HL Deb 06 June 1978 vol 392 cc1068-71

2.59 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

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 whether they will consider offering to the Executive Council of Rhodesia a team of experts to help with the registration of approximately 3 million Africans in order that a General Election can fake place at the end of 1978 as proposed.


My Lords, such assistance might be appropriate following a transfer of power to a transitional Administration which had earlier been established under the Anglo-United States proposals or was other-wise impartial and acceptable to all. However, as we have made clear in the past, the Executive Council in Salisbury does not meet these criteria.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that very unsatisfactory Answer. Does he not think that it would be a gracious act to put this proposal before the Executive Council and obtain its reply before actually turning down my, I hope, sensible suggestion?


My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness and most Members of your Lordships' House would agree that before we make such a suggestion we must be assured that it will be against the background of participation by the widest possible range of African opinion in Zimbabwe. That, unfortunately, is not the position at the moment. However Mr. Graham and Ambassador Low are in Southern and Central Africa at the moment endeavouring to achieve what we call a round table conference of all concerned, so that the Anglo-U.S. programme of transition, within which such assistance could effectively and properly be given, will he made possible.

I do not wish to argue too partisanly about this. I know the motivation of the noble Baroness. I sympathise with it. But we must bear in mind that the situation at the moment is not conducive of anything like a credible, efficient, effective, British form of assistance, as is suggested. Moreover, we hold a position of potential mediation. As the paramount Power we must very carefully guard that position. Once we lose that by, perhaps, a precipitate movement—and I make no criticism of the suggestion—then, indeed, the situation will become much more difficult. It may, indeed, lend itself to other external intervention in a way that at the moment it does not.


My Lords, since it is the position of all the parties concerned, including the Patriotic Front, that there must be an election before independence takes place, and since it is the declared intention at the moment of the interim Government in Rhodesia to have an election with complete adult suffrage, would it not be useful for the Government to offer to help this register along?


My Lords, I had hoped that the noble Lord would not put it quite so strongly. We are faced with the situation in which the United Kingdom might, for the best of reasons, intervene with assistance on registration. In what conditions?—A condition which at the moment is one of war, occupation and settlement in very many parts of Zimbabwe, involving the population and the potential electorate of those areas; a situation in which censorship of the Press and the media is a continuing fact. Do we intervene on that basis, and offer assistance on that basis, in a situation in which discrimination still persists and where political detention, although reduced, nevertheless persists?

I do not see that at this stage we can effectively and honestly offer assistance of the type suggested by the noble Baroness. As I said in my substantive Answer, it may become appropriate when the conditions I have mentioned, including the full implementation of the fifth principle, are a fact.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, when the Minister gave his substantive Answer he said that the Patriotic Front in Rhodesia was not prepared to enter into the proposed General Election of the interim Government. Is the Minister therefore saying that, because certain people will not take part in an election, therefore that election should not be given his maximum support?


My Lords, I very much regret if anything I said suggested what the noble Earl said. Perhaps I was not so clear in my Answer. It is a fact that the Patriotic Front has said that it is in favour of free and fair elections. It is again a fact that it is prepared to attend a round table conference. It is equally a fact that, so far, the Salisbury régime has, at the least, reservations about joining such a round table conference. I hope that they will change their minds, after talking to Mr. Graham and Mr. Low, because the Patriotic Front is ready and willing to join in such talks, and, indeed, to join in free and fair elections.


My Lords, would my noble friend agree that, as long as the major instruments of power remain in the hands of the minority and illegal régime, no General Election held in those circumstances can reflect the will of the people? Would he further agree that the minimum conditions for such free and fair elections are the international guarantees and protections offered in the Anglo-American plan?


Yes. I think I agree entirely with what my noble friend said. I tried to put it as unabrasively as possible because there is a distinct chance that constructive sense will set in. We hope very much that the Anglo-American visit of Mr. Graham and Ambassador Low these days will assist the position. But I must repeat that the conditions at the moment are not conducive to our being helpfully involved in any way alongside the Salisbury régime. We would hope, I repeat, that that will become appropriate when certain things have been done. We are straining every nerve to see to it that there is a consensus —a round table conference—which will make that possible. I am not without hope that this will be done.

I think that on all sides there is a growing realisation that the future of Zimbabwe depends upon everybody—Patriotic Front, Salisbury parties, and others—sitting down together to adopt substantially the Anglo-United States policy, which has stood the test, so that there is a properly organised transitional stage involving credible elections, in which we shall be delighted to assist as far as ever possible.


My Lords, would the Minister repudiate Dr. Andrew Young's extraordinary statement that the Cubans form a stabilising influence in Central Africa?


My Lords, I am not aware of the precise terms of this statement. I am certainly not a contributor to it.


My Lords, I ask this question constructively and helpfully. Can the noble Lord think of a better means of ensuring fair, just and truly representative elections than by the system offered by the noble Baroness? I ask this question really trying to be constructive.


My Lords, as always, the noble Lord is constructive about these matters. I am trying to emulate him in his virtues. I can never hope to emulate him in his vices; they are too picturesque for me. I do agree that there is in all these ideas —and particularly in the ideas put forward by the noble Baroness—the germ of helpful British assistance which we all deeply want to see effective in Africa.

However, the timing of this is everything. At the moment it would have only one effect: to make it clearer to the rest of Africa—all of Africa outside Smith and his coadjutors—that we have taken sides against them. We must not risk that. There are two practical reasons against it. The situation is not such that we could be effective in our assistance. Secondly, we must not, I repeat, as the paramount Power with specific duties, unwittingly throw away the very strong mediative position which we have and which we hope to exert—and I expect we will exert—for the permanent benefit of all the peoples of Zimbabwe.