HL Deb 26 October 1976 vol 376 cc265-7

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what information they have about the numbers of persons detained without trial by the illegal regime in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) and what provisions were included in the draft agreement proposed by Dr. Kissinger to Mr. Smith concerning the release of these persons.


My Lords, it is difficult to obtain precise figures on the number of detainees in Rhodesia because of the regime's ban on publicity for such cases, but it has been estimated that at present there are some 850 people being detained there without trial. The release of detainees was not a prior condition for the convening of the conference. Her Majesty's Government consider that the best prospect for the release of political prisoners in Rhodesia is early agreement at Geneva.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that the figure of 850, which he has quoted, appears to be the number of long-term detainees who are incarcerated by means of an order signed by a Minister, and that there may be a much larger number of short-term detainees who may be at even greater risk than the ones he has mentioned? Can the Minister say what are the powers of the chairman of the meeting which is shortly to be convened in Geneva, to prevent detainees being used as a political pawn by the Smith régime?


My Lords, on the factual point, I believe, with the noble Lord, that the figure I have given in answer to his Question is of people detained without trial. There are a number of others who are convicted political prisoners, having gone through the court procedures of the illegal regime, a number or restrictees, and of course there have been a number of executions. The figure of 850 relates only to those who have been detained without trial. As to the chairman's function, I am abundantly satisfied that Mr. Richard will bear in mind the importance of the point raised by the noble Lord.


My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us the name of any African Government which discloses the number of people that it detains without trial? Cart he also, perhaps, disclose the name of any African country in which it is as safe to dissent from Government as it is in Rhcdesia?


My Lords, on the second point, I m got cross swords with my noble friend. On the first point, there are a number or Governments in various parts of the IN odd, not all belonging to one political persuasion, who do not publish the number of people detained without trial within their borders.


My Lords, does my noble friend agree that while this position obtains it would be quite impossible for the nationalists to agree to the Smith regime retaining control of law and order?


My Lords, I certainly agree to this extent, that if there were a generous and constructive concession by the illegal regime at once, it would greatly help the success of this conference.

The Lord Bishop of SOUTHWARK

My Lords, are Her Majesty's Government aware that there are many Christians and people of no religious conviction, people who are not Roman Catholics, who are deeply distressed by the treatment of Bishop Lamont by the Smith rè gime—treatment which has been denounced by the Vatican? If there is to be an improvement in the relationships and if the right attitude is to be created for this conference, it might be a great help if Her Majesty's Government could prevail on the Smith régime to revise its attitude towards Bishop Lamont.


My Lords, I am very glad to repeat the assurances which I gave, I think the week before last, when we last discussed the case of Bishop Lamont. As my friend the right reverend Prelate then indicated, it is part of the general inhumanity practised not only against people of eminence, such as his Grace the Bishop, but also against a great many other people in Rhodesia. We shall continue to do what we have been doing for many years, using every opportunity that comes our way to try to prevail upon the Smith regime to follow better and more humane practices.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, will the Minister also prevail upon leaders of guerrilla movements not to continue the appalling atrocities and cruelties that they arc inflicting upon both black and white Rhodesians?


Yes, my Lords, certainly. Atrocities are indivisible.


Is the Minister aware that Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Nkomo were attempting to secure that the political prisoners should be released as a condition of starting this conference? While that may be possible, will the Minister ask the chairman not merely to bear in mind the point that has been made this afternoon but also to rule out of order any attempt by the Smith regime to use human lives as a bargaining counter to secure the kind of concessions he wants?


Yes, my Lords. When one asks the chairman to bear these considerations in mind one means what one says: that these and other considerations will be borne in mind by the chairman in his conduct of this very difficult but very hopeful conference. I think we would all unite in expressing our confidence that he will do everything from his position in the chair to prevent anybody from using the lives of human beings as a counter in the bargaining across the conference table.