HC Deb 11 May 1977 vol 931 cc1333-44
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr. David Owen)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I shall make a statement about Rhodesia.

Discussions of the Rhodesian question have taken place with the United States Government over the past three weeks. I met Mr. Secretary Vance on 6th May. We were in full agreement on the best way to carry matters forward.

Both Governments wish to reiterate their determination to work for the independence of Rhodesia under majority rule in 1978. They have been encouraged by their contacts so far to believe that detailed consultations about an independence constitution and the necessary transitional arrangements could be a satisfactory way to achieve this. They have therefore agreed that Britain and the United States should now enter into a phase of intensive consultations with the parties.

For this purpose, Her Majesty's Government have decided to establish a consultative group to make contact with the parties, which will visit the area as necessary, including Salisbury. It will be headed by J. A. N. Graham, Deputy Under-Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He will leave for Africa next week.

Mr. Vance has agreed to appoint a senior United States official to work with the head of the British consultative group.

Mr. John Davies

While not wishing to take an unduly "told you so" attitude, may I congratulate the Secretary of State on step-by-step moving closer to the views which we on this side have expressed for a considerable time past? I assure the right hon. Gentleman—I am sure that he will understand this—that we welcome the setting up of the consultative group and the proposed United States participation in it, which we have long thought desirable in any such event. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to say more about its precise terms of reference and the time scale which he has laid down for its work?

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, as part of this system, the presence of a mission in Salisbury on a resident basis to keep the group and the Foreign Secretary himself fully informed seems to us to be continuingly desirable? Further, may we have an assurance that the setting up of this group will in no way lessen the right hon. Gentleman's personal involvement in the solution of these matters, to which also we attach importance?

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, in the way they have handled these matters from the time of the Kissinger initiative, the Government have seemed to us too frequently to accept the reality of events rather late and to react to them rather late? We have had to refer to this already. We hope that the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the extreme urgency which we now believe surrounds this problem. Will he be able to tell the House soon how he means to consult the whole people of Rhodesia, in accordance with the fifth principle, to which both the Government and the Opposition are deeply attached?

Dr. Owen

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome. As to the precise terms of reference. I have deliberately not set precise terms of reference, and I do not think that to do so would help at this stage. As to the time scale of the consultative group's activity, I certainly attach a great deal of urgency to the matter—the right hon. Gentleman emphasised that—and that is why it is starting next week. It will stay in Africa and hope to report back to me in early June.

As to when or whether we should establish a mission in Salisbury, I have made clear to the House throughout that I have been open-minded on the matter. I do not judge it the right moment to do so at present, but the consultative group will be visiting Salisbury. As for my own personal involvement, I assure the right hon. Gentleman and the House that I still stand ready to chair any conference were it to be decided that that was the right way of proceeding, and I shall also stay very closely involved in the whole issue.

I recognise that the House has always wished to be satisfied as regard consulting the whole people of Rhodesia. Again, I think that it is too early to decide the precise arrangements—whether they would be through a General Election or some mechanism such as a Pearce mechanism, or whether the House might be satisfied by the sort of activity done through the consultative group. I recognise, however, that the House will wish to be satisfied that any solution commands majority support inside Rhodesia.

Mr. Thorpe

Will the Foreign Secretary take it that we welcome the Government's continuing efforts to achieve a peaceful solution of this problem? Can he say a little more about the consultative group? Will it be all-British or will it be multinational? Will the Americans be there on purely a consultative basis or will they be members? Where will this body be based, and will it merely report to the Government or have powers to negotiate?

Dr. Owen

The British representatives on the consultative group will work under my authority and will be answering to me, and if it makes any major decisions they will be decisions which I shall make on behalf of the Government in consultation with the whole of the Government. Those members of the consultative group who come from the United States will operate under the same arrangement. Throughout this procedure there has been and will continue to be the closest working relationship between Mr. Vance and myself and between Her Majesty's Government and the American Administration, as well as the close involvement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Carter also. It is a joint enterprise.

What we are trying to do is to sound out opinion. We shall be putting forward suggestions, but we shall also be listening and trying to reach a consensus about a peaceful transition to majority rule under a constitution and a method of election which will give an independent Zimbabwe in 1978.

Mr. Faulds

Does my right hon. Friend agree that he is talking not about the independence of Rhodesia but about the independence of Zimbabwe, and will he confirm that the requirement of "one man, one vote" for majority rule remains the core of any settlement?

Dr. Owen

I have made clear on a number of occasions that I think that the franchise should be on the widest possible basis, and I have indicated also that it is not just one man who might wish to vote. There are also women in Africa. The question of the franchise is obviously an issue which will have to be discussed in the negotiations. As to my hon. Friend's reference to Zimbabwe, in fact, Zimbabwe is the name which most black nationalist leaders and most black Africans think of for an independent country, but, of course, it will be for the people of that independent country to decide its name, and traditionally that has usually been one of the issues which have been decided on the first day of independence.

Sir Bernard Braine

Is it not unrealistic to think that much progress can be made in this direction unless there is a guarantee of an underpinning of the Rhodesian economy during the transition to majority rule? I find it surprising that the Foreign Secretary made no mention of that in his statement today. Could he give any details of what he has in mind?

Dr. Owen

What is often referred to as the Zimbabwe development fund, which was initially suggested by Dr. Kissinger, is still very much part of the package of proposals which we should wish to discuss. This is one of the many reasons, though one of the central reasons, why I think that United States involvement with Britain is necessary. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important to ensure the independence of Zimbabwe in economic prosperity and stability, and in the sense that a development fund could make a contribution to that, I believe that it would be extremely important.

Mr. Flannery

Does not my right hon. Friend realise that when the American Kissinger proposals were forthcoming the front-line Presidents categorically rejected the involvement of America in anything to do with Rhodesia, and does he not realise also that, on the last occasion, for the second time the front-line Presidents again made clear that they did not want the involvement of the United States of America in Africa? Does not my right hon. Friend recognise, therefore, that the attempted involvement of America now, implying that we cannot go ahead on our own, is definitely slowing down the whole process of democratising Rhodesia, and that, if the Americans were to come in, undoubtedly the Soviet Union also would want to come in?

Dr. Owen

There was undoubtedly some misunderstanding on the proposals put forward by Dr. Kissinger between what he appreciated and what the frontline Presidents appreciated, but even at that stage there was the closest co-operation.

Mr. Flannery

What about Vietnam?

Dr. Owen

My hon. Friend must recognise that there is a new Administration in the United States, an Administration which, I believe, is extremely committed to the whole concept of no racial discrimination and a freedom for the nationalist movement in Southern Africa. My hon. Friend suggests that the frontline Presidents object to the proposals which I have put forward. That is not the case. I went and spoke personally to all the front-line Presidents. I visited President Machel in Mozambique, and I went also to Angola and talked personally to President Neto. That is not what they told me. They said that they would continue to support the Patriotic Front, but they wished my initiative well. They wanted a peaceful transition to majority rule. They expressed scepticism about the intentions of the Rhodesian Front, but they did not object to the proposals; in fact, they positively supported them.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

Will the right hon. Gentleman take it that many of us on this side are extremely concerned at the increasing escalation of violence in Rhodesia and that we wish to be assured that he will treat these necessary negotiations with great urgency? Can he say when he expects the mission to report to him so that he can begin to take some of the essential decisions which have to be made if further violence is to be avoided?

Dr. Owen

Of course I wish that the existing level of violence would stop and certainly that it would not escalate, but unfortunately there is a tragic history surrounding the whole issue of Rhodesia and there is no way in which we can wave a magic wand and stop the violence. We must have a considerable measure of urgency, but at the same time we must move at a pace which will ensure that we get the support of all parties involved. That is extremely difficult. As I said before, I hope to have a report back from the consultative group early in June, and I shall keep the House informed from time to time.

Mr. MacFarquhar

Will the Foreign Secretary explain more fully the attitude of black Africans to the question of American involvement, in view of the reported statement by Mr. Nkomo? Is it the case that the United States, in the light of his representations, has made any step backwards in its involvement with our Government?

Dr. Owen

No. The United States is still firmly committed to joint action on this problem. There has been some confusion here, because some black nationalist leaders thought that American involvement meant co-chairmanship of the conference. That was never suggested. Also there have been certain misunderstandings, which I can well understand, over the constitution. The constitutional proposals always would have to come to this House. They would have to be presented by the Government and would be subject to amendment or revision by the House. In these circumstances the British Government would, of course, take a central lead.

There are other aspects—not least the development fund, and the whole question of democracy in the transitional period—where the United States' involvement is very helpful, and broadly speaking most black nationalist leaders have supported that involvement.

Mr. Walters

The Foreign Secretary has confirmed that he remains in close touch with the United States Secretary of State, Mr. Cyrus Vance. Will he bear in mind that one of the main reasons for the failure of the original Kissinger initiative was that we did not involve the United States in the subsequent negotiations? Will he ensure that the Americans are involved fully now, and will he not agree that it is regrettable that the United States will not be co-chairman of the conference?

Dr. Owen

We discussed this with the United States and we jointly agreed that co-chairmanship would be wrong. The exact form and the means by which and when the conference can be called are issues that must be discussed, but that is something that comes later down the track. I assure the hon. Member and the House that the United States is fully and firmly involved in this. This has been shown in the last few days by the close conversations and involvements.

Miss Joan Lestor

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that, despite his play on words about men and women voting in Rhodesia, he has left a distinct impression that he may be thinking in terms of a limited franchise? Will he confirm or deny this?

Dr. Owen

I have already supported women voting. I emphasised it because, while we all support the case for "one man, one vote", there is also a strong case for "one man, one woman, one vote". I think that some women think that they should have two votes and men should only have one.

This is a new venture in many African countries, as my hon. Friend knows, and it is an issue which must be discussed. I have made it clear that I believe that the franchise should be on the widest possible basis. I must accept that this will be one of the issues to be discussed. If and when it is necessary to give some safeguards for minority opinion, we are prepared to discuss the matter at that stage. It is easier to see it against a complete and open franchise, and I have expressed that opinion many times to Mr. Smith, to the Rhodesian Front and on Rhodesian television.

Mr. Blaker

Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear to the front-line Presidents that it is inconsistent with the practice that we have adopted in giving independence to 30 countries over 30 years for them to think that they can nominate the future rulers of Rhodesia as they were purporting to do a few weeks ago? Is that point accepted by them?

Dr. Owen

I do not quite understand the hon. Member's question. The whole purpose is that future leaders of an independent Zimbabwe will come as a result of elections fairly held inside Rhodesia, and supervised to make sure that they are fair. The leaders will be chosen by the people living under the new constitution.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Will the Foreign Secretary recognise that the question of the franchise is crucial but that in any settlement, unless the agreement is accepted by the people of Zimbabwe as a whole, it does not matter at all whether it is accepted by this House, by the whites or by the five front-line Presidents? It is essential to know whether they have accepted that the franchise must be based on "one man, one vote" in order to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe have accepted the settlement.

Dr. Owen

Of course the franchise is central to the discussion, and the widest franchise will win the widest acceptance. Any attempt to limit it will run into severe problems and will raise doubts whether the settlement has been acceptable overall to the people of Zimbabwe.

Mr. Luce

Will the Foreign Secretary agree that we should be grateful to the United States for providing practical economic aid to facilitate a peaceful transition in Rhodesia, and is this not in sharp contrast to the activities of the Soviet Union in this area?

Dr. Owen

This is one challenge which the Western democracies have to face. They have to be prepared to stand up for democracy and democratic values and the peaceful transition to majority rule in Africa and other areas. It is noticeable that the Soviet Union's involvement in Africa has been largely confined to supplying arms.

Mrs. Castle

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his repeated reference to "the widest possible franchise" is increasing anxiety on this side of the House? We believe that the right to universal suffrage for both men and women is quite a separate matter from the protection of minority rights, which can be dealt with in other ways. Will my right hon. Friend tell us categorically that there will be no qualification in any way of the principle of "one man, or one woman, one vote"?

Dr. Owen

My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) is an experienced negotiator and she knows that it is unwise to enter discussions laying down the criteria before starting. I have made it clear that I believe that the ingredient for a successful settlement is the widest possible franchise. In the past this House has often given independence on a restricted franchise, and that has usually been shown to be wrong by history, and has soon been changed. I agree with my right hon. Friend that the whole climate of world opinion at the moment believes that each individual above a certain age has the right to choose the Government under which he or she lives.

Mr. Michael Latham

Has the latest initiative been discussed in advance with parties in and around Rhodesia, and, if so, with what result? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the purpose of the initiative is to take soundings and not to negotiate on the Richard plan?

Dr. Owen

The purpose is to take soundings and to produce proposals and ideas and to reach a consensus. Having made the decision, with the American Secretary of State, Mr. Vance, we thought it right to inform the many interested parties who will be visited by the consultative group of our intentions. This has been done throughout Africa.

Mr. Ioan Evans

In view of the fact that the illegal Rhodesian régime has been sustained by the support of South Africa, what representations have been made by the Americans to the South Africans to stop giving support to the Rhodesian régime? The Rhodesian régime would collapse without South African support.

Dr. Owen

I have made my views about this very clear to Prime Minister Vorster in Cape Town, and the United States has repeatedly made its views clear. In fact, Vice-President Mondale has made it known that he will reinforce these views and himself make the position clear.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I propose to call two more hon. Members from either side. We have a lot of business to do today.

Mr. Brotherton

If the Government really want a peaceful solution in Rhodesia will they do two things to show that they are in earnest? Will they go to the United Nations and say that sanctions have failed and should be dropped; and will they cease giving aid to the Government of Mozambique, which harbours guerrillas who are murdering Rhodesians—black and white?

Dr. Owen

The first matter is a decision which is primarily for the United Nations. I have made it clear that I think it unrealistic to attempt to lift sanctions while there is any question about the practicability of and total commitment to the transition to majority rule. We shall not get the support of the United Nations for lifting sanctions until it is clear that irreversible procedures are under way for majority rule.

In relation to aid to Mozambique, it does not serve the interests which the hon. Member espouses to drive Mozambique or any other country ever increasingly into the arms of the Soviet Union. Many of these countries are ruled by nationalist movements which have fought bitter battles against repressive colonial rule. They want to be genuinely unaligned, and it is in our interests to restore good relations with them, and that includes Angola as well as Mozambique.

Mr. Clemitson

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that we would not be having a statement like this today if sanctions had been properly and effectively applied in the first place? Given that oil supplies have been vital to the survival of the Smith regime, what progress is being made with the inquiry into alleged sanctions-busting by oil companies, especially by British Petroleum?

Dr. Owen

Mr. Bingham has been appointed and I believe has started work. I have explained to him the importance and the urgency that I attach to the inquiry, but it is, of course, a very complicated issue.

I totally agree with my hon. Friend: had sanctions been applied in the full intention of the United Nations, there would not have been this tragic history and loss of life and we should not now still be debating the possibility of achieving a transition to majority rule in 1978.

Mr. Temple-Morris

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's initiative and I wish him well, as I think will many hon. Members in all parts of the House. But one of the main difficulties that the Foreign Secretary has is that the Rhodesian nationalist movements have all to agree upon reasonable demands by Mr. Smith. One of those points of agreement has to be the willingness—we have heard a lot about a ballot, a referendum or an election—to stand for elections on a "one man, one woman, one vote"—or "two votes"—basis. Has the right hon. Gentleman had any indication that the Patriotic Front at the moment, in its component parts, is more willing than it has been recently to stand in such elections?

Dr. Owen

I put that issue straight to Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Nkomo. They both said that they would be prepared to take part in democratic elections and saw democratic elections as a way of achieving a transition peacefully to majority rule.

Mr. James Johnson

Since on the Government Benches below the Gangway there still appears to be some confusion about the status of the Americans in the African continent, can my right hon. Friend sincerely and clearly say what is the attitude of the front-line Presidents? Do Seretse Khama, Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere and Jomo Kenyatta—all these Commonwealth men—support the Anglo-American initiative in this matter?

Dr. Owen

Yes, I think that, in the form in which I have announced it, it will get their full co-operation. A variety of differing opinions have been expressed about some aspects of the constitution. Many of them, of course, got their independence through a constitutional Lancaster House-type procedure, and I think that many of them would wish to see that play a part, particularly in respect of the constitution. It should be possible to meet that anxiety, but there is no doubt that the broad outlines of this initiative, as I explained it to them myself, are supported by them. The procedure which I have just announced to the House will, I think, have their ready support and their full co-operation.