HL Deb 11 June 1975 vol 361 cc334-41

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I will repeat the Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

" I will with permission Mr. Speaker and that of the House, make a statement on Rhodesia.

" I told the House on 21st May that I was considering the next steps to be taken in the matter of Rhodesia and that I hoped to make a further statement in the near future. I have since been in touch with the Presidents of Zambia, Tanzania and Botswana, with the Prime Minister of South Africa and with Mr. Smith. I have also had further talks with ANC leaders who returned to Salisbury from the Kingston conference through London; and last week I had a useful discussion with Bishop Muzorewa.

" All are agreed that the urgent objective is to get discussions going to secure a peaceful solution to Rhodesia's problems by negotiation, though of course there are substantial differences of emphasis about how best to achieve this.

" I have concluded that the time has come when the Government should be directly in touch with Mr. Smith at Ministerial level. Accordingly my right honourable friend the Minister of State will visit Salisbury later this month (the precise date is still to be worked out) for discussions with Mr. Smith, with ANC leaders and others. He will consult with all concerned about the modalities and the timing of the next steps.

" Her Majesty's Government are ready to convene a constitutional conference on Rhodesia. I think it is accepted that there would need to be a formal conference to reach final agreement on a solution based on majority rule for Rhodesia. Some argue that this should come only after a basic agreement has been reached between the Africans and Europeans within Rhodesia. But the progress which has been made on that basis during the past six months is hardly encouraging. Certainly, the more progress that can be made the better, and I am pleased to see that further meetings between the two sides in Rhodesia are in prospect. I believe and hope that both Mr. Smith and the ANC are ready to discuss substantial matters, such as the franchise, in these meetings, and I have urged all concerned to do so. Lest there be any doubt, however, I should like to state quite clearly now that it is my intention to convene a constitutional conference as soon as the Government consider it opportune to do so. Questions about timing and preliminaries and modalities for a conference are matters which my right honourable friend will explore further with the parties directly concerned when he visits Salisbury.

" The House will see that I am not setting a deadline for the commencement of a conference. If as I hope both sides in their direct talks begin now to negotiate issues of substance I would not be dogmatic as to the timing of the Government's proposed conference. But a start must be made before it is too late, and if it is clear in due course that substantial progress is not resulting from the direct talks between Mr. Smith and the ANC it will then become the Government's responsibility to call the parties together.

" Everybody who has followed the affairs of Rhodesia knows only too well of the wide gap between white and black Rhodesians which remains to be bridged and of the significant changes of attitude that are required. I hope the ANC itself, when it meets in Congress on 21st and 22nd June, will define its policy in terms of a peaceful and multiracial solution. It is my expectation that my right honourable friend's visit will assist in all these matters.

" The House will wish to know more about the question of assistance to Mozambique over the implementation of sanctions, which was advocated by the Commonwealth Heads of Government in the communiqué issued after the conference in Kingston last month. Since then we have been in further consultation with the future leaders of Mozambique. We have indicated to them that the British Government are ready to make available a generous programme of development assistance in order to assist them in countering the economic problems which would arise for Mozambique from the application of sanctions against Rhodesia. It is our intention that such assistance in countering the problems posed by sanctions should be provided under the auspices of the United Nations and we hope that other member governments of the United Nations will also be prepared to assist Mozambique generously in this way.

" In conclusion. I should like to take this opportunity to emphasise that the Government remain pledged to do all that lies within their power to promote a peaceful settlement in Rhodesia as the alternative to the violence which, as the Commonwealth Heads of Government recognised in Kingston, will otherwise be inevitable. It is up to people in Rhodesia to seize now what may well be their last chance to settle their differences and determine the future of their country without resort to further bloodshed—the last chance, too, perhaps to secure a future in which all races, black, white, Asian and coloured, have their place. Her Majesty's Government are ready to do all we can to help them do this. But the basic opportunity is theirs."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the right honourable gentleman the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in another place. May I ask him whether he is aware that most, indeed all, noble Lords will certainly support the steps which are aimed at achieving a settlement based upon majority rule and upon a peaceful solution in Rhodesia. I am sure I speak for the overwhelming majority of the House in wishing the right honourable Gentleman Mr. Ennals well in his mission, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest importance, being the first discussion with Mr. Smith at Ministerial level for some time.

However, would the noble Lord the Minister not agree that while Britain can do a certain amount by convening a conference and, indeed, as suggested in the Statement, by bringing the parties together, in the event of disagreement the success of the discussions must rest with those in Rhodesia; namely, the ANC, incorporating ZANU and ZAPU, and with Mr. Smith and the Party behind him? While we can do much to facilitate discussions, success or failure rests with the Rhodesian people themselves.

My Lords, may I further ask the Minister whether it is not a fact that after the Kingston Conference it was very widely reported that the Prime Minister had reached agreement with the Presidents of Botswana, Tanzania and Zambia that a conference would be called within three months, and that it would take place irrespective of whether or not Mr. Smith was prepared to attend. Listening to the Statement the noble Lord has made, it sounds as if there is a greater degree of flexibility, and that no time limit is now adhered to. If so I welcome it, because a rigid time limit for this kind of discussion seems to me unwise.

Finally, referring to the last part of the Statement—namely, the help being given to Mozambique—it was said at the Kingston Conference that there would be a reinforcement and an extension of sanctions, and that this would involve financial assistance being given to Mozambique. The Minister said in the Statement that he would give us more information, but he has not given us what seems to me fairly fundamental information. How much is this going to cost the British Government? Is it going to come from the existing development aid? Are other countries going to have a reduction in their development aid? What other countries have undertaken to finance this aid being given to Mozambique?


My Lords, we should like to endorse the initiative which the Government have taken in this matter and, like the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, to wish the right honourable gentleman Mr. Ennals well in his mission. I should only like to express the hope that Mr. Smith will realise that the forces ranged against him are increasing every day, and that he will prove less intransigent and more realistic in this round of talks than he has been before in the attempt, which we all want, to get a peaceful and multiracial solution.


My Lords, may I thank both noble Lords for their contributions on this difficult and important matter. The noble Lord, Lord Balniel, said that he fully supported, as, indeed, his Party always have, the attempt to secure a settlement on the basis of majority rule through peaceful negotiation. I very much welcome his statement on the attitude of his Party on this. I agree entirely with him that this is a solution primarily for Rhodesians. This is why my right honourable friend is going out to speak to the wide variety of people representing Rhodesian opinion of every shade, in an attempt to get them to conic together for preliminary discussions which we hope may in the normal course, as the noble Lord knows, finally eventuate in a constitutional conference to be chaired by this country.

My Lords, I very much welcome also the other point raised by the noble Lord with regard to flexibility. Too rigid a timetable would indeed impede the successful creation of a new consensus in Rhodesia. On the point about further information with regard to the assistance that we and other nations intend to make available to Mozambique, I am not in a position today to give figures although I had hoped to be. The matter is still under consideration and discussion. However, I can assure the noble Lord that it is development aid aimed at assisting developments in Mozambique which they could not otherwise themselves finance. It will be part of the aid Vote, although I shall have to check afresh whether it will be new money or money from the existing Vote.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, made a very important point in most appropriate terms. While no one wishes to say anything today which would prejudice the success of these delicate talks, it is still necessary that Mr. Smith and those whom he represents should realise the increasing difficulty—I put it no higher—of their position. Those of us who take a multiracial view of the future of Rhodesia—and I imagine that includes everyone—are equally concerned with justice and an assured future for the white as well as for the black and coloured races in Rhodesia. We hope that leaders of all sections of Rhodesian opinion, of whatever race, colour or creed, will rise to new heights of statesmanship and concede what is necessary, so that this famous and beautiful country can begin a new and more hopeful and unified chapter in its history.


My Lords, would it not be true to say that what is most important today is to make the Africans in Rhodesia and near Rhodesia aware of the three little words that the noble Lord the Minister has just spoken, which were, "within the Government's"—that is, the British Government's— "power", and not give them any illusions about the extent of that power, because surely that is one of the things that has prevented a great deal of progress until now.


My Lords, the remark of the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, is most apposite and most helpful.

Lord HOME of the HIRSEL

My Lords, may I say that the timing of this initiative is right. The sands are obviously running out for a peaceful settlement and, therefore, one joins with my noble friend in wishing the Minister of State every possible good fortune in his talks. I hope he will be able to collect a lot of opinions and, so far as possible, arrive at a consensus in Rhodesia before the Foreign Secretary takes a decision to call the constitutional conference. It could be extremely dangerous to call that prematurely. I hope he will give himself plenty of time, therefore, to judge the news which his right honourable friend brings back before he finally commits himself to that.


My Lords, I am quite sure that my right honourable friend will pay particular attention to the point made from such a source, remembering the tremendous effort made by the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, when he was Foreign Secretary, and the nearness to which he came to success in settling this very difficult question. I take on board what he has said. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will be glad to do the same when I report to him what the noble Lord has said.


My Lords, may we take it that the Government recognise the great importance of making adequate preparation for a conference of the sort now contemplated? Would it not be desirable that the Minister of State should have with him a really senior and experienced diplomat? Should this diplomat not be left in residence in Salisbury when the Minister leaves to come home, so that the Government may have their finger currently on trends and tendencies in that country, and so that the Foreign Secretary may have absolutely up-to-date, inside information on what is happening to enable him to exercise his valuable influence in the best way he can to produce a settlement?


My Lords, my noble friend's suggestion certainly deserves consideration. I would say that we have one or two fingers on one or two current trends already.


My Lords, while welcoming the Statement, may I ask the Minister this question, because I think the point will be decisive. In the contact which has been made with Mr. Ian Smith, has he concurred in the idea that the British should take the initiative in calling the conference and presiding over it?


My Lords, I think the Statement, which I hope my noble friend will study—I will gladly give him my copy later—makes clear that we are in the first instance, in the spirit of the point emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Balniel, seeking through the mission of my right honourable friend Mr. Ennals to get the representatives of the Rhodesian people to put together a preliminary process of discussion, a conference which will lead to a constitutional conference in the normal way presided over by this country. It is a matter for judgment at what time the final conference should be convened by this country, but it will be done at the right time and after due consideration of how things are going on the ground in Rhodesia. I do not think there is anything to divide my noble friend from me, or from the noble Lord, Lord Home, on this question.


My Lords, while welcoming immensely this development and the decision of the Government in this matter, may I ask the Minister, whether the Statement makes it absolutely clear that Her Majesty's Government, when they regard the time as right, will call a conference despite the fact that any component part of the African representation or the European representation in Rhodesia refuse to take part in it?


My Lords, I think the Statement makes that contingency quite clear. We do not want to anticipate that kind of situation, and I am quite sure the noble Lord, Lord Alport, does not want to anticipate it. The Statement makes it quite clear that we shall feel it our responsibility to move. However, I repeat that it is infinitely preferable that there should be meaningful discussions on the ground among the Rhodesians themselves. The present proposed mission is designed to achieve that result. We are not without hope that it may succeed.


My Lords, I wonder whether it can be agreed that the right reverend Prelate, who has been waiting to make his maiden speech for 20 minutes, should now be allowed to proceed.

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