HL Deb 31 January 1972 vol 327 cc531-8

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, I should like now, if I may, to repeat a Statement which has been made by my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in another place. This is the Statement:

"As the House will be aware, I have been in touch with Mr. Smith about arrangements for Members of Parliament to observe the operation of the Pearce Commission. I have made clear in this House my view that it is wrong for us to transfer our political differences to Rhodesia or for British political Parties to propagate their views on the proposals for a settlement in that country while the Test of Acceptability is being conducted. Nevertheless, the Government accept that this House might wish to observe the operation of the Pearce Commission and I have expressed my view that an all-Party delegation would be the most appropriate arrangement.

"The Labour Party, for their part, have preferred to propose a single Party delegation, representing the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. If this could be arranged, they were also prepared to take part in the all-Party delegation. At their request, therefore, I forwarded a proposal on their behalf to Mr. Smith. The Liberal Party made a similar request and I took similar action.

"In his reply Mr Smith has said that he is prepared to receive a limited number of individual M.P.s or groups of M.P.s, provided they go in the capacity of observers of the Pearce Commission's work and not to propagate support for or objection to the terms of the settlement. He has added that he would not be prepared to admit persons who were on record as having aided or encouraged terrorist activities there.

"After consulting the right honourable Gentleman, the Member for Leeds, East, and the honourable Gentleman, the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, I was able to assure Mr. Smith that both the Labour and Liberal Party delegations were ready to undertake that they would not engage in any propaganda while in Rhodesia. I have now received a message from Mr. Smith, and he has made the substance of it public, declining to admit the Labour and Liberal delegations as constituted, on the grounds that some of the proposed Members have encouraged or actively supported terrorist movements in Africa.

"I am satisfied that the legitimate purpose of observing on behalf of this House the operation of the Pearce Commission can be satisfactorily fulfilled by an all-Party delegation. Indeed a privately-organised bi-Party delegation has just been in Rhodesia for this purpose. The all-Party delegation can be pursued through the usual channels."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.


My Lords, the House will wish to thank the noble Marquess for repeating that Statement, but I am bound to say that we on this side of the House have very grave reservations about it. Do Her Majesty's Government now accept that the leader of an illegal régime should discriminate between Members of Parliament who wish to observe the carrying out of British obligations? The Statement referred to terrorists and to people who supported them. Mr. Smith, according to Press reports, referred to resolutions of the Labour Party Conference. Is the noble Marquess aware that I have in my hand the texts of the relevant resolutions since U.D.I., and that there is no reference in them, not merely to terrorist activities, of course, but even to supporting African nationalist movements in Rhodesia? Mr. Smith is now attempting to dictate which public figures, at a perfectly legitimate time, should come to his country as observers. What guarantees have we of what he will do when the Pearce Commission comes home?

Finally, my Lords, we on this side of the House feel that this Statement underlines all our misgivings about Mr. Smith's intentions and his assurances, and (I say this with great sadness) it underlines what we feel about the weakness of the Foreign Secretary in upholding the honour and responsibility of British Members of Parliament.


My Lords, while I thank the noble Baroness for thanking me for repeating the Statement, I am sorry she has taken the line that she has done. As I am sure the House is aware, it is a very distressing situation. Of course, it has always been the case that the régime in Rhodesia has been in a position to refuse or allow entry to people wishing to come into that country. It is also true, as I think the Statement pointed out, that some Members of Parliament—two, I think, from the Party opposite—have been permitted to enter the country. Nevertheless, this is a situation which we all regret. I myself would hope that Mr. Smith may perhaps think better of his decision. We all feel that the British Parliament has a great interest in seeing that the work of the Pearce Commission is carried out fairly and properly, and I am glad to think that at any rate some Members of another place have been allowed to enter the country for that purpose.


My Lords, is the noble Marquess aware that this is much more than a "distressing situation", as he puts it. The whole behaviour of Mr. Smith since this disgraceful settlement was signed is encouraging people in this country to believe now, whatever they many have believed in the past, that the only way in which a solution can ever be reached in that territory is to support the freedom fighters. In preventing visits by Members of another place to observe the work of the Pearce Commission because, he alleges, at some time in the past they had given encouragement to terrorists activities, Mr. Smith is making, it much more difficult not only for the people of Rhodesia to accept a settlement but for Parliament to accept the terms of the expression of opinion by Lord Pearce when he comes back to this country. Is not this an extremely serious matter? Will the noble Marquess represent to his right honourable friend that he should say to Mr. Smith, in the strongest possible terms, that this disgraceful and outrageous interference with the prerogative of this Parliament is something with which we will not put up.


My Lords, I undertake to pass on to my right honourable friend the noble Lord's remarks. I agree with him in that I think Mr. Smith, by his action in this respect, has made things very much more difficult in a great many other respects.


My Lords, if it is decided to send an all-Party delegation to Rhodesia, who will be responsible for choosing it? Will it be the Foreign Office? In that case, if in a list of names for an all-Party delegation recommended by the Labour Party and by the Liberal Party there were included those of Mr. Healey and Mr. Steel, would they be acceptable to Mr. Smith?


My Lords, I cannot answer that question but I should think it unlikely that they would be acceptable. In answer to the first part of the noble Lord's question, I would say that an all-Party delegation would be chosen, as is normal, through the usual channels. I cannot answer categorically whether Mr. Smith would accept any particular Member. I cannot say whether the all-Party delegation proposal will materialise, but certainly my hope, and that of my right honourable friend, is that it will.


My Lords, the obviously deep embarrassment of the noble Marquess shows that he feels a good deal more strongly on this than does his right honourable friend. His right honourable friend may be a saint to many noble Lords opposite—and we have always had a high regard for him —but it is quite intolerable that Mr. Healey should not be allowed to go to Rhodesia. What steps have her Majesty's Government taken to combat the charge that the Labour Party has encouraged or supported terrorist movements? This matter affects not just a Party but, surely, the honour of Parliament. Will the noble Marquess indicate our very strong feelings and deep concern about the failure of the Foreign Secretary?


My Lords, I certainly undertake to pass to my right honourable friend the noble Lord's remarks. I do not think the noble Lord is quite right in ascribing to me any feelings on this matter that are deeper than those of my right honourable friend. He, I know, is extremely concerned and worried about it.


My Lords, is this not an ignominious surrender of the rights of our Parliament? Is it not the case that Mr. Ian Smith is the head of an illegal government established in rebellion against the United Kingdom? Are we really to accept the position that he has the right to decide what representatives from our Parliament should go to Rhodesia? Is the Minister aware—and I sympathise with his embarrassment—that it is an appalling position for any member of a Government to have to accept the fact that an illegal representative of a colony which has rebelled against us should have this power? Will Her Majesty's Government see that representatives from our Parliament and our Members of Parliament have the right to go to Southern Rhodesia without any dictatorship from this illegal Prime Minister?


My Lords, if I am grateful for anything, it is for the noble Lord's sympathy in this matter. Of course I will undertake to pass on his views and those of the House. I agree that it is a serious matter. On the other hand, we want to see so far as possible that the Pearce Commission can get on with their work and come back home with their opinion.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that noble Lords on the other side of the House are being quite unreasonable and unfair to him? Is he not aware that during the years of office of the Labour Government they showed themselves quite unable to exercise any control at all over Mr. Smith? Is my noble friend aware that the whole world knows that we in this country can do little or nothing to influence how Mr. Smith rules in his country? Is lie aware that those who sit on this side of the House feel that the agreement reached by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary gives us a last chance to be able to do something worth while for the peoples of Rhodesia, and particularly the Africans? Is my noble friend aware that he has warm support from noble Lords on this side of the House?


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for what he has said. It is true that we regard the proposed settlement as something which could lead to justice for all the peoples in Rhodesia. That is why we strongly hope that it will prove to be acceptable.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that all of us on this side of the House accept the fact that he and the Secretary of State did their best in a difficult situation? On the other hand, it is a rare thing for Parliamentarians delegated by their Parties in Parliament to be refused entry into another country. Nevertheless, Parliamentarians probably in both Houses are very anxious to survey the situation themselves and to bring back their impressions. Will my noble friend make it abundantly clear to Mr. Smith, through the Secretary of State, that he would be advised, both in his own interest and in that of the coloured people and of the whites in Rhodesia, to accept an all-Party delegation and the nominees of their respective Parties?


Yes, my Lords, I will certainly undertake to pass on that request.


My Lords, is the noble Marquess aware that, while I endorse 100 per cent. what the noble Lord opposite has just said, some of us feel sad about this matter? We should like to talk about it in depth, but it would be unfair on a day like this when internally we have a vital problem about one of the most important industries in our country. May I therefore ask that some opportunity should be given outside this important debate to discuss this subject, after a little consideration, in depth; otherwise we shall be here until one o'clock to-morrow morning. I do not want to pass derogatory remarks about the noble Marquess whose duty it was to make this Statement; nevertheless, there must be many noble Lords on these Benches who see this "cocking a snook" as being similar to something that happened in Poland many years ago when a minor dictator started a vital flare-up in Europe. We do not want that kind of flare-up in Africa.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may respond to the noble Lord's invitation. I feel that many noble Lords will have sympathy with what was implicit in his remarks; that this is a matter which is of deep concern to both Houses of Parliament; and of course we should be willing, through the usual channels, to see whether we could provide time to pursue it further, if that were the general wish. But in view of the fact that we are engaged in an im- portant debate on an important dispute affecting a vitally important industry, I think it would be the general wish of the House as a whole that we should now get on with that debate.