HL Deb 16 February 1978 vol 388 cc1518-23

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask Her Majesty's Government a Question of which I have given Private Notice. The Question is as follows:

"To ask what response Her Majesty's Government intend to make to the agreement in principle arrived at internally in Rhodesia."


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat the Answer which my right honourable friend is giving at present to a similar Question in another place. The Answer is as follows: It is too early to make a considered judgment as to the acceptability to the people of Rhodesia as a whole of the arrangements announced yesterday in Salisbury. It is the people who will live in a future Zimbabwe who should determine their own future. It seems there are crucial issues yet to be resolved, including the composition of the transitional Government and its powers; the composition of the security forces and the extent to which other Nationalist parties will be involved in the transition and in fair and free elections on the basis of universal suffrage. We will continue, as we have done from the start of the Anglo-US initiative, to work with all parties, inside and outside the country, to promote an overall settlement compatible with the principles endorsed by this House and to work for the cessation of all violence.


My Lords, perhaps I might say at this point that there has been a slight misunderstanding. It was originally thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, would put this Question, but since it was being put by my right honourable friend Mr. Thorpe in another place it was considered more suitable that I should put it from these Benches. I hope your Lordships agree.

My Lords, first of all I should like to thank the Government for this reply, cautious though it is, of course, naturally, in the circumstances. With the general sentiments it expresses I would personally agree, but I should like to ask two questions. In the first place, I think I am right in saying that the noble Lord said: It is too early to make a considered judgment as to the acceptability to the people of Rhodesia as a whole of the arrangements announced yesterday in Salisbury". No doubt, my Lords. But how would the Government think that the people of Rhodesia could best express themselves of this point? Is it imagined that a simple majority of the people of Rhodesia would make it acceptable, not only to us but to the world? And would the acceptability be expressed, in their view, by, for instance, a referendum, or perhaps simply by elections? I should like to have some assurance on that point.

The second point I should like to make is that we read today that the State Department's reaction is that: the deal does not meet the requirements of the Anglo-United States proposal on Rhodesia, particularly as the men with the guns were not parties to it". Then, Mr. Andrew Young said that … the Rhodesia agreement was probably unworkable and could lead to a Black-versus-Black blood-bath". Would not the Government think that these expressions of opinion are rather too pessimistic?

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends I should like to express our gratitude to the noble Lord for his Statement—what one might call a cautious welcome to developments in Rhodesia. We on these Benches, certainly, would also give a cautious welcome to such developments in the hope that they will be made to stick. In this connection, I should like to ask the Minister whether we will have an assurance from the Government that they will do everything in their power to help the National leaders in Rhodesia, as well as bringing in the Patriotic Front, so that this agreement should stick and come to a fruitful conclusion.

Following the supplementary question put by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, I too would like to ask how the Government consider they might be able to test the acceptability of these proposals to the people of Rhodesia; and whether, as I mentioned in the debate on the Unstarred Question the other night, the Government have considered or will consider holding, or helping to hold, a referendum among the black and white people in Rhodesia in order to have their acceptance of these proposals. I should like also to add this from these Benches. Will the Government also concede that Mr. Smith, despite all his past activities, has made an enormous stride forward in accepting beyond any doubt that there should be black majority rule in Rhodesia within the very near future?


My Lords may I briefly reply to those two representations? I agree with both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that this is an occasion for caution. Our information is incomplete and it would be rash of me to attempt detailed answers to questions which are exercising the minds of us all. As to the question of accept ability and how it is to be tested I bear in mind the suggestions made. I would not wish to anticipate any further statement from Salisbury on this matter. I believe that there are ideas coming up there. I would merely ask the House to refer to Command Paper 6919, where we have attempted to show how the Six Principles, which include this one might well be implemented.

As to the reference to two foreign statesmen, if I may so describe Mr. Andrew Young and Mr. Ian Smith together, I am not particularly responsible for what Mr. Young says, nor is he responsible for what I say. The noble Lord is entitled to an immediate comment. I notice that he used very presciently the adverb "probably"; so that, in examining what Mr. Young has said, we should examine the adverbs as well as the verbs.

As to Mr. Ian Smith, yes, he has moved a gigantic step forward. Perhaps it will prove to be not too little, too late; but just enough, rather late.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister, while agreeing that a cautious welcome is the stand we ought to take at this moment and agreeing that Mr. Andrew Young, with his pessimism, has perhaps forgotten his L plates, whether we should not, when talking about majority rule in Rhodesia, remember that there are 4 million white Rhodesians and that the rest of the people in the country are black?


My Lords, I think that my noble friend was probably absolutely statistically correct about another country immediately to the South of Rhodesia, probably the SAR. She mentioned Mr. Young, an idealist of great ability. I refer to what I think the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, said yesterday, when he suggested that we should not be too finicky and detailed about what is said here and there about these very delicate, difficult questions and should not fasten on to the occasional phrase. In this case, as I have said, it was a tentative, adverbially-qualified expression. "Pessimistic", I do not think so. "Cautious and thoughtful", I certainly think so in this case.


My Lords, if the House will forgive me, I only wanted to say to the Minister, as I as rather critical the other night, that I think it only fair to say that I find the terms of the Statement which his right honourable friend has made today very agreeable. If I may say so, they are fully in keeping with the position that some of us would have liked to ask for the other night. I think it is right that he should emphasise that we must check them against the Principles, which is what we were asking for. I would only ask that, remaining cautious, as one should be, one could show a little more joy and enthusiasm at the fact that there is something to look at; and that this enthusiasm might be allowed to spill over a little.


My Lords, with the wonted taciturnity and reserve of my race, I restrain my enthusiasms as much as I can. One man's joy may be another man's jaundice. So it is well, as my noble and right honourable friend so well knows—and he has immense experience of dealing with complicated and difficult matters like this—that, in a situation like this, it is just as well not to evince too much enthusiasm one way or another so that men of goodwill on every side of the argument may hope to come together and ensure a peaceful and durable settlement.


My Lords, while I welcome the Statement made by the noble Lord and the developments which have taken place in Salisbury during the last few weeks, I wonder whether the Government will bear in mind how important it is that no undue delay should arise in carrying into effect the interim government and new régime in Salisbury; because if there is procrastination at this point, all the progress that has been made may easily be dissipated? Will the noble Lord and the Government bring that to the attention of those concerned with the negotiations in Rhodesia at the present time?


My Lords, I am sure that Her Majesty's Government, and, certainly, my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, who has worked very hard to improve the position and the prospects for a settlement, may claim that, in the last year, there has been a major step forward, a major improvement. Many people have taken part but my right honourable friend, certainly, has worked extremely hard and with the very highest intentions and purposes. As one who has worked with him, I take this opportunity of emphasising that. Certainly, the noble Lord's words, as those of a former High Commissioner, will be very carefully borne in mind by the Government.