HL Deb 22 January 1980 vol 404 cc408-15

4.22 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, there are some questions which I should like to put to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, arising both from what he has said and also in part from what was said during the discussion. First, with regard to the position of detainees, may I ask the noble Lord whether there are any political detainees still detained who were originally detained during the time of the Muzorewa-Smith régime'? When I speak of "detainees" I mean political detainees. Whereas I entirely agree with the criticisms and the observations that are made about the detention of detainees by the Mugabe side, the same principle ought clearly to apply to whoever is holding detainees in this period leading up to the elections. Therefore I should like to have information from the noble Lord on that matter.

Secondly, as to the series of questions which were put about the continuing participation of South African forces in defiance of the most solemn undertakings given to this House, may I ask what representations have been made to the South African Government? As my noble friend Lord Wigg mentioned, it is not only the bridge matter; it is also the question of the participation of South African—I do not know whether "forces" is technically the right word but members of the South African armed forces, at any rate, in the other services and in the other places that have been mentioned. May I ask the noble Lord what is happening about that? What representations have been made and what has been the response? As the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, and others have said, this is casting a cloud over a good deal of the horizon.

The proposed parliamentary commission of observers has been welcomed on all sides of the House, but I should like to know when it is proposed that the observers should go out to Rhodesia. Obviously it is desirable that they should go out to Rhodesia a good while before the elections proper take place so that they can see how well the ground has been prepared The suggestion that the parliamentary observers should report back to Parliament seems to me to be an essential and important one. May we assume that this will be done in some shape or form?

Finally, I should like to ask about the provision in Section 4 of the constitution and elections order. I think I understood from the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that the appointment and selection of the Prime Minister would be done in accordance with the Westminster model. In other words, the Governor would seek to ascertain the person best able to command a majority in the House of Assembly. There is nothing to indicate this in the terms of the order. However, I understood that to be the understanding if not the convention that is going to be applied. With regard to the choice of Ministers, may I ask what is the convention. Is the Prime Minister, independently, to act on the advice of other Ministers? What role has the Governor to play in that context? These are important constitutional questions upon which I, and I think other noble Lords, would welcome the observations of the noble Lord.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I shall try to deal as best I can with the considerable number of points which have been raised. Noble Lords will no doubt intervene to remind me if I forget any, and those that I am not reminded of I shall deal with in correspondence at a later time. May I begin by thanking those of your Lordships who were kind enough to speak warmly of my noble friend Lord Soames and his achievements. I shall certainly ensure that these sentiments are conveyed to him.

Various points have been raised in connection with the conduct of the elections. May I come first to the question of the parliamentary observers. As I said in my opening speech, the Government will be making contact, through the usual channels, to discuss the formation of a group of seven members of both Houses to visit Rhodesia for the elections. The Government will be ready to meet their expenses and the Governor will arrange facilities for them. There is of course nothing to stop individual members from visiting Rhodesia during the elections, but I hope they will understand that the strain on the Governor's slender resources of providing facilities for the considerable number of official observers from the Commonwealth and elsewhere make it impossible for him to arrange facilities for individual members, although I am sure that he will do his best.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and others, asked what arrangements would be made for the parliamentary observers to report back to Parliament. We do not envisage any formal report. It will be for the members themselves to decide how best to record and report their impressions. I come now to the question of the detainees, a question which was raised specifically by the noble and learned Lord and also by other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts. The Governor has released—and I can say this quite categorically—all persons held under ministerial orders, commonly but not necessarily accurately referred to as "political prisoners".

A number of persons remain detained under martial law; their cases are being reviewed. One factor in their release will be the effectiveness of the cease-fire. I can also repeat what I said in my opening remarks that 70 persons remain detained by Mr. Mugabe's supporters in Mozambique, and this is a matter of the utmost concern to it. I assure your Lordships that we attach no less concern and no less importance to this matter than was indicated by my noble friend Lord Duncan-Sandys. It is the case, we understand, that Mr. Mugabe intends to return to Rhodesia very shortly. We are not necessarily saying that he cannot return until these detainees have been released, but we very much hope that they will be released, and we are in contact with him about it.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way and I do not want to harass him with too many questions, but these are all very important matters which are not really susceptible to being dealt with by correspondence. "Detention by martial law" —what does that mean? Are they charged with military offences and are they going to be tried? What is this régime of detention by martial law? It reminds me very much of the government of the Greek colonels, in respect of which I sought to make representations and I was informed by the Attorney-General that that was outside the ordinary jurisdiction of courts and that I should refer to the International Red Cross if I wanted anything done about it. What is the position? How many are there? It is a blanket observation about which I think the House ought to know a little more.


My Lords, I am sorry to tell the noble and learned Lord that I simply have not got the information that he requires. I think I ought to have it and I apologise for the fact that I have not, but I will find out and let him know.


My Lords, may I also interrupt for one moment? The noble Lord said he hoped that the detainees detained by Mr. Mugabe's supporters would be released: surely the Government can do more than express a hope. Surely they are now going to insist that the Lancaster House agreement is implemented on all sides and make it a condition that those who do not will not be allowed to take part in the election. Otherwise it is a farce.


My Lords, we shall have to keep this matter under very careful review. I was asked to give an assurance that Mr. Mugabe would not be allowed to return to Rhodesia before these men had been released. I am not able to give that assurance but I can say that the Government attach no less importance to this matter than the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, and other noble Lords. We will take such steps as are open to us and as we think necessary to secure the release of these detainees.

Several noble Lords have referred to the Governor's use of Rhodesian security forces to deal with incidents and breaches of the cease-fire. I must emphasise that this is permitted under the terms of the Lancaster House agreement. In practice the Governor works through Patriotic Front commanders and liaison officers where possible in defusing threatening situations. This has been remarkably successful. More generally the responsibility for maintaining law and order rests with the police. But, where they have been unable to cope with incidents, the Governor has thought it right to call upon the Rhodesian forces. This applies particularly to the very considerable infiltration of ZANLA forces across the border from Mozambique.

A number of your Lordships have raised the question of the presence of the detachment of South African forces at Beit Bridge. I do urge your Lordships to keep this particular problem in perspective. We are talking of a small contingent which is present for the exclusive purpose of defending the bridge, a vital lifeline not only for Rhodesia but also for the countries to the North. The presence of a team from the monitoring force in the vicinity gives us adequate assurance that the contingent will not be used for other purposes. I do not accept that it will be in any position to influence the elections or, more important, to interfere in Rhodesia's affairs. I must also ask your Lordships to bear in mind always that the Governor has to maintain a fair and impartial position between the interests of all the parties. Naturally he takes into account the sensitivities of the many African governments about the presence of even a small number of South African forces just across the border. Equally he must consider the concern of the internal parties to see that the lifeline is properly defended. This is a matter of enormous psychological importance to them. As the cease-fire becomes more effective their perceptions may change and the Governor will keep the matter under review. But we are dealing at the most with a very short period up to the elections, now only a few weeks away.

If I may, I should like now to deal with what the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn said. I was surprised that the noble Lord should propose the despatch of British troops to take what could in the worst case be a fighting role. I seem to recall several noble Lords expressing anxiety about the dangers of a Vietnam-type conflict. I repeat that the Governor will keep the measures necessary for the defence of the bridge under careful review.


My Lords, is it really impossible to contemplate the despatch of a small number of British troops, armed with rifles, it is true, but have not the monitoring forces got rifles? It is not necessarily to engage in battles but to control the bridge.


My Lords, the monitoring force is there to monitor the cease-fire and, as I said earlier, there is a contingent from the monitoring force near the bridge, but we do not envisage the despatch of further British troops to take up a positively defensive or even offensive role in Rhodesia.

Coming to some of the other points that have been made, my noble friend Lord Gridley asked me a question with regard to the pensioners. As the noble Lord will know, I have corresponded and conversed with him a number of times on this matter and am continuing to do so and I will certainly make sure that the Governor knows his views.


My Lords, the Minister has dealt with the South African troops on the Beit Bridge. Everyone knows, on a world basis, that they are there and what they are doing, and one could readily accept what the Minister has said, but once again he has not dealt with the fact that there are a considerable number of South African officers wearing Rhodesian uniforms, and they have been there for a long time, using South African equipment. This cannot be argued about. The Pumas are South African aircraft and they were flown and fought by South African officers. They are still there but the noble Lord never answers, and he has not done so again today.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord is referring to the circumstances which prevailed before the Governor's arrival, but the Governor has said—and I have repeated it in this House several times—that there are indeed some South Africans serving in the Rhodesian forces, including people of other nationalities, but they are completely under the command of the Rhodesian commanders and are therefore now subject to the Governor and the cease-fire arrangements. It should be said that there are members of several other nationalities serving in the Patriotic Front forces, including, I am informed, 500 regular members of the Mozambique forces. We have said repeatedly that we shall not conduct a purge or a witch hunt of the forces of either side.


But, my Lords, if the noble Lord can repeat—and it is significant that he can—that 500 members of the Mozambique forces are serving with the Patriotic Front, will he then ask the South African Government how many officers, warrant officers, NCOs and other ranks are seconded to the Rhodesian Forces?


My Lords, I am not aware of any regular South African officers seconded to the Rhodesian forces, but there are South African nationals serving in the Rhodesian forces.

The noble Lord, Lord Hale, asked me about a certain residual liability relating to Rhodesian stock. I can tell him that there will be no United Kingdom liability in that connection. A number of more technical points were raised, and I will, if I may, write to noble Lords giving answers. I will particularly write to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, about the remaining detainees held under martial law. Accordingly, I commend to your Lordships the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.


My Lords, before my noble friend concludes, can he find some opportunity of answering the point made by the noble and learned Lord with regard to those detained under martial law, for this reason? It is a very dangerous atmosphere there, and the only interpretation we have on the record this afternoon is the one put upon it by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, an ex-Lord Chancellor, who rather suggested that it might be in the same category as the tyranny of the Greek colonels. For that interpretation to stand alone without any official reply, which may have reached my noble friend, could well be more dangerous than the mere term itself would imply.


My Lords, manna from Heaven has arrived, and I am able to say that a number of persons were detained by the previous authorities under martial law. The Governor has ordered a review of the cases of all these detainees and releases are proceeding. Their offences range from crimes of violence to stock theft. Once conditions exist for martial law to be lifted the vast majority of these would automatically be released. I cannot give precise numbers of detainees, but I understand that the Governor is to make an announcement very shortly. I hope that that helps the noble and learned Lord.


My Lords, I hope it also helps the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, who seemed to be challenging my bona fides and indeed my propriety in making so bold as to ask those questions. Before the noble Lord departs from the subject, can he say a word about the constitutional convention and the appointment of a Prime Minister?


My Lords, I apologise to the noble and learned Lord. That can be simply dealt with. The position is that the Governor will, as the noble and learned Lord rightly said, appoint the Prime Minister, being the person whom he thinks is best able to command a majority in the House of Assembly. The other Ministers will be appointed upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister.


My Lords, will my noble friend allow me to say to the noble and learned Lord opposite that I was not questioning his propriety or his bona fides. I was questioning his comparisons. But he ought not to be angry with me. I got an answer to his question for him.

On Question, Motion agreed to.