HC Deb 25 January 1977 vol 924 cc1182-95
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about Rhodesia.

As I told the House on 14th December, I authorised Mr. Richard to adjourn the Geneva Conference and to undertake intensive consultations in Southern Africa with a view to laying the foundations for an agreement on an interim Government. In particular, I asked him to develop with the parties some new and positive ideas, including our ideas on the direct rôle which Britain would be read to play in the transitional period.

Following Mr. Richard's first round of consultations, we set out what we had in mind in a document, copies of which have been placed in the Library. This document was given to each of the Geneva delegations, the four African front-line Presidents and Mr. Vorster.

The suggestions in the paper did not constitute a cut-and-dried British plan. Nor were they presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. They were intended to provide a serious and detailed basis for negotiations and were open to amendment and modification in the light of those negotiations.

But in our view these proposals represented a reasonable way forward. They were designed to meet the concern of the nationalists that the transfer to majority rule should be rapid and irreversible, and of the white Rhodesians that it should be peaceful and orderly. They would have led to the ending of the war and the lifting of economic sanctions. They were supported by the American Government, and would have set the stage for an international trust fund to help develop the Rhodesian economy and give financial reassurances to Rhodesian Europeans. They would have provided a basis for a prosperous, independent and non-racial Rhodesia.

It was, therefore, with a deep sense of disappointment that we learnt yesterday that Mr. Smith, alone of the parties, had rejected the ideas which we had put to him, even as a basis for further negotiation. Mr. Smith claims to have left the door open for further negotiations by ex-pressing his readiness to implement the five points put to him by Dr. Kissinger in September last year. But it was clear from an early stage of the Geneva Conference that the nationalist delegations could not agree to accept these proposals as a basis for negotiation. That was why we put forward our own ideas, which, we believed, offered a reasonable way of bridging the gap between the parties.

Mr. Smith has claimed that our proposals would have led to chaos and Marxist rule. But if there is such a risk, it is much more likely to be created by his rejection of these proposals. He has once more shown his inability to face reality.

We have to accept that this present round of discussions is at an end. We now need—all of us—to take stock and to make a cool appraisal of the new situation. I have instructed Mr. Richard to remain in Southern Afria for a few more days to disuss these latest developments with some of the parties. He will then return and report to me with a full assessment of the attitudes and expectations of those concerned.

Yesterday's events represent a serious setback to all our hopes for peace in Rhodesia. We must now give intensive study to any options which may still remain open to us in this new situation, for our goal remains a peaceful and orderly transfer to majority rule in Rhodesia.

Mr. John Davies

Does the Secretary of State realise the deep sense of misgiving with which his statement has been heard by the House? Is he aware that the very important document to which his statement referred was not available in the Library until 3.25 p.m.? This gave us very little opportunity to study this lengthy and complicated document.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that our growing anxiety about the events has been matched by the discretion with which we have endeavoured to treat the problems we all face? I must tell him and ask him to recognise that we on this side of the House feel that the Government's handling of these matters has been both dilatory and ineffective. We think that a unique opportunity was offered by the Kissinger initiative, and we believe that the inconclusive nature of the Geneva Conference and the apparently inadequate authority given to the principal spokesman for this country in these matters has led very much to the situation we face today.

We are deeply disturbed at the way in which the statement simply discards the original basis of the Kissinger negotiations. After all, that basis embodied what constituted a great breakthrough—the acceptance within a reasonable time of majority rule, coupled with major safeguards for all Rhodesians, black and white.

Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House what he proposes to do next? A cool reappraisal does not seem to us to meet the needs of the case. Before Christmas he made it clear that in the event of the situation developing in a way which was not satisfactory he would be prepared to visit Africa himself. Is that now his intention? Could he also assure us that the visit of Vice-President Mondale will be used to try to define a line of policy which will bring to an end this terrifying period of uncertainty, with all its implications for Rhodesians and Africans as a whole?

Mr. Crosland

The right hon. Gentleman's first point was that our handling of this matter has been dilatory. But after 11 years of a problem which has baffled both Labour and Conservative Governments alike it would have been absurd to expect a solution in 11 days, or even 11 weeks. It was clear that, whatever happened, the negotiations would be long-drawn-out and extraordinarily complex, and that has turned out to be the case.

As to discarding the Kissinger proposals, I should point out to the House yet again that these were offered only as a basis for discussion, and they were not acceptable to any of the nationalist delegations. There was no question of the British Government discarding them. The notion that there was a Kissinger deal is not on. The only deal which could be made would not be between Dr. Kissinger and Rhodesia, or between the Anglo-Americans and the Rhodesians, but between the white and black Rhodesians. No one else could possibly make a deal.

The right hon. Gentleman's third point was about my going to Africa. A week ago I thought I would go in early February, because it looked as if our proposals would meet with preliminary acceptance from everyone as a basis for negotiation. A week ago I did not expect the sudden rejection by Smith, which has knocked it on the head. What I do now is a matter for discussion after Mr. Richard comes back. Of course the Rhodesian situation is a matter which will be discussed with Vice-President Mondale—the subject will certainly be on the agenda—but it is wrong to expect that we can devise quickly and simply a new approach in a matter of minutes.

Mr. Thorpe

Since this is, I believe, the sixth attempt to reach a settlement with Mr. Smith, some of us are not so naive as to think that one merely puts sensible proposals to him and that one then immediately gets a durable settlement. Some of us would wish to pay tribute to the tireless efforts of Mr. Ivor Richard.

Is there not the difficulty, which might be a lesson for the future, that the Kissinger proposals never were a basis for negotiation? To Mr. Smith they were an unamendable set of proposals; to the Africans they were a set of proposals to which they were not a prior negotiating party. Is that not a recipe for disaster?

If Mr. Smith now tries to cobble together a collection of chiefs and tries to call that genuine partnership, should we not bear in mind that the Pearce Commission, which was a totally independent Commission, made it clear that that arrangement would enjoy no credibility among African opinion in Rhodesia? Does the Foreign Secretary agree that Mr. Smith wishes to keep the Marxists out of Rhodesia but that he is going the best way about inviting them in? They will not necessarily be Africans and they will certainly be armed.

Mr. Crosland

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening tribute to Mr. Ivor Richard. I should like to endorse everything he said about Mr. Richard's strong and determined efforts to achieve a settlement. It is clear to me that no one could have done better than he has done in this situation.

I strongly agree that if Mr. Smith attempted to reach some kind of internal settlement with a collection of chiefs, that would carry no credibility outside. No settlement to the Rhodesian problem that does not carry credibility outside has any hope of being durable.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's third point that if this is now the final break in negotiations it hugely increases the possibility of Marxists participating in the conflict, and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, they will be armed and not necessarily from Africa.

Mr. Arthur Bottomley

May I ask my right hon. Friend yet again not to get further involved in the Rhodesian problem? Does he not agree that the Rhodesian question is essentially a matter for the statesmen of Southern Africa, particularly if bloodshed is to avoided? With this end in view, would it not be best for the President of Zambia and the Prime Minister of South Africa once again to convene a conference of all interested parties in order to try for a peaceful settlement? My right hon. Friend will know that many of us have had little faith in the instant diplomacy of Mr. Kissinger and that we believe that Mr. Ivor Richard was given an impossible task.

Mr. Crosland

The temptation not to become involved in Rhodesia is great for almost all hon. Members. There has been no great inter-party difference on this point. The reason why we became involved, first in calling the Geneva Conference, then in chairing it and then in sending Mr. Richard to Africa, was that it became absolutely clear last September and October that unless we were to become involved at that point to this extent no negotiations of any kind would take place. Like the majority of hon. Members, I take the view that we had a moral and constitutional obligation at any rate to get involved to the extent that we have done.

Mr. Maudling

Before the Geneva Conference, Mr. Smith reached agreement with Dr. Kissinger on definite proposals which would bring majority rule within two years. That enormous step forward was warmly welcomed by the British Foreign Office. Did Mr. Richard make any serious attempt to get the agreement of the conference to those proposals? Is it not true that the breakdown of the conference is in no way the fault of Mr. Smith?

Mr. Crosland

One thing at least is certain. It is that the right hon. Gentleman's proposals in this matter over the last few months would have brought the negotiations with Mr. Smith to an end far more quickly than they have ended, because it was only last July that the right hon. Gentleman was advocating a resumption of sovereignty by Britain over Rhodesia. This is something that would have been wholly unacceptable to Mr. Smith.

We have discussed the status of the proposals again and again. What was proposed and accepted, and welcomed by me, was that the proposals should be the basis for subsequent discussions. That was the only basis on which they were accepted, and this has been made clear again and again by Dr. Kissinger and myself.

As to what happened in Geneva, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that these proposals—the so-called five points—were circulated almost on the first day of the conference and were rejected by the nationalist delegations at the conference. At a later stage in Geneva the conference chairman explicity invited Mr. Smith to present the five points as a subject for discussion and to explain them. He declined to do so.

Mr. Hooley

Is it not now clear that the major obstacle to a settlement in Rhodesia is Smith himself? Is it not also clear that there is no point in further negotiations with that individual? Is it not now important that the British Government should closely concert their future policy with the four front-line Presidents and make the maximum use of international bodies to bring pressure on Smith?

Mr. Crosland

I agree that we must concert any future policies with the frontline Presidents, though not only with them. Others are centrally involved. We should seek to secure, as we have done so far, the maximum degree of support we can from international bodies. In that connection let me mention that the countries of the Community, whenever consulted on our initiatives in the last few months, have given us full and definite backing.

Mr. Powell

What is the reason, in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, why for over 11 years one British Government after another have fallen into a series of gross but predictable and predicted misjudgments over Rhodesia? Is it not time, even now, that we broke out of the dream that we have a moral and constitutional duty to do that which we have no power to do?

Mr. Crosland

The right hon. Gentleman has been consistent in this matter and certainly, particularly in the last few months, has constantly warned the House and me personally that the course we were adopting involved responsibility without power. I was absolutely clear that that was the case and that that was a risk. Nevertheless I, like the majority of the House, thought that it was a risk that any British Government at that moment ought to take, even though there was throughout the possibility of failure.

Mr. Newens

Will my right hon. Friend consult the new American Administration of President Carter with a view to securing much more effective sanctions and economic pressure designed to bring down the Smith Government?

Mr. Crosland

I have no doubt that all these matters will be discussed with the Vice-President when he visits this country at the end of the week and, subsequently, with President Carter.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that many of us on the Opposition side think that during the course of the negotiations too much attention has been given to the views of the front-line Presidents, the Patriotic Front and the guerrillas and too little to the views of moderate Rhodesians of all races in that country? Will he now, therefore, consider proposing a referendum in Rhodesia to determine the first black Minister of an interim Government?

Mr. Crosland

Conservative statesmen over the decades have taught us that foreign policy must rest not on pipe dreams but on the brute facts of any given situation. One of the facts in this situation—some people like it, others do not—is that the front-line Presidents and the Patriotic Front exist and that no settlement which does not command their assent has the slightest hope of being durable. That is simply a fact.

As for the referendum, I say "No" if what is meant is an instant and rapid referendum. Most of the black African parties in Rhodesia have been banned there for many years and they have had no opportunity for campaigning or for grass-roots activity. That is why any election, not a referendum, must take place after these parties have had adequate time for campaigning at grass-roots level.

Mr. Whitehead

In contradistinction to what was said by the last questioner, does my right hon. Friend agree that Mr. Smith has yet again disappeared down a bolt-hole, not out of respect for moderate opinion of all races but out of fear of his security chiefs and the entrenched hardliners among the white Rhodesians?

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that all of us on this side pay tribute to what Mr. Ivor Richard has done, not least the conversations in which he took part in South Africa, because, whether we like it or not, Mr. Vorster may be the only man who can persuade Mr. Smith to come to his senses?

Mr. Crosland

I prefer not to speculate as to the reasons why Mr. Smith broadcast as he did yesterday. My hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that the South African Government have a key rôle to play. That is a basic fact. If, after Mr. Richard returned home, it seemed that a visit would be helpful, I would have no hesitation in paying it.

Mr. Blaker

Has the Secretary of State considered that both Mr. Smith and the Rhodesians might be less reluctant to accept a direct British rôle during transition to majority rule if the Labour Party had not over the last few years consistently adopted such a hostile and hectoring tone towards them? Since it will be necessary to achieve the agreement of the whole white population if there is to be peaceful transition to majority rule, will the Secretary of State do his best to see that that attitude is altered in future?

Mr. Crosland

Mr. Smith's régime has for the past 11 years been an illegal one, and illegal régimes justify a certain amount of hostility.

Mr. George

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that we on this side endorse the efforts that have been made by the Government to bring about peaceful transition to majority rule, and that there is overwhelming support for Mr. Richard's efforts? Does he agree that blame for the failure of the discussions must be fairly and squarely placed upon Mr. Smith's shoulders and that the prospects of all-out race war in Southern Africa have become more a reality as a result of Mr. Smith's statement yesterday?

Mr. Luce

Does the Secretary of State agree that at the end of the day only the Africans and the Europeans of Rhodesia will be able to avoid the path towards mutual self-destruction? Will he consider a co-ordinated Western approach to warn the Soviet Union and the Cubans that they must keep out of the dispute, otherwise the consequences for East-West relations could be serious?

Mr. Crosland

That danger is one of the dominant factors in the present situation. I do not doubt that there will be close and intensive discussions about it, particularly with the United States Administration. The additional danger has been created by Mr. Smith's rejection of our terms.

Mr. Flannery

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many Labour Members do not agree that the racialist Government of South Africa have a large part to play in the matter, and that the South African Government are as brutal and racialist as the Rhodesian Government? Are not coloured peoples in those two countries fighting for their human liberty? No matter what the Tories say, is there any point in asking Mr. Vorster, who should set his own house in order democratically, to advise Mr. Smith and other racialists on how to set their house in order?

Mr. Crosland

The Government have repeatedly made clear their views about the internal policies on the African régime of apartheid. But we have to face facts, and the fact is that the South African Government will, whether we like it or not, have an important part to play in the solutions to the problems of Southern Africa.

Mr. Fell

Did not British Governments ignore Rhodesia almost completely until the Central African Federation was set up? Did we not knock the Federation on the head and kill Sir Roy Welensky's efforts? Does the Secretary of State agree that since then our history in Rhodesia has not been something to be proud of and that this latest action will be known as the great double-cross?

Mr. Crosland

The early actions of which the hon. Member complains were taken by a Government of which he was a keen supporter. They were the actions of a Conservative Government, not a Labour one. I do not accept the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question. Most hon. Members, with a few exceptions, of whom the hon. Gentleman is one, take the view that over the last 11 years successive Governments—and not only Labour Governments—have sought to find a solution to the outstanding racial problem of Southern Africa. I see nothing disgraceful in the attempts that have been made by successive Governments to find that solution. Total passivity would have been disgraceful.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Have we now passed the point of no return in relation to any possible negotiated peaceful settlement? If so, will my right hon. Friend now invite leaders of Zimbabwe national parties here to discuss the future with him? Does he agree that, if we are to avoid a long-drawn-out and bloody conflict, resolute and quick action will have to be taken—including force either on our own behalf or through the United Nations?

Mr. Crosland

I do not think that the use of force on our own behalf—that is to say, the despatch of British troops to Rhodesia—is a practical possibility. I certainly would not rule out any possibility in the future. But politicians, Foreign Secretaries and Opposition spokesmen should be reluctant to accept the notion that we have reached a point of no return. We are playing for such high stakes in Southern Africa that we should not rule out in advance any possibility of resumed negotiations in the future.

Mr. Dykes

Does the Secretary of State agree that the conference collapsed for two separate reasons: the rejection by front-line Presidents of moderates from the black side, and Mr. Smith's latest rejection? Would it be right to do the antithesis of those two things: to encourage moderate opinion in Rhodesia, through the ANC and Bishop Muzorewa, and the white Rhodesians, other than the Rhodesian Front Party, to have some sort of get-together with joint United States and United Kingdom chairmanship?

Mr. Crosland

I do not think that I can entirely accept the first of those two reasons for the breakdown of the conference, because we have made it clear to everyone in Southern Africa that, in spite of the front-line Presidents' support being given to only the Patriotic Front, if the conference reconvened the Government would expect it to do so with the same number of African delegations as before—some of whom do not constitute part of the Patriotic Front.

Mr. Lee

Does not the latest impasse demonstrate the folly of not putting down by force the original act of treason in 1965? Would it be a good idea for Britain to convene and ultimately substitute a de jure Government of Zimbabwe in exile comprising as many representative Southern African leaders as the Secretary of State can convene?

Mr. Crosland

The answer to the first part of the question is 'No", and the answer to the second part is that it is a lot too early to propose such a long-term solution.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Does not this particularly tragic debacle illustrate forcefully the extraordinary mess made by politicians who have no personal experience of the situation in Southern Africa and who have little understanding of the events that produce political solutions in that part of the world? Surely 4½ million Europeans in Southern Africa will not dance on their own coffins simply to satisfy members of the Labour Party, hon. Members and other legislators who have a concept of Southern Africa that has been proved to be ludicrous in the rest of Africa during the past 10 years, a concept defined as majority rule, but with little relevance to the realities of the situation in that part of the world?

Mr. Crosland

The hon. Gentleman appears to be an extraordinary relic of the nineteenth century in the ideas he has expressed to us. If there is a mess in Southern Africa now, it has been made not by hon. Members or by the British or American Governments but by the Governments in Southern Africa who have failed to recognise, as Mr. Macmillan said a long time ago, that there was a wind of change abroad.

Mr. Rifkind

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that, irrespective of the views of the Patriotic Front, the Kissinger proposals entirely conformed with what the right hon. Gentleman put to the House last year? Given that, would it not at least have maintained the Government's integrity if he and Mr. Richard had fought for those proposals in Geneva rather than abandoning them and bringing forward proposals which differed from both the view he had expressed to the House and the Kissinger proposals and, therefore, had no chance of being accepted by the régime in Salisbury?

Mr. Crosland

When the hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity to examine our new proposals in detail, he will see that they are not wholly inconsistent with the Kissinger five points. I strongly agree with the editorials in today's Financial Times and The Guardian which said that there were no fundamental differences between the two sets of proposals. There are differences of detail but no fundamental differences.

One activity which would have been pointless would have been to go on talking about the Kissinger proposals when it had become clear that they were not acceptable to the nationalist delegations. Pursuing proposals that were acceptable only to the nationalists would also have been a waste of time.

When the hon. Gentleman studies our proposals, he will see that they offered a genuine possibility of agreement between the parties and included assurances to both parties.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call two more hon. Members.

Mr. Goodhew

As it is clear from experience of majority rule in Africa that the local people tend to divide on tribal lines, would not Mr. Richard have been wiser to have tried for a deal with Bishop Muzorewa, who has the vast majority of Africans behind him, instead of hobnobbing all the time with Joshua Nkomo, who ratted on the 1961 constitution under pressure from the front-line Presidents, and Mr. Mugabe, who is nothing more than a terrorist and has no popular support in the country?

Mr. Crosland

Mr. Richard has seen Bishop Muzorewa as often as he has seen any other African leader. He cannot be accused of talking only to the Patriotic Front leaders. However, it is no use the hon. Gentleman wishing away facts that he does not like as if they did not exist. The Patriotic Front and the front-line Presidents exist, and any notion of a solution that does not take their existence into account is a pipe dream.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Do not the right hon. Gentleman's answers to my hon. Friends the Members for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler) and St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) amount to granting a veto—on the grounds of realism—to the terrorists in Africa on any proposals for a settlement? If the right hon. Gentleman is looking for new options, will he consider one which he has neglected—that is, reasonable proposals which balance the interests of the British and the Africans in Rhodesia? Could he not exercise a little pressure on the African nationalists to accept such a plan instead of always concentrating abuse and pressure on Mr. Ian Smith, who is probably fairly anxious to accept reasonable proposals?

Mr. Crosland

I have no desire to impose a veto on anyone. The only veto exercise so far is that of Mr. Smith in his broadcast yesterday, and I wish that he had not exercised it. We have attempted no particular pressure; we have desired only to achieve a settlement which is acceptable to both sides. I hope that when the hon. and learned Member studies our proposals he will share my view that there was no case for Mr. Smith's rejecting them even as a basis for further negotiation.

Mr. Forman

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you help hon. Members who have been puzzled that in this long exchange following the Foreign Secretary's statement so many questions seem to have rested on the apparent differences in substance or emphasis between the British proposals that were deposited in the Library at 3.25 this afternoon and the Kissinger proposals that were made available to us last year? As the protector of the interests of the House, could you not ensure that Whitehall Departments deposit valuable and important documents relating to our exchanges much earlier so that we may form sensible views on the basis of having read the full evidence?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman seeks to extend my powers. I fear that the decision of the Government on when to deposit documents is not a matter for me.