HC Deb 10 July 1979 vol 970 cc263-74
The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Ian Gilmour)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement about the Government's policy on Rhodesia. As the House is aware, it is the Government's objective to build on the substantial progress made in Rhodesia in order to bring that country to legal independence with wide international acceptance and to enable Rhodesia to live at peace with its neighbours.

My right hon. and noble Friend Lord Harlech agreed to carry out consultations with other Governments on the best way to achieve this objective. He has held discussions with the Presidents of Zambia, Tanzania, Botswana, Malawi and Angola; with the Mozambique Government, and with the Federal Military Government in Nigeria.He also met representatives of the two wings of the Patriotic Front. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs held discussions with the President of the Organisation of African Unity and with other African Governments. Lord Harlech explained the Government's view that there has been a fundamental change in Rhodesia. He found an encouraging recognition that major changes had taken place, though there was criticism of the constitution. It was put to him that a solution must stem from the British Government, as the legally responsible authority, and that an attempt should be made to bring the war to an end.

Lord Harlech saw Bishop Muzorewa and his senior colleagues in Salisbury last week. He explained the views expressed to him elsewhere in Africa and assured Bishop Muzorewa of our intention to work with him, as with others, for a settlement.

Later this week my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary will be continuing these discussions with Bishop Muzorewa in London.

We have also been in touch with our partners in Europe, with the United States Government, and with other Commonwealth and African Governments. The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Lusaka in August will have an important place in our further consultations.

The Government intend to carry out their constitutional responsibility to bring Rhodesia to legal independence in accordance with the wishes of the people of that country. When our consultations have been completed, we shall make proposals designed to bring Rhodesia to legal independence on a basis which we believe should be acceptable to the international community.

Mr. Shore

I must first thank the Lord Privy Seal for fulfilling the pledge, given to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition by the Leader of the House last Thursday, that there would be a statement. I take this opportunity of asking the right hon. Gentleman to confirm that it will, indeed, be his practice in future to make statements to this elected House when similar statements are made in the other place.

I believe that this is a thin statement. It certainly confirms my view that we need an early and, indeed, searching debate on the whole of Southern African policy. But I am sure that the House will at least welcome the range of contacts that Lord Harlech and Ministers have had, including those with Bishop Muzorewa, the front-line Presidents of the Patriotic Front and our partners in the Commonwealth, the EEC and the United States.

Does the Lord Privy Seal agree that the next step is to bring together all the parties involved in talks and, in the meantime, to seek to maintain and extend the temporary and perhaps fortuitous ceasefire? Will the Lord Privy Seal confirm that it is now the Government's view that very substantial changes are needed in the present Zimbabwe-Rhodesia constitution if there is to be any real prospect of achieving a lasting peace settlement? I hope very much that the right hon. Gentleman will put these points very forcefully to Bishop Muzorewa during his visit to London.

If those changes are agreed, does the Lord Privy Seal agree that there can be no question of lifting sanctions or of recognition of Rhodesia until the results of further negotiations and their acceptability are known?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman do his best, in the undoubtedly difficult and delicate task that lies ahead, to ensure that efforts to find a basis for further talks and reconciliation are not prejudiced by off-the-cuff remarks of colleagues, however eminent they may be?

Sir I. Gilmour

I can confirm that whenever a statement on foreign affairs is made in another place a statement will also be made in this House. But, of course, that does not apply when speeches are made in another place.

The right hon. Gentleman complained about the statement being thin. I am sorry about that, but he will appreciate that the reason for the statement was that he and his colleagues asked for it; it was not that I had anything particularly interesting to say.

I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman appreciates the range of contacts that we have. Of course, we all agree that the continuation of the ceasefire, such as it is, would be welcome. We all deplore the violence that is taking place.

With regard to constitutional change and other matters, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are consulting the bishop during his visit this week about ways of finding a solution that will involve wide international acceptance, but we have made no proposals at this stage.

Mr. Aitken

In these continuing consultations, will the Government express their view on the question whether all of the six principles, on which so much past discussion has been based, are now being honoured and upheld by the Muzorewa Government?

Sir I. Gilmour

It is perfectly clear that considerable progress has been made towards satisfying the principles accepted by successive British Governments. I think we all agree about that. However, the Government recognise that doubts remain in some quarters, and we are considering the best way to make progress in the light of Lord Harlech's discussions.

Mr. Grimond

As the statement and, indeed, answers to questions today make clear that the Government abide particularly by the fifth principle, that is to say, that any settlement must be acceptable to a substantial majority of Rhodesians, and as it appears that they are not so satisfied at this moment, can the right hon. Gentleman say what steps the Government intend to take to find out whether any settlement is acceptable to the Rhodesians?

Sir I. Gilmour

With respect, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has necessarily interpreted my previous answer correctly. As I said, our objective is to bring Rhodesia to legal independence with the widest possible international acceptance and recognition. We are considering the best way of doing that, but, as I said in my statement, our consultations have not yet concluded.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many Conservative Members think that the only way forward may be an interim period of internal self-government as a British colony prior to a free election under universal suffrage leading to independence?

Sir I. Gilmour

My lion. Friend has already conveyed that view to me, and I am aware that it is shared by a number of other people. As I think I have told the House, at this stage we rule out no method of bringing Rhodesia back to legal independence.

Miss Joan Lestor

Bearing in mind that the legality of Southern Rhodesia rests not just on acceptance by the international community but also on acceptance by the majority of the people of Southern Rhodesia, and bearing in mind that the internal settlement was never put to the majority of the people of Southern Rhodesia but only to the whites—the blacks voted only on who should administer the settlement, not on whether they wanted it—can the right hon. Gentleman say what steps he is taking to find out whether this settlement is acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole?

Sir I. Gilmour

The hon. Lady says that the blacks voted only on who should administer the settlement, but the fact is that 64 per cent. of them, under extremely adverse conditions, did vote. I should have thought that the hon. Lady would recognise that that was a remarkable happening, which changed the situation fundamentally. It was the finding of Lord Boyd and the others who reported that the fact that the blacks voted in such numbers indicated an acceptance of the conditions under which the election took place.

Mr. Amery

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the constitution in itself and the election which Lord Boyd found to be a test of acceptability of the constitution mean that, in effect, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia has returned to legality, even if only as a self-governing colony?

Sir I. Gilmour

No. Interesting as my right hon. Friend's constitutional ideas are, I do not think that that conclusion can be drawn. But, as I have made clear —in this respect I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend—that election was an extremely significant event.

Mr. Whitehead

I revert to the last question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), which was not answered. Since there have been consultations with the American Government, can the Lord Privy Seal tell the House what view the Americans have expressed as to the contrast between President Carter's statement about sanctions on 16 June and the off-the-cuff remarks of the Prime Minister in Japan?

Sir I. Gilmour

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are working extremely closely with the American Government. It is true that there was a difference between what President Carter said in his judicial determination and what Lord Boyd said. On the other hand, as the hon. Gentleman will remember, the President said that considerable progress had been made in Rhodesia and that the election showed that.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Since the authorities in Rhodesia—and now Zimbabwe-Rhodesia—have made a number of concessions to the other point of view since the original agreement between Dr. Kissinger and Mr. Smith for the establishment of multi-racial democracy, can my right hon. Friend say what concessions at any time have been made by the Patriotic Front?

Sir I. Gilmour

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend says. A great many concessions have been made, but at the present time we are not particularly concerned with the concessions that the Patriotic Front is prepared to make. We are concerned with bringing Rhodesia back to legal independence.

Mr. Ennals

I want to pursue further the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) in relation to sanctions. Is not our own negotiating position greatly weakened by the statement made by the Prime Minister that this House of Commons would not approve the continuation of sanctions? What made her say that? Is she not aware that Labour Members would give full support to sanctions? What is the difficulty that she is now facing?

Sir I. Gilmour

I do not think that our negotiating position has been weakened in any way. My right hon. Friend made the position clear in her answer to the House on 3 July. The fact is that we are anxious to proceed to bring Rhodesia to legal independence. To hang on until November, in the hope of preserving a negotiating weapon, is not the right way to produce a settlement.

Mr. Tapsell

Does my right hon. Friend agree that no settlement of the Rhodesian problem is likely to be successful unless the majority of the Matabele people can be brought to accept it?

Sir I. Gilmour

I agree with my hon. Friend that ultimately no solution of the Rhodesian problem will be successful unless the majority of the whole of Rhodesia, however it is divided, supports it. It is certainly our aim to achieve that.

Mr. Faulds

Will the right hon. Gentleman make the simple and straightforward statement that there will be neither recognition of the Smith-Muzorewa regime nor the lifting of sanctions until there have been constitutional changes in Southern Rhodesia and the dismissal of Smith?

Sir I. Gilmour

I said in my statement that our consultations are continuing and that the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Lusaka will be an important part of those consultations. I do not think that the sort of partisan declarations for which the hon. Gentleman is asking in any way help negotiations.

Mr. Wall

Are the Government pressing for major changes in the entrenched clause of the constitution? If so, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the danger that whites may leave Rhodesia and the security forces and the economy may collapse?

Sir I. Gilmour

We are well aware of what my hon. Friend said. We are not pressing, but we are having consultations with Bishop Muzorewa. We will be discussing with him later this week a way towards a solution that will gain the present regime in Rhodesia wide international acceptance. We have made no proposals at this stage.

Mr. James Johnson

Is the Lord Privy Seal able and willing to answer the question which I put to him a fortnight ago, which he so charmingly avoided? Is he aware of any leader in the old or new Commonwealth who is supporting the line taken by the Prime Minister? If that is not so, is the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister prepared to go to Lusaka as a minority of one to lift sanctions and support the Muzorewa-Smith regime? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would care to turn and ask her?

Sir I. Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman will have heard me say that the meeting at Lusaka is an important stage in our consultations. He will also have heard me say last week that it is not for me, in this House, to state the view of any member of a Commonwealth Government.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Which of the doubts that my right hon. Friend suggests exist about the progress in Rhodesia repose in the Foreign Office? Is he concerned about the six principles or the election, and will he say exactly what doubts he has? Will he confirm that on the three main issues—the return to legality, the recognition, and the sanctions —while international opinion is essential, it is a decision for this House alone?

Sir I. Gilmour

My hon. Friend should know that there is no Foreign Office policy. There is a foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government. Any attempt to draw a distinction between the policy of the Foreign Office and anyone else is wrong. As my hon. Friend well knows, we cannot solve the Rhodesian problem on our own. Our concern must be to help Rhodesia attain independence in conditions that offer the people of that country the prospect of a more secure and stable future, which must involve a serious attempt to win the widest possible international acceptance.

Mr. Dalyell

Are the Government aware of the deep concern of certain major companies in Britain that they have been unable to tender for major export contracts in Nigeria? Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that the Nigerians are unlikely to allow tenders until the Rhodesian situation is clarified? What guidelines are the Government giving to such companies?

Sir I. Gilmour

I cannot answer the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question because it is beyond my competence, but I am well aware of certain difficulties with the Nigerian Government, not entirely because of the Rhodesian question. We are in consultation with the Nigerian Government about the matter, and Lord Harlech went there in an attempt to ease the situation.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Will my right hon. Friend remember that the capacity of Commonwealth countries, including Nigeria, to damage our economy depends on the willingness of our allies and partners in Europe to supplant our trade there? Will he bear that in mind when talking to our Common Market colleagues?

Sir I. Gilmour

I shall certainly bear in mind the comments of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Newens

Did any of the Governments with whom Lord Harlech had discussions express a vestige of support for the idea of lifting sanctions or recognising the Muzorewa Government?

Sir I. Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman must have heard what I said in my statement, and I shall not weary the House by repeating it. There is general although not universal recognition of the fact that considerable changes have taken place in Rhodesia. I am amazed that so many Labour Members appear not to appreciate that. There is a black majority Government and Parliament instead of a Parliament and Government elected by 3 per cent of the population. By any standards that is a major change, and it is on that change that we are seeking to build.

Mr. Hastings

Whatever the consultations may or may not achieve, will my right hon. Friend agree that the first priority must remain the wishes of the Rhodesian people of all races as expressed at the ballot box? They have accepted the situation. If we do not stand for that, what do we stand for? Why should outside opinion seek to change that situation?

Sir I. Gilmour

We stand for the victory of the ballot box over the bullet. That is undoubtedly our policy. As I have said, it will not be in the interests of this country or Rhodesia for us to act entirely on our own. It is in Rhodesia's interests for security, stability and peace to return, and that demands a large degree of international acceptance.

Mr. Hooley

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that the sanctions order passed by this House is still valid? What action is the Government taking to interdict the flow of oil and arms that is enabling the illegal regime to make murderous attacks on its neighbours?

Sir I. Gilmour

It is widely accepted in this House that the observance of sanctions by this country has been far stricter than by almost any other country, including those on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Mr. Emery

Will my right hon Friend realise that, whilst it is the unanimous wish of Conservative Members to see sanctions lifted and recognition given, a number of hon. Members believe that if that recognition were to be given solely by ourselves and condemned by the rest of black Africa, it could be, in the long term, harmful not only to Rhodesian but to British people living there? If, therefore, the Government need some months to try to bring world opinion round to support our policy, a large number of hon. Members would support that.

Sir I. Gilmour

On my hon. Friend's first point, it is implicit in Government policy that we need wide international acceptance and recognition in what we have been doing. We agree that unilateral action by Britain would not be in the interests of this country or Rhodesia.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that if, after the widest consultation, it is clear that the conditions do not exist for a return to legality and that there is no acceptance within the Commonwealth or the United Nations that progress has been made, in November the Government will lay the sanctions order for decision in this House?

Sir I. Gilmour

I should not dream of giving an assurance based on a lot of hypotheses that I do not accept.

Mr. Higgins

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the constitution in Rhodesia cannot form the basis of a permanent settlement, since it contains a number of highly discriminatory elements? Will he do everything possible to ensure that consultations are carried out to produce a constitution that is acceptable?

Sir I. Gilmour

It is possible to make criticisms of the Rhodesian constitution, just as it is of the British or American constitution. These matters have been discussed and will continue to be discussed with African leaders, and in due course we shall make proposals.

Mr. James Callaghan

Whilst we acknowledge the attitude of the Lord Privy Seal this afternoon, we must say to him that it is not criticisms that we make of the constitution. There are fundamental defects that should be corrected, and we hope and trust that the Government will pursue that.

Reverting to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) said, we need a debate at the earliest possible opportunity before we break up in order further to elucidate the Government's attitude on that issue. Even though the right hon. Gentleman thought that he had nothing useful to say this afternoon, the past 20 minutes have been educational for everyone. They have shown the Prime Minister that if only she stands up she will get a lot more support from her side of the House than perhaps she thought.

Sir I. Gilmour

With respect to the Leader of the Opposition, there is not a great deal of difference between criticism of the constitution and defects in the constitution. All constituents can be criticised, and have defects. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for suggesting that I have not entirely been wasting the time of the House.

Several Hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call one more hon. Member from either side.

Mr. William Clark

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Muzorewa Government were to fall it would be a victory for Communism and a blow for the West?

Sir. I. Gilmour

I am sorry that I did not answer the Leader of the Opposition's question about a debate. A debate has been agreed to. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Clark). Of course it would be a very sad day if the bishop's Government fell but, touching wood, I see no prospect of that happening.

Mr. Flannery

Does the Lord Privy Seal agree that his statement has been received with grave disquiet from Conservative Members and that may have been unexpected? Is he intent on giving the stamp of legality to a regime in which 3 per cent.—the white minority—have 28 per cent. of the seats and an inbuilt veto? Does he not realise that the whole of black Africa is against this, and that the Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole has opted out and claimed that the election was not a proper one?

Sir I. Gilmour

I agree that there are criticisms of defects in the Rhodesian constitution, but I wish that the hon. Member would look at it the other way. The fact is that this situation has changed profoundly. Not so long ago 3 per cent. of the population governed the whole of Rhodesia, and now that position has been fundamentally transformed. There is a black Prime Minister, a largely black Government, and a largely black Parliament. Surely that makes a great difference.