HL Deb 01 July 1971 vol 321 cc451-4

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what negotiations are taking place with representatives of the illegal Administration of Rhodesia.]


My Lords, the contacts with the Rhodesians first announced to your Lordships' House in November last year are continuing. Our objective is to establish whether a basis can be found for realistic negotiations within the ambit of the Five Principles. As my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary made clear in another place on June 21, he will make a statement when there is anything of substance to report.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware of the apprehensions, not only in this country but in African countries, arising from the reports of these discussions? Could he contribute to allaying some of those fears by denying the front page report in The Times on June 29 that it appeared increasingly likely that the British Government had agreed to a formula under which "a majority" would be taken to mean a majority not of the population but of those with certain property or educational qualification? Would that not be a denial of the first of the Five Principles?


My Lords, it is up to any newspaper to speculate on what the conditions are and on what they will be. All I can repeat to the noble Lord is that the whole purpose of these discussions is to see whether negotiations can take place.


My Lords, while accepting that the noble Earl obviously cannot comment on the negotiations, may I ask him whether he is aware that there are the most alarming "leaks", apparently coming from Rhodesia, and that the sooner we are able to face a matter which is of desperate importance to the peace of Africa the better, and the sooner some of these fears will be allayed?


My Lords, obviously this is a matter of great concern. It is a matter of great concern to people in this country and in Rhodesia. Therefore the newspapers are bound to report such things as they think fit. I can only repeat to the noble Lord that what appears in the newspapers is not necessarily either the views of Her Majesty's Government or accurate reports of the discussions that are taking place.


My Lords, will the noble Earl hear in mind that there is also considerable apprehension on the part of Africans in Rhodesia at the present time that these negotiations may break down altogether? Because sanctions have failed—as they have always failed in the past and always will fail—and they are doing much more damage to the African population of Rhodesia than to the white population?


My Lords, it is our hope that the negotiations will be able to take place and will succeed.


My Lords, is it not in human affairs sometimes the case that half a loaf is better than no bread?


My Lords, I have no doubt that on occasions that does apply.


My Lords, has my noble friend noticed a letter in to-day's Times from the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, on the subject of these negotiations, implying a certain amount of bad faith on the part of Her Majesty's Government in the way they are conducting these negotiations? Is this suggestion really in the interests of all concerned at the present time?


My Lords, I have not seen the letter to which the noble Lord refers and therefore I cannot comment on it.


My Lords, would not the noble Earl agree that these discussions are based on the Five Principles, which emanated from in the first place the previous Tory Government and were followed up by the previous Government? Can he say when the House will receive a Statement as to what has really transpired in the negotiations now taking place?


My Lords, I ought to make perfectly clear that what are now taking place are discussions to see whether formal discussions will take place and can take place, and whether they are able to take place within the ambit of the five principles, to which the noble Lord has referred. If and when we are in a position to make a Statement, then I can assure the noble Lord that a Statement will be made.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is substantial support for the Government in making this fresh effort to try to reach agreement with Rhodesia?


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord.


My Lords, is the noble Earl also aware that this may be contributing another disastrous effect to the continuation of the Commonwealth by the alienation of so many African States?


My Lords, I know that many people hold differing views. All I can say to the noble Lord is that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to try to negotiate on the basis to which I have referred. I do not know whether we are really helping the situation if all the possibly more extreme but very genuinely held views are ventilated.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the application of some of the Five Principles to other African countries has resulted in great chaos and misery to many tens of thousands of Africans?


My Lords, I do not wish to appear discourteous, and I apologise to my noble friend and to my noble friend on the Front Bench; but I think the House as a whole feels that this question has been fully ventilated, and at a delicate moment of the discussions this is not perhaps the moment to carry the matter further by question and answer.