Rhodesia

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd November 1978.

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Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 12:00 am, 23rd November 1978

Since the Anglo-American proposals for Rhodesia were made public in September last year, we and the United States Government have been working to bring all the parties together in round-table talks for direct negotiations. In April of this year the Patriotic Front agreed to attend such talks but the Salisbury parties, who had just signed their own agreement, were not then prepared to take part. Recently the Salisbury parties have said that they are willing to attend an all-parties meeting without preconditions, but now the leaders of the Patriotic Front appear unconvinced that the basis for a sucessful all-party conference exists.

As I told the House on 7th November, if the conditions seemed right I would be ready to make a personal effort to bring to an end the present violence and bloodshed by means of all-party discussions with all those involved. At such a conference Britain and the United States would put forward the Anglo-American proposals. A restatement of these has recently been put to all the parties. We do not set conditions for the attendance of the other participants, but a conference will in our opinion be most likely to succeed if we begin with the basic framework which we and the United States have identified following our earlier intensive discussions with all the parties. There would need to be a willingness to compromise by all those attending if an acceptable settlement is to be reached. Is there a prospect for success?

I have had consultations with President Carter and with his agreement I have concluded, together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, that we should endeavour to find out whether such a basis exists for calling an all-party conference to be held in the United Kingdom in the new year at which I would then be willing to take the chair. With the President's support, I propose to send a personal representative to Africa to talk privately with all concerned and to advise me when he returns. I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) has agreed to undertake this difficult task. President Carter has agreed that Mr. Stephen Low, the United States Ambassador to Zambia, should accompany my right hon. Friend in his consultations so that he can similarly advise the President and the United States Secretary of State.

My right hon. Friend will leave for Africa early next week and all the parties will, I trust, agree to meet and talk with him both inside and outside Rhodesia. I also hope that he may be able to visit the front-line Presidents as well as Nigeria and South Africa. My right hon. Friend will wish to conduct his conversations with as much privacy as possible. He will assess and report to me whether or not the conditions exist for a conference leading to a negotiated settlement to which all parties would adhere and which would then be supported by the international community. I do not underestimate the difficulties that my right hon. Friend will encounter, and the Government are grateful to him for undertaking this task. I shall, of course, keep the House informed of developments.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party

Is the Prime Minister aware that we warmly welcome his speedy response to the initiative proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) from this Box? Is he aware that we also welcome his happy choice of the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) for this task? We wish him great success in his endeavours. We recognise that his mission is crucially important to Rhodesia—indeed, to the whole future of Southern Africa and perhaps to the balance of power in the West

. Because of the great delicacy of the right hon. Gentleman's task and because of the changing situation in Rhodesia, I shall confine myself to one question. It is better that we await the results of the reconnaissance before detailed cross-examination is made. My question is for clarification.

I understood the Prime Minister to say that the conference that one hopes will follow this mission will be based upon the Anglo-American proposals. The Prime Minister then went on to say that there would be need for compromise. That sounds as if the conference is to be only on the Anglo-American proposals and that it is unlikely that anything else will be considered. I hope that the conference will not be confined to those proposals or, indeed, to a compromise upon them. I hope that the conference will be prepared to consider any proposals which are likely to lead to the successful conclusion of affairs in Rhodesia.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) put forward his suggestion for an all-party conference on 7th November. That brought my mind more sharply into focus. As I told the right hon. Gentleman at the time, I had received similar proposals from private individuals in Rhodesia. It seemed to me that if there was support for this it was worth while doing. At the same time, I did not think that it was right to go straight to an all-party conference but that we should undertake—in the right hon. Lady's words—a reconnaissance to see whether there were prospects. It would be unfortunate if we called such a conference and found that there was no prospects of progress because people were simply making public speeches to one another.

I am grateful for what the Leader of the Opposition has said, particularly about my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes). I hope that he will leave knowing that he commands the confidence of the great majority of —if not all—right hon. and hon. Members of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, here."] When he returns, we shall listen to what he has to say and take it seriously into account.

The Leader of the Opposition asked about the basis of such a conference. I shall leave a lot to my right hon. Friend's discretion. It is right that we should begin the conference by putting forward the Anglo-American proposals—that is, the Anglo-American position on the matter. They represent the principles which have been worked out following intensive consultation with the parties. They have been refined in the light of many subsequent conversations. I think that we should begin with that. But I. would not dissent from what the right hon. Lady has said. If other proposals come forward which secure the consent of all the parties and they match the principles which have been adhered to by both sides of the House, clearly we should not then stick rigidly to the Anglo-American proposals.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel Leader of the Liberal Party

I welcome the Prime Minister's initiative and his willingness to convene a conference. The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) has ministerial experience in these matters but he is not a member of the Government. This should be regarded as an extra qualification both in Rhodesia and in the surrounding States. The right hon Member is a senior and respected figure in the House of Commons. He carries with him the hopes and best wishes of the House as a whole for the success of the mission. We all hope for a positive response to his inquiries. We all accept that this might be the last opportunity for Rhodesia to prevent the slide into anarchy.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I am obliged to the right hon. Member. My right hon. Friend's independence and the fact that he is not a member of the Administration but is a Member of the House should commend him as an independent-minded person to all in Southern Africa. I am sure that he will go with confidence in view of what has been said.

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

Does my right hon. Friend agree that events move swiftly in Rhodesia? Since the Anglo-American proposals, perhaps the main feature has been the failure of the internal settlement, its inability to command the support of the people of Rhodesia and its inability to see any end of the civil war. Does my right hon. Friend agree, therefore, that if any future conference is to be realistic it must face the facts, which are that the Patriotic Front has the support of the bulk of the black Rhodesian population and that it must play a crucial part in the settlement?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I believe that it is the view of everyone in the House that the Patriotic Front has a part to play in the settlement. No one, I hope, will have a veto over the settlement, although it is important that we should secure the agreement of everyone if we are to get peace in Rhodesia. I should prefer not to be drawn into condemning or applauding particular groups. I always remember what Clem Attlee said to me when he appointed me in 1947 for the first time to a post in the Ministry of Transport. He gave me two pieces of advice. I shall neglect the first, but the second was "If you are going to negotiate with somebody tomorrow, do not condemn him today." With the permission of the House, I shall restrain myself from any comments.

Several Hon. Members:

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Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I propose to call three hon. Members from each side of the House.

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

Will the Prime Minister recall that when the Foreign Secretary and Mr. Vance last spoke with the transitional Government in Salisbury they advocated an all-party conference without any preconditions? It now seems that the right hon. Gentleman is putting forward preconditions in the sense that the discussion has to be about the Anglo-American proposals. Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear to the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), whom he is sending out on this venture, that if the substance of the Anglo-American proposals—namely, a British resident commissioner with powers over security and law and order—leads to any attempt to amalgamate the guerrilla forces and the security forces as part of the proposals, the mission is doomed to failure from the start?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I note the right hon. Gentleman's pessimism. My right hon. Friend is not going to Rhodesia to negotiate. It would be extremely strange if, after all the many months of discussion, we were to depart from the Anglo-American proposals as the basis of our approach to such a conference, especially as there is at the moment no agreed basis that would take its place. That is where we start from, that is what we have agreed with the Americans, that is what we have refined and restated to the parties, and that is where we stand.

No doubt my right hon. Friend will collect opinions on these matters, although he will not negotiate. He will return to the House with his view as to whether it is worth while calling a conference. He may return and tell us that it is not yet worth while calling a conference. We may have to wait a little. However, I am ready to rely on his discretion.

Photo of Mr Ioan Evans Mr Ioan Evans , Aberdare

Does my right hon. Friend realise that both sides of the House will be glad that he is taking this initiative in sending my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) on the mission? My right hon. Friend has great knowledge of Rhodesia. He was Minister of State, Commonwealth Relations Office, and he understands the problem. If he is successful in getting an all-party conference, does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that in the meanwhile we must maintain sanctions on the illegal regime, which has not been recognised by any Government outside Rhodesia? Does not that illustrate the unwisdom of 120 Conservative Members not accepting the advice of the Leader of the Opposition and trying to end sanctions?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The issue of sanctions will not arise on my right hon. Friend's mission. They have recently been agreed by the House and, therefore, they will continue for another 12 months. I do not think that my right hon. Friend will need to discuss sanctions. What reception will my right hon. Friend receive? I have been in touch with all the major African parties concerned—I have not had replies from absolutely everybody—and I am glad to say that there is overwhelming assent to the proposal.

Photo of Mr Robert Rhodes James Mr Robert Rhodes James , Cambridge

Is the Prime Minister aware that, despite the differences between us about the handling of this matter in the past, we are united in our desire for a peaceful solution to the problems of Southern Africa and Rhodesia? Furthermore, is he aware that it is becoming urgently necessary that we restore the bipartisan approach which used to exist and which the mission of the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) may well help to accommodate?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. If the House is able to speak with a united voice, although clearly with different nuances, about the handling of these matters, we are much more likely to get a settlement in Southern Africa, especially in Rhodesia. It is Her Majesty's Government's intention that we should endeavour to do so.

Photo of Mr Alex Lyon Mr Alex Lyon , City of York

It must be recognised that no party at the conference could have a veto, but is it not right that the parties should be accorded their significance according to the degree of support that they have inside Rhodesia? Would not it be right for my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), when he goes to Rhodesia, to talk not only to the leaders but to every shade of opinion that he can find in Rhodesia, in order to give my right hon. Friend a picture of what is happening inside the country?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I would not exclude my right hon. Friend from undertaking that additional task if he wished to do so. Basically, his purpose is to go to assess whether the public statements now being made by the leaders of the various parties are capable of modification in private negotiation when they all come together. If there is a desire to compromise, I should hasten on the side of rashness in calling a conference, even if there were no guarantee of success. If my right hon. Friend feels that he wishes to go further in his conversations, he will be free to do so.

Photo of Mr Maurice Macmillan Mr Maurice Macmillan , Farnham

I am sure that the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) carries with him the good wishes and confidence of the entire House. Are his terms of reference wide enough, as I hope, to include in his discussions the whole problem of Soviet pressures in Southern Africa and Soviet policy in Africa generally as a framework within which the Rhodesian settlement has to be achieved?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

That is not part of my right hon. Friend's terms of refer- ence. He will be discussing the prospects of a constitutional settlement. If the matters to which the right hon. Gentleman refers are raised in the course of discussion, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will respond and give the views of Her Majesty's Government as well as his own about the prospects for Soviet penetration, or any other penetration in Southern Africa. in the absence of a failure to succeed.

Photo of Mr William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North

As it now seems transparently clear that my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) carries the good wishes of the overwhelming majority of the House in an endeavour to bring back peace and order to Rhodesia, which will have great ramifications for Africa as a whole, will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister consider making an appeal to all sections involved to cease all forms of hostility forthwith so that this endeavour may be launched fair and square with the chance of success?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I should like to think that the mission will result in that end, but I doubt whether it will at this stage. There are some who believe that armed pressure is the way of bringing others to the conference table. We had better allow my right hon. Friend to conduct the discussions, to make his own assessment of the prospects and then return and report.

Several Hon. Members:

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