HC Deb 02 February 1978 vol 943 cc703-14
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr. David Owen)

I will, with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a statement about Rhodesia.

Together with Ambassador Young of the United States and the Resident Commissioner designate, Lord Carver, I held talks in Malta with leaders of the Patriotic Front from 30th January to 1st February. Lieutenant General Prem Chand, the representative designated by the United Nations Secretary General, also took part.

The purpose of my talks with the Patriotic Front was, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 415, to enter into discussions concerning the military and associated arrangements necessary to effect the transition to majority rule in Rhodesia. Whereas discussions on these matters had been held since September with other nationalist leaders and with the regime, we had not been able to have detailed talks with the Patriotic Front prior to the Malta meeting. We achieved a much greater understanding of each other's position and have agreed to consider the points made and to meet again at a time and a place to be decided.

In these meetings I made clear that Her Majesty's Government, supported by the United States Government, have never wavered in their view that the proposals contained in Cmnd 6919 represent the best route to independence for Rhodesia and the surest guarantee of peace and stability there. On the basis of these proposals we are prepared to accept responsibility for bringing the territory to independence following elections and are resolutely committed to ensure that those elections would be manifestly free and impartial. If we are to shoulder that responsibility we must have an assured and supervised ceasefire and, in cooperation with the United Nations, the control necessary to ensure maintenance of peace and good order during the electoral process.

The Anglo-United States initiative depends on the willingness of the parties to the dispute to compromise on their past and present positions, and to allow the people of Zimbabwe as a whole, through fair and free elections, to determine their future. At present the necessary measure of compromise between the parties is lacking and, tragically, and regrettably, it appears inevitable that the armed struggle will for the present continue. The British Government, despite all the obvious difficulties, will continue to work with all parties, within the framework of the Anglo-United States initiative, for a peaceful settlement.

Mr. John Davies

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement asserts time after time that the Government are prepared to co-operate in reaching a peaceful settlement in Rhodesia only on the basis of the Anglo-American proposals? Does not he realise that such an attitude appears to Her Majesty's Opposition absolutely intolerable [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—in view of the progress made in the talks in Salisbury where, after all, Mr. Smith has acknowledged the absolute necessity of universal adult suffrage? How can the right hon. Gentleman maintain such a position?

The Foreign Secretary's remarks about a supervised ceasefire imply that only when the Patriotic Front agrees to stop fighting will he be prepared to move towards a peaceful settlement. This seems to give a veto to the Patriotic Front which is totally at variance with equity in the whole situation.

Did the Foreign Secretary press the Patriotic Front to involve itself in peaceful discussions with other nationalists in Rhodesia, and if not, why not? In view of the many reports to that effect, did the Foreign Secretary or his Department at any time before he went to Malta communicate with the nationalist leaders in Rhodesia in some way which hindered the progress of talks there?

Dr. Owen

On the right hon. Member's first point about the Anglo-American proposals, I said that these offered the best solution. I have constantly made it clear that the talks in Salisbury have made progress. The acceptance of one-man, one-vote was an important change in Mr. Smith's position, and one of the central demands in the Anglo-United States' initiative.

On his point about progress being made only when the Patriotic Front agrees to stop fighting, it is a fact that while two armies are fighting each other we do need both sides to agree to a ceasefire. The question of achieving a ceasefire between the two armies, neither of which has won or lost the battle, is extremely difficult. History shows that. One should strive to achieve that, however.

The right hon. Member asked whether I urged the Patriotic Front to talk to other nationalist leaders. The answer is "Yes, I have done so continuously and consistently". It is the division of opinion within the nationalist leadership that is one of the most serious problems in Rhodesia, and it is one reason why it has always been very difficult to achieve a solution.

The right hon. Member asked finally whether I or anyone at the Foreign Office had hindered the negotiations in any way. The answer is "No". We communicated with all parties, as I have now communicated with all parties in the Geneva talks, about the matters that were discussed in Malta. All the parties have the right to be consulted, both inside and outside Rhodesia. Bishop Muzorewa himself denied categorically that any message from us had in any way influenced him to leave the talks. Anyone who knows Bishop Muzorewa knows that he has a mind of his own and that he can come to these decisions by himself.

Mr. Davies

How can the Foreign Secretary reconcile his answer with the words in his statement On the basis of these proposals we are prepared to accept responsibility for bringing the territory to independence. Surely that means that on the basis of other proposals he is not prepared to accept the responsibility. But it does lie with the Government to bring Rhodesia to independence. Therefore how can he reconcile these two statements?

Dr. Owen

The reconciliation is very easy. Under the proposals in Cmnd. 6919, for the first time the British Government have accepted that on the basis of these proposals we would assume administrative responsibility for Rhodesia. It is a colony that we have never administered.

I do not think that the House would wish the Government, or give us the authority necessary, to assume responsibility for the administration of Rhodesia while that country was still in a situation of armed conflict.

On the basis of Cmnd. 6919, a ceasefire and peaceful settlement are necessary. I do not believe that the House would wish us to commit ourselves to administering Rhodesia while there is a continued arms struggle. That is an essential point that many people do not seem to understand. It is the responsibility of this House and the Government to pursue a peaceful settlement and to try to achieve a ceasefire, but that is very difficult—

Mr. Churchill

Your policy is "peace at any price".

Dr. Owen

The hon. Gentleman should remember how his illustrious grandfather talked with—

Mr. Churchill

His policy was never "peace at any price"

Dr. Owen

This is not peace at any price. I assure the House that throughout our history foreign Secretaries have had to talk to people in Kenya, in Cyprus and in Israel, where there have been freedom fighters. It is our job to pursue peace and that is what this Government will pursue.

Mr. Arthur Bottomley

In welcoming the Foreign Secretary's statement and congratulating him on his achievements so far, may I urge him to persist in putting forward the Anglo-American proposals, which offer the best hope of securing peace in Rhodesia? May I also ask him whether he agrees that unless the Patriotic Front is associated with the settlement of the Rhodesia problem, there will be no lasting peace in that country?

Dr. Owen

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I know that he has always had grave doubts about the possibility of achieving a negotiated settlement. I believe that progress is being made. He tends to forget the situation a year ago when there was no agreement on one-man, one-vote, no Bill of Rights and no agreement on black majority government. There has been substantial movement, and this is important. However, my right hon. Friend has put his finger on the main problem. While the armed struggle continues, it is very hard to see a peaceful settlement and elections taking place and giving a fair measure of opinion in Rhodesia for a future Zimbabwe.

It is in our interests to continue to talk and to try to achieve agreement, but it must be on the basis of viable proposals. That is why I stress that if we are to shoulder the heavy responsibility of administering Rhodesia, we must have a supervised and ensured cease-fire and we must be able to control and ensure its maintenance.

Mr. Thorpe

However grateful we are for the Foreign Secretary's statement, we must accept that the Malta talks ended in a total stalemate. Was there any discussion of the form of provisional government leading to independence? Is the Patriotic Front demanding that power should be handed over to it before the elections? If so, it would be totally wrong to hand over government from an existing minority to what may well prove to be another minority, which could be just as dangerous. Were there any discussions about a caretaker Administration of all parties involved? If so, what was the Patriotic Front's reaction to this?

While I accept that the objective of the proposals is to bring the parties into talks, if we were faced with the brutal choice between those who wanted a solution through force and those who wanted a solution by peaceful means, we should have no alternative but to side with the latter.

Dr. Owen

On the last point I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Although we should pursue peace up to the last moment, I envisage a situation in which we must consider recognising a Government that had assumed power while there was still conflict. This is a reality. We would have to assess that decision on the basis of how many people voted in the election and whether the Government were reasonably representative of the vote. The whole House would hope that such a situation could be avoided.

On the point about the governing council—a term used for the method of dealing with the problems of the absolute powers of the Resident Commissioner and ensuring that he and the United Nations have necessary and absolute control—the proposals were discussed. These proposals would be in the hands of all parties, including Mr. Smith. I believe that we have reached some measure of agreement on the criticisms from inside and outside Rhodesia on that matter.

On the Patriotic Front's attitude, it issued a statement today saying that it stood by the principle that the sole guarantor of the irreversibility of the transitional process will be from the Patriotic Front's liberation forces. I do not accept that, and on that point we disagree fundamentally. This is a matter that must be achieved by agreement, and there must be an interim transitional period which is fair to all parties. In that transitional period all parties should have confidence in the measures taken and should feel that they have a fair chance in the election. I stand by that principle.

Mr. James Johnson

Since all parties involved whether white or black are committed to the election on the basis of one-man, one-vote, is this not an advance on the situation of 12 months ago? However, were not the Malta talks bogged down because of the joint objections of Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Nkomo on the United Nations peace-keeping force? If this is deadlocked will the Foreign Secretary turn to the adjoining frontline Presidents, because it is only through those third parties that we can unlock some of the opposition in Mozambique and elsewhere from the Patriotic Front.

Dr. Owen

It is not true to say that we reached complete deadlock, nor is it true to say that we made no progress. To say that is not worthy. The Patriotic Front statement to which I referred earlier said that both parties agreed that there should be some role for the United Nations. That is a significant difference. Within that role there are still problems about the extent and size of the peacekeeping force. This is an important element in the Anglo-American initiative. There has been some movement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, West (Mr. Johnston) is right to say that the front-line Presidents have an important role in persuading all the parties to come to some accommodation. I believe that they desperately want a peaceful settlement.

Mr. Amery

Does the Secretary of State agree that although all of us are concerned to bring about peace, we are even more concerned to bring about justice? Does he agree that if we were to choose between the two, justice would be the priority of this House—that is to say, the fulfilment of the six principles? Does he agree that since the Smith, Muzorewa, Sithole, Chinav, and now the Nkomo and Mugabe factions have all turned down this plan, we have to think of something new? Does he not think that there is something to be said for putting his support behind an internal settlement and, if this were once achieved, trying to see whether the Patriotic Front could be reconciled to it? Would not this be a positive approach?

Dr. Owen

If we were confronted with a choice between peace and justice, think that the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavillion (Mr. Amery) is right. I think that the House would choose justice. But it is a difficult choice. Most people recognise that if one achieves peace, one is better able to achieve justice.

I do not agree that all the parties have turned down the Anglo-American initiative. It is noteworthy that the Reverend Sithole and Bishop Muzorewa see discussions inside Rhodesia in the context of the Anglo-American proposals. Similarly, another difference has been that the Patriotic Front sees progress being made within the framework of the Anglo-American proposals. At one stage Mr. Smith and the South African Government seemed to think that this was a possibility and did not rule it out as a possible road to peace. It is not impossible that Mr. Smith and the South African Government might come round to seeing that this is the best road to peace.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that there is a Standing Order No. 9 motion and that later we have timetabled business. I hope that hon. Members will be as brief as possible.

Mr. Grocott

Did my right hon. Friend assure the Patriotic Front that any settlement in Rhodesia that provided for separate electoral rolls for white and black people would be consistent neither with the principle of fair elections nor with the principle of majority rule?

Dr. Owen

On many of these measures, which I call confidence-building measures for the white minority, I do not take a rigid view. It is necessary to have confidence-building measures. That is why I insisted that there should be separately elected Members and said that a straight free vote system would not be practicable. There are severe practical problems in a two-roll system. There are other ways, and I have proposed them. These issues are not as important as the actual constitution. Safeguards for constitutional change are secondary. The primary thing is to ensure that the initial constitution is a good one and fair to everyone.

Mr. Gow

Is the Secretary of State aware that his decision to invite the leaders of the Patriotic Front to Malta and his decision to invite leaders of Marxist Mozambique to the conference table has given the impression that he is more sympathetic to a totalitarian Marxist solution than to a solution based on the rule of law? Bearing in mind the cruelty which has been perpetrated by the terrorists in Rhodesia, mainly against the Queen's black subjects, can he assure the House that he called upon the leaders of the Patriotic Front to desist from terrorism?

Dr. Owen

I have condemned atrocities and cruelties from all sides, but the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) knows that in this type of war they will occur. I have made it perfectly clear that I wish this infighting to end. I have never encouraged the continuation of violence.

The hon. Member asked about Marxism. I cannot help it if he and others wish to perpetuate that myth and if the Tory Press wishes to throw this accusation at me. It is false, untrue and unworthy.

Mr. Flannery

Will my right hon. Friend seek every opportunity to impress upon the Tories that the era of white supremist minority rule is dead and gone and that they should not look nostalgically towards it? Will he impress upon the Tories that the present situation is entirely due to the Patriotic Front fighting against a white minority that has held the majority down for so long? Can he assure the House that he will continue to bring together the four main black leaders to try to reconcile their differences, because in that way they will obtain one-man, one-vote, which the Conservatives oppose?

Dr. Owen

I agree that if the nationalist leaders would come together many problems would be solved. Most of them have worked together at some stage in the past. It is noteworthy that Mr. Nkomo in particular is recognised by many white Rhodesians to have the qualities that are necessary and that many people who have read about Mr. Mugabe question some of the things said about him after they have met him.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Does the Secretary of State agree that although there is a need to negotiate with the terrorists, there is no need to condone them? Does he accept that after his clear failure in the talks with terrorist organisations in Malta he should adopt the approach suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and consider holding negotiations with those who hope to establish a Government in Rhodesia based upon the main tribes and races and based upon the far stronger military force?

Dr. Owen

I certainly do not condone violence and I have resisted attempts to make me condemn the Salisbury talks. I have tried to set out the principles and to assess any progress towards independence against the six principles and the principles in the Anglo-American initiative.

Mr. MacFarqubar

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his untiring efforts? What was the attitude of the leaders in Malta to the kind of settlement which, it is disclosed, is being worked out in Rhodesia? What does my right hon. Friend think about the forces of armed Rhodesians that exist in Tanzania?

Dr. Owen

The Patriotic Front make no secret of the view that they dislike and deplore the talks in Salisbury. This relates to differences of opinion among the nationalist leaders and the belief that the internal settlement does not reflect the true situation.

One of the problems which the House does not sufficiently realise is the danger of allowing the present situation to continue when considerable bodies of armed men are outside Rhodesia in Zambia and Mozambique and, at times, trained in other places such as Tanzania. This is a potentially dangerous situation. One of the dangers of an internal settlement is that it could spill out into a nasty fight in Africa and involve outside Powers.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I must limit supplementaries to three hon. Members from each side.

Mr. Christopher Price

Many of us feel that my right hon. Friend is quite right not to have supported the internal settlement talks because such an attitude could be the one recipe for continuing war in Southern Africa in addition to the wars that are already going on in the Horn of Africa and the Sahara. Will he ignore the noises from the Opposition Benches about Mozambique, most of which come from people who have never been there and have not seen the hundreds of people there from our Community partners who are giving far more aid to that country than we are and are trying to build up what is becoming a very successful nation?

Dr. Owen

Like my hon. Friend, I have been to Mozambique. It would be helpful if more hon. Members visited that country. Conservative Members would not approve of what they see. They would not approve of its Left-wing orientation, but they would conclude that it was primarily an African nationalist Government wishing to be non-aligned but having relations with the Soviet Union, as it is entitled to do.

Mr. Blaker

Last week and again today, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the six principles and to what he describes as the principles contained in the Anglo-American proposals. Will he clarify this? Have the six principles been superseded or modified in any way, either by the Anglo-American proposals or by the right hon. Gentleman's statement in Salisbury, which, I think, he made on 1st September last? If they have, in what way?

Dr. Owen

I do not think that the principles have been changed, although the first four of them relate to earlier discussions on franchises and such things. The House is now concentrating, and quite rightly so, primarily but not exclusively on the fifth and sixth principles.

Mr. John Mendelson

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the remarkable fact that practically every Opposition spokesman has sought to undermine the major initiative by the Government? Is he aware that they are spending all their time trying to advance a trend, in opposition to the British Government, adopted by Mr. Smith and his regime? They are spending all their time undermining proposals supported by the United States Government. May I urge my right hon. Friend, however, not to be discouraged by their attitude? Many people in this country understand what my right hon. Friend is trying to do and wish him well in it.

Dr. Owen

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said. I shall not waver in my determination to strive for peace. I have made it clear that peace can often come about through many different methods. It does not have to follow one specific process. However, if we were to give up the quest for a ceasefire and a peaceful solution, whatever emerged would be a great deal worse.

Mr. Hastings

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen reports of the statement by Ambassador Young to the effect that any eventual settlement will have to be acceptable to the East—in other words, to the USSR? Does he think that that takes proper account of the naked aggression of the USSR in the Horn of Africa, and will he dissociate himself from that statement?

Dr. Owen

No. I have not seen the statement and I should like to see it before commenting on it. The United States has shown throughout a recognition that if we could keep this issue away from an East-West polarisation and think of it in terms of Southern Africa politics, that would be better. However, we are not naive and we are fully aware that the Soviet Union in Africa has its own intentions. It has supplied arms in an unscrupulous manner. It is clearly trying in certain areas to cause difficulty and is not serving the cause of black nationalist leaderships.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if there is to be a peaceful settlement with justice in Rhodesia, not only Bishop Muzorewa and Mr. Sithole, but Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Mugabe must take part in the round-table talks? Since we might be moving towards a free Zimbabwe and since black Rhodesians will be returning to a new freedom country, what situation would arise for white Rhodesians who might want to come to this country from the policy of stopping immigration put forward by the Leader of the Opposition?

Dr. Owen

One of my constant efforts is to avoid such a breakdown in law and order that there would be an exodus of white people. That would not be in the interests of Zimbabwe. We have a responsibility to protect white minority rights. The white people have a future role to play in Zimbabwe, and that view is held by the nationalist leaders who say so openly and who want to ensure that the white minority plays its part equally with the black majority in a free and independent Zimbabwe.

Mr. Churchill

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that he does not speak for the British people in his "peace at any price" policy? The British people want the solution of the ballot box, not of the gun. Is he aware that the British people resented his crawlings last October to the Soviet Union in this regard as they resent his most recent cavortings with the terrorist leaders in the Mediterranean? Is he seriously saying that he and the British Government will back an internal settlement in Rhodesia only if it is pleasing to the terrorist leaders and their Soviet paymasters?