HC Deb 16 February 1978 vol 944 cc663-73
Mr. Thorpe

(By Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what response Her Majesty's Government intend to make to the agreement in principle arrived at internally in Rhodesia.

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

It is too early to make a considered judgment as to the acceptability to the people of Rhodesia as a whole of the arrangements announced yesterday in Salisbury. It is the people who will live in a future Zimbabwe who should determine their own future.

It seems that there are crucial issues yet to be resolved, including the composition of the transitional Government and their powers; the composition of the security forces; and the extent to which other nationalist parties will be involved in the transition and in fair and free elections on the basis of universal suffrage.

We shall continue, as we have done from the start of the Anglo-United States initiative, to work with all parties, inside and outside the country, to promote an overall settlement compatible with the principles endorsed by this House and to work for the cessation of all violence.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Secretary of State aware that it is highly desirable that this Government should not pass judgment one way or the other until we have far greater details upon which to pass judgment? May I ask him two questions? First, would he none the less agree that this marks a significant move towards the achievement of majority rule which the House should certainly welcome? Second, is he yet in a position to say whether in his view this statement accords with the six principles laid down by Lord Home and the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson).

Dr. Owen

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He is quite right. It would be most unwise to make judgments until we have far greater detail. As I have said, the essential judgment will be made by the people of Rhodesia themselves. That is compatible with the fifth principle which has been endorsed by this House. We stand by all six of the principles, although when it looks at them I think the House will see that there has been progress and that to some extent the initial four principles have been superseded. But the sixth principle, with regard to protecting minority rights, is extremely important.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me to say whether this was a significant move towards majority rule. I believe that it is, and I believe that it will be welcomed.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Can there be any doubt that Mr. Smith would not have come this far if it had not been as a result of pressure both from sanctions and the armed struggle? I recognise that this is a major development, but can it also be doubted that this matter must be decided by the people of Zimbabwe as a whole? The only issue now is whether there can be an accurate reflection of what the opinion of Zimbabwe as a whole will be unless there is a referendum which has some kind of outside monitoring.

Dr. Owen

I think my hon. Friend is quite right—that a number of pressures have brought off these events. But the fact that these pressures were necessary is something that we have grown to recognise. Still, it has produced very important movements.

With regard to how the people of Zimbabwe as a whole will express their view on what eventually emerges from the discussions that still have to take place, no decision has been taken and, to some extent, it is up to them. But I think they will have to bear in mind that it is important for this House that such a test of opinion is seen to be fair and objective. A referendum would be one way of doing it, or, alternatively, an election based on universal suffrage.

Mr. Maudling

Has the Foreign Secretary any reason to doubt that the men concerned in this agreement—Mr. Smith, Bishop Muzorewa, the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and Mr. Chikerema—between them represent the great majority of all races in Rhodesia? As this is the most hopeful thing that has happened in Rhodesia for years, why in the name of Heaven does not the right hon. Gentleman welcome it?

Dr. Owen

If the right hon. Gentleman heard the end of my reply to the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) he will know that I did welcome it as "significant". But the right hon. Gentleman, who has studied these matters and knows how complicated they are, knows perfectly well that if we were able to achieve a cessation of the violence it would be far easier to have a proper test of opinion in Rhodesia and far easier for an independent Government of Zimbabwe to live in peace. Therefore, all parties will have to turn their minds to how we can get a better measure of agreement than has so far emerged from Salisbury.

It is no use ignoring the fact that outside the country there are considerable forces which, if not given a proper opportunity, will continue the armed struggle. It is our task to try to ensure that these people outside the country have sufficient confidence in the arrangements that are made to come back and participate in fair and free elections.

Mr. Hooley

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that a proposed Assembly constituted along racial lines in which 3 per cent. of the populace has an exclusive right to 28 per cent. of the seats is unlikely to commend itself to international opinion? Moreover, that would be a most fragile base for peace and political stability in Zimbabwe.

Dr. Owen

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. International opinion is important, but we have to recognise that there is a minority whose rights also have to be protected.

It was this Government who proposed specially elected Members. The proportion of specially elected Members that has been proposed in Salisbury is more than we have proposed in our deliberations. I have always said that if there is some agreement among all the nationalist parties on the confidence-building measures that are necessary for the future stability of Zimbabwe, it is not for us in this House to hold back on this. The question is how they are elected. We still need to know more details about this, and Bishop Muzorewa had strong views on this matter as recently as Sunday.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

In his reply to the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), the Foreign Secretary recognised that progress had been made in these talks in Rhodesia. Will he now place on record his unqualified approval of the breakthrough which has taken place, and will he also urge the United States Ambassador to the United Nations to be far more cautious—

Hon. Members


Dr. Owen

Progress has been made, and I think that is important. I welcome progress of all kinds. If some Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who shouts constantly, had devoted as much attention to this issue as I have done, they would know that, hour after hour in important and difficult negotiations, I have stood up for freedom, for fair and free elections, for democratic choice and for an agreement if acceptable to the people as a whole—

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Twenty five per cent.—

Dr. Owen

As soon as Opposition Members realise that, if we are to bring about peace in Rhodesia, it will be necessary for people to talk to those who are fighting on both sides, the better.

Mr. Flannery

Will my right hon. Friend agree with me—

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

The permanent guerrilla.

Mr. Flannery

Be quiet and let me speak. Will my right hon. Friend agree that, despite the noise coming from that motley crew on the Opposition Benches, the sickening unanimity of the Tory Party in welcoming this agreement is itself proof that a racialist deal has been done in Zimbabwe? Will he agree, further, that any arrangement in that sad country which does not take into account the view point of the Patriotic Front—

Mr. Nicholas Winterton


Mr. Flannery

—is bound to be purely temporary and cannot be conducive to one man, one vote democracy without racialist lines, as we know it?

Dr. Owen

Over the 12 years that this unhappy situation has confronted this House there has been a fair measure of agreement in the House as a whole. There has been agreement on the basis of the six principles which most of us have been trying to uphold through these difficult negotiations. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) who, despite a great deal of understandable pressure on him, has also attempted to keep this issue as far as possible one on which there is some measure of agreement.

I think that it would be regrettable if at this important and delicate stage we were to subject the whole complexity of this issue to bitter partisan disputes. For my part, I shall resist that. However, my hon. Friend is right. Those people who are fighting this war have the right to be heard and the right if possible to come back into Rhodesia and participate in fair and free elections.

Mr. John Davies

Does the Foreign Secretary realise that what worries and irritates the Opposition is what appears to be such a grudging attitude of mind to what has happened? It seems that there should be something much more positive coming from the Government. It is not good enough for the Government simply to take a passive view of the situation as it unfolds in Salisbury. There is much of a positive kind that the Foreign Secretary can do. Can he assure us that he has brought every persuasive effort to bear upon Mr. Nkomo to renounce the guerrilla war and get back to a peaceful solution? Can the right hon. Gentleman give us that absolute assurance? Can he, moreover, assure us about another matter which I think has deeply irritated us, which is that his own partner in the Anglo-American initiative seems to us to have given vent to off-the-cuff and totally unreflected comments which are bound to do nothing but damage to the prospect of a peaceful solution?

Dr. Owen

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman; I think that there are positive things which can be done. But they have to be done within the framework of trying to get the greatest degree of international acceptance for this solution. It is all very well for people to isolate this issue as just an issue between this House and Rhodesia. There is the whole question of sanctions in the United Nations. There is the whole question of African opinion. It is well recognised by Bishop Muzorewa and the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and even Chief Chirau that it is important to try to carry as much support among the Africans as they possibly can. The United States has been working in this endeavour and has been of tremendous assistance. The Americans carry great influence in Africa at the moment—greater influence than they have ever carried before. If they put their influence, as they have done, behind a peaceful settlement, I believe it can still be achieved.

Mr. Faulds

Since this new arrangement is bound to collapse—[HON. MEMBERS: "You hope".] Wait and see. Since it is bound to collapse, will my right hon. Friend persist in including the Patriotic Front before there is any acceptance of Southern Rhodesia's independence, because its exclusion will only absolutely ensure the development of a civil war which will set the whole of Southern Africa ablaze?

Dr. Owen

I want the exclusion of none of the parties. I want all the nationalist leaders to come together, and I have striven constantly for a greater degree of unity amongst the nationalist movement. It is the absence of that unity that has been one of the most difficult problems that we have faced in Rhodesia. For instance, in the discussions in Namibia, where we are dealing broadly with a united nationalist movement, the situation is very difficult. But I can only say that I think that one will have to work for that cautiously and painstakingly, and not by making very emotive statements which can inflame either side at the moment.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Under the heading of positive things to do, will the right hon. Gentleman now put at the top of the agenda an all-out effort to get the front-line Presidents to call off the killing maiming, which are no longer necessary? Will he also send to Mr. Joshua Nkomo from his many old friends and admirers in this House the request that he, too, should call off the killing and return to Salisbury to get involved in talks before he misses the bus?

Dr. Owen

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said about Mr. Nkomo. He is a nationalist leader of distinction who has made great sacrifices for his country. He has been in prison, and he is not to be described as a terrorist and guerrilla in that sense. He has taken up armed fighting for the liberation of his country. Everyone has to come to a time when he has to decide what is in the best interests of his country. I hope that at an appropriate time, which I shall certainly try to bring about, he will feel able to participate in fair and free elections and that those in Rhodesia at the moment will so arrange the discussions that it is possible for him to do so with dignity and honour.

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is still important for him to keep in touch with the front-line Presidents since there are many people throughout the world, especially coloured people, who acknowledge that in their endeavours my right hon. Friend and Mr. Andrew Young have shown great patience in trying to achieve a real solution and not a pro tem one? My right hon. Friend should not be too concerned about the Conservative Party, whose members have so reluctantly agreed to any form of endeavour to bring Mr. Smith to heel. What my right hon. Friend has to realise is that if Smith and his cohorts had been black men who had rebelled against the Crown, the Opposition would have been screaming for their lives.

Dr. Owen

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The House knows that of the five front-line Presidents three are distinguished Heads of Commonwealth Governments who are, by the Heads of Commonwealth Governments' communiqués, supporters of the principles which have been endorsed by this House of trying to achieve a settlement in Rhodesia, and I believe that they wish to see Rhodesia as an independent Zimbabwe and as a full member of the Commonwealth. They have supported fair and free elections, and I shall certainly use all the influence I can to see that they use their influence, as I am sure they will, to try to bring about the unity which is necessary if all the nationalist leaders are to enter into fair and free elections.

Mr. Amery

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, at the end of the day, the acceptability or otherwise of the internal settlement should depend only on whether this House agrees that it conforms to the six principles? Although, naturally, we want to see as much international acceptance as possible, will the right hon. Gentleman make it plain that he will not be dictated to on the question of international constitutional acceptability by the Soviet Union or the frontline Presidents, most of whom are not the leaders of democratic countries, or even by the United States, whose experience of civil rights is fairly recent?

Dr. Owen

The first test of acceptability, and the most important one, is for the people of Rhodesia as a whole. It is then for this Government and for this House to determine whether that acceptability is valid. The only authority to legalise the situation in Southern Rhodesia is the House of Commons.

Mr. Arthur Bottomley

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Mr. Molloy) said that we should not be worried about the opposite side of the House. This is far too serious a matter for party divisions. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to carry out the policy that he is following, because this is the only way that will bring about a satisfactory result. We do not yet know enough about what is proposed in Rhodesia. Are those in detention to be released or not? Will he make sure that those in detention and the leaders of the Patriotic Front are joined together before any Rhodesia settlement, otherwise it will never be solved?

Dr. Owen

It is envisaged that those in detention will be released, but the details have yet to be discussed. There are very important details to be discussed with many other Governments in Africa who understand the need and desirability of getting the greatest degree of international acceptance for a settlement. The South African Government throughout have stressed the importance of having international acceptability if possible, and anyone looking at the situation, at the dangers of continued violent struggle with the present level of forces there, and at the damage being done internationally can understand the desire to make peace.

Mr. Hastings

Has the Foreign Secretary had time to consider Ambassador Young' statement before Malta to the effect that his version of the Anglo-United States initiative is that it must be acceptable to the East—that is, to the USSR? I have written to him on this matter. Will he dissociate himself from this statement, and from pressure and advice from this quarter, which is positively dangerous?

Dr. Owen

I have already stressed that the United States Administration at present enjoys better understanding and respect in Africa and has greater involvement in Africa than it has had for many years. One of the people who has made a major contribution to this end has been Ambassador Young. The United States Administration has been a firm supporter throughout of the Anglo-United States initiative and I have no wish to say anything today that will endanger that relationship in any way.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I shall call the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) and then two more hon. Members from the Opposition, because a great number of Opposition Members have been standing since the beginning. I would remind the House that we have to get through the business questions and the timetable motion.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will my right hon. Friend agree that there is something surprising—or perhaps not so surprising—in the fact that the Opposition have accepted a deal cooked up by Mr. Smith without looking at the terms? At the moment as far as we know there have yet to be major discussions on the real issue—who will control law and order in the transitional period? Why does the Foreign Secretary think that on this occasion Mr. Smith is genuine in his attempts to reach a peaceful solution?

Dr. Owen

I have made no secret of my view that Mr. Smith has responded to considerable pressures put upon him in many way from different quarters. The composition of the security forces, as Bishop Muzorewa indicated on Sunday, is one of the major issues to be discussed and put before the transitional Government. If a satisfactory solution could be achieved it would offer a way of bringing back into Rhodesia many people who are outside the country fighting for their freedom.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

The Foreign Secretary said that it was important to reach agreement with those presently inside and outside Rhodesia. In view of what is going on in the rest of Africa, will he give an assurance that the pressures that he will put on the Patriotic Front and its allies will be at least as strong as, and, I hope, stronger than, the pressures put on those who have reached an agreement within Rhodesia? Will he accept that if an interim Government is formed, without agreement from those outside, but which accords with the six principles, it will be the responsibility of this House and Britain to ensure that that regime is brought about as quickly and peacefully as possible.

Dr. Owen

In the discussions that hope we shall be able to undertake between all the parties, I shall use all the persuasion I can and bring to bear all the influence of the Government to try to bring about a necessary compromise. Clearly, that includes the forces of the Patriotic Front and other nationalist parties.

On the interim Government, I think that this House will want to be very sure of the eventual transition to a fully independent Government and the constitutional independence of Zimbabwe before making the decision for which the right hon. Gentleman asks. This is not a new condition. It is part of the six principles. The relationship of the interim Government to the final stage has yet to be discussed, and Bishop Muzorewa wants the election to be held in September this year. The quicker the country can be brought to full independence, the more likely we are to get a satisfactory solution.

Mr. Aitken

Does the Foreign Secretary realise that his answers this afternoon give the impression that he is making an ungracious climb-down from what has turned out to be a policy of backing the wrong horse? Will he, with Ambassador Young, pay more attention to the peace-loving, democratic Africans within Rhodesia than to the guerrillas outside?

Dr. Owen

Bishop Muzorewa and the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole both supported the Anglo-United States initiative throughout all stages since its introduction in September last year. They are still arguing that the proposals that they have achieved within Rhodesia accord with this initiative. Any objective observer of the scene, seeing what has happened, would not deny that one of the pressures which brought about the significant change has been the acceptance of the Anglo-United States initiative and the proposals for which we have been fighting.

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