HC Deb 22 November 1978 vol 958 cc1229-37
1. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will now invite the four leaders of the transitional Government in Rhodesia to London.

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

No, Sir, but, as I made clear on 4th October, if there appeared to be overriding reasons for granting immunity from prosecution to one of the parties in the interests of achieving a negotiated settlement I would be prepared to put an Order in Council before the House to facilitate all the parties coming to this country.

Mr. Wall

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Rhodesia leaders' visit to America was a great success? Why will he not ask them to visit the United Kingdom? Is he frightened that they will appeal over the heads of the Government to the British people? Will he put pressure on his friends in the Patriotic Front to come to a conference which the transitional Government have already agreed to attend without any prequalifications?

Dr. Owen

It has been agreed by successive Governments—including the Conservative Government when they held office—that those who are closely associated with the illegal regime should not be offered facilities to enter this country. If they did so, they would be liable to prosecution. That is the legal situation. I cannot change that by executive decision. There would have to be a decision to change the law, and I have indicated the way in which that could be done.

Mr. Stoddart

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, far from being a success, Mr. Smith's visit to the United States put back the cause of peace in Rhodesia by a long way, especially bearing in mind his attitude in the United States which was contradicted by the beastly action that he took in bombing Zambia?

Dr. Owen

I think that we all found it deeply regrettable that the decision was taken to make the raids into Zambia appear to coincide with the discussions—[Interruption.] I do not know whether the Conservative Opposition think that it was a good decision to raid Zambia. We consider it deeply regrettable. It has delayed the possibility of having an all-party conference, and it is certainly not something that should be encouraged by any part of the House.

Mr. Amery

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that he and a number of his right hon. Friends have often pointed out in the House that we had to shake hands with Mr. Kenyatta and Archbishop Makarios. I did so with the Archbishop, with great pleasure. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that Mr. Smith is in exactly the same position? Would it not be very much in the interests of achieving a settlement if Mr. Smith were allowed to come here not only to give his point of view but to be subjected to the expression of British public opinion towards him?

Dr. Owen

One of the first actions that I took in the early months of being Foreign Secretary was to go to Rhodesia to meet Mr. Smith. I met him first in Cape Town and later in Salisbury. I have throughout been ready to meet any of the parties to the dispute. I have been to Salisbury on three occasions to meet Mr. Smith. I am not saying that we should not speak to Mr. Smith. I think that in the search for a negotiated settlement we should speak to him and others associated with the regime. At the moment, I do not believe that it would contribute to a negotiated settlement to allow into this country Mr. Smith and others closely associated with the regime.

Mr. Faulds

Is it not now clear, as I foretold when the matter was first discussed, that the internal agreement is a fraud and a failure?

Dr. Owen

One of the great myths is that the success or failure of the internal agreement will be determined by the attitude struck in this House. Its success or failure was a matter to be determined by what the people of Rhodesia thought of it, and particularly whether the initial claim, that the fighting would be reduced and that the liberation fighters would return, could be sustained. Events have tragically shown that the violence has increased. I think, therefore, that on one of the central problems, which is to bring about a cease-fire, there is as yet no alternative to an all-party conference.

Mr. Pym

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a meeting such as is envisaged in the Question would be very helpful in achieving the fifth principle?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree also that the more talk there is between the British Government and all the parties, the more hope there is for a settlement? Will he say what progress he has made towards establishing a high-level mission in Salisbury?

Dr. Owen

There is another Question on the Order Paper dealing with the right hon. Gentleman's last point.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the more conversations there are between all the parties, the better. That is why I am not closing the door to the possibility that it might be wise to bring them together in the way suggested in the Question. What I am saying is that the time is not right.

5. Mr. Pardoe

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further inquiry he proposes to set up into the role of Her Majesty's Government and the British oil companies with regard to the implementation of sanctions against Rhodesia.

Dr. Owen

The Government are giving careful consideration to the question of a further inquiry in the light of the views expressed when the issue was debated in this House on 7th and 8th November and in another place on 9th November.

Mr. Pardoe

Does the Foreign Secretary recall that that is almost exactly the answer that was given 10 days ago by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who said then that the Cabinet was "actively considering" this? I think that those were his words. I sympathise with the Foreign Secretary and his right hon. Friend in trying to get any kind of decision by the Cabinet, but does he recognise that the House will not easily tolerate a delay which takes place again and again for party political purposes? It is time that we had a decision.

Dr. Owen

I agree. It is important to reach a decision and the House expects that. But extremely complicated issues underlie this and it is far better to come to the House with a proposal which has been carefully worked out and will stand up to the critical scrutiny which hon. Members on both sides will wish to give it, rather than to come with an ill-worked-out proposal on this very difficult issue. As has been promised, we shall explain the position as soon as we can.

Mr. Hooley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the important decision which is now required is one which will bring about the physical interruption of the flow of oil to Smith's war machine, and that this can only be accomplished by imposing an oil embargo against South Africa?

Dr. Owen

In strict logic, I am sure that that is true. The only other way in which this could occur would be if the South African Government themselves decided to make such a decision, but there is very little sign of that happening.

Mr. Stokes

With his experience, does the Foreign Secretary agree that all sanctions are futile, and that Rhodesian sanctions are particularly futile? Instead of looking back in anger on this unfortunate episode, should we not look constructively to the future to see what can be done to help, in particular to help the interim regime in Rhodesia?

Dr. Owen

If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, which I do not think he is, that we should look constructively at how sanctions can be made to be more effective, he has my full support. There is nothing which should give Opposition Members delight in the fact that the history of sanctions as they have been applied does not give the world confidence that they can be used as a substitute for violence. In consequence, we have seen far too much violence and an ineffective use of peaceful means to bring about an end to the dispute. I do not rejoice in that fact.

10. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to visit Rhodesia.

11. Mr. Farr

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

14. Mr. Whitehead

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

20. Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will report on the current situation in Rhodesia.

Dr. Owen

Not at present, but I am in close touch with the United States Administration on how we can best achieve a successful all-party conference and will ensure that the House is given further information shortly.

Mr. Winterton

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that every day that passes means that black and white Rhodesians are losing their lives because of terrorist activities? Will he reconsider his decision, go to Salisbury at an early date to hold a round-table conference with all the parties involved and establish in Salisbury a substantial mission to assist the interim Government, to get an electoral register prepared and to arrange for elections? This is vital to the future stability and peace of that wonderful country.

Dr. Owen

It is important to achieve not only an all-party conference to which all the parties actually come, but one which has a chance of success. That will be very difficult to achieve in the present atmosphere. I have not given up hope that it is possible to achieve, but it will need careful preparation.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I propose to call first those three hon. Members whose Questions are being answered with Question No. 10.

Mr. Farr

Now that the General Election date in Rhodesia has been postponed to 20th April, will the Foreign Secretary seize the opportunity that has been made available by the extra time to assist the Rhodesian Government to prepare properly an electoral register so that a fair test of public opinion may be made on 20th April, with the British Government's backing?

Dr. Owen

There is no doubt that if the Rhodesian Government wish to prepare an electoral register they have the means to do so. The problem that they face is that the level of fighting is such, with martial law covering 70 per cent. of the country, that it is extremely difficult to envisage an election that would be free and fair and would be a test acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole. I do not rule it out, but at present it is hard to see it coming about.

Mr. Whitehead

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this wonderful new oportunity which Conservative Members have described is simply another example of Mr. Ian Smith defaulting even on the so-called internal settlement? Does he agree that that further discredits Mr. Smith's position at any all-party conference? Does he agree also that our own position as honest broker in this matter will vary inversely to the length of time that passes before we set up an inquiry into sanctions busting?

Dr. Owen

I agree that it is important that we should demonstrate our commitment to sanctions and our readiness to ensure that if mistakes have been made or if acts have been taken which have breached our own sanctions legislation, the people concerned should be brought to book.

On the central issue of how to achieve a conference in the present climate, I think that it will require patient preparation and a readiness on all sides to compromise, which at the moment they are not showing a willingness to do.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

In view of the collapse of the Anglo-American initiative, what further consideration has the Foreign Secretary given to the constructive suggestions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) during the debate on 7th November? My right hon. Friend called for a permanent mission in Rhodesia, further negotiations based on the internal settlement, a contact group and a conference to be chaired by the British Prime Minister.

Dr. Owen

On the question of the "collapse" of the Anglo-American proposals, the fact is that these still offer the best framework for achieving a settlement. They are not perfect, and they may need modification and change, but they still offer the best way of bringing all the parties together. What the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) advocates—basing negotiations on the internal settlement—will not even bring all the parties around the conference table, let alone into a measure of agreement.

On the other questions, in consultation with the United States we are looking carefully at the best way of keeping going the momentum for a negotiated settlement. We are considering all the factors that were raised in the debate.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Does my right hon. Friend accept that his influence in Rhodesia will be greatly enhanced if he quickly sets up a full inquiry into the Bingham report on sanctions busting? In setting up such an inquiry, will he resist the temptation to have a cosy little committee of Privy Councillors and judges and make sure instead that Back Bench opinion in this House is in the majority?

Dr. Owen

I promised that there would be no cover up and there will not be. I promised to listen to the House and I have listened very carefully. Some of the points that were made by my hon. Friend were made very forcefully on both sides of the House and we shall take them into account.

Mr. Charles Morrison

The Foreign Secretary gives the impression to everyone that he thinks that he has unlimited time. He has not. Is he aware that his current lethargic approach to the problem is being interpreted by an increasing number of people as a total lack of desire to obtain any settlement at all?

Dr. Owen

I do not think that we have unlimited time. But an example of playing for more time has been the postponement of the elections which were promised for December. Within weeks of the internal settlement we heard private reports of members of the regime touring around talking to civil servants and others behind closed doors and casting great doubt on whether the elections could ever be held in December. Eventually that information became public, and some of our newspapers even managed to print it, at least in some of their editions. The serious fact that must be faced is that from the very outset there have been doubts among many whites in Rhodesia about the sincerity of the regime's commitment to December elections.

Mr. Stoddart

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the front-line States and the Patriotic Front believe that action by this Government in obtaining a settlement in Rhodesia is constrained by the political situation in this country and by the attitude of the Opposition, which is pro rebel Smith? Is there any way at all in which he can convince them that this Government, supported by the majority of the House, are in a position to make a real contribution towards a settlement in Rhodesia?

Dr. Owen

The best way to demonstrate that is by referring to the votes in this House: first to the vote on the Government's general strategy towards Rhodesia and then to the vote on sanctions. The motion on the first matter was defeated by a large majority. I thought that it was wrong to launch an initiative just to get through the sanctions debate. Too often, that has been done. I thought that it was necessary for the House to express its views and to vote, as it did. I regret any division along party lines which occurred on the first motion, but I accept that the sanctions vote was not a division along party lines. We are now taking our time to see how we can achieve a negotiated settlement. I know that time is not on our side, but there is only one card to play, and that is a conference that is successful. I doubt whether we can go through a whole series of conferences, and we want to avoid what happened in Geneva.

Mr. Luce

As it must be the Government's top priority to facilitate a test of acceptability, will the Secretary of State make it plain to Mr. Mugabe, by what-every means possible, that if he wishes to play a constructive role in the affairs of his own people he must immediately repudiate the reported statement by his party that it intends to assassinate no fewer than 50 internal African leaders in Rhodesia? Will he urge Mr. Mugabe to support the ballot box rather than the gun and to participate peacefully in a test of acceptability?

Dr. Owen

Mr. Mugabe has always said that he will accept elections. The statement that came from a press spokesman from ZANU was deeply abhorrent to all of us and I have made my views on that very clear. Furthermore, I have tried to establish the exact support for this idea. Mr. Mugabe is not in Mozambique at present and was not there when this statement was issued. No one would believe that that sort of statement would contribute to a negotiated settlement.