HL Deb 27 September 1976 vol 374 cc16-25

3.25 p.m.


With permission, my Lords, I wish to make a Statement on Rhodesia. When I last spoke on the question of Rhodesia in this House on 6th July, it was to explain why it would be to the advantage of the Europeans in Rhodesia to accept the principles set out in the Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on 22nd March.

It was therefore with satisfaction that Her Majesty's Government greeted Mr. Smith's acceptance, in his public statement on 24th September, of the proposals put to him by Dr. Kissinger as the basis for a peaceful settlement in Rhodesia. His acceptance of majority rule within two years represents a major step forward. So, too, does his willingness to meet immediately with Rhodesian nationalist leaders to discuss the formation of an interim Government. It was a realistic statement.

At their meeting in Lusaka which concluded yesterday the five African Presidents issued a communique. There are some points in this communique which need to be clarified, but it appears that the Presidents have accepted the principles of a transition to independence on the basis of majority rule and the need for early discussions to establish an interim transitional government. Her Majesty's Government welcomes the statesmanship shown by this decision. The Presidents also called on Britain to convene a meeting outside Rhodesia to discuss, among other matters, the structure and functions of a transitional government and the establishment of such a government. Britain is ready to play a constructive role in the process of establishing an interim government.

My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary have been in urgent consultation with the African Presidents over the weekend. Messages have been sent to Presidents Kaunda, Khama, Machel and Nyerere to say that the British Government are prepared to help organise a meeting or conference to consider the structure and functions of such an interim government; and that we wish to learn from the parties concerned how and where this conference could be arranged and especially who the participants should be. Our joint aim is to work for an independent government that will be truly representative of the people of Zimbabwe. My honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Relations has put forward his departure for Botswana and is leaving tonight. In the course of his visit to Africa he hopes to have full discussions with those concerned.

While there are points arising from both Mr. Smith's statement and the communique of the Conference of African Presidents which need to be resolved, we feel that these matters should and can be dealt with in the coming negotiations. The important thing is that the essential requirement for majority rule has been met. This provides the necessary framework and it is vital that we do not delay in building on it. It would be tragic if we failed to take advantage of the opportunity that has been created. It should now be possible for Africans and Europeans to work together to lay the foundation for peace and prosperity in an independent Zimbabwe in which all races can live in harmony. The end of guerrilla warfare and the lifting of sanctions are important to progress, and should take place after the formation of the transitional government.

Assuming that all goes well, we will at the appropriate time take such legislative action as is necessary to meet the requirements of the situation. This would initially include action to establish the transitional government. We would also at the appropriate stage, and paying due regard to United Nations procedure, revoke the existing sanctions legislation.

In conclusion, my Lords, I must appeal to you not to press me to comment in detail on issues which are likely to be the subject of delicate negotiation in the coming weeks. The concern of all of us must be to create the right climate for negotiations to begin. It will not help matters to indulge in recrimination or speculation one way or another. I am sure we can count on the support of men and women of good will everywhere in seeking a definitive and happy solution to this long-standing problem.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for making this Statement. I think it is very difficult at this moment to assess the likely course of events. No one, though, can deny that there has been movement due, I think, in great part to the vigorous diplomacy of Dr. Kissinger, whose intentions I applaud and whose vigour seems to be lacking on the part of Her Majesty's Government. I think that on this occasion the attitude of Dr. Vorster was even more important than that of Dr. Kissinger in causing such a sudden change of heart on the part of Mr. Smith. It is to me sad to reflect on the wasted opportunities of the last decade, opportunities which Mr. Smith has allowed to go by. If he had accepted the offers made to him in "Tiger" and "Fearless", and even later by my noble friend Lord Home, and the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, he would have had much better terms; and over these past years there would have been growing up in Rhodesia a multi-racial State on the way to harmonious majority rule.

But it is no good looking back. The African Presidents' reactions have been disappointing but not entirely unexpected. It is very difficult for us to know exactly what is happening since only Mr. Smith, curiously enough, has interpreted what are said to be the Anglo-American proposals. Nevertheless, it seems that there has been no outright rejection by the African Presidents. I am very glad that the Government have accepted the idea of a constitutional conference. I am glad that the Government have been prodded into a rather more active role than they appeared to be willing to play in the past. Your Lordships will remember that we on this side of the House have been advocating just such an initiative as Dr. Kissinger has made over these past months.

There are two further things that I should like to say to the noble Lord. I would remind him—if the Government need to be reminded, and I do not think they do—that when the constitutional conference takes place they have a duty to safeguard the interests of the Rhodesians and not allow extremists to ignore the rights and contributions of the white community. Secondly, I would ask the noble Lord to elaborate a little more on the Statement he makes that the end of guerrilla warfare and the lifting of sanctions should take place after the formation of the transitional Government. I would have hoped that we should begin to lift sanctions as an evidence of good faith to Mr. Smith, who has come a long way. We need not proceed with that if the negotiations break down. More particularly, I am worried at the Government's statement that they do not expect the end of guerrilla warfare until after the transitional Government has been set up. I should have thought it totally unacceptable after Mr. Smith's intentions, and after the speech he made, that there should be a continuation of murder and warfare in Rhodesia on behalf of the Africans. It seems to me so unlikely to lead to the atmosphere in which good will and a settlement can exist, that we particularly, and I hope Her Majesty's Government, should insist that part of the price for a constitutional conference is the ending of guerrilla warfare.


My Lords, we on these Benches certainly hope that this is the beginning of the end of UDI and, to that extent, if it proves to be so we shall be grateful to Dr. Kissinger and those who have been associated with him for everything that has been achieved. The situation to us is still somewhat obscure; a great deal has to be done before we can be certain that we have a lasting solution. I should like to put two points to the noble Lord, but I do not press him for an answer if he feels the matters are too delicate. First, have we any idea what the timetable is likely to be? When will the form of constitutional talks be agreed and announced in some form or another? Secondly, following on the point that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made, what part, if any, is it intended that representatives of the guerrilla forces shall play in those talks? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that it is inconceivable that we should go on with sanctions and hostilities while these talks to form a transitional government are being undertaken. The sooner we can get rid of hostilities—and, for that matter, sanctions—the better. One way to do that might be to get representatives of the guerrillas in at the beginning so that they are locked into the negotiations.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful to both noble Lords for the way in which they have commented on what is, after all, an interim Statement. If I may deal with one or two points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, it is difficult at this moment to forecast the likely course of events. The key event is the meeting, as I call it (in contradistinction to the more formal "constitutional conference"), which should, we hope, get under way as soon as possible, and at which representatives of all sections of Rhodesian opinion, whatever colour, creed or background, are represented. We are very willing, indeed enthusiastic, to take part. From that will flow the necessary setting up of the interim or transitional government. As to the speed with which sanctions are lifted and guerrilla warfare is ceased, success with that first crucial decision would make it pretty certain—automatic—that the other two results would follow. I certainly take note of what both noble Lords said about the need for consideration of these points.

I will not go into detail about some other points which have been raised. It will indeed be the intention, if I may refer to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Byers—and we have repeated this more than once—that all representative attitudes in Rhodesia, however repugnant to one person or another they may be, including the guerrilla fighters, should indeed be brought into discussions so that there is no potential implacable minority who can claim not to have had any responsibility in what augers well to be a reasonable final settlement. We regard this settlement as one which, if it comes about—and the difficulties are still very considerable—will not only give Rhodesia a better future but will possibly give to the whole of Central and Southern Africa something like a model of how these things can be done without recourse to force.

I cannot part with my noble friends without replying to Lord Carrington's damnation with very faint praise for the role of Her Majesty's Government in all this. They have been working very hard over this matter during the last few years and it is not for me necessarily to deliver encomia to the present Prime Minister and his predecessor, as well as to the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, for the honesty of purpose and the determination they have all shown in trying to solve this intractable problem, especially since I notice that both Dr. Kissinger and President Ford have done so already in very eloquent terms.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that he has not answered the question which was addressed to him by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Byers?—namely, why should they proceed with the creation of a transitional government before there is a definite decision that hostilities should cease? Why should they permit guerrilla warfare, bloodshed and violence to continue in the meantime while they are creating the transitional government? At the same time, would my noble friend be good enough to explain when responsibility for Rhodesia was transferred from the United Kingdom Government to Dr. Kissinger? Is not the responsibility specifically that of the United Kingdom Government? Was there any consultation, or did Dr. Kissinger intervene without consulting the United Kingdom Government or even the United Nations, which has not specific responsibility but an overriding responsibility?


My Lords, the answer to the second question, is, of course, by consultation. The answer to the first question is that the only way to end guerrilla warfare and get a speedy ling of sanctions is to introduce an interim government based on the aim of African majority rule.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that while one recognises the conciliatory nature of his Statement, one can be forgiven for thinking that at this time someone appears to have retreated from an implied agreement? If it is that the new alliance between America and Britain seems to be succumbing to that sort of pressure, then it will mean that the whole Western World will be demoralised as to what sort of stand we make. One would have thought that the interpretation of the agreement, as it has been presented so far, would make certain that the guerrilla fighting would cease and that there would be a sympathetic look at whether the whole of sanctions should be proceeded with. Anything short of that may be put into words which sound fair but which will not have the impact as regards getting back real justice to the world which should be the aim of all of us.


My Lords, I certainly do not disregard the import of the noble Lord's statement. It is a difficult and delicate situation. What we say is this: if we can move now quickly and decisively by means of this agreement to an interim Government, that more than anything will lead to the speedy raising of sanctions and the speedy cessation of guerrilla warfare.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that one reason why the freedom fighters will not lay down their arms is because when Mr. Smith has previously agreed to proposals submitted to him he has found an opportunity to escape from them? Is the noble Lord satisfied that in this instance the safeguards to ensure that this agreement is carried into effect are adequate to prevent Mr. Smith from sliding out from under it yet again?

May I ask the noble Lord one non-controversial question about the proposals? Does he agree that with the transfer of power there will have to be a tremendous acceleration of education and training of the Zimbabwe Africans who are to take over key positions in politics and the economy? What contribution are the United Kingdom Government prepared to make in making available additional places at our universities, polytechnics and technical colleges for this purpose?


My Lords, I think the whole House, and indeed Parliament as a whole, would agree with the noble Lord that a tremendous effort must be made not only to sustain and strengthen the Rhodesian economy, but also to engage in large-scale and far-reaching training programmes in order to make an equitable reality of majority rule. Our own contribution, I hope and believe, will be very substantial and, of course, we shall be glad of the support and help of friends because this is rather more than a bilateral matter. It involves the whole question of the stability and peace of a Continent—a crucial Continent—and this is one reason why Her Majesty's Government have been in consultation with influential friends as to the best way to carry forward these discussions. As to the first question put to me, of course I agree with the purport of what the noble Lord said.


My Lords, would the noble Lord clear up one ambiguity? Did Dr. Kissinger claim that the terms of his package deal had been accepted by the five Presidents before they were published?


My Lords, I am not too sure whether I have quite followed the noble Lord's supplementary question. The package deal was put to Mr. Smith and resulted in his broadcast speech, accepting it in those terms. Those terms presented some difficulties, but I would not say that they were necessarily insurmountable, as one or two noble Lords have suggested. They are not. The same description of the package was, of course, imparted to the five African Presidents who, like Mr. Smith, have commented upon them. They have, in no way dealt with them any differently from Mr. Smith in that they have expressed, as we see it, broad agreement and acceptance, with certain reservations. Those reservations we do not regard as of now as being in any way impossible to surmount. We strongly suggest that we move immediately, or as fast as we can, to the preliminary conference—or to the meeting, as I call it, of all concerned, including this country—so that those reservations can be accommodated in the discussions which will, of course, finally be aimed at setting up as soon as possible an interim or transitional government.


My Lords, the Minister in his Statement has commented on what was said by my noble Leader, who emphasised two points; that is, the cessation of guerrilla warfare and the lifting of sanctions. With regard to the first, because it involves a wider range than the second, it is understandable that it is difficult to make a statement today; but on the question of sanctions, since the Press have for long reported that Britain has been more vigilant and more energetic in applying the intentions of sanctions than any other, and since in this period our commercial competitors have gained by our inaction, can the Minister perhaps remember, as has been said in the past several years when we have discussed the question of sanctions as the order has come around, that there are circumstances in which initial action by Britain would be justified? Can he perhaps consider, remembering the terms which were put forward as giving a possibility of action, whether there can now be swift action, because commercially and industrially there are a lot of orders to go out for the infrastructure of Rhodesia in any development or solution? Delay and inaction must be very inconvenient and difficult, and because of our past action it would seem that we now have a right to emphasise that there must be initial and swift action on the lifting of sanctions.


My Lords, I agree that it would be in the interests of everybody concerned that sanctions should be lifted as swiftly as possible. I repeat that the key to this is the meeting, of which everybody seems to be in favour, to set up the interim government. I believe that the objectives of the noble Lord and of others will be achieved all the more certainly and more swiftly once we have done that.

The Marquess of SALISBURY

My Lords, will the noble Lord clarify two points with which he has already dealt? I am sorry to trouble him again. First, as I understand it, he regards the agreement reached with Mr. Smith as binding on Mr. Smith's part in the case of the headings enunciated by him in his broadcast. If this is so, does he also regard it as binding on Her Majesty's Government, on the Government of South Africa and on the Government of the United States? Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, asked what was the position of the African leaders in the neighbouring States. I understood from the papers—it may not be correct—that they were consulted prior to the negotiations, and that they had agreed to the terms. Can the noble Lord say whether or not that is correct?


My Lords, I have some difficulty in identifying the two points—I think there were two separate ones—made by the noble Marquess. I hope I am not misleading him in any way when I say that certainly we, and the Americans, will regard the proceedings of the meeting leading to the setting up of the interim government as binding on everybody concerned. The package which the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, mentioned will, of course, be the basis—and some of it is quite essential—for those discussions. We will take a full part in that essential meeting and we hope to emerge from it with the others fully bound by it. I hope that the noble Marquess will forgive me if I ask him whether he will either repeat his second point now, or have a word with me on the margin, as it were, afterwards.

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