The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and arising out of the exchanges yesterday, I should like to make a statement on the Rhodesian situation following the resolution passed by the Security Council on 20th November.The House will recall the circumstances in which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary went to New York. He had to negotiate and debate against a background of almost overwhelming demand for the use of collective military force, and it was the desire of the whole House, too, that he should assert the British responsibility for Rhodesia, while seeking the fullest support for effective measures to bring Rhodesia back to constitutional rule. I believe my right hon. Friend had a great success in what he set out to do, not least because he was able to claim the full support of Parliament and the country. It became clear that the original British resolution would not have secured a majority and we insisted that the opposing resolution, supported by 36 African States, was unacceptable. In the event, a compromise resolution which, with the explanation made by my noble Friend Lord Caradon, last Saturday, was acceptable to us, was passed by ten votes to none, France abstaining. The text of the resolution, Lord Caradon's statement, the earlier resolutions and the speeches of my right hon. Friend have been—are being—placed in the Library. There are three things to which I would draw attention—the question of Chapter 7 wording, the reference in the resolution to the 1961 Constitution and the question of trade relations and an oil embargo. On the wording of the resolution, Lord Caradon made it clear that, with regard to the operative paragraph one, we do not regard it as falling under Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations. Now I turn to paragraph 7 of the resolution, which is one that calls upon the United Kingdom Government, as the working of the 1961 Constitution has broken down, to take immediate measures in order to allow the people of Rhodesia to determine their own future, consistent with the objectives of General Assembly Resolution 1514 (xv). I cannot see any difficulty here. Manifestly the 1961 Constitution has broken down. In so far as Mr. Smith and his colleagues purport to be a Government, they have replaced it by an entirely new so-called Constitution. But the House must accept that the Constitution had in fact already broken down as a result of the ordinances and decrees signed on 10th November, which amounted to the destruction of all safeguards for the rule of law, for human rights in the 1961 Constitution and earlier legislation. This certainly does not mean we have abrogated it. It remains the law of Rhodesia, together with the new laws made last week under the powers created by the Southern Rhodesia Act, 1965. While we have power to revoke or amend sections of that Constitution, we have said we have no present intention of revoking it as a whole, and I cannot at this stage foresee circumstances in which we would do so. I will come to its rôle in the re-settlement period in a moment. With reference to paragraph 8 of the Security Council resolution, on 12th November, I said:
Our position was explained by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary yesterday. We are committed to doing what is in our power to implementing this resolution. But although we insist this remains a British responsibility we shall not follow a unilateral policy. For this reason, as my right hon. Friend said, we shall take counsel with other Governments on the best methods to pursue. For one thing, unilateral action on oar part under the resolution could not be effective, if other nations were to fill any gap we created. So far as oil is concerned, there are many technical and economic factors to be examined if an oil sanction is to be made effective. I will, of course, make a further statement to the House when I am in a position to do so. The same considerations apply in the case of other goods entering into Rhodesian trade. The test to be applied, as I explained to the House on 12th November, is the effectiveness of the measures to be applied as a means of contributing to the return of Rhodesia to constitutional methods of Government. For the reasons I then explained, this issue cannot be burked. The measures must not be vindictive, but they must be effective if we are to continue to discharge our continuing responsibility for Rhodesia, and not have that responsibility taken out of our hands, by others, and possibly by methods which would involve lasting damage for Rhodesia, and indeed far beyond Rhodesia. In judging the effectiveness and the rightness of any measures we propose to the House, I hope hon. Members and right hon. Members will recognise that action which is speedily effective will do less lasting damage to Rhodesia's economy, and to the possibility of a reasonable settlement, than pressures which are long drawn out and inflict a continuing agony on Rhodesia. I hope the House will recognise, too, that while we must continue to assert our special and continuing responsibility, this is a matter of world concern. What is at stake here is the future of our multi-racial Commonwealth, what is at stake—has been at stake—is the possibility of our virtual isolation at the United Nations. What is at stake, too, is whether the Afro-Asian bloc will continue in a substantially neutralist posture, or will be attracted by the pressures from other nations—not least China—who are in a position to turn the Rhodesian situation to their advantage. Finally, I repeat our aims for Rhodesia. They are as speedily as possible to turn Rhodesia back into constitutional channels, and to do this constructively, without recrimination. When the Governor is able to report that the people of Rhodesia are willing and able to work on constitutional paths, we are prepared to work together with their leaders to make a new start. For this purpose, the 1961 Constitution remains in being, though the House will realise the need for those amendments which are required to prevent its perversion and misuse, such as we have seen in the last fortnight, and those amendments, too, which are needed to give effect to the five principles to which all parties in this House have subscribed."We shall certainly have to review the situation in the light of the discussions in the United Nations and elsewhere, because in our view it is important that, whatever measures are taken, they will fall a long way short of some of the measures which may be urged in the United Nations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1965; Vol. 720, c. 635.]
Is the Prime Minister aware that we are labouring under two disadvantages, to which I would draw his attention? First, we had his statement only at the last minute and, although we were able to make allowances for that while negotiations were going on, I remind him that the United Nations resolution was passed three days ago. The fact that we received a statement so late makes it difficult to have proper consultation.Again, I think the right hon. Gentleman said that Lord Caradon's speeches and reservations are in the Library, but they are not and, therefore, we have been unable to ascertain what reservations Lord Caradon made. As the Prime Minister said, this is not a Chapter 7 resolution. By that, does he mean that it is not mandatory on countries? If so, why did the Foreign Secretary say yesterday that the Government are implementing the resolution? Secondly, it is not only a question of the resolution saying that the Constitution has broken down, but also committing the British Government to the peoples of Rhodesia themselves settling a future constitution as the next stage. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the British Government will not go back on the 1961 Constitution or any of the offers made by the right hon. Gentleman during the next negotiations? Thirdly, on the question of a trade embargo, will the Prime Minister state clearly whether, one way or the other, the British Government intend now to impose a complete trade embargo, including oil, for which the resolution calls, or only to impose it if all other members of the United Nations do the same thing?
The Prime Minister
First, on the question of the time of the statement reaching the right hon. Gentleman, I will make inquiries, because it left my hands in time to reach him for 3.15 p.m., which is a great deal earlier than we ever got statements. I can remember very many absolutely crucial statements arriving at 3.25 p.m. or 3.30 p.m. I certainly intended that the right hon. Gentleman should have plenty of time with this statement, according to the usual practice.I certainly regret it if the papers to which I referred are not already in the Library. I have given instructions for them to be there and I will see about it. I would be prepared to consider whether we should not now publish the whole lot as a White Paper so that all hon. Members can get them, because they may want more than one copy. With regard to the question of Chapter 7, our interpretation is that the wording, because it was a compromise, could be interpreted as something between Chapter 6 and Chapter 7. I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman says, that we do not regard it as a Chapter 7. We do not regard it as mandatory, but in all the circumstances, and I have explained the background, we voted for it with the reservations that I have mentioned. It is for that reason that my right hon. Friend made his statement yesterday. Secondly, with regard to paragraph 7, about the 1961 Constitution and the terms for allowing the peoples of Rhodesia to decide their own future, again Lord Caradon specifically reserved one word there. That was the word "immediate", because all along we have made it plain, we did throughout the negotiations, and all parties have done so in this House, that while guaranteed and unimpeded progress to majority rule is the policy of all of us, we do not believe that this could be immediate. For that reason Lord Caradon made that exception. Certainly all of us are committed, and were in the negotiations, to an early opportunity for the Rhodesian people to pronounce on their own future. That was the reason for the suggested referendum, that was the reason for the Royal Commission. I did not think that there need be any difficulty about that. With regard to trade, I have said that we are going to study all aspects of trade and oil and make another statement to the House. I certainly agree with one point made by the right hon. Gentleman—we are not going in for a trade embargo or an oil embargo on our own. This would make an utter nonsense of the situation, which has to be properly studied. As everyone realises, the oil embargo is bristling with difficulties if it is going to be effective. Even if there were fairly general support for it, there is the position of Zambia to be considered, along with other countries. These matters will have to be very carefully studied, and while we must insist that whatever sanctions are applied must be effective, we do not want those which are damaging and ineffective, any more than we want to create damage or resort to ineffectiveness. It is very important that in this we proceed only in agreement with others principally concerned.
Can the Prime Minister say whether his statement means that although he may ultimately have to find out from other nations whether they are to join in the embargo, Her Majesty's Government are in favour of such an embargo on oil, and possibly on other trade, too, and that they are now discussing with other nations whether they will join in such an embargo?
The Prime Minister
I assume that the other countries will feel that it is their duty to make effective, as far as it lies within their power, the wishes expressed in the United Nations resolution. I repeat that if we fail to do this we are going to find a much uglier situation, with military force being used, which none of us could control. To this extent, therefore, we are going to sit down with them to see whether an effective embargo can be worked out that will not do lasting damage but which will be effective in getting a settlement in Rhodesia. We are not going to do it on our own.
Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Can we get this clear from the Prime Minister? I think the House understood him to say only a few weeks ago that the Government were not in favour of coercive economic action which would bring chaos to the economy of Rhodesia and, therefore, drive the Rhodesians, willy-nilly, into the hands of South Africa. Can he make it absolutely clear that this is still the Government's position?
The Prime Minister
I have said repeatedly, and the House has to face up to this question, that whatever measures we take they must be effective. The quicker they are the less lasting damage there will be. What I have said is that we reject the idea of military intervention. We will examine any other measures. Tobacco is the first, and there are others. We will certainly examine any measures necessary for a quick solution of the problem in Rhodesia. That includes an oil embargo.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the resolution passed by the United Nations is widely welcomed in this country? [Interruption.] Secondly, would he not agree with me that, if unilateral action is not taken, when action is agreed the most effective method of stopping oil going to Rhodesia will be by a naval and military blockade?
The Prime Minister
As to the resolution being widely welcomed, all I can is that it was the best that we could get after very hard work by my right hon. Friend, and it might have been a good deal worse. So far as oil is concerned, the Government of Iran have already proceeded to act under the terms of the resolution, and I imagine that a number of other oil-producing countries will do so. I understand that there have been statements by various oil companies in different parts of the world. I am quite sure that if this is an applicable embargo, and I would need a lot of satisfying on the technical and economic consequences of this embargo, if this is applicable and effective—
Let us have some straight talk.
The Prime Minister
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wants me to say that we will introduce an oil embargo tomorrow, or whether he wants me to say that we are examining this properly, which any sane and rational Government would do in the light of all the facts.
Mr. J. Amery
Will the Prime Minister recall that, on the 11th November, he said:
[An HON. MEMBER: "What do you want to do then?"] Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that we gave our support to the Enabling Bill on the strength of this assurance, and the Government's acceptance of the United Nations resolution seems to go clean counter to the assurance which he gave to the House on Armistice Day? He cannot expect in these circumstances much further support from this side of the House?"…we do not contemplate … any national action, and, may I say, any international action, for the purpose of coercing even the illegal Government of Rhodesia into a constitutional posture."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11 th November, 1965; Vol. 720, c. 360–1.]
The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman was speaking a long way below the Gangway and will, no doubt, decide for himself how far he can speak for his side of the House. I can at any rate tell him that he will not get three cheers from us. The statement I made, and I have looked it up because it was quoted yesterday, was against the background of military action, military action proposed whether by the United Nations or in any other way. In the debate on the 12th, when we had a very full discussion on this question, I made it clear that while the measures being taken under the Act last week were all that we envisaged at that time, we should need to reconsider the situation, first, in relation to what Mr. Smith's regime did, and, secondly, in relation to the discussions at the United Nations. This we are in process of doing.
Mr. Michael Foot
Does not the Prime Minister think that a more important question than satisfying the Official Opposition, which appears to be attempting to wriggle out of its responsibilities, is how we are to discharge British responsibilities in Rhodesia, in particular the protection of human rights there? Will he further say what response the British Government propose to make to the appeals which have been made in the past week by President Kaunda of Zambia?
The Prime Minister
I do not agree with the opening words of my hon. Friend, because I am sure that a large number of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are looking at this problem, as we have to do, in a world setting out against the background of all the dangers which are faced. I do not think that there can be anyone in this House who will readily see, or want to see, the break-up of the Commonwealth or further Chinese penetration of the Afro-Asian bloc.With regard to the question of human rights, I say—and I am sure the House will agree—that in the light of our experience of the twisting and misuse of the 1961 Constitution, it will be necessary in the future to strengthen the 1961 Constitution in respect of human rights. For example, the Constitutional Council of Rhodesia, whom I met, are anxious to see that their powers are increased. They are much too limited in the matter of human rights at the present time. In regard to the messages from President Kaunda, of which the House will have some idea, and also of the dangers lying behind them, Mr. Malcolm MacDonald is now in Lusaka and is discussing these questions with President Kaunda.
Will the Prime Minister clarify the methods taken to assert British responsibility for Rhodesia? While all Governments have been willing to give information on Rhodesia to the United Nations, can the Prime Minister explain why we did not participate in any vote on resolutions concerning Rhodesia before U.D.I. but that after U.D.I. we did? Can the right hon. Gentleman explain what appears to be an inconsistency, in that on 12th October Sir Roger Jackling, in speaking on a resolution which asked Britain to prevent U.D.I., said:
"My Government has reservations concerning the competence of the United Nations in the question of Rhodesia. For this reason, my delegation will not participate in the vote."
The Prime Minister
I should have thought that the answer was obvious. We have throughout—both Governments—abstained on votes of this kind in the past because we have said that it was an internal matter owing to the fact that under the Convention and under its Constitution Rhodesia is a self-governing country. This position was entirely changed, however, by the illegal declaraation of independence. It is the so-called Rhodesian Government who have torn up that Constitution and altered the whole situation.I warned Mr. Smith—I had to speak in pretty strong terms, as will be seen from the published documents—that whatever we had done in defending Rhodesia in the past could not be the position after an illegal declaration of independence. As I have said, and I do not think that anybody will deny, once this had arisen, with the threat of military invasion from other parts of Africa, this must be a matter of world concern. We still regard it as our responsibility, but we cannot go on as though the rest of the world and of Africa did not exist.
Mr. Dan Jones
Is the Prime Minister aware of the statements that came from Caxton Hall last night? Is he further aware that these statements came from responsible politicians belonging to a responsible political party? Since those observations attempt to support a treasonable Government, do not those statements constitute treason in themselves?
The Prime Minister
No, Sir. I have seen the statements. They should be treated with the contempt which they deserve. I do not believe that they came from responsible politicians. They came from irresponsible members of a responsible party. The only danger about them is the habit which has been formed in Rhodesia of believing that one or other hon. Members who make a speech of that kind speak for Britain or for their own party. I am sure that they do not.
Mr. Ronald Bell
Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that these are matters of domestic jurisdiction, whether or not they are matters of international concern, whether or not one regards Southern Rhodesia as independent or as dependent upon Britain? That being so, as the Government have recognised since the illegal declaration, is it not a fact that Article 2(7) of the Charter makes it perfectly clear that the United Nations has no competence in this matter?Why, therefore, did the Government take this matter to the United Nations? What is the alleged need for anticipating action by other people in the United Nations? Since Article 2(7) governs Chapter 7 of the Charter as well as the other Chapters, what is all this talk about whether it comes under Chapter 7?
The Prime Minister
I explained this in answer to a perfectly reasonable question put by the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir). The hon. Member must not go through this whole problem with his head buried in the sand. We assert that this is our responsibility. For that reason, it was we who took it to the United Nations to prevent other people doing so. The hon. Member must know perfectly well that, whatever we had done in the Security Council, the matter would have been transferred to the Assembly and there would have been no doubt whatever of the overwhelming desire of members of the Assembly, as had been shown only a week before the illegal declaration, for the use of military force. We believe that this would have been a very dangerous course of action.I am not sure how hon. Members opposite, with all their legalism about subsections of the kind that have just been quoted by the hon. Member, would have stopped the bloodshed that could have occurred if my right hon. Friend had not taken the action he did.
Further to the supplementary question of my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir), will not the Prime Minister recall that he himself told the House that, as a result of the action in Rhodesia and the Enabling Bill, Rhodesia had become to an even greater extent the responsibility only of the British Government, and therefore the explanation which the Prime Minister has given of the reason why the Government did not abstain—[Interruption.]—is certainly not consistent with what he said before?Secondly, the Prime Minister stated, also in the debate, that in his view and that of the Government the existing measures which they were taking would be effective. Therefore, anything further to which the right hon. Gentleman agrees is not, in the judgment of the British Government, necessary but is being forced upon them by other Governments. Thirdly, will the Prime Minister recognise that the last part of his statement about the future position on which those who wish to return to constitu- tional normality in Rhodesia can work is still far from clear and that it is becoming urgently necessary to have a detailed statement from the Government on this point?
The Prime Minister
It is true, as I said, that we are responsible for Rhodesia, and I said that there is a very special responsibility now in that the Government of Rhodesia legally resides in this country through the Governor. It ought not, however, to be for me to explain to the right hon. Gentleman the difference between our legal responsibility for Rhodesia and the fact that, as I have said, this is a matter for world concern. It is easy for the right hon. Gentleman to deplore that it is a matter for world concern, but he has to answer the question whether he is prepared to see the Commonwealth break up on this issue. This is one of the questions that the right hon. Gentleman must face, and I hope that he will. [HON. MEMBERS: "You answer it."] I am dealing with the point made by the right hon. Gentleman, in which he tried to suggest that I should be concerned—[Interruption.]
Order. Bursts of anger and emotion are all right collectively. I hope that hon. Members who shout individually across from either side realise that they do no good to whatever the cause in which they believe.
The Prime Minister
I was explaining why, although we say that we have a special responsibility for Rhodesia, we cannot ignore world opinion. It would be perfectly easy to do so and to stand upon the constitutional doctrine. The result would be bloodshed in Rhodesia and perhaps throughout the whole of Africa. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] No right hon. Member has the right in this House to discount the importance of this.With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's question about discussions with the people of Rhodesia to get a new Constitution. I agree with him that this is very important. I agree with him about the need to spell this out further as we go along, and I hope that we shall be able to do so. The position here, however, is that as soon as the people of Rhodesia are prepared to return to constitutional paths, as soon as the Governor feels that there is an opportunity of, perhaps, forming a Government among those who will act in a constitutional manner, we would want to deal with those people, without any recrimination or any rancour about the past, on the basis of a resettlement in Rhodesia, starting from the 1961 Constitution with such amendments as, I think, the whole House would agree to be necessary to give effect to the five principles, leading up, I would hope, as quickly as possible to free elections in Rhodesia and then a discussion as to how we can give effect to the question of gradual and unimpeded progress to majority rule. What is important to say here—and I think that the right hon. Gentleman has this in mind—is that there are too many people still in Rhodesia who think that the only alternative to this illegal action and all the economic consequences that will follow from it would be majority rule tomorrow or the day after. Repeatedly we have all said, on both sides, that this is not a runner at all, and that Rhodesia is not ready for immediate majority rule. I spent a lot of time in Rhodesia talking to various people from all sections of opinion to discuss a basis on which we can move at the earliest possible moment towards it. But we have to get abundant proof of a willingness to work the Constitution and of racial harmony in Rhodesia before we can proceed to the question of majority rule. I think that the right hon. Gentleman was right to stress that we have to spell this out more.
Several Hon. Members
Order. We have had a good run. We must proceed.