HL Deb 02 March 1972 vol 328 cc1198-202

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, although I much regret interrupting a debate, perhaps it would be the wish of the House to give me leave to repeat now a Statement that is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

"I said that I would report further to the House on the possibility of an all-Party delegation visiting Rhodesia".

"Mr. Smith has finally replied that he would feel unable to agree to the visit of the delegation proposed. He gives as his reason not only the strongly expressed opposition to the settlement of certain members of the proposed delegation, but also their alleged support for movements in Africa which make use of terrorist methods.

"Since both the Labour and Liberal Parties have stated that they are not prepared to change their nominations to the all-Party delegation, a position which I quite understand, I regret that there is now no point in pursuing the proposal further."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Baroness for repeating that Statement, may I ask her whether it would not have been better if Her Majesty's Government had expressed some feeling of regret at this gross act of discourtesy to the Parliament of this country? Noble Lords will agree that it is quite unprecedented for any country to refuse a Parliamentary Delegation. Further, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she can give an undertaking that Her Majesty's Government will uphold the rights of Members of both Houses of Parliament to carry out their legitimate pursuits in all countries, and particularly in a country which is seeking recognition from this Government while in rebellion against the Crown? With regard to the alleged support for terrorist methods, we know that Mr. Smith has many times said that the Labour Party has had resolutions at its annual conference supporting terrorist movements in Rhodesia. Would the noble Baroness confirm what has been pointed out in both Houses of Parliament, that this is completely untrue? My Lords, does this not show that the Smith Government is totally uninterested in the truth, and seeks to invalidate the work of the Pearce Commission since it is probably going to bring back an answer which Smith did not expect?


My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Baroness for repeating this Statement. I will limit my comments to the references to the Liberal Party, of which I have the honour to be a member. Would the noble Baroness agree that there are some completely false assumptions in this reply from Mr. Smith? Is she aware that neither Mr. Steel nor any other Liberal Member of Parliament who might have been nominated supports the use of terrorist methods, any more than they support the repressive methods and shockingly illiberal actions of the illegal régime? There is one other assumption which perhaps the noble Baroness can correct. It appears to be assumed from this reply from Mr. Smith that the Conservatives, on their part, would have been willing to make or change nominations merely to satisfy Mr. Smith. I hope the noble Baroness will be able to give us some assurance that that assumption is ill-founded.


My Lords, first of all to the noble Baroness, I would say that perhaps she will recall that the Statement specifically said: … I regret that there is now no point in pursuing… and obviously we must all of us regret that an all-Party Delegation from either another place or both Houses cannot in fact be received. In answer to the question raised by the noble Baroness as to whether we would do our best to try to ensure that Members of both Houses could go about their legitimate business and observe what is happening in Rhodesia, she will of course recall that three Members of another place have in fact gone—the Member for Surbiton, the Member for West Bromwich and the Member for York.

The noble Baroness then asked whether these allegations were not quite untrue. I could not possibly comment on what resolutions have been passed or have not been passed by political Parties in this country, but I would say that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State conveyed very firmly to Mr. Smith that undertakings were given by all the members of the delegation that they would not work either for or against a settlement while they were in Rhodesia. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, I would say that the Conservative members of the delegation were never named, and therefore there was no question of changing them.


My Lords, I am afraid that I must press the noble Baroness a little further. With regard to the word "regret", the Statement says: Since both the Labour and Liberal Parties have stated that they are not prepared to change their nominations … I regret that there is now no point in pursuing the proposal further". Would the noble Baroness have wished them to have changed the nominations at the wish of Mr. Smith's Government?


My Lords, I think that if the noble Baroness has time to look at the Statement more closely she will observe that just before the words, "I regret", it says, "a position which I quite understand". In other words, this confirms that Her Majesty's Government do not expect the Members of the Labour Party in another place to change their delegation. It is a position which is perfectly understood, and that is why my right honourable friend said, I regret that there is now no point in pursuing the proposal further".


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the form of words used by the Foreign Secretary in this Statement give the impression, if they do not in fact actually support the idea, that the Foreign Secretary has accepted the logic of Mr. Smith's arguments against accepting this all-Party Delegation? Would it not have been possible for him to say something in such an important Statement to make it clear that he himself felt that Mr. Smith was taking up at least a totally illogical position?


My Lords, the great difficulty in this case, as I am sure the House as a whole is aware, is that, however much all of us may regret it, the Rhodesians have had the right of control of access to their country since 1923.


My Lords, should not the noble Baroness in one sense welcome rather than regret what has happened, since it shows Mr. Smith up in his true colours?


No, my Lords, I certainly do not welcome it, because we hope that the Pearce Commission will continue their task.


My Lords, I regret having to disagree with the noble Baroness, who is so pleasant and, I am quite sure, believes entirely that what she says is the truth. But is the noble Baroness aware that those of us who were on the "Fearless"—and I was one of the people present and took part in the negotiation—knew within our hearts that there was no possibility of coming to an open, democratic agreement with this (and I use the word) gentleman, Mr. Smith? Consequently, I repeat the end of the speech that I made when the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, went to Rhodesia. I said that the Foreign Secretary and the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, had been taken for a ride. Why should this great Government be taken for a ride?


My Lords, I hesitated to interrupt the noble Lord, but it would assist me greatly if he could couch his remarks in the form of a question, because it would make it easier for me to remember what it is he wishes me to say. I should be most grateful if he would say it again.


My Lords, I do not want to repeat it. I only wanted to ask whether the noble Baroness was aware that her Government have been taken for a ride.


My Lords, I would say briefly that I am not at all aware of this fact. It is entirely up to the Pearce Commission to decide whether they have the conditions in which they can fulfil their work, and up till now they have said that they have.