HL Deb 14 December 1976 vol 378 cc792-801

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I will now repeat a Statement on Rhodesia which 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 will with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a Statement on Rhodesia.

"The early weeks of the Geneva conference were spent in discussing the date by which Rhodesia would achieve independence as the new sovereign State of Zimbabwe. This discussion, while it absorbed a great deal of time, was helpful in demonstrating conclusively to all the participants that the object of the conference really is to launch Rhodesia on the road to independence under majority rule.

"For the past fortnight, the discussions have focused on the central issue—the structure and functions of the transitional government. While no agreement has been reached, good progress has been made in identifying

and clarifying the views of the different parties, and the points that must be settled before a transitional government can be established. After consulting with Mr. Ivor Richard last week, I have concluded that the stage has now been reached where Britain should attempt to give a fresh impetus to the search for a solution. But it is clear to me that this process is more likely to be successful if it is not initiated during the normal meetings of the conference. We now need a further period of intensive consultations, in Southern Africa, to enable us to lay the foundations for an agreement on this fundamental question. I have therefore authorised the chairman to adjourn the conference to permit such consultations to take place.

"The conference will go into recess today and will resume in Geneva on the 17th of January. I have asked Mr. Richard, as the Government's Special Representative, to leave for Africa immediately after Christmas in order to consult with all the parties concerned. He will develop our positive ideas for a settlement, which will include in particular the direct role which Britian would be ready to play in the transitional period. If, at the end of his consultations, it proves necessary or desirable, I would myself go either to Africa or to the resumed conference at Geneva.

"The House will understand that I must refrain from setting out our ideas in detail today. I would say only that our intention will be to meet the concern of the Nationalists that the process of transition to independence should be rapid and guaranteed and the anxieties of the Europeans that it should be orderly.

"It is, Mr. Speaker, the general feeling amongst the delegates at Geneva that an adjournment of some weeks would now be the best way of carrying our work forward to a successful conclusion. I may add that Dr. Kissinger, whom I consulted over the weekend, also strongly supports the proposed procedure. For all the angry statements which are made from time to time, we have, in my view, a good chance of achieving a peaceful settlement in Rhodesia."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.

3.41 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for having presented this Statement on Rhodesia to the House. Your Lordships will understand that the noble Lord, at this critical period of the ne-gotiations—which of course we hope will be brought to a successful conclusion —cannot go into full details, and we do not intend to press him as much as we otherwise would.

We welcome, first, the date of 17th January given in the Statement for the resumption of the conference, because obviously too great a delay between the adjournment and the resumption of the conference would possibly militate against a successful and peaceful conclusion to the negotiations. However, there are one or two areas which I think are of legitimate concern and on which I should like to put one or two questions and comments to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts.

We view with some apprehension the rather difficult role that has been assigned to Mr. Richard to go out after Christmas to see the African Presidents and the Nationalist leaders, in view of the fact that the Statement says the Foreign Secretary himself would go out if that proves necessary or desirable. That seems to indicate that the position of Mr. Richard is rather a weak one, and I should like to ask the Government whether they would confirm that it is more a question of the derogation of powers to Mr. Richard which are being reserved to the Foreign Secretary rather than any indication of lack of confidence in the outcome of the negotiations of Mr. Richard with the people concerned.

The second point which is touched on in the Statement refers to the transitional government which is to be established. I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister could give us some information in slightly more detail as to the role Britain will play in this transitional government. Much has been heard recently of the fact that Britain will be playing a more constructive role. We should certainly welcome that, from this side of the House; and we should like further details, if they are available, as to how the Government envisage the kind of role Britain will be playing.

Thirdly, I should like to have confirmation from the noble Lord the Minister that the conference proposals, the adjournment and the resumption, are supported by our colleagues in the European Community, because obviously a successful outcome of these negotiations is almost as important to the other members of NATO as it is to us.

Finally, I should like to inquire whether, in view of the fact that there will be a new Administration in America after 20th January, the Government have had any conversations or consultations concerning the problems of Rhodesia with Mr. Carter or a senior member of the incoming Administration. I realise that details cannot be given in full, but it would be very helpful and would give confidence to the country as a whole if we knew that the actions that have been taken by Her Majesty's Government are fully supported by the new Administration in America as well as by our colleagues in Europe.


My Lords, speaking from these Benches, I should like first to associate myself with everything that was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles; that is to say, I should like to support the questions which she has put to the Government. Also, I hope that I am reflecting the view of the whole House when I say that we are all most grateful to Mr. Richard for having made the progress that he has in appallingly difficult circumstances.

Finally, may I ask the noble Lord whether the Government would agree that while it would be very desirable for Britain to play, in the words of the Secretary of State, "a direct role" in the transitional period. Would the Government agree that any specifically British or, conceivably, international intervention in Rhodesia would be possible only if all the major political Parties concerned were prepared to welcome it?


My Lords, may I first thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their remarks and then try to deal with the points that have been raised. The noble Baroness referred to the difficult role which Mr. Richard has. It has always been a difficult role, and I am sure he will welcome the warm words of encouragement and appreciation uttered by the noble Lord today; I am sure he will be delighted to hear what the noble Lord has said. It goes pretty well without saying that we have the fullest confidence in Mr. Richard, and the fact that we hold in reserve, as it were, the possibility of the Secretary of State going to Africa or Geneva himself in no way detracts from the function, or indeed the power, of the Special Representative.

Secondly, as to the transitional government and the role of Britain, I regret that I cannot go into detail on this matter, as indeed the noble Baroness herself indicated. However, I agree that at the right time Her Majesty's Government should inform Parliament of their ideas. At the moment, it is w ell that we should, through Mr. Richard, convey to the leaders of a wide variety of African opinion and attitude, including white Africa, what our ideas are without being too definitive too early. There is a danger in taking a certain stance too early. We have seen that in regard to the arguments about a date for independence, and we learn even from recent mistakes.

Thirdly, I can assure the noble Baroness —I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, will also be pleased to have this confirmation—that our allies and partners in the Eurpoean Community and in NATO are 100 per cent. behind us in their encouragement and support for the steps that we have taken and are taking in this very difficult situation.

Finally, regarding the United States Administration, it is clearly of the utmost importance that we should keep in closest consultation both with the present Administration and the prospective members of the new Administration. I can assure the House that, in appropriate ways, consultation will continue as closely as ever.


My Lords, would the noble Lord reply to my question?


My Lords, I thought I had in fact done so. I have a note here that the noble Lord referred to the desirability of a direct role. Was that the question which the noble Lord means?


My Lords, I asked whether there is to be a specifically British, or even an international, intervention in Rhodesia itself, that would be possible only if all the political Parties concerned were prepared to welcome it.


Yes, indeed, my Lords. I regret that I had not quite taken the point in the way in which the noble Lord has now explained it. Of course, we stand ready to entertain and to consider any proposal or any form of involvement which is acceptable to the parties concerned. Without that consensus, it would really be counter-productive, perhaps, for us to put forward a proposal as to our own activity. I very much take on board what the noble Lord has said.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, arising out of the Minister's Statement, may I ask whether he can give some indication how, since the selections for the negotiations were made at the individual choice of Governments, Mr. Mugabe, who admits to the lone demand that a Marxist State should be introduced into Rhodesia, was chosen? Arising from that, can the Minister say if and when an approach will be made to the Council of Chiefs to produce a representative at the conference, because, if any constitutional procedure is subsequently followed for getting an indication of what is wanted by the African population, reference will have to be made to the Tribal Trust areas, which comprise two-thirds of the population and whose representation is based on the chiefs? They must be represented, and I should like the Minister to refer to that point.

Also, it seems curious that during the negotiations there has been no attempt at getting an armistice. In any other negotiations, after what is admitted by Mr. Mugabe to be war against Rhodesia, there would be an armistice. Also, can the Minister say how it is that Tanzania and Mr. Nyerere are included in the reference to the five African States, when Tanzania is not contiguous to Rhodesia? May I also ask the Minister whether it would not be natural, since the British Government were responsible for their imposition, for sanctions to be now withdrawn? That would help the moderates in Rhodesia, who, after all, are subject to the intimidation which is a dominant feature of what is at present, and habitually has been, the attitude against Rhodesia.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

My Lords, may I ask noble Lords to keep subsequent questions brief? We have already been over 15 minutes on this Statement.


My Lords, all good questions need to be studied very carefully and for that reason, with the permission of the House, I will not address myself to the voluminous detail of the questions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby. But I will see to it—if it is necessary to do that—that our special representative is fully apprised of the first two sections of his question about the matters which will need to be settled and agreed during the transition period, if, as we hope, peace and stability are attained for all the peoples of Rhodesia. As to sanctions, I have repeated in this House more than once that, as soon as it is seen that Rhodesia is irreversibly on the course to independence by majority rule, sanctions will wither away, and we shall all be glad to see that day. As to the other point on the armistice, my understanding is that, at the moment at least, there is a welcome diminution of activity. But that is not to say that it will not flare up again, and I would not put the chances too high. I agree with the noble Lord that we must somehow get a cessation of military activity on both sides, so that this conference can proceed in an atmosphere of peaceful co-operation. But feelings are very high, especially after many years of what many people regard as terrible repression.


My Lords, may I—

Several noble Lords



My Lords, may I put a rather simple question? Are the Government keeping the Commonwealth informed of all these developments, particularly in view of the offer by Canada of co-operation? Also, are they keeping the Security Council of the United Nations informed, in view of the fact that it was responsible for mandatory sanctions?


Yes, indeed, my Lords, and I welcome the opportunity provided for me by my noble friend to say that we are in fullest consultation with various members of the Commonwealth, and with the Secretariat of the Commonwealth. We are also, of course, actively engaged in all the discussions in the United Nations on this matter.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, while most people would accept his wise words, in negotiations of this kind it is not wise to be definite too early? Would he accept that, where someone speaking on the Government's behalf—that is, Dr. Kissinger—seems to have been more definite than the noble Lord would have wished him to be, there is a real danger in any appearance of retreat from what was a very clear statement as to the intention? Would he agree that until that misappre-hension—if it was misapprehension—is cleared away, we cannot expect confidence in bringing about any worthwhile settlement, whether they meet on 17th January or at any other time.


My Lords, I appreciate what the noble Lord has just said. We cannot hope to avoid misapprehension in a situation like this, but we can, as he has just said, do our utmost to keep misapprehensions and misrepresentations to a minimum. The fact is that the purpose of the conference is perfectly well known to everybody, and it is to move in an orderly, peaceful and equitable manner to a system of independence through majority rule in Rhodesia. It would be well if everybody concentrated on that objective, rather than speculate on what might have been said, according to some reports, sometimes at third and fourth hand, at some date in some meeting which may not even have been held. I am sure that I have the noble Lord with me in concentrating on the central purpose. We want to see, for all the peoples of Rhodesia, white and black, a Zimbabwe which gives to them equally an opportunity of working in and for their country.


My Lords, in deference to the noble Lord the Leader of the House, my question will be short. There can be no one here, and few elsewhere, who does not wish success to the outcome of this conference, and who does not welcome any initiative towards that end. such as the personal participation of the Foreign Secretary. But may I ask the noble Lord whether he, his right honourable friend and the Government are satisfied that the current diplomatic activity, particularly of Russia and of other Left-Wing nations, as one might call them, such as, presumably, Cuba, throughout all the African countries, together with the political attitudes of some of the major African countries involved, is such as will ever allow this conference to be successful?


Yes, indeed, my Lords. If we are clear and determined enough, and align ourselves with the great majority of African opinion which wishes to ensure independence without interference from any quarter, we shall succeed. We condemn and deplore any infiltration, any interference, from any quarter in the internal affairs of Africa and its constituent countries.


My Lords, while I dislike introducing any element of discord, and while I am particularly unhappy at differing from my noble friend—although I cannot really call him that—Lord Goronwy-Roberts, I should like to ask him two questions. First, does not the statement that the noble Lord read out indicate that we have, in effect, totally abandoned the Kissinger plan? Secondly, can the noble Lord give any undertaking that Her Majesty's Government will not come to any settlement unless there are positive guarantees from the Front Line Presidents that they will not support terrorist activity?


My Lords, I do not think that it would help at this stage to seek guarantees of that nature. We must create a situation in which everybody comes in, from their own self-interest, to help to create an agreement. It can be done. On the noble Lord's first point as to whether we have "abandoned the Kissinger plan", it is important to regard what Dr. Kissinger has said on a number of occasions and what others have said as bases for the negotiations which have started and which we hope will proceed with more success. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, once more: that it would be a mistake to take a stand on any one particular statement of view of the possibilities, but rather that one should invite the participants to consider all proposals as bases for agreement. I would not call what Dr. Kissinger said "a Kissinger plan". There are other plans. Indeed, there are as many plans as there are participants at the conference.


My Lords—


My Lords, I hope that noble Lords will realise that we have had a very good innings. The noble Lord, Lord Barnby, has already made a full contribution and I hope that we can proceed.


My Lords, with due respect to the noble Lord the Leader of the House, may I refer to the Standing Order of the House which states quite definitely that comments and brief questions for clarification are allowed. Surely on an important Statement like this it is not ruled out that one should ask questions, and my object is to ask the Minister—


My Lords, I am sorry to persist, but—


My Lords, may I—


My Lords, order, please!Standing Order No.32 states that the Ministerial Statements are made for information. Brief comments and questions for clarification are allowed but such Statements should not be made the occasion for an immediate debate unless the House so order. We have had a good question period and I hope that we can proceed.