HL Deb 06 February 1980 vol 404 cc1342-50

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to make a Statement on Rhodesia and I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, and to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, that the unpublicised habit that copies of the Statement get to them in decent time has not materialised this afternoon. If the noble Lord opposite would like me to delay the Statement, I should be very happy to do so. I must apologise for the inconvenience to the noble Lords.

The elections are now only three weeks away. Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Mugabe have returned to the country. The political campaign is under way. Election broadcasts have begun; each party has been allotted equal time.

Election supervisors from the United Kingdom are positioned throughout the country to oversee preparations for the elections. Arrangements have been made to return ballot papers to this country after the poll to set at rest fears that the secrecy of the vote will not be preserved. The Commonwealth observer team has been in Rhodesia since 24th January and official observers from individual European and Commonwealth countries will arrive shortly.

Arrangements are being made through the usual channels for a small group of Parliamentary observers to witness the elections. Violent incidents continue to cause deep concern, although the numbers of incidents and of casualties remain far below those prevailing before the ceasefire came into force. The two attacks on buses last Sunday were particularly horrifying and distressing examples. Today we have heard of attacks on the house of Mr. Robert Mugabe and of one of his Party officials. I know your Lordships will join me in deploring all such attacks.

The great majority of the incidents investigated formally by the Ceasefire Commission have been attributed to Mr. Mugabe's ZANLA forces, several thousand of whom remain outside the assembly places in breach of the agreements. Patriotic Front military commanders are present at all meetings of the Ceasefire Commission and have accepted these findings. Action has been taken to discipline elements in the auxiliaries who have acted in breach of the agreements.

The principal threat to fair elections comes from large-scale intimidation of the rural population. In certain parts of the country it has been made impossible for even Mr. Nkomo or Bishop Muzorewa to hold meetings. People have been told that if they do not vote according to the wishes of a party, the war will continue or they will be killed. This is a matter of great concern.

The parties signed a solemn undertaking at Lancaster House to campaign peacefully and without intimidation. The Governor has invited them to renew that commitment. It is vital that people should be able to make up their own minds about their political future without fear of the consequences. The Governor has also taken the power to impose limited penalties against any party or its candidates which fails to honour its undertakings.

The return of refugees from neighbouring countries has begun under arrangements co-ordinated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It is hoped that all those in Botswana will return before the elections, as well as a high proportion of those in Zambia. The return of the refugees from Mozambique is also proceeding—though more slowly because of the unsettled situation in the east of the country. At our insistence, the political detainees held by ZANU in Mozambique have, like all political detainees in Rhodesia, been released.

Road and rail links with neighbouring countries are being reopened. Diplomatic representatives from nine countries are present in Salisbury with six more to follow shortly. An important and positive development has been the introduction of joint patrols by Patriotic Front forces and the police in the vicinity of assembly areas.

Nevertheless, the Governor's task in the remaining weeks will be no easier than it has been so far. But what has been achieved so far by way of giving effect to the Lancaster House agreements represents a much greater advance than many people had dared to hope.

I am sure your Lordships would join me in paying tribute to my noble friend the Governor for the determination and fairness which he has shown in dealing with the sensitive problems and conflicting pressures which I have described.

Against this background of solid achievement, the Government regret that the tone of last week's debate on Rhodesia in the United Nations Security Council was one-sided and absurdly selective. Such polemics can only increase tension and make the implementation of the settlement more difficult. Machinery already exists in Salisbury for the investigation and redress of grievances: and, as the Security Council has frequently told us, that responsibility is ours. The Government felt it inapporpirate to associate them-selves in any way with a resolution which purported to reinterpret the agreements reached with the parties at Lancaster House. The United Kingdom did not, therefore, participate in the vote.

3.16 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary for making the Statement available to it, and join with him once more in deploring most strongly attacks on persons and property in Rhodesia at this time when we are all hoping that the elections may proceed on a fair and free basis. What he has said about the latest attack on Mr. Mugabe's house is most upsetting, and one very much hopes that all concerned in Rhodesia, to whatever party they belong, will see the necessity for restraining their followers as well as themselves from action of this kind.

Is the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary aware that there is a fair amount of agreement with what he said about the extraordinary conclusions to which the Security Council of the United Nations came a few days ago in relation to British conduct of affairs in Rhodesia? However, one is bound to ask why some of our closest friends and allies who are members of the Security Council joined in the condemnation of British policy; for instance, the United States and France. We would not ordinarily expect them to join in the pack which is constantly harassing and hunting British leaders and policy in any forum to which they have access. is the noble Lord aware that one is bound to ask whether, in view of the strictures placed on this country by some of our closest friends and allies in this way, there may not be some reason for concern about the conduct of the elections by the authorities in Rhodesia?

One reads reports and hears rumours, for instance, that the Government led by the Governor is seen, whether rightly or wrongly, from time to time to be favouring one party more than another. On a basis of free and fair elections, clearly it is absolutely essential that the Government of the day not only does not favour one party more than another but also is seen to be utterly neutral and to be confining itself to encouraging peaceful propaganda and also equal access to all facilities for all parties.

Will the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary accept my statement that I and my noble friends do not, in the absence of authoritative evidence, do more than call attention to the fact that there are these reports and rumours, which, if they have any basis in fact, must of course vitiate and nullify the very purposes of the Governor's presence in Rhodesia? I have no more to add at this point. I will study with interest this Statement in tomorrow's Hansard, when I shall have more opportunity of digesting its contents, and possibly return to it at a later date.

I end by saying, yes, it is true that in perspective the way things have gone in Rhodesia since Lancaster House has on the whole been reassuring. This is not to minimise the horror we all feel about these dreadful incidents that happen from time to time. Nevertheless, it has gone at least as well as most of us hoped, and in some respects better. Having said that, we must redouble our appeal and indeed our demands, via the Governor, to all parties to observe the normal conditions of free and fair elections, and hope very much indeed that the Governor and his assistants will be more than usually meticulous in maintaining an even-handed approach to all the participating parties.


My Lords, we, too, would like to thank the Foreign Secretary for repeating this important Statement. May I say at the outset, and I am sure I speak for all my colleagues, that we are all horrified that our allies did not side with us in the Security Council resolution, and that we were, of course, entirely right not to participate in the vote? Having said that, I suppose we can all agree that the Governor is doing his level best to control the situation in terribly difficult circumstances. I imagine that one of his major difficulties—perhaps the Foreign Secretary will confirm this—is that, whereas the leader of one of the main parties, namely, Mr. Nkomo, has apparently made all the right noises and indeed has apparently succeeded almost entirely in controlling his troops. Mr. Mugabe, though he has himself also made the right noises, seems to have very considerable difficulty in restraining some of his, who are obviously not under control. I do not know what will happen in the circumstances.

Of course, we must all hope that the Governor will be entirely openhanded, but we must recognise that he is in a very difficult position owing to the fact that some of these people are apparently not controllable. All that I would ask is whether, if terrorism really prevails in the next three weeks and many people are murdered, there is perhaps the fear that the Commonwealth observers will declare that, for one reason or another, the elections are not valid. Is that something that could happen? I do not want to ask hypothetical questions; but is there any danger that that might happen, and if the elections were declared to be invalid, what then should we do?


My Lords, both noble Lords have referred to the resolution of the Security Council. I must say that I find it ironic that Her Majesty's Government, who are trying in the most difficult circumstances to hold free and fair elections in Rhodesia, should be lectured upon whether those elections are free and fair by countries in the United Nations Security Council which would not know a free and fair election if they saw one. I do not for one moment accept that the Governor or his staff have been biased, or accept the strictures which have been laid upon him in the most extreme terms by some of those who spoke during the United Nations Security Council debate.

All that I can say to the noble Lord opposite—and he accepted that he did not have the knowledge—is that if he saw as I did, the telegrams coming in from Rhodesia and elsewhere, he would know that every single person in Rhodesia, of whatever party, is complaining about the action of the Governor. It is at least reassuring to know that everybody is complaining about him, rather than one side. My noble friend is having a very difficult time indeed, and I have the fullest admiration for what he is seeking to do. It occurs to me sometimes that those who complain about there not being a free and fair election and who complain about my noble friend, are in effect complaining about an election that they are not certain they will win—that is not the same thing as a free and fair election.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, is quite right when he says that my noble friend's difficulties largely stern from the activities of ZANLA. Mr. Nkomo has scrupulously abided by the terms of the Lancaster House agreement and certainly the supporters of Mr. Mugabe have not done so. There are several thousand of his supporters outside the Assembly areas and the intimidation is largely coming from them, and that of course makes it very difficult. I would beg to be excused from answering the hypothetical question at the end of his remarks.


My Lords, does the noble Lord now recognise—I understand that he does—that what we all understood was the principal object of his Rhodesian policy (that is, the obtaining of the support of the United Nations and the Organisation of African States) has failed, and that we are now in a position in which, instead of supporting an election which the party opposite and all neutral observers recognise as fair and democratic, we are having to conduct an election which we all recognise will be neither fair nor democratic, but which will be subject to manifest intimidation? That is a most regrettable pass to which we have been brought. Will he give us at least the assurance—and it is important that it should be given now—that parties which continue to maintain terrorism in the constituencies will not be allowed to compete in the elections and use the votes of those whom they are terrorising?


My Lords, the noble Lord's analysis of the Government's policy is totally wrong. What the Government sought in their Rhodesian policy was to bring the war to an end, to allow free and fair elections, to have them conducted in a peaceful scene and for those who are fair-minded to accept them. I do not, by any means, think that that will necessarily not happen on 27th February, although it will be difficult. The Governor took power under an ordinance yesterday to take steps as regards candidates and public meetings of parties which are obviously intimidating or breaking the cease-fire. It will be for my noble friend in Rhodesia to decide, in the light of what happens, how far he will go either in banning public meetings in a particular area, or banning a particular candidate.


My Lords, the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary said in reply to my question that there were members of the Security Council who would not recognise a free and fair election when they saw one. Does that include the Americans and the French? That is what is giving concern—not that it is proved that the Governor is at fault. He has, in all conscience, a tremendous job and the way in which he has tackled it commands the admiration of everybody and, I think, the support of everybody, including people on this side of the House. But the Foreign Secretary should address himself to the important fact, which is most disconcerting, that both the Americans and the French have joined those countries who would not recognise a free and fair election when they saw one, in condemning the way we are conducting the affairs of Rhodesia.


My Lords, it is not for me, of course, to explain why the United States and France voted for the resolution, because it is up to them. However, I would say that, if noble Lords look at the resolution itself, they will see that it was very considerably toned down from that which was originally put before the Security Council, as a result of representation by those two countries and others. Even so, I did not think that it was possible for Her Majesty's Government to support it. But I hope that the noble Lord—he may not have had the opportunity to do so—will look at the Explanation of Votes made by the United States by France, by Norway, by Portugal and by some other countries. He will find that his fears are misplaced.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that his admonitions, his criticisms, relating to the Security Council whether implied or forthright, meet with my warm-hearted approval? I have never resiled from my original view, expressed very often in another place and in your Lordships' House, that the Security Council and those associated with it are a collection of humbugs.


My Lords, the noble Lord's question—if it was a question—comes as no surprise to me.


My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend the Secretary of State for some clarification with regard to the election broadcasting. May I ask in which languages the election broadcasts are being broadcast?


Not, I am afraid without notice, my Lords. I do not know. I would imagine that they are being broadcast in the languages most convenient to the man doing the broadcasting.


My Lords, I should like to say—for once disagreeing with my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts—that it has been known in the Security Council that both France and America have not always voted the way that other people have wished them to vote or that we have wished them to vote.


My Lords, I hope, even so, that the noble Baroness will look at the Explanation of Votes by both the United States and France, because they were, from our point of view, extremely satisfactory.


My Lords, if noble Lords will excuse me, having not been able to take part in your Lordships' debates for some time and as one who spent two years as Minister in charge of the Central African Office, I should like to thank my noble friend the Foreign Secretary for his efforts, to congratulate the Governor and to express horror at the United States' resolution.


My Lords, as an ex-underling of my noble friend I think that I remember somebody saying, "Praise from Sir Hubert is approbation indeed!"


My Lords, is the noble Lord satisfied that the time that has been given for the preparation of the elections is sufficient under the circumstances?


Yes, my Lords.