HL Deb 14 March 1968 vol 290 cc373-80

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, may I repeat a Statement on Rhodesia which has been made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place, in answer to Questions. The Statement is as follows:

"On the 6th of March my right honourable friend the Commonwealth Secretary promised the House a considered Government view of the consequences which flowed from that day's tragic events in Salisbury. Since then we have had the further grim occurrence of the 11th of March. We have also heard with relief of the régime's decision not to proceed with the hanging of 35 men. But we should not forget the very large number of men still lying under the sentence of death. The House would I know wish me to take the opportunity offered by the Questions down for answer by me to- day to review the position as we see it at this moment of time.

"May I first expand on my right honourable friend's Statement of the 11th of March that in present circumstances there can be no question of resuming contacts with the illegal régime.

"I should begin by explaining that the ideas which the right honourable gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire brought back with him from Salisbury at the end of last month did appear to represent some advance on the quite unacceptable position which Mr. Smith had taken up at the talks my right honourable friend had with him in Salisbury in November, and which were explained fully to the House on the 12th of December. But it was by no means clear that the measure of the advance war sufficient for us to regard the new ideas as involving the acceptance of the Six Principles, and thus justifying the resumption of contacts with the régime. We were giving them thorough consideration when the régime itself slammed the door on the possibility of further contacts by proceeding with the illegal hangings of three men and then two more. They did this after long deliberation. No doubt they had considered the consequences of their decision, both in arousing the revulsion and anger of the whole world and in making it impossible for us to go on considering further contacts with them in the situation which the hangings had created.

"A meeting of the United Nations Security Council has been called for and is expected to take place shortly. The House will realise that the passionate feelings aroused internationally and therefore at the United Nations by the executions has created a new situation. It would be wrong for me at this point to prejudge the course of events at the Security Council. But I am sure that the Council will wish to express its abhorrence of the illegal hangings in Salisbury, and that in doing so it will be voicing the feelings of mankind. My noble friend Lord Caradon will of course join in making clear how strongly this House and Her Majesty's Government themselves feel on this matter. "As regards practical steps to give effect to those feelings, a number of possibilities have been under consideration and have indeed been publicly canvassed, notably the widening of mandatory sanctions to make them apply to the whole of Rhodesia's trade instead of to selected items as at present. We are in close touch through Lord Caradon with other members of the Security Council and, of course, with Commonwealth Prime Ministers on what steps might be taken on these questions. The Commonwealth Sanctions Committee will be meeting tomorrow."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.


My Lords, your Lordships will be grateful to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister in another place. I think that all of us will have deplored the events, and the consequences which flowed from those events, of the last few days and weeks in Rhodesia. It seemed that as a result of Sir Alec Douglas-Home's visit there was a chance, and possibly a last chance, of a settlement. Incidentally, I cannot agree, if I understood the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor aright, that the proposals which Sir Alec brought back were in any way outside the Six Principles. I do not think they were, as I understood them. At any rate, it seemed to me that they were a definite advance on the situation that was left as a result of the Commonwealth Secretary's visit two or three weeks earlier.

Of course, I recognise that the hangings have made a resumption of talks more difficult, but will the Government not agree that the alternatives may be even more difficult, and that possibly some of the alternatives may even be disastrous? I hope, therefore, that the Government will not slam the door on a resumption of negotiations, as they seem to have done (perhaps I am wrong, but it seemed to me from the Statement that they have done so), because in the last resort this terrible problem is not going to be solved by sanctions or by recourse to the United Nations, but by talking and by negotia- tion; and I have a feeling that time is getting short.


My Lords, from these Benches we should like to join in thanking the noble and learned Lord for repeating that Statement, and we are very glad to have it. Towards the beginning of the Statement he said that it represented a review of "the position as we see it at this moment of time". There is not very much more to say than that, but I think we hope to have further Statements as time goes on. The very last sentence of the Statement said that the Commonwealth Sanctions Committee will be meeting to-morrow. I should like to ask whether we can be told exactly what is the outcome of that meeting; and we should, of course, continue to be informed about the tragic position in Rhodesia.

There is, I believe, a very severe censorship in Rhodesia so that the ordinary, average Rhodesian—if there is such a person—often does not know what we are doing in this country. The papers have whole lumps taken out, and I am told that it is probably likely that most Rhodesians see only foreign papers emanating from South Africa. I mention this because I think it is a good thing that we should frequently refer to this subject, in the hope that what we are trying to do, and hoping to do, will filter through to the ordinary man in Rhodesia.


My Lords, in reply to the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, it is not the Government who have slammed the door on negotiations, but the illegal regime, by the actions they have taken. Indeed, the right honourable Member for Kinross and West Perthshire has himself agreed that the recent execution of Africans has ruled out prospects of any negotiations for the time being. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, no doubt further information will be given by the Government as and when events occur.


My Lords, would not my noble and learned friend agree that the United Nations has already been seized of this problem in Southern Rhodesia, and that it is quite logical, in view of recent developments, that the matter should be again dealt with by the Security Council?


Yes, my Lords, but I cannot, I think, add to that. We are in hourly contact with my noble friend Lord Caradon as to what is happening there.


My Lords, while I recognise the difficulties and dangers of this situation, may I ask whether it is not the case that opinion in the United Nations and in the world is now so strong that it is very desirable that our Government should be taking the initiative in proposals before the United Nations? May I also ask my noble and learned friend, because it is impossible to engage in this matter by question and answer, whether there will be an early opportunity for a debate on this subject in this House?


My Lords, on the first point, my noble friend's suggestion is one of the alternatives which is under consideration, and which will no doubt be discussed by the Commonwealth Sanctions Committee tomorrow. The second question is really a matter for arrangement through the usual channels.


My Lords, may I point out, though perhaps it is not strictly relevant—



My Lords, may I ask the noble and learned Lord whether he realises that it is my understanding that last year in Kenya 146 Africans were hanged for crimes no worse than those of the Africans who were hanged in Rhodesia? I quite agree that is not strictly relevant, but I wanted just to make that point.


My Lords, I am afraid that I am unable to confirm the figures which the noble Viscount has stated. But those, of course, were executions by a lawful Government.


My Lords, would Her Majesty's Government bear in mind that on more than one occasion recently they have themselves had to protest at what has been happening in the United Nations owing to the double standards in operation there? Only the other day the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in reply to a supplementary question of mine, said that the Government had no intention of paying the slightest regard to the recent United Nations resolution with regard to Gibraltar. Having regard to the humbug and hypocrisy that is rife in that Organisation at the moment, will the Government be very careful to see that bringing the United Nations into the matter is not more likely to produce another Vietnam rather than peace in Rhodesia?


My Lords, the Government have not at present brought the United Nations into this at all, but there are resolutions by other countries which I understand are going before the Security Council.


My Lords, is it not the case that Mr. Smith's Government is the de facto Government of Rhodesia? If that is not so, could the noble and learned Lord say where the de facto Government is? Because most certainly it is not here.


My Lords, as to the illegal position of the regime, a Petition has now been lodged with the office of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for special leave to appeal in the constitutional case. I think we had better leave it to them.


My Lords, would the Government consider that there are a good many people wondering rather seriously now where all this is going to lead? Is it considered desirable to make it impossible for the régime in Rhodesia to maintain order, or to prevent murder being committed? And if ultimately there are going to be a great many murders there, are the Government prepared in the end, when their policy is successful, to intervene with British Forces to maintain order? Do they suppose that they will be able to do so, and what would be the effect on our defence commitments?


My Lords, I think these questions are all extremely hypothetical. The Government have always said that they will not use force in Rhodesia unless it is required to intervene to restore law and order.


My Lords, if it is proposed at the Security Council that the United Nations should take further action in the Rhodesian problem, will Her Majesty's Government consider, before assenting to such action, whether the action so far taken in this matter by the United Nations has produced results satisfactory to anybody in the world?


Those are considerations on which no doubt there can be more than one opinion, and they are considerations which the Government have very much in mind.


My Lords, arising out of the noble and learned Lord's reply to my question, is it really the view of the Government that in Rhodesia anybody may commit murder, or that murder may not be punished?


My Lords, the view of the Government is that these are just the difficulties which arise when men rebel against the Crown and seize power by force.


My Lords, do not the appalling happenings in Rhodesia during the last fortnight make a return to legality now of paramount importance before any further steps can be taken in this matter?


My Lords, with regard to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, that the constitutional matter is in his submission sub judice, it must be weeks, or at any rate days, before it is judged. Meantime, who is governing Rhodesia? Who keeps law and order there? What can Her Majesty's Government do about it? Is there anything they can do about it if they are unwilling to go there?


The noble Lord must not tempt us to go there. This is inevitably the situation which arises when men who have been lawfully dismissed as Ministers go on and seize power, and take power to themselves.


But what situation has arisen as a result of that? Who are in fact the Government now, pending this appeal to the Privy Council?


My Lords, the legal position is a complicated question. To say that the Smith régime is the de facto Government does not get one very far. The question that then arises is: are they a de facto Government under the only lawful Constitution, the 1961 Constitution, or are they entitled to invent a new Constitution, as in fact they have sought to do? Now that there is a Petition for special leave to appeal in the constitutional case to the Privy Council, I do not propose to go further than I have said this afternoon.


My Lords, may I ask the Lord Chancellor this question, without pursuing the merits of the case? Is it not of supreme interest that peace and order and freedom from crimes should be preserved in Rhodesia? And who can do that except the Smith Government, legal or illegal?