HL Deb 14 November 1967 vol 286 cc628-35

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House I should like to repeat a Statement which has just been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Commonwealth Secretary about his visit to Rhodesia. The Statement is as follows:

"I should like to make a statement about my recent visit to Africa.

"I began by attending the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference at Kampala, where I had the honour to lead the United Kingdom Branch delegation. Thereafter I met the leaders of the eight Commonwealth countries in East, Central and Southern Africa. In addition, I met the South African Foreign Minister in Pretoria.

"In the talks which I had with African leaders I laid particular stress on three things. First, that Her Majesty's Government were certainly not going to be parties to any sell-out in Rhodesia. Secondly, that we remained convinced that force or violence were not means that could be employed to achieve an honourable and peaceful solution. And thirdly, that we were not prepared to embark on economic confrontation with South Africa. I must not pretend to speak on behalf of the African leaders to whom I was speaking, but I believe I can safely say that, even if they did not always agree with my arguments, they did recognise that what I said represented firm British policy.

"I then went to Salisbury for talks with the Governor. On his recommendation, and under his ægis, I had talks also with Mr. Smith and a number of other Rhodesians. Mr. Smith and I met on four occasions—privately together, or with only the Governor and the Chief Justice present, or with Mr. Lardner Burke accompanying Mr. Smith and official advisers on both sides. Our talks lasted altogether about ten hours.

"I am sorry to have to tell the House that the differences between our position and Mr. Smith's proved even greater than earlier discussions had indicated. I am not here referring to our differences over the very important questions of NIBMAR and the return to legality, but to the constitutional proposals contained in Part One of the 'Tiger' Working Document. Last December Mr. Smith informed us that those proposals were acceptable to him. Subsequently, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister informed the House on the 25th July, Mr. Smith told Lord Alport that there were one or two details that needed looking at again, and that one or two other points had occurred to him which he believed were reasonable and would improve the Constitution. At our talks last week it became apparent that in fact the changes which Mr. Smith wished to make in the 'Tiger' Constitutional proposals were of a kind that would fundamentally affect their nature. I made it clear to Mr. Smith that these changes could not be reconciled with the principles established by successive British Governments.

"With regard to procedure, at the close of our talks Mr. Smith and I agreed that each of us would reflect on what had been said and would consult our respective colleagues before decisions on the next step were taken. Her Majesty's Goverment are considering all aspects of the matter in the light of my report.

"This is a sombre report. I have not returned with any short cut to a settlement. But I believe my visit was worth making. It enabled me to explain our policies at first hand to Commonwealth African leaders in East, Central and Southern Africa, and to learn their views. It enabled me to meet for the first time that devoted servant of his Queen and his country, Sir Humphrey Gibbs. And it has given me the clarifications of Mr. Smith's position which we have been seeking since Lord Alport's return. I cannot pretend that as a result I feel hopeful of an early settlement. But the door remains open if, after reflection upon our discussions, Mr. Smith and his colleagues conclude that the true interests of Rhodesia and all its peoples, including the Europeans there, require that a settlement should be reached which could honourably be commended to Parliament."


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for having repeated that Statement. As he said, it is a sombre one, and I think all your Lordships will have felt disappointed that the result of these talks has been such as we have heard this afternoon. Even though we did not expect great things from them, we did perhaps expect something a little better than we have heard this afternoon. Be that as it may, I think that everyone in the House—and I think the Government, certainly—feels that the only possible means of settling this dispute is by negotiation. There is no other way of doing it, and I hope very much that, in spite of these setbacks, the Government will pursue their policy of talking; because it is much better to be in contact and talking with the Rhodesian Government than to be doing nothing. I have only one question which I wish to ask the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. In the course of his Statement he said that Mr. Smith had said that there were some changes in the "Tiger" proposals which he wished to see. Could the noble Lord tell the House what those were?


My Lords, we on these Benches are extremely sorry that it appears that the differences between Her Majesty's Government and the illegal régime are now greater than they were before. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, says that he feels the only way is by negotiation. But we on these Benches cannot help feeling, particularly from the description of the way the recent negotiations have gone on, that Mr. Smith does not give the appearance of wishing to reconcile these differences at all. We are glad that Her Majesty's Government have, in fact, said that there shall be no sellout, because we remain convinced that the illegal régime must be brought down. Since it appears to us that negotiations are not getting us anywhere, we think that sanctions must go on. We feel that they have, in fact, been more effective than some of their opponents have suggested, and that they would be very much more effective than they have been if some other countries would "play ball". We feel that the immediate thing to do is to try to get discussions going in the U.N. as to how sanctions could be made more effective.

Apart from what may be said in the U.N. about what may be done to make the sanctions more effective, there are one or two things that Her Majesty's Government themselves could do with regard to tightening up sanctions in certain directions. I refer particularly to such things as passports, telecommunications and freight, Having said that, my Lords, I merely put that question, because like everybody else, we are extremely disappointed.


My Lords, I am sure that all of us in this House, wherever we may sit, are very sorry to hear the Statement that has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. I know that all of us had hoped that there might be a satisfactory settlement, at last, from these conversations between the Commonwealth Secretary and Mr. Smith. It seems to me, if I may say so with all deference, that the difference between the two Governments now is this. The Rhodesians take the view, a view which I and others share, that, rightly or wrongly (and no doubt there will be differences of view about that), the Rhodesians have got their independence and will not give it up. All that, for them, remains in dispute is whether or not Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom recognise that independence. The other view, the view of Her Majesty's Government here in this country, is that Rhodesia has not got her independence and cannot have it unless the United Kingdom Government agree.

My Lords, unless this fundamental difference of view is resolved, I cannot, I regret to say, with the best will in the world, see any chance of an agreed solution. And I am afraid that all that is likely to happen now, unless an agreement, even at this late hour, can be achieved in this unhappy dispute, is that it is likely to drag on with ever increas ingly disastrous consequences for the two Governments immediately concerned. That, as I see it—it may be right or wrong—is a hard fact which we all have to face, and which Her Majesty's Government, too, have to face. What I want to ask them is that they will at any rate give an assurance that they will not blind their eyes to hard facts, however unpalatable they may be. Otherwise, I am afraid that the situation will continue steadily to deteriorate. The only thing I felt that was in the least encouraging about the report which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has given is that he did, at any rate, say that the door is still open. And I beg Her Majesty's Government to keep it open as long as they possibly can.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend Lord Shepherd whether he is aware of the very great appreciation by many on these Benches of the assurance that there will be no sellout in Rhodesia? May I ask him whether that statement includes the Six Points, and the assertion by the Prime Minister that there could be no independence before there is majority rule in Rhodesia? May I further ask him, they having ruled out force, what steps Her Majesty's Government propose to take to make economic sanctions effective; and in particular whether he will raise in the United Nations, which has endorsed the policy of sanctions, the fact that many of its Member States are not applying sanctions? May I also ask whether he will supplement the blockade at Beira, in Mozambique, by requesting United Nations authority for a blockade at Laurenco Marques from which so many of the goods reaching Rhodesia are coming?


My Lords, with permission I will reply to the four points which have been made. First, may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that I think that in his remarks he echoed the feeling of the entire House: a feeling of disappointment that once again negotiations, discussions, entered into by the British Government and the régime in Salisbury should have failed; although, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, pointed out, the Statement does refer to the fact that the door has not been closed. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will not press at this stage for any discussion of the points raised by Mr. Smith. As he will remember, both Mr. Smith and my right honourable friend have agreed that there should be a period of reflection and consultation. If we were to do that, I think it would inhibit both sides in their pause.

May I say to the noble Marquess that it is not for Her Majesty's Government to grant independence to Rhodesia; it is for the British Parliament. I think that it is recognised that the majority of Members on both sides of the House and in another place agree that independence in Rhodesia must be based upon the six principles. Certainly the main political Parties are committed to this. As I said in the Statement, it appears that the line Mr. Smith is now taking makes it more difficult to achieve these principles.

In regard to sanctions, these I fear will have to continue. Her Majesty's Government are considering ways and means by which they can become more effective. These are under active consideration by the Commonwealth Sanctions Committee. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made the Government's position quite clear in regard to NIBMAR. This assurance is in force, but we were prepared, as my noble friend will remember, if there was a significant move in the régime's attitude, particularly in the field of the Constitution, to discuss this matter with our Commonwealth colleagues. I do not believe that theft is much else I can say at this stage. The door is still open and I hope that in the end sanity will prevail in Rhodesia.


My Lords, since many people in Rhodesia itself are now harbouring grave misgivings about U.D.I., is my noble friend in a position to confirm or deny whether Mr. Smith is totally unwilling to consider a return to legality and repudiation of U.D.I. in any circumstances?


My Lords, while I do not support the action of the Rhodesian Government in U.D.I., I should like to ask one question on this subject. I have waited a long time to do this. Though I am a member of the Opposition, I have given the Government as long as I could control myself before asking this question. I am glad that the door is open. I am 100 per cent. opposed to the use of force. But do the present Prime Minister and the Gov- ernment realise at last that sanctions have never worked without the use of force? The Government and the Prime Minister seem to me to be particularly hidebound on this subject. They had better open their eyes to the fact and get on with the job, admitting that sanctions are a failure. I hope that the Minister speaking to-day will admit that sanctions have not worked, never have worked and never will work unless you surround and reduce to starvation the nation whom you are opposing.


My Lords, may I also make an appeal to the Government to have some regard to the facts of life? The noble Lord has said that in no circumstances do they want a confrontation with South Africa. Even if sanctions could work, they certainly will not without a confrontation with South Africa. Previously to this, we had a Statement about Aden. It is my belief that unless the Government can show a much more flexible attitude in their approach to Rhodesia and forget a great many things they have said, this sorry business is going to lead to the humiliation of Britain, just as has happened with Aden, and with a people who fought with us in the War and whose only idea is to befriend us.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend this question? He has referred to the fact that there is to be a period of reflection. May we take it that the door to further negotiations is not bolted if, at the end of that further period of reflection, the situation suggests that further negotiations may take place?


My Lords, as one who had the opportunity of seeing at first hand the Commonwealth Secretary in operation in East Africa, may I add my appreciation of the great work he did there in keeping the situation cool and open? The noble Lord opposite asked that the facts of life should be faced. The facts of life should be faced in Rhodesia. It was made clear by the East African States that the alternative to the non-granting of "one man, one vote" was "one man, one gun", and unless the people of Rhodesia appreciate the facts they are living on a volcano which may not take long to erupt.


My Lords, may I express a fear that we may be entering into a debate? I think that in the circumstances the House would regard that to be wrong. In reply to my noble friend Lord Rowley, I would say that the period of reflection is for both sides and, as the Statement made clear, the door is not bolted and further negotiations are always possible. But my noble friend will appreciate that negotiations require two parties and, above all else, the willingness of the two parties to come to an agreement. This was the spirit in which we entered the "Tiger" talks last year. I beg the noble Lords who make a plea for flexibility to read the report of the "Tiger" talks and they will see the extent to which we were prepared to go to meet the fears of the Smith régime, only to find in the end that we could not get the agreement which we believed to the very last moment was possible.

We have treated this as a matter of very great concern. We have been as flexible as possible within the framework laid down by Parliament—that is, within the six principles. We shall not give up seeking a peaceful, negotiated solution. I will not now go into the question of facing hard facts in terms of sanctions. Sanctions are a commitment placed on us not only by our own decision, shared by all Parties in the original instance, but also by the Commonwealth and the United Nations.


My Lords, I say this with great respect and with a good deal of self-criticism. If any noble Lord reads the discussion this afternoon, without reference to the merits of any of the arguments and questions or to the side of the House from which they come, he will feel that we have passed a good way away from our ordinary conventions following a Statement. The only person who could be clearly criticised in this situation is the Leader of the House, but it was difficult to stop noble Lords. I would only submit, again with great respect, that next time we ought to do rather better.