Rhodesia

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th December 1976.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby 12:00 am, 14th December 1976

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

The early weeks of the Geneva conference were spent in discussing the date by which Rhodesia would achieve independence as the new sovereign State of Zimbabwe. This discussion, while it absorbed a great deal of time, was helpful in demonstrating conclusively to all the participants that the object of the conference really is to launch Rhodesia on the road to independence under majority rule.

For the past fortnight, the discussions have focused on the central issue—the structure and functions of the transitional Government. While no agreement has been reached, good progress has been made in identifying and clarifying the views of the different parties, and the points that must be settled before a transitional Government can be established.

After consulting Mr. Ivor Richard last week, I have concluded that the stage has now been reached where Britain should attempt to give a fresh impetus to the search for a solution. But it is clear to me that this process is more likely to be successful if it is not initiated during the normal meetings of the conference. We now need a further period of intensive consultations, in Southern Africa, to enable us to lay the foundations for an agreement on this fundamental question. I have therefore authorised the Chairman to adjourn the conference to permit such consultations to take place.

The conference will go into recess today and will resume in Geneva on 17th January. I have asked Mr. Richard, as the Government's Special Representative, to leave for Africa immediately after Christmas in order to consult all the parties concerned. He will develop our positive ideas for a settlement, which will include in particular the direct rôlewhich Britain would be ready to play in the transitional period. If, at the end of his consultations, it proved necessary or desirable, I would myself go either to Africa or to the resumed conference at Geneva.

The House will understand that I must refrain from setting out our ideas in detail today. I would say only that our intention will be to meet the concern of the nationalists that the process of transition to independence should be rapid and guaranteed, and the anxieties of the Europeans that it should be orderly.

It is, Mr. Speaker, the general feeling amongst the delegates at Geneva that an adjournment of some weeks would now be the best way of carrying forward our work to a successful conclusion. I may add that Dr. Kissinger, whom I consulted over the weekend, also strongly supports the proposed procedure. For all the angry statements which are made from time to time, we have, in my view. a good chance of achieving a peaceful settlement in Rhodesia.

Photo of Mr John Davies Mr John Davies , Knutsford

The Secretary of State will appreciate that a party in opposition, faced with issues such as this, which affect so closely the lives of many people and have far-reaching implications beyond that, is bound to exercise great forbearance in the questions that it puts. There are, however, three major questions which I feel I must ask the right hon. Gentleman.

He speaks in his statement of a fresh impetus. I think that the general feeling in the country and elsewhere is that there has been an extraordinary degree of passivity on the part of the government in pursuing this conference. I hope that in speaking of a fresh impetus the right hon. Gentleman is talking of an active rôle by this country in the conduct of the conference with a view to securing a settlement.

Second, I think that the rôle that the right hon. Gentleman casts for Mr. Ivor Richard is open to question. Does his experience not also lead him to believe that where a person is sent on a major mission with his senior held in reserve for an eventual subsequent visit, the whole tendency is for all the serious questions to be deferred until that senior person arrives? Is the right hon. Gentleman not once again casting Mr. Richard in an absolutely hopeless rôle in the task he is assigning to him?

Third, I raise the question of the support of the United States. It was, after all, Dr. Kissinger who largely took the initiative in bringing about this whole series of events. The right hon. Gentleman speaks in an almost aside way now of Dr. Kissinger's concurrence in the procedure now proposed, but can he satisfy the House that the United States, having played such a formidable part in starting this operation, is fully in support of it in seeing it through?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about forbearance in this kind of situation. If I may I should like warmly to welcome the right hon. Gentleman to the Opposition Front Bench as shadow Foreign Secretary.

The question about passivity is obviously one that has worried me. We constantly consider whether I should have gone to Geneva and whether we should have tabled positive British proposals at an earlier moment than this. These are very difficult tactical matters of judgment. They are two cards that we have to play and could have played at any particular time. My judgment has been —and it has been justified—that the moment has not been reached when these cards ought to be played. They can be played only once, and they must be played at the most decisive possible moment.

As to Mr. Richard being in a hopeless rôle in Africa, this is not the view that he holds. As the House can imagine, I have had the most intensive discussions with him. He will go with my authority behind him and knowing that he can call on my support at any given moment. On the rôle of the United States, I had prolonged discussions with Dr. Kissinger on Friday and Saturday, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have his absolute support in what I am proposing.

Let me end with one comment on the question of passivity. Nobody but a fool in my position would be certain that every tactical judgment he makes is right. But if I look back to the debate seven weeks ago on the Rhodesia Order, as I did this morning, I conclude that it is something of a miracle that things have gone as successfully as they have.

Photo of Mr John Ellis Mr John Ellis , Brigg and Scunthorpe

Does my right hon. Friend agree that success depends not on whether he, Mr. Ivor Richard or anyone else is at the talks? It depends on the main participants on both sides reaching an agreement. In his statement my right hon. Friend referred to the more direct rôle—as I understood it—that we might take. Will he give a categorical assurance that this does not mean our getting involved with any military forces or any police operation, but means that we are trying to get the two sides together and that the future rôle is in their hands rather than in the hands of this country, the Americans or anyone else?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

I strongly agree with both those points. At the end of the day it must be for the two sides to settle, and no outside body—Britain, the United States or anybody else—can give other than moral support. On my hon. Friend's second point, there is no question of sending British troops or British police to play a rôle in Rhodesia.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

Some of us think that this is the right course of action to follow. If the Foreign Secretary went on all these missions nothing would be left in reserve. What is important is not necessarily to go but whether what comes out of the talks is certain and preferably, knowing some of the parties, in writing. May we take it that Mr. Richard will be visiting not only the five front-line Presidents, but South Africa and Rhodesia, too? Since every Government in this country since UDI have claimed that we have a continuing responsibility it would be a farce unless this country was prepared to make a major administrative contribution not only outside but within Rhodesia.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's opening remarks. I can confirm that although we have not yet worked out a detailed itinerary, Mr. Richard will be visiting not only the five front-line African States but South Africa and Rhodesia. I prefer not to go into more detail now on the second question. The question of the extent of the British presence and involvement is an extremely difficult matter. I confine myself to saying that whatever it is, it will stop short of sending British troops.

Photo of Mr Julian Amery Mr Julian Amery , Brighton, Pavilion

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that over the recess period the fighting goes on in Rhodesia and with it the killing on both sides? Does he not feel that if we are to play a more active part—I am not against that—the time has come for saying that Mr. Smith has accepted the principle of majority rule on the basis of a framework of Anglo-American origin, and that the time has come to stop the sanctions which make us the accomplices of the guerrillas in the war?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

No. When we debated the Rhodesia Order seven weeks ago, I think the House assented to what the Government proposed, that when an interim Government is finally formed we certainly think sanctions should be called off. It would be quite wrong, before there is any certainty that such a Government will be formed, that we should now eliminate the sanctions and withdraw one of the weapons for a peaceful settlement that we have at the moment.

Photo of Mr Bruce Grocott Mr Bruce Grocott , Lichfield and Tamworth

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the only way in which the vacuum between white rule and majority rule in Rhodesia can be filled in the intervening period is by the willingness of some outside agency to play a positive role? The only conceivable organisation for doing this is the British Government. Would my right hon. Friend confirm that the opponent of the British Government playing a more positive rôle has been Smith and not the black African leaders? Will my right hon Friend agree to follow up his statement and to make a more positive contribution in the future?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

Certainly. I thought that that was the object of my statement. I agree with my hon Friend that we should make a more positive contribution now that this particular situation has been reached With regard to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, he is correct that the notion of a British presence has been accepted by the African delegations in Rhodesia and has so far been rejected by Mr Smith.

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet Chipping Barnet

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that his representatives made an error in concentrating on the date for independence because it is unwise to try to set a date for getting somewhere before we have the faintest idea about what route we should follow? Will the Foreign Secretary now concentrate on the fundamental problem and try to give to the European population in Rhodesia some assurance that an independent constitution with guaranteed individual rights will not be torn up within six months by some Rhodesian Amin?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

The fact is that Mr. Richard would not have got any talks of any kind going had he not started on the date. He had no alternative at Geneva but to make that tactical decision. In a way the critical part of the negotiations will be to reassure not simply the white population but both sides that the other side will not seek to use violent methods to overthrow an interim Government which has been agreed. It is quite wrong to put the emphasis on one of the two sides, because deep fears and anxieties exist on both sides.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

What response has my right hon. Friend had to any approaches to the Commonwealth Governments to play a part in the interim period towards the move to majority rule in Southern Rhodesia?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

As my hon. Friend knows, that is a point which is very much in my mind. I prefer not to go into detail on this point, but certainly I would not exclude that as one of a number of possibilities at the appropriate time.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

When the right hon. Gentleman refers to a direct involvement by this country, and a British presence or rôle, will he confirm that as this country has neither the will nor the power to influence events in Rhodesia nor to hold the ring there, the assumption of any position that implies that we have will result only in humiliation for us with no advantage to any element in Rhodesia?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

The right hon. Gentleman has delivered that solemn warning to me before. I recognise the force of what he says. Nevertheless, I believe—I think with the overwhelming majority of the House of Commons—that Britain has a legal, constitutional and moral responsibility to do what it can to bring peace to Southern Africa, and that we shall fulfil.

Photo of Mrs Judith Hart Mrs Judith Hart , Lanark

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the view of many of us is that the conduct in the negotiations by the British delegation has been extremely well carried out under difficult circumstances and that Mr. Richard, in particular, has been doing an excellent job? Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that in the negotiations that will ensue after the recess the British interpretation of majority rule means only one thing—one man, one vote? Would my right hon. Friend also assure the House that with regard to a British presence in Rhodesia, the key elements to which so many attach importance is that responsibility for defence and law and order should be in neutral hands?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her extremely well merited tribute to Ivor Richard, whose rôle in all this has, in my view, been decisive and conducted with great skill. [Interruption.] I repeat that. By majority rule we mean the rule of the overwhelming majority of the people in Rhodesia. The question of the detail of the franchise is something that will no doubt be discussed at the constitutional conference. With regard to defence and law and order these are the two crucial questions to be settled, and the argument about who is ultimately responsible for those two portfolios will no doubt be a central part of the last aspect of the discussions.

Photo of Mr Peter Blaker Mr Peter Blaker , Blackpool South

With regard to the point made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). is it not a fact that the consequences of failure to secure a peaceful solution will be appalling for Southern Africa and serious for us? That is the reason why we have an obligation, and are seen in the world to have an obligation, to do our best to secure a solution.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

Has it been made crystal clear to Mr. Smith that if he obstructs an agreement in the negotiations he can look forward to no kind of economic or diplomatic support from the Western world? Further, has my right hon. Friend had any conversations with the American Secretary of State designate, Mr. Simon Vance?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

The answed to my hon. Friend's second question is, "No". The answer to the first question is, "Yes". It has been made absolutely clear to Mr. Smith that if these negotiations break down as a result of Rhodesian Front intransigence, there will be no economic or diplomatic support forthcoming whatever from the Western world.

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

In the light of his earlier remarks will the Foreign Secretary say whether he will use this interval to assess the real possibility of Britain coordinating some kind of modest international contribution to help in the transfer of power to independence, if that is required from both sides of the problem? Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify the situation that Britain will avoid commiting herself to a semi-colonial rôle on her own—a rôle that Britain herself cannot possibly fulfil?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

The answer to both questions is "Yes". If I may amplify the first, we are at this moment engaged, after long discussions with the American Government. in launching what I hope will be an international fund for the purpose of helping transition to independence and giving economic support to the newly independent Zimbabwe, as it will then be called. It will also help with the further education of the African population and, I hope, ease the transition so far as the white population is concerned. In the next two days I shall be sending out letters—Dr. Kissinger will be sending out similar ones—to a number of friendly Governments asking them to contribute to this international fund.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North

If Mr. Richard goes to South Africa itself, will he make it clear to Mr. Vorster that the British Government regard the increasing guerrilla activity by South Africa inside Rhodesia as a threat to peace and that the continuing crossing of the border by Rhodesian forces into Mozambique will hardly provide a peaceful solution?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

He will certainly make clear his agreement with my hon. Friend with regard to the second part of his question. With regard to the first point, if I understood it correctly, I do not think my hon. Friend is correct. There is military involvement on the Hart of South Africa in Rhodesia but there is no sign that this is an increasing military involvement at the moment.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind , Edinburgh Pentlands

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that if we judge the conference by results he is hardly right in saying that it has been modestly successful, given the total lack of progress since the conference began? When the conference resumes, will he undertake to approach those whites in Rhodesia who represent 20 per cent. or 30 per cent. of white opinion that does not support the Rhodesian Front, in order that a broader spectrum of view can be represented?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

The conference has hardly been helped by the attitude taken by hon. Gentlemen opposite on the two occasions when we debated this matter. If I judge the success of the conference by what was said by hon. Gentlemen opposite in the Rhodesia Order debate seven weeks ago, the conference is a huge success.

Several Hon. Members:

Several Hon. Members rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I shall call two more questions from hon. Gentleman who are on their feet.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

In his reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), the Foreign Secretary appeared to say that he would take no action to attempt to restrict guerrilla activities to outside the border of Rhodesia. Surely that is the least that can be expected of the Government during the period of Christmas good will. Will the right hon. Gentleman make every effort to do so?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

I understood that the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) asked about sanctions. This is a question about the guerrilla war. As I told the House before, we have made it clear that while the negotiations are going on in Geneva we think it would be highly desirable to de-escalate the guerrilla war. It is perhaps optimistic to think that we have the power to instruct the parties to call off the guerrilla war. We do not have the power to do that. I agree that while the negotiations are continuing in Geneva, we want the guerrilla war to be de-escalated.

Photo of Sir Ronald Bell Sir Ronald Bell , Beaconsfield

The Foreign Secretary did not answer the third question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) about the American rôle in this matter, inasmuch as any settlement will not be the end of the Southern African problem unless there is some kind of Western interest and guarantee. Will the right hon. Gentleman now answer my right hon. Friend's third question and complete another answer which he gave to one of my hon. Friends by saying what the attitude of Her Majesty's Government will be if the conference at Geneva, or wherever it resumes, breaks down, not through the intransigence of Mr. Smith but through the intransigence of the African nationalists? In those circumstances, will the Government propose the cancellation of sanctions?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

I thought I had answered the right hon. Gentleman's third question. As I understood it, it was about the future rôle that the American Government could play. The answer is that they do not propose any fresh American initiative on Rhodesia. They have assured us that they are fully behind our efforts towards producing a successful settlement. As to the longer-term future, it is inconceivable that the long-term problems of Southern Africa can possibly be settled without a high degree of American involvement.

Dealing with the second part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question, if the conference breaks down it seems to me incredible that one should be able to attribute blame to one single cause and to one single party. If it breaks down, it will break down due to the suspicion, mistrust, scepticism and hostility built up over the last 11 years, and we shall not be in a position to say that it is this man's fault or that man's fault that it has broken down.

Photo of Mr John Davies Mr John Davies , Knutsford

I still think that the right hon. Gentleman is not responding fully to the question about American involvement. Can he assure the House that the initiative taken by Dr. Kissinger will be pursued by the Americans? If he finds it difficult to answer that question, as he may do as a result of the change of administration, will he assure us that he will make it his business to secure that continued involvement?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

I thought that I had answered that question reasonably explicitly. I shall try again. The American Administration do not propose any new initiative in respect of Rhodesia, but they have assured me that they will give every support to the efforts of the British Government to carry matters to a successful conclusion.

As for the new Administration, Dr. Kissinger has made it clear—and he did it again at NATO last week—that they have assured him that they will pursue a similar line of policy over Southern African affairs to that of the present Administration. I regard that assurance as a matter of extreme importance.