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Volume 892: debated on Wednesday 21 May 1975

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The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, whether he will make a statement about Rhodesia.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In reply to earlier supplementary questions the Foreign Secretary referred to a Question on Rhodesia, which was not reached. Is it possible for permission to be given for the Question on Rhodesia to be answered now?

The hon. Member who was to ask the Question was not present. I am in the hands of Mr. Speaker.

I raised this question with my right hon. Friend. I understand that the situation was that the hon. Member was not present and that the Foreign Secretary would answer the Question later when dealing with other Questions.

The right hon. Gentleman says that he is in my hands. It is for him to say whether he wishes to answer the Question.

I shall be happy to answer the Question if the House would like me to do so. The answer is as follows:

Hon. Members will be aware of the answers given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on this matter on his recent return from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference. I am now considering the next steps to be taken in the matter of Rhodesia, and I hope to make a further statement in the near future.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that there are still 300 people in detention in Rhodesia? The Government made a great fuss when one of our citizens was kept in detention for a short time. What steps have been taken to obtain the release of 300 people who have been in detention for many years?

We have made continuing representations to Mr. Smith on this matter and to Mr. Vorster in the course of our discussions. This issue is a matter of constant discussion in diplomatic discussions with Mr. Vorster. It is our view that the constitutional talks will not proceed satisfactorily unless the Lusaka agreement is carried out in its entirety. That agreement provided for the release of people who are detained.

Once again, in response to the right hon. Gentleman's question, I wish to make it clear that in our judgment and the judgment of the Government these talks on the constitution will not proceed until progress of a substantial nature has been made in releasing those who are now detained.

It is understood that Mozambique has cut off sea links for, and rail links with, Rhodesia. That could have a tremendous effect on Rhodesia in the near future. Did my right hon. Friend hold discussions with the Rhodesian African leaders, and make representations to other African countries, to bring pressure to bear on South Africa to prevent entry to Rhodesia from that source?

Yes, Sir; there were discussions with the other African leaders, including those from Rhodesia. I am loth to forecast the impact of the closure of the links by Mozambique. I am certain that that will be a considerable handicap to Rhodesia. However, I do not think that we should expect that that will necessarily by itself bring the régime to a full stop. I think that the pressure on South Africa will come mainly from its own railways and ports systems, which will not be able to handle the goods which have hitherto been transmitted through Lourenco Marques and Beira.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Communiqué dealt with Rhodesia and Mozambique in the same passage? May I therefore ask him to expand on the answer he gave earlier about the Government's intention to give aid to Mozambique? Is it the intention of the Government to give such aid unilaterally or is it to be given only if a joint scheme can be worked out with the Commonwealth or in the United Nations? Is the commitment open-ended, or is there to be a terminal date?

It is our hope—as it was the hope of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers—that there will be an international fund of this sort. I have raised with other countries the question of contributions to such a fund, although I shall not specify which countries. I indicated that we should be willing to make a substantial contribution to that fund, but that if the response was poor it would still be the British Government's intention, in view of our special responsibilities, to make such aid available. However, in view of the nature of the Frelimo Government—it is a sovereign Government—it would not be right for me to indicate conditions at this stage or until we have had full discussions with the new Frelimo Government.