HC Deb 12 December 1979 vol 975 cc1475-84

Question proposed, That this schedule be the third schedule to the Bill.

Mr. Dobson

I am advised by my hon., but not learned, Friends that this is the appropriate moment to advance my argument. In the debate on 12 November on the Southern Rhodesia Bill, No. 1, so to speak, which was rushed through the House of Commons—

Mr. James Lamond

Like this one.

Mr. Dobson

Yes, like this one. On 12 November I asked the Lord Privy Seal, in Hansard at column 1098, to give an undertaking that nothing in the Bill, or in consequential legislation flowing from it, would grant any indemnity or amnesty to anyone who had been breaking sanctions. In the right hon. Gentleman's reply—I refer to column 1099–he merely abused me for attacking the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The Chairman

Order. I must bring the hon. Gentleman to order. He must address his remarks to the contents of schedule 3. We are not dealing with the repeal of the Southern Rhodesia Act 1979.

Mr. Rowlands

The schedule repeals sections 3(4) and (5) of the Southern Rhodesia Act 1979.

The Chairman

I apologise to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson), and I invite him to continue.

Mr. Dobson

I believe that it is in order, Mr. Weatherill, to suggest that a further section should be included. If that is so, it seems appropriate to raise the matter now. I appreciate that in the earlier debate, when the negotiations at Lancaster House were at their height, or possibly depth, it was reasonable, and perhaps necessary, for the Lord Privy Seal, even if it was irritating for my right hon. and hon. Friends and for some of his hon. Friends, not to come clean on what was going on at the conference, and not to draw out in great detail matters that were then in dispute between the Government and the other parties to the conference.

Having been faced with that straightforward question, surely the right hon. Gentleman was under an obligation. If he now grins and says "You are too late in the No. 1 Bill to catch up with an amnesty on sanctions", I contend that be was honour bound during the passage of the No. 1 Bill to acknowledge, when asked the specific question by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and myself, that it was the Government's intention that the No. 1 Bill when enacted would provide the power to grant an amnesty or indemnity in the circumstances that my hon. Friend and I had in mind. In those circumstances, it is appropriate for the Government to put forward an amendment to schedule 3 that will make it clear that that part of the Southern Rhodesia Act 1979 has been repealed. That is the only way in which the Lord Privy Seal can honourably discharge his duty to the Committee.

Mr. Rowlands

Further to that interesting point and to the fact that the Southern Rhodesia Act 1979 has reared its head as a result of the Lord Privy Seal's earlier reply, will he tell us when, during the debate on that measure, he and his colleagues drew our attention to fact that the provisions in clause 3(1)(b)(ii) cover that aspect? Will the right hon. Gentleman make a statement about the effect of repealing sections 3(4) and 3(5) of the Southern Rhodesia Act? If one reads sections 3(4) and 3(5) of that Act, one sees that they maintain four of the Orders in Council even though section 2 of the Southern Rhodesia Act 1965 has lapsed. Section 34(c) deals with Southern Rhodesian matrimonial jurisdiction. What will happen to that when that order is repealed? The fourth order that was covered by subsection (4) was the immunity order for those attending the Lancaster House conference. If that conference continues but the Zimbabwe Bill becomes an Act, will immunity be withdrawn? What provision in the Zimbabwe Bill maintains immunity for those attending that conference? If the Zimbabwe Bill is enacted before that conference finishes, what provisions will apply? Section 3(4) will be abolished as a result of the Bill. Will the Lord Privy Seal tell us what will happen to those four orders for which special provision was made in the Southern Rhodesia Act 1979? What part of the Zimbabwe Bill will cover those four orders?

A part from any matrimonial problems that may arise as a result of the abolition of section 3(4)(c) of the 1979 Act, what will happen if section 3(4)(d) is abolished? That provided immunity to those attending the Lancaster House conference. If that has been abolished, where do party delegates to that conference obtain immunity?

The Attorney-General

I did not raise a point of order on the speech of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands), but his objection concerns section 3(4) and (5) of the 1979 Act. Those sections were provided to protect, in particular, British citizens. For example, it protected those who had obtained divorces in Southern Rhodesia after the Adams v. Adams case of 1970, which created an odd position. A woman had succeeded in a divorce action and been granted a decree nisi by a judge who had been appointed before UDI. In fact, that divorce was not recognised. She was in this country with children, the unfairness of that was recognised, and a special order was laid by the then Foreign Secretary, now my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Home. That was one of the orders that was kept going in the Southern Rhodesia Act 1979 until we could get the Zimbabwe Bill through.

However, the hon. Gentleman's objection goes back to the immunity which relates to the repeals in schedule 3. Those repeals are merely those designed to protect those who might otherwise have suffered unfairly because they had no direct connection—for example, in the Southern Rhodesia (Matrimonial Jurisdiction) Order—with Rhodesia, or to protect the immunity of persons attending the Lancaster House conference. Those have been provided for in the present Bill and were, therefore, properly repealed in the Southern Rhodesia Act 1979.

Mr. Rowlands

Exactly where in the Zimbabwe Bill is the immunity for persons at the conference?

The Attorney-General

The immunity is provided, as I think the Committee has been told, in clause 3, where one finds that there is now an amnesty in respect—

Mr. Dobson

On a point of order, Mr. Chairman. Why are people being cast out of the Strangers' Gallery?

The Chairman

That is not a point of order.

The Attorney-General

I am sorry, but I did not quite understand the purpose of the interruption. I am always sad to lose any audience, whether here or anywhere else, but probably none of my constitutents is there.

The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil will appreciate that the immunity is contained in clause 3(2), but the whole purpose, as I think my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal said, is to wipe the slate clean domestically within the confines of Rhodesia.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

12.2 am

Mr. Winnick

There should be no doubt that many of us remain unhappy with the Bill. Had the Lord Privy Seal been more willing to accept some of the amendments, I believe that he would have gone some way towards satisfying Labour Members. I refer particularly to the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) regarding parliamentary approval before the Order in Council is made. However, there was no willingness to accept any of the amendments, and that is rather unfortunate.

The Government must satisfy more than this House. International opinion will be very concerned to see that if a ceasefire takes place fair and free elections occur, and above all that there is complete fairness in the way in which political arrangements are carried out after a ceasefire.

It is also extremely important that the United Kingdom is not seen as taking the side of one of the parties if a ceasefire is duly agreed upon. There remains a great deal of suspicion beyond these Benches, throughout Africa and Asia, that there is an inbuilt sympathy on the part of the British Government for the Salisbury authorities. Therefore, it is extremely important that if a ceasefire is agreed upon the elections occur as freely and as fairly as possible in all circumstances.

Britain has suffered a great deal of criticism during the 14 years of UDI. It is possible that some of this criticism was not always justified. My right hon. Friend said that we had to bear in mind that since 1923 Rhodesia had been a self-governing colony and that we did not have the responsibility or the power. That may well be so, and I agree with my right hon. Friend, but some of the criticism that has been levelled at us, and certainly that over sanctions busting, was more than justified. Therefore, when historians come to write of the period from 1965 to the present, and the next few months, I do not think that we shall be altogether happy about Britain's role under successive Governments since UDI in November 1965.

Above all, if a ceasefire is implemented, we must ensure that in the remaining months, we carry out our responsibility in the fairest possible way and that we do not allow our conduct to be such that it leads to more international criticism that would be justified.

Although there has been no Division on the Bill's Second Reading and it is unlikely that there will be one on Third Reading either, many of us remain rather unhappy over the whole position.

12.6 am

Mr. Robert Hughes

I shall not detain the House for long.

The future of the new Zimbabwe is now clearly mapped out in respect of its Government. I think that all of us would wish that we had no need to return to debate the issue whether independence should be conferred upon Zimbabwe because things will have gone so well that we shall all be delighted at the turn of events. Nevertheless, we have expressed reservations during the passage of the Bill. I regret that the Lord Privy Seal's answers did very little to reassure us, because he found it very difficult to address himself to the points under discussion.

Instead of the right hon. Gentleman formally moving the Third Reading, I had hoped that he would take the opportunity to reply to the serious challenge made to him about his failure to reply to the substantive point about immunity. It is clear from Hansard that he was specifically asked by two Members of the House to give an assurance that no immunity would arise out of the Southern Rhodesia Act 1979. He declined to answer. I am sure that he did not deliberately mislead the House, but it is clear that the House was, in fact, misled. I had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would take this opportunity to make clear how far the intention goes to link this Bill and the Southern Rhodesia Act 1979 concerning policy on amnesty and immunity. It is clear that the two matters are related.

If all goes well, the Government will take one attitude. If things go badly, they may take a different view. The Lord Privy Seal should not have regarded this Bill and the one that came before it as raising an issue on which one could take the view that has bedevilled this House for years and during the whole of the period of sanctions, namely, that whilst it was not the Government's purpose to lie to the House, it was their purpose just not to tell the truth.

I hope that we shall at some later stage in this legislation find glaring loopholes in what it appears to do compared with the Government's expressed intention or the Government's intention not expressed.

If we wish Parliament to have a reputation for integrity, and if we wish to seek to redress the loss of integrity which Parliament, through successive Governments, has brought about for this country by its behaviour over the Rhodesia issue we could have no better opportunity to do so than during our final acts in dealing with this matter in this House. The Government should try to re-establish our sense of integrity by not trying to slip things through the House without making clear their intentions. I hope that if we ever discuss the independence of Zimbabwe again it will be a matter for congratulation that we have finally laid the past to rest. However, I fear that that will not be the position.

I trust that the Government in their dealings at Lancaster House will not negotiate on the basis of trying to slip things through. The penalty for that will not be paid by this House. The penalty for failure, for not being straight and honest at the Lancaster House negotiations, will be paid in the lives and the blood of the people of Zimbabwe. They have paid enough already. I hope that they do not have to pay any more.

12.10 am
Mr. Peter Bottomley

The last thing of which the Government can be accused is duplicity. If any country wishes to take up the question of sanctions busting—a point raised a number of times—it should do so with those companies which have busted sanctions on a far wider scale—and with far more Government knowledge—than have companies in this country.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Which countries?

Mr. Bottomley

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) asks which countries. If he looks at the United Nations sanctions committee report on some of the Eastern European countries which have been involved in trade with Rhodesia he might ask himself how those countries, with State enterprises, can be brought before some international court or whether they have been so brought up to the time of the legality of Rhodesia.

Mr. Dobson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bottomley

If it will be useful.

Mr. Dobson

I hope that it will be useful. I believe that it is thoroughly reprehensible that all the States that were involved in trading with the illegal regime should have done that, but I think that it must be accepted that the most reprehensible of them is Britain. It was our sovereign territory that was in rebellion against us. It was at our request that the rest of the world imposed United Nations sanctions. We promoted sanctions and we went against them. It is no excuse for successive British Governments, who have dealt with this matter so pathetically at times and so perfidiously at others, to say that the East Europeans, the United States of America, the French and the USSR—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatberill)

Order. The hon. Member must not make a speech.

Mr. Bottomley

I revert to the Third Reading. It is worth saying that I have been behind the efforts of the Government on Rhodesia, and occasionally in front of them. I hope that I have not caused too much difficulty to the Government spokesmen on foreign affairs.

It would be too easy to start listing the possible sources of instability and continued conflict. It is more important that we make sure that everything possible is done to ensure that the initiative that has taken place is not broken on the anvil of intransigent Rhodesian politics during the election campaign after independence.

I hope that we can sweep away all the consequences—sanctions busting or otherwise—of the years of UDI. The last thing that I should like to see after 14 years of failed initiatives is Britain being drawn into fighting a guerrilla war. The only way in which peace will come, and the only way in which the elections can be free and fair, is if the fighting is stopped. That requires effort from all sides. It is probably true that the constitution gives total satisfaction to nobody. However, the spirit of compromise at Lancaster House can be carried forward to Rhodesia.

There are some points that I want to make on the transitional period but I shall keep them for the order that is to follow this debate. My final remark on the Bill, which I welcome, is that the Government must not allow the remarkable achievements of the negotiating table to be placed in jeopardy through half-hearted measures on the ground. I hope that united support for the Third Reading will ensure that the Bill gives the lead and the opportunity to Rhodesia that it has needed not only for the last 14 or 15 years but for the last 55.

12.15 am
Mr. Russell Johnston

It is sad that the Third Reading should be dominated by sanctions busting and the Bingham report, but that does not mean that I think that hon. Members should not deal with the matter. We are doing something that is important. I understand that the Attorney-General gave a specific undertaking that, although the amnesty in the Bill refers to those within the territory of Southern Rhodesia, that does not prevent the DPP from prosecuting British citizens in Britain who have engaged in sanctions breaking. If that is so, we have no complaint.

I do not wish to delay the House. We have been over the arguments. We have watched the Lancaster House talks, without always knowing what was happening. This matter is unlikely to return to the House. We must wait and pray, and hope that it works. I certainly hope that it does.

12.17 am
Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

I do not want the sour comments of some Opposition Members to be characteristic of the Bill's passage. This is the last and perhaps the most difficult example of Britain bringing a colony to independence. It would not be right for that to happen without paying tribute to all those involved in bringing that about over such a long period. Some Opposition Members have overlooked that a large proportion of the Rhodesian people were against UDI. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who was?"] Hon. Members show their ignorance if they do not know that. Many of them, including at least one judge, were against UDI. He courageously and honourably resigned and left the country so that he need have nothing to do with what was happening. Too often do we overlook that there was considerable opposition and that little could be done about it.

We should praise the Government for having done what so many Governments failed to do. We should praise the parties involved for their sense of responsibility and conciliation. We should also praise the front-line States. Nigeria, through its representative at the Lancaster House talks, Alhaji Maitama Stile, has exercised considerable influence and given friendly persuasive advice and support to those who wanted this desirable conclusion. We should all wish "God speed" to Zimbabwe.

12.19 am
Mr. Maxton

I did not intend to speak, but the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) accused my hon. Friends of making sour remarks. It is not justifiable to say that those remarks were sour. As the official Opposition, we have a duty to examine all legislation and make legitimate criticisms of it. That is not being sour. More importantly, we have some distrust of the processes by which the legislation is being carried out. We have good reason to distrust those who have been in power in Rhodesia for the past 14 years. They have not given up power willingly or graciously. They were forced to do so.

We also have some distrust not so much of right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Front Bench but of some hon. Members on the Government Back Benches. We can justly say that if the Labour Government had reached this sort of agreement with all the parties eight months ago those Conservatives would have accused us of selling out the white Rhodesians. Now they are all standing up and praising the Government Front Bench for the deal that has been made. That makes us distrustful of the agreement that has been reached. We distrust the people who have supported the Smith regime for 14 years in the House.

We have been consistent in trying to seek an agreement to which all parties would agree. We are concerned to see that the majority in Zimbabwe get a fair deal and fair elections and are not victimised following the elections.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.