Rhodesia (Ministers' Visit)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th March 1965.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Middlesbrough East 12:00 am, 8th March 1965

During our 10-day visit to Rhodesia, my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and I were able to establish personal contact with the Rhodesia Government and to hear the views of a wide cross-section of the population.

Our talks with the Rhodesian Prime Minister and Cabinet were, of course, in confidence. They naturally expressed the desire of most white Rhodesians for early independence. We fully appreciate their reasons for wanting it.

Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Takawira, who is second-in-command to Mr. Sithole, demanded that the British Government should call a constitutional conference at once and secure the release of themselves and their followers from restriction. They advocated immediate universal suffrage and considered that the British Government should impose majority rule, if necessary by armed force.

The Chiefs, to whom the Rhodesia Government are restoring a measure of their former authority, are strongly opposed to the African nationalist movement because of the violence and intimidation and the threat to their own traditional leadership to which it has given rise. They saw the immediate grant of independence as the only alternative to nationalist domination.

Some Europeans demand that if independence cannot be quickly obtained by negotiation, it should be seized by a unilateral declaration.

In all quarters we made plain where the British Government stood in this difficult situation. We recalled the warning statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Mr. Smith last October and repeated our steadfast opposition to unconstitutional action. We condemned the intimidation and violence which have been taking place, mainly by Africans against other Africans. We emphasised that it was not our intention to impose majority rule by force and reiterated that whatever settlement was reached must be acceptable to the majority of the population of Rhodesia.

What is lacking in Rhodesia is willingness on the part of Europeans and Africans alike to discuss and compromise. The fate of Rhodesians of all colours and classes lies largely in their own hands. Illegal action from any quarter would be calamitous. The problem must be resolved by negotiation. I am not without hope of finding a way towards a solution that will win the support of all communities and lead to independence and prosperity for all Rhodesians.

My noble Friend and I have made a report to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and he will now be in touch with the Rhodesian Prime Minister.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. Is he aware that we are all glad that he undertook this journey, which may have shown him that the problem is not quite as simple as he thought at the beginning? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is a very complicated matter.

In his statement the right hon. Gentleman said that it was not the intention of the Government to impose majority rule by force. Does he also mean that it is not their intention to impose it by legislation, which is a different matter? The right hon. Gentleman also said that any settlement which was arrived at must be acceptable to the majority of the population. Does he mean to all racial communities, because that, again, is a different matter and is very important?

Finally, he made the surprisingly encouraging statement to the effect that the was hopeful that he would be able to find a solution which would be acceptable to all in Rhodesia and lead to independence and prosperity for everyone. Can he say what he has in mind and whether further talks with the Government of Rhodesia are planned?

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Middlesbrough East

The right hon. Gentleman must have a very vivid imagination if he thought that I treated this as a simple problem in any way. Indeed, on an earlier occasion, when the tables were reversed, I accused the right hon. Gentleman of not treating it as seriously as he should have done. In answer to his questions; yes, I can say that the reference to groups meant to all racial groups.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

Acceptable to the majority of the population?

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Middlesbrough East

Yes, all racial groups and acceptable to the majority of the population.

In reply to what the right hon. Gentleman asked about legislative action in connection with the word "force" in my statement, I made it quite clear in Rhodesia that we would not disturb the convention whereby we undertook not to interfere in the internal affairs of Rhodesia; but I made it quite clear that this Parliament had the final responsibility as to whether a constitutional change should be made.

As to the future, I can only say that whereas before I went to Rhodesia it certainly looked as though the doors were closed completely, they are now a little ajar and I hope that we shall be able to continue discussions from now on.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

Will the right hon. Gentleman clear up one point? What he said about force and legislation was not quite clear. Can he now make it quite clear that, while, naturally, reserving the sovereignty of the British Parliament, it is not the intention of the Government to introduce legislation to amend the Constitution of Rhodesia without the consent of the Government and Parliament of Rhodesia?

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Middlesbrough East

I made it quite clear about sovereignty that the ultimate transfer of full constitutional rights to Rhodesia was a responsibility of this Parliament, but that we had no intention of interfering with the internal affairs which, by convention, are normally conducted by the Rhodesian Government.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

That is not the point. The point is that the Parliament of Rhodesia is not empowered to alter its own Constitution. The Parliament at Westminster has that power. What I am asking the right hon. Gentleman is whether he gave an assurance that it was not the intention of the Parliament at Westminster, at the request of the Government, to alter the Constitution of Rhodesia without the agreement of the Government and Parliament of Rhodesia.

That is the important point. What is important at the moment is to try to avoid anything which might be an excuse for, or provocation of, unilateral independence in Rhodesia because of unilateral action here at Westminster.

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Middlesbrough East

I made it quite clear that so long as there was no unconstitutional action this Government would respect the convention.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

The right hon. Gentleman has said that this is a problem which must be solved by negotiation and he has also told us that he thinks that the door is now a little open. Are there to be further negotiations presumably on the basis of Government to Government?

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Middlesbrough East

Yes, that is the intention. Discussions from now on will be on the basis of Prime Minister to Prime Minister.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

Can we take it from my right hon. Friend's remarks about the majority of the population, that is to say, the African majority of the population, that there is no weakening of the previous position, that is to say, that we shall not hand over that majority to the rule of the white minority until satisfactory democratic means for the majority to express its own views about its own government have been put into force?

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Middlesbrough East

Yes, Sir, that is the intention. The 1961 Constitution provided for that, and there is no change.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

Does the right hon. Gentleman's statement mean that Her Majesty's Government have now dropped their previous idea of calling a constitutional conference of all races in order to modify the 1961 Constitution? Can we draw from that the inference that Her Majesty's Government will support the 1961 Constitution, which is wholly non-racial and democratic?

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Middlesbrough East

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in what he states to have been the declared policy of the Government. It is not as he has put it. I accept that if the 1961 Constitution had been worked, in due course it could have produced an African majority Government.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

When my right hon. Friend says that he has stated that the Government do not propose to impose majority rule by force, can he say whether he made any proposals to the Rhodesian Government for advancement towards majority rule?

Does he not think that it would be within the province of Her Majesty's Government to make such proposals to the Rhodesian Government? Will he take into account the decision of the last Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference and confirm that Her Majesty's Government abide absolutely by the indications given at that conference?

Can he say, finally, whether he made any representations to the Rhodesian Government about the release of people in prison or detained in Rhodesia without trial?

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Middlesbrough East

The answer to all those questions is, "Yes, Sir".

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having kept his temper in very difficult circumstances, something which the whole House expected of him and which it got. Will there be a White Paper, or any paper, on this subject? Will there be a debate? Did the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to the Southern Rhodesian Government that, by and large, the views which he has expressed are held by the whole of this country?

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Middlesbrough East

Until the discussions which we envisage between Prime Minister and Prime Minister are concluded, I would rather postpone consideration of the propositions made by the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Kingston upon Hull West

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the ill-mannered behaviour of the chiefs at the indaba towards him is untypical of Africans in any part of Africa? It shocked public opinion here and throughout parts of Africa. Can my right hon. Friend explain this? Can he give the House an assurance that this was not typical of African opinion throughout the territory?

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Middlesbrough East

What my hon. Friend says about the behaviour of Africans generally is quite right. It would be wrong to give the impression that the conduct of all the chiefs was similar to that of those who were reported. As is not unknown in this country, very often those who make the most noise get the headlines.

Several Hon. Members:

Several Hon. Members rose

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

Order. We cannot debate this matter now.