HC Deb 21 November 1979 vol 974 cc384-7
Mr. William Shelton (by private notice)

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the mobilisation of Zambian military forces against Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.

The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Ian Gilmour)

On 20 November, President Kaunda announced the full mobilisation of his country's resources as a result of recent Rhodesian raids on bridges in Zambia. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sent a personal message to President Kaunda on 20 November expressing her concern and the Government's determination to bring all such incidents to a speedy end. My right hon. and noble Friend is seeing the Zambian high commissioner this afternoon.

As the House is aware, the persistent tension between Rhodesia and Zambia, of which this is the latest manifestation, is caused by the conflict in Rhodesia, which we are trying to resolve through the Lancaster House conference. We have come closer to a settlement than ever before. Any intensification of violence by either side at this stage is clearly contrary to the spirit of reconciliation that we are trying to create.

There is a heavy responsibility on all parties to the conference to end the war quickly now that agreement on the political issues has been reached, and we call upon both sides to reach early agreement on the ceasefire on the basis of the proposals that we have put forward.

Mr. Shelton

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. May I take it that he is aware of, and sympathetic to, the growing pressures on all the countries involved, not least on Zambia and its Government? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that general restraint on all sides is the best way forward? Is he aware that the House would warmly welcome an early and successful conclusion to the Lancaster House conference?

Sir I. Gilmour

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and agree entirely with what he said. As he may be aware, yesterday our high commissioner in Lusaka sympathised with Zambia over the loss of life and property. Of course, we deplore all actions at the present time that lead to an increase in tension.

Mr. Shore

Following the blockade of Zambia's maize supplies, these are obviously serious developments upon which the Lord Privy Seal has made his statement. Is it not clear that these recent raids on Zambia are different in character, scale and purpose from previous attacks on specific Patriotic Front camps and targets? Is not the aim the economic dislocation and political destabilisation of a country whose leader, President Kaunda, has made a major contribution both at the Lusaka conference and at the London conference? Is it not entirely wrong, at a time when opinion rightly expects—the Lord Privy Seal has emphasised this—not an escalation but a de-escalation of military action, for the Rhodesian authorities to sour and prejudice the ceasefire talks in this way? I applaud the expression of sympathy to President Kaunda and to Zambia, but will the Lord Privy Seal also make plain to the Rhodesian authorities, and particularly to General Wall, who is in London, that the Government share the unanimous view of the Commonwealth high commissioners, expressed last night, that these attacks are provocative, deplorable and should be stopped forthwith.

Sir I. Gilmour

As to the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, we have already been in touch with the Salisbury delegation. I agree with the implication of the right hon. Gentleman's remark that President Kaunda is a close friend of this country and that he has played an important part both at Lusaka and at the Lancaster House conference. However, the House will be aware that there are two related problems. The first is the extent and increase of armed infiltration into Rhodesia and the second is the action taken by the Rhodesians themselves. Only the authority of the British Governor can bring this situation to an end. Once he has arrived, his authority has been accepted, and effective liaison arrangements have been made with neighbouring countries to prevent cross-border activity from their side, both problems can be dealt with. That is why we are so anxious not to lose momentum but to press forward to reach final agreement at Lancaster House.

Mr. John Townend

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that the British Government will not accept responsibility for paying compensation, as demanded by President Kaunda?

Sir I. Gilmour

Of course, we do not accept any responsibility for the damage caused by the Rhodesian raids, but as a friend of Zambia, and once the ceasefire has been agreed, we shall wish to play our part in assisting Zambia to restore her infrastructure.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is an extension of Question Time, but I shall call those hon. Members who have been standing if they are brief.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will the right hon. Gentleman go further than simply expressing sympathy, and unequivocally condemn these raids into Zambia? Is he aware that these continuing raids put in jeopardly all the good progress made at Lancaster House, and are designed by the white military in Rhodesia precisely to break up the Lancaster House talks?

Sir I. Gilmour

I have already made it entirely clear that we deplore all actions by either side that lead to an increase in tension in the area.

Mr. Hooley

Will the Lord Privy Seal go a little further, and offer Zambia any necessary technical or practical assistance to make good the communications that have been so disastrously disrupted?

Sir I. Gilmour

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can have been listening to one of my previous answers, when I said that once a ceasefire had been agreed we would aim to help Zambia restore her infrastructure.

Mr. Spearing

Since these raids have reduced the momentum towards peace, does the Lord Privy Seal not agree that some indication of British backing for a possible Commonwealth force might bring both peace and a successful conclusion a little nearer?

Sir I. Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman will have seen our ceasefire proposals, which were put forward last Friday. I think that he will also agree that experience in this House has shown that negotiations are best carried out at Lancaster House rather than in this House.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is the intransigence of the British Government at the Lancaster House conference not to accept a Commonwealth force that has allowed the white supremists in Southern Rhodesia to continue these attacks upon Zambia?

Sir I. Gilmour

When we debated the Southern Rhodesia Act we heard a certain amount from the hon. Gentleman and other Labour Members about the intransigence of the British Government. I am sure that if they reflect on those comments, and on the subsequent agreement that was reached with regard to the transitional arrangements, they will agree that a little restraint now would not be out of place.

Mr. Shore

The ceasefire negotiations are continuing, and it is obvious that they should succeed. In the meantime, is not the simplest way out of this problem for the Government to speak to General Wall and to require him to stop these far-reaching raids into Zambian territory?

Sir I. Gilmour

I have already explained that we have spoken to the Salisbury delegation. The right hon. Gentleman will be well aware that we are now at probably the most delicate stage of these extremely delicate negotiations, and I do not intend to go any further than I have already done.