HL Deb 14 March 1979 vol 399 cc627-31

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 what action they are taking or persuasion they are applying to Mr. Joshua Nkomo and Mr. Robert Mugabe to encourage them to attend an all-party conference in Rhodesia; and whether, if their refusal continues despite agreement by other parties, this does not amount to the power of veto over further progress in Rhodesia.


My Lords, last year the Patriotic Front accepted all-party talks at a time when the Salisbury parties refused to attend. Mr. Cledwyn Hughes's recommendations against an immediate conference were based on his assessment of the position of all the parties now. While no party has a veto, there can be no point in convening talks unless there is a reasonable prospect that they will lead to a cease-fire and to internationally-supervised elections. We are continuing to work for early negotiations, preferably before 20th April, but if not then, immediately thereafter.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. May I ask whether he watched last night the television programme with Mr. Smith, Mr. Nkomo, Sir Harold Wilson and others? If he did, will he not have noticed that there was an unequivocal view from Mr. Nkomo that he would have no proposals and that his only aim was the defeat of Mr. Smith; that he had no intention of talking and no intention of having elections? Is it not therefore now true to say that there are only two choices: either for the Government to support Mr. Nkomo and make certain that he goes to Salisbury as leader and trust that, as a good Marxist, he will form an electoral roll and have free and fair elections; or (to take the other choice) to ensure that the elections that are planned are supported? Whichever choice is made, is it not right that this Government should make that choice absolutely clear and should go all out with all diplomatic force to ensure that one or the other is pursued?


No, my Lords. I think that we should continue to persevere in every attempt with our American friends, with the full support that we have seen from the statement of the French Presidency of the Community, in the search for an early conference of everybody concerned, leading finally to truly free and fair elections, observed and supervised by the international authority, the United Nations.


My Lords, would it not greatly facilitate the matter if Mr. Smith were to make it quite clear that he wished UDI now to be regarded as at an end, and we then might make some progress?


No doubt, my Lords.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that no one would dissent from the view that the Government must do their best to find a proper formula? But is it not unhappily true that the anti-Smith phobia of his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary seems to blind him to the dangers from other quarters and prevent him from using all the influence that this country ought to have to bring about the solution we all need?


My Lords, certainly I would not agree that anything that my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary has said about anything could be described as an "anti" phobia—any more than some of the remarks about this country emanating from certain quarters in Salisbury could be so described.


My Lords, would not the Minister agree that it is the actions of the internal Government which have destroyed any hopes of early party talks? Is it not the case that the bombing of neighbouring States, a Constitution which gives representation of 28 per cent. to 4 per cent. of the population, the chaotic elections, and the decision of Mr. Smith to stand for membership of a Government after the elections, make peace talks immediately impossible?


My Lords, I would not say that even all that makes peace talks immediately impossible At various times all concerned have expressed their readiness to attend all-party talks. On that basis, there is every reason why we should persevere and catch them all in the same mood at the same time. That is possible if we continue with our policy. As to the responsibility, in conflicts like this all must bear varying degrees of responsibility and I am not today disposed to apportion in any precise way the greater or lesser amounts of responsibility for the position as it now exists.


My Lords, would the Minister not agree, if Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Mugabe will not come to the conference table, that it is better to have the forthcoming elections which, even though they may be imperfect, would be better than nothing, because if we do not have the forthcoming elections and Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Mugabe run Rhodesia there will not be any elections at all?


My Lords, it may well be that if official recognition is given to these elections, which are clearly not being held under what we describe as free and fair conditions, that would fatally prejudice the real free and fair elections which the United Nations have said must be held and for which we, together with our friends and partners in Europe and other parts of the world, arc pressing.


My Lords, would not the Minister agree that Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Mugabe have been repeatedly asked to join in the elections and they have refused? Would not the Minister further agree that Mr. Nkomo has said several times that he will find a solution only by force? I understand that Mr. Mugabe too has said that.


My Lords, I have said on previous occasions that in this kind of situation many leaders from many parts of the world, especially the colonial world, have said something similar and then joined enthusiastically in elections. I will instance no examples for the moment. It is fair to say that the objection of a great many people, not confined to the Patriotic Front, to the present elections is that they are being held by an interested part of the Rhodesian Party. I do not think that the Salisbury parties would any more enthusiastically take part in elections entirely managed and contrived by, say, the Patriotic Front.


My Lords, does this not bring us back to that part of my noble friend's Question which I do not think the noble Lord has answered: that is, what pressures are Her Majesty's Government applying to get Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Nkomo to participate in conversations about the future of their country?


My Lords, constant representation, persuasion and appeal to them, as to everybody else, to come to the only possible forum of peaceful settlement: namely, an all-party conference.


My Lords, whatever Mr. Nkomo may have said on the television yesterday, is it not a fact that no representative of the Patriotic Front—neither he nor Mr. Mugabe—is likely to come to any conference until such time as the interim Government, and notably Mr. Smith, accept in advance something like the Anglo-American plan?


My Lords, this is true. It is equally true that the Patriotic Front have accepted the framework of the Anglo-American proposals. Mr. Smith and his colleagues have not done that yet.


My Lords, would the Minister agree that the situation is much the same, if not exactly the same, in South-West Africa? There is the agreement with the United Nations through resolution 435 between the South African Government and the Committee of Five, on which Britain has one representative; and SWAPO, knowing that they would be defeated at the elections, are persistently doing everything to impede the arrangements which have been made, and SWAPO is assisted, as is Mr. Mugabe in Russia.


My Lords, much as I highly regard the noble Lord, I think that is an interpretation of recent history rather than a question to me. Others might, for example, say that the fault for the present impasse, after the promising developments of a few months ago, in Namibia lies equally with other countries and organisations as well as SWAPO.


My Lords, is not the factual position that next month a black majority Government will be elected in Rhodesia? Will not our Government and the noble Lord opposite be prepared to make some relationship with them?


My Lords, whatever Government emerges from the procedures of next month, those procedures will have been contrived and managed by the Salisbury parties and not with the co-operation of the vast majority of the Rhodesian people and their leaders. In that sense, it is foredoomed to be rejected by literally a majority of the people for whom it will purport to be the Government.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

My Lords, I think we have had a pretty good run on this Question. Inevitably we shall come back to this at some time. It is not because I am answering the next Question.

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