again? I do not think that that is the way to treat it. The Foreign Secretary also said that there have been innumerable incursions by Rhodesian troops into Botswana territory. Smith is not going to invade other countries. If he is bringing about incursions into Botswana it is to deal with the guerrillas who are invading Rhodesia.

The Foreign Secretary, finally, said that these border incidents would occur, whether we liked it or not, in consequence of Smith's rejection of the British proposals. That reminded me of what he said 10 days ago—that there was no fundamental difference between the British proposals and the Kissinger proposals. If that is so, why is it that Smith is wrong to reject our proposals and yet the black nationalists are not wrong for turning down the Kissinger proposals out of hand? If this is to be dealt with on the basis of fairness and justice, that is a question to which we must have an answer from the Government.

What worries me most about the incident is its long-term effect. The Government have handled this whole thing the wrong way round. To start with a date for independence and with interim arrangements does not go to the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem is the European population of Rhodesia, who will now certainly accept majority rule within a relatively short time—perhaps within two years—on the basis of a constitution, which may be written out without much difficulty, guaranteeing independent law courts, individual rights—

Mr. Litterick

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman is talking about something quite different from the subject of the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman is developing his argument and the Chair will ensure that it remains within the rules of order.

Mr. Maudling

I was trying to show why I thought that this incident will have grave consequences—consequences so far underestimated by the Government—because of their influence on the long-term problem of Rhodesia. They should give confidence to the European population that a constitution for majority rule will remain and not be torn up—in other words, confidence that if there is majority rule in Rhodesia it will be on Kenyan lines and not on Ugandan lines. This is the fundamental problem in solving the Rhodesian issue. Incidents of this kind—support given by the Government to guerrilla movements and the failure of the front-line Presidents to condemn the incident—will make the solution even more difficult.

5.9 p.m.

Mr. Loan Evans (Aberdare)

This motion condemning the Foreign Secretary's actions is completely unwarranted and unjustified. This issue was raised yesterday on a Question dealing with the Geneva Conference. I put a supplementary question to the Foreign Secretary before the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell), and we were discussing the talks that were taking place. This matter could have been raised yesterday by the Opposition by way of a Private Notice Question, of which they could have given notice to the Speaker, and the matter could have been discussed in great detail. The hon. and learned Gentleman could have taken part in the discussion. He should have raised it as a point of order at the end of Question Time and made his point then.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood that the debate was taking place as a result not of the choice of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell), but of the ruling of Mr. Speaker and the choice of the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is absolutely correct.

Mr. Evans

There is no point at issue in that respect. I welcome the fact that we are having the debate. My point is that if there was this concern—the Opposition now seem to be unanimous that they are concerned only with this aspect of the Rhodesia situation—the point could have been raised in the House yesterday. But the Question on the Order Paper, in which the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield tried to get involved, concerned the Geneva talks. The hon. and learned Gentleman's question was: Will the right hon. Gentleman take the opportunity which this matter offers of an approach to the Botswana Government about the kidnapping of 400 children". The hon. and learned Gentleman then went on to refer to Sir Seretse Khama's State as being under a totalitarian régime. That point has been criticised by some of his hon. Friends.

Mr. Ronald Bell


Mr. Evans

The Secretary of State's reply was as follows: To call Sir Seretse Khama's State a totalitarian State is hardly an accurate description of the Botswana regime. I think that there would be general agreement on that point. Indeed, my hon. Friend has just confirmed that matter. It is important to get this on the record, because selective quotations have been made from the Foreign Secretary's answer. We should put it in its full context. My right hon. Friend continued: We have had two totally contradictory accounts of this matter, one from Sir Seretse Khama's Government and the other from the Rhodesian Government. I have no intention of making an approach to anybody until we discover which of these is true. The Minister of State said that approaches were being made to ascertain the full facts of the situation. Things were happening in the Foreign Office. Things were moving. It might be that my right hon. Friend had no brief before him because no hon. Member had indicated that he wished to raise this matter.

The Foreign Secretary went on to say: I have no intention of making an approach to anybody until we discover which of these is true. There have, of course, been innumerable incursions on the part of the Rhodesians into Botswana territory in recent months. These border incidents will occur, whether we like it or not, in consequence of Mr. Smith's rejection of the British proposals."—[Official Report, 2nd February 1977; Vol. 929, c. 532.] That was an off-the-cuff reply by the Foreign Secretary, which showed that the Foreign Office was making inquiries and did not want to prejudge the issue.

We are discussing whether to examine the facts and consider what we can do in the best interests and welfare of these children or to accept the word of the apologists in the Smith régime, who believe that the régime can do no wrong and that the rest of the world is out of step.

Mr. Evelyn King (Dorset, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Evans

I shall give way later. The right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) said that we were not debating the right issue and that we should have an opportunity to debate foreign affairs —particularly Southern Africa. I have on numerous occasions during business questions called for such a debate. I hope that there will be a demand from both sides of the House for debates on foreign affairs and on Southern Africa. It comes ill from the Opposition to say that we should have such a debate when they have Supply Days. Today is a Supply Day. They have a Supply Day next week. Whenever the Opposition want a debate on foreign affairs or on Southern Africa, they have the opportunity to do so through the usual channels.

Mr. Evelyn King


Mr. John Davies


Mr. Evans

I give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. John Davies

I am indebted to the hon. Gentleman, particularly for calling me his hon. Friend. Is he aware that the Leader of the House, over a period upwards of six months now, has been giving undertakings shortly to find Government time for a debate on foreign affairs?

Mr. Evans

If the right hon. Gentleman is considering making approaches to the Government, I shall be happy to support him in his efforts. It would be ideal if the Government provided one day and the Opposition gave one of their Supply Days. If they feel that a debate is urgent —I agree that the question of Rhodesia should be dealt with urgently—they have the opportunity because they have the Supply Days which, by parliamentary convention, are offered to them. But they refuse to have debates on foreign affairs just as they refuse to have debates on agriculture. However, that is another matter.

Mr. Evelyn King

The hon. Gentleman talks about establishing the facts of the situation. Only one fact matters, and that is already established. However it arose—it matters little how it arose—400 children, some of whom are only 13 years of age, are now in the hands of the Botswana Government. I should be satisfied if I could extract from the Government that their view is that it is the manifest duty of Botswana to return those children to their parents. That is all that the Minister has to say. Nothing else matters.

Mr. Evans

The hon. Gentleman has made his little speech during my speech. I do not think that he was addressing that point to me. It is not such a simple question.

Since UDI there has been a continual movement of men, women and children from Rhodesia to Zambia, Botswana and other areas. The International Defence and Aid Fund, with which I am concerned, has been trying to provide for refugees who have left the illegal regime in Rhodesia. The United Nations Children's Fund and other UN organisations have been helping to provide education for Rhodesians who failed to get a proper education under the Rhodesian régime. The World Council of Churches and other international organisations are also concerned about the problems that have arisen since UDI. They have actually been dealing with this problem. I admit that this is a major development and that we should find out the facts. I have here The Times and The Guardian reports. I have already quoted parts of them, so I do not want to go over the quotations again.

Mr. Cormack

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Evans

No. I want to deal with the answer to the question that has been posed. The report in The Guardian states: The Botswana Government has accepted a Rhodesian request that the International Red Cross should investigate the alleged abduction of 384 children from a Rhodesian mission school. Mr. Philip Steenkamp, permanent secretary to President Seretse Khama of Botswana, said today that both the Red Cross and the press would be welcome to talk to the children who were today moved from villages near the Rhodesian border to Francistown in the north-east of the country.

Mr. Cormack


Mr. Evans

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman later. The hon. Gentleman is a persistent interrupter. If he wants to speak, he will have the chance later. I shall give way to him if he will be patient.

The report goes on: In a further statement on the affair the Government here —the Botswana Government— repeated that the children, aged between 12 and 20 —note the ages— had willingly and without duress left the Manama Lutheran mission school in the south of Rhodesia on Sunday night. The statement said that two senior officials from the capital, Gaberone, one of the deputy police commissioner, had questioned a random sample of the pupils and had failed to find one who claimed to have been forced into leaving their country, their families and their school. All those questioned had said that they left under guerrilla escort to escape the dangers of Rhodesian security force operations in the border area. Now I give way to the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack).

Mr. Cormack

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. If 400 children in his constituency did not like their parents and walked out, does he believe that the parents should have the right to have them back again? It is as simple as that. That is the essential question.

Mr. Evans

One must not think of a constituency in Britain and compare it—

Mr. Cormack

Why not?

Mr. Evans

—let me finish—and compare it with part of a geographical area under the control of an illegal regime, where the vast majority of people are denied elementary human rights. That is where Opposition Members are wrong. They are talking about Rhodesia as though it were a normal country when, in fact, it has been universally condemned by people throughout the world, except by some hon. Members opposite.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Would the hon. Member, using logic alone, agree that it is rather strange that at one fell swoop nearly 400 children and young people should decide to leave their parents and their homes and go off in this way, escorted by their pastors and teachers from the mission? Is it not a logical assumption that those children may by now be too frightened to say what is really in their minds?

Mr. Evans

It is difficult to talk about logic when one is talking about the illegal Rhodesian regime, where a small group of settlers has taken over a country and denied rights to the vast majority of the people, where that regime has been condemned universally at the United Nations, and the United Nations has determined that a policy of sanctions should be pursued against the regime. Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), talk as though this were only a game of cricket and we were discussing who should go in next, whether somebody held his bat straight, and who should bowl. This is not a game of cricket. We are talking about an illegal regime.

Sir Bernard Braine

The hon. Gentleman is laying great stress on rights, illegality, and the rest, but will he address himself to this question? In any society, in any part of the world, is it not generally recognised that a parent has a right to be concerned about his child, about where his child is, and what his child is doing? Therefore, the simple question that we should be asking is whether, in the present situation, it is right or wrong for the feelings of parents to be totally disregarded? Should it not be the first consideration of the Government to safeguard the rights of those parents? Irrespective of the illegality of the regime, the Government have a responsibility for black Africans in Rhodesia, and they are British subjects.

Mr. Evans

Of course, when one talks about children one must be concerned about the rights of the parents, and I agree that if the Red Cross is to investigate the situation its representatives must make contact with the parents. But I know for a fact that many parents in Rhodesia have sought to have their children educated outside Rhodesia so as to allow their children to have a decent education, because they do not have sufficient opportunity to have a proper education in Rhodesia.

My point is that we cannot prejudge why these children have moved out of Rhodesia to Botswana. A large number of other people have moved from Rhodesia to Botswana. As has been pointed out, older Rhodesians from other parts of Rhodesia have left and joined the forces seeking the liberation of their country.

I hope that we shall achieve a peaceful solution to the problem of Rhodesia, but, as the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) said, there is a larger question here. We have to realise that we are talking about an illegal régime that has not met the conditions laid down by the Prime Minister when he was Foreign Secretary, that it should accept the principle of majority rule, that there should be elections for majority rule within 18 months to two years, that there should be agreement that there would be no independence without majority rule, and that negotiations should not be long drawn out. Those conditions have not been met.

Once again, we have seen Mr. Smith go to the conference table and say that he is prepared to give independence within two years, but he has reneged on that. He is not meeting the African leaders. He has pulled out of the Geneva talks. It is disturbing that, although the Rhodesian régime has been universally condemned, the Tories—although they vary from time to time—are, with the Vorster régime, giving succour to the illegal régime.

I believe that the Government will look after the interests of these children. If Opposition Members say that we should concern ourselves with their education and their welfare, I believe that we can meet that need, although it will entail public expenditure. We should try to ask the parents of the children whether they would prefer them to be educated in Botswana, or elsewhere, rather than in Rhodesia itself. I hope that the Red Cross will be allowed facilities by the illegal régime to meet the parents on their own, so that no action can be taken against them when the parents' requirements are ascertained.

It is all very well for the Opposition to talk about the dangers that are developing. What about the Tangwena tribe, who had their land taken from them in Rhodesia, being moved to another part of the country away from the land on which they and their ancestors had lived. That was done by the Smith régime, yet not one word was said by the Tory Party.

What about Garfield Todd, a former Prime Minister and leading figure in Rhodesia—he had a white skin, too—who was interned by the Smith régime? Although he came to the Geneva talks, he came there with one of the African nationalist parties, not with the Smith régime. What about Bishop Lamont, who was talking to African people and trying to reach a peaceful reconciliation of the situation but who was subject to false charges and interned? Again, there was not a word from the Opposition.

Now, however, the Tories think that they can get at the African nationalist leaders. They think "We have got them now. We can do something for old Smithy. Smithy is in a good light at last." They speak of children abducted—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point at some length, and we are straying somewhat out of order. I must ask him to stick to the main point.

Mr. Evans

I accept your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but you will recall that I was interrupted several times. I admit that I have spoken—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have shown considerable latitude towards both sides.

Mr. Evans

May I draw my remarks to a close—

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that it is for the benefit of the House that we understand the position. This is a debate on the Adjournment of the House. No legislation is involved. Can you tell me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, why my hon. Friend is not allowed to say anything, since it is a debate on an Adjournment motion?

Mr. Evans

I am not sure that I take my right hon. Friend's point. I think that I was saying a good deal.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I must reply to the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough). The debate on motions made under this Standing Order may include reference to any matter that would be in order on a motion to take note of the subject under discussion".

Mr. Evans

I have taken longer than I intended, so I shall draw my remarks to a close. I put the matter to the Opposition in this way: we want a peaceful solution to the situation in Rhodesia; I do not think that it helps to try to exaggerate the desires of the African Presidents of the neighbouring countries, who also hope to reach a peaceful solution in Rhodesia as well as in Namibia; if the Smith régime will not get down to talks and will not sensibly and rationally discuss a movement towards full majority rights for the people of Rhodesia, inevitably this will lead to a liberation war in that part of Africa. That is why there will be moves by the forces now operating in neighbouring African territories to make contact with the people, and there will be a massive movement of people.

We are here talking about children. I do not know how many of them are nearer 20 or nearer 12 years of age. Presumably, they are a cross-section, covering a wide range of children.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)


Mr. Evans

No, I shall not give way again. I hope that the Government will continue their efforts to concern themselves with the welfare of these children, and, if need be, ensure that they have an adequate education, not only from our resources but from the resources of the United Nations, which has funds for such purposes and can give these children that education. I hope that we shall make contact with their parents.

I hope that, unlike the Opposition, the Government will not prejudge the issue. I hope that they will not take account of what comes out from the illegal regime in Rhodesia but that they will take account of people like Sir Seretse Khama with whom we have had a long and good relationship.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

I dissent from what has been said by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans). We are debating not the illegal regime in Rhodesia but the fate of 400 children who, whatever the contradictory accounts suggest, have left their homes and parents and are in a foreign country. Even the hon. Member would not accuse me of being an apologist for the Smith regime. Twenty-five years ago I opposed the federation efforts of the Labour Government and I remember the talks at the Victoria Falls Conference, at which blacks were not represented.

I claim to have the doubtful virtue of consistency. I claim to know Rhodesia and Botswana, and many other countries in Africa. I have been privileged to know Sir Seretse Khama for 30 years and I regard him as one of my closest friends.

Whatever views one has about the illegal regime—and I have strong views —there is one fact that goes without saying; the feelings of parents for their children and the feelings of children for their parents are the same in the Soviet Union, Southern Africa, Chile or any other country. The first thing one must realise is the anguish that these parents must be suffering.

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) asked what would be the feeling of the hon. Member for Aberdare if children were abducted from his constituency. But this situation is not comparable. Let us suppose that I had strong Republican views and lived in Northern Ireland. Let us suppose that I lived in a "no-go" area in either Londonderry or Belfast. Let us suppose that I was a member of the Provisionals or the IRA, that I felt strongly against the British Government, thought it was time that they cleared out and that it was time that the frontier was abolished. Let us suppose that my child thought that there was harassment and left Northern Ireland with a group of other children to go south to the Republic. This is assuming that the Botswana story is correct. Under those circumstances my reaction as a parent would be that I would wish the Government of Eire to reunite that child with me. The Government of Eire might be in a difficult position, but I would expect the diplomatic powers of the British Government to be used immediately to seek news of my child, or I would expect the authorities in the Republic to do that. I would regard it as an appalling commentary on the British Government if that child were not contacted immediately.

There are conflicting views, but we must remember that the central issue involves these children. We have been told by the Botswana authorities that the 400 children fled to escape death at the hands of the Smith reacute;gime. It is a strange coincidence that every one of those children should have taken that view—except the 17 who escaped, who promptly said that these were not the circumstances in which the event occurred.

Parents have certain rights, and it is essential that they are interviewed. I do not know exactly what is proposed. Perhaps an airlift is planned from some remote part of the Botswana frontier. But if the Red Cross is to do its job it must do it in Rhodesia as well as Botswana. In American legislation, for instance, parents have an automatic right to have a child repatriated if that child has crossed a State frontier.

The Government have repeatedly asked "What should we have done?" I shall tell the Government what they should have done. These are citizens—children —for whom we have claimed a continuing constitutional responsibility. I am delighted that the Conservative Party initiated this debate. I hope that it means that in future the Conservatives will recognise that we have a continuing constitutional responsibility. I have heard many arguments from the Conservative Party, members of which say "We are washing our hands of the problem. Let us not have sanctions, because we cannot enforce them. Let us realise that we cannot go to Geneva, because we have no power." If the position of the Conservative Party is that Britain has a moral and constitutional responsibility for Rhodesia, our efforts will be strengthened.

That does not mean that it suits us to have responsibility in only some circumstances. The Government should have asked representatives of the British High Commission to go immediately to interview these children. They should not wait for the Red Cross and then tag along with them.

What happens if a British subject is arrested on a drug charge in Morroco, for instance? The consul immediately asks if the accused person can be seen in prison. In this case we should have had the immediate right to send our own diplomatic staff to see the children, on the basis that they are subjects for whom we have a responsibility. We may be unable to exercise that right in Rhodesia but we have a responsibility when the children are outside the régime, in a country with which we have friendly relations.

The circumstances in which the discussions take place are important. There are severe language problems. We also know the problems experienced at the time of the federation attempts, when questioning took place and district commissioners were told that they could state their case but not ask questions.

I do not wish to sound Victorian and paternalistic, but I am more interested in what the parents have to say than in what a child of 13 or 14 has to say about the situation. It is important that the British High Commission goes in strength with the Red Cross. Problems may be involved in going into Rhodesia, but if we could go as part of that delegation we would find out the facts.

I shall not go into the details of what has happened. It will not help the case against majority rule. It will not gain support for the nationalists, some of whom I know well. It has probably made the Smith régime more obdurate or at least given it an additional excuse to be more obdurate.

All that matters is that 400 children have crossed from one country to another in circumstances which are a cause of conflict. It is plain that their parents want them back. It is nonsense to talk about asking the children where they want to be educated, and whether they want a comprehensive system or courses in knitting.

Mr. Ioan Evans

The right hon. Member said that he would not prejudge the issue, but he has prejudged it. He is stating the views of the parents. I do not care if they come here to be educated at Eton or Harrow. I do not want to argue about education, but if the parents are willing for these children to be educated outside Rhodesia would the right hon. Gentleman deny them that right?

Mr. Thorpe

If the hon. Gentleman is seriously suggesting that the parents will say "Yes, we do not want our children. We do not want to see them again"—

Mr. Ioan Evans

I did not say that.

Mr. Thorpe

All right, let me get it correct—"We want them educated out of the country. We are prepared to have them out of our sight for an indefinite period"—because that is what is implied —all I would say, if that is the view that the parents expressed about their 12–year-old children, is that perhaps the children are better off elsewhere. However, if the hon. Gentleman really thinks that that is likely to be the average reaction of any parent in any country in the world, all I can say is that we need very large psychiatric units in most of the countries in the world to deal with battered babies and bad parents. I cannot think it is conceivable that these parents do not want their children back. I am saying that they have a right to have them back and that the Government must do something to bring that about.

5.41 p.m.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) began by taking a very objective view. He said that he was not prepared to prejudge the issue. Regrettably, at the end of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman not only trivialised by seeking to put words into the mouth of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) but went on to prejudge the issue.

The right hon. Gentleman made some curious remarks about the feelings of parents towards their children. The difficulty about trying to argue as between different countries and different periods of time is that it is almost impossible to draw analogies which are perfect. The right hon. Gentleman quoted the analogy of Belfast and Londonderry. Is the right hon. Gentleman really suggesting, for example, that those Jewish parents in Nazi Germany who tried to get their children out of Nazi Germany were in need of psychiatric treatment, that they had so little feeling for their children that they wanted them out of Nazi Germany and educated elsewhere, and for that reason required psychiatric treatment?

I have a great deal in common with the right hon. Gentleman on the subject of Southern Africa and a great deal of respect for him. However, I think that he should reflect carefully, and read his speech tomorrow and see what he really said. He might find that his speech came out in, perhaps, not the way that he intended.

There has been a subtle change in the debate since it started. The argument that now seems to be entering the discustion is about the rights of parents to see their children and to care for their children. Those rights are legitimate.

I say immediately that the thought that the abduction of children at gunpoint could be approved of is obnoxious and foreign to me. I could not condone the abduction of children in any circumstances.

The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) began his speech by saying—this is about the only matter on which there is complete agreement in the House—that there are contradictory stories. The curious thing was that by his every word and syllable and by every inflection of his voice he accepted entirely the story which he had read in the Press about the abduction, and expressed it in such a way that he went on to say that this was the way in which Joshua Nkomo's men would be expected to behave because they were Matabele, whereas the Mashona were a peaceful people—such a peaceful people that they were expected to rise against the Matabele for independence. The hon. and learned Gentleman used such terms of judgment on the African people as to show that he knows nothing at all about the situation. He condemned one side before he even thought about the situation or tried to find out the facts.

Mr. Fairbairn


Mr. Hughes

I will not give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman. He has only just entered the Chamber. He must wait his turn.

The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) had the grace to say that he accepted the fact that Sir Seretse Khama's Government were longstanding and upright members of the Commonwealth. The right hon. Gentleman said that Sir Seretse was trying to run Botswana in the interests of the people. Then, unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that he was afraid that Sir Seretse does not know what is going on in South Africa and is not in charge of events. The right hon. Gentleman made great play of the fact that he understands Sir Seretse Khama well, yet he condemned him out of hand by saying that he does not know what is going on.

I do not understand why so many right hon. and hon. Members opposite have been prepared, on almost every occasion when there have been border incidents, either major or minor—the phrase "border incidents" does not adequately describe the things that have happened—to take the view of the Smith regime and condemn the African nationalist leaders out of hand.

I should have had a great deal more respect for the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield if he had taken the same vigorous attitude of indignation when the Smith regime went into the refuge camps in Mozambique and butchered the population there; yet he did not say a word about that.

We heard no word of protest from right hon. and hon. Members opposite when we read reports in the Press to the effect that eight Rhodesian terrorists had been hanged out of hand after a secret trial. Incidentally, that was on the same day that the Government were preventing the United Nations from passing resolutions about excursions by the Smith regime into Botswana because they did not want to upset the delicate balance of the negotiations. The Smith regime has no right to hang anyone in Rhodesia. Yet there was not a sound from hon. Members opposite.

One reads reports in the Press week by week to the effect that Africans in the vicinity of guerrilla activities are shot on suspicion of being camp followers of the guerrillas, but there is not a sound of protest from Tory Members. When Africans are shot after curfew time simply because they are out after the stated hour—they are shot without trial, without pity and without mercy—there is not a cheep of condemnation from any right hon. and hon. Members on the Tory Benches.

I think that it is a great pity that Tory Members deny the statements made in Botswana by the Botswana authorities, because this is not the first occasion on which there has been an alleged abduction. There was a quite recent case in which 105 Rhodesians were alleged to have been abducted from a beer hall north of Similale. All these people were questioned. They denied entirely that they had been abducted by guerrillas. They said that they had left because they had been told that they were to be recruited into the Rhodesian forces and they did not want to fight against their own people.

I do not want to prolong the debate. I think that the view taken by my hon. Friend the Minister of State shows that significant and quick action is being taken to try to establish the true facts. I think that in this case, as in many others, it may well turn out that the truth lies somewhere between the two contradictory set of facts that we have heard.

I believe that the children who left probably were escorted by army guerrillas. They may well have left because they were afraid of the kind of shooting which goes on day by day by the Rhodesian forces. Recently, someone who taught at a school very close to this point told me that every school desk was scored with the initials "ZAPU". When walls were whitewashed, very soon afterwards they would be daubed with the slogans of ZAPU demanding freedom.

When dealing with children aged anything from 13 to 17 who are facing a situation where going on around them is a struggle to obtain independence, there must mixtures of fear, emotion and pride in their own people.

I do not wish to prejudge the situation in any way, but what may well have happened is that some of the children left because they were afraid of what might have happened if they had remained when a large number of the population went over. Some went because they were caught up in the emotions of joining a freedom struggle. Some of the older ones probably went after very deep thought about wishing to take part in the liberation struggle. I do not know what the position might be. All I am suggesting is that that is a reasonable hypothesis. I am saying that we should try to judge the situation as it exists.

The suggestion that has been made by those who are isolated from events, that it is necessary for guerrillas to press-gang people into armed forces at gunpoint, has proved not to have stood the test of time. Similar stories appeared in the Press at the time of the Algerian conflict. Similar stories appeared throughout the whole period of the events in Vietnam. When we visit Southern Africa we find similar stories about Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau.

Similarly, we are told that the only way in which the liberation movements are able to survive and recruit is at gunpoint. It has been said that various liberation movements have been forced to recruit at gunpoint and to obtain food and help in order to survive at gunpoint. Such accounts have always been disproved. The fundamental mistake that many right hon. and hon. Members make, as well as others outside the House, is to fail to take account of the deep desire of the people of Zimbabwe and other parts of Southern Africa for their freedom. Nothing will quench that desire, and certainly it is not necessary for anyone to have to recruit at gunpoint.

The only people who need the force of the gun to survive are the 248,000 whites who are trying to dominate nearly 7 million Africans. That will not succeed.

The tragedy is that when members of the Smith régime continually cross the border into Botswana not a word is said against the incursions. I hope that the truth will be found, and that in this case it will be on my side, but if it is not I shall condemn anyone who has abducted children at gunpoint.

5.53 p.m.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

The tragic incident that we are debating has attracted a good deal of attention, partly because of the number of children involved and partly because it has taken place in Botswana where there is relative freedom of information, compared with Mozambique, for example, where there is an iron curtain of censorship. But, alas, it is not unique.

I was in Rhodesia in the summer and I took the opportunity to cross-examine fairly closely the security forces on how the several thousand guerillas who are mostly in Mozambique were recruited. Their answers came close to the opinions recently expressed by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). Some, of course, were prompted either by political idealism or by a sense of adventure. These were mostly boys in the higher schools, although not in the multi-racial university. Quite a number went, as soldiers always will, because they were unemployed or because they had differences with their tribal chiefs or the heads of their villages, but something like half have been regularly abducted by armed guerilla forces, rounding them up and taking them away at gunpoint, giving them the alternative of joining the guerrilla forces or death. This incident we are debating seems to fit closely into a pattern that has been reproduced time and again in the eastern regions of Rhodesia over the past two years.

To understand the significance of this incident it is worth considering what happens in the ordinary way to those who are abducted. A great many of them are young people between the ages of 12 and 20. Perhaps the majority of them are what we would call minors. They are taken to a camp. They are then flown to Zambia or Tanzania where they are trained. What does that mean? Half the training is military. There is training in the use of land mines, hand grenades and small arms. Half the training is political and consists of crude indoctrination of a Marxist character. Those who have been subsequently captured by the security forces have shown in most cases a rudimentary knowledge, but a well-understood catalogue of the most elementary Marxist guerilla thinking. A few of them have shown rather more sophisticated indoctrination. Clearly, these people are taught something about fighting, and something about politics. The people who instruct them are either directly from the Soviet Union or agents of the Soviet Union.

What happens when the training is completed? They then go to camps in Mozambique or, more recently, in Zambia. From those camps they are sent to kill. Mostly, they are sent to kill their fellow Africans—for example, heads of villages or Government officials such as veterinary officers or medical officers. They maim cattle and beat up villagers who have been thought to be friendly to the Smith authorities. Then they abduct other young people to take up the same rôle as themselves.

What are the consequences for the children who have become guerrillas? Many of them are killed in the fighting with the security forces. Quite a few of them are captured and hanged. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North was talking about the right of the Smith régime to hang. I do not want to go into that argument. Suffice it to say that quite a few are hanged. Many of the young people who are abducted are trained and sent back again.

That is what lies ahead for the 400 or so children we are discussing unless something is done. I am pretty sure that if it were not for the intervention yesterday of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) the children would already be on the way to Zambia and Tanzania to begin the process that would result in their death, as casualties of the security forces or on the gallows.

I do not think that the children were volunteers. If some of them over the age of 18 were volunteers, that is their affair, but the great majority were children. They were British children. In this affair we have no right to discriminate on grounds of colour between black and white. Although we have no jurisdiction of any effective character inside Rhodesia we are responsible for them once they are outside. We have a clear obligation to get them returned to their parents.

It is farcial to say that the parents may go to see the children in Botswana in circumstances in which it may be difficult for the children to speak with any freedom. We still have some influence in Botswana, and I join with the Minister of State and others in paying tribute to Sir Seretse Khama. Heaven knows, he has little enough reason to have much affection for a Labour Government. When I first entered the House, Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker stopped him marrying the lady of his choice because she was white. However, he is a big enough man to have got over that. We have influence with him, although we are not the only people who have such influence. Time and again I have heard hon. Members from the Labour Benches saying that Mr. Vorster should put pressure on Mr. Smith to do this, that or the other. Mr. Vorster is equally in a position to lend a hand in Botswana if we cannot do the job ourselves.

The abduction has a rather wider significance than the debate has so far suggested. Why has it taken place? Why were the children carried off into Botswana? I am sure that the Minister of State realises better than any of us, with his access to intelligence, that the reason is that Mr. Nkomo is trying to build up his guerrilla forces so as to give himself a little more clout in his negotiations with his colleague Mr. Mugabe in the Patriotic Front.

We want to keep this debate as much as possible concentrated on this particular human problem, but none of us can forget what happened in Angola, where three liberation movements—so-called—were fighting one another, and still are fighting one another, with great loss of human life. This incident, this abduction of children to strengthen Mr. Nkomo's forces, is an ugly foretaste of the civil conflict that could well follow after independence in Rhodesia.

I think that the incident has a deeper significance still. As far as any of us can assess the situation inside Rhodesia, the so-called Patriotic Front of Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Mugabe is a minority. It claims—I do not know with how much justification—to represent the guerrilla forces, but nobody is in much doubt that it is a minority in so far as it represents the Africans inside Rhodesia. All the signs are that Bishop Muzorewa speaks for the majority of articulate urban Africans, and it is very likely that the tribal chiefs speak for the majority of the still largely illiterate African tribesmen in the countryside. It is true that the five Presidents back the Patriotic Front.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, in statements to the House and in the statement he extracted from the Foreign Ministers of the European Community, has said very firmly that he does not accept, and nor apparently does the United States, the idea of an internal solution—that is, a compromise arrived at between the Smith Government and Bishop Muzorewa or the chiefs or all of them combined, if that were possible. The right hon. Gentleman is thus turning his back on the objective of majority rule. Already, by virtue of his continuing support for the policy of sanctions, he is helping the guerrillas in their operations. He is now openly backing the Patriotic Front, or appears to be, against the majority black forces inside Rhodesia. He is, in effect, backing the guerrillas. Yet he must know that they are much more akin to the MPLA in Angola and the Frelimo forces in Mozambique than to any moderate or democratic forces such as we had hoped to encourage in Rhodesia itself.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

The right hon. Gentleman always speaks in a very well-informed manner about this subject, but perhaps I may correct him on one matter. He said that we were explicitly backing the Patriotic Front. We have repeatedly made clear that if the Geneva conference or any other conference reconvened we should not be content with only the Patriotic Front representing the nationalists, but would, on the contrary, renew our previous invitation to Mr. Sithole and Bishop Muzorewa.

Mr. Amery

I am most grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I should like to give the fullest credence to his statement, but in saying as he has, and as he has apparently encouraged his European colleagues and perhaps the Americans to say, that they would not accept any internal solution, he has virtually been saying to Bishop Muzorewa "Do not do a deal with Smith". He has virtually been saying that nothing which the five Presidents do not accept is any good, and that the men who appear to command, or claim to command, the guerrilla forces must have a decisive say in any settlement. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that those men are already largely the instruments of the Soviet Union. I know that he argues that the best way to contain Soviet imperialism is to try to win them over, but I am sure that, with his sense of history and his experience of politics, he knows that that argument is false and that one cannot appease the unappeasable.

Many of us think that the truth is that the right hon. Gentleman, and perhaps the West as a whole, are prepared to sacrifice not just the white minority but the black majority in Rhodesia if that will enable them to avoid a confrontation with the Soviet Union in the area. The Kissinger proposals may well have been the last chance to maintain Western influence in Southern Africa. I was very glad to see the statement yesterday of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) that we had wasted the opportunity provided by Kissinger. Now the choice is whether we stand up to Soviet imperialism or run away.

The incident that we are debating is a test case. Is the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary prepared to put his foot down and make sure that the 400 children do not go to fortify the guerrilla movement, or will he stand back, and, therefore, in a passive sense, make himself a recruiting sergeant for terrorism?

6.6 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) has, not for the first time, made a well-informed and a very serious contribution. I have not been in Rhodesia as recently as he has. Therefore, I suffer from having less knowledge than I used to have of the position, but I tend to agree with what the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) said, that this afternoon we are chiefly concerned with the matter of the children and their abduction across the border into a foreign country.

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) on bringing the matter forward. It is clear to me that if he had not done so there would have been none of the slight give in the situation that appears from what was announced this afternoon from the Dispatch Box. Such alleviation of the distress of the parents, such comfort as there may be for them and all concerned, has come from the action of my hon. and learned Friend and of the Rhodesian Government, as witnessed by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans), when he read from a report in today's issue of The Times.

I should like to read the following account of the Rhodesian Government's approach to the Botswana Government: The Minister for Foreign Affairs called upon the Government of Botswana to allow the parents of the abducted children an opportunity to see their children again. He pointed out that all those abducted were minors and still subject to parental guidance and control. He further called on the Botswana Government to give an undertaking that the children would not be transported northwards for terrorist training. The Minister said that it was the Botswana Government itself that had alleged that the children were refugees and not terrorist recruits.' Whatever position we may take on the situation in Rhodesia, I think that that is a moderate, statesmanlike initiative in the circumstances, and one with which all of us who are concerned about the fate of the children will agree.

It was later reported in the Press that as a result of that initiative by the Rhodesian Government—and, I believe, the prominence given to the affair by my hon. and learned Friend, leading to such speeches as we may make this afternoon—action has been taken. Not one move that I can detect has been made as a result of the so-called action of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.

Mr. Fairbairn

Would my hon. Friend care to speculate on what would have been the reaction of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and the Government if the situation had been reversed and 400 children from Mozambique, Tanzania or Botswana had been abducted, allegedly as refugees, by the security forces in Rhodesia?

Mr. Hastings

It would have been a more violent protest than we have heard so far.

The fact is that a few officials far away have been instructed to make a few approaches to other officials, who are not of very high position, judging by what was said by the Minister this afternoon. The Minister would not even say when this happened. Most of us suspect that this was not even done until my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield math his move yesterday. That is the burden of our charge. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), with whose remarks I could not wholly agree, nevertheless, said that he did not approve of the abduction of children in these or in any other circumstances. It is the indifference of the Government at the abduction of children that causes us to charge them this afternoon. I am not sure whether we shall get a reply to our charge, but we shall need one in some form or other.

I missed the intervention of the Foreign Secretary yesterday, but his words as reported in Hansard caused a chill of apprehension to run down my spine. They conveyed both cynicism and indifference. The right hon. Gentleman complained about the incursion of Rhodesian forces across the border. I have no doubt that that may well have happened both there and elsewhere. If there is no hope of help from any quarter and one is in charge of security forces in such a situation, and if one knows that there are enemy camps across the border filled with men who are capable of an offensive operation such as that undertaken on Sunday, what is one supposed to do? What are the Rhodesian forces supposed to do in such circumstances? Are they supposed to cower in their barracks while the houses and villages of innocent people are pillaged? Are they to be expected to do that when they can take some action to prevent it?

Part of the trouble about this Government and their Ministers is that they do not believe that such events as this can happen. They cannot envisage these situations. They bring to bear no experience or understanding of the situation in Southern Africa. That is why their efforts have been so ineffective in dealing with this appalling tragedy.

I turn to the question of which is the right version of this story. We were invited by the Minister this afternoon to give credence—indeed, equal credence —to either of two stories. We must envisage the situation involving 400 children who, presumably after deep consideration —with all the consideration that a child of 12 or even a young person of the age of 20 can bring—decide to leave their country, their parents and their strict religious Lutheran upbringing and background. After deep consideration they suddenly, all in one day, decide that they wish to march away and leave it all behind them—accompanied by friendly men with machine guns. We must also envisage a situation in which 17 of the children have second thoughts on the way, lie in a ditch, and come back to say that the situation was not like that at all. We can only treat with contempt a responsible so-called Government whose representatives come to this House and ask us to take such a statement seriously. That is what we were presented with yesterday and this afternoon.

Most of us, and indeed most Labour Members, know very well what happened. Moreover, I dare say that most hon. Members have been sufficiently well informed this afternoon to realise from what was said the way in which these guerrilla armies are being built up, and their purpose, which has nothing to do with an independence settlement, but which simply concerns power in central Africa.

Heaven knows, we have seen enough since the beginning of this story and the so-called liberation of Africa and the long, wretched and bloody record of the intervention of the Soviet Union, with its successes so far. We have seen a miserable loss of nerve on the part of the West, including the Americans, as well as ourselves, and what it brings with it. It brings bloodshed and misery, and this incident is just a tiny tragic example of it.

Apparently the Government give credence to this version, but wish to disregard what is said in television interviews and firsthand reports or, if not to disregard those reports, certainly to regard the version of what I believe undoubtedly did happen as no more than a possibility.

The Government's duty is clear. First, as to the two versions, when they have made up their mind as a result of reports from the officials concerned. It was suggested earlier in the debate that the Government should send officials to the scene to interview parents and obtain statements. Of course they should have done that already. When the Government have taken some steps to inform themselves, will the Foreign Secretary tell us which version is correct? I see the Foreign Secretary nodding, but he may well be nodding to his Parliamentary Private Secretary. We require from the Government an assurance as to their view of which of the two versions is correct.

Members of the Government constantly pop up in the Chamber with the question, What would we do if we were in their shoes? But they are supposed to be the elected Government of this country. There are many things they can do. These children have been taken away to join Nkomo's army. In particular, would it not be a good thing to convey to Mr. Nkomo that, if this matter is proved, he will not be welcome at any further negotiations unless these children are immediately returned? Could we not do that for a start? Let us at least make a protest of some sort. Even a modest request such as that made by the Rhodesian Government would help.

We demand action designed to secure the return of these children to their parents, and nothing else will do. The example set by this Government in this affair so far fills me with shame—shame that I have to be ruled by such a Government; shame almost, that we have to live in the same country as they do. This is the worst case of this kind in the years since the Labour Government took office. It fills me with despair about our future. It is not too late for the Foreign Secretary to have the courage and guts to make a stand on this issue. Perhaps even now he can manage to alleviate the misery and suffering of the parents of these children and held to get them home.

6.18 p.m.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)

Ever since UDI was declared, I have argued that Britain has a responsibility for what takes place in Southern Rhodesia. Therefore, I do not choose my times to make that clear but I have said constantly that we have that responsibility. I reiterate again this afternoon that we have a responsibility for what takes place in Southern Rhodesia and for actions that affect the people of that country.

Although I agreed with part of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe)—I certainly feel that it is most undesirable for these children to have been abducted, and I condemn such action loudly and clearly—I do not agree with the analogy which he sought to draw with Northern Ireland. The tragedy of the situations in Northern Ireland and in Southern Rhodesia is that children are being involved and are being indoctrinated. When the story has been completely unfurled, we may well know the truth behind the two versions. Indeed, there may be another version that we do not know.

Unlike many of those who have spoken, however, until I know what has happened I do not wish to condemn the situation out of hand. Neither I nor anybody else knows what took place—other than the fact that these children have been moved and that this has alarmed a large number of people in this country. I wish to emphasise, for the benefit of those who are always accusing Labour Members of double standards, that, if children have been abducted against their will and against their parents' will. I oppose and condemn any such action.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State made it clear that up to this moment we have done all that we possibly could have done. I understand that inquiries were begun on Tuesday, before the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) made his representations. I have met our High Commissioner in Botswana. I have every confidence in her and the way in which she will carry out her task and try to discover the truth of the situation. I have a great deal of confidence in the International Red Cross. I am glad that it is to be involved in trying to unearth the truth. I shall wait until I know what has happened.

During the speech of the Minister of State, a Conservative Member interrupted to ask about the language problem and about the dialects and whether my hon. Friend would ensure that someone was involved in the task who could understand and speak the various dialects. I wonder whether the correspondent of The Times who has been quoted so much today understood all the dialects on which he was supposed to be reporting. I wonder how he interpreted the views of the parents and others he was supposed to be quoting. No one has questioned that, but his is the version that is being used here.

What disturbs me is the way in which any explanation other than that offered by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield and the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) is ruled out. I do not know what has happened. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) that it is possible that there is a bit of the truth on both sides. Until I know the truth, I am not prepared to condemn out of hand anything that the Government may have done. If my right hon. Friend comes to the House and says "This is the explanation" and if it does not fit with what the hon. and learned Member or the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire have said, I believe they will say that they do not accept it. The Government are on a hiding to nothing. It will only be those who are prepared to wait and weigh up the position who may discover some of the truth.

I cannot help feeling, having listened to the hon. and learned Member, that he more than anyone else in the House is guilty of double standards in relation to Southern Rhodesia. He talks about the Charter of Human Rights. Did he talk about the Charter—

Mr. Ronald Bell


Miss Lestor

I beg the hon. and learned Member's pardon. It was the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, who quoted the Charter of Human Rights. Did the hon. and learned Member talk about our responsibility in Southern Rhodesia when people were hanged there by the Smith regime? The hon. and learned Member has said that we have no responsibility there and that the country is virtually independent. At one time he wanted Rhodesia to be independent and said so very strongly in this House.

Mr. Ronald Bell

The hon. Lady is confusing my views on this subject with those of other hon. Members. I have never said that Britain had no responsibility to Rhodesia in relation to prisoners. I know others said that. I have never done so.

Miss Lestor

The hon. and learned Member has said time and again, when hangings took place in Southern Rhodesia and when there were actions of a kind that we said were reprehensible, that there was nothing that Britain could do about them. The right hon. Member for Knutsford talked about the Charter of Human Rights. Did he quote that at the time of the hangings? Did he quote it at the time of the butchery of refugees in Mozambique? This is what I mean by double standards. I have always accepted that Britain is concerned with what takes place in Southern Rhodesia. My position has never altered. Some Conservative Members have not taken that position but have been apologists for what Ian Smith has done. If they are now saying that we have responsibility for what has happened to these children, they cannot say "This has nothing to do with us. Southern Rhodesia has its independeire, and we must recognise that."

Mr. John Davies

The hon. Lady has perhaps misunderstood or misheard me when I referred to the United Nations Charter. I referred to that part of the Charter which absolutely sets aside for all member countries the concept of using force to settle problems affecting international relations. I hope that she is not accusing me of double standards on such a matter.

Miss Lestor

I understood perfectly well what the right hon. Gentleman said. He has underlined my point by intervening. He quotes the United Nations Charter in respect of alleged violence against children, but he did not quote that during the time when Smith ruled by violence. Conservative Members use the United Nations Charter when it suits them. We argued long ago that the hangings in Southern Rhodesia were against the Charter.

I do not know what has happened with these children. I want to know. If children have been abducted against their will, if they are to be trained in guerrilla camps against their will and the will of their parents, that is wrong and I condemn it as loudly as anyone in the House. I will not prejudge the situation. Neither will I choose my moment when it suits me to say that we have a responsibility in Southern Rhodesia for one thing but not for another. That kind of attitude is typical of the double standards which we have heard today.

6.26 p.m.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary should understand that this debate is not about the Rhodesian tragedy, as some Labour Members have sought to make it. It is about what has happened to 400 children and the anxiety and anguish caused to their parents. Above all, it is about the moral duty and the political responsibility of Her Majesty's Government for a people who live in a territory which has for many years been in rebellion against the Crown but who are British subjects.

There is no doubt that 400 black African children in a mission school have been moved to Botswana, out of the control of their parents. The Rhodesian authorities claim that the children were abducted and taken over the border under duress, and the 17 who managed to escape have said that this is so. On the other hand the spokesman of a friendly Commonwealth Government, Botswana, has said that the children crossed over the border freely. It was clear yesterday to anyone in the House that the Foreign Secretary was sceptical of the truth of the Rhodesian claim. But it is significant that the Rhodesian authorities have asked the International Red Cross to make an immediate investigation.

Those of us who have been concerned for some years with the forcible detention of innocent women and children in Ethiopian prisons know that attempts by that great international charity to make contact with those prisoners in order to establish the conditions under which they were held have been refused permission to do so by the military authorities in that country. At lease the Rhodesian authorities have asked the International Red Cross, an internationally respected body, to make an investigation.

Mr. Robert Hughes

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Botswana Government have asked the Rhodesian authorities to allow the International Red Cross to visit Botswana citizens abducted and imprisoned in Rhodesia. Will he support that request?

Sir B. Braine

I am not only aware of that; it was to be the very point I wished to make. The hon. Gentleman has intervened in almost every speech so far. If he will only listen for a moment, he will see that I am not prejudging anything.

I have been privileged to know Sir Seretse Khama for many years. I remember, when I first came to this House, the shameful treatment that he received from the then Labour Government. They should hang their heads in shame for what they did to him at that time. Nor can anyone accuse me of being partial to the Smith régime. I was the Under-Secretary of State who helped to steer through this House the 1961 Southern Rhodesian constitution, which, if it had been accepted by the Rhodesian electorate, might well have led to a far happier future for their country. I repeat, no one can accuse me of partiality towards the rebel régime in Rhodesia. I am concerned here, however, not with that broader matter but with a human issue which should cause anxiety and concern to every hon. Member.

The Government's responsibility is not to be shuffled off because the Botswana Government have said that they will be pleased to receive a delegation from the International Red Cross. The children are our wards. They are the children of persons who are in law British subjects. The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary has not only a moral responsibility but a duty to make inquiries directly of the Botswana Government and to instruct the British High Commissioner—a person I know and respect immensely—not to make inquiries at some official level but to visit the children. These children are British subjects and are, therefore, our responsibility, and when she visits them our High Commissioner should take some of their parents with her. It should not be difficult to fly a few representative parents and teachers from Rhodesia to Gaberones. The plain truth is that no steps whatever were taken in this regard until my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) raised this matter yesterday.

In any event, even if the children say that they want to stay and that they had been carried away with enthusiasm and idealism—let us assume for a moment that they had chosen voluntarily to cross the border and to fight for a cause—the question arises as to whether their parents have any natural rights to object. There is no one in this House who does not know the answer to that. This debate is about an alleged outrage against civilised standards, against humanity itself.

My hon. Friends and I have made no judgment as to what actually happened.

Mr. Robert Hughes


Sir B. Braine

Then let me speak for myself. I have made no judgment as to what happened. I was glad to hear the Minister of State say that the Government have asked that the children should not be moved to a third country. Credit should be given for that. It is a positive, decisive and sensible move, one which we would have expected the Government to make at the beginning. It is clear, however, that that action would not have been taken had it not been for the intervention by my hon. and learned Friend.

I have immense respect for Sir Seretse Khama. I am certain that he will heed the Government's request in every way, although I have some anxiety, which should be voiced, that he may be in a position of special difficulty. He has no defence forces to speak of. He occupies a position of exceptional delicacy, squeezed between the Republic of South Africa and an embattled Rhodesia. He may well need support from those who protest their respect and friendship for him.

Unhappily, the Minister of State totally missed the point. He did not grasp the depth of feeling on this side of the House—and I suspect that it is on his own side as well—about this issue. I will spell it out. From the beginning of time, men and women in every society have regarded the abduction of children as a most heinous crime. Some of us remember too well the abduction of children in Greece in the terrible days after 1945.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torquay)

I am glad that my hon. Friend has recalled that situation. I was in Greece in another capacity at the time. Thousands of children were abducted. The then Labour Government, between 1947 and 1949, robustly condemned what happened and did not seek to equivocate as to what might or might not have happened.

Sir B. Braine

Yes—but that Labour Government were led by more robust characters. I remember those days well. I remember, too, how, just before the end of the war, when I was attached to one of the American armies moving into Germany, a Jewish survivor, a partisan fighter, came into my headquarters and was asking questions about what might have happened to his family. He said he feared that his wife, who had been taken to a concentration camp in the middle of the war, his children and his parents were all dead. When the war was over, all the terrible facts were made clear and we knew what had happened to millions like them. But I remember his anguish when he told me he feared that his four children were dead.

We do not need to be reminded that whenever a child is abducted by criminals for ransom everyone regards it as the vilest of crimes, an interference with the natural rights of parents brutally cut off from their children. Our hearts should go out to the parents of the 400 missing children.


Even if one accepts the opposition story, does not my hon. Friend agree that there is a right of parents to have their children back, certainly those under the age of 16, regardless of whether they were abducted or went voluntarily for whatever reason?

Sir B. Braille

That is self-evident. One of the tragedies of this situation is that not a single voice has been raised on the Labour Benches in that sense. What has happened to the conscience of the Labour Party? What has happened to a party that used to be dedicated, so I have always understood, to the proposition that the strong should help and protect the weak?

Let us pray that when the true facts are ascertained, as they should have been already by our diplomatic representatives on the spot, the story is not as we fear, that these children went voluntarily and that they were led gladly by their teachers across the border. Let us hope that that is true. Even so, it leaves unresolved and unanswered the question raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn). But we have no right to assume that that is so, and certainly the Government have no right to assume it.

Yesterday the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary treated the whole matter with contempt. He has now been stirred into belated action. Yet his duty was clear from the beginning. Rhodesia may be in a state of rebellion against the Crown, but its people—all its people—are British subjects. It is not merely common humanity but the political duty of the Government that requires the right hon. Gentleman to intervene, not only on behalf of the children but on behalf of their parents as well. The Government stand condemned for their lethargy and their failure to rise to the occasion, and I hope that we shall register our displeasure at the end of the debate.

6.39 p.m.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)

An innocent wandering into the Chamber—assuming that there are any innocents wandering into this Chamber—could be forgiven for thinking that the debate was basically about the alleged abduction of a number of children from Rhodesia into Botswana. That has been the superficial content of the debate. I doubted before the debate began whether that was the real reason for it. Anyone who has listened to most of it, as I have done, will have discovered very quickly that that is not, however, what the debate is about at all.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State made matters plain to anyone who was anxious about the situation—and we are all anxious about it, so let us have no false accusations, since those who have spoken on this side of the House have made it clear that they are as appalled by the abduction of children as is any hon. Member opposite. The question is how the alleged abductions took place. But that was not the reason why this debate took place.

When my hon. Friend the Minister of State explained precisely what the Foreign Office had done, which was to my satisfaction and was all that could have been expected of it and more in that it had involved the Red Cross, that there was to be access to the children and, we now hear, to the parents as well, and that the whole matter was to be investigated, one would have expected that for any reasonable man that would be the end of the matter. But it was not the end. Many Opposition Members were clearly very distressed to hear what my hon. Friend said. They were rather upset to hear the news. It may be that they would have preferred evidence on which they could have based some criticism of Foreign Office activity.

The reason why the debate continued was not that it was about the alleged abduction of 400 schoolchildren. This debate has been part of a consistent campaign by many Opposition Back Benchers, who now appear to have been joined by their colleagues on the Front Bench—we see the tail wagging the dog on this issue—in an attempt to discredit those who want freedom and liberation in Rhodesia and a consistent attempt to give succour and support to Smith and his gang. In the eyes and minds of many Opposition Members, that is precisely the object of this debate. If they do not recognise the truth of that, it is high time that they examined their own actions over the last few months and years.

I am not sure whether Opposition Members were involved in a massive campaign when, just a few weeks ago, eight people were not just moved across a border and not just deprived of some of their rights but were deprived of all that they had—their lives. They were tried by an illegal court, judged by an illegal judge under the auspices of an illegal régime, and executed—[HON. MEMBERS: "For murder."] I am getting precisely the reaction that I expected. To many Opposition Members, law and order means only law and order for laws which they can support and for order which they can support. It is not a principle with which they are very happy.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)

My hon. Friend is not doing his case sufficient justice. Opposition Members shouted that it was murder. The evidence was never published, and the trial was in secret.

Mr. Grocott

Opposition Members have access to the Smith régime in the way that I do not. No doubt they have this information, which is useful to them.

The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) was absolutely clear in his mind about what was good and what was evil in the world, but he refused to apply that clarity of mind to the issue of Rhodesian atrocities in Mozambique. I wish that I had a memory which stretched back far enough to enable me to recall whether Opposition Members called for an emergency debate on that issue and whether they condemned unequivocally the butchering of villagers on that occasion.

It seems to me that the dual standards about which we hear so often in debate are clearly those of the Opposition. They go about their methods of discrediting the nationalists in a way that has been tried all too often. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) touched upon some of them. We have had endless argument about who represents the majority of the Africans in Rhodesia, who represents factions and who represents tribal groups. I wish that the Opposition would apply their minds to the most obvious truth of all, which is that Smith leads almost no one in Rhodesia and that the group he represents are people who are willing to hang on to their wealth and political privilege by force of arms if necessary.

Today we are debating the alleged abduction of children and the rights of those children, about which the Opposition have professed such concern. Let us consider the concern that they have for the future that these children would have were they to have the misfortune to live for any length of time under the Smith régime. Let us examine one or two of the possibilities.

We know, of course, that these children would have no political rights. We know that they would have nothing as fundamental as the right to vote. The Opposition know that well enough, but they always get very upset when a few hometruths are put to them. I am glad to notice that they all appear to be listening. They know well enough that there is no question of the Africans in Rhodesia, including the children who are alleged to have been abducted, being given normal political rights. The children would have grown up aliens in their own country —

Mr. Goodhew

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it was Mr. Joshua Nkomo, who may be the person who is recruiting these young persons for guerrilla purposes, who accepted a constitution in 1961 which by now would have had the effect of a large number of Africans taking part in the government of that country but who, on the instructions of the OAU—the famous front-line Presidents—then withdrew?

Mr. Grocott

There has not been a shred of evidence since 1961 or before that the whites in Rhodesia have been willing to grant fundamental political and human rights to the majority in Rhodesia other than by force of arms. That is the only reason why they have moved to the position that they have now. No hon. Member should think that Smith is suddenly a democrat, that he has seen the logic of democratic arguments and that he now accepts the principle of majority rule. We have heard that suggested. But does he accept it? What proof have we? Does he not still support the Land Tenure Act, which divides the land equally between 250,000 whites and nearly 7 million Africans? Is that Tory freedom? Is that Tory justice?

We know what this debate has been about. It has been about the two sides in the Rhodesian conflict. It is time that the Opposition had some sense of history and decided which side they are on.

6.49 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

I shall not comment on the question of dual standards, though there is a good deal that might be said about it. Nor shall I comment on the monopoly of moral virtue which has been adopted by a number of right hon. and hon. Members today, though much that was said about their monopoly of virtue had a very strong whiff of hypocrisy about it. I want to answer one or two specific questions which were put to me, especially by the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies).

I was asked, first, whether Her Majesty's Government took any action before the exchanges in the House yesterday and the threat of this debate, or whether we acted only under pressure. The answer is that on Tuesday the British High Commissioner raised the matter, both in the morning and in the evening, with the Botswana Government. That was the day before the exchanges in the House at Question Time yesterday. Of course, she raised the matter again yesterday.

I have been told—I hope that this will reassure the House—that the High Commissioner's request for access to the children for a member of the High Commission staff was readily granted. Also, two parents of the children have asked through the Rhodesian Red Cross to see their children, and the Botswana Government have agreed. If the parents can persuade their children to go back to Rhodesia with them, no obstacle will be placed in their way. Botswana would welcome an inquiry by the International Red Cross, and I have asked our mission in Geneva to speak to the Red Cross. A Red Cross representative is going to Gaberones tomorrow and I have asked our High Commissioner in Gaberones to remain in close touch with the Red Cross and to send a member of her staff to visit the children with the Red Cross representative. The International Red Cross will do all it can to put the children in touch with their parents.

The second main question I was asked was whether there were two versions of Sunday's events. Some Conservatives have conceded that there are two versions but others have assumed, without serious argument, that there is only one version—the Rhodesian one. I should point out that there is another version—a very detailed one—which comes from our High Commission in Botswana.

I shall tell the House what we have heard from Botswana. The Rhodesian security forces kept returning to the school last year and interrogating students. The students formed an organisation among themselves with a committee and planned to leave Rhodesia. On 27th January, when they returned to school after Christmas, the security forces once again visited them, so the students resolved to leave on 30th January. Included in this group were three pastors and one teacher. They walked all night and crossed the border after dark.

The Botswana Government have interviewed individually and at random 30 of the older children and 20 younger ones. The children have also talked in groups. The abduction stories have been put to them and the children have denied them. When asked if they wanted to return to Rhodesia, and when told that they would be assisted to do so, they all said emphatically that they did not wish to go. I do not know whether this version is true. None of us knows. All I would say is that at least is seems sensible not to take a final view on either of the two versions when none of us knows which is true.

If the abduction version is true, I agree with Opposition Members that it is one of the most horrifying things done to children in history. On the other hand, if the children are refugees a different picture will emerge. It will mean that a few more hundreds are added to the thousands of refugees from Rhodesia already living in the surrounding countries.

The words "barbarous" and "totalitarian" have been used about the Botswana régime and Sir Seretse Khama. I am glad that some Opposition Members who know Botswana and Sir Seretse have given the lie to those suggestions. Botswana is one of the most democratic regimes in Southern Africa. It is also a multi-racial régime, and it represents what most of us want to see as the outcome of the Rhodesian talks.

A third point put to me has been that the Government are condoning acts of violence. We are doing no such thing. The right hon. Member for Knutsford referred rather surprisingly to the Charter of the United Nations. As far as the United Nations is concerned, as long ago as 1965 Rhodesia was declared a threat to international peace and security by the United Nations Security Council. In the last few weeks there has been a long debate in the United Nations about incursions by Rhodesian forces into Botswana. One Conservative Member said that the Botswana Government, having no army, is in no position to control these incursions, and that is so. A lot of bitter things have been said in this debate, and I would have liked more time to answer them. Any suggestion that Conservatives have a monopoly of feeling for children, parents and families is wholly inappropriate, and it is not the best way to discover the true nature of this matter.

I have said again and again that the failure to reach a negotiated settlement in Rhodesia will unfailingly cause an escalation of violence on both sides and will step up the guerrilla war. That cannot be avoided in any circumstances. In this particular case we do not know the facts, but the most promising development is the visit of the International Red Cross to Botswana. I hope that the Red Cross will give us a neutral account of the events. If violence was involved, by whatever side, everyone in the House would deplore it, and certainly the Government would. But the basic and disagreeable fact is that, if no settlement is reached, the guerrilla war will escalate and there will be outside intervention on both sides. It is becoming more and more inevitable that violence will occur. The essential thing, if we want to avoid more incidents of this kind in the future, is to achieve a negotiated settlement. Not all the speeches made today have helped in the search for a negotiated settlement. At the end of the day this is what the Government wish to achieve, and we shall direct all our efforts to achieving it.

In the meantime, I ask the House to suspend judgment on this particular incident and wait until we have a report so that we can then make up our minds.

6.57 p.m.

Mr. John Davies

I ask the indulgence of the House to say a word or two before the end of this debate. The Foreign Secretary has come to the Box and given a full account with more details that we had not heard before. We still cannot understand how he gave the response that he did to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) yesterday. It is incomprehensible. In the light of what he has just said, however, we should suspend judgment. We should wait and see the outcome of the efforts that the Foreign Secretary has belatedly undertaken. We will wait with interest to see what happens and reserve the action which we might be prepared to take until that time.

Question, That this House do now adjourn, put and negatived.