HC Deb 15 April 1980 vol 982 cc1015-25
The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Ian Gilmour)

With permission Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on Rhodesia.

Rhodesia will come to independence as Zimbabwe on Friday 18 April. Her Majesty the Queen will be represented at the independence celebrations by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. My right hon. and noble Friend will represent the Government. My right hon. and noble Friend the Governor of Southern Rhodesia will leave Salisbury on Independence Day.

The Government look forward to working closely with the Government of an independent Zimbabwe, headed by Mr. Mugabe. I am pleased to announce that, subject to parliamentary approval, we intend to commit, over three years, aid totalling £75 million to Zimbabwe. The aid to be given within this total commitment includes a £7 million grant for urgent post-war reconstruction; an allocation of £500,000 for joint funding with British voluntary agencies of projects which they undertake in Zimbabwe; contributions to our share of expenditure through any extension of the Lomé convention to Zimbabwe and to the special appeal of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; and further humanitarian assistance.

The bulk of the £75 million will be devoted to a substantial bilateral aid programme which will be allocated in agreement with the Zimbabwe Government. A mission from the Overseas Development Administration will visit Zimbabwe shortly after independence for talks with incoming Ministers to identify projects. At the request of the new Government we are providing assistance with police training, broadcasting, the Civil Service and the Foreign Service. We are also providing, separately from the aid programme, assistance with the training of the future Zimbabwe Army.

Because of the marked extent to which the aid programme is already committed over the next two years, and in order to minimise the impact of this very substantial pledge to Zimbabwe on the level of United Kingdom assistance to other countries, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has agreed exceptionally that there should be made available from the public expenditure contingency reserve a sum of £8 million in 1980–81—with consequent adjustment of the cash limit—and of £7 million in 1981–82.

We welcome Zimbabwe's accession to the Commonwealth as the forty-third member. This calls for further legal provisions. An order under the Zimbabwe Act will be laid before Parliament in draft in the next two days for approval by resolution. The principal purposes are to continue the application of certain United Kingdom laws in relation to Zimbabwe, notwithstanding its change in status. Similar provision has been made for the application of United Kingdom law in respect of other republics within the Commonwealth.

The Zimbabwe Act 1979 granted an amnesty in United Kingdom law for political offences connected with UDI.

A similar amnesty was granted in Rhodesian law, and has subsequently been extended by the Governor in a general pardon covering all political offences up to the elections.

Now that full amnesty has been granted to all those responsible for the situation which led to the imposition of sanctions, the Government feel that it would no longer be appropriate for any further prosecutions to be initiated for sanctions offences.

The measures applying sanctions in United Kingdom law have, of course, been revoked. I am informed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General that only one case, an appeal, is at present before the courts, and that no other prosecutions are pending. The amnesty will not reopen past judgments. An order will be laid before Her Majesty in Council in due course to give effect to this decision.

Britain is thus about to terminate its constitutional responsibility for Rhodesia and to transfer power to a Government freely elected, under British supervision, by the people of Rhodesia. I am sure that the House wishes the new country every success.

Mr. Shore

The proper and legitimate independence of Zimbabwe is an event that has been wished for ardently by hon. Members on each side of the House for many years past. It is right for me to pay tribute to all those who have over the years, and in spite of great difficulties, refused to accept the fact of UDI, and who have worked for this proper and legitimate solution in Zimbabwe. We are very glad indeed to be approaching this final act in the drama of independence, the actual Independence Day.

With regard to the question of aid to Zimbabwe—which is, of course, very necessary, given the state of the country and the great disruption that it suffered—while we welcome a pledge of £75 million aid over three years we cannot help but have in mind the assessment that was made some years ago, that Zimbabwe would need a sum ranging between £500 million and £750 million.

While it is not justifiable for Britain alone to undertake that burden, I should have hoped that the Government would think fit to send the ODA mission to Rhodesia first, and to report back on the needs of the Rhodesian economy, whereas they have given us the figure first and are now proposing to send the ODA mission to Rhodesia to see how the aid can best be allocated. I should have thought that that was the wrong way of going about it. I hope that the Government will give further thought to the report they receive from the ODA mission after it arrives in Rhodesia.

I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will give the assurance that, along with the new Zimbabwe Government, we shall make a genuine appeal for international funds. We have already had the news of the United States' contribution, but other nations are willing to contribute. I am thinking not just of the Lomé convention but of countries such as Sweden and Canada, which, as well as the United States, have in the past expressed their interest.

There is one matter on which I must take up the cudgels with the Lord Privy Seal. It is in relation to what he said about the wide-ranging amnesty provisions. I believe that it is absolutely right to give a political amnesty to all offences committed within Rhodesia during the period of UDI. That was a necessary part of achieving the spirit of conciliation that is necessary in that country.

However, to extend that to British firms that have broken British sanctions is a serious mistake. I regret that. I say it in no spirit of vengeance, but because I believe that we have a duty to uphold our own laws; it is necessary for us to do so if we are to get the respect for our laws in Britain in future and if we are to carry the right impact with countries abroad.

Lastly, I join with the Lord Privy Seal in his good wishes to the new country of Zimbabwe. We all fervently hope for its success and we all believe that its Prime Minister and new Government have given an excellent lead.

Sir I. Gilmour

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the gracious remarks at the beginning and at the end of his speech, but not so grateful for his less gracious remarks in the middle. He mentioned the large sums of money estimated three years ago. He will, of course, be aware that those estimates produced no money at all. It is absolutely right for us to say what we should produce. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman threw his argument away by what he subsequently said, because other countries will contribute to Zimbabwe. It was therefore right for us to do what we have done. We should have been open to considerable criticism if we had not given the lead by saying what we were prepared to contribute. The right hon. Gentleman made somewhat of a meal about the amnesty being wide-ranging. It is not wide-ranging. As I indicated, no prosecutions whatever are pending and I am sure that the House as a whole will agree that it would be wrong to bring prosecutions now for offences that are no longer offences.

Mr. David Steel

On behalf of my colleagues and myself I join with the Government in wishing the people and the Government of Zimbabwe well as they approach legal independence. I especially welcome the fact that the truncated aid programme is being augmented by special provisions for Zimbabwe. However, may I press the Lord Privy Seal to be more forthcoming about what is to be done to meet the total needs of Zimbabwe, given the fact that a couple of years ago there was wide agreement about the need for an international aid programme post-independence?

Sir I. Gilmour

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman said. By implication, I have already answered the second part of his question. Of course we believe that many countries will wish to subscribe to the aid programme for Zimbabwe. Some have already done so, and others will follow suit. We are confident that this aid will amount to a substantial sum.

Mr. Grieve

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that a policy of being magnanimous abroad and vindictive at home would be a wholly wrong way to set off Zimbabwe on its new course? Does he not take the view that the only way to give a good start to the great achievement of Her Majesty's Government is by wiping clean the slate of past offences?

Sir I. Gilmour

I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. Of course it is right to wipe the slate clean. But, as I said, as far as we know the slate is fairly clean anyway, because there are no prosecutions pending.

Mr. Whitehead

I welcome the aid proposals and the specific purposes for which they are to be used. Will the Lord Privy Seal say something about the number of former Rhodesian civil servants, people in the broadcasting authority and police, who are expected to remain in post after independence next week?

Sir I. Gilmour

I cannot give any exact figures. As the hon. Gentleman will know, one of the objectives of the agreements at Lancaster House was to ensure a safe, stable and prosperous future for all communities in Zimbabwe. We hope that both the white and black communities will stay in the new Zimbabwe.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

As the bulk of the £75 million will be for bilateral aid, will my right hon. Friend ensure that in addition to the ODA officials, who are not always expert in these matters, there will be representatives of private enterprise—engineers, bankers and technicians—who can advise on what is required? In view of the magnificent achievement of the Governor, will my right hon. Friend encourage the Prime Minister to discuss with Her Majesty the Queen an appropriate way of honouring him on his return and by that act the accomplishment of the many British soldiers and police officers who assisted in bringing Zimbabwe to independence in democracy?

Sir I. Gilmour

I am sure that the whole House agrees with what my hon. Friend said about the achievements of the Governor, the soldiers and everyone else who was instrumental in bringing Zimbabwe to peaceful independence. No doubt my right hon. Friend will also note what my hon. Friend said.

As for aid, I think that my hon. Friend is under a slight misapprehension. Bilateral aid in no way means that the aid will not be given by private enterprise to help the industry of the new country; it merely means that it will be under the aegis of this Government rather than multilateral auspices. The fact that the ODA will be in charge in no way rules out private enterprise. I do not accept what my hon. Friend said about the ODA.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Is the Minister able to tell us how much the United States and the EEC propose to contribute to the funds for Rhodesia? Is he able to say how much of this money will be used for land reform within Zimbabwe?

Sir I. Gilmour

I cannot give the hon. Member figures at present. Moreover, as he will be aware, this must be a matter for discussion between the countries concerned and the new country of Zimbabwe and not the present Government. Therefore, the question of the way in which the aid will be dispersed canot be decided until the new Government is in post.

Mr. Emery

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the good wishes to be expressed to the new Government of Zimbabwe on Friday go from not only the Front Benches but the Back Benches? I am sorry that we have not had time for a debate before independence, but will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to all those who have assisted in achieving independence, not least the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), who, when he was in Zimbabwe, was extremely helpful in assisting the Governor?

Aid amounting to £75 million has been announced. That is only one-third of the total estimate of £450 million, which is the pro rata figure of 1,500 million dollars over a five-year period and is quite inadequate. With a number of hon. Members I have urged the British Government to lead the rest of the world to build up a development fund. As we have announced our contribution, do we hope to receive matching amounts from Europe and America? Is it too late to use British money in this way to attract other aid, as three times the figure announced by the British Government will be necessary?

Sir I. Gilmour

I do not think that it is too late. As I said, the fact that we have announced what we are prepared to give to Zimbabwe will encourage others. I hope that a large number of countries will contribute and that they will do so very soon. As to my hon. Friend's earlier remarks, I am sure that the whole House, and not just the Front Benches, will wish the new State every success and will want to thank everyone who has been instrumental in bringing it about.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been rising throughout and to conclude with the Front Bench.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that his mind is not closed to increasing aid to the new Zimbabwe if funds from international sources do not match requirements? Will he also confirm that the way in which the money will be spent will be generally agreed with the Government of Zimbabwe in the first place? Finally, as we all wish the new State of Zimbabwe well, will the Lord Privy Seal accept that perhaps the Government have learnt a lesson by the events in Rhodesia over the past few years and will now commit themselves to free elections in Namibia as quickly as possible and keep pressure on South Africa for decent reforms there?

Sir. I. Gilmour

That remark was characteristic of the interventions that the hon. Member has made throughout our debates over the past year or so. We are fully committed to free elections in Namibia. I do not think that there are any lessons for us to learn from Zimbabwe, though I dare say that some others learnt from it.

On the question of aid, I have said what we are prepared to make available, and of course this will be disbursed in discussions and agreement with the Government of Zimbabwe. Any other way of doing it would be quite inconceivable.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Has my right hon. Friend any word of comfort or hope for the patient and long-suffering holders of Rhodesian bonds?

Sir I. Gilmour

Not at the moment. However, Mr. Mugabe has said some very encouraging things. I think that my hon. and learned Friend should address his question to the Treasury.

Mr. Hardy

The right hon. Gentleman said that the aid budget was fully stretched. Would it not be more accurate to say that it has been shamefully contracted? Is it not the case that the burden of the cost of the bulk of the aid that he has just announced will be felt by those who are a great deal more impoverished than people in this country?

Sir I. Gilmour

It could be said that the aid budget has been both stretched and contracted. The fact is that we have increased it and the Chancellor has agreed to that. That means that the second part of the hon. Member's question is inaccurate.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

When will my right hon. Friend announce the name of the new high commissioner to Zimbabwe?

Sir L Gilmour

The new high commissioner will be a member of the Diplomatic Service, and his name will be announced very soon.

Mr. Spearing

Does the Lord Privy Seal agree that, since the rural areas of Zimbabwe were those in which Government services, particularly agriculture, broke down many years ago, those areas are now most in need, particularly as most of the Zimbabwe population lives in them? Does he agree that those areas are least likely to receive attention from private capital? Will he tell the House the extent to which the Government have direct knowledge of the needs of rural areas? Has the figure of £75 million which the Lord Privy Seal has announced been drawn up with that in view? If not, will he agree that this figure is an initial announcement and does not preclude further aid being made available?

Sir I. Gilmour

No, it is not an initial announcement. We are well aware in general, if not in detail, of the conditions in rural areas. This matter was discussed at Lancaster House and forms part of the Lancaster House agreement. We are well aware of the needs of rural areas, but the exact amount must be decided in conjunction with the new Zimbabwe Government.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

May I join hon. Members on both sides of the House in wishing the people of Rhodesia peace, progress and prosperity in the coming years, and in welcoming the ending of prosecutions under the sanctions order? Will my right hon. Friend indicate whether there are any strings attached to the aid? I believe that £75 million is a substantial amount of aid, bearing in mind that Rhodesia is one of the most prosperous countries in Africa and has managed its affairs rather better than this country for many years. Will my right hon. Friend also indicate whether, as a result of the sums that will be allocated for broadcasting, there will be any pressure or influence brought to bear on the Prime Minister not to assume total control of the media—both press and television—as is apparently the case at present?

Sir I. Gilmour

In my statement I said that we were sending out assistance teams on broadcasting. That does not mean that much of our aid will be devoted to broadcasting. It must be for the new Government, in conjunction with the ODA and other countries, to decide how the aid should be spent.

Mr. Ioan Evans

In view of the fact that the announcement of aid falls far short of what the new emerging country will require, will the Lord Privy Seal suggest an international initiative to bring together the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the EEC in a combined effort to give aid to Zimbabwe?

In view of the fact that, for the first time, Zimbabwe will have a truly democratic Assembly, will he consider making approaches to the effect that the House of Commons should make some symbolic gesture to the new Assembly? Will he use his good offices to bring a parlia- mentary delegation from the new Assembly to visit this country?

Sir I. Gilmour

The second part of the question is a matter not for me but for Mr. Speaker.

On the first part, I can only assume that the hon. Member was not listening to the earlier exchanges. I have said that, in addition to the aid that we are giving, other countries will also give aid, and naturally we hope that this will be part of a large international effort.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the generous financial provision that he has just announced can be easily justified in this country, both on political and moral grounds? Can he confirm that members of the Zimbabwe police and armed forces will be immediately welcome at Britain's excellent military and police training establishments?

Sir I. Gilmour

As my hon. Friend knows, there have been discussions, and teams have gone out to Zimbabwe. However, once again this matter must be one for discussion between the new Government and the British Government after independence.

Mr. Stanbrook

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that adequate arrangements exist to guarantee the pension rights of those who have already retired and the accrued pension rights of those who are presently serving in the public services in Zimbabwe? Will overseas aid be available for this, if necessary?

Sir I. Gilmour

No, it will not.

The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is "Yes". We spent a good deal of time on this matter at Lancaster House, and careful provision was made for guaranteeing public service pensions in Rhodesia. Mr. Mugabe has agreed to abide by that.

Sir Ronald Bell

Since sanctions operated to the great disadvantage of British industry and to the advantage of French, German, Italian, Japanese and American industry, is there any reason why British aid should not be administered, conceived and shaped is such a way as to help to restore Britain's industrial and commercial connections with Rhodesia?

Sir I. Gilmour

There is no reason at all.

Mr. Shore

The Lord Privy Seal has not satisfied the Opposition in his replies on the blanket nature of the amnesty or on the aid programme. On the aid programme, is it not the case that, in spite of the £15 million additional expenditure which has been earmarked from the contingency fund for Zimbabwe, this aid is being given at the expense of some £60 million of allocations to other countries in that programme? I believe that we should have a proper statement on that.

Secondly, is it not almost an absurdity to present the House with a figure before giving us any indication of the current balance of payments problems in Rhodesia, the actual costs of resettlement—internally and externally with the refugees—or the urgent need for land reform? I urge the right hon. Gentleman to be rather more flexible in his approach. If his officials go out and come back with a picture—as I believe they will—of considerable short-term, urgent financial need in that country, is he prepared to come back, discuss the matter with his colleagues and report to the House of Commons accordingly?

Sir I. Gilmour

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has used this occasion for slightly inappropriate needling. I have already answered his question. We have given a generous allocation of aid to Rhodesia. The right hon. Gentleman says that we cannot know how much will be needed, but equally we cannot know—and neither can he—how much will be subscribed. Surely the right thing is for us to be first to say what we are prepared to give to Rhodesia, and to hope then that other people will contribute too—and we have had undertakings. As we are now about to see the independence of Rhodesia, this is an occasion not for needling but for congratulating the new country and wishing it well in future.