HL Deb 03 November 1965 vol 269 cc798-801

3.56 p.m.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Earl of Longford)

My Lords, with the leave of the House I should like to make a statement on Rhodesia; and perhaps I may be allowed to repeat the words now being used by the Prime Minister in another place. These are the words of the Prime Minister:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a further statement on Rhodesia. On Monday I said that the two Governments had agreed in principle to recommend to Her Majesty the appointment of a Royal Commission for the purpose of testing the acceptability to the Rhodesian people as a whole of a draft independence arrangement which, we hoped, would be agreed between the two Governments and would be based on the 1961 Constitution with such amendments as we might consider necessary. I went on to say that the two Governments were in discussion to see whether it was possible to agree on the contents of a document which the Royal Commission could take for this purpose.

"My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and my honourable and learned friend the Attorney General have now returned and reported on their discussions. It is now clear that there is no prospect—and the House would realise from what I said on Monday the kind of issues involved—of agreement being reached on the amendments which should be made to the 1961 Constitution, as a basis for use by the Royal Commission.

"In these circumstances we have had to consider our position. This we have done with a deep sense of the responsibility lying upon us, for ensuring that this House, before there is any question of its being asked to take a decision about independence, should have before it an authoritative statement of the views of the Rhodesian people as a whole on particular proposals for independence. Mr. Smith considers that independence on the basis of the 1961 Constitution is acceptable to the Rhodesian people. Neither we nor our predecessors have been able to accept this as a fact without the most rigorous proof being forthcoming.

"In this connection I must refer to statements made yesterday by Mr. Smith about the discussions he had with my predecessor, the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perth, in September, 1964. Mr. Smith said that he had made an agreement with my predecessor that Rhodesia could have independence on the 1961 Constitution, if it could be proved that this was acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole.

"I want to make it clear that we do not accept this interpretation and we have so informed Mr. Smith. The right honourable gentleman"—

that is Sir Alec Douglas-Home—

"made it crystal clear again and again that the British Government had as yet no evidence that the majority of the population supported the Rhodesian request for independence on the basis of the present Constitution and franchise, and indeed in the final agreed communiqué, the following statement occurs: 'The British Prime Minister said that the Brtish Government would take account of any views which might be freely expressed by the population on the issues involved; but he must make it plain that the British Government reserved their position.' Against that background, and unequivocally re-confirming the statement I have just quoted, the British Government have decided, and I have so informed Mr. Smith, that we are now prepared to agree, subject to certain conditions I shall outline, that the Rhodesian Government's constitutional proposals should be put to the test of acceptability to the people of Rhodesia as a whole. But if this is to be done, it must be known that we ourselves disagree with these proposals for the reasons I stated on Monday and which I will not weary the House by repeating. Indeed, Mr. Smith himself recognised in his broadcast on Monday night that we disagreed with them.

"Second, we continue to hold the view that the Royal Commission, before canvassing the views of the Rhodesian people as a whole, should submit, for approval by both Governments, a unanimous interim report on how they would propose to determine acceptability. If the Royal Commission's suggestions for this purpose were approved, they should themselves supervise whatever procedures were adopted in order to implement their findings.

"Third, when the Royal Commission have completed the process of ascertaining the opinion of the people of Rhodesia as a whole, they will submit a final report which we have agreed must be unanimous. The British Government cannot, of course, be expected to commit themselves in advance to accept that report, particularly as in any case the eventual decision rests with Parliament alone. But I must also inform the House that we have made it clear to the Rhodesian Government, and I do not want there to be any misunderstanding about this here, in Rhodesia, or anywhere else, that if, in the event, the Royal Commission's findings showed that the Rhodesian Government's proposal was unacceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole, the British Government reserve their freedom of action as to the future course to be followed. We would feel free to pursue other means of dealing with the problem such as reviving our earlier suggestion of a Royal Commission with the substantive task of devising a new Constitution for Rhodesia, or our proposal that the issue should be remitted to a Constitutional Conference.

"I greatly hope, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure the House will share this hope, that after all the efforts that have been made in these past few weeks to secure a solution fulfilling all the requirements of honour and of justice, that what I have said will enable us to go ahead with the Royal Commission, on the principle of which we agreed last week, and that the Royal Commission can get down to its vitally important work without delay.

"If what I have said is unacceptable to the Rhodesian Government—though I am sure the whole House would find it difficult to believe that this could not be acceptable to them—I have one last alternative proposition which I have put to Mr. Smith, as a fall-back on which agreement could still be reached. We should still be willing, as an alternative, to agree that the Rhodesian Government's constitutional proposals should be submitted to the test of a refendum of the whole of the Rhodesian people, provided that it was conducted without restriction of free political activity by all sections of the community, was subject to adequate impartial supervision, and that it incorporated stringent safeguards against intimidation from any quarter.

"I will, of course, keep the House fully informed of any further developments."

My Lords, that is the Prime Minister's Statement.


My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Earl for having repeated the Statement. It is of course a very important one, and we shall study it with great care as it is very long. We must now await the reply of Mr. Smith. For my part, I think I shall reserve anything I have to say until that reply has been received.


My Lords, may I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the Leader of the Opposition? I think it would be a little irresponsible to comment at this point on a very important matter which we have not had quite enough time to study. I am sure the Government may rest assured that they have the whole of the British Parliament behind them in their best endeavour to find a way out of the difficult position.


My Lords, I do not wish to add anything material to what has already been said. Obviously it is a grave Statement to the extent that it recognises that agreement has not been reached. However, the door is not yet finally closed. The Statement was inevitably an elaborate one, and I am sure that all of us, whatever our views on this difficult subject, will wish to study it. In the meantime, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, we shall await the reply of Mr. Smith. No doubt, after that we shall have a further opportunity of examining the position.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lords who have spoken, and to the House as a whole, for the attitude of restraint that has been shown this afternoon.