HC Deb 24 October 1979 vol 972 cc420-34
The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Ian Gilmour)

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

When the House rose, the Government were close to completing their consultations on the way to build on the progress made inside Rhodesia so as to bring the country into independence with wide international recognition.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary went to the meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government at Lusaka with the objective of securing their support for a renewed effort to find a settlement and end the war. The agreement reached there paved the way for the present constitutional conference at Lancaster House. It was agreed that, in the event of agreement on a new constitution, there should be fresh elections in which all the parties would be able to participate, properly supervised under the British Government's authority and with Commonwealth observers present. Such an election, if all agreed to stand by its result, would offer the prospect of an end to the war.

In the past six weeks we have achieved agreement on a constitution which, indisputably, provides for genuine majority rule, while including appropriate safeguards for minorities. Both Bishop Muzorewa's delegation and that of the Patriotic Front have made substantial concessions from their opening positions to reach agreement with us on the independence constitution, which we believe will provide a sound, just and democratic basis for the future of an independent Zimbabwe.

The task before us in the conference is to reach agreement on the arrangements for implementing that constitution. The key element in those arrangements will be, as agreed at Lusaka, free and fair elections, properly supervised under British Government authority, and with Commonwealth observers". Bishop Muzorewa's delegation has already declared its willingness to participate in such elections in order to bring the new constitution into effect.

Her Majesty's Government are willing to discharge in full their constitutional responsibility to see that elections are held on a basis that will give every party a fair chance to state its case to the people of Rhodesia. We have made proposals to the conference about the arrangements to bring the independence constitution into effect, and we are engaged in discussing them with the delegations.

It is in the interests of all the people of Rhodesia and of the neighbouring countries that elections should take place as soon as possible to implement the constitution and allow Rhodesia to proceed to legal independence. Our proposals provide for the appointment of a British Governor, with executive and legislative authority during the brief interim. Under the Governor, an Election Commissioner will have the task of supervising the conduct of the elections. Commonwealth observers would be invited to witness them.

I would not underestimate the difficulties that lie ahead of us, but we have reached a wider measure of agreement on the constitution than has hitherto been possible and the British Government have accepted their responsibility to supervise the process of putting it into effect. What we have proposed is fully within the letter and spirit of the Lusaka declaration. We see no need for elaborate administrative and constitutional structures during the interim period or for a lengthy interim period with all the unrest and uncertainty that that would bring. Any restructuring that may be necessary will be for the elected Government to undertake within the constitutional framework.

If our proposals are accepted, as I hope they will be, and a ceasefire is agreed, the way will be open for an end to the war and for Zimbabwe to take its place in the international community as a free and independent nation in the very near future. I hope that the House will support the Government in their efforts to bring this about.

Mr. Shore

I thank the Lord Privy Seal for that statement, which, as he knows, I asked for as soon as the House reassembled.

This is the first exchange that we have had since the Lusaka conference and it is right that on behalf of the Opposition I should congratulate all the Commonwealth leaders—and I include the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary—on the outcome of the Lusaka conference. Lusaka made possible what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I urged in the debate on 25 July, namely, the abandonment of unilateral British support for the Salisbury settlement and the mounting of a new effort by all involved to achieve a settlement and peace in Zimbabwe.

The constitution has been substantially recast and agreed, thanks to compromises on all sides, but can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the United States Government have indicated their willingness to assist in financing a land fund? Land was an important issue and it is not mentioned in the present statement. We should also be grateful for more information on this Government's contribution and thinking on that important proposal?

The most difficult part of the negotiations and the subject of the greater part of the statement is the creation of conditions in which generally free and fair elections can be held, and I have four questions on that. My first concerns the interim pre-election administration. We welcome the appointment of a Governor to assume executive and legislative powers during the transition and accompanying dissolution of the present Government and Parliament in Salisbury, but would it not be much more acceptable and workable if the Government were assisted by a council drawn from the principal parties attending the London conference?

Secondly, on the election arrangements and their preparation, while we certainly do not want an unnecessarily long period, we think that two months is an absurdly short period. Apart from the fact that a number of the main participants in the London conference have been in exile and their parties outlawed for several years past, surely a four-to six-month period is much more realistic? It would permit such important achievements as the registration of electors.

Thirdly, on the crucial question of the armed forces the statement is entirely silent. Have the Government ruled out any step towards integration of the armed forces? If so, and assuming a ceasefire, does the Minister agree that it is essential for the armed forces to be stood down and confined to barracks and camps and for these arrangements to be independently supervised? Are we to assume, as I think we must, that the police are to undertake the onerous task of maintaining law and order and preventing coercion? If so, has the Minister plans for augmenting and controlling the police to ensure that they behave in an impartial way?

My fourth question relates to the role of the Commonwealth. The statement said that members of the Commonwealth are to be invited to witness the election. I believe that the Commonwealth has played and could play a greater and more helpful role than suggested, in particular in helping to supervise the maintenance of the ceasefire and monitoring and perhaps augmenting the arrangements for policing Zimbabwe in that period.

We have had what is inevitably a very long interim report and we shall return to this matter. I earnestly hope that the Government will be flexible in discussions about the pre-election arrangement and will consider carefully and sympathetically all proposals that will help to build confidence in that. There is no doubt that the so-called "second-best solution" of a bilateral agreement with only one party to the London conference is no solution at all. This would be a failure of the most dangerous kind for Britain, Zimbabwe and Southern Africa as a whole.

Sir I. Gilmour

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for his congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and other Commonwealth Heads of Government. He asked about the important subject of land. We started off from the position that it made no sense at all to think of a wholesale buying-out of the white farmers, because they make an invaluable contribution to the economy at this time, particularly when there is a shortage of food elsewhere in the area.

The Foreign Secretary made clear in his statement to the conference on 11 October that we are prepared to provide technical assistance and capital aid for agricultural development schemes that are proposed and promoted by the new independent Government. The United States Government, as the right hon. Member correctly suggested, associated themselves with that statement.

On the question that the right hon. Gentleman raised about the interim period, we have already made it clear that we do not favour, and regard as impossible, the integration of the armed forces. I ask his indulgence on the other questions. We are only just embarking on the discussions about the interim period, and these will be most delicate and difficult negotiations. Of course we shall be flexible and shall consider sympathetically and carefully everything that is put forward. However, I hope that on reflection the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we must negotiate first in the conference and then report to the House, rather than the other way round.

Mr. David Steel

Whatever detailed reservations we may have about some aspects of the proposed constitution, will the Lord Privy Seal accept that we, too, believe that the Government, and particularly the Foreign Secretary, deserve congratulations for the remarkable progress that has been made so far in the conference?

Is it intended that the appointment of a British Governor signifies the return to legality and that in the interim period he will be in command of the security forces, whatever their composition? Secondly, I must agree with the official Opposition about the concern over the extreme brevity of the interim period proposed by the Government. In particular, how do they propose to deal with the voting rights of Rhodesian citizens who are out of the territory of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia? Will it not take more than two months to resolve that?

Sir I. Gilmour

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said at the beginning of his questions. Of course, the appointment of a British Governor and the taking-up of that appointment will signify a return to legality, and executive and legislative powers will be vested in him.

I take the point that both right hon. Gentlemen made about the shortness of the period, but I stress that it must be to everyone's advantage to press forward quickly in an electioneering atmosphere. As soon as the constitution and the interim arrangements have been agreed, Rhodesia will, in effect, be in au electioneering period. Whatever else can be said about elections, they are not very good at uniting a country. Therefore, we strongly believe that it is to the advantage of Rhodesia that the transitional period should be as short as possible.

Mr. Amery

The Government paper laid before the conference stated that there will be agreement between the opposing forces of the security forces and the Patriotic Front regarding disengagement of those respective forces. Does this mean that the Government contemplate the Patriotic Front forces returning their arms? Does it mean that there will be areas under their control? The Government paper states that the security forces will be responsible to the Government. To whom will the Patriotic Front forces be responsible?

Sir I. Gilmour

The answer that I gave the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) applies to this question as well. These are matters that we shall be negotiating at Lancaster House in the next few days. I feel that they must be discussed there before they are debated in detail in this House.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Will the Government recognise, before it is too late, the potentially disastrous consequences of making this House responsible—even nominally responsible, through the Governor—for persons and things over which there cannot possibly be any effective control?

Sir I. Gilmour

At the Lusaka conference we accepted responsibility for bringing Rhodesia back to legality with the aim of bringing peace to that land and an end to war. As the former colonial Power—although I appreciate that Rhodesia was not an ordinary colony—that is our duty and we have every intention of discharging our obligations.

Mrs. Knight

Bearing in mind the extreme urgency of settling this matter, has my right hon. Friend or the Foreign Secretary any timescale in mind for this conference, or will these matters be permitted to be drawn out for a very long period?

Secondly, my right hon. Friend will be aware that the newspapers have made great play of the major points of disagreement as to who will pay the settlers when they leave. Can he tell the House of any steps that he may take to ensure that the settlers feel safe enough to remain in Rhodesia?

Sir I. Gilmour

That has been one of our main objectives from the word "go". What I said to the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar about land is relevant here. We appreciate the enormous contribution that the white community has made and is making to Rhodesia, and it is our objective that it should stay there. That is why, although the constitution provides for full and undisputed majority rule, there are good safeguards in it for the minority.

As to the length of the conference, I assure my hon. Friend that every delegation feels that the conference has already gone on for a long time—which it has—and speaking for myself and my right hon. and noble Friend, we very much hope that it will come to a speedy conclusion.

Mr. Faulds

As to the interim arrangements, does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that British authority is suspect among the great majority of people in Southern Rhodesia, because of the long history of pro-Smithism on the Conservative Back Benches, and, if I may say so, the somewhat partisan chairmanship of his right hon. and noble Friend? [Interruption.] It is seen in that light in Southern Rhodesia. Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that a United Nations presence is much to be preferred and much safer than only a British and Commonwealth involvement? And that in place of a British Governor there is need for an independent overseer who is internationally acceptable?

Sir I. Gilmour

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman really added to his reputation by that intervention. The first part of his question goes entirely against what was decided at Lusaka. He had better take up the matter with the Heads of Government, who agree that the election will be supervised by us. Evidently, they did not believe that we are distrusted in Rhodesia—nor do I, and nor does the House. Secondly, it is quite untrue—the hon. Gentleman is totally misinformed, or uninformed, and should not make such allegations—to say that my right hon. and noble Friend has been in any way a partisan chairman.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

I accept the need for a British Governor to take over in the interim period and, equally, the need for him to dissolve Parliament, but does not my right hon. Friend believe that sacking the present elected Government and giving full executive and legislative powers to the British Governor will encourage the Rhodesians to believe that the British Government are backing the Patriotic Front to the exclusion of existing settlements?

Sir I. Gilmour

I do not see how that inference could possibly be drawn from our appointment of a Governor. It is the only proper way to bring Rhodesia back to legality. The other interim arrangements will be discussed at the conference.

Mr. Jay

Presumably, before the new constitution is introduced there will have to be legislation in the House to ensure its full legality. Will the Minister tell the House what are the Government's plans about that, and at what stage he expects to introduce the legislation?

Sir I. Gilmour

The right hon. Gentleman is right. Legislation will have to be passed through the House, and I hope that it will come before the House fairly soon. I cannot give an exact undertaking of its timing, because that will depend on the progress of the conference.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that to expect a properly and duly elected Prime Minister to return to his country without status or power is quite intolerable? Need I remind my right hon. Friend that Bishop Abel Muzorewa was elected by 64.8 per cent. of the Rhodesian electorate and returned with an overall majority? How can my right hon. Friend expect him to return to his country without power or status? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that, if the multi-racial black majority Government of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia does not work, the prospects of good evolutionary developments in the rest of Southern Africa will be put back for a generation? The black people of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia are bitter at the British Government's failure to honour their manifesto commitments.

Sir I. Gilmour

The last part of my hon. Friend's question is as inaccurate as what was said by the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds). I assure my hon. Friend that I do not need reminding of what happened in the spring election. We are conscious of Bishop Muzorewa's achievement at that election and we have paid tribute constantly to that achievement. We hold him, as does the whole House, in the highest possible respect. The interim arrangements will be discussed at the Lancaster House conference.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

I do not wish to press the Lord Privy Seal for details before the negotiations, but does he not recognise that the establishment of a constitution will not be the successful outcome of the conference unless it stops the war? To stop the war would require, at least, the assent of the Patriotic Front. Some of the Foreign Secretary's tactics in relation to the Patriotic Front seem to be intended as excluding it from the negotiations.

Sir I. Gilmour

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying so, the first part of his question is a truism. It is obvious that if a war is going on and all sides do not agree to stop that war, it will continue. We are well aware of that point, and I accept it. The second part of the hon. Gentleman's question is totally wrong. My right hon. and noble Friend has chaired the conference in the most admirable way. I can testify to that fact, because I have been there the whole time. The House should realise that after a lengthy period of discussion the conference has to reach decisions, as we in the House reach a decision after a debate. That is what we have to do about the constitution, and I believe that most fair-minded people would agree that the conference arrangements were handled extremely well.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the difficulties that might arise in maintaining law and order when a British Governor has assumed powers in Rhodesia? What contingency plans do the Government have for ensuring that the rule is effective?

Sir I. Gilmour

Supervising an election under a ceasefire instead of at the end of a war will not be an easy task. We all accept that fact. We are trying to do something that is vitually unique—to start arrangements for an election while a civil war is going on. I agree that the difficulties are great. We have made considerable progress so far, and the real difficulties referred to by my right hon. Friend will be discussed and negotiated by the parties at the conference.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that because the Lusaka agreement was reached in advance of negotiations it is impossible to expect that agreement to be binding on a British Government in every respect? If the agreement that the supervision should be British is adhered to the Government are not showing the flexibility that is needed to end the war. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, with two parties in a war, to allow one party—the forces of the Smith regime in Southern Rhodesia—to remain in control of the affairs of the country, even under the British Government, renders settlement hopeless? Will he consider sending a Commonwealth force—not just observers—to break the deadlock between his insistence that there will be no integration and the Patriotic Front's insistence that there will be integration?

Sir I. Gilmour

As I said earlier, every Head of Government of the Common- wealth agreed that there should be British supervision. Nothing has happened since Lusaka to lead us to believe that that was the wrong decision. We have every intention of sticking to that decision. I am firmly convinced that it is the only way to make things work. We welcome Commonwealth observers and we are committed to the proposal. Indeed, we hope that the observers will come from a wide spectrum of the Commonwealth. I believe that that will be the right way to proceed

Mr. Farr

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress that he and our right hon. and noble Friend have made. Will he tell the House whether arrangements have been made to guarantee the continuity of the Rhodesian Civil Service and its pension rights by the new Government after the takeover?

Sir I. Gilmour

The agreed constitutional framework contains detailed provisions about pensions for Rhodesian civil servants and for continuity.

Mr. Hooley

Does the Lord Privy Seal agree that the proposed Governor's position could become impossible unless he is given either a Commonwealth or a United Nations force to maintain his authority during the interim period? Will there be full and proper registration of electors in the interim period, and will sanctions be maintained until such time as a fully and properly elected Government are in Rhodesia?

Sir I. Gilmour

I see the argument for registering voters but, as the recent experience of Botswana showed, that would take a long time. If we are to proceed quickly, registration will be impossible. However, the matter will be discussed and and there will be careful measures to ensure that there is no cheating or double voting. I have dealt with the question of a Commonwealth or a United Nations force. On the question of sanctions, those will be lifted as soon as possible, as my right hon. and noble Friend stated last week. I cannot go further than that at this stage.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

As there is no constitutional precedent of which I am aware, how does the Lord Privy Seal justify the progress of negotiations which, however worthy their objectives, can succeed at best by diminishing and at worst by subverting the authority of an elected Government? If the price to be paid for success is accommodation with a group far better described as criminal rather than patriotic, how will a future democratically elected Government claim its legitimacy, provided there is one terrorist group that finds its position irreconcilable to that of the official elected Government?

Sir I. Gilmour

I do not quite see what the absence of a constitutional precedent has to do with the rest of my hon. Friend's question. The reason why we are here, and the whole point of the conference, is that there has been an extremely bloody war in Rhodesia. My hon. Friend seems to gloss over that. The whole purpose of the negotiations is to bring peace and an elected Government to Rhodesia. My hon. Friend and others may call the Patriotic Front whatever they like, but it is no good trying to ignore the fact that the Patriotic Front is there, and it is generally agreed by most people in Rhodesia that the country cannot prosper unless there is a return to peace.

Mr. Newens

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm or deny reports that South African troops took part in a recent raid into Zambia organised by the Muzorewa regime? Does he agree that such participation would be an ominous development and would endanger the outcome of any talks? If that participation is proved, what action will the right hon. Gentleman take to deter further South African involvement in the affairs of Rhodesia?

Sir I. Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman is getting slightly muddled. President Kaunda said that there had been an attack on Zambia by Rhodesian forces and another attack elsewhere by South African forces, which was nothing to do with Bishop Muzorewa's Government or the Rhodesian situation. It was connected with Namibia, which, unfortunately, we are not discussing today.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Bearing in mind the importance of the question of land, have the Government ruled out paying compensation to white farmers who may, for one reason or another, have to leave their farms after the next election? Bearing in mind, also, the need for international recognition, will the Government keep in mind the possibility of inviting United Nations as well as Commonwealth observers for the elections?

Sir I. Gilmour

I have already answered the second part of my hon. Friend's question. We do not believe that United Nations observers are necessary. There will be many people there anyway—the press and the rest—and we believe that Commonwealth observers will be more than enough.

I do not think that it it for us to buy out the Rhodesian farmers. We want them to stay, and we have written into the constitution, and have agreed, safeguards that should protect their position. We regard that as vital for the future economy of Zimbabwe.

Mr. McNally

Is the right hon. Gentlemban aware that the House is a little disturbed about his vagueness concerning the future of sanctions? Is he aware that there is at least an element in the Muzorewa delegation, encouraged by Conservative Members below the Gangway, who hope for more from failure than from success? The right hon. Gentleman could disabuse them now by expressing his justified confidence that he has in the House a majority to continue sanctions if the negotiations fail.

Sir I. Gilmour

I cannot see why the hon. Gentleman should be so anxious for sanctions to continue. Our objective is to bring about a situation in which the reasons for sanctions disappear, and we are firmly on course for doing that.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call four of the hon. Members who have been seeking to catch my eye. We shall then have to move on.

Mr. Higgins

As the spring elections were conducted on the basis of a constitution that all parties to the negotiations now accept was not satisfactory, does it not follow that no Government can reasonably be regarded as legitimate in Rhodesia until fresh elections are held?

Sir I. Gilmour

That is true as far as the international position is concerned, but we must recognise that the election of a black Government in May, with 64 per cent. of the votes, was a considerable achievement. Just as we do not want to exaggerate what happened, we certainly must not underrate Bishop Muzorewa's achievement.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

While I welcome my right hon. Friend's robust rejection of the grotesque idea that there can be an integration of the warring armed forces, may I ask him to give an assurance that in the further negotiations and in any instructions that may be given to a Governor who may be accepted, the confidence and efficiency of the armed forces of Rhodesia under their present command will be maintained?

Mr. Robert Hughes

That is precisely what could scupper the whole thing.

Sir I. Gilmour

We do not wish to undermine the confidence or efficiency of any part of the Rhodesia armed forces, or of anybody else. It will certainly not be any part of the Governor's duty to do so.

Mr. George Gardiner

Throughout the Lancaster House talks there have been repeated suggestions, at least credited to Foreign Office sources, that even if the main sanctions order is not presented to the House for renewal next month there are certain other sanctions, deriving their authority from other Acts, which would be proceeded with anyway. Does my right hon. Friend accept that such suggestions reflect gravely upon the good faith of the Government? Will he undertake that any decision will be made on sanctions in their totality and not on a piecemeal basis?

Sir I. Gilmour

The reports to which my hon. Friend has referred have nothing to do with good faith; they are merely a question of fact, and it is a fact that the sanctions would not completely fall as a result of action taken on section 2. My hon. Friend knows from what has been said before and from what I have said today that our objective is to get rid of all sanctions as soon as possible.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the achievement of agreement on the constitution has made the Lancaster House conference worthwhile and that the other side of the fact that the Bishop will not be Prime Minister until new elections are held is that the Patriotic Front will have no justification for carrying on the war when it has agreed the new constitution?

Sir I. Gilmour

The agreement on the constitution has been a considerable step forward, but we are aiming higher than that ffi we are aiming at the end of the war and the setting up of a peaceful, independent Zimbabwe.