HL Deb 19 January 1972 vol 327 cc86-93

3.54 p.m.


My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if at this moment I repeat a Statement which is now being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

"Since I last spoke in this House on Rhodesia, honourable and right honourable Members will have been concerned at the reports of violence from different parts of the country, especially in the Gwelo district. It is in the Government's view essential that the Pearce Commission should be enabled to carry out their task of testing Rhodsian opinion in conditions free of intimidation and violence, in which normal political activities are possible. Against this background the House will have been concerned, too, to have received the news of the arrest of Mr. Garfield Todd, his daughter and three others. On hearing the reports last night I immediately sent a personal message to Mr. Smith seeking to establish the facts behind these arrests. In his reply Mr. Smith has said that they are cases of preventive detention, arising from the internal security situation that has developed in the midlands area of Rhodesia during the last fortnight, under the 1970 Emergency Powers Regulations.

"He has said that the reasons for detaining Mr. Todd and his daughter were not based on their publicly stated opposition to the settlement proposals, but that the decision was, on the contrary, taken solely on grounds of security and the need to maintain law and order in Rhodesia, without which, as recent events in Gwelo have shown, it is not possible for the Pearce Commission to carry out its task.

"It is of course for the Commission which has the advantage of being on the spot, to satisfy itself that normal political activities are being permitted in Rhodesia, provided, as the proposals for a settlement make clear, that they are conducted in a peaceful and democratic manner. Lord Pearce, who has himself issued a statement in Salisbury expressing deep concern at these detentions, and has asked the Rhodesian Government for their reasons, will no doubt be considering the position in the light of Mr. Smith's reply and other information available to him in Salisbury.

"I am arranging to send to Salisbury to-night the Head of the Rhodesia Department in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that he can, in consultation with our liaison officer there, and after discussion with all concerned, let me have an up-to-date assessment of the situation in the light of the recent events which have caused general concern.

"In a matter of such importance I am sure that honourable Members will appreciate that it would not be right for me to say more about these arrests until I have received further full in- formation from Rhodesia. I will keep the House informed."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.


My Lords, I am sure the House will wish to thank the noble Baroness for repeating that Statement. We warmly welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Pearce, has expressed deep concern at the detention of Mr. Todd and his daughter, which I am sure will be echoed in all parts of the House. It is indeed unthinkable that a man of such wisdom and gentleness and wholly liberal views should be thrown into gaol. We note that Mr. Smith says this has been done solely on grounds of security and the need to maintain law and order in Rhodesia. I wonder whether Her Majesty's Government would press for the release of Mr. Todd and his daughter, if the only reason we have had from Mr. Smith is that their detention is preventive. We should be very grateful if there could be more enlightenment on the reasons which Mr. Smith has given—they are very sketchy so far—though I realise that the noble Baroness may be in a difficulty in answering to-day.

I should like to ask, further, whether Her Majesty's Government have considered reports that have appeared in the British and American Press that the violence which is going on may well have been started by agents provocateurs, because I think that this may well be relevant. Perhaps I may put one more point. We learn that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearce, had asked Mr. Smith why normal facilities had not been given for the A.N.C. to meet the people and hold meetings, but so far we have not heard whether he has received any reply.


My Lords, we on these Benches would endorse everything which the noble Baroness, speaking for the official Opposition, has said in reply to the Statement which the noble Baroness has just repeated. I must say that the attitude and actions of the Rhodesian Government do not inspire us with any confidence that they are going to permit normal political activity, and I would ask Her Majesty's Government: can we not make it clear to them that the reaction of the sort we have seen in the last few days will inevitably harden African opinions not merely against the proposals but also against the white population in Rhodesia? This is a highly dangerous situation which the authorities are creating. May I ask, further: can we not try to lower the temperature in Rhodesia by adding to the Pearce Commission a deputy chairman in whom the Africans will have real confidence?


My Lords, as one who was Secretary of State when Mr. Todd was Prime Minister, I should like to add my expression of profound disgust at his arrest. I knew Mr. Todd intimately. I knew him before he was Prime Minister, when he was a missionary. That he can deal firmly with Africans no one can have any doubt. I do not know whether the House will remember—the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack probably will—that he was said to have beaten Keats's record of having beaten 100 Africans in one morning. He was a great friend of the African, both as a missionary and as Prime Minister. It seems to me absolutely shocking that this man should have been put under arrest. I, who am not inhibited as Members of the Governments are, want to say as emphatically as I possibly can that it is a disgraceful and disgusting affair, and I hope that Mr. Todd will be set at liberty as soon as possible.


My Lords, I can say to the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and to my noble friend Lord Swinton that we share the concern expressed throughout the House at the detention of Mr. Todd and his daughter. As to the first questions put to me, I am not at this moment able to give further and more detailed information than I have already given to the House. As the noble Baroness will have noticed, I said that my right honourable friend is sending the Head of the Rhodesian Department out there at once to try to find out the circumstances on the spot, and he will be in consultation with Lord Pearce.

The noble Baroness's second question was whether there was any evidence to show that this trouble had been due to agents provocateurs. The answer is that we have no firm evidence of that at this moment. Her third question was whether there are going to be normal facilities given to the Pearce Commission for all concerned to give their views. This is exactly the question about which we are concerned now, and the Pearce Commission must decide whether they have the normal political freedom in which to contact everyone.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, asked whether we could try, as he put it, to lower the temperature by appointing another deputy chairman. We have three deputy chairmen already, as the noble Lord will know, and we feel that that is sufficient. But he will no doubt also be aware that two extra Commissioners have gone out, Mr. Strong and Mr. Butler, both of whom have considerable experience of African affairs and have done the necessary preparation, because they were in fact being kept in reserve.


My Lords, I do not want to add to the sense of outrage which we feel about the arrest of Garfield Todd and his daughter. Those of us who have met them—and the daughter was in this House a few weeks ago when we last discussed Rhodesia—not only have a high regard for the father, but a high regard for the daughter as well. I rise to put a particular question, and it is this. Are steps being taken to secure the right to hold public meetings within the tribal reserves? Is the Minister aware that the A.N.C. are saying that they have been refused permission to speak at 200 meetings in the tribal areas? If that attitude is maintained, how can there be normal political activity?

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to ask one further precise question. While I share the indignation expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, I do not think this is the moment to make speches. The Government made these proposals, and adopted them, and one of the conditions was that there should be normal political activity while the Pearce Commission were gathering the opinions of the whole of Rhodesia. I do not think the Government can escape responsibility for determining whether or not the detention for indefinite periods, without charge or trial, of former politicians who, so far as we know, are persons of great integrity and liberal opinions, is consistent with normal political activity. The noble Baroness suggested that this is a matter for the Pearce Commission—and no doubt it is also a matter for them—but can she give us a short answer as to whether detention of persons such as the Todds, for indefinite periods, without charge or trial is consistent with the Government's interpretation of "normal political activity"?


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, asked me what steps were being taken to secure for Africans the right to hold public meetings in the tribal areas. Lord Pearce himself has asked Mr. Smith about the protest which has been made by the A.N.C., and asked that these meetings should be allowed. Up to the present, no reply has been received from Mr. Smith. The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, asked me whether we did not consider that one of the conditions of the test of acceptability was that there should be normal political activity, and I think that that goes with the previous question, although she did, in particular, ask about people who are under detention. I would, for example, mention the Reverend Mr. Sithole: he is allowed to give his views. And, as I understand it, the fact that Mr. Todd and Miss Todd are under detention does not prevent them in any way from giving their views to the Commision.


My Lords, would my noble friend explain to the House what is the position of Parliamentarians from either House who desire to visit Rhodesia at the present time? She will understand that this matter may drag on for a long time. Surely it is important for both Houses to be informed by individuals. It has been suggested that a Labour delegation would not be acceptable. I should like to stress the importance of having perhaps an all-Party delegation from both Houses visit Rhodesia at an early date so that the Members can report individually to their respective Houses.


My Lords, what my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said was that he felt it would he the best solution to have an all-Party delegation; but he certainly was not discouraging individual Members of the other place, or of this House, from visiting Rhodesia should they so wish.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Baroness one small question in supporting the noble Lord, Lord Byers, when he asked that everything should be done to lower the temperature. Would the noble Baroness tell her right honourable friend that the temperature could be lowered by some of the journalists who report from Rhodesia? The other day we had talk of violence, and of bands of cheering Rhodesians rushing along the runway of the airport. The extravagant stories of violence do not help at all.


My Lords, I certainly agree with the last remark made by the noble Baroness. Extravagant accounts of any kind do not help this particular situation. However, so long as we have a free Press in this country, we cannot say to them that they must not publish this or that particular view.


My Lords, would my noble friend care to give an interpretation of what is "normal political activity "in Africa? I have in mind the treatment of the Opposition in Zambia, the sort of thing that happens in Ghana and so on. What is "normal political activity "there?


My Lords, that is, as they say, the 64,000-dollar question. I would only refer my noble friend to what was put in the White Paper about the tests for an accepted settlement. It was said that persons in detention or under restriction would be allowed to give their views and that the Commission could go wherever they liked, including the tribal trust lands, and he able to meet people not only together but also, if they so desired, individually.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware—and perhaps also the noble Earl—that we shall of course wish, in the course of this rather conveniently timed debate, to pursue the matter further? I am sure the noble Baroness, who has been very good and frank in answering is aware that there is deep concern on the subject. It may well be that by the time she comes to wind up she will be able to give us a little more information. I know that it is not necessarily within her power to get it, but any information she can give will be of help. I have no doubt that noble Lords on both sides will wish to revert at some stage to this desperately anxious situation.


My Lords, I fully understand the concern felt in all parts of the House and as we are having, as the noble Lord said, a debate on Southern Africa it would be very suitable to pursue this matter. If I can get any more information by the time I reply, I will, if I am given leave by the House, certainly give it.


My Lords, may I just return to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Prestwick, about the prospect of an all-Party delegation. The noble Baroness said that the Foreign Secretary had agreed to an all-Party delegation, but I thought that what he had in mind was a delegation composed only of Members of the other House. Would she convey to her right honourable friend that there are Peers in this House who are also interested in this matter, and that it might well be advantageous to have representation from here as well?


My Lords, I will certainly convey that point to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary.