HL Deb 12 December 1967 vol 287 cc1024-35

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. I will now repeat a Statement about Rhodesia that has just been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Commonwealth Secretary. I will use his own words:

"On 14th November I gave the House a report on my visit to Rhodesia. As I said then, Mr. Smith and I agreed in Salisbury that we should consult with our colleagues and reflect on our positions. This Her Majesty's Government have now done. I promised to make a full statement as soon as we had considered all the implications and I am grateful to the House of the indulgence which it has shown in not pressing for detail. I feel that the time has now come when the House should know the full position, especially since there has been a widely observed contradiction between my statement that the talks revealed new and fundamental divergence and Mr. Smith's public assertion that there is no great difference between us. I think that the facts should now be known so that the House can judge for itself.

"During our ten hours of talks in Salisbury Mr. Smith proposed a number of changes in the draft Constitution worked out on board H.M.S. 'Tiger' Since the details are lengthy, I will, with permission, circulate them in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but I should like to try to summarise their more important features.

"Put simply the most important effect of Mr. Smith's changes would be to remove the safeguards provided by the 'Tiger' arrangements against what the Second Principle called retrogressive amendment of the Constitution. The main change he proposed was that all the African members of the Senate should be Chiefs. This would mean that African elected representatives would no longer have it in their power to block amendments which would weaken the protection given to Africans against discriminatory legislation or place obstacles in the way of progress to majority rule. In other words there would not be enough of them to make up a 'blocking quarter'.

"I fully recognise the important place of Chiefs in African society. But in good conscience I could no more accept the Chiefs now as the proper guardians of African political rights than the right honourable gentleman opposite could accept the Chiefly Indaba as representatives of African opinion as a whole in October, 1964. Moreover it must be recognised that the Chiefs are dependent on the Rhodesian authorities for their pay and allowances, and in the last analysis for their appointment or dismissal.

"Because of its implications for the procedure for constitutional amendment, this proposal for a change in the composition of the Senate is a fundamental one. In addition to this Mr. Smith went on to press for the removal of a further safeguard proposed in the 'Tiger' discussions. This was the safeguard providing that amendments to the Specially Entrenched provisions should be more subject to appeal to a Constitutional Commission consisting of the Rhodesian Chief Justice and other judges, with the further right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Mr. Smith wished to drop this safeguard.

"As the House will realise, the changes I have mentioned so far run directly counter to both the First and Second of our Principles—that there should be guarantees both of unimpeded progress to majority rule and against retrogressive amendment of the Constitution.

"Mr. Smith further proposed the abolition of the system of cross-voting embodied in the 1961 Constitution and a reduction as compared with the 'Tiger' arrangements, in the number of B Roll African seats. These proposals would derogate from the Third Principle, which calls for immediate improvement in the political status of the African population, and would also substantially delay progress towards majority rule.

"Mr. Smith made certain other suggestions about the Constitution. As these were put to me they do not necessarily involve fundamental departures from the Six Principles and I indicated that we should be very ready to consider them if a general settlement were in prospect.

"To sum up, it is the considered view of Her Majesty's Government that the main changes I have described are fundamentally incompatible with the essential Principles agreed by both sides of the House. They could not therefore form the basis for discussion of a possible settlement which could honourably be commended to Parliament. This is what I gave Mr. Smith in Salisbury as my own immediate reaction. I have now confirmed it to him as the considered view of Her Majesty's Government and have expressed the hope that he will reconsider the position which he took up during our talks. Failing this the House will understand that we have no alternative but to pursue the policy of sanctions in conjunction with the United Nations. Meanwhile, we stand by our pledges to the Commonwealth, including, of course, our declaration on NIBMAR.

"I refuse to despair of the régime's recognising the dead end into which they are leading Rhodesia Four our part we are certainly not going to slam any doors. Her Majesty's Government remain ready to discuss any proposals for a settlement in Rhodesia that are consistent with principles to which both sides of the House are committed."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.

Following are the details of Mr. Smith's proposals for changes in the draft Constitution worked out in H.M.S. "Tiger":

The proposals put to the Commonwealth Secretary by Mr. Ian Smith at their talks in Salisbury on November 9, 1967, for the amendment of the constitutional proposals in Part I of the "Tiger" Working Document (Cmnd. 3171, pages 87 and 88) were as follows:

Composition of the Legislature

2. Paragraph 2 of the Working Document provided for a Legislature consisting of two Houses, composed as follows:

Legislative Assembly 33 "A" Roll Seats 17 "B" Roll Scats 17 Reserved European Seats.

Senate 12 Europeans (elected by Europeans on the "A" Roll) 8 Africans (elected by Africans on the "A" and "B" Rolls voting together) 6 Chiefs (elected by the Chiefs' Council).

3. Paragraph 8 of the Working Document provided that the Specially Entrenched provisions of the proposed Constitution should require a vote of at least three-quarters of the total membership of both Houses voting together. The total membership of both Houses together would be 93, three-quarters of which would be 70 (to the nearest whole number), so that a proposed amendment would fail to be carried if 24 members refused to support it. The 17 "B" Roll seats in the Legislative Assembly could be assumed to be filled by Africans or persons acceptable to Africans as their representatives, and together with these members the 8 elected African members of the Senate would supply a total of 25 elected representatives of Africans, i.e., one more than the minimum "blocking quarter" of the total membership of both Houses together required to prevent amendments of Specially Entrenched provisions.

4. On November 9 Mr. Smith pressed for all the African members of the Senate to be Chiefs (elected by the Chiefs' Council). At the same time he said that he would wish the numbers of members in the various categories in the two Houses to be altered as follows:

Legislative Assembly


The total membership of both Houses together would then be 89. The number required for the passage of an amendment to a Specially Entrenched provision would be 67, and the number required for the "blocking quarter" would be 23. Against this number, the Africans' elected representatives would be able to count on supplying only the 15 elected to the "B" Roll seats in the Legislative Assembly, unless and until Africans were elected to "A" Roll seats. Eight "A" Roll seats would have to be won before the "blocking quarter" could be made up of the Africans' elected representatives.

5. It should also be noted that, under the changes proposed by Mr. Smith, the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly which could be counted on as returning the Africans' elected representatives from the start would be reduced from 17 to 15, while the number of seats likely to be held by Europeans, at least to begin with, would remain unchanged at 50.

Constitutional Appeals

6. Paragraph 8 of the "Tiger" Working Document provided that, in addition to the three-quarters majority of the total membership of both Houses together required for the passage of an amendment to a Specially Entrenched provision, there should also be a system of appeal against such an amendment. Such an appeal would lie in the first instance to a Constitutional Commission in Rhodesia, consisting of the Chief Justice and other judges: with further appeal as of right to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

7. Mr. Smith said on November 9 that this system of appeals was objectionable in principle and should be dropped.

8. Quite apart from his objections in principle, he had the following objections of detail to the proposed machinery for the appeals and to the formulation of the permitted grounds of appeal:

  1. (a) the Working Document provided that amendments subject to appeal should not come into force until the time for appeal had expired or the appeal had been finally disposed of. He objected to the delay which this would cause to the commencement even of legislation eventually held to be unobjectionable. In offering to consider whether it would be possible to meet Mr. Smith on this point, the Commonwealth Secretary reminded him that the "Tiger" discussions had envisaged arrangements for the rapid disposal of these cases and for summary rejection of frivolous or vexatious appeals;
  2. (b) the Working Document provided that an appeal might be brought on the ground that the amendment in question "discriminates unjustly or has the effect of discriminating unjustly between the races …". Mr. Smith objected to the phrase "or has the effect of …" on the ground that it greatly widened the scope of the provision and was in fact contrary to what had been agreed in the "Tiger". The Commonwealth Secretary said that he was advised that the account of the relevant discussion on page 81 of Cmnd. 3171 was accurate: he commented that this appeared to be a drafting point which could be left to be settled by the constitutional draftsmen;
  3. (c) the other permitted ground of appeal was that the amendment in question "contravenes any of the provisions of the Declaration of Rights contained in the Constitution". Mr. Smith objected that this would have the effect of making it impossible to amend the Declaration of Rights. The Commonwealth Secretary replied that the reference was clearly intended to be not to each and every amendment affecting the Declaration of Rights, but only to those held by the Courts to derogate from its fundamental principles.


9. The 1961 Constitution provides for the country to be divided into 50 "constituencies" (to have as nearly as possible the same numbers of "A" Roll voters) and 15 "electoral districts".(to have as nearly as possible the same numbers of "B" Roll voters). All the voters in a constituency or an electoral district, whichever Roll they are on, can vote in elections in that constituency or electoral district; but in a constituency in which there are more than one-quarter as many votes cast by voters on the "B" Roll as by voters on the "A" Roll, the number of "B" Roll votes received by each candidate is to be reduced proportionately so that the total number of "B" Roll votes received is equal to one-quarter of the "A" Roll votes received: and vice versa in the electoral districts.

10. This system is known as cross-voting, and serves to give "B" Roll voters an influence in the election of members from the (primarily "A" Roll) constituencies, and likewise "A" Roll voters an influence in the election of candidates from the (primarily "B" Roll) electoral districts.

11. The "Tiger" Working Document provided for this system of cross-voting to continue. Mr. Smith proposed on 9 November that it should be abandoned, so that "B" Roll electors would vote only for the "B" Roll seats, for which "A" Roll electors would not vote.

12. In addition to pressing for the abolition of cross-voting (see paragraph 11 above) Mr. Smith pointed out that it was presumably a slip for paragraph 3 of the "Tiger" Working Document to say that cross-voting would be applied to "all seats", since some seats were expressly described as to be elected by voters of a specified community and on a specified Roll: thus, the 12 European seats in the Senate were to be elected by Europeans on the "A" Roll. It was agreed that the clear intention was that cross-voting should be applied only to the "A" Roll and "B" Roll seats in the Legislative Assembly.

Delimitation Commission

13. Paragraph 4 of the "Tiger" Working Document provided that alterations in the composition of both Houses and in the number of seats should be effected by the Special Entrenchment procedure; it also provided for the incorporation in the Delimitation Commission's terms of reference of an agreed formula regarding the Commission's "over-riding objective" in dividing the constituencies. Mr. Smith argued on 9 November that it was not right—and had not in fact been agreed in the "Tiger"—that both the "agreed formula" and Section 37 of the Constitution should be made Specially Entrenched provisions. It was agreed that this question would require further legal study if sufficient progress were made on other points to justify it.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for repeating that Statement, and grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for breaking off, as it were, in mid-stream. This is a very long, serious and detailed Statement, and the House has not of course yet seen—none of us has seen—the annex to be attached to the OFFICIAL REPORT which goes in detail into Mr. Smith's proposals for alter- ations to the "Tiger" draft Constitution. Therefore I do not think it wise at this moment to comment on the Statement or on the merits or otherwise of the Government position. But I would ask two questions purely for information.

First, are the Government expecting, having communicated with Mr. Smith, that he is going to answer them? And if he does, are they going to propose some other form of conference, or are they just going to leave the situation as it now is? Secondly, may I ask the noble Lord what exactly is meant by his words "to pursue the policy of sanctions in conjunction with the United Nations"? Does that mean a continuation of the existing sanctions; or does it mean an intensification?


My Lords, I, too, should like to express our gratitude to both noble Lords, the one for making the Statement and the other for his courtesy in breaking off his speech. I am sorry that I cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in all he said. I agree that this is an important Statement; but surely it calls for immediate reaction. I would say that Mr. Smith must be living in Cloud Cuckoo-land if rte thinks that those who believe in democracy could really leave the protection of the Africans in the hands of the African Chiefs paid, nominated, appointed and dismissed by the illegal régime. Quite frankly, I should think this country completely unworthy if we did not insist on safeguards for the Africans in Rodesia. May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, one particular question? Under the Smith proposals—I have not quite understood them—how many elected Africans would there be in the Senate? As I understand it, if Mr. Smith's proposals were adopted, it would put the blocking quarter completely on one side.


The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is right in saying that this is a very serious Statement. I share the view of my right honourable friend the Commonwealth Secretary that, even though we realise there is more dividing us now than there was some months ago, we should not slam the door. But I must be frank I think that unless Mr. Smith and his colleagues clearly come back to the position most of us understood them to be in at the end of the "Tiger" talks —that they accepted the Principles of the Constitution—I can myself see little hope of being able to open discussions, at least on a formal basis. Clearly, if Mr. Smith, through the Governor, wishes to convey to Her Majesty's Government any message, we shall, of course, be only too ready to accept it.

With regard to sanctions, the obligations that we have to the United Nations and to the Commonwealth require us, with others, to maintain the present sanctions. As to intensification, it is not for me to anticipate; but clearly this is a matter that the Commonwealth Sanctions Committee would wish to consider.

To the noble Lord, Lord Byers, I would explain the effect of Mr. Smith's proposals, and others, that the Senate should now consist of African Chiefs, in this way. Under the "Tiger" Agreement it was agreed (in fact I think Mr. Smith himself suggested it) that there should be 8 elected Africans and 6 Chiefs, and that the Europeans should have 12 seats in the Senate. Under the "Tiger" Constitution there were to be 17 elected African representatives from the "B" Roll and 17 European reserved seats, with 33 on the "A" Roll, which is predominantly European. Mr. Smith's suggestion to us is that there should be no elected Africans in the Senate; that the entire Senate should consist of 12 Chiefs and 12 Europeans. He further suggests that the elected membership of the Legislature, instead of being 17, should be reduced to 15, and that the European reserved seats again should be reduced from 17 to 15; but that the number on the "A" roll, which also is predominantly European, should be increased from 33 to 35.

This clearly means, my Lords, that under the "Tiger" proposals (which, as I understand it, and I think as the House believes, Mr. Smith accepted in principle) there would have been a blocking vote of 25 African Members of Parliament, both in the Legislature and in the Senate. Under Mr. Smith's present proposals there would be only 15 elected Africans. Clearly, therefore, the blocking mechanism, which all of us for many years and through successive Governments have felt to be necessary to ensure progressive African advance, would have completely disappeared. This is one of the reasons why Mr. Smith must move back to the "Tiger" position before there can be useful talks.


My Lords, in view of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, may I ask whether an early opportunity will be given for a debate in this House on which we may raise the broader issues? May I ask, in the meantime, while endorsing all that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, whether this Statement does not prove that the Smith administration is opposed to any changes which are likely to bring about majority rule in Southern Rhodesia? Finally, my Lords, may I ask how soon the Sanctions Committee are going to make recommendations regarding the intensification of sanctions; because unless Lourenço Marques is closed, and the nations which have voted for the U.N. resolution carry it out, sanctions are not likely to be effective for a considerable time.


My Lords, with regard to a debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, well knows, there are the usual means of discussion through the usual channels. If there were a feeling for art urgent debate then, of course, this could be arranged. But perhaps I may put this suggestion. This is an important Statement, and the Government, as the Statement indicates, have not slammed the door. I still have hope, and therefore my whole instinct is that it would be better—if your Lordships' House were to think the same way—if the matter could perhaps be left until after Christmas.

With regard to sanctions, clearly they have not brought the régime down. Nevertheless, they have had a very significant effect upon the economy of Rhodesia. The economic growth of that country has now stopped, and this is a very serious matter. As the noble Lord is aware, there are many in Rhodesia who are gravely perturbed and disturbed about the economic future of Rhodesia with sanctions in force.

I do not follow the noble Lord, Lord Byers, in the strictures that he made on the Smith régime. I may have very strong feelings which may not be very different from those of the noble Lord, but clearly this is not the occasion when I should deliver them.


My Lords, may I ask whether the noble Lord is aware that I am afraid there are many people in this country who are living in Cloud Cuckoo-land over Rhodesia? Is he also aware that the present Commonwealth Secretary is a very sensible man; and if it is the case that the door is not slammed, as we all hope, may we be allowed also to hope that the Commonwealth Secretary will be permitted a free hand in the use of common sense?


My Lords, we have had many Commonwealth Secretaries since Rhodesia became a problem (I well remember the debates when the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, was a member of a previous Government) and all the Commonwealth Secretaries felt, regarding the position of all the emerging countries, that whatever was done and whatever Constitution was imposed, it should be done with the free will and acceptance of the people of the land concerned. My Lords, all the Commonwealth Secretaries have used great flexibility and understanding. I thank the noble Earl for his remarks about my right honourable friend the present Commonwealth Secretary. He feels as passionately about the principles involved here as any previous Commonwealth Secretary.


My Lords, there are many others in this House besides myself who, over the long years, have heard crises discussed. Admittedly, this is a relatively small crisis, compared with others that we have heard about. I am sure that we all take encouragement from the reiterated assurance of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that the door is left open, though in earlier words he feared that no settlement was in prospect. Would it not be natural that thought should be given to the belief of many (and this must apply throughout the country) that if a settlement now is not reasonably sure in prospect, further negotiations would be essential? Emphasis was put by the noble Lord on the other side of making the concessions, and we must be forgiven if many think of the situation as negotiable, hoping that negotiation, with good will on both sides, may bring some result. But the noble Lord, in answering my noble Leader, was not able to give any indication of what would happen if negotiations did not give any results. May I therefore now ask him this question? In that kind of stalemate, will the Government not give any heed to the words attributed in the Press recently to Sir Roy Welensky, a very experienced statesman on Africa, who said bluntly two things—


My Lords, I wonder whether I might say—probably the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, will understand—that we were in the middle of a speech by my noble friend Lord Stonham, and if it were possible to allow him to continue his speech, I am sure it would be to the convenience of your Lordships' House.


My Lords, with due respect to the noble Lord, I was coming to the question I was asking: first, that the Government is firmly seated, and secondly, that sanctions will not succeed. The noble Lord suggested that we should wait until after Recess, which is towards the end of January, before having a debate. All I am asking the noble Lord is whether any encouragement can be given as to further negotiations.


My Lords, I should like to ask a slightly different question. Do Her Majesty's Government think that by continuing to pursue a policy vis-à-vis Rhodesia which, in the noble Lord's own words, is really leading to a dead end, and also by continuing to assume their present policies with regard to exports to South Africa, both of which are costing hundreds of millions of pounds in balance of payments at a time when the Government are exhorting everybody to make sacrifices to export, they will be able to avoid the second devaluation which is already being talked about at home and abroad?


My Lords, the noble Lord is entitled to his view. He will well understand that we do not share it in the slightest. One characteristic I like about the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, is his extraordinary persistence. I will look carefully at what he has said. I hope that the House will share with me the view that while this is an important matter, we have broken into my noble friend's speech and we should leave this subject to-clay. No doubt if your Lordships wish to have a debate—though I caution that it would be better after Christmas—we could so arrange it through the usual channels.


My Lords, could my noble friend say whether, if this had been a black régime in default instead of white, it would have had such commiseration from the Opposition Benches?


My Lords, if sanctions are to continue, would the Government consider looking into the cases of those, particularly ex-Servicemen who have resources, homes and families in this country, to whom the sanctions now apply? These have gone on for some time now and the effect on these men is most onerous and in many cases quite Gilbertian in its application. I can give the noble Lord an instance or two affecting ex-Servicemen, if he would care to have them.