HL Deb 22 March 1976 vol 369 cc448-60

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I shall repeat a Statement now being made by my right honourable friend in another place. The Statement is as follows:

"I will, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, make a Statement on the situation in Rhodesia.

"The news that negotiations between Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Smith were broken off on Friday is a matter of deep concern. Yet another attempt to find a solution to Rhodesia's problem by peaceful means has been thrown away because of Mr. Smith's refusal to accept the principle of majority rule at an early date.

"This effort has failed like its predecessor that was launched by the four Presidents and Mr. Vorster in December 1974 because of Mr. Smith's prevarications. His purpose has not been to negotiate a constitutional settlement but to buy time in order to remove the pressures on him.

"When Mr. Nkomo took his decision to begin fresh discussions with Mr. Smith it was made clear that, while Her Majesty's Government had no wish to take sides in the internal differences of the African National Council, we welcomed his initiative and wished it success. He and his colleagues have shown patience and determination in recent months and I believe when the account of the negotiations is published it will be seen that the demands put forward by Mr. Nkomo were both reasonable and moderate. It seemed likely in mid-February that the talks might founder and I heard from a number of sources that Mr. Smith wished Britain to become involved. I therefore asked Lord Greenhill to visit Salisbury to assess Mr. Smith's position in order that I might consider whether there was any real prospect of Britain being able to promote a settlement.

"Lord Greenhill's report did not give an indication that there was a sufficient change in Mr. Smith's attitude to make it useful for Britain to assume a role in the talks then going on.

"More recently he sent word to me that he would like the British Government to appoint a Commission of wise men to put forward the terms of a settlement. In the absence of any commitment by him to majority rule this seemed to me to be retreading old ground and I made clear to Mr. Smith that I rejected the proposal.

"Last week Mr. Smith made a fresh proposal to the honourable Member for Bury St. Edmunds which incor- porated the original idea of three wise men but proposed that they should take part in a round table conference to be attended by representatives of the Rhodesian Front, other representatives of the European Community, of Mr. Nkomo's ANC and selected leaders of the external wing of the ANC. The honourable Member was good enough to communicate this proposal to my right honourable friend the Minister of State as soon as he returned, but by then the talks were on the point of breaking down. In my view they were designed to do no more than buy even more time for Mr. Smith's régime. He does not seem to realise that he no longer has much time to buy.

"During recent months I have been giving a great deal of thought to the ways in which Britain could help to secure an orderly transfer of power in Rhodesia. During this period I have kept in touch with the African Nationalist leaders and also with the four Presidents, whose advice I greatly value. It is my understanding that the four Presidents, despite their belief that the armed struggle may now be inevitable, still sincerely wish to see a peaceful settlement in Rhodesia.

"If their hopes and ours are to be fulfilled, there must be a two-stage operation. First, there must be prior agreement by all the principal parties of a number of preconditions. These are as follows: first, acceptance of the principle of majority rule; second, elections for majority rule to take place in 18 months to two years third, agreement that there will be no independence before majority rule; fourth, the negotiations must not be long drawn out. There would also need to be assurances that the transition to majority rule and to an independent Rhodesia would not be thwarted, and would be orderly. If these preconditions were accepted, it would then become possible for the second stage to begin; namely, the negotiations of the actual terms of a constitution for independence.

"We should also need to ensure that the settlement provided a background in which both communities could live and work together in an independent Rhodesia. Many African leaders have reiterated their strong desire that those Europeans who are prepared to put their faith in Rhodesia should remain in that country and that their presence will help to ensure the country's development. Her Majesty's Government would be willing to consider financial and other means to assist this end.

"Given the acceptance of the principle of early majority rule, it is in my view possible to reach a settlement which could go a very long way towards reconciling African aspirations and European fears. Britain would be prepared to play a constructive part in any negotiations in which these preconditions have been accepted, and would be willing to sit down with representatives of all shades of Rhodesian opinions inside and out.

"An independent Rhodesia will need development assistance and aid for educational and other purposes on a significant scale. Britain would play her part, but I hope that members of the Commonwealth, the European Communities and others would also he willing to help.

"In a final settlement achieved along these lines, all should be ready to agree that guerrilla activity should cease and that an approach could be made to the United Nations with a view to lifting the economic sanctions now in force. I ready ready to discuss this approach with all concerned, but no agreement would be worth anything until the principle of majority rule opens the door to new negotiations.

"As things are, Mr. Smith is leading his country on the path of death and destruction. Even at this late stage I ask the European population of Rhodesia to believe that there is an alternative path. It is still just possible for Mr. Smith to follow it. If not, I hope other leaders will emerge who recognise the realities of the hour and that the time is here when the legitimate aspirations of the African people can be met and reconciled with the desires of the European population. Only in this way can there be hope for a peaceful future for Rhodesia."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I certainly welcome what the noble Lord has said in his Statement about the Government being prepared to take action and to take part in negotiations in certain circumstances. I do not think that we can just sit back and wash our hands of the whole thing. We have responsibilities to the white people and the black people in Rhodesia, and responsibilities which spread further than that, to the surrounding countries, for what may or may not happen. Certainly the situation is grave.

If the position is that the negotiations have been finally broken off—as they seem to have been—there is obviously a very real danger of an increase in terrorism and other activity from outside as well as inside Rhodesia. I should have thought it self-evident that no settlement is possible if Mr. Smith does not agree to majority rule at an early date. I confess, though, that I am a little uneasy that the Government in their Statement have put a precise time on it; I think that that at this stage is perhaps unwise. I think most of your Lordships would agree that certainly an early date is essential, but I hope that that is for negotiation. I should also have thought that Mr. Nkomo is the Rhodesian African leader most likely to negotiate a settlement and lead a Party, an African Party, which is acceptable to both black and white. I believe that this may very well be the last occasion when an opportunity for a settlement of this kind may arise.

Mr. Smith has improvised over these last 10 years with a great deal of success, but I do not really believe that there is any more time for improvisation. I think the situation has now changed and I hope very much that he will be able to look, perhaps with that one amendment that I have made, at the proposals of Her Majesty's Government, realising that perhaps this is the last chance for avoiding a very grave situation in Rhodesia.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, we must thank the Minister for repeating that extremely important Statement, which gives us all cause for reflection. I would personally have welcomed having a copy of the Statement somewhat before the noble Lord rose to his feet to speak. All I can say is that we of course agree with the action which Her Majesty's Government propose to take. As expounded in the Statement, it seems reasonable and very desirable, but, after all, what is the position? The position is that Mr. Smith has said that he would not agree to black majority rule even in 1,000 years. Those who speak for the black majority, to say nothing of the leaders of the neighbouring States, say—and I think we must believe them—that majority rule cannot now be put off for more than 1,000 days, and this figure of 1,000 days seems indeed to have been accepted implicitly in the Government's Statement.

Thus, unless Mr. Smith gives in or unless Mr. Smith is replaced—and I greatly fear that both eventualities are unlikely—we must now, as realists, expect some kind of armed confrontation to occur. We must do everything we can to prevent it, but we must expect that it will probably occur. The end of such a confrontation, even if it goes on for 1,000 days, must surely be evident. Unless Mr. Smith receives some armed support, which again seems most unlikely, it will end in defeat for the Rhodesian white minority. That is inevitable, but even so, would the Government agree that a bloodbath is by no means inevitable or that this path will inevitably lead, as I think the Government's Statement says, to "death and destruction"?

When it becomes apparent that, for various reasons—economic as well as military and perhaps principally economic—the Smith régime can no longer run the country, will not all those who simply cannot accept black majority rule just leave Rhodesia and, so far as the 150,000 whites of British origin are concerned, effectively find refuge in this country? After all, when it became apparent that France could no longer dominate the brown majority, General de Gaulle successfully evacuated no fewer than 750,000 French people to France, and I believe that they were all successfully incorporated in the French economy. Ought we not to take all this into account when planning realistically for the future?


My Lords, may I at once express appreciation of the temperate and thoughtful response of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington? I take fully on board what he said about the time scale. I thought that the Statement was fairly tentative on that point. One must of course bear in mind that there are very substantial moderate as well as extremist elements in Southern and Central Africa which would regard 18 months as being excessively long. However, I know that the noble Lord has these matters in mind. I shall certainly draw the attention of my right honourable friend to what the noble Lord has said.

As to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, I enjoyed his speech, as always. On the questions which he raised, I very much regret that the noble Lord was late in receiving a copy of this Statement. So was I. On these occasions, all three Front Benches are well used to having to wait for important Statements. These have to be put together as carefully as possible and that takes a little time. The noble Lord said that a blood bath was not inevitable. It certainly is not, if, even at this late hour, practical common sense sets in in Salisbury. I have never felt that it would be impossible to build in Rhodesia a shared responsibility for the business and the government of that magnificent country, but time is short if we are to avoid either a Congo or an Algerian situation.

Lord HOME of the HIRSEL

My Lords, will the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, accept that I believe the Statement of the Foreign Secretary has given the Rhodesians yet one more opportunity to come to an arrangement if they will? May I ask the noble Lord also to accept that I share my noble Leader's fear that time is running out and that Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Smith or a representative of the Rhodesian Front must settle this in a short time? There is a danger that we may miss the time. May I also point out that "majority rule" is a very emotional phrase and suggest that it is impossible to imagine how one could fail to achieve majority rule with even a comparatively small adjustment of the franchise? In other words, must Mr. Smith not accept that, if the franchise is altered—as surely it must be—majority rule must follow at the next election? What I am trying to say is that majority rule is an emotional phrase but that, nevertheless, a single small adjustment of the franchise would help the Rhodesian Front to feel that there might be a responsible Government in Rhodesia rather than one man one vote from the start. It is rather difficult to make this clear in the form of a question, but I believe that it is a point which is worth considering.


My Lords, I am sure that, as always, the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, has made his views crystal clear. They will of course be studied with very great care and respect by my right honourable friend and, one hopes, in Salisbury as well.


My Lords, can the Minister clarify certain points which seem to me to be important? My noble friend will of course be aware that no Constitution yet granted in Africa has been observed and that a Constitution under multiracial circumstances is in a sense a social contract. What have the Government in mind for guaranteeing the terms of this Constitution if it is granted? Further, the parties of Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Sithole have been at open war for some 10 years and there is no indication at all that that war will cease. A black or multiracial Government in Rhodesia will certainly have to fight for its life against a foreign invader as Mr. Roberto Holden tried unsuccessfully to do in Luanda. Do we intend to fight on the side of Rhodesia in the event of that invasion and are we going to back this Constitution and this State if it comes into being as our colony or under our guarantee? Those seem to be two vital questions.


My Lords, my noble friend as usual puts forward assumptions as if they were facts. Nevertheless they are important hypotheses. May I stand on this? This is a situation of, one hopes, immediate negotiation, in which all possible hypotheses and assumptions will have to be considered with a view not simply to Constitutions, essential as those are, but to a peaceful settlement. On that point, I leave my noble friend. I hope that he will make a full speech in a broader discussion of these assumptions and possibilities on another occasion.


My Lords, arising out of that answer, may I ask the Minister whether he can see his way to making some supplementary Statement because in the Press there has been much reference to relations with neighbouring African States? If I remember the Statement correctly, it contained no reference to the neighbouring States in South Africa. It would seem, therefore, that insufficient cognisance is given to the fact that in Rhodesia there is a constitutional government with black member representation though, admittedly, by far fewer than the majority of us in this House would wish. Surely, that is a lack of sophistication which would be corrected in time as the standard for appointment by qualification rather than by political expediency—as frequently occurs in other countries—was achieved. In the main, those States have jettisoned their constitutional status and are either single Party Governments or dictatorships. Yet great attention is being paid to them.

The second question which I should like to ask arises from that. It has been suggested that assistance should be given to increasing terrorism from these neighbouring States. Terrorism is there and the objection to it is much the same as it is in Ireland, Cyprus or elsewhere—


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting, I am in some difficulty. I know that the noble Lord feels strongly on this matter. We normally have a Statement for the purposes of elucidating further information on the Statement, though I regret that your Lordships' House decided that all could make short statements. However, I have a feeling that the noble Lord was going a little beyond that and was making a speech. I wonder whether he will bring his remarks quickly to an end, perhaps by putting a question to my noble friend.


My Lords, with due respect to the noble Lord the Leader of the House, one recognises that there have been doubts about the permission of time with regard to questions. Recently in the life of the present Parliament indulgence has been given for quite long statements and it is for that reason that I ask the indulgence of the noble Lord to allow me to finish the questions which I wished to put to the Minister and which seemed to arise from the absence of these facts. My point was that there are many blacks in the Rhodesian Army, as there are in the police. Therefore, a suggestion of assistance from international organisations will put black against black. Surely that is not what Britain wants. Lastly, if we give any assistance to Mozambique, will there be an assurance that there will be protection for the great industrial electrical project at Cabora Bassa which will supply not only Rhodesia and South Africa but also Malawi and Zambia?


My Lords, I think that two questions arise out of that very interesting contribution by the noble Lord. There is no constitutional government in Rhodesia, and the answer to his second question is that we are in touch with the Heads of neighbouring States mostly concerned. My right honourable friend referred twice in his Statement to the four Presidents, whose influence is bound to prove paramount.


My Lords, I have a question which I should like to raise. It is a matter of great consequence, and while I doubt whether it could be answered immediately, I should certainly like to raise it now. In view of the long record of prevarication and delay, and indeed of double dealing, which we know of in this matter, is it sufficient that we should enter into a long negotiation, perhaps as is suggested, removing sanctions in the interval, without some assurance that whatever agreement is reached is put into effect? Would it not be right, and far preferable, that the illegal régime in Rhodesia is brought to an end, so that we can look forward to a time when this Government, who still carry the main responsibility in this matter, could then work with all concerned—yes, all concerned—to achieve the purposes of the kind which have been stated here today, and to ensure that they are promptly carried out?

Why is it that we should agree to deal with an illegal régime in which we have no reason to have confidence? I agree of course, and I understand, that it would be unlikely that the illegal régime would immediately accept such proposals, but the question I ask is this. Is it not likely, in the disastrously dangerous situation which we now face, that they will realise that it would be in the interests of all in Rhodesia to end the illegal régime and put the responsibility back where it should be, in the hands of Her Majesty's Government?


My Lords, of course my noble friend's remarks are very well in line with Her Majesty's Government's policy and, I imagine, with that of the consensus of this House and of the other place. I certainly assure him, in the words of the Statement I have just repeated, there will not be any long-drawn-out negotiations.


My Lords, does the Minister think that 18 months is too short a time, bearing in mind the frustrated efforts we have made for years and years amidst great prevarication? Surely 18 months is the maximum time, and not the minimum.


My Lords, will the Government bear in mind the very genuine fears of large numbers of the white population, arising from what they have seen going on around them—one man, one vote once, followed by dictatorship, with the only way of altering the Government being a coup? The noble Lord said to me one day that there are coups and coups. But there may be genuine fears. Are the Government prepared to do anything to help those who have these genuine fears, to make a new life elsewhere?


My Lords, I commend to the noble Lord a further study of the Statement I have just read. I think the noble Lord will find that both questions are very fully dealt with in that Statement. With regard to my noble friend's point about the time scale, I agree that this is an important matter. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, had suggestions on this. Our experience this afternoon indicates that there are varying views on this. The Government's view is, the earlier the better. We have put the period of 18 months in the Statement simply as something that could bear negotiation one way or another.


My Lords, can the noble Lord tell me where in the Statement there is a reference to what I was asking about?


My Lords, I refer the noble Lord to the Statement, where I think he will find the answers to his questions.


My Lords, the Statement simply says—

Several Noble Lords



My Lords, copies of Statements are given to the Front Benches as a matter of courtesy, and I think it would be wrong for a Statement to be referred to in the way the noble Lord was about to do. We have been on this matter for 30 minutes. I know that it is a matter of supreme importance, but we must take into account that there is other business to follow. Bearing in mind that it is an important matter, I wonder whether your Lordships would agree that we devote five more minutes to it and then bring it to an end?


My Lords, I appreciate the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, about the timetable, but will the Government bear in mind that experience shows that if there is an agreement leading to independence, which takes more than a comparatively brief time to put into effect, it will not ever be put into effect?


My Lords, that is certainly a point of view which Her Majesty's Government must take into account. I personally find it most acceptable.


My Lords, having agonised with my noble friend the Minister for some years over this matter may I ask just one, perhaps somewhat unorthodox, question? Clearly the Government Statement has been very thoughtfully drafted, and I express my recognition of this and my gratitude that my noble friend Lord Greenhill of Harrow has had some part in the matter. Have the Government considered whether, in the light of the fact that Mr. Smith now has to face history, which he has avoided hitherto, we might perhaps have a little self-abnegation for a very short time—and I agree on the time limit—in which perhaps we temper our abuse of Mr. Smith personally, which would only make him more obstinate? Should we not, perhaps, simply speak more in terms of the inevitability of what must happen, however much understanding one may have for the case of the white Rhodesians, and, with all sympathy, insist to Mr. Smith that he must really see this at last?


My Lords, everything that has been said to Mr. Smith for the past 11 years has emphasised the urgency of the situation and the danger of letting it drift and, indeed, to drift to its present situation. He bears a major responsibility for the great dangers which face all races in Rhodesia and Southern Africa today.


My Lords, can the Minister give an assurance that in any negotiations in which the British Government become involved, the interests of the coloured and the Asian communities will be taken into account, as well as the interests of those Africans—whether they be in the police, the Army or the Civil Service—who have served the existing régime loyally?


My Lords, our aim is to achieve a multiracial, independent State in Rhodesia, and that means all races now living there.


My Lords, may I say a few words to your Lordships? I am one who has lived through the independence of India and the partition of India and Pakistan. I was present through the many months that it went on, and I can assure your Lordships that what occurred was a blood bath. Even though the noble Earl, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, did his very best to hurry up the independence and the partition, it was still almost impossible to prevent the blood bath.