Part of the debate – 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.