HL Deb 01 December 1965 vol 270 cc1243-5

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I would draw attention to the rather curious mistake which appears on the Order Paper. "the last massage" should read, of course, "the last message" to the Prime Minister of Rhodesia, and so on.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why the last message to the Prime Minister of Rhodesia from the Prime Minister on the 10th November, 1965, was delivered orally instead of, as previously, in writing; and what instructions were given to the British High Commissioner in regard to the mode of its delivery.]


My Lords, as is clear from the text of the message, which has been published on pages 142–143 of Cmnd. 2807, Her Majesty's Government were not at this stage putting any formal proposition to the Rhodesia Government but seeking clarification of their views on the proposed Royal Commission. The British High Commissioner was therefore instructed to raise the matter orally.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that this was a very long message, covering a page and a half of the Blue Book; and is he aware that the British High Commissioner, in delivering the message, was repeatedly pressed by members of the Rhodesian Cabinet to leave the aide memoire, or at any rate parts of it, from which he was reading? Is he further aware that Mr. Jack Johnston, whom many of us know well and greatly admire—and against whom I make no criticism—said that he had strict instructions to leave nothing in writing. Finally, is the noble Lord aware that at least one Southern Rhodesian Minister said that it was this extraordinary evasiveness which actually finally triggered off U.D.I.?


My Lords, I am inclined to think that if anyone believes the latter part of the noble Lord's supplementary he will believe anything. The fact was that this message was, as I say, an exploratory communication. The High Commissioner, Mr. Johnston, went over it very carefully with Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith was accompanied by the Secretary of the Cabinet. He did, in fact, take down in writing important clauses of the communication, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that it was not properly and fully understood.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say why it was necessary, even though the message was exploratory, to keep from the eye of the Rhodesian Prime Minister a message which was certainly crucial to the whole negotiation and which laid down a number of extremely complicated conditions? May I ask him this further question? Is there any favourable construction which can be put on this procedure? Are we to suppose that it was to facilitate negotiations, or are we to suppose that it was to cloud the issue?


My Lords, whatever the noble Lord may think, I believe that the majority of people in this country will take the view that it was intended to facilitate negotiations. The fact of the matter is that there were no crucial conditions laid down; there were questions. It was intended to find out the position of Mr. Smith on these questions before a reply was sent. It was stated at the time that this was not intended to be a reply to the message previously published by Mr. Smith, and it was on the basis of the replies to these questions, which were never received, that a reply was intended to be sent.


My Lords, in the conversations which took place between the Prime Minister and Mr. Smith later that night, after this message was delivered, was any complaint made by Mr. Smith that he did not appreciate the import of this statement or any complaint that it had not been delivered in writing?


My Lords, I should have to have notice of that question.