HC Deb 02 July 1975 vol 894 cc1469-75
The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. David Ennals)

I will with your permission and that of the House, Mr. Speaker, make a statement on my recent visit to Southern Africa.

My right hon. Friend explained the purpose of my visit to the House on 11th June. It was to consult all the parties concerned in Rhodesia about the modalities and the timing of the next steps towards securing a peaceful solution to Rhodesia's problems by negotiation.

I was able to talk to a number of African leaders, the Vice-President of Frelimo, and a number of African Commonwealth Ministers, at the Mozambique independence celebrations in Lourenco Marques on 25th and 26th June. In Pretoria on 27th and 28th June I had a useful exchange of views with the South African Prime Minister, Mr. Vorster, and his Foreign Minister, Dr. Muller.

I spent 29th and 30th June in Salisbury, where I had meetings with representatives of all communities. My principal discussions were, of course, with Mr. Smith and his advisers and with the leaders of the ANC. We talked very frankly and constructively, and I think we established a better understanding of our respective points of view.

The details of my talks are, of course, confidential. But it was clear to me that the main problem now faced by the parties concerned is how to begin the process of negotiation leading up to a final conference at a time when some of the leading figures of the ANC are outside Rhodesia. Mr. Smith made it clear to me that he would be willing at the final stage to take part in a constitutional conference outside Rhodesia. But real difficulties remain. I was nevertheless encouraged by the sense of urgency to find a peaceful way forward in Rhodesia which was shared by all the principal parties concerned with the problem. I am also satisfied that both Mr. Smith and the African National Council want seriously to find ways of entering into negotiations to seek a constitutional settlement. In turn I made clear to them that, in exercising our responsibilities, Her Majesty's Government's main concern is to help, in any constructive way we can, to bring such negotiations about.

I have reported on my talks in Rhodesia to my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, and he will now be considering the next steps.

I believe that Mr. Smith and the ANC leaders are also giving further consideration to the way forward in the light of the discussions which I had with them in Salisbury. I am sure the House will appreciate that in these circumstances it would not be right for me to go into further details at this stage.

Mr. Maudling

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making this statement. I am sure he will appreciate that we share his desire to see a just settlement of the problem. We understand the need for reticence at this stage. Will he undertake to keep the House as fully informed as possible on further progress that is made on this matter?

Mr. Ennals

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I give the assurance that my right hon. Friend or myself will take the opportunity of keeping the House informed as there is progress.

Mr. Thorpe

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he was able to have talks with the Rev. Sithole either in Mozambique or elsewhere? If so, did he gather from his talks with Mr. Smith that the Rev. Sithole would be welcomed to or excluded from talks? Secondly, what is the immediate position? Does there exist any form of working party between the ANC and the régime so that contact can be continued? Thirdly, with regard to the place to be used for the conference, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it was my experience on meeting both Mr. Smith and the African nationalists that there is great difference on the issue? What consideration has been given to the suggestion that the conference should be at the Victoria Falls, where both delegations could respectively be housed in Zambia and Rhodesia, from where they could probably meet on alternate days in different countries?

Finally, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if there is a feeling of intense urgency that the talks should take place that is one of the most hopeful signs? Does he agree that the most hopeful thing would be for the talks to start at once? The more we can get people talking together the greater the understanding and the greater the chance of success for all communities in Rhodesia.

Mr. Ennals

On the first question, I did not have the opportunity of discussions with Mr. Sithole, who was not in Rhodesia, and I did not visit Lusaka or any other place where he might have been. There was no indication from Mr. Smith that he was prepared to change the attitude which he has adopted—namely, that if Mr. Sithole were to return to Rhodesia the law, as he has said, would take its course. This produces problems for the ANC as to the location of the conference.

The second question related to whether there was any working party between the two sides. That is not so. It would be helpful if there were such a working party, but, since the main problem is how to begin serious discussions, it would be almost impossible that there could be any working party between the groups until the fundamental decision had been taken. But there was a willingness on both sides for such a working party to be established when there is agreement about the shape of the conference.

The place for what some might call a final conference is not a matter which should provide great difficulties. The problem is to agree on the place for preliminary consultations which would lead to the basis of a final solution. A sense of urgency was shown on both sides, and we want to see talks established at the earliest possible moment. The difficulty is how to get those talks started.

Mr. Dalyell

What did my right hon. Friend learn from the Frelimo leadership as to the kind of relationship it wanted with us?

Mr. Ennals

I found during my visit to Mozambique a sense of friendship with this country. We were delighted that Her Majesty's Government were invited to send a representative to the independence celebrations. Many other countries did not have that opportunity. The discussions which I had with Dr. Dos Santos indicated that Frelimo was anxious to have close and friendly relationships with Britain. I hope that our ambassador will soon be accepted, and we look forward to establishing a firm basis of relationship.

Mr. Luce

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the obstacles to settlement is the understandable fear of the whites about their future? Does he feel that it might be helpful if Her Majesty's Government were to tell them that if rapid progress is made in the constitutional talks the British Government will take a positive initiative, perhaps with the help of other Commonwealth countries, to secure orderly transition to majority rule?

Mr. Ennals

We want to see orderly transition and are concerned with the welfare of all sections of the community in Rhodesia, be they white or black. But the uncertainties faced by the white population over their future are the result of the policies of the illegal régime. If it emerges in the course of negotiations between Mr. Smith and the ANC that there is something Britain can do on the lines suggested by the hon. Gentleman or in any other way to help bring about a settlement we shall be most ready to consider them.

Mr. Ogden

Will my right hon. Friend be careful not to promise what we have not the power to achieve? Does he now propose to follow through that visit by a visit to the Government of South Africa, whose influence in this matter, whether one likes it or not, may even be vital?

Mr. Ennals

If I may deal with the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I made clear in all our discussions, especially those in Salisbury, that nobody should underestimate the extent of British power nor the extent of British influence or the sense of responsibility in Britain to ensure a constitutional settlement.

On the second part of the question, I agree that South Africa is a very important element in the situation. This was why I took the opportunity to discuss the situation with Mr. Vorster and Dr. Muller. They left me in no doubt that the South African Government are sincere in their desire to see a solution in Rhodesia and that they will do their best to bring it about. My right hon. Friend intends to keep the South African Prime Minister and Foreign Minister informed about the discussions that we have had in Salisbury, and there may be other opportunities for consultation.

Sir Anthony Royle

Is the Minister aware that, regretably, it appears that his visit to Rhodesia has achieved nothing at all? Will he confirm that he has not come back with any significant results from his stay in Salisbury?

Mr. Ennals

I find the hon. Gentleman's question and its tone extraordinary. I do not know what sources of information he has that are not available to me or to his right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling). I have no reason to believe from the discussions which I have had that those discussions were thought in any way not to be valuable, and the hon. Gentleman and any of his hon. Friends can draw their conclusions. The hon. Gentleman's comment does not help the situation one little bit.

Mr. Kinnock

While the Minister was in Lourenço Marques, did he undertake to have further discussions with the Government of Mozambique with a view to implementing further sanctions against the Smith régime? Secondly, will he give an assurance about what meetings he had dealing with further unity and the development of unity within the ANC?

Mr. Ennals

During the independence celebrations in Mozambique I had the opportunity to meet the Vice-President of Frelimo and I told him the purpose of my visit to Rhodesia and promised to keep his Government informed of any settlement in Rhodesia.

The matter of sanctions must be decided by the Government of Mozambique. I have no doubt they will make a clear statement now that their Government have been informed. They also know of the willingness of the British Government to give assistance to Mozambique in the early days of independence. We are ready to have further discussions with them when the Government of Mozambique are ready.

The problems of disunity within the ANC are very great. We all know the difficulties of choosing a leader even in a situation of freedom and democracy. To choose a leader in circumstances where there is no such freedom in Rhodesia is very different. These are decisions which they have to take for themselves, and I do not think any of them will welcome interference from us.

Mr. Maudling

Will the Minister make it clear that there is a distinction between general aid to Mozambique in the early days of independence and specific aid connected with sanctions, which I understood the Government intended to handle in a United Nations context?

Mr. Ennals

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to this matter in answer to a question when he made his statement to the House on 11th June. He said that the new Government of Mozambique must reach some of the conclusions themselves and that we were ready and willing to discuss with incoming leaders the best form of approach. I wish to add that aid to Mozambique will be based on need, and it is relevant to decisions they take on sanctions. In consultation with the Government of Mozambique, we shall have to see what the situation will be. We shall also have to wait to see whether decisions are taken in the United Nations on a special fund.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry, but we are operating under a guillotine motion today. These matters must be pursued on other occasions.