HL Deb 24 June 1969 vol 303 cc97-106

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like now to repeat a Statement that is being made by my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in another place on Rhodesia. The Statement is as follows:

"In answering questions on Rhodesia yesterday I commented on the results of the referendum held on June 20. I said that the constitutional proposals for which the Rhodesian electorate had voted could never form the basis of an honourable settlement with this country and that there could be no prospect of such a settlement until there had been a real change of attitude on the part of the Rhodesian Europeans.

"One important aspect of the referendum result is its implications for the position of the Governor, Sir Humphrey Gibbs. Everyone in this country has felt the highest admiration for the courage and dignity with which he and Lady Gibbs have steadfastly upheld the cause of legality in Rhodesia. The messages which he has received from Her Majesty The Queen, on a number of occasions since the illegal declaration of independence, have testified to Her Majesty's deep appreciation of his conduct over a long and difficult period.

"Her Majesty's Government and all Members of this House share in that appreciation and have often expressed their own feelings of respect. It is right that we should again express that admiration and respect to-day.

"On June 11, before the referendum, the Governor issued a public statement about his own position. In that statement he said that, if enough of the electorate voted for the Rhodesian Front proposals for them to be put into effect, then in all probability it would be impossible for him to continue to be Governor of Rhodesia, since the door to further negotiation would have been closed by the Rhodesian electorate who would have demonstrated their wish to break all ties with Her Majesty The Queen and with Britain.

"In view of the results of the referendum, I have been in consultation with the Governor, who has not changed his view. I have come to the conclusion that in all the circumstances it would not be justifiable to ask the Governor to remain any longer at his post.

"I have therefore advised The Queen that he should be permitted to resign. Her Majesty has graciously signified Her agreement and also the hope that, before long, Sir Humphrey and Lady Gibbs will be able to come to this country so that they can take leave of Her Majesty in person. I have notified the Governor accordingly.

"In the light of this decision, and of the referendum results, Her Majesty's Government have decided that it would serve no useful purpose to maintain the United Kingdom Residual Mission in Salisbury and that Rhodesia House in London should be closed. The necessary instructions have been sent to the Residual Mission and the Head of Rhodesia House was informed this morning. We have proposed a period of three weeks for closure on either side.

"We shall of course stand ready to resume links whenever there are people in power in Rhodesia who share our principles and with whom we can talk. As I told the House yesterday, it will remain our policy to work for an honourable settlement when that day comes."

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join in what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has said about the Governor. Sir Humphrey Gibbs has had a most difficult and worrying and unhappy time, and it was obviously only his sense of duty and his loyalty to the Queen which made him remain as Governor. I think that in the present circumstances Sir Humphrey understandably feels that the time has come for him to resign. And he does so with the grateful thanks of all of us in this House, wherever we sit.

I must say that I am not quite so sure about the decision to close the two Missions. After all, the Rhodesian Government has been illegal ever since U.D.I., though of course if a new Constitution is introduced and a Republic is declared a new situation will arise. The Foreign Secretary said yesterday, and has again repeated in this Statement, that he still wants a settlement, however remote it may seem at the present time. I should have thought it unwise at this particular moment to cut off the means of exchange of information and views and communication. This sort of decision may look firm, but I do not think it is anything other than a gesture—and not, I think, a very wise gesture.


My Lords, may I, too, express our admiration and thanks to Sir Humphrey Gibbs for what he has done; for the untiring and selfless devotion with which he has approached this problem, at considerable expense to himself—not only financial expense, which I believe he has been put to, but also in his personal relations with other people in Rhodesia. The position must have been deeply painful to him.

I quite see that with this actual formal approach of the Republic the Government may feel that they ought to close down relations. I would not perhaps go quite so far as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, but I feel that possibly somebody of the nature of Sir Humphrey Gibbs, somebody of standing and of distinction, might be found to represent us informally in Rhodesia. Because, quite clearly, if we hope to arrive at some sort of arrangement between ourselves we shall have to keep some links open, and this might be the better way of keeping the links open at this particular moment. We must keep them open because Rhodesia, in spite of her referendum, is in deep trouble—in fact her troubles are possibly only just beginning. I hope that it will be possible to find some means of replacing Sir Humphrey Gibbs in some informal way.


My Lords, I am sure we are all very grateful for the words of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and of the noble Lord who speaks from the Liberal Benches. If there is anything to be gained from the sorry affairs of Rhodesia it must be the gleaming light of integrity and duty that Sir Humphrey Gibbs has shown, not only to ourselves but also to those people in Rhodesia who believe in duty and integrity. Clearly, a decision as to whether our Residual Mission in Rhodesia and Rhodesia House in London should continue has given my right honourable friend deep thought. We have said on many occasions—and I do not think there has ever been any doubt about it in the minds of this House—that the proposals we made in "Fearless" lay upon the table; that if anyone wished to talk, particularly if there were to be meaningful talks, then we should be only too ready to listen and to hear. As my right honourable friend said yesterday, the proposals that we laid on the table were pushed off the table; and not by us. The hand that we have offered to Rhodesia was rejected by a minority in Rhodesia.

I hope that the withdrawal of the British Mission and the closure of Rhodesia House will emphasise to the Rhodesians and to the world at laree how completely and utterly we dissociate ourselves from the Rhodesia Front constitutional proposals. But, my Lords, having said that, I would add this: if there are people in Rhodesia who can create sufficient force that they represent the views of the whole of the people of Rhodesia, then we in this country will only be too ready to open our own hands and to listen to what they have to say.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord some questions on one or two practical consequences of this decision. In the first place, have the Government advised Her Majesty the Queen to make any financial provision for His Excellency the Governor in his retirement, in view of the fact that presumably he will not be eligible for any pension from any authority within Rhodesia itself, and has undergone considerable financial responsibilities in maintaining his position in Rhodesia without any cost to Her Majesty's Government here?

Secondly, what is the position in regard to the archives in Government House in Salisbury? Will they be retained by Her Majesty's Government here or handed over to the Residual Mission before they leave, since clearly there are papers there which are of considerable importance and should be retained in British hands? Thirdly, while supporting the Government's decision to reduce and eliminate the Mission, at any rate for the time being, I would ask: are any facilities to he retained in Salisbury—or indeed here—to deal with passport matters of British subjects who remain in Rhodesia, many of whom, over the period of these last years, have been completely loyal to the Queen and to this country?


My Lords, the noble Lord has referred to the financial cost that Sir Humphrey Gibbs has borne in his long period of service in Rhodesia. The fact that he has not taken a salary from this country was a decision of his own. Clearly a new situation has arisen, and certainly Her Majesty's Government will be in consultation with Sir Humphrey on this and other matters. In regard to the archives, this again is something that will have to be considered in the light of a number of other factors which we shall have to discuss with the head of the Residual Mission in Salisbury. These are practical issues which will have to be dealt with during the next three weeks. So far as passports are concerned, the facilities for obtaining a United Kingdom passport in Rhodesia for those who are entitled to it clearly will not be withdrawn, but applications will have to be made to the British Embassy in Pretoria.


My Lords, I do not propose to go into the wider issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, but I should like to ask a perfectly simple question. As I understand the position, the referendum does not mean that the new Constitution is already law—it has not even been passed into law in Rhodesia. Would it not be more appropriate to delay the closing of these offices until the law is passed in Rhodesia? It may never be passed, and it seems to me that to take this action now will only embitter the situation and would not really he appropriate to the position in which we find ourselves.


My Lords, I will only say to the noble Marquess that if I believed, and also if my right honourable friend believed, even at this late moment, that there was the possibility of a change, particularly with Mr. Smith and his colleagues leading the illegal régime, we would have hesitated in this matter. But I should have thought it was quite clear to anyone looking at this matter objectively, and also reading what has been said in Salisbury in the last month or so, that the possibility of meaningful negotiations is so remote that it can hardly be considered. A decision has been taken by the British Government, as I have said, in order to establish, clearly and once and for all in the minds of the minority electorate of Rhodesia, how utterly we dissociate ourselves from what they have done.


My Lords, may I make just one more point? I understand that the reason why the Government are taking this action is because they disapprove of the new Constitution. I can well understand that. But this Constitution is not yet law, and it seems to me to be premature to take this very violent action against some legislation which is not already in being, even in Rhodesia.


My Lords, may we take it that the Government will cease to protect British interests in other countries the internal Government of which they disapprove?


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that all of us, in all parts of this House, have the deepest admiration for the attitude of Sir Humphrey and Lady Gibbs and hope that they will be treated with the utmost generosity?

May I ask my noble friend this question? Is not the seriousness of the present position due to the fact that it is not only an attitude of Mr. Ian Smith and his Government but one that has been endorsed by a very large majority of the white minority population? In view of that fact, should not our policy be directed to providing conditions where the majority of the people in Rhodesia can reach a decision about their future? Has my noble friend noted the report of the United Nations Secretariat issued to-day which indicates that during this last year Rhodesian exports have fallen only to a minimal degree, while imports have actually increased? Has my noble friend also noticed not only that South Africa and Portugal are involved but that Western Germany is second in the list of nations which are continuing their trade with Southern Rhodesia? In view of these facts——



My Lords, I do not know whether I should appeal to the noble Lord, the Leader of the House. Others have made speeches; I am trying to put questions seriously. My last question is this. In view of these facts, if force is to be ruled out is it not essential that the isolation of this small minority in Rhodesia should be increased by cutting all communications with that territory and strengthening the application of mandatory sanctions?


My Lords, perhaps in reply to my noble friend I might also deal with the point that was repeated by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, as to why we are taking this action at this present moment, and whether it would not have been better to wait until legislation had been passed in Salisbury.

Some three months ago Mr. Smith himself said, speaking about the referendum, that there could be no alteration to the new Constitution once it was accepted. Presumably by that he meant the referendum. He went on to say that Britain would have to accept Rhodesia on those terms. That is the situation which, clearly, we have to take into account.

In regard to sanctions, these must continue. I do not believe that there is an area for increased sanctions, but clearly existing sanctions must be made more effective. This is now a responsibility of the United Nations and the members of the United Nations. I would say to this House that we have played a full part in making those sanctions as effective as we possibly could, and in the light of the developments in Rhodesia in the past week it is for countries who believe in freedom to see that these sanctions are made effective.


My Lords, is the haste, which I think is un- seemly haste, due to spite? Or what is the motive? Are there not countries which are Republics? Are there not countries with whose internal policies we profoundly disagree but with whom we nevertheless retain contacts? And do not contacts lead to friendship and, in the end, understanding?


My Lords, clearly in this world there is much disagreement and we have to find ways and means of reducing disagreement. We have for some four years now sought to find agreement with Rhodesia, and we have failed; and the hand we have offered has been rejected by the people of Rhodesia. I think I should say this: that there are many people in this country, some in your Lordships' House, who have unwittingly given an impression in Rhodesia that if they will hang on a little longer all that they stand for can be achieved and, in the end, will be accepted by this country. I do not believe it, and I ask Members of your Lordships' House and those perhaps in a wider field not to give comfort to the minority in Rhodesia who seek to impose one of the worst features of the present day, a racialist Constitution, one that I cannot believe can be defended in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to clarify one point? I want to be clear about it. Am I right in saying that British citizens who settled in Rhodesia some years ago and have since taken out Rhodesian citizenship and Rhodesian passports will be entitled to apply for a resumption of British citizenship if they so wish?


My Lords, I dealt with that matter some time ago. It is a very detailed and legal question. I will go into it and let the noble Lord know. I may say that what was the position has in no way been changed by this decision.


My Lords, may I put one practical point to the Minister? I have not one word, naturally, to say in favour of this Constitution. The noble Lord knows my views about Rhodesia and the kind of Constitution I should wish to see there. But on the practical question of archives, Which is very important, I do not know to whom the archives belong. If the Government proceed to close down the Residual Mission there and nothing is left, and Mr. Smith says, "I do not propose to hand over the archives", how do the Government propose to proceed to any practical arrangement about them?


My Lords, if the noble Earl will put down a Question next week I will be very ready to answer it. That is one of the practical matters which I referred to in an earlier supplementary answer that clearly will have to be dealt with by consultation. If the noble Earl, or any other noble Lord, wishes to put down a Question of this sort I shall be happy to answer him perhaps next week.


My Lords, may I ask one more question? It is this. I was referring to one thing and I think my noble friend Lord Swinton was referring to a different thing. I was referring to the archives in Government House and not at the Residual Mission. In view of the reports of the attitude of certain of the most important and powerful chiefs, representing their people, and their desire to pass a message to Her Majesty the Queen, will the Government, before the Residual Mission closes down, make clear what channels can be used by any of the African peoples of Rhodesia to make such an approach to Her Majesty the Queen if they wish to do so?


Yes, my Lords.


My Lords, would the Minister kindly inform the House how he proposes that British interests shall be protected in Rhodesia after withdrawal of the Mission?


My Lords, these companies are in Rhodesia. The Mission is being closed and we shall have to see how events develop. I hope the noble Lord is not suggesting that this Residual Mission should have remained indefinitely, despite any circumstances there may be, merely to protect commercial interests.


My Lords, is it the Minister's idea, the Government's idea, that we withdraw missions from countries with constitutions of which we disapprove? There might be a good many others. It is normal to have somebody to represent British interests in a country from which we have to withdraw missions.


My Lords, would not the Minister agree that it is not just the fact that we disapprove of the régime and that we abhor the way events have turned out in Rhodesia, but it is the fact that we are responsible, or we were immediately responsible, for this régime? We are not responsible for the régime in Russia. We are not responsible at the moment for the régime in South Africa.


My Lords, I think it is not for me to suggest that these questions and answers should be brought to an end. Clearly further opportunity could be provided if necessary. I would say to my noble friend that she has put in her own words very much what most of us on this side of the House, and I think most noble Lords on the other side, feel in this matter.


My Lords, would the Government kindly consider how British interests are to be protected in this territory? Because even when we are at war with a territory we have some arrangement.


My Lords, I must say to the noble Lord that he obviously will not get any more satisfaction. I really think we ought to return to the business. If the noble Lord wants to insist on going on, I cannot stop him.