HC Deb 17 January 1980 vol 976 cc2040-7 11.42 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Richard Luce)

I beg to move, That the Southern Rhodesia (Legal Proceedings and Public Liabilities) Order 1979 (S.I., 1979, No. 1601), a copy of which was laid before this House on 7 December, be approved. I am in the hands of the House, but perhaps I should give an explanation of the background to the order. It is a matter of judgment as to how full an explanation the House would like.

The Southern Rhodesia (Legal Proceedings and Public Liabilities) Order 1979 deals with some of the consequences of the lapse on 15 November last year of section 2 of the Southern Rhodesia Act 1965 and of certain Orders in Council made under that section. It also deals with some of the consequences of unconstitutional action in Southern Rhodesia during the past 14 years.

Following the unilateral declaration of independence in November 1965, the Reserve Bank of Rhodesia Order 1965 was made to establish a board of the Reserve Bank in London in place of the Salisbury board. The Reserve Bank Order 1967 substituted a governor and trustee for the board. The purpose of both orders was, inter alia, to deny the illegal authorities in Rhodesia control over Rhodesian funds in London and certain other centres and to safeguard those funds against a return to legality.

Those who served on the London board and as governor and trustee have carried out their duties over a long period with care, skill and dedication. The purpose of article 2(1) of the Legal Proceedings and Public Liabilities Order is to confirm the validity of their actions over that period and those of others who acted in the affairs of the bank on the directions of a Secretary of State and to protect them from any liability. I am confident that the House will agree that such protection, for actions which were, of course, undertaken at the request of the Government, is fully called for.

A number of other provisions of the Legal Proceedings and Public Liabilities Order are concerned with the liabilities of the Government of Southern Rhodesia in respect of its stock or the stock of the former Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland for which Southern Rhodesia assumed responsibility.

As the House will be aware, no payments were made after December 1965 by the illegal regime to the United Kingdom stockholders. Article 3(1) of the order will enable legal proceedings in respect of such stock to be instituted notwithstanding that the usual limitation period for such proceedings has expired. Article 5 limits the liability of the registrars and of the trustees of the sinking funds of Southern Rhodesian Government stocks. They can be required to satisfy judgments for payment of interest or redemption money on such stock only from any moneys of the Government of Southern Rhodesia which they hold in respect of the stock in question and not from any other funds held on behalf of the Government of Southern Rhodesia.

Mr. Edward Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil)

Will the Minister say, in order that we may gain some perspective, how much money is owed to stockholders in this country?

Mr. Luce

The broad estimate available to us is about£45 million. The number of stockholders is difficult to establish. We think that it could be more than 15,000.

Article 6 lays down that where there is any inconsistency between registers of stock kept in the United Kingdom and in Rhodesia, the registers kept in the United Kingdom are to prevail.

The remaining substantive provisions are concerned more generally with debts and liabilities. Article 3(2) provides a Period of six months after the commencement of the order for the bringing of other actions in the United Kingdom against the Crown in right of Southern Rhodesia, even where the relevant period of limitation has expired.

Paragraph 3 of article 3 is designed to ensure that the claims of Rhodesia's creditors are satisfied in an orderly manner. The power to decide how to apply any moneys received since the lapse of sanctions on account of the Government of Southern Rhodesia for the settlement of Rhodesia's existing debts is vested in The Secretary of State, and the respon- sibility will rest on him to see that claims are satisfied in an equitable manner.

Article 4 of the order deals with payments made in discharge of Rhodesia's liabilities during the period since UDI. The order validates such payments and provides for evidencing entries made in registers kept in Rhodesia.

The order is a necessary piece of tidying up, consequent upon the lapse of section 2 of the 1965 Act and Rhodesia's return to legality. In moving its adoption by the House, I should inform hon. Members that the Rhodesian Ministry of Finance has given a clear acknowledgment of Rhodesian liability for pre-UDI debt and of the importance of meeting debt service and arrears of capital redemption and interest. The timing and distribution of service payments will be the subject of official discussions with the Government of Zimbabwe after independence.

I hope that with this explanation the House will see fit to approve the order.

11.48 pm
Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)

I shall not detain the House for long, but I wish to ask three direct questions concerning the banking and personnel side of the order.

I cannot allow this moment to pass without casting my mind back to 1965 when I sat on the Opposition Benches behind the Dispatch Box from which the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) was speaking on the previous order. I recall the first statutory instrument introduced at that time by the hon. Gentleman's Government dealing with sanctions. The Prime Minister of the day, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), was present in the Chamber for that debate. I remember being able to draw him to his feet. I asked him for how long the statutory instrument was likely to apply. We had the famous reply—I do not use the right hon. Gentleman's exact words—"Well, months rather than years, and we hope weeks rather than months."

We consider the measures before us 15 years later. Hon Members on both sides of the House have striven to reach a position to enable such measures to be introduced. The achievement of the Government, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in getting us this far has been tremendous. Thank goodness they have been able to do so.

The Minister will know that since UDI many payments of savings and bank balances have been blocked. Those concerned have been unable to have their funds transferred from Rhodesia to the United Kingdom. That has often meant considerable hardship. Often considerable savings, if not all their reserves, have been made unavailable to them. As I have said, 15 years have passed. Many who have had to suffer hardship are retired. They expect to be able to rely on their moneys in Rhodesia.

Secondly, there are those who served Rhodesia as civil servants or with the police forces. They found that pension payments were blocked. More specifically, widows' pension payments out of Rhodesia to the United Kingdom were blocked. Again, considerable hardship has been suffered. Some of my constituents have been in that position.

The persons to whom I have referred have suffered great hardship. How quickly can they expect to be able to have at least part of their funds—I should like all their funds to be released—made available to them? I ask my hon. Friend to try to ensure that those who are entitled to smaller sums are dealt with first before the larger sums are released to corporations and other interested parties. It is those who have a claim to smaller sums who should be given relief first. I accept that it would be easier in banking terms to release funds to large accounts.

The Minister will know that I have raised with my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal the case of an individual who it is believed was captured by guerrilla forces who were responsible to Mr. Mugabe. He was abducted across the border into Mozambique. A number of people are in that position. Many of them are black Rhodesians but a number are white. It is generally believed that the abductees are probably alive if they entered Mozambique without being attacked by Rhodesian forces. However, it is not known whether certain individuals are alive. Since the ceasefire there has been no news of them. I have had personal information from President Machel that, although it was entirely contrary to the instructions of guerrilla leaders, local captains often liked to prove what they were able to achieve by bringing certain white abductees across the border, even contrary to their own commands.

Will the Minister ensure that the Governor takes up these few cases with alacrity, even at this busy time? There are families and wives who are suffering and who do not know whether their sons or husbands are alive. If they are alive, these people would do everything they could to try to bring their loved ones back to their homes either in Rhodesia or here in the United Kingdom.

I know that these are personal matters, but it would be of great assistance if the Minister could give an assurance that Lord Soames will have some of his staff investigate them. They could perhaps contact President Machel to see what might be done about conducting an investigation of the border area so that we might know the fate of these few white Rhodesians. I am sure that the whole House wants to do what it can to ensure that these matters are dealt with.

During the difficult period when these orders will be operating, we need to give all the support that is possible to the Governor and General Acland—a constituent of mine—and his troops. They are carrying out a difficult task and I—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)

Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is expressing the sentiments of the House, but what he is saying has little to do with the order.

Mr. Emery

I will revert to the order. It is imperative that the military shall ensure that the proceedings under paragraph 3 of the order are property carried out. I hope that we can stop the petty harping about this or any subsequent orders. We often exaggerate things in the House, which makes the task of those actually on the ground that much more difficult.

Therefore, I hope that we can achieve agreement between both sides of the House when dealing with this or any subsequent orders.

11.58 pm
Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden)

I ask your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of the House for speaking again this evening. I want to deal briefly with one or two technical points under paragraph 3 of the order— Proceedings against, and liabilities of, Southern Rhodesia Government"— in connection with public and private sector pensions. I ask my hon. Friend not to reply tonight, but merely to note that I consider this to be a matter of some concern.

During the period after UDI, in the public sector, contributions were deducted from an employee's salary and went to the revenue of the country so that when pensions became payable they were payable from revenue. Under the constitution of 1979, which is now outlawed, there was some guarantee, not only that pensions in the public sector would be paid, but that they could be externally remitted. That is an important point when one considers the political changes expected in that country. It is particularly important for retired elderly people who may well feel that they do not want to live in Rhodesia under a new political regime.

What is of more concern is the private sector where, by Government legislation similar to our own, private pensions have to be funded by a properly constituted fund and are backed by the local registrar. Given a responsible Government locally, which we hope for, there should be no problem in guaranteeing security, but in the 1979 constitution considerable care was taken, after lobbying, to ensure that some degree of security, if not similar security, could be given to the private sector pensioners and future pensioners both in the payment of their pensions and, though unfortunately not in total, to external remittability.

I shall come rapidly to the crunch of this technical point. Rhodesia has a mixed economy—the balance has been in favour of the private sector, certainly over the past 12 years—and I am told by my correspondent in Rhodesia, who was an officer in the pension funds there, that the current reserve value of private sector pensions in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia could be 100 million Rhodesian dollars. I am not sure whether that information is correct, but the sum worries me.

I hope that the Minister will note that private sector pensioners, under the new constitution and proceedings against, and liabilities of, the Government, should have some security of payment of those pensions in Rhodesia and, if they wish, equal rights with public sector pensioners in having their funds remitted externally.

12.1 am

Mr. Luce

With the leave of the House, I shall reply briefly to my hon. Friends.

My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) raised the important question of blocked funds in Salisbury, a matter of considerable anxiety to a number of people in this country. Often they are not well off and have only small funds in Salisbury, but the problem is of great importance to them.

The Ministry of Finance in Salisbury announced on 14 December last year that from 19 December current payments, including pensions, due to United Kingdom individuals who had never lived in Rhodesia or who had emigrated before February 1961 would be freed from restrictions. However, restrictions on balances blocked during the period of UDI will remain. As my hon. Friend, with his financial knowledge, will realise, that is due to the shortage of foreign exchange.

The sooner Rhodesia proceeds to independence on a peaceful basis and the economy gets going again—and there are already good signs in that direction—the better the prospect that foreign exchange will improve and the problem of blocked accounts can be dealt with by the new Government. We shall be in close touch with them, but anyone who feels anxious about the matter and has money that is blocked should get advice from his own bankers on how to pursue the matter. I shall certainly send my hon. Friend a copy of the statement made by the Ministry of Finance in Salisbury about exchange controls.

The question of abductees is slightly outside the terms of the order, but my hon. Friend is right in saying that there have been a number of abductions to Mozambique. We have made representations to the President and to ZANU. If my hon. Friend has any specific cases in mind, I shall be happy to look at them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) has a tremendous knowledge of Rhodesia. He referred to public and private pensions and suggested that it might be better for me to reply to him after the debate. I do not know what he had in mind, but I readily concur with that suggestion. I shall endeavour to give him an extensive reply on the important points he has raised about public and private pensions.

I commend this order to the House and hope hon. Members will support it.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Southern Rhodesia (Legal Proceedings and Public Liabilities) Order 1979 (S.I., 1979, No. 1601), a copy of which was laid before this House on 7 December, be approved.

That, with effect from 25th January, Standing Order No. 5 (Friday sittings) be amended, as follows:
Line 2, leave out 'eleven o'clock' and insert 'half past nine o'clock '.
Line 10, leave out 'four o'clock, a quarter to five o'clock and half past five o'clock', and insert 'half past two o'clock, a quarter past three o'clock and four o'clock'.
Line 18, leave out 'half past five o'clock' and insert 'four o'clock'.
Line 20, at end add—
'(3A) At eleven o'clock Mr Speaker may interrupt the proceedings in order to permit questions to be asked which are in his opinion of an urgent character and relate either to matters of public importance or to the arrangement of business, statements to be made by Ministers, or personal explanations to be made by Members.
(3B) If the House is in Committee at eleven o'clock, on an occasion when Mr Speaker's intention to permit such questions, statements or explanations has been made known, the Chairman shall leave the Chair without putting any question, and report that the Committee have made progress and ask leave to sit again'.

The motion would, if approved by the House, carry into effect the decision in principle taken on 31 October agreeing with the recommendations contained in paragraph 9.27, of the first report of the Select Committee on Procedure in the Session 1977–78. As the House will recall, the Committee recommended against any general radical reorganisation of sitting hours. However, it put forward this limited proposal whereby the House should on Fridays sit and rise an hour and a half earlier than at present. The object of this proposed change, as stated by the Committee, was that an earlier time of rising on Fridays would be of particular benefit to Members who have to travel long distances to their constituencies. This recommendation met with general support and was adopted by the House on 31 October without a Division.

The effect of the amendment to Standing Orders which this motion proposes is that, from Friday, 25 January, the House will meet at 9.30 am on Friday instead of at 11 o'clock. Business will be inter-