HL Deb 11 December 1979 vol 403 cc979-87

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may interrupt your Lordships' debate for one moment to make a Statement about Rhodesia. A similar Statement is being made in another place.

We are approaching the conclusion of the Lancaster House conference. Last week agreement was reached on our proposals for a cease-fire. The final details are still being discussed. Earlier this afternoon I made in the conference a new presentation of our detailed proposals for the implementation of the cease-fire. We have given assurances about the security of the Patriotic Front forces and that the monitoring force will be adequate to monitor the Rhodesian forces, through their command structure down to company level. We have explained that the Patriotic Front forces will be sited in their operational areas in locations which will meet their concern that they should not be in close proximity to Rhodesian bases. We have therefore been able to provide the Patriotic Front with the assurances they have been seeking about their security and the disposition of the Rhodesian forces.

It is important to see the present stage in the perspective of what has already been accomplished. The issue of majority rule, which has been the fundamental cause of the conflict in Rhodesia for 14 years, has been resolved by the independence constitution. It has been agreed that there should be fresh elections to resolve the question of who should exercise political power. The parties have accepted that a British Governor should exercise legislative and executive authority to supervise the elections and bring Rhodesia back to legality. There is agreement on our proposals for a cease-fire. In the light of what has been agreed, it would be indefensible to continue the war. Ideally, we would have preferred the final details to be agreed before beginning to put the settlement into effect on the ground. But it is essential to maintain the momentum if we are to achieve a settlement involving all the parties, and if what we have achieved so far is not to be eroded by events outside the conference.

I believe that the proposals we have put forward this afternoon should lead to early and complete agreement. My right honourable and noble friend Lord Soames will therefore leave later this afternoon for Rhodesia. Delay could risk prejudicing what has been achieved at the conference. The Governor's arrival will help to stabilise the situation and normalise relations with neighbouring countries.

A British authority in Salisbury is necessary to make the final arrangements for bringing the cease-fire into effect. Legality will be restored and sanctions will be lifted with Lord Soames' arrival and the acceptance of his authority. The Governor will set in train the arrangements for elections. The Government are determined to carry out their responsibility to bring Rhodesia to legal independence at the earliest possible opportunity.

3.31 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful for the noble Lord's Statement, which can only be described as "momentous". The Government clearly have made a crucial decision and they are aware—are they not?—that the decision involves the new Governor arriving in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia before important details of the cease-fire have been agreed. Are the Government aware that we are bound to express our deepest misgivings about this procedure? We have tried to be helpful in all our comments on the long-drawn-out and very difficult negotiations which the Foreign Secretary has conducted with great skill and perseverance; but we have said consistently from this side of the House and in another place that until there is a final and durable cease-fire it would be a very great gamble indeed to send a Governor out to that country.

May I put one or two points for clarification of this Statement to the Foreign Secretary. First, the Statement says: Legality will be restored and sanctions will be lifted with Lord Soames' arrival and"— I stress this— the acceptance of his authority". Does that mean that his arrival will not in fact mean that these steps will be taken and that they turn upon the acceptance in that country of his authority? This is not by any means a debating point. One can envisage that a Governor could arrive there with full powers but little power and, in the event, declaring legality and the lifting of sanctions without his authority being accepted. What happens then, particularly in the bush?

The second point I should like to put is this: I welcome the statement in the last paragraph but two that— The Governor's arrival will help to stabilise the situation"— we very much hope so— and normalise relations with neighbouring countries". This is an essential aspect for the situation in both Rhodesia and Central and Southern Africa. We are in full support of the intentions of the Government in seeking to restore working relationships of a constructive character with neighbouring countries in that part of Africa. I would ask whether this most definitely includes the South African Republic, without whose full co-operation and restraint in the next few days and weeks no lasting solution can hopefully be achieved.

Finally, may I join with my noble friend who so appropriately expressed his good wishes to the noble Lord, Lord Soames, and to Lady Soames in their momentous and perilous mission and to wish them well, to wish them success and safety. I should like also to add a personal note of felicitation and good wishes to the Deputy Leader, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who now assumes full governorship of this House.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, we, too, would like, first of all, to express our good wishes to the noble Lord, Lord Soames, and to Lady Soames on their departure for this very difficult mission. I am sure also that we can all agree that it is a very remarkable achievement on the part of the Foreign Secretary and his very able team of advisers to have got almost to the point at which there is a final agreement on a cease-fire—which in itself would represent a successful end to the long-drawn-out negotiations that a few months ago few of us thought would have a happy ending. It seems that the Foreign Secretary has practically no doubt that what he calls the final details of the cease-fire will be agreed tomorrow or at the latest the day after; and we must all hope that his optimism will be justified.

The only point I would myself venture to query, along with the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, is the decision to send out the noble Lord, Lord Soames, before the cease-fire has actually been signed and delivered. I note what is said in the Statement about the necessity for maintaining momentum, but, my Lords, would much momentum really be lost if the noble Lord, Lord Soames, were to go out, for instance, tomorrow or the next day when it is confidently expected that the cease-fire will be in the bag? Or is it thought—perhaps the Foreign Secretary will tell us—that his departure will somehow speed up the signature of the cease-fire by the Patriotic Front here at Lancaster House?

In any case, we note—and this is a similar point to that made by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts—that sanctions may be, or indeed are to be, lifted as soon as the noble Lord, Lord Soames, lands at Salisbury Airport. However, it seems that they will also only be lifted once there is acceptance of his authority. But if on the arrival of the noble Lord, Lord Soames, the Patriotic Front have not by any chance finally signed the ceasefire, how will the Governor be able in practice to exercise his authority? I feel there is an important point of principle here which surely should be cleared up.


My Lords, I think the first thing I should like to do is to thank both noble Lords for what they have said about my noble friend Lord Soames. I can think of nobody more capable of doing this job or more reassuring in the way that he will do it. All of us will wish him well. I also understand the point of view put forward by both the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. I should, of course, be misleading the House if I said that for my noble friend to go out at this moment is ideal. Of course it would be very much better if all the loose ends had been finally tied up, but I think there are very good reasons why he should go out, and one of them is partly the momentum reason, which is extremely important.

I have said in many Statements in this House over the past three months that I am really fearful of delay. I fear that the ball of wool we have so carefully wound together is going to unravel. I am particularly fearful at the moment about stability. One has only to look at the events of last week-end, for example, to see what can happen and I believe that the arrival of my noble friend will have a stabilising and good effect. Of course, the acceptance of his authority relates to the Salisbury Government, in the sense that in our deliberations at the Lancaster House Conference Bishop Muzorewa agreed, when the British Governor arrived, to step down from exercising the authority of Prime Minister. That is what that means. So that my noble friend will be in the position of actually exercising the authority in Salisbury.

As I have said to your Lordships in the Statement, I saw both sides at Lancaster House just before I came down to your Lordships' House, and the contacts that we have had over the past weekend and so on really lead me to believe that the proposals which have been put forward should allay the fears of the Patriotic Front. I am therefore hopeful that we shall get a quick agreement. I personally explained the position about my noble friend Lord Soames to the Leaders of the Patriotic Front. Salisbury also know about this and are in the process of dissolving their Parliament today.


My Lords, may I, too, wish the noble Lord, Lord Soames, complete success on his critical mission and also congratulate the noble Lord the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary on his considerable achievement. May I press him on one point; namely, the relationship of the new Governor with the armed forces of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, which have recently been making incursions over the border? Is the noble Lord satisfied that when the new Governor takes residence he will have some control over the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia forces, and that from that point of view there will be a cease-fire?


My Lords, the noble Lord is perfectly right. When my noble friend arrives there, nothing can be done without the Governor's authority.


My Lords, all I should like to say, as the oldest surviving Member of both Houses of Parliament, is that I am sure the whole House would want not only to give its best wishes to the noble Lord, Lord Soames, but also to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on a personal triumph which, whatever the ultimate outcome, will ring down the pages of history.


My Lords, the noble Lord is very kind, but we have some difficult times to go through. With, I hope, the help and the determination of every Member of your Lordships' House, we shall get through them and come to an end where there are free and fair elections which represent the will of the people of Zimbabwe.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, at the risk of repeating what my noble friend Lord Boothby has said, because I could not be quite sure that I heard him, may I ask my noble friend whether he will accept that I believe the whole House would like to pay tribute to the patience, toleration and admirable persistence that he has shown during the time that he has presided over this most important conference.


My Lords, can the noble Lord reassure me on one point? So long as the ceasefire does not come into existence—that is, until it is effectively implemented—does it remain the duty of the Rhodesian Government to protect the people of Rhodesia against bandits, or whatever one calls them, who are attacking, and to take such measures as it considers necessary for their defence? Secondly, does the noble Lord, Lord Soames, immediately on his arrival, become the commander of those forces? If so, can we be reassured that the commander of the forces will be on the same side, and that they will have the full support of the new Governor to take such measures as they consider necessary to protect the people of Rhodesia?


My Lords, as I said, nothing can be done without the Governor's authority. I hope that there is going to be a cease-fire. Until such time as there is a cease-fire, it will be up to the Governor to decide what to do.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary to be a little more forthcoming with this House? Would he not agree that over the past few weeks the one single issue that has prevented agreement on the cease-fire is the belief—and I stress the word, "belief"—on the part of the Patriotic Front that its forces could be massacred, could be attacked, by the forces of the Salisbury régime? He has said in his Statement that there will be disengagement and that he believes his new proposals will satisfy the Patriotic Front. Could he tell this House where the forces of the Salisbury regime are going to be stationed during the interim period, by whom they are going to be monitored and what authority the Governor will have over them to prevent such incidents as the invasion of Zambia and Mozambique over the last weekend?


My Lords, the noble Lord is, of course, quite right. There is an enormous amount of distrust on both sides, and somewhat naturally if one considers the history of the situation. What will happen under the cease-fire proposals is that the Rhodesian forces will be asked to disengage first, and will go close to the vicinity of their bases. After that, the Patriotic Front will be asked to assemble in a number of places, with their arms and under their own commanders. There are a number of areas to which they will go where they will keep their arms, where they will be under their own commanders and where there will be monitors. In exactly the same measure, this will happen to the Rhodesian forces, though of course there may be more bases for the Rhodesian forces, because there are, in fact, more Rhodesians. But, of course, all this depends upon what actually happens during the cease-fire and during the assembly itself.

There is a great distrust on the part of both sides as to whether anybody really will do these things, and so the reciprocal separation of the forces will, in effect, depend upon whether or not there is a real commitment by both sides to the cease-fire. I hope, in the proposals which I have put to the Patriotic Front and to the conference at Lancaster House, that I have reassured them on this point, because I agree with the noble Lord that it is a real point. Certainly, if all the Patriotic Front forces assemble with their arms and all cross-border movements of armed Patriotic Front personnel cease, there will be no need for Rhodesian forces to deploy from their company bases. Therefore, there will be this reciprocal disengagement. The Governor will command both the Patriotic Front forces and the Rhodesian forces; at least, all those who assemble at the places and who are under his command. Everybody who assembles will be lawful and will be under the Governor's command, whether they be part of the Patriotic Front forces or the Rhodesian forces. Anybody who does not is unlawful.


My Lords, just to reassure us on one point, will the Governor have his mind particularly directed to the possible intimidation of the electors, as the election campaign gets under way, by terrorists, bandits or whatever they are who are still free in the bush?


My Lords, I think that that is something which will be in everybody's mind and it will be up not only to the Governor, but to the observers who will be there. I imagine that the world Press will be there, and then the monitoring forces will be there. I cannot believe that Rhodesia in these next few weeks is going to be a lonely place. I think that there are going to be a great many people there, and I hope they will be able to see that intimidation is kept to the very minimum.


My Lords, does the Foreign Secretary not agree that the noble Lord, Lord Soames, is being asked to carry unlimited responsibility with absolutely no power to discharge the task imposed upon him? He will doubtless have noticed that in another place and in the columns of the Press the historical parallel has been drawn of Gordon's going to Khartoum. But would he agree that that is not an exact parallel today, because had the Government chosen they could have given the noble Lord, Lord Soames, effective power to impose the will and authority of this country on Rhodesia, by stationing one or two squadrons of Phantoms? But for some reason, which one can only guess at, they have chosen to send Lord Soames out to Rhodesia, just as the Liberal Administration sent Gordon out to Khartoum to discharge responsibility with no power of any kind whatsoever.


My Lords, nobody denies that there are risks in this situation. There would have been the most appalling risks if Her Majesty's Government had recognised Bishop Muzorewa's Government on 3rd May. There would have been the most appalling risks if the Government had done nothing and had allowed the situation to continue, a situation in which the war was getting worse and worse and more and more people were being killed. There are risks in every situation. All I can say to the noble Lord is that, if in the last three months the Government had not been prepared to take any risks, we should not have got as far as we have.