Rhodesia

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th August 1966.

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Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton 12:00 am, 8th August 1966

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

Her Majesty's Government have now reviewed the Rhodesian problem in all its aspects, and British officials will be returning to Salisbury at the end of this week for consultation with the Governor, and for further discussion with Rhodesian officials on the same exploratory and noncommittal basis as before.

It is clear that further exploration of a number of important issues is essential before we can judge whether or not a basis may exist for negotiations, and with whom such negotiations might take place.

As I have repeatedly informed the House, it remains our purpose to ensure that any ultimate solution fully conforms with our six principles; and it can be negotiated only with a constitutional Government in Salisbury.

Among the issues, therefore, that we need to explore further are the restoration of legality in Rhodesia, and the way in which the acceptability of any solution to the people of Rhodesia as a whole is to be tested.

Meantime, we shall vigorously maintain our policy of sanctions, which has received and continues to receive wide- spread international support, reflecting the general condemnation by the world of the illegal action last November.

We remain concerned over the special problems which this situation has created for Zambia. Our High Commissioner in Lusaka and Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, who returned to Lusaka last week, have resumed the talks with the Zambian Government on the ways in which we might help in meeting Zambia's difficulties.

We naturally wish to see progress as soon as possible towards a solution of this unhappy situation, in the interests both of Rhodesia and of this country, but I cannot forecast early results. I can assure the House that no settlement will be reached without the authority of Parliament, with whom it rests to grant independence to Rhodesia.

Since we are approaching the Recess I should like to make it clear that, although there is at present no indication that a settlement is likely within the next two months, nevertheless, if there were any developments during the Recess making possible a settlement before the time fixed for the reassembly of Parliament, we should regard this as sufficiently important to advise you, Mr. Speaker, under Standing Order No. 117, that the House should be recalled, so that the views of Parliament could be made known before any final commitment were made.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I should like to thank the Prime Minister for making this statement before the House rose, as he undertook to do on the previous occasion. We welcome the fact that these talks are to be resumed. We certainly wish them every success and we hope that the Government will spare no effort, time and thought to ensure this.

May I ask the Prime Minister three questions? First, in view of the emphasis which he has now put upon the fifth principle, may we assume that there has now been progress—and, we hope, satisfactory progress—with the talks on the other four principles?

Secondly, can the Prime Minister explain the early part of his statement, when he said that a solution can be negotiated only with a constitutional Government in Salisbury"? Surely, the purpose of the talks is to reach a settlement on how to bring about constitutional government, and by its very nature this cannot be carried on with a constitutional regime. Can the Prime Minister kindly explain this?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his assurance that the House will be recalled to consider any settlement which might be reached.

May I ask, also, for an assurance that should there, alas, be any breakdown or any change in Government policy, the House would also be recalled during the Recess? In other words, may I ask the Prime Minister that, meantime, there should be no use of force and no question of handing over this issue to the United Nations, abandoning the position which the Prime Minister has always taken that it is a British concern?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said. The fifth principle, is, of course, one that has been stressed as being absolutely vital by successive Governments. Whatever is concluded must be acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole. We attach great importance, in the talks which will now be taking place, to going further into the question of the fifth principle and also the question of constitutional Government. Most of the talks so far have been directed, although they have covered the whole field of the six principles, to the first four principles; but I think that the right hon. Gentleman might be wrong in concluding that great progress has been made from the fact that I have now stressed the importance of the fifth principle.

With regard to the purpose of the talks and of constitutional government, one purpose of the talks is to discuss with whom the negotiations can take place—I mean full negotiations. They can only take place with a full constitutional Government. We are trying in these talks to carry things as far as they can be carried against this unprecedented situation that there is an illegal régime there. There must be a return to constitutionality, as I am sure the whole House would insist, before there can be a settlement.

On the question of any changes and of recalling the House, I have always made plain the position of Her Majesty's Government about the use of force. The position has not in any way changed. I would not expect any change in the position during the Recess. If there were any change, apart from the kind that I have mentioned in my statement, naturally we would be in consultation with the right hon. Gentleman. The question of the recall of Parliament could be considered and argued in those circumstances.

We do not intend, as long as we have any hope of settling the problem, transferring the responsibility elsewhere. The right hon. Gentleman will, however, recognise that if there is not speedier action towards a solution, other people will be taking action which may be difficult to resist.

Photo of Mr Raphael Tuck Mr Raphael Tuck , Watford

Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking to the House that Her Majesty's Government will abide by the majority decision at the forthcoming Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference on the Rhodesian issue?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

The Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference never proceeds by votes or by majority decisions. Each of us goes to this conference with our own responsibilities, and this is, fortunately or unfortunately, our responsibility. We shall have to discharge that responsibility, taking full account of the views of our Commonwealth colleagues.

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet

On the question of handing over this problem to the United Nations, the Prime Minister said that it was not his current intention. He was asked to give an assurance. Will he give this assurance: that there will be no question of handing this problem over to the United Nations without recalling the House beforehand?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Yes, Sir, I can give that assurance on the understanding of the interpretation that I put on the right hon. Gentleman's point. I should like to make sure that I have got it right. Some suggest that the sovereignty of Rhodesia should be transferred from this Parliament where it exists—not in Salisbury, but here—to the United Nations. This, in my view, and in the view of the Government, is a non-starter. It would not be a possibility.

A second interpretation which might be put on the right hon. Gentleman's question is that we wash our hands of it and say, "We are sick of 'carrying the can' for this one. Let somebody else settle it." I do not believe that this is something we can do, certainly not in the present circumstances and not without an opportunity of consulting Parliament.

I did say that there was a third possibility. If the world community, including a majority of Commonwealth countries, perhaps, felt that we were laggard in dealing with this situation, it would be free for members of the United Nations to put this on the United Nations agenda, with all the difficulties that that would cause for us and for other interested countries.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey De Freitas Mr Geoffrey De Freitas , Kettering

When negotiations eventually take place, will my right hon. Friend consider using the advice and experience of one of the many distinguished British residents in Kenya who have lived for two-and-a-half years under the rule of law in a multiracial society under a black African Government?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I am grateful to bury last year, I drew the attention of bury, last year, I drew the attention of the then legal Government of Rhodesia to the message sent from a number of very distinguished Kenya residents saying that they had found, despite their anxieties, that life was very different from what some people in Salisbury said it would be when, in accordance with the proposals of successive Governments, majority rule was established.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

Could my right hon. Friend give an assurance that under no circumstances will the independence of Rhodesia be recognised until there is majority rule, no matter how long that may take? Will he further agree that he has not ruled out entirely the prospect of a period of direct rule in the interim period?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

The first point is fully dealt with in the White Paper that we published in connection with the discussions. The sixth principle says that there can be no question of handing over independence except on the fulfilment of those principles, including unimpeded progress to majority rule and guarantees to see that the progress en- shrined in the 1961 Constitution, as amended, shall not be set aside by unilateral action. That remains the position of Her Majesty's Government.

On the question of direct rule and any interim means of getting back to constitutional rule, I have nothing to add to what I said in my statement to the House on 25th January.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

May I ask three questions about Zambia? First, are we to have a statement about the extent of British economic help before the House rises? Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that President Kaunda's non-racial society should be backed to the limit of our resources? Thirdly, has he considered the possibility of joint Commonwealth initiative in providing, say, 1,000 trucks to assist Zambia to develop alternative exits?

With regard to Rhodesia, does the right hon. Gentleman take the view that sufficient progress was made to merit these talks resuming and, finally, are we to take it that he does not yet know whether there is a basis on which negotiations may be successful?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Those were four questions, and I am not sure that I might not have to be reminded of them in the course of my reply.

I doubt whether it will be possible to make a statement on economic assistance in Zambia's difficulties before the House rises. As I have said, the High Commissioner and Mr. MacDonald are now entering into discussions. I think that those discussions should be allowed to proceed. I hope that they will be completed, but I doubt whether they will be completed before the House rises.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether it was not in our interests to give all the help we can to Zambia. Certainly, within the limitations and the stringencies of our present economic position. Undoubtedly, some hon. Members sometimes forget the effect on Zambia of this illegal declaration of independence and the effects in consequence upon us of Zambia's ability to continue to have normal trading relations with us. We must do all we can within the limits.

The question of a Commonwealth initiative, for example, the suggestion of 1,000 trucks, is one upon which I shall have discussion with my Commonwealth colleagues at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not underrate what has been done by the Government of Canada, for example, in helping Zambia already.

As to Rhodesia, as I understand the question, certainly it is much too early to say on the basis of the talks whether a solution is in contemplation or a possibility. I was extremely disturbed this morning on reading reports in The Times of a speech by Mr. Smith which would suggest, if properly reported, that he is going back to the old position, "No majority rule in my lifetime." This has been firmly rejected by the previous Government and by the present Government. If this is the attitude of the present Rhodesian régime, it does not hold out great hopes for a settlement of this problem.

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

While accepting that there are many hon. Members on the benches behind my right hon. Friend who, seeing Mr. Smith in this state of mind, believe that talks are a waste of time and that he will have to stew in his own juice until sanctions finally bite, may we have an assurance that talks will continue till the end of August so that there can be a clear and unequivocal message from this House to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

While I share the sense of deep concern about this speech as reported, I certainly do not agree that this means that talks will be a waste of time. It is right to continue with the talks to see if, round the table, it is possible to get some advance which has not been contemplated in public statements.

With regard to the timing, when we meet in the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference we shall be able to meet our colleagues on the basis of the latest information resulting from those talks. I do not say that it is necessary, in those circumstances, that the talks must be ended by the end of August, but we must have the latest position as clearly as we can when the talks begin.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

The Prime Minister said that there must be a return to consti- tutional government before any negotiations could begin. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that Mr. Smith will be required to give up U.D.I. before there can be any serious negotiations for a settlement? If that is so, it is totally unrealistic and the talks will be a waste of time.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has fallen so far from the position he took up when he himself was in office, because no one spoke in stronger terms to Mr. Smith and his colleagues than he did about the consequences of a U.D.I. I should have thought that the position of the House and of any Privy Councillor would be that we cannot have official dealings with an illegal and unconstitutional regime, though we are prepared to have these unofficial talks with its nominated representatives to see on what basis we could get a return to constitutional rule, and on what basis we could proceed towards independence. It would be a monstrous suggestion that we must concede the principle of U.D.I. to Mr. Smith before we could have negotiations.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Smethwick

Will my right hon. Friend tell us to what extent African leaders have been consulted before the initiation of these talks with the rebel Smith, and will he remember that 95 per cent. of the population of Zimbabwe are Africans?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

These talks are not taking place directly with a regime. From the beginning it has been made clear that these are informal talks to see whether there is a basis for talks of a more direct character and with whom those talks should take place. The phrase "with whom" includes the point raised by my hon. Friend. I had talks with all the leading African politicians, many of whom had to be brought out of detention centres to meet me last year, and I was left in no doubt about what their position would be.

Of course, on the fifth principle, one has to consider on what basis African opinion, which, as my hon. Friend says, is a significant part of Rhodesian opinion as a whole, can be consulted as to the basis of a possible Rhodesian settlement.

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

Is it not now clear that neither Rhodesia nor this country can afford to allow this unhappy quarrel to continue? Has the Prime Minister studied some important articles on this subject by Mr. Laurens Van Der Post recently, in the Sunday Telegraph? Would he not agree with Mr. Van Der Post that the greatest liberalising influence in Central Africa today is the technological and economic advance of all her peoples? Is that not precisely what his sanctions policy is designed to frustrate?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I agree that this problem should not be allowed to continue a minute longer than necessary. This is one reason why we have, with the authority of this House, proceeded with sanctions and other means to bring this matter to an end as soon as possible. Certainly, I did everything in my power to prevent U.D.I. happening, and it does not lie at the door of Her Majesty's present Government, or the previous Government, that this tragic and illegal situation has been allowed to develop.

I have seen the articles to which the hon. Gentleman referred. It is not for me to express agreement or disagreement with them, but I certainly agree about the importance of technological advance. This was one reason why I was appalled to hear, in the talks last October, that the Rhodesian Government of that time would have felt it right to hold back educational development if that led to too many Africans becoming qualified for the vote.

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth West

Would my right hon. Friend agree that if our Commonwealth and African friends are to be reassured, and their confidence is to be re-won, it is important to spell out the precise meaning of the principles we express? What do we mean by, "any solution must be acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole"? How would we ensure that? Will there be a rôle for the United Nations or the Commonwealth?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

We have discussed that at great length over the past two years. I think that I am entitled to attack the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) now, but I also praise him for what he did during the last weeks of the previous Government by insisting that a solution must be accept- able to the people of Rhodesia as a whole. Even on polling day, 16th October, 1964, he sent a very tough telegram rejecting certain proposals of Mr. Smith on that occasion for doing it through some indaba or other.

We have discussed at great length what this means and I do not believe that many Rhodesians, certainly not the late Government of Rhodesia, would have been prepared to accept either United Nations or Commonwealth intervention; they rejected even an all-party mission of Privy Councillors from this House. We have discussed at great length whether it should be done by referendum—there are many difficulties there—or whether the right answer might be a Royal Commission such as was suggested, and was still being examined right up to the last minute when the U.D.I. was taken last year.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

Will any positive suggestions be made by the Government which might lead to an end of this unfortunate dispute? Can the Prime Minister assure the House that these talks will continue over the period of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

We have been making positive suggestions all this time. My right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General stayed behind to go in great detail last October into the various questions of the entrenchment of the essential clauses of Chapter III. We have been pursuing this matter very vigorously over the past few months and shall continue to make any positive suggestions as seem right to secure a solution. I cannot guarantee that the talks will go on during the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference. I do not know what progress will be made when the talks resume in Rhodesia.

Several hon. Member:

Several hon. Member rose——

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. We have had a good run of questions.