Rhodesia

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th April 1965.

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Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton 12:00 am, 29th April 1965

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.

The Rhodesia Government have issued a White Paper setting out their views on the economic effects of a unilateral declaration of independence.

Her Majesty's Government have no desire to try to influence the voters of Rhodesia in the General Election due to take place on 7th May, and for this reason have not hitherto commented on what is being said by spokesmen of either the Rhodesian Government or Opposition parties during their respective campaigns.

They obviously cannot, however, re-ma in silent in the face of official utterances in Salisbury about the probable content of decisions which would be taken in London. The Rhodesian Government did not consult Her Majesty's Government about their decision to issue such a White Paper, still less about its contents, which completely misrepresent the likely economic effect on Rhodesia of a unilateral declaration.

The Rhodesia Government White Paper, after referring to the statement issued from No. 10 Downing Street on 27th October says: it has been assumed, in some quarters, that the proposals referred to in the statement would be applied by the British Government with a degree of severity designed to collapse the economy of Rhodesia within a relatively short period". It then purports to "evaluate" whether, in fact, Britain could or would imple? ment in full what it calls the "sanctions" suggested after a unilateral declaration.

By this means the Rhodesia Government are seeking to convey the impression that they and not Her Majesty's Government are the best judges of what action Her Majesty's Government would take in the event of a unilateral declaration.

Her Majesty's Government adhere to the Statement issued on 27th October, 1964. It expressed the view that the economic effects of a unilateral declaration would be disastrous to the prosperity and prospects of the people of Rhodesia and that Rhodesia's external trade would be disrupted. Nothing that has happened in the last six months has afforded reasons for modifying this judgment in any way.

The White Paper states that a great proportion of Rhodesia's exports could be marketed in countries other than Britain with whom Rhodesia has trading relations, and it discusses in particular tobacco which is Rhodesia's chief export. Britain is by far the biggest buyer of Rhodesian tobacco, and if Britain were to stop buying it the effect upon the tobacco growers and upon the whole economy of Rhodesia would be particularly severe. The Rhodesian Tobacco Association is itself reported to have reached the conclusion that the imposition of embargoes would be disastrous to the industry. There would be no difficulty in procuring British tobacco requirements from other countries.

The White Paper seeks to reassure Rhodesians that after a unilateral declaration money will be forthcoming for investment in Rhodesia from what it terms "countries not unfriendly" towards her. Britain has hitherto been the chief external source of capital for Rhodesia's economic development. A unilateral declaration would put a stop to this flow. The statement of 27th October made it clear that all financial as well as trade relations between Britain and Rhodesia would be jeopardised, that aid would cease, and that, with one or two exceptions, other Governments would be likely to refuse to recognise Rhodesia's independence or to enter into relations with her. The establishment of an illegal régime in Rhodesia is least calculated to produce stable government there which the Rhodesian Government themselves recognise to be a prerequisite for attracting investment from abroad.

Other Governments inside and outside the Commonwealth will no doubt make known their own views on the White Paper. Commonwealth Prime Ministers, in their communiqué of 15th July, 1964, noted with approval the statement of the British Government that they would not recognise any unilateral declaration of independence, and the other Prime Ministers made it clear that they would be unable to recognise any such declaration. Moreover, the entire Commonwealth expressed its approval of the declaration of 27th October. There can be no justification for the Rhodesia Government or people to nurse the delusion that they would receive widespread international support.

The Rhodesian view of events elsewhere in Africa and their effect on thinking in the West is profoundly mistaken and it would be an error to assume that this view could affect Her Majesty's Government's policy towards an act of rebellion in Rhodesia.

The White Paper argues that the adverse consequences of a unilateral declaration would be the responsibility of Britain alone. It is not Britain, however, which is contemplating unconstitutional action. If such action were to be taken responsibility for the consequence would lie squarely on the shoulders of those who took it. The White Paper appears to assume that it would be improper for Britain to react in any way if Rhodesia chose to put herself in the position of a colony in rebellion, whereas Rhodesia would be entitled to take whatever measures she chose against Malawi, Zambia or any other country in retaliation against the inevitable consequences of her own action. No Government outside Rhodesia is likely to share this view.

Her Majesty's Government remain firmly convinced that the only route by which Rhodesia can achieve independence without grave consequences to herself is by the process of constitutional negotiation. She cannot hope to defy Britain, the whole of the Commonwealth, nearly the whole of Africa and the United Nations. Her Majesty's Government, therefore, profoundly hope that Rhodesia will not be misled into thinking that she could escape disaster if she were to fly in the face of world opinion.

As I have indicated earlier this afternoon, the answer lies in an agreed solution and Her Majesty's Government stand ready to carry forward their not entirely unhopeful negotiations with the Government of Rhodesia after the election in order to achieve this objective.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

I intend not to comment on the substance of this rather unhappy exchange of Government declarations, but really to express the hope that the Government of Rhodesia will respond to the last sentence of the Prime Minister's statement and that negotiations will be resumed after the General Election has taken place in Rhodesia.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much for what he has said. The position which we have taken has been entirely consistent and a continuation of the very firm and statesmanlike line taken by the previous Government on the question in the negotiations last September. We have kept that on.

I believe that the one hope—as I say, the situation is not entirely unhopeful—lies in the negotiations which we hope to resume more actively after the election. A dialogue of a kind is continuing now, but, obviously, in the election situation, it will be difficult to carry the negotiations to any fruitful conclusion.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that everyone will hope for a peaceful and friendly result from these negotiations? But is he also aware that most people will certainly support this declaration, which makes it crystal clear that no one in this country could simply ignore a unilateral declaration of independence by Rhodesia, and the Rhodesian people should be doubly well aware of the position of this country?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that statement. Frankly, we did not want to have to make any statement on this issue, particularly while an election was on in a Commonwealth country. But, in view of the terms of the White Paper which was issued which seemed to put interpretations on our own words and on the intentions of the Government quite contrary to what was meant by the Government and what was clearly understood to be meant by the Government, we had no alternative but to make a statement this afternoon.

I apologise to the House that it was somewhat long and has interfered with the ensuing debate, but I felt that a statement of this degree of constitutional importance had to be made in the House. It had to be made today and that was why it could not be done in the form of issuing a statement from 10, Downing Street, or by putting it in written form in HANSARD.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that his correspondence with the Rhodesian Prime Minister is forming a background issue in the Rhodesian election? Will he go so far as to tell the Rhodesian electors and the British people whether, in his correspondence, he made an offer of negotiation, because by his silence he is aiding the extremists in Rhodesia and handicapping those who wish to arrive at a negotiated solution to this very unhappy problem?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

The correspondence has been confidential. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor had discussions, which for the most part, I am afraid, were not very encouraging, about the possibility of an agreed solution. But one ray of light emerged. There was one possibility which, I think, I have today described fairly as being not entirely unhopeful; I would not put it higher than that.

We and, I hope, everyone in Rhodesia will feel that it is right to concentrate on that ray of hope, such as it is, rather than to take any extreme positions, even in the temptations of the heat of an election, because no one. I hope, would imperil the chance of a peaceful settlement. I hope that my statement this afternoon quite clearly said what would be the results of unconstitutional action.

Photo of Dr David Kerr Dr David Kerr , Wandsworth Central

Is my right hon. Friend aware that on this side of the House the forthright and courageous terms in which he has made his statement are very welcome? I suspect, too, that he will probably know that it is not only on this side of the House that his statement will be welcomed.

Is my right hon. Friend in a position today to tell the House of any hope that might be forthcoming to Zambia and Malawi in the event of a unilateral declaration of independence in Rhodesia being implemented in the terms of the Rhodesian White Paper?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. As I made clear, I did not want to have to make this statement today. As to its forthright terms, it is only fair to say—the Leader of the Opposition will not mind my saying this—that it is consistent with and in continuation of the clear statements made privately by right hon. Gentlemen opposite in the earlier stages of the discussions.

As to the possible effects on Malawi and Zambia, I hope that we can regard this as entirely hypothetical, because these are, perhaps, veiled suggestions of what might happen if a certain thing occurred as a result of a unilateral declaration of independence which we know to be unconstitutional.

Therefore, while, naturally, the Government are watching closely any possible consequences of unconstitutional action, I hope that I will not be asked this afternoon to say what would be done if unconstitutional action took place, which we all hope will not be the situation.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

Since the situation is somewhat explosive, will the Prime Minister, perhaps as soon as possible after the election in Rhodesia, take the initiative in proposing negotiations?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

As I have said, a kind of dialogue is at present continuing. In the circumstances, it can inevitably be confined to no more than basic principles. As, however, I have made clear, and I am sure that Mr. Smith would very much agree with this, as soon as the election is over we would propose to enter into discussions with the Rhodesian Government as to the basis of constitutional advance which would make possible an agreed move towards independence.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he expected each Commonwealth country to express its opinion separately. Is there no hope of some collective expression of opinion?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I quoted the collective expression of opinion by the Commonwealth Prime Ministers at the conference last July, and that statement was in the clearest and most unequivocal terms. We have kept in close touch with all the Commonwealth Governments. The hon. Member will be aware that our statement of 27th October was publicly supported by, I think, every Commonwealth Government. That being so, one can, I think, take it that the interpretation of that statement which I have given today would have the support of the entire Commonwealth.

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

The Prime Minister has on a number of occasions referred to the period after the election, and that, of course, I understand. He will, however, realise that on, I think, Friday of this week, long before the election, the Security Council proposes to embark upon a motion on Rhodesia which can do nothing but exascerbate the position there. Would the Prime Minister like to indicate the views of Her Majesty's Government towards that motion?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Of course, we have not yet seen the terms that will be debated—

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, a number of motions are being proposed. We do not know what will be finally debated. We are, of course, in close touch with Lord Caradon on this question. Perhaps if we buy a copy of tomorrow's Spectator we shall get the answer.

As to the more serious aspects of the right hon. Gentleman's question—until we got his intervention—it is vitally important that discussions on this subject in the United Nations should not reach a situation that would exascerbate feeling on any side in Rhodesia, or, indeed, in any part of Africa. My noble Friend Lord Caradon has been in the closest touch with Commonwealth missions to the United Nations and a great deal has been done by, the general good will of everyone concerned to keep the atmosphere as cool as possible during these difficult months when provocative action of any kind might have led to an explosion.

Until we know the exact terms of the motion which is finally moved, we cannot decide our attitude to it. We understand the apprehensions and anxieties of all the Afro-Asian countries, but it would be unfortunate if we were to get a Security Council decision that in any way prejudiced these difficult negotiations.