HC Deb 30 March 1977 vol 929 cc380-7
2. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement about recent developments in relation to Rhodesia.

7. Mr. Hastings

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on Rhodesia.

8. Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on Rhodesia.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr. David Owen)

I hope to find a suitable basis for resuming negotiations that will lead to a peaceful transition to majority rule in 1978. It will, of course, be the chief topic of my forthcoming visit to Africa and a major subject to be discussed at the end of the week in London with Secretary Vance.

Mr. Blaker

Is not the statement of the Rhodesia Government yesterday saying that Mr. Smith is still prepared to have a two-year transition to majority rule in certain conditions? Has not the time now come for the Government to establish an authoritative British presence in Rhodesia, which would help to work out arrangements for the interim period, including arrangements for the election of an African leader for that period?

Dr. Owen

I hope the hon. Gentleman is right in his interpretation of Mr. Smith's statement, but, as I understand it, the problem about that statement is that he was firmly tying the two-year majority period to the creation of an interim Government. That means a recipe for indefinite delay. The world—and certainly the British Government—expects a two-year period of majority rule to start from the time when Smith himself made these commitments. We ourselves have asked for majority rule to start from March 1976.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall come to the Government Back Benches after I have called the other two hon. Members whose Questions are being answered in this group.

Mr. Hastings

Now that the Geneva initiative has indisputably failed, is not the only course to invite Rhodesia to produce its own solution and when something acceptable and reasonable has been put forward to seek to impose some form of plebiscite, perhaps with American help? In this connection, is not Bishop Muzorewa the most hopeful figure on the African side?

Dr. Owen

It appears that the hon. Gentleman is advocating what is often called an internal solution. He will know that the United States Government have firmly said that they believe that this is not the way forward. That is also the view of the British Government. The problem is that Rhodesian opinion goes much wider than those who are currently in Rhodesia. What is at issue—[Interruption.] Hon. Members are entitled to their views. What we need is a stable solution that will last and not the production of something that does not meet the legitimate aspirations of the black people for black majority rule in a period of time after free elections. That is what is at issue.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

How does the right hon. Gentleman imagine that he will achieve what he calls a stable solution if he rules out the possibility of any discussions with Mr. Smith in Rhodesia on his forthcoming visit to Southern Africa, if he also rules out—as I understood from his earlier reply that he did—the possibility of permanent British representation in Rhodesia and if he also continues to refuse the possibility of some reference to the Rhodesian people to determine who should lead an interim Government of that country?

Dr. Owen

The hon. Gentleman has assumed that I have ruled out three things that I have not ruled out. The first question is on a matter on which there is another Question on the Order Paper, and I should prefer to answer it when that Question is reached. The second question—whether it is the right time to establish a British presence in Rhodesia—I have not ruled out, although certainly I do not think it appropriate at present. As to the question of consulting Rhodesian opinion, that is very much one of the issues that one wishes to discuss. This is best done if one recognises that Rhodesian opinion goes outside the immediate confines of Rhodesia. Many Rhodesians are outside Rhodesia. What we need is a settlement that will bring about the cessation of guerrilla action and produce peace and stability around Rhodesia's borders. That is one of the issues.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Since Mr. Smith made a commitment to majority rule within two years, is it not the case that he has sought every opportunity to slide out of that commitment? Does not the statement yesterday lead to the final repudiation by Mr. Smith of majority rule within two years? In those circumstances, how can there possibly be a peaceful solution?

Dr. Owen

My hon. Friend's reading of that statement is more accurate than the other interpretation. I hope that that is not the case. I certainly do not wish to rule it out myself. I wish to have discussions with Mr. Smith in Capetown. I hope that he will think very hard before he rules out the possibility of majority rule within two years, that is, majority rule in 1978.

Mr. Hooley

Will my right hon. Friend's conversations with the front line Presidents include discussion of the possibility of an international peace-keeping force in Rhodesia—either a Commonwealth force or a United Nations force?

Dr. Owen

I am perfectly prepared to consult and discuss any aspects, but it is a fact of life, whether we like it or not, that at present it would not be possible to put a United Nations peacekeeping force into Rhodesia. We have to accept realities, harsh though they may be. There may come a time, at a particular moment towards a peaceful settlement, when such a force could have a stabilising influence. I certainly do not rule it out of the question, but we shall look at it when the circumstances arise.

Mr. Maudling

As what should matter to this House are the wishes of the people of Rhodesia, for whom we are responsible, why does the Foreign Secretary rule out an internal solution?

Dr. Owen

I think that it is dangerous to talk about an internal solution. That is becoming a shorthand term for a solu- tion that does not carry conviction with all those people who are representative of black nationalist opinion. That is the question. At this stage to rule out those black nationalists who are outside Rhodesia would be a recipe for continued violence and continued guerrilla activity around the borders. What is surely to be hoped is that black African opinion can be combined together to fight democratic elections inside Rhodesia under a supervised system that we can all respect. That is what I think all hon. Members on both sides of the House want to see.

Mr. Thorpe

May we wish the Foreign Secretary success on his maiden voyage to Africa? Does he agree that the first thing that he must establish is whether Mr. Smith is still committed to African majority rule in two years? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is not the first time that there has been ambiguity in the language of Mr. Smith on constitutional matters? Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the whole lesson of the Monckton and Pearce Reports is that unless there is African consent any constitutional settlement will be doomed to disaster? Therefore, does he not agree that it is vital to have a referendum not only on choosing a leader for Rhodesia as a whole but on any interim agreement that is put forward?

Dr. Owen

I agree that it is fundamental that there should be African consent. That was accepted by the Opposition when they were in Government. We have all recognised that this is the necessary ingredient for stability. I, like the right hon. Gentleman, hope that Mr. Smith really does mean majority rule in two years from when he first made that very important statement. I pay great tribute to Dr. Kissinger for having brought that forward. The danger that Mr. Smith now seems to be implying is that it runs only from when an interim government is established of which he has to be a part. That is a recipe for indefinite delay, and that would be unacceptable to world opinion and, I think, opinion on both sides of this House.

Mr. John Davies

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that his continual repetitive references to Rhodesians outside Rhodesia seem to put in question the adherence to the fifth principle, which was that nothing of a settlement would be achieved without the consent of the Rhodesian people as a whole? That is surely the essential background upon which we are all based. In those circumstances, does the right hon. Gentleman not think that the suggestion made by my hon. Friends today, that we should now be sensible enough to realise that, whatever Mr. Smith thinks, we should have a presence in Rhodesia able to guide us on how to consult majority opinion, is really an essential? Does he not think that that would be the most welcome outcome of his own visit to Africa?

Dr. Owen

I respect the way in which the right hon. Gentleman put his question. Concerning the Rhodesian people as a whole, I confirm that that is strongly my view. Whereas I was drawing attention to some people outside Rhodesia, we must never forget that the vast bulk of the population who need to be consulted are still within Rhodesia. They are also both white and black. I believe in a peaceful solution, and I wish to have a situation in which white Rhodesians would be happy to stay in Rhodesia and contribute to peace and stability there.

Secondly, on the question whether we should have some form of permanent presence there, there are arguments over that. I am quite open-minded, and I have not closed the door to such a presence. There is no doubt that we are not as fully informed as we would wish to be about what has happened in Rhodesia. Some way in which this could be achieved clearly would be of benefit, but clearly it could not involve recognition of a régime that is illegal and is in rebellion against the Crown. However, were we to reach some firm agreement about this, I should be open-minded about it.

Mr. Speaker

I allowed a much longer time than is normal on that Question, but we shall have to go quicker now.

4. Mr. Brotherton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will visit Rhodesia.

9. Mr. Rifkind

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which Heads of Governments he expects to meet during his forthcoming tour of Southern Africa.

19. Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what up-to-date progress he is abe to assess for a successful outcome of the constitutional crisis in Rhodesia in the context of his official visit to Southern Africa.

Dr. Owen

As I told the House on 1st March 1977, I for my part stand ready at any time to go anywhere and talk to anyone if I judge that it will make a genuine contribution for a peaceful settlement."—[Official Report, 1st March 1977; Vol. 927, c. 205.] I have no plans for visiting Rhodesia, but if the situation appeared to warrant it I would of course be prepared to go.

Mr. Brotherton

The House will be delighted to hear that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to go to Rhodesia. Would not now be a very suitable time for him to go, and would he not gain a great deal more from meeting Rhodesians, black and white, in Rhodesia than he will gain from meeting President Podgorny's friends, particularly President Machel, the harbourer, shelterer and comforter of the murdering guerrillas?

Dr. Owen

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman makes a serious contribution to what is a serious issue. He knows that I am seeing people who hold all forms of opinion. He knows that in Cape-town I am seeing Mr. Vorster and that I shall see Mr. Smith. At this moment I do not judge it right to go to Rhodesia, but I do not exclude it. Much will depend on the circumstances, on the reception that I get and on what is said during the time that I am in Africa. All I hope is that Mr. Smith will not keep to the line that he appeared to be pursuing in his statement yesterday.

Mr. Robert Hughes

When my right hon. Friend is in South Africa will he be seeing Sir David Scott, the British Ambassador, who in a recent speech in Capetown boasted of Britain's good will to South Africa to the extent that he said that the only four times that Britain has used its veto in the UN Security Council have been in favour of South Africa? If that is a true reflection of the Government's position, it should be wholly condemned. If not, will my right hon. Friend bring back the ambassador permanently to this country?

Dr. Owen

I shall be seeing the ambassador when I am in Capetown. I have read his speech. It has been misreported in a number of directions, not least in the direction to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention. As I understood it, it was a strong plea to opinion in South Africa to recognise strongly-held world opinion about the racial policies that were being pursued in South Africa and the need to make changes and to modify its position, so that its present policies on apartheid would not be as repugnant to world opinion as they currently are.

Mr. Luce

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, whatever we may feel about Mr. Smith's record, he has over the past few weeks introduced measures designed to ease race tensions in Rhodesia in spite of European opposition? When he goes to Southern Africa will he acknowledge the introduction of those measures and give some encouragement to Mr. Smith?

Dr. Owen

I welcome any step in the right direction. I must tell the House in all honesty that the difficulty that some people in Rhodesia seem to have found over the Land Apportionment Act is a gnat compared with what they will have to accept in majority rule. The resistance to the Act and the difficulty that some of them have found in respect of it does not augur well to a commitment to majority rule within the time scale that we are discussing. However, any movement is to be welcomed.

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