HL Deb 12 October 1976 vol 375 cc226-34

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, I will, with permission, repeat to your Lordships' House a Statement on Rhodesia made today in another place by my right honourable friend the Secterary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

"Mr. Speaker, I will, with permission, make a statement on Rhodesia.

On the 22nd of March my right honourable friend, now Prime Minister, told the House that no settlement in Rhodesia was possible until all the parties concerned accepted the principle of majority rule, to be attained within eighteen months to two years; and that only when that principle had been accepted would Her Majesty's Government be prepared to play a constructive part in any negotiations.

During the summer months, a number of Ministerial visits to Southern Africa took place, both British and American. These included two by my honourable friend the Minister of State, and in particular a prolonged and crucial tour by Dr. Kissinger to whose forceful diplomacy I now pay tribute. The Prime Minister and I saw Dr. Kissinger both before and after his shuttle, and I have been in almost continuous touch with him during the whole of this period.

On the 24th of September Mr. Smith announced that his régime now accepted the principle of majority rule within two years. This long-awaited development demonstrated at last a realistic understanding of the true situation in Southern Africa, and has presented us with a real opportunity of achieving a rapid and peaceful transfer of power in Rhodesia.

The next step was rapidly to organise a meeting between the Smith régime and the African Nationalists to discuss the formation of an interim Government. Accordingly I announced on the 29th of September that I would convene an early conference for this purpose, and that the Chairman would be Mr. Ivor Richard Q.C. acting as the Government's special representative. Last Friday, as the House will be aware, I announced my intention that the conference would assemble in Geneva on the 21st of October, with a view to a formal opening on the 25th of October.

I have decided to invite to this conference, on behalf of the Nationalist interests, Mr. Robert Mugabe, Bishop Abel Muzorewa and Mr. Joshua Nkomo, I am asking them to nominate additional delegates. I have invited Mr. Smith to nominate representatives of the Rhodesia Front. These invitations were despatched this morning.

Mr. Speaker, there have been many statements by many people in the last few days about the forthcoming conference. I hope the House will not press me to comment on these statements, nor on the negotiating positions of the parties to the conference. It would not be helpful to become embroiled, before the conference has opened, in a public discussion of issues which can only be decided at the conference itself.

I am of course most anxious to do everything within my power to ensure a successful outcome to the conference. I have had most useful exchanges of views in New York and in London with a number of Africa Foreign Ministers in the last few days; and I have sent my Special Adviser on Africa Affairs, Mr. Dennis Drennan, to Lusaka, to assist the process of liaison during the run-up to the conference. The prize within our grasp is a free, prosperous and multi-racial Zimbabwe. Her Majesty's Government are determined to do all in their power to bring a peace to Zimbabwe which is firmly rooted in majority rule and thus in equality and social justice".


My Lords, though the noble Lord has not told your Lordships anything they did not know before, the House will be grateful to him for having repeated that Statement and will welcome the news that the conference is to take place, opening on 25th October. I wonder if I might ask the noble Lord whether it is the Government's intention to press the African representatives at that conference to cease guerrilla activities during the time that the conference is taking place. That would have a considerable effect on the atmosphere in which the conference took place.

For the rest, I agree with the noble Lord that this is not the moment to get embroiled in the sort of discussions which will take place at the conference itself. If we do not get embroiled in it, it might equally be true that those who are going to take part in it will save up what they are going to say until they get to Geneva.


My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the progress that has been achieved so far. The convening of a Conference with all the interested parties present under British chairmanship is a matter for real satisfaction. We agree that comment on the pre-Conference negotiating positions would not be helpful at the present time. What really matters, in our view, is that at no time should the negotiating parties be allowed to forget that their main objective from now on is majority rule within 18 months to two years and the creation of an independent and viable multiracial Zimbabwe.


My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for those two statements, and most certainly I will personally draw the attention of my right honourable friend to them.


My Lords, is not the whole situation a little naive? Arms have been put into the hands of these guerrillas by the Russians and the Chinese. Does anybody seriously imagine that the guerrillas will give back those arms or that anybody at this Conference will be in a position to tell them to do so? Does anybody seriously imagine that these five Presidents of one-Party States are in a position to go beyond their tribal consensus or to implement the kind of agreements which effective civilised Governments can make? We have a number of people drawn together here who themselves know that they cannot implement any undertaking that they are asked to implement and who therefore are going to avoid displaying their impotence by taking up positions of extreme intransigence. We are simply going to see the Conference break down. This is certain to happen and the situation will be worse at the end than it was at the beginning.


My Lords, I am bound to say that my noble friend's interjection, not for the first time in connection with issues of this kind, has been totally unhelpful and in marked contrast to the very statesmanlike contributions which have been made by the representatives of both Opposition Front Benches.

Lord HOME of the HIRSEL

My Lords, I am not quite sure that I understood the noble Lord. Does the noble Lord's confident forecast about the Conference actually taking place mean that the preconditions about which we have read have been dropped? If so, that is very good news.


My Lords, my right honourable friend has said that it is his intention to convene the Conference on 25th October and to get the members of the Conference together on the 21st for an immediate run up. I think we can assume that despite a number of statements which my right honourable friend intimated he did not want to discuss unduly in public at this stage, a certain subsidence of objection on various details has taken place and there is fair confidence that people will come to this Conference without too many preconditions.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the withdrawal of their agreement by the four or five Presidents on responsibility for law and order and defence has caused very grave concern throughout Southern Africa, and will he make it quite clear that that agreement still remains a condition of any settlement?


My Lords, I should prefer to put it in this way: that the immediate objective is to convene this Conference, or meeting as I would call it in contradistinction to a constitutional Conference, so that an interim Government by agreement should be set up. In that process the details, as indeed Dr. Kissinger himself has recently said, as to the structure and functions of the interim Government would be matters for negotiation. I hope that at this stage we would not take up irreversible positions on either side regarding the details of either the Council of State or, indeed, the apportionment of Ministries.


My Lords, I will resist making a comment upon some of the things which have been said because I do not think that it would be useful to do so now. However, may I ask the Minister this question: If he is considering the suggestion that with the setting up of an interim Government armed conflict should cease, would he also consider that it ought to be urged upon Mr. Ian Smith that political prisoners in Zimbabwe should be released?


My Lords, I said last week—I think with the agreement of the entire House—that any voluntary concession from any quarter in regard to the cessation of guerrilla fighting or the release of detainees would greatly help the efficacy of this Conference.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether the delegations which are being invited from Rhodesia include any Europeans other than those who are nominated by Mr. Smith from the Rhodesian Front and, secondly, whether any undertaking has been given by the so-called Front Line Presidents that they will be represented at a high level by observers at Geneva during the Conference?


My Lords, regarding the noble Lord's second question, I am afraid that I have no information. However, it is an important point and I will look into the possible representation by observers of the African Front Line Presidents. I will let the noble Lord know—and, indeed, the House if it wishes me to do it in that way—what is the position on that point. Regarding the noble Lord's first question, the Rhodesian Front monopolises the elective position in the Rhodesian Parliament, so-called. However, subject to further consultation my right honourable friend would be prepared to consider other invitations to attend the Conference, if that would increase the chances of success of the Conference. That applies not only to a possible variation of the white Rhodesian representation but also to a possible variation of the black Rhodesian representation.


My Lords, some of us have noted with interest that my noble friend has used the word "Zimbabwe" on two occasions in place of the word "Rhodesia". Does this indicate that in future Her Majesty's Government intend to drop the name "Rhodesia" in all official communications?


Not in the least, my Lords. In his Statement my right honourable friend has used the term "Zimbabwe" fewer times than he has used the term "Rhodesia". In Wales we refer to "Wales" and also to "Cymru". We shall for the foreseeable future, in the case of both Wales and Rhodesia, refer to those countries by both terms.


My Lords, is the Minister able to say what is the contemplated number of the committee? With regard to the three black African names that the noble Lord has mentioned and remembering that the Pearce Commission considered that there was representation of only 6 per cent. of the African population, are these three names to be understood to be selections by Her Majesty's Government or nominations by the African side? If so, what kind of constitutional procedure preceded the supply to Her Majesty's Government of those three names if they were not selected?


My Lords, the invitations to the three gentlemen mentioned in the Statement were issued after our Government had consulted the Front Line African Presidents. As to the probable number of those attending the Conference, I really could not hazard a guess. The basis is there but, as my noble friend Lord Alport mentioned, it is perfectly possible that before the Conference finally convenes other names will have been added by agreement.


My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that Mr. Ian Smith announced a package deal which had been proposed by Dr. Kissinger and endorsed and discussed with the British Government, and that this package deal, including the handing over of power to a black majority within a limited period of time, had two other important factors: the cessation of sanctions and the stopping of guerrilla activity? Whereas we are now beginning to hear that the first factor is negotiable, very little is said about the other two factors upon which the agreement was made. Would he stress that we have every intention, if an agreement is brought about, which everyone in every part of the House would wish to have, that the sanctions will be lifted and that we shall do all in our power to see that the trained guerrillas and the massive invasion ceases as soon as conceivably possible?


I am very glad to give that assurance. As I am sure the noble Lord realises, it is not within the power of this Government, and I wonder in whose power it is, to guarantee the cessation of irregular activity. We have experience of these situations in various parts of the world and it has not been possible to guarantee that they cease as soon as ever a negotiated settlement is reached. Ireland, in 1920–21, is an example. However, we shall do our utmost. Clearly, the future of Rhodesia, and in a larger sense the future peace and progress of Southern and Central Africa, depends on there being as speedily as possible a cessation of irregular activity and of external interference with the continent, and also, of course, a pacification of population within these territories by an imaginative and humane approach to the question of detainees.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the strength of the statement he has just made is that it has made quite clear that Her Majesty's Government are not moving away from the basis of the agreement that was presented to both sides in private, and as long as they maintain, before the Conference takes place, that posture of keeping strictly to the terms that were made clear to both sides they are likely to get support? If they show any sort of weakness at any time before the Conference takes place in wanting to amend what they originally said, that would be a sign of weakness that could develop into an avalanche. At this minute they are standing firm and I know your Lordships will wish that to remain the position right up to the commencement of the Conference.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will agree with me that it is for this conference, if and when we get it, and I think we shall get it—this meeting as I prefer to call it, in contra-distinction once more with the constitutional conference which is a later stage and in which this country will be centrally concerned because it has an obligation to take part in that. I hope the noble Lord will agree that any amendment of terms which have generally been assumed to be the basis for the discussion at this meeting will be for the meeting or the conference itself. Certainly there will be no initiatives from us; they must come from within the meeting.


My Lords, as this problem of Rhodesia does not concern Anglophone Africa only—the noble Lord the Minister referred to front line presidents—and, in effect, as the outcome of these discussions in Geneva and the following discussions concern the peace and stability of Africa as a whole, can the noble Lord say to what extent leading statesmen of Francophone West Africa, of which there are two of world stature at the present time, have been consulted on an unofficial basis and to what extent they will be involved?


My Lords, yes indeed we have been in consultation both with our friends and Allies in the Community, and that subsumes the special French Anglophone interest and advice which we are always very glad to seek and accept, and also with our friends in the Commonwealth.