HC Deb 11 December 1979 vol 975 cc1076-85
The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Ian Gilmour)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on Rhodesia.

We are approaching the conclusion of the Lancaster House conference. Last week, agreement was reached on our proposals for a ceasefire. The final details are still being discussed. Earlier this afternoon my right hon. and noble Friend made in the conference a new presentation of our detailed proposals for the implementation of the ceasefire. We have given assurances about the security of the Patriotic Front forces and that the monitoring force will be adequate to monitor the Rhodesian forces, through their command structure down to company level.

We have explained that the Patriotic Front forces will be sited in their operational areas in locations that will meet their concern that they should not be in close proximity to Rhodesian bases. We have therefore been able to provide the Patriotic Front with the assurances that they have been seeking about their security and the disposition of the Rhodesian forces.

It is important to see the present stage in the perspective of what has already been accomplished. The issue of majority rule, which has been the fundamental cause of the conflict in Rhodesia for 14 years, has been resolved by the independence constitution.

It has been agreed that there should be fresh elections to resolve the question of who should exercise political power. The parties have accepted that a British Governor should exercise legislative and executive authority to supervise the elections and bring Rhodesia back to legality. There is agreement on our proposals for a ceasefire. In the light of what has been agreed, it would be indefensible to continue the war.

Ideally, we would have preferred the final details to be agreed before beginning to put the settlement into effect on the ground, but it is essential to maintain the momentum if we are to achieve a settlement involving all the parties, and if what we have achieved so far is not to be eroded by events outside the conference.

We believe that the proposals that we have put forward this afternoon should lead to early and complete agreement. My right hon. and noble Friend, Lord Soames, will therefore leave later this afternoon for Rhodesia. Delay could risk prejudicing what has been achieved at the conference. The Governor's arrival will help to stabilise the situation and normalise relations with neighbouring countries.

A British authority in Salisbury is necessary to make the final arrangements for bringing the ceasefire into effect. Legality will be restored and sanctions will be lifted with Lord Soames's arrival and the acceptance of his authority.

The Governor will set in train the arrangements for elections. The Government are determined to carry out their responsibility to bring Rhodesia to legal independence at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Shore

This is a highly unsatisfactory statement, for reasons that we have already intimated. There are risks and difficulties enough, in any event, with the arrangements made for the Governor to assume the heavy responsibilities that await him in Salisbury. To throw him in there before a ceasefire has been agreed is, in our view, a foolish policy and a foolish act.

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman straight away this question: if a new presentation of the ceasefire details has, according to his own statement, simply been presented this afternoon, why could he not at least have waited for a response to those proposals and delayed Lord Soames' departure for the necessary and, we hope, very short period that would have elapsed? What possible advantage exists for sending him, ahead of his own support and ahead of a ceasefire, to Salisbury, as now proposed?

I should like to follow the point put to the Prime Minister by my right hon. Friend a few moments ago. What instructions does the Governor take with him to the armed forces over whom he is about to assume control? Is he taking with him precise instructions to cease forthwith attacks on bases in neighbouring territories of Rhodesia, such as occurred only a few days ago? Is he seeking to secure at once an immediate scaling down of the whole military operation there?

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Commonwealth monitoring force has been alerted and whether it is also about to depart? If not, what arrangements are being made for its arrival in Salisbury? Will he not confirm that the whole reason for the extraordinary acceleration of the timetable is concerned with the fact that the Rhodesian authorities are in the process of voting themselves out of existence during the course of today and tomorrow, and there is to be a lacuna in the government of Rhodesia?

Sir I. Gilmour

That was, if I may say so, a very extraordinary reaction. We have now put forward ceasefire proposals that are utterly fair and meet all the Patriotic Front's concerns. We have already made those available to the House. I appreciate that Opposition Members have not yet seen them. When they see them, I trust that they will give their full support. We shall be achieving tomorrow what everyone else has failed to achieve in 15 years—a return to legality in Salisbury. If we lose that chance, we may lose it for ever.

One would hope that the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour Party would have learnt a little from history. After all, when we were taking the enabling Bill through the House the Opposition said a lot of things that do not stand up well today. I hope that they will bear that in mind.

I should now like to turn to the right hon. Gentleman's more pertinent questions, following his opening remarks. When to send the Governor must be a matter of judgment. It is a fine judgment. It depends to a great extent on the dynamics of the conference and what is happening in Rhodesia. We have to be the judges of that. If we allow the situation to slip, hostilities may escalate. We have seen the dangers of that over the weekend.

The question of monitoring is one of the reasons why we need to get the Governor there now to supervise the arrangements for preparing the rendezvous and assembly points to receive Patriotic Front forces. He has to be able to make preparations for the assembly of the monitoring forces. They are standing by, but, naturally, arrangements have to be made on the spot.

Mr. Shore

I understand the Lord Privy Seal's irritability. Frankly, he does not feel entirely confident about the decision that has been made. Perhaps I may press him on the most pertinent of the questions that I put. What instructions does the Governor take with him in relation to the use of the Rhodesian armed forces from the moment that he arrives and assumes command?

Sir I. Gilmour

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already answered that. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The Rhodesian armed forces, like the rest of the administration of the State, will be under the authority of the Governor, and the Salisbury Administration have agreed to accept that authority.

Mr. Shore

This really is not—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]. No, it really is not good enough. It is treating the House with contempt to refuse to answer a question of major importance. The Governor is sent out under the instructions of the Secretary of State and under the general instructions and the authority of the Cabinet. Will the Lord Privy Seal say what instructions he will be taking out in relation to the use of the Rhodesian armed forces, both outside the frontiers of Rhodesia and inside them?

Sir I. Gilmour

He will, of course, be in command of the armed forces. They will come under his authority. Of course, one of the main purposes of the Governor in going to Rhodesia is to bring an end to cross-border activities by both sides.

Mr. Tapsell

Does my right hon. Friend accept that while a decision for Britain to resume responsibility for Rhodesian affairs at this point in time obviously involves dangers that are uncertain, any decision not to do so would involve dangers at least as great, which would be absolutely certain?

Sir I. Gilmour

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I entirely agree with what he says. Of course, we have always conceded that there are dangers in what we are doing, but we have always been told to assume responsibility for Rhodesia. This is what we have done. As I have made clear to the House—I think that most hon. Members agree—we are doing the right thing. To let this conflict drag on would be entirely contrary to the interests of Rhodesia, Southern Africa and this country.

Mr. Arthur Bottomley

Does not the present situation in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia show the need for an effective United Nations peacekeeping force? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to raise the matter at the present meeting of the NATO Powers?

Sir I. Gilmour

I regret that the right hon. Gentleman really cannot have been following the negotiations at Lancaster House very carefully. We are well past that stage. We have agreement on the constitution, on the interim arrangements and on our ceasefire proposals. Only the details remain to be worked out. To introduce a United Nations force at this stage would not be at all helpful.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the current purpose of the Patriotic Front at Lancaster House has been delay, in order to push polling day into the season of the rains, when the bush provides cover for terrorist intimidation? May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing that disgraceful process to an end?

Sir I. Gilmour

I certainly would not wish to speculate on the motives of the Patriotic Front. As I told the House earlier, I am confident that we shall reach an agreement with the Patriotic Front later this week. I do not want to go any further than that.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Am I to understand, therefore, that Lord Soames will assume control of the government of Rhodesia as from tomorrow, on his arrival? Is that the actual position? Secondly, the Lord Privy Seal said a moment ago that he hoped that the Lancaster House talks would be concluded this week—and we hope so, too. Is that the sort of timetable for which he is hoping?

Sir I. Gilmour

That is true. Lord Soames will be arriving tomorrow and he will assume immediate authority. I should perhaps say, in clarification of an answer given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that he will have with him his own personal protection.

Mr. Dobson

Will the Lord Privy Seal tell us whether, following Lord Soames' arrival in Rhodesia, troops of the British Crown Colony of Rhodesia, as it will then be, will be involved in future in cross-border raids into the neighbouring territories?

Sir I. Gilmour

I thought that I had already answered that. We are confident that there will be final agreement on our proposals. Obviously, in those circumstances, the Government do not and could not contemplate action that would damage relations with neighbouring countries. In this situation we also hope that they, too, will exercise all available influence to ensure that there is no cross-border activity from their side.

Mr. James Callaghan

That does not answer the question. Supposing the attack comes from the Patriotic Front, which has not, as yet, accepted the authority of Lord Soames, what is to be the response of Lord Soames? What instructions has he been given?

Sir I. Gilmour

I have answered the question three times. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is at this stage talking about internal or external matters.

Mr. Faulds

Don't be silly. Answer the bloody question.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) will withdraw that remark at once.

Mr. Faulds

What remark am I to withdraw?

Mr. Speaker

The remark that the hon. Member has just made, of which he and the whole House are aware.

Mr. Faulds

Because I want the matter to get on, if it is the word "bloody" I will withdraw it.

Mr. Speaker

The House is much obliged.

Sir I. Gilmour

As I have already made clear, the Salisbury forces will be under the authority of the Governor as soon as he arrives. We hope—I am personally confident of it—that in a short space of time the Patriotic Front forces, after an agreement at Lancaster House later this week, will also be under the authority of the Governor.

Mr. Farr

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that as from the Gover- nor's arrival in Rhodesia later tonight sanctions will be automatically lifted and the new State of Zimbabwe will resume normal relationships with the rest of the world?

Sir I. Gilmour

On a point of detail. Lord Soames arrives tomorrow afternoon. Obviously, when he arrives Rhodesia will return to legality, but her relations with other countries depend as much on other countries as they do on Rhodesia.

Mr. James Johnson

I should like to revert to an earlier question about a United Nations peacekeeping force. Does the Minister not see the implications of this question? If he were to have a United Nations peacekeeping force it would be a basis for future action and it might lead to something that could be used by NATO. Will he not consider the matter in this wider context?

Sir I. Gilmour

I am all for looking at matters in a wider context, but I think that at the moment Rhodesia is sufficiently important in itself to be looked at purely as a problem in isolation. We have made our proposals for a monitoring force. We know the exact numbers that will be coming, and I think that it would be entirely misguided if we tried to alter those plans at this very late stage.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. This whole question is to be debated by the House all day tomorrow. I propose to call three more questions from each side of the House.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

What undertakings has my right hon. Friend received from the Governments of Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa that from the moment of the British Governor's assuming authority in Rhodesia no troops, no ammunition, no money and no support will go from their territories into what will then be a British territory?

Sir I. Gilmour

Rhodesia's neighbours are well aware of the position. As I told the House last week and, I think, also the week before that, from the arrival of the British Governor there will be no foreign intervention in Rhodesia.

Mr. Whitehead

Will the Lord Privy Seal explain the paradox arising from the fact that he said that the new ceasefire terms are satisfactory to the Patriotic Front and yet Lord Soames is going there without a ceasefire agreement in his pocket? What are the arrangements for the assembly of the Rhodesian armed forces in bases? Is the right hon. Gentleman absolutely confident that those are analogous to the arrangements for the Patriotic Front? Otherwise there is a great danger of pre-emptive strike by one side or the other in exactly the circumstances for which Lord Soames appears to have no precise instructions.

Sir I. Gilmour

I think that the hon. Gentleman will wish to read our proposals in full. I have placed them in the life Library. The hon. Gentleman will want to read them in detail, and I believe that he will be satisfied with them. Putting it broadly and summarily, if all the Patriotic Front forces assemble with their arms, and all cross-border movement of armed Patriotic Front forces ceases, there will be no need for the Rhodesian forces to deploy from their company bases.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Does the Lord Privy Seal recall that while he and many others were euphoric about the breakthrough in the ceasefire, the Rhodesian security forces attacked camps in Zambia and Mozambique, where people were assembling to return—as they are entitled to do—to take part in the arrangements for Rhodesia? Has he made investigations into that? Was it done by the direct order of General Walls, or with his authority and knowledge? If not, how can we guarantee that the Rhodesian security forces will not similarly act, in the next couple of days, as soon as Lord Soames arrives? What are his precise instructions to the Rhodesian security forces?

Sir I. Gilmour

It is not denied that there has been considerable infiltration into Rhodesia by Patriotic Front forces. They have been going across the border very quickly. As I said earlier, that is one of the reasons for sending the Governor out to Rhodesia. From now on, the Rhodesian forces will act only with the Governor's authority.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Patriotic Front attack since the announcement of the ceasefire, and the Salisbury forces' attack, are in danger of escalation, and that sending Lord Soames out early is not an acceleration but the avoidance of delay if the ceasefire details are agreed in the next day or two?

Sir I. Gilmour

My hon. Friend is right. As most of the House will agree, it has been evident, and a feature of the conference, that to keep up momentum is very important. Last weekend's events showed the dangers of not doing so. Everybody at the conference is aware of the dangers of delay and, therefore, there was a strong case for sending out Lord Soames.

Mr. James Callaghan

I make it clear that although we do not think that the Lord Privy Seal has answered the questions satisfactorily, it is certainly our hope that at the end of the 14 long years that Rhodesia has gone through he will, as he says, be able to provide the Patriotic Front with the assurances that it has been seeking about its security and the disposition of the Rhodesian forces. I hope that if this is true the Patriotic Front will have no hesitation in accepting it, so that we may go ahead with a return to legality and to free elections.

Having said that, I must say to the right hon. Gentleman that we still do not understand why it would not have been possible to wait until he had received a formal reply and so have avoided the risks that he is now running from the Patriotic Front, before sending Lord Soames to Rhodesia.

Sir I. Gilmour

As I said earlier, there are risks attached to either course. I appreciate that, and it was our judgment that there were lesser risks in what we have done.

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his initial remarks. If there can be all-party agreement upon our proposals it will make it all the more likely that they will be accepted by the Patriotic Front.

Mr. Concannon

Will the Lord Privy Seal say a little more about the British and Commonwealth force of 1,200 soldiers that is due to go to Rhodesia? Some of us are concerned about the delicacy of the task being offered to it. When is it to go? What is it supposed to do when it arrives? Will the right hon. Gentleman say something about the recent history of observers? Some of us are concerned that we shall be pulled into something that the House does not wish for the British forces.

Sir I. Gilmour

Except for the personal security guards that the Governor is taking with him, no British or other troops will arrive in Rhodesia until the final details of the ceasefire have been agreed. Thereafter, they will arrive quickly. They will have the detailed and vital tasks of monitoring both sides to ensure that the ceasefire is observed and to notify any breaches.

Mr. Churchill

Will my right hon. Friend be somewhat more specific? Has Her Majesty's Government received positive undertakings from the front-line Presidents that, as of the return to legality tomorrow, all infiltration of armed terrorists from their territories will be effectively controlled and prevented? Failing such undertakings, what steps do the Government propose to take to ensure that that is done?

Sir I. Gilmour

I have nothing to add to what I said on this in answer to an earlier question.