HL Deb 07 November 1979 vol 402 cc828-38

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise to the Leader of the Opposition but, with the leave of the House, I will make a Statement on Rhodesia. A similar Statement is being made in another place.

In my Statement of 24th October I described the proposals which the Government had put to the constitutional conference for the holding of elections in Southern Rhodesia and the administration of the country in the pre-independence period.

The full proposals which the Government tabled on 2nd November have been placed in the library of the House. We have also published today as a White Paper the summary of the independence constitution accepted by the parties at Lancaster House.

At Lancaster House we have now achieved provisional agreement on a constitution, and have made considerable progress towards agreement on the interim period. I hope that we shall soon be able to proceed to negotiations for a ceasefire and the arrangements for monitoring it. The conference is therefore moving towards a conclusion. We must be able to act without delay to implement the final agreement for which we are working with all parties. Any delay in putting a settlement into effect would cost further lives and could place the settlement itself at risk.

The purpose of the enabling Bill which the Government are introducing later today is to enable us to implement the interim arrangements without delay. It will enable the Government to make the independence constitution, to introduce parts of it before independence, to allow elections to be held, and to provide for the appointment of a governor with full powers. Existing legislation is not adequate for these purposes.

The Salisbury delegation have accepted the proposals which the Government have put to them as a basis for a settlement. The Patriotic Front have also accepted the principles of a British governor and new elections. We are therefore very close to a settlement which is fully consistent with the communiqué of the meeting of Heads of Commonwealth Governments in Lusaka. In these circumstances the Government believe that it would be wrong now to take the positive action of renewing Section 2 of the Southern Rhodesia Act 1965. But, as the House will be aware, the great bulk of sanctions—those relating to direct trade and the transfer of funds—do not depend on Section 2 but on orders made under other Acts, and they will continue until they are revoked. These sanctions will be lifted as soon as Rhodesia returns to legality with the appointment of a governor and his arrival in Salisbury.

The Bill which will be placed before the House enables the Government to take whatever action is necessary in relation to Rhodesia, depending on the state of progress at the conference. This includes the power to continue those sanctions at present imposed under Section 2. But, given the position now reached, the Government find it difficult to envisage circumstances in which this would be necessary.

While the Government would have preferred to give both Houses more time to consider the Bill, the timing of the introduction of the Bill has been related to the progress of the conference. It is essential that the governor should be in a position when, as we hope, agreement is reached to give effect to a settlement without delay and for elections to be held as soon as possible. A great deal of progress has been made in the talks. We were glad to hear this morning that President Kaunda will be coming to London tomorrow. This will be a most timely visit. His presence will, I am sure, assist our progress towards a peaceful settlement.

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for making that Statement. Clearly, the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia issue has reached a crucial and perhaps a decisive stage and, as throughout the past nine weeks, the Opposition—we on this side of the House—do not propose to say or do anything today which may in the least imperil the chances of an agreed settlement. The noble Lord will need all his very considerable skills to complete a settlement which will be agree-able to all parties.

We very much welcome the publication, even at this late stage, of a White Paper summarising the independence constitution. I have one question to put on the Statement we have just listened to. In paragraph 2, there are these words: the independence constitution accepted by the parties at Lancaster House ". Then immediately after that there follows this sentence: At Lancaster House we have now achieved provisional agreement on a constitution …". Perhaps the noble Lord may be able to assure us that there is in fact final agreement on the independence constitution. If so, it is a very big step forward indeed and, if there is such agreement—and by "agreement" we would mean the agreement of the two delegations from Rhodesia at Lancaster House and of the Front-Line Presidents as well as the British Government—then we would not cavil at the most expeditious way of putting into effect what flows from such agreement. Nevertheless, my noble friend the Chief Whip will be putting certain Business questions, probably with a certain amount of professional acerbity, after we have completed this particular set of exchanges.

I will say no more at this stage but will leave it to my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones to raise one or two legal points affecting our position internationally. However, I will put these two questions to the noble Lord. They relate to the action which he clearly proposes to take, possibly in the next few days, in relation, for instance, to the nomination and accrediting or empowering of a governor. That may happen—I do not know—very quickly indeed.

First, as to sanctions, are the Government satisfied, and will they be in a position to satisfy the House, that nothing they propose in regard to sanctions will in the least place us in default with the United Nations, by whose resolutions in this matter we are morally and legally bound? Secondly, as to the management of the transition stage, which is possibly one of the most difficult aspects of this agreement that the noble Lord has had to cope with, is it intended that there shall be an assumption of legality, as we understand it, on the appointment and positioning of the governor with full powers in Salisbury ahead of the agreement on a ceasefire? If so, it seems to me that he and the country may be placed in a very difficult situation. We devoutly hope that the reference made by the noble Lord in his Statement to the possibility of proceeding quickly to negotiations for a ceasefire and arrangements for monitoring it will bear fruit.

Those are the two points I would leave with the noble Lord and the House at this point. However, he needs no reassurance from me that we shall seek to be as helpful as possible, subject to the completion of a truly agreed and durable solution. We have not yet seen the enabling Bill. We hope very much that it is an enabling Bill and that whatever flows from it in the form of regulations sanctioned by Orders in Council will in every case return to both Houses on the basis of Affirmative Resolutions.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, we should like to be associated with the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, in welcoming this very important and extremely satisfactory Statement on the part of the Government. I must say that a month or two ago few people in this country thought that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, would get as far he has. The fact that he has got as far as this seems almost to be approaching a miracle. If he brings it off, he deserves the congratulations of the entire nation. It is quite true that there is now one outstanding point which is very difficult, and which is, of course, the cease-fire and the arrangements for monitoring it. We can only hope that, with the arrival of President Kaunda, some kind of formula will be found at this stage. Perhaps we may even hope that it will be fairly soon. Of course, everything else depends on that.

I have one question to ask, which is virtually the same as that put by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts. I read in the Statement that, These sanctions will be lifted as soon as Rhodesia returns to legality with the appointment of a governor and his arrival in Salisbury ". It rather depends on what is meant by "returns to legality". I imagine—I may be wrong—that when the governor arrives in Rhodesia, there will already have been some arrangement on a ceasefire. It is difficult to imagine that the governor will be able to do much without a return to a ceasefire. So one assumes that "returns to legality" means that there will be an agreement on a ceasefire, also.

If that is so, then the remaining question is the United Nations. We have always assumed that the United Nations would have to agree in principle. But if it really is a question of returning to legality in the sense that I have already used the term, then a great many people in this country would certainly not be in favour of keeping on sanctions. How you get the agreement of the United Nations is an interesting question, and the noble Lord may like to make some reference to that aspect when he comes to reply.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their approach to the Statement that I have made. The White Paper on the constitution, which we have laid for convenience in the Printed Paper Office, has, of course, been available in the Library for about a month, so I think that any of your Lordships who would have cared to could have read it in that time. But I thought it would be convenient if it was put in the Printed Paper Office, in case any of your Lordships had not seen it.

The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, asked about the difference between accepting the constitution and the phrase following. The situation has always been that both delegations have accepted the constitution, on the understanding that they are satisfied both with the interim period and with the ceasefire; they arc happy with the constitution, provided that they are happy with the other processes. I thought at this conference that it was necessary to proceed stage by stage on that basis, because, if one can learn anything from the past, it is that if you try to do everything at once all the waters get muddied. It seemed to me that on this occasion the right thing to try to do was to separate the three issues of constitution, interim arrangements and ceasefire, and having got conditional agreement on the first two, then to tackle the last one.

I hope very much that we are now entering into a phase when things are going to happen very quickly indeed, and I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, said about that. If things happen very quickly, I think that, in a sense, the sanctions issue will resolve itself, because we shall be able to take off sanctions legally very quickly. Sanctions will be taken off when the governor takes over in Salisbury, and he will take over when a ceasefire has been agreed. I would not say that all the shooting will have stopped, but not until the ceasefire is agreed will he take over. Then, at that point, there is, of course, legality.

I said in the original Statement that the Government had taken powers, under the new enabling Bill which will be published this afternoon, to continue sanctions which are at present imposed under Section 2, which we do not intend to move. But I went on to say that, given the position now reached, the Government find it difficult to envisage circumstances in which this would be necessary, which means to say that I hope that we shall continue very quickly. But, of course, the bulk of the sanctions still remain and I think I am satisfied, and the Government are satisfied, that we would not be in breach of our United Nations obligations about sanctions, and we would be in a good legal position and a position which I, personally, would find unanswerable, if we could say to the United Nations that the rebellion was at an end, that Rhodesia was once more a legal part of Her Majesty's Dominions and that the governor was in charge.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, may I welcome what the noble Lord, the Foreign Secretary, has said and ask him to clarify the position as I understand it. Is it that the arrangements about a ceasefire are a pre-condition to the sending of the governor to Salisbury and the return to a state of legality? That is the first question that I wanted to ask, and I think it is implicit in what the noble Lord has just said that that is so. But I want a little clarification on that, if he will he kind enough to give it. Secondly, will he give an assurance that when the relevant orders are brought before Parliament they will be made subject to Affirmative Resolution? Thirdly, will opportunity be given for Parliament to consider the constitutional proposals. That is a little obscure at the moment. I imagine that that will be so, but it will be as well to get an assurance to that effect. If I may say so, the summary is a helpful one. It has, in fact, been in the Library only since a week today, but that is a point of detail and is of no great importance. But if the noble Lord will give that assurance, I think it will be very helpful. May I, finally, ask whether the noble Lord is aware that we on this side of the House greatly welcome the arrival of President Kaunda?


My Lords, if there is to be an agreement between all the parties at the conference, between the Patriotic Front and the Salisbury delegation, it is essential that there should be a ceasefire, because if there are to be elections in which everybody takes part it is not possible to have them until there is a ceasefire. Consequently, a ceasefire is necessary. In the context that we are talking about, it will obviously be necessary for a ceasefire and for the governor to go as soon as it is arranged. I wonder whether I might find out the answer to the second question put to me by the noble and learned Lord. I am afraid that I do not know the answer, as it is drafted in the Bill, and I ought to. But I will find out.

Also, I apologise for the three-week error that I have made about the placing of the document in the Library. It certainly should have been there a month ago and I will find out why it was not. I must apologise to the noble and learned Lord for that. As regards a debate on the constitution and so on, it will be necessary for an independence Bill to be put before your Lordships' House and Parliament, as well as, I am afraid, a number of other orders on which there will be—I promise your Lordships—plenty of opportunity for debating anything to do with Rhodesia and the proposals that we are making.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he could say the briefest word about the scale on which international aid is likely to be available for Zimbabwe-Rhodesia after the return to legality? Also, to what extent is he satisfied that this will match reasonably well with their needs, bearing in mind the parlous state of the economy after many years of sanctions and civil war?


My Lords, I think that my noble friend raises a very important question. It has not been possible—while we have been negotiating to see whether or not it is at all possible to get an agreement—to ask those who might be prepared to contribute to the rehabilitation of the country, and to help, whether or not they will do so. We know for certain that the United States will help over the question of the resettlement of land, and I have on a number of occasions recently, when visiting my colleagues in Europe and elsewhere, pointed out that there will be need for funds to assist Rhodesia to recover from these last years. I certainly accept the implication behind my noble friend's question.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, as the Statement included information that legislation is to be promptly introduced with the hope of a rapid passage through Parliament, and in view of the recollection of the experience of the Pearce Commission and the misfortunes which that brought about, does the Foreign Secretary feel that he is in a position to indicate that after the passage of the legislation there will be a clear understanding that a maximum time will be set before the elections are completed?


My Lords, in the interim arrangements, about which I think your Lordships know, the period set aside for the election is two months. This is two months after the ceasefire actually operates, so it is a little longer than two months. In ideal conditions I think that that is, in the circumstances, too short, but we are not, unfortunately, in ideal conditions. We have to take into consideration the problems. There will be the problem of what I am afraid will necessarily be a fragile ceasefire, and there will also be the problems that the British governor will have to face in managing affairs during that period.

If I may say so, I think it is an act of some courage on the part of Her Majesty's Government to assume this responsibility for a period of time, in view of the fact that the issues in Rhodesia are not entirely unknown to the people of Rhodesia. Ever since August it has been known that there was going to be a conference, and ever since 10th September we have been discussing the question whether or not elections could be held. I have no doubt that the parties are already getting themselves ready for the election. However, I am absolutely certain that my noble friend is right when he says that if the period between the ceasefire and the actual taking place of the elections is too long we shall be in real danger of losing the settlement as a whole.


My Lords, would not the Foreign Secretary agree that this rebellion which is now coming to an end has been brought about entirely by the action of the Patriotic Front in carrying the war into Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, so that it is now recognised by the rebels in that country that rebellion does not pay? Would the Foreign Secretary make quite sure that the period which is necessary for there to be free and fair elections is wholly adequate from the point of view of those who have brought this rebellion to an end?


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, speaks as if it were a foregone conclusion that the rebellion is at an end. And the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, was optimistic. I must tell your Lordships that the Patriotic Front has not yet accepted the interim arrangements, and it is by no means certain that the way ahead is clear—by no means certain. I hope very much that it is and I hope that tomorrow President Kaunda will enable us to come to a conclusion. However, with regard to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, No, I do not agree with him. If the rebellion is brought to an end I think it will be brought to an end by the good sense and statesmanship of all concerned.


My Lords, will not the Foreign Secretary, in doing what is really a balancing act, accept that perhaps too short a period could be as dangerous as too long a period, if not more dangerous? In other words, does he not think that an extension of the period by a month or two may provide a more balanced election which would be seen to be fair and which would be accepted as fair, whereas an election that has been forced through in a short period may be regarded as a rigged election and therefore the rebellion does not end, or the problem which that area now faces may in fact continue?


My Lords, the noble Lord says that I am doing a balancing act. It is about the best description that could possibly be used. If you lengthen the period of the election too much you fall off one way. If you shorten it too much, you fall off the other way. The only thing which any of us can do in these very difficult circumstances is to make a judgment about the time which is fair for both parties or for all the parties who are taking part in the election to be able to compete in and win a free and fair election. I think that we have got it right, though no doubt there will be arguments both ways. But since I am balancing and am still on the tightrope, I hope that your Lordships will support me.