HL Deb 10 November 1966 vol 277 cc995-1000

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move, That the Draft Southern Rhodesia Act 1965 (Continuation) Order 1966, laid before the House on October 31, 1966, be approved. I am sure that everyone in this House, irrespective of political viewpoint, will deeply regret the undoubted necessity for this Order. The 1965 Act which we seek to renew was passed because of unconstitutional action taken a year ago to-morrow, and the objective was to provide enabling powers to help bring back constitutional government in Rhodesia. Unhappily, this objective has not yet been achieved. I anticipate that there will be another opportunity in the not too distant future in which we can go as carefully and deeply as the occasion requires into the different aspects of this unhappy Rhodesian problem, but meanwhile I trust that the House will see fit to approve this Order and renew the powers previously granted.

The Order which I am asking the House to approve is very short. It continues in force Section 2 of the Southern Rhodesia Act 1965. Section 1 of that Act, as noble Lords will know, is of unlimited duration and does not need to be renewed. Section 2 confers power on Her Majesty by Order in Council to make any provision in relation to Southern Rhodesia, or persons or things belonging to or connected with Southern Rhodesia, with powers that appear to Her to be necessary or expedient in consequence of unconstitutional action in Southern Rhodesia. The Order provides for the extension of the period of application of the Act for one year. This period is not based on any fresh estimate of the time which we believe it will take to bring Rhodesia back to legality. The period of one year is provided in the Order because Section 3(2) of the Act does not give an option as to the period of renewal. The Act requires a renewal period of a full year or nothing.

Probably I might just add that if the present Order is made, the previous Orders made under Section 2 of the Act do not need to be specifically renewed. If there are specific questions arising out of this Order, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will be pleased to try to answer them.

The House will be aware of the recent developments in this problem. My right honourable friend the Commonwealth Secretary visited Salisbury; Her Majesty's Government have since made certain proposals, and the reaction to those proposals is now being considered. Whatever may be the outcome of this consideration, the renewal of these powers will still be needed to cover the immediate future. I content myself, therefore, without further words, with inviting the House to approve this Order.

Moved, That the Draft Southern Rhodesia Act 1965 (Continuation) Order 1966, laid before the House on 31st October, 1966, be approved.—(Lord Beswick.)

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for his introduction of the Order, and I regretfully agree that it is necessary that Section 2 should be continued. I believe that it was agreed (though I was not here) between the Opposition and the Government that this was not a suitable moment to have a general debate on Rhodesia and I, for one, intend to abide by that agreement. The House knows that the Government have made proposals to Mr. Smith and Mr. Smith has replied to those proposals, but we do not know what the proposals were, nor do we know the content of Mr. Smith's reply. Therefore, to say the least of it, we should be at some disadvantage in discussing the subject.

My Lords, there are two alternatives. It may be that some arrangement with Mr. Smith is near. If so, nothing that any of us can say this afternoon could be helpful; indeed, it could well be harmful, either in reinforcing intransigence or encouraging over-optimism. Equally it may be true that no agreement with Mr. Smith is possible. But since we do not know whether this is so, or in what circumstances, nor do we know what the Government would propose if it were so, I do not believe that any debate this afternoon would be either a very considered one or a very well-informed one. I think it would be much better if we wait until the Government announce the result of their negotiations before we have a debate. When that time comes we on this side of the House shall most certainly press the Government, and I know that they will be as anxious as we shall be for a debate on the whole problem of Rhodesia.

I have seen it reported in the newspapers that the Liberal Party in both Houses intend to have a debate. We who sit on this side of the House feel just as strongly about Rhodesia as noble Lords who sit below the Gangway, but we feel that by refraining from having a debate we are acting responsibly and in the national interest. I must frankly say that I think it a great pity that the Liberal Party should do exactly the opposite.

3.26 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for explaining the purpose of this Order. In view of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, may I say that I do not think my colleagues were consulted about the arrangement to which he has referred. I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for explaining that the purpose of this Order is to renew the main powers granted a year ago in the original Act; and the sanctions imposed in pursuance of that Act had, I think, the support of all Parties. I understand that objection has not been made by any of the three Parties to this Order. But, before the Order is passed, I think that some brief discussion and elucidation of the Government's position would be helpful.

As the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, is aware when the sanctions were reluctantly imposed the Government had the full support of my noble colleagues on the Liberal Benches, although we had reservations. I think that many of us on these Benches thought it unfortunate that more preparation was not made prior to U.D.I. so that action might have been taken more speedily and effectively immediately U.D.I. was announced, but that is in the past. A year has now elapsed and there are one or two questions which I should like to ask. In the first place—and I think that this is just a procedural question—as I understand it, as a result of this Order the specific Orders dealing with sanctions will continue. I think it would be helpful to know whether that is so or whether a series of Orders would have to be made renewing each Order. I am assuming they will continue. Secondly, it would be helpful to know to what extent sanctions have been breached during the last twelve months and what steps are to be taken to prevent these breaches; and whether any additional steps are contemplated, apart from those that have already been taken, and apart from the question of mandatory sanctions which may arise later if the matter is taken to the United Nations.

My Lords, my third question is more in the nature of a plea, and I hope that I shall not be regarded as irresponsible in making this plea. I shall put it in the form of a question. I am sure we all regret the extent to which the Smith regime has offended against the basic principles of human rights, but is it not very important that Britain, which claimed to be responsible for Rhodesia, which claims still to have responsibility for Rhodesia, should dissociate itself publicly from these breaches of human rights? I believe that this is an appropriate time to make some such statement.

Obviously I must not make a generalisation about a breach of human rights without at least one illustration. I was talking yesterday with Mr. Noel Salter, whom I have known well for a good many years. He is Secretary of the International Department of the Council of Churches. He has just returned from Rhodesia, where he investigated the case of the prosecution of the Reverend Charles Blakney. On July 24 he was preaching in the Congregational Church in Salisbury and in his sermon he referred to the torture of an African member of his congregation. The form of torture was very cruel, but I do not propose to go into the grisly details. Mr. Noel Salter would not talk about such matters without going very carefully into the evidence. I know him too well to think otherwise. He not only interviewed the minister, but also had a long talk with the African concerned and, to use his own words, he said: I was impressed by his complete honesty and Christian charity towards his prosecutors. But the Reverend Charles Blakney is being prosecuted for mentioning this in the course of his sermon.

Of course, there are many cases worse than that. There is the case of Alexander Mashawira, who died under torture in a prison cell in Salisbury on January 25, 1965. That case was investigated and reported by Amnesty. It seems to me that on the passing of this Order there will be an opportunity for the Government to make quite clear that Britain does not condone these breaches committed by some of those who have been referred to as "our kith and kin".

I am well aware that there are other breaches of human rights in other countries of Africa and elsewhere—but that is no answer. I am most anxious that Britain should uphold the rule of law and the principles of human rights, and it is going to be much more difficult to do so, if we appear to condone what is happening under the Smith régime in Rhodesia. Furthermore, when majority rule comes in Rhodesia, as it must come sooner or later, I want to see everything possible done to safeguard the white minority. For there will be a minority, and I should like to see as much as possible done now to provide safeguards. But unless Britain speaks out now on this subject of human rights it may be allowed to go by default.

My last question is this. May we have an assurance—and I am sure that the Government will give this—that there will be no departure from the six basic principles? However long it may take to settle this matter, I hope that it will not be necessary to go to the United Nations. I think that the reference earlier this year to the Smith regime falling in a matter of "weeks rather than months" was a grave error of judgment. I said so at the time and this is not just hindsight. If agreement is not reached, as we all hope that it will be reached, honourably and consistently with the six principles, then we may have a long and difficult task ahead. Before the new period under this Order commences, I think that it would be fitting that we should have a reassurance that the six principles will be firmly upheld.

It has been suggested to me that it would have been better if I had not spoken at all.


Hear, hear!


I have endeavoured to say what I thought right calmly and with responsibility. I have never believed that the only way to be responsible is to remain silent.