HL Deb 26 June 1978 vol 394 cc23-33

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of your Lordships, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"I will, with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a statement about the appalling tragedy which took place at the Elim Pentecostal Church Mission near Umtali on Friday the 23rd June. I am sure that honourable Members will join me in expressing the deepest sympathy of this House for the families and friends of the 12 people so callously murdered and our admiration for the Christian spirit and courage with which the Church has responded in its decision to stay on in Rhodesia, working for conciliation and peace between all the people. We are in close touch with the Pentecostal Church Headquarters and are giving all possible assistance to its members and the families of the murdered missionaries to travel to Rhodesia for the funeral.

"The fact that those who have been murdered were solely concerned with working for peace and conciliation between the races is a horrific reminder of the dangers in Rhodesia today and of the escalating level of indicriminate violence which has been building up now for five years. The House will recall the incident at Gutu a month ago in which at least 50 Africans were killed. Also the killing of the two Salvation Army women. There have sadly been many other incidents involving both white and black Rhodesians.

"This latest tragedy confirms the urgent need to bring about by every available means round table talks to achieve a negotiated settlement which will bring an early end to the fighting. We have a joint Anglo/U.S. team at this moment in Salisbury and I believe that we are making some progress towards our objective of round-table talks. It is for the leaders of all the parties to respond now in a way that measures up to their overriding responsibility to bring about a non-racial, peaceful and independent Zimbabwe."

That concludes the Statement.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, the whole House will wish to be associated with the noble Lord and the Government in condemning this massacre and expressing our horror at what has happened. No civilised person, whether he be black or white, can condone such brutality, for any reason, political or otherwise. If I may say so, I am glad that the Foreign Secretary in this Statement has, to an extent, remedied what seemed, though perhaps unintentionally, a selective condemnation of terrorist murders.

This incident highlights the deteriorating situation in Rhodesia. I think that the time has now come when the Government must be seen to be taking some further initiative or action—or, at any rate, to be giving some indication of why they believe that they are making progress towards a further round of talks. All the information which we seem to have is that this is becoming more and more unlikely. I should have thought that the incident over the weekend made it that much more difficult to achieve those talks which the Government seek to arrange.

It appears that the Patriotic Front is not interested in a peaceful settlement, except, so to speak, a surrender on its terms. In the meantime, the internal settlement is, to say the least of it, faltering and is not carrying out those reforms which would make it abundantly plain that it was a new African Government committed to ending racial discrimination. The Government really must either succeed in the very near future in getting a conference going between the parties in accordance with the five principles, or support the internal settlement equally on the five principles. To continue on their present course will not only sabotage the internal agreement but substitute nothing in its place.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, the whole House will deplore this horrifying and senseless massacre. Those of us who have seen dedicated missionaries such as these at work in Rhodesia and elesewhere, looking after the welfare of Africans and their families in the field, can only denounce in the strongest terms the utter waste and stupidity of such indiscriminate violence as this.

We extend our sincerest sympathy to the bereaved families and their friends. From these Benches we offer full support to Her Majesty's Government to do all they can to obtain an effective cease-fire for a period in which renewed efforts can be made to get all the parties round the same table to bring peace and security to this area. I should like to support what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said in his concluding phrases: we cannot go on like this; something must be done.


My Lords—

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, of course I am most willing to defer to my noble friend. Both he and I are used to the procedures on these occasions. He will, I am sure, allow me to make a brief reference in reply to what has been said by the two noble Lords who lead the Opposition.

We shall all be in full accord with the words of horror and sympathy which have been spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers. I would say that my right honourable friend's condemnation of terrorism has never been selective. Repeatedly he has denounced it, from whatever quarter or for whatever alleged cause it has been exercised. As to progress, we all agree it is urgent that progress should be made for an all-in, comprehensive settlement on the basis of the five principles. This is what Ambassador Low and our own Mr. Graham are engaged in at the moment. As I have said, as I have repeated, and as my right honourable friend has just said from the other place, I believe that we are making some progress towards our objective of round-table talks, which indeed was the objective emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington—a round table conference based on the five principles—and which was endorsed by the noble Lord, Lord Byers.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, I had no desire to get in the way of the normal procedures of this House. Sometimes it is difficult to forget the procedures down at the other end of the corridor. May I associate myself completely with the horror that we all feel about this particular incident. However, I am very glad too, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, that in the Statement today, both in justice to himself and in recognition of what we all feel, the Foreign Secretary did include the blacks and others who have been treated in this way over a very long period. The fact that the present incident involves white missionaries may give us a peculiar shock but does not give any more distinctive, peculiar shock to those who are concerned with the black families, the black missionaries and the black social workers who have already been thus maltreated. I wholly endorse that recognition.

At the risk of being slightly out of tune with the mood, may I say to the Minister of State, with all compassion and sincerity, that the reiteration of the phrase "calls upon all parties to cease these horrible deeds" begins to have a horrible, sanctimonious and rather distressing sound about it. Let us be clear—he is clear, is he not?; I am sure that he is—that there are only two parties engaged in these murderous, mutilating attacks. They are the two external guerrilla armies led by Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Mugabe. Some of us had the distressing experience, in the past few months, of seeing Mr. Nkomo feted and cosseted here in London by all kinds of gatherings, and by Government Ministers. Is it not time that we made it clear that we are not putting Bishop Muzorewa, Reverend Sithole or Mr. Chirau in the same bay as the murderous leaders who are organising and condoning these kind of things, and even calling for them to take effect?

Finally, I want to put a point to the Minister of State. I know that he will not be able to agree with me, though I am not sure what his private views may be as compared with what he will be required to say here. Will he put it strongly to the Foreign Secretary that some of us believe that, in view of the circumstances, the time really has come to announce firmly that we will recognise as of now the internal settlement, the internal Government, with all its weaknesses; and that in order to give the non-murderous Rhodesian leaders a chance to succeed—as well as, incidentally, a chance of survival, because they, too, have been set up for assassination—we will start to organise the raising of sanctions so that they can receive the weapons and the supplies they need in order to give that internal settlement a chance in this horrid situation?


My Lords, I much appreciate the tone and the content of what my right honourable and noble friend has said. I wish to take up from what he has said something that I should have said in response to what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said. I wish to make special mention of the Christian courage of the missionaries in situations of this kind. I believe that this incident has shown once more the intrepidity and the self-sacrifice—up to the ultimate sacrifice—of people who venture out into these countries and conditions solely to serve their fellow men, of whatever colour or background.

My noble friend Lord George-Brown rather narrowed the issue by saying that only two parties were responsible for these incidents. I do not want to take issue with him at a time like this, but it is a fact that we could quote examples of fairly recent terrible happenings which affected, not white people in Rhodesia, but black people. There was the incident at Gutu in which 52 black Africans were killed; Bishop Muzorewa himself put the number at 105. However, I do not think that there is any advantage to be gained by exchanging examples of atrocities in this way. This is a situation which breeds atrocity, from whatever source it may come.

My noble friend's proposal that we should examine the possibility of a new departure is of course worth studying. I freely and willingly undertake to bring the words of the concluding part of his intervention to the notice of my right honourable friend; and, as my noble friend knows, my right honourable friend very carefully considers everything that he says in this House on foreign and Commonwealth affairs.

Lord HOME of the HIRSEL

My Lords, I, too, should like to associate myself with the expressions of sympathy extended to the victims of this terrible massacre, as well as pay tribute to the courage of the missionaries. This is not an isolated incident. The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, is obviously aware of this fact; he said so. The Statement also recognises this. The casualties in Rhodesia are, I think, running at about 150 Africans a week—20 a day. I should have thought that the whole House would agree that that kind of situation is not tolerable. Obviously the round table conference is the right answer, if that can be achieved. Nevertheless, it seems that in these circumstances patience can be carried too far, and can be carried to the point of overwhelming tragedy. Therefore, is it not necessary now to tell the leaders of the Patriotic Front that, unless they come to the negotiating table within a stated time—which should be days, or, at the most weeks—the British Government will have to give the fullest possible support to the Salisbury provisional Government? I see no alternative to that.

Indeed, I should go almost as far as the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown. I think that we should go to the United Nations very soon and say quite clearly, and above board, that the situation has arisen—and has been brought about by the Russians and by the Patriotic Front in alliance—in which Britain will have no other possible course but to lift sanctions and to give help to the provisional Government in Salisbury, unless they come to the conference within a given time and without arms. I believe that we should be quite above board and open, and go to the United Nations and say this very soon.


My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, for putting us in perspective about these horrifying incidents. As he said, it is quite true that the situation affects black, as well as white, Africans; and proportionately, but not in terms of human tragedy, more so the black people of Rhodesia. I have figures here which I could give, hut I do not think that I need emphasise the point already made so well by the noble Lord, Lord Home. This is a situation of common tragedy for everybody in Rhodesia.

The noble Lord also spoke of the overwhelming tragedy which would overtake that country and its people unless certain policies were followed. I must say in all sincerity that the Government, having considered this very closely for a very long time, believe that the overwhelming tragedy—even the intensification of what is already appalling—might very well occur if we went ahead without the co-operation of the very substantial Rhodesian elements now outside the internal régime. It is a matter for very serious thought indeed as to whether we should take the steps suggested to us by the two noble Lords who have just spoken.

I have said that I shall certainly bring the words of my noble friend to the attention of my right honourable friend, and of course I shall, naturally, do the same regarding the words of the noble Lord, Lord Home. However, I ask the House to consider very carefully indeed what might happen in terms of intensified tragedy if, in a mood of desperate urgency, howsoever well motivated, we forged ahead, without the consent and cooperation of the very substantial elements who are right outside of, and resistant to, the internal regime.


My Lords, as the son and a grandson of Christian missionaries, I look upon this appalling incident with personal feeling. In addition to the horrible circumstances of the incident, we must surely remember that very many others—Africans, as well as whites—have died in this conflict. Surely our aim must be to bring the armed conflict to an end. I wish to ask the Minister to consider, while studying the proposals made by the Leader of the Opposition, whether recognition of an internal settlement would be likely only to intensify the conflict and the deaths which would follow. I also wish to ask him whether the proposal for an all-Party conference is now an increasingly practical suggestion. Has it not been reported that Mr. Ian Smith has declared in favour of entering such a conference if it is constructive; and has not a large majority of African members of the Legislature also declared in favour of this all-Party conference? If we are going to seek an end to these horrors in Rhodesia, would it not be for all of us to concentrate upon that hopeful proposal?


My Lords, it is of course a fact, as I said last week in this House, that the Patriotic Front are prepared to attend round-table talks. It is an encouraging fact that in the last few days Mr. Smith has indicated that on certain conditions he might now attend such talks. This is part of the meaning of the phrase that my right honourable friend used when he said that he believes there has been some progress towards such a round-table conference. On the second point made by my noble friend, it is of course true that there would be a clear danger of an intensification, even of this appalling situation, if we went ahead without something like the support, the near agreement, of the Patriotic Front and the Front Line Presidents, the rest of Africa; especially, I would suggest, when, in the last few days, the Organisation of African Unity, which contains some very good friends of ours, have gone on record as saying that they take the view of the Patriotic Front about the Rhodesian question. I suggest this calls for very serious consideration before we proceed on the line that the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, suggested to us a few minutes ago.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether the Government recognise that a large proportion of the guerrillas are no longer under the political control of the leaders of the Patriotic Front? Do they recognise, at the same time, that the security forces in Rhodesia are no longer under the political control of the Executive Committee, and that a very large proportion of that country, particularly in the Tribal Trust areas, is not under the control of the security forces? Do they recognise that, before there can be any political solution or any purposeful round-table conference between the parties immediately concerned, it is going to be essential to restore law and order within Rhodesia and prevent the continuing militancy of the Patriotic Front forces in Zambia and in Mozambique; and that therefore a prior condition of any successful outcome from the present situation is the establishment in Rhodesia of an international force with, at the same time, the co-operation of the Front Line Presidents in order to bring the militant forces under control? Is it not most important, therefore, that the conference should not simply be a round-table conference with the Patriotic Front, Mr. Smith and the other internal leaders, but should be on an international basis under the United Nations?


My Lords, if I may say so without in any sense patronising him, the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has very considerable experience of Africa as a High Commissioner, and I think he has come very close to the nub of this international action. But I would ask the House to consider very carefully what reception the United Nations would give to a proposal for action of the kind we have heard urged this afternoon. It would hardly be interpreted as the kind of international action that the noble Lord has suggested. I think that what he has said has some chance of success. Indeed, there is general agreement that a United Nations force might be the crux of a transition period. The noble Lord's contribution will be very carefully studied. One sees the possibilities in what he has said. I am afraid I cannot, with all respect, see any possibilities in the alternative urged by my noble friend Lord George-Brown and the noble Lord, Lord Home.


My Lords, would the noble Lord bear in mind that, currently, 20 black and white people are being murdered in Rhodesia every single day, and that this position is getting worse, more serious and more bloody every single week? Could not the Government call on the live Front Line Presidents for a ceasefire even before we have the round-table conference? Could he not also set a target, as my noble friend Lord Home has said, of days or weeks—14 days, say, before there is to be a roundtable conference—seeking in the meantime to persuade the United Nations to bear some responsibility, so long as any such force could he put together quickly, but announcing at the same time that if this does not come about then we shall have no alternative but to lift sanctions so that simple self-defence arms can be imported to better defend the inhabitants of Rhodesia, black and white, from the terrible holocaust which is going to come upon them?


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has reminded us once more of the extent of the consequences of war-like action on both sides. I have figures here supplied from Rhodesia: that since 1972, when irregular activity of this sort at last started, seven years after the beginning of UDI, 530 members of the security forces have been killed and 4,555 guerrillas, as well as 1.899 civilians, of whom 158 were white civilians. Proportionately, far more black Rhodesians than white have been killed, but that does not reduce the human tragedy, especially for the people concerned and their families. The point I am making is that this is a human situation affecting all peoples in Rhodesia, and that we should try to solve it on the basis of securing that these appalling figures are not kept up in the next few months, as they have been in the last few months.

As to how to do it, there is clearly a difference of opinion as to how to go about this. There is the suggestion that we should issue a kind of ultimatum. Fourteen days—and then what? We take unilateral action? What would be the attitude of the world authority, of the UN, to such? These are questions to be asked and studied very carefully indeed. In the meantime, Ambassador Low and Mr. Graham are there. They have not returned because they are meeting with some success; and my right honourable friend has said in another place today that he believes that some progress has been made in the direction of a roundtable conference. If we can get that, if we can get the Patriotic Front and the OAU as well—some of us forget that the OAU is crucial to this; crucial to any action we might take unilaterally; certainly crucial to a settlement around a table—then we may engage in a concessional process which may be monitored in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has suggested; and it is in that direction that Her Majesty's Government are working.

Lord HOME of the HIRSEL

My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me one more word? I do not want there to be any misunderstanding. I would far prefer the noble Lord's solution and that of my noble friend Lord Alport, but the essence of this matter is speed, and neither of these solutions so far seem to me to be within sight.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

My Lords, I think noble Lords feel deeply about this, and we have had an important Question period. In view of what has been said, which my noble friend is prepared to convey to Ministers, I think we should proceed.