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Volume 927: debated on Wednesday 2 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the situation in Rhodesia.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent proposals he has received from the Government of South Africa concerning possible solutions to the Rhodesian constitutional crisis.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement about the situation in Rhodesia.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on Rhodesia.

As the situation in Rhodesia deteriorates, the need for a negotiated settlement becomes more urgent. We are consulting closely with the new United States Administration. We are also keeping in touch with the other interested parties to see whether it is possible to find a basis for resumed negotiations. Meanwhile the Geneva Conference, which was adjourned in mid-December, remains in recess.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, but will he bear in mind that it is important not to allow events to drift too much and not to wait too much upon an initiative from the new Administration in the United States? Will he consider, for instance, introducing a new initiative from the British side, perhaps by arranging for a sub-committee of senior Commonwealth Ministers to investigate the Problems of Rhodesia with a view to bringing about a formula whereby an orderly achievement of majority rule within a two-year period can be achieved?

We still feel that the proposals put forward by my predecessor represent a realistic basis for bringing about a peaceful settlement. As the House knows, we are in close touch with the United States. Discussion is taking place at official level. I expect to have discussions with the new Administration when I am in Washington next week.

I wish the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues well in getting negotiations going again. What does the right hon. Gentleman think the South African attitude would be to joint United Kingdom-United States chairmanship of resumed negotiations? Is not the key to the South African attitude, as well as the general attitude, the bringing into the negotiations of moderates from all races—for example, the liberals in Rhodesia, the moderate black members of the Rhodesian Assembly and all the others— so that there is a much broader range of negotiating parties?

I think that a pretty broad range of negotiating parties is already represented at the Geneva Conference. However, I shall consider any proposals. On the central issue, which is that the United States and the United Kingdom should remain in close contact, that is certainly central to my objectives for the future. The question of co-chairmanship is something that we can consider, but it presents obvious difficulties.

I should like to put to my right hon. Friend a question I put to the late Anthony Crosland before the Geneva talks collapsed. What contacts are we maintaining with sections of the white community in Rhodesia that are not represented and would not wish to be represented by Mr. Smith and the Rhodesia Front Party?

This presents obvious difficulties. I have always adopted an open door policy, discussing many difficult issues with a variety of different people, and not always those who are the elected or declared representatives of the people. I think that we have to keep in touch. We must also try to ensure that all views in Rhodesia recognise the essential reasonableness of the proposals put forward by the British Government.

May we infer from the Secretary of State's remarks that he does not accept the recent decision by the front-line Presidents, subsequently endorsed by the OAU, that the Patriotic Front should be the sole representative of black African Rhodesians in the forthcoming negotiations? If so, will he advocate a referendum inside Rhodesia to determine the leadership of the African people in any forthcoming negotiations?

I do not believe that they have actually said that the Patriotic Front should be the sole representatives. I remain solidly of the view that we should have a wide representation, and this was represented at the Geneva Conference. That is the formulation with which I should like to remain. The Geneva Conference is only in recess.

Has my right hon. Friend yet received a report from the International Red Cross on the alleged abduction of children from Rhodesia into Botswana, which was the subject of an emergency debate a couple of weeks ago?

Unfortunately, we have not yet received a report from the Red Cross. It would obviously be helpful to have it, but we have been keeping in the closest touch with developments, and I have seen reports of the situation.

Is it a fact that the British proposals turned down by Mr. Smith were, as we were told by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, different only in detail from the Kissinger proposals that were turned down by the nationalists? If this is so, why do the Government continue to blame Mr. Smith and help the nationalists?

If the right hon. Gentleman is to be fair—and he is fair on these matters—he will agree that the manner in which Mr. Smith turned these proposals down seemed to foreclose the option of using them as the basis for negotiation. The proposals put forward by the British Government were a genuine attempt to try to bring the parties together into negotiations, difficulties having arisen over the five main Kissinger principles. It was the rejection of even the chance of discussion which presented the central problem.

When the right hon. Gentleman has talks with the American Government, will he be in a position to assume that Mr. Smith still favours accepting African majority rule in two years?

I am told that this is the case, and it is extremely significant and important that it should remain so. That was the single most significant achievement of Dr. Kissinger. It was a considerable achievement to get Mr. Smith publicly committed to eventual majority rule on a time scale. I hope that there will be no shift from that position. If we can build on that as the basis for progress over the next few months, at least we shall have something concrete with which to work.

Is there not a danger that Mr. Smith may be repudiated by people even further to the Right than himself since he appears to be in danger of repudiating his own belated attempts to remove offensive racial legislation within his own domain?

There is that danger, and there have been occasions when Mr. Smith has taken a stance which he has had difficulty with some of his more extreme followers in carrying. But the history of the negotiations shows that it is usually Mr. Smith who is able to keep his own caucus in line, and it is most important that he should be the person to whom we should pin the commitment to majority rule.

Does the right hon. Gentleman wish to reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler)? Surely the truth is that the front-line Presidents made a clear statement of the need to prefer the Patriotic Front to the exclusion of all others in the ongoing negotiations. Was that not a primary factor in Mr. Smith's rejection of the Government's counter-proposals? If the Foreign Secretary has a real new initiative to take, it is to set aside that consideration and to make it very clear that he wishes all parties to be deeply involved in the selection of any majority Government.

I want to make it clear that we want all parties to be deeply involved. As I understand it, the front-line Presidents did not go quite so far as the right hon. Gentleman infers as to use the word "sole". The statement went further than I think was desirable—and I have made this clear—in giving a primacy in the discussions. But I do not think that the statement went so far as totally to exclude other involvement in the negotiations.