HL Deb 24 October 1979 vol 402 cc77-86

2.59 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will make a Statement on Rhodesia. When the House rose, the Government were close to completing their consultations on the way to build on the progress made inside Rhodesia so as to bring the country to independence with wide international recognition. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I went to the Meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government at Lusaka with the objective of securing their support for a renewed effort to find a settlement and end the war. The agreement reached there paved the way for the present constitutional conference at Lancaster House.

It was agreed that, in the event of agreement on a new constitution, there should be fresh elections in which all the parties would be able to participate, properly supervised under the British Government's authority and with Commonwealth observers present. Such an election, if all agreed to stand by its result, would offer the prospect of an end to the war.

In the last six weeks we have achieved agreement on a constitution which, indisputably, provides for genuine majority rule, while including appropriate safeguards for minorities. Both Bishop Muzorewa's delegation and that of the Patriotic Front have made substantial concessions from their opening positions to reach agreement with us on the independence constitution, which we believe will provide a sound, just and democratic basis for the future of an independent Zimbabwe.

The task before us in the conference now is to reach agreement on the arrangements for implementing that constitution. The key element in those arrangements will be, as agreed at Lusaka, free and fair elections, properly supervised under British Government authority, and with Commonwealth observers". Bishop Muzorewa's delegation has already declared its willingness to participate in such elections in order to bring the new constitution into effect.

Her Majesty's Government are willing to discharge in full their constitutional responsibility to see that elections are held on a basis which will give every party a fair chance to state its case to the people of Rhodesia. We have made proposals to the conference about the arrangements to bring the independence constitution into effect, and we are now engaged in discussing them with the delegations.

It is in the interests of all the people of Rhodesia and of the neighbouring countries that elections should take place as soon as possible to implement the constitution and allow Rhodesia to proceed to legal independence. Our proposals provide for the appointment of a British governor, with executive and legislative authority during the brief interim. Under the governor, an election commissioner will have the task of supervising the conduct of the elections. Commonwealth observers would be invited to witness them.

I would not underestimate the difficulties which lie ahead. But we have reached a wider measure of agreement on the constitution than has hitherto been possible and the British Government have accepted their responsibility to supervise the process of putting it into effect.

What we have proposed is fully within the letter and the spirit of the Lusaka declaration. We see no need for elaborate administrative and constitutional structures during the interim period, or for a lengthy interim period with all the unrest and uncertainty that that would bring. Any restructuring that may be necessary will be for the elected Government to undertake within the constitutional framework.

If our proposals are accepted, as I hope they will be, and a cease-fire is agreed, the way will be open for an end to the war and for Zimbabwe to take its place in the international community as a free and independent nation in the very near future. I hope that the House will support the Government in their efforts to bring this about.

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords would wish to thank the noble Lord for making this Statement. Indeed, we would all wish to congratulate him on the perseverance and skill with which he has pursued an agreed solution to this perennially difficult question. We wish him well today and in the next few days, which may be crucial to the final solution that he, and we, hope will be attained.

This is not, of course, a final settlement. Negotiations are proceeding, as we have just heard, and none of us would wish to say or even suggest anything which might in any way imperil the success of those continuing negotiations. Perhaps, however, one or two points of inquiry and, possibly, of suggestion might be acceptable.

As to the role of the governor whom the Government, obviously with the general agreement of those concerned in the conference, propose to appoint to have executive and legislative authority during the transitional period, would it not be useful for him to have some sort of advisory council of a non-executive character, but nevertheless representing the various strands of opinion in Rhodesia, to advise him—I repeat, not to exercise any executive authority? After all, he will be one man who is dependent upon advice of one sort or another and it might be best to organise that advice through some kind of council. I merely throw out the suggestion.

As to the interim period itself, I should like to suggest that the period of two months, which I think is suggested, may prove to be rather short from the practical point of view of making the necessary arrangements for an effective electoral process, as well as perhaps unfair to elements whom, we hope, will take full part in the elections: elements which for very many years have not been allowed into Rhodesia to do anything, least of all to conduct propaganda. A period of two months would seem to be a little short for people who have spent many years outside a country which they now have the opportunity to ask for a mandate to govern. Possibly three months would be better. I throw out that suggestion without in any way being dogmatic about it.

As to the role of the Patriotic Front, which is crucial to the future of Rhodesia, just as the support of the Front Line Presidents is necessary, one cannot but welcome what the Statement says about the readiness of both Bishop Muzorewa and the Patriotic Front leaders to make substantial concessions. I think it should go out from this House—as, indeed, it does from this Statement—that we all appreciate the constructive attitudes which have asserted themselves in the last week or so, not only in the Salisbury Government but in the leadership of the Patriotic Front. They have made substantial concessions and we are glad that they have done so.

Of course they have reservations about the armed forces. It is too early to speak about questions like integration. There may be ways of arranging these matters that are best left to negotiation. Nevertheless, there is some difficulty here. If the transitional period, however short, means that the executive and, therefore, the policing and military authority rests in the governor, then clearly neither the military forces of the existing Salisbury regime, nor, certainly, those of the insurgents, can play a role, at least during that period. Now who will maintain law and order? Is the police element in Rhodesia enough to do that, or will it not need augmentation from military forces? If so—the two contending forces having stood down, hopefully, on a cease-fire preparatory to ending the fighting—where is that military augmentation for the police, if it is necessary, to come from?

Here one comes to a central point—the role of the Commonwealth. The Statement says that the elections will be supervised under the British Government's authority, with Commonwealth observers present. We welcome that very much. Could we perhaps give the Commonwealth a stronger, fuller role in the operation of these transitional agreements, in the supervision of elections? For instance, the electoral commissioner whom the Statement mentions, who will operate under the authority of the governor, might well be from another Commonwealth country. Equally, if there is need for a third force additional to the permanent police force of the country—and there may well be—the maintenance of law and order could be drawn from the Commonwealth. We know, do we not, that, despite the accumulation of resentments, when the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister went to Lusaka they found in the event a strong Commonwealth will to assist in the creation of an agreed solution. The Lusaka Conference, as the Statement itself says, is really the parent—I hesitate to describe the noble Lord as the midwife—of this very hopeful conference, and the Commonwealth may expect us, in deference to the help they have given us, to extend to them a role in the management in the transitional period of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, which will itself be on the way to full membership of the Commonwealth.

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, from these Benches we think that the Government, and more especially, I suggest, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, are to be sincerely congratulated on the progress made on these all-important talks and particularly on obtaining general agreement on a constitution, something which, as I think has already been said, has never been done before. The next step, obviously, will be to get general agreement on how to bring the constitution into effect and how to organise the elections at which I imagine it will in effect be put before the electorate.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, I do not wish to ask any questions which might have the result of prejudicing the very delicate negotiations now going on, but I imagine that one of the chief points at issue, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, indicated, will be to decide who actually will control and what will be the composition of the armed forces and the police responsible for maintaining order during the elections themselves. Is it conceivable that some comparitively non-aligned (as the saying goes) general might be called in from one of the Commonwealth countries? I suggest that is a possibility. The only question I wish to put is this: Has the matter of compensation to any landowners who eventually may want to leave, been settled, and if so, on what general lines?

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say how grateful I am both to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, and to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for their kind remarks and for their understanding reticence, and I hope that the noble Lord opposite will not think me discourteous if I do not answer his points one by one because that might lead into a detailed discussion of the proposals which I think at the moment would be more suitably carried out at Lancaster House than across the Floor of the House.

Perhaps I may make one brief comment which I think applies to all his observations. I am quite sure that these interim arrangements must be simple and the time must be short. I think the time has to be short because I believe that any cease-fire is bound to be precarious, and the uncertainty which will exist during the interim period should be as short as possible and independence should be brought about as quickly as possible, provided, as the noble Lord has said, that there is a fair opportunity for everybody to put their case.

With regard to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, what has been agreed is that after independence the British Government will be prepared to contribute to proposals for the resettling and development of agricultural land in Rhodesia, and the American Government have said very much the same. At the present time in Rhodesia there is a good deal of land which is under-utilised, and that is the sort of land which we have in mind at the present time. I very much hope that in the context of an agreement there will not be any European settlers who will wish to leave Rhodesia, because they have an enormous part to play in the future of that country; so I hope that on their part there will be no wish to go.

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, would the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary agree that it makes his task and the task of those negotiating at Lancaster House so much more difficult when a fellow Commonwealth country, namely Zambia, which is playing an important part behind the scenes in these negotiations, is invaded from without and its lifeline to Tanzania on the Tanzan railway is cut?

On the question of the Lancaster House conference itself, would the noble Lord agree that our experience in the past in creating new independence constitutions has been greatly helped if the contending parties within that colony are associated in the administration and the responsibility, particularly for the armed forces, during the interim period before the elections, and that this is essential if not only are fair elections to be held but are also to be seen to be held?

Finally, on the question of the length of this interim period, I am afraid I fail to follow the noble Lord's reasoning. If there is a danger that the cease-fire, which we all hope and pray for, may break down during two months, then what is going to happen after the elections have been held? Surely, it is important to trust that the cease-fire will hold, and, as my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts has pointed out, if fair elections are to be held it is essential that a full period is allowed for those parties which have not yet been able to organise politically to take a full part in those elections.


My Lords, the objective of the British Government at the Lancaster House conference is to end the war, and that is what we are seeking to do. Unfortunately, since my appeal for a cease-fire was not accepted by the Patriotic Front although it was accepted by Bishop Muzorewa, one is likely to get this sort of action, however regrettable that may be, until such time as we can get a cease-fire.

With regard to the noble Lord's second question, I think it must be the responsibility of the British Government during the interim period to see the administration of the country under a governor. Concerning the noble Lord's third point I think he is underestimating the difficulties of a cease-fire and not appreciating sufficiently the need to get a quick solution.


My Lords, if I understood him correctly, I think the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary referred to arrangements with regard to the transfer of ownership of land. Can he give an assurance that equal consideration will be given to the question of pensions to those legally entitled to them in Rhodesia? Secondly, as he referred to a period during which, apparently, the direction of affairs is to lie with Britain, is it to be understood that the present Prime Minister, and all the normal functions of State carried out by Government departments under his direction, will continue in the same way?


My Lords, with regard to the question of pensions, that point is in the constitution and is guaranteed. As to the noble Lord's second question, I think these are matters for discussion at Lancaster House, and I would not care to elaborate on them at the moment.

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the House will agree that the less said on this occasion the better. But having said that and wanting to join from this Bench in the tributes paid to the Foreign Secretary, would he in turn care to join in a tribute to my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts, who, from the same Dispatch Box as the Foreign Secretary has been speaking, advocated time and time again patience in order to see whether the Patriotic Front could he brought to the conference table, despite the fact that from many places in this House he was told that that was impossible?


My Lords, I am never slow or loath to join in congratulating and admiring the noble Lord opposite.


My Lords, may I, as a member of the Opposition Party in this House, very much anti-Tory, be privileged to congratulate heartily the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on the manner in which he has chaired the conference at Lancaster House? If it succeeds I believe it will be entirely due to his wonderful chairmanship. If it fails it will not be his fault. I sincerely congratulate him.


My Lords, that is a very nice tribute. I think the noble Lord had better wait to see how it all turns out. I only wish his appreciation of my chairmanship was shared by all the participants.


My Lords, can the noble Lord clarify one thing he said? He mentioned that this operation is based on the great progress made internally following the elections in the spring, observed, of course, by the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd, and others. He said just now that the Muzorewa Government had said that they are willing to accept a cease-fire. Are we to understand that it is proposed that the Muzorewa Government remain in office until the new constitution takes effect, or is it proposed that they should stand down?


My Lords, I answered that question when my noble friend Lord Barnby asked it. I said that these obviously are matters for discussion; the exact way one does these things is a matter for discussion at Lancaster House. I do not think that at this particular moment your Lordships' House is the right place to discuss these matters.


My Lords, on the day after the cease-fire is announced the newly appointed governor will face a daunting task, and unless he is backed up by an efficient staff, which I would suggest involves a major staffing operation which could not be improvised overnight, then in fact he will be governor only in name; the effective power will be lying somewhere many miles away. Would the Foreign Secretary be good enough to tell us whether at the moment this problem of how the governor is going to exercise his authority in both the civil and military field is being dealt with? Is the noble Lord collaborating with the great fund of goodwill which exists not only in the Commonwealth but throughout the whole civilised world to see how that can be harnessed to ensure that the new governor, whoever he happens to be, goes out there with an effective staff so that he can do the job, and it is not just a face-saving operation in which he will be governor only in name?


My Lords, the noble Lord is, of course, quite right. The governor must have a staff when he goes out, and these matters are under consideration at the moment.


My Lords, may I ask the Foreign Secretary whether it will be convenient for him to place a copy of the constitutional proposals in the Library? And may I, having myself endeavoured the task of constitution-making in this field, congratulate him on his enormous achievement in achieving agreement about the constitution? British Governments over the years have produced scores of constitutions. None has been more difficult of accomplishment than this one, and I think he has achieved a great success.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. Of course I will have a copy put in the Library. I only hope that it stands up to the noble Lord's birthday gaze.


My Lords, of course, as my noble friend Lord Carrington has said, we all know that the conference is still proceeding. Perhaps it would be better if the House now passed on to other business.