HL Deb 02 February 1978 vol 388 cc874-86

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall repeat a Statement on Rhodesia made today 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 about Rhodesia.

"Together with Ambassador Andrew Young of the United States and the Resident Commissioner designate, Lord Carver, I held talks in Malta with leaders of the Patriotic Front from 30th January to 1st February. Lieutenant General Prem Chand, the representative designated by the United Nations Secretary General, also took part.

"The purpose of my talks with the Patriotic Front was, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 415, to enter into discussions concerning the military and associated arrangements necessary to effect the transition to majority rule in Rhodesia. Whereas discussions on these matters had been held since September with other nationalist leaders and with the régime, we had not been able to have detailed talks with the Patriotic Front prior to the Malta meeting. We achieved a much greater understanding of each other's position and ha% e agreed to consider the points made and to meet again at a time and a place to be decided.

"In all these meetings I made clear that Her Majesty's Government, supported by the United States Government, have never wavered in their view that the proposals contained in Cmnd. 6919 represent the best route to independence for Rhodesia and the surest guarantee of peace and stability there. On the basis of these proposals we are prepared to accept responsibility for bringing the territory to independence following elections and are resolutely committed to ensure that those elections would be manifestly free and impartial. If we are to shoulder that responsibility, we must have an assured and supervised ceasefire and, in co-operation with the United Nations, the control necessary to ensure maintenance of peace and good order during the electoral process.

"The Anglo-US initiative depends on the willingness of the parties to the dispute to compromise on their past and present positions, and to allow the people of Zimbabwe as a whole, through fair and free elections, to determine their future. At present the necessary measure of compromise between the parties is lacking and, tragically, and regrettably, it appears inevitable that the armed struggle will for the present continue. The British Government, despite all the obvious difficulties, will continue to work with all the parties, within the framework of the Anglo-US initiative, for a peaceful settlement."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, the only obvious thing about this problem is that it is a complicated one. There is no simple solution. If there had been a simple solution we should have had one long ago. Of course your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement in this House, but I think I could comment more usefully if I knew exactly what the Government are at this moment seeking to achieve. Mr. Young, though not, I think, the Foreign Secretary, has said that an internal settlement cannot bring an end to the war and might make matters worse. To me, that seems to depend on what sort of internal settlement it is and who takes part in it. One thing is quite certain, and that is that the Anglo-American proposals cannot possibly succeed unless Mr. Smith and the Africans who are now discussing their proposals in Salisbury are prepared to agree to them, and they are not going to do so. As I say, they are conducting their own negotiations in Salisbury at the present time and it would seem to most of us that, in these circumstances, the Anglo-American proposals are virtually dead.

I do not know what the internal proposals, if they succeed in coming to an agreement, will be. We shall have to wait and see, but it seems to me that Her Majesty's Government should at this moment be seeking to encourage Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Mugabe to associate themselves with those talks, which apparently show, from what has happened so far, a willingness on the part of the blacks and whites in Rhodesia to come to a settlement and which seem also to have the support of a large body of the people of that country. If I may say so, it would be a great mistake on the part of Her Majesty's Government to get themselves into a position, as there seems to be some tendency to do at the moment, in which they might oppose an internal settlement which would put into practice the six principles—that is, if that is what the internal settlement comes to—which form the basis upon which both parties have, over so many years, agreed to give independence to Rhodesia. Because they would be part of the six principles they would be proposals put to the whole people; they would be freely negotiated between black and white. It would be a great mistake for the Government to put themselves into a position where they would oppose such a settlement because the Patriotic Front is not prepared to agree to it.

If the criteria which have been the criteria for so many years are not satisfied, the Government will have to satisfy Parliament as to why those criteria are no longer sufficient. Therefore, I should like to ask the noble Lord to assure your Lordships that the Government are not excluding a satisfactory internal settlement as a solution.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, we must at least welcome the possibility indicated in the Statement, for which we thank the noble Lord, of further talks with the representatives of the Patriotic Front. But it is indeed depressing to hear that, in the view of the Government, the present armed struggle is likely to continue, apparently indefinitely. I do not know whether this means that the present negotiations are dead, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, suggested, but it looks as though they might be. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, there is no mention in the Statement of the parallel negotiations which are now going on in Salisbury, but, unlikely though it may be, supposing there is agreement in Salisbury based essentially on the reservation of a certain number (to be agreed) of seats for the whites in a new Legislature, plus a separate electoral roll for blacks and whites, would not the Government at least consider such a proposal, even if it does not provide, as indicated in the Cmnd. 6919, for a United Nations physical presence, or even for a United Kingdom presence, and even if, as would be quite likely, it would be objected to by one or more members of the Popular Front?


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene here.

Several noble Lords



My Lords, I understood the noble Lord to bow to me as a matter of courtesy, but I am quite happy to sit back and allow him to reply first. We must not discourage courtesy when it is extended. But I did have a Question tabled for today.


My Lords, may I suggest to the House that the protocol is that there are two speeches and that gives the Minister an opportunity to reply. The noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, rightly stakes his claim by putting down a Question and I am sure the House would want to listen to him at some length, but after the answers have been given to the two noble Lords who have spoken.

4.13 p.m.


My Lords, I would defer to my noble friend Lord George-Brown on this occasion, partly because of his position and also because of the situation which was created earlier this afternoon when a Question that he most patiently put forward four weeks ago could not be answered. However, I am sure the noble Lord will agree with me that I should obey the wishes of the House.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, rightly said that there is no simple solution to this problem, nor indeed is there real scope for partisan recrimination. The situation is far too serious and too important. He asked what Her Majesty's Government are endeavouring to achieve: precisely what his Government were trying to achieve when they were in office, coming fairly near to success once or twice; that is to say, to secure the orderly and peaceful transition from the present system of government in Rhodesia into one based on majority rule. The noble Lord then questioned the persistent validity of the Anglo-US proposals embodied in Cmnd. 6919. I could not disagree with him more than on what he said about the invalidity of those proposals. I think they are now even more important, for this reason. Internal discussions are taking place in Salisbury and my right honourable friend has clearly stated that it is not part of his policy to discourage or to frustrate those in any way. Indeed, he has said that he would welcome the implementation of the Six Principles from whatever source the proposals came, including, of course, Salisbury. But Salisbury is not enough on its own. If a peaceful, orderly settlement is to be arrived at there must be a ceasefire, and the people who cease firing are those who are firing, and that means the Patriotic Front. So there is that element differing from the otherwise no doubt commendable efforts in Salisbury.

Secondly, for a settlement to be durable and to "stick" there must be international acceptability. That is, not only acceptability among the nations of the Nine, who are in accord on this matter—and it is important (is it not?) that we move with our friends and allies in the Nine and in NATO—but acceptability in the world authority, the organisation of the United Nations, on which turns the ultimate, we hope the imminent, abrogation of sanctions. So in no way do we discourage or deplore any attempt in Salisbury or anywhere else to reach agreement. We are bound to continue with the practical conditions for a durable solution which are fairly set out in the Statement of the Anglo-US proposals and in the Command White Paper, and that is why Her Majesty's Government are continuing on this course. There is no other conceivably successful course except to proceed in this way.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, rightly reminded us of the grim fact that the armed struggle continues and may well continue until a generally acceptable solution is in sight. I agree with hint. Everything we do and say must be addressed to securing a ceasefire and making possible the rational calendar of settlement, agreement, transfer to a resident commissioner, the holding of free, fair elections leading to an orderly and peaceful transfer of power on an agreed independence day. I repeat, this is not easy. Successive Governments have found it complicated and difficult but I believe that the course we are following is the only possible course for us. Now I most freely and gladly give place to my noble friend Lord George-Brown.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for the courtesy which my noble friend—with whom I had the pleasure of working for a short while in the Foreign Office—was willing to show me. On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, I give notice that I will at some stage consider and see how we can raise the matter of the assumption that habit and custom sometimes become protocol and protocol then becomes rule, because it seems to me that those of us who lead rather smaller Parties—in my case, my own—also have some rights in this House.

I do not propose to ask the House to hear me at length today. It happens that not only did I score a "bull" for today, I also have time reserved on the 14th February when, if the House agrees, it will be my intention to open a debate on this subject, which will be a more suitable occasion for me to be heard at greater length. I now put it to my noble friend that there are many of us who are not normally to be found associated with those who speak on Rhodesian matters from the Opposition Benches but who, despite what he has said, fear very much that the present Foreign Secretary is allowing himself to drift into a position in which he is not merely seeking to work with all parties but is showing rather exceptional priority and almost partisanship for those who boast of their power to kill and conduct armed bloody struggle, and showing much less than that for those who are seeking to negotiate on behalf of the same people—the black residents of Rhodesia—a settlement by a peaceful means.

Is my noble friend aware that even in this Statement the words "Patriotic Front" are now used to mean only the self-proclaimed guerrillas and terrorists, and nothing nearly so dignified is ever applied to Bishop Muzorewa or the Reverend Sithole or Chief Chirau in Rhodesia itself? It is that which I want to raise with him in the first place. Will he put it to his right honourable friend that he is worrying some of us who saw his assumption of office with rather more enthusiasm than we are now able to feel? The Statement says: On the basis of these proposals we"— that is, Great Britain and, presumably, the Americans, although it is a little ambiguous— are prepared to accept responsibility for bringing the territory to independence following elections". That contrasts very oddly with Mr. Mugabe's statement to the Press yesterday in which lie said, according to this morning's issue of The Times—and I have no reason to think that it is inaccurate—that he, with Mr. Nkomo, foresaw [their organisation] itself playing a substantial role and the British a supervisory role"— it almost seems to me that "supervisory" there could be rendered "subordinate"— in 'a kind of partnership' … But he made clear that the Patriotic Front guerillas must guarantee the irreversibility ' of a transition period leading to free elections". Will my noble friend tell me how he equates Mr. Mugabe's view of who will be responsible for maintaining law and order and peaceful progress during the transition period with what is said in the Statement? On that basis, if Mr. Mugabe's statement describes what is to be the position, how can the British Government equate his party with the other parties? How can the British Government say that they must be able to exercise a veto over what he has done? I should not want to be in Bishop Muzorewa's position nor in that of the Reverend Sithole, or Chief Chirau, let alone in Mr. Smith's position, if the guerrillas are to be the force that maintains the situation during the process to independence.

As I say, we can leave longer debate on this to 14th February, but I should like my noble friend to comment on those two points. There may be reasons for the Opposition taking the view which they take; but it seems to me that there are very powerful reasons for some of us who are associated with the Labour Party, and who still call ourselves Socialists, taking the view that I am putting forward now.


My Lords, I am bound to say that my noble friend has expressed with moderation but nevertheless with great force legitimate anxieties about the course of events. But I cannot agree with him that his reservations could in any way apply to the purpose and the performance of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. I have worked with him for some months now and there could be nobody more dedicated to achieving a peaceful and orderly transition of power in Rhodesia than the present Foreign Secretary.

Nevertheless, I know that he pays great attention to everything that my noble friend says. As I said, he has great experience and a record of distinguished service in these matters. I can assure my noble friend—he does not need me to assure him of this—that my right honourable friend will pay very close attention to what he has said. Indeed, I shall be discussing these exchanges with him.

My noble friend went on to query the use of the term "Patriotic Front". We describe certain organisations by the titles that they arrogate to themselves. I sometimes refer to the "Rhodesian Front", but is it, in spite of the fact that it calls itself the Rhodesian Front, the Front that represents the whole of Rhodesia? Of course, the Patriotic Front does not have a monopoly of patriotism in and in regard to Rhodesia.

That brings me to a fundamental point which I suspect my noble friend wanted me to make absolutely clear. We have made clear that the Patriotic Front is only one element, albeit an important one, in a Rhodesian settlement. It cannot have a veto, nor can it exclude the other parties; but, as a major party to a ceasefire, a solution which excludes it is most unlikely to be viable. That is they position of the Patriotic Front. I believe that that is what my noble friend skilfully wanted me to make absolutely clear. I hope that I have.

He quoted Mr. Mugabe. Mr. Mugabe is entitled to his views and front time to time he makes them known. So are we. Our views are contained in the quotation from the Statement to which my noble friend referred. It may well be that between those two attitudes—that of Mr. Mugabe and what is contained in this Statement—there may be future negotiation. Everything is capable of discussion, but that does not mean that everything is acceptable. It is a matter of opinion which we hope may resolve itself into a matter of consensus. I hope that I have covered the ground which my noble friend himself covered. I can absolutely assure him that everything he has said will be very carefully considered—and I mean that—by my right honourable friend and myself.


My Lords, I want to ask my noble friend to focus attention on one aspect of this problem. He spoke about the undesirability of recriminations. No one wishes to indulge in recriminations. But there is a great deal of frustration among those who watch his right honourable friend going from place to place without apparently being able to reach his destination. That is the trouble. My noble friend has said—and no doubt this is what the Foreign Office and the Government say—that there must be a ceasefire before there can be a settlement. Suppose that there is no ceasefire—then there can be no settlement. Is that what we are to understand? Is there no possibility that, as a result of protracted negotiations—and they have been protracted—there could be a settlement which would lead to a ceasefire? If we are to wait until Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Mugabe obtain what they want, there will no settlement at all. Is that not obvious?

We read about what is going on in the various newspapers and documents which some of us receive and we wonder whether there will ever be a settlement. We wonder whether there is not a certain amount of trouble because of resentment against Mr. Smith's attitude? When Mr. Smith said that the British Government should keep out of this, that may have caused some resentment. I should like to know why we want to be enthusiastic about the Patroitic Front. So far as I can gather from its tendencies and operations, the Patriotic Front is a body of terrorists. We shall never convince them, no matter what we do. Even if we achieve some kind of internal settlement, there may be trouble afterwards. In those circumstances, will my noble friend, who obviously realises, as we all do, the intricate nature of the problem and who is anxious to obtain a settlement (as is his right honourable friend), address himself to this question: Suppose we do not get this ceasefire, what will be the result?


My Lords, I hope that we can at least agree that it is worth while—I would say essential—to obtain a ceasefire as a prerequisite to an agreement; otherwise, we might get an agreement which would be for an indefinite period, and would be at the mercy of the men of blood, regardless. The object of these talks in Malta is to make it if not impossible then highly impracticable for the people who apparently, to some extent at least, believe in armed struggle, to carry on with that despite the fact that the great majority of the people involved have agreed to a settlement.

I have respect for the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Shinwell. I have tried to put it down here. I shall look at it again in the Official Report. I could not prejudge the possibility of a settlement that could lead to a ceasefire. He has great experience. I doubt if this is on, but certainly it should be considered. I will add only one point in reply to him. He said that he deplored recrimination. Coming from my noble friend that is news indeed, because it is part of his charm and his appeal to this House and the other House that he recriminated so well and continues to do so.


My Lords, will the noble Lord say whether the proposition that a settlement must depend upon the consent of the gunmen applies equally to Northern Ireland? Surely it is a very dangerous proposition to accept. There is one other question I should like to put to him. I assume that the Foreign Secretary is talking to Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Mugabe because he considers them to be the responsible leaders and commanders of the guerrillas. Those guerrillas have committed a number of quite atrocious murders; murders of priests, of nuns, of women, of children, of black servants massacred in quarters. Has it occurred to the Foreign Secretary to ask of those two gentlemen whether those actions of their followers have their approval, and if they have not their approval, to ask of them whether they have ever considered taking some disciplinary action with regard to the people who commit that sort of murder?


My Lords, I can reply briefly to those two points. Of course the consent of the Government is vital in the longer or shorter term to any worthwhile settlement. The fact that it is not immediately obtainable in every part of the world does not invalidate that as a basic principle and a practicable one. On the question of atrocious conduct by nationalistic leaders, the record throughout history and in all imperia is strewn with stories of those who were denounced for atrocities while they were leading insurgent movements and then feted as heads of Government by those who previously denounced them. So I would not be too selective about anybody in Rhodesia, whether black or white, as to whether in the future his previous crimes, if they were such, may not be forgiven.


My Lords, we have spent 31 minutes on this Statement. I know that it is important, but I think we have had the case argued very well.


My Lords, as a general rule I think that the noble Lord the Leader of the House is quite right. However, senior Members of your Lordships' House, such as the noble Lords, Lord George-Brown, Lord Shinwell and Lord Paget, have naturally been given way to by those on the Back Benches. Perhaps one of my noble friends who is not so senior might be allowed to ask one last question.


My Lords, yes, but then another noble Lord would like to conic in. Please, one last question.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, as a very junior noble Lord, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, this question: if an internal settlement is arrived at—and it seems a possibility or even a probability that this might be the case—which fulfils the principle that it is a settlement which is acceptable to the Rhodesian people as a whole, and then the Patriotic Front say, "We do not accept this and the guerrilla war will go on", what would then be the attitude of Her Majesty's Government?


My Lords, the noble Earl poses a hypothesis, but he is entitled to do so without commitment to a view. I think my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has put the point very succinctly regarding the nature of any agreement that might emerge from what we call internal discussions: the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. That proof would be how far it ensures that everybody has been involved and has had an opportunity of agreeing, and how far it has made it impracticable, if not impossible, as I see it, for armed struggle to continue. Nobody can foresee these things in full detail. All I say is—and I ask the noble, Earl to consider this—that clearly we mist make a tremendous effort to achieve a settlement within the ambit of the Six Principles, as the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition said, or, as I would say, within the Command Paper and the Anglo-United States proposals, in the belief that if we get that, then the ceasefire is equally obtainable. It is a matter of judgment. We could be here a very long time arguing this point.


My Lords, may I ask one final question?




My Lords, it will be very short. Will the Government recognise that a great many people in this country have much sympathy with the great efforts which are being made inside Rhodesia by Bishop Muzorewa and the other black leaders and by Mr. Smith to reach an internal settlement? It seems extremely important that the Foreign Office should be able to follow these negotiations in great detail, because they are bound to affect the attitude of our own Government. Have the Government adequate representation in Rhodesia, in Salisbury, at a proper, effective, educated diplomatic level to follow what is going on and report constantly to the Foreign Secretary?


My Lords, we are adequately informed.