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Volume 931: debated on Wednesday 4 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what prospects he now assesses for a full start to the series of consultations needed to discuss an independence constitution for Rhodesia and any transitional arrangements.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has yet decided the venue of the forthcoming conference on Rhodesia.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is yet in a position to announce the setting up of a constitutional conference on Rhodesia.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further discussions he has had to prepare for the successful achievement of a majority-ruled Zimbabwe


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

Consultations are continuing with the United States Government and I shall be seeing the United States Secretary of State, Mr. Vance, in London later this week. Following these consultations, an announcement will be made about the next steps.

May I, I am sure with other Members, wish the Foreign Secretary well in these very difficult and intricate negotiations, which I am sure will take some time? In general terms, how optimistic does he now feel about the situation? Does he feel that Mr. Smith's latest television broadcast is a step in the right direction? How concrete will be the joint Anglo-United States chairmanship of a proper conference when it is convened in due course?

It is hard to make an assessment on the basis of optimism or pessimism. The important thing is to keep the momentum going. That means getting into the detail of consultations, without which we cannot have a successful conference. This conference, were it to be called—that is a decision to be taken jointly by the United States and ourselves—would have to be very carefully prepared. I think that, whatever decision we take, there is a great deal to be said for having bilateral discussions of detail.

Will the Foreign Secretary agree to consider personally chairing any future conference that may be held, in order to maximise the prospects of success? Will he also consider inviting political parties representative of opinion in Rhodesia other than the Rhodesian Front?

I have already made it clear that I would chair any conference that might be called. There seems to be some misapprehension about this matter. There has never been a question of co-chairmanship of the conference. I should chair it myself because, of course, if we go to a conference, it may well be more a Lancaster House-type conference, which is a constitutional conference and usually pre-dates a Bill being presented to the House, although another form of conference might be considered. All these points have yet to have firm decisions taken on them, and that is what I shall discuss with Mr. Vance.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Members on the Government side of the House warmly support the Government's decision not to allow the Duke of Montrose into this country? Does he agree that gestures of this sort, although small, are extremely important, in that they show to the people of Africa exactly and clearly in terms of Britain who are on the side of legality and who are on the side of illegality?

I want the situation to emerge in which we have a peaceful transition to majority rule and we can lift all these forms of sanction. I think that the whole House wants this, too. But until we are assured that there will be majority rule in Rhodesia and a real independence for Zimbabwe, in my view it would be extremely imprudent to relax existing sanctions.

I wish the Secretary of State well in his consultations on Rhodesia. Does he agree, however, that the time might now be opportune, in view of the imminent victory of the Scottish National Party at the next General Election, when it will get a mandate for Scottish independence, to enter into consultations a little nearer home about a constitution for an independent Scotland, which my party has already prepared in draft? In the light of the district council election results and the remarks of the Monarch today at the ceremony—

Order. The hon. Lady was not here when I made my earlier remarks about wisdom.

The supplementary question went somewhat wide of Rhodesia, but I am under no illusions that I need all the help I can get, from whatever quarter. I would accept it from the Scottish National Party.

Will the Secretary of State address his mind to the effect that the intended participation by the British Government in the Group of 24 Conference in Maputo may have upon any conference for a Rhodesian settlement? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it will have an effect, and if it does, or even if it does not, will he answer this specific question: bearing in mind the importance of Mr. Smith and Mr. Vorster in any settlement, have they been informed of intended British participation in the Maputo conference, and, if so, how have they been informed?

That is a decision for the British Government to take. I took the decision to send my hon. Friend to Maputo in the belief that it would be beneficial to the negotiations that are taking place over an independent Zimbabwe and an independent Namibia. It is in that context that my hon. Friend will go, and it is in that context that he will speak of the belief of the British Government that there can be a peaceful transition to majority rule in both those countries. That is what we shall work for.

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that there are two matters for relief? The first is the correction made to Hansard, by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to the words that the right hon. Gentleman actually used in replying to me yesterday on this self-same subject, in which he said—and I quote The Times—that

"The position of the Government has never been in doubt. We have always said we would give humanitarian and other aid to liberation movements but have never supported the use of arms."
It is interesting to see that the change eliminates the philosophical point of being always committed to such a course, and I think that we are relieved on that account. Will the right hon. Gentleman take note of that?

The Foreign Secretary knows, I think, that his remarks about the conference on Rhodesia are a matter of some relief to us. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Opposition believe that there is an urgent need to have a mission in Rhodesia with a view to preparing a method of consultation of the people in fulfilment of our obligations under Article 5 of our all-party undertakings towards that country?

The question of consulting the people, as in the five principles, is certainly something to which the House will wish to return. It could be done either in the form of the Pearce Commission or in the form of an election. However, that is further down the road—when a constitution has been agreed, or at least much further agreement has been reached than at the moment. We now need to try to demarcate the areas of agreement. We have not made a decision how to proceed or whether to hold a conference, but one thing that is perfectly clear is that any decisions on these matters need to be very carefully prepared.

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify what the Prime Minister said yesterday? According to Hansard, he said:

"We have given humanitarian and other aid to liberation movements".—[Official Report, 3rd May, 1977; Vol. 931, c. 226.]
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) said just now, The Times reported that the Prime Minister said:
"We have always said we would give…
The version that I heard was:
"We have always said that we would give…"
but, whichever is the authorised version, I do not remember that that has ever been the policy either of the present Administration or of previous Administrations. When did this departure occur? Does it not make us not just accomplices but co-belligerents in the terrorist movement?

There are many United Nations organisations which give humanitarian support and, I suspect, have given it in the time of previous Conservative Administrations, but I shall gladly look into that. It has certainly been our belief that the innocent victims of armed struggles ought not to be excluded from humanitarian relief, and I should have thought that that was a policy that had been agreed by all Members of the House.

I was not here when the Prime Minister made his statement, as I was in the Council of Foreign Ministers, but I think that he was using the words in the sense of humanitarian aid, which is, of course—[Interruption.] These questions as to what the Prime Minister meant would be best directed to the Prime Minister, but his words were clear—that he supported the presence of a British Minister at the Maputo conference as making a contribution—we hoped—to getting a more balanced debate in Maputo on the issue of a peaceful transition to majority rule in both an independent Zimbabwe and Namibia.


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


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on developments in Rhodesia since his visit to that country.

I have nothing to add at present to the statement that I made to the House on 19th April, although I would refer the hon. Members to my earlier answers today.

Has the right hon. Gentleman given further consideration to the establishment of a mission in Rhodesia? Does he recognise that the establishment of such a mission would help in the preparation for the forthcoming conference and help to restore the balance of opinion in Rhodesia, which must be deeply disturbed by his decision to be represented in Maputo at a United Nations conference but not in Rhodesia?

I do not think that that would necessarily be the opinion inside Rhodesia. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who has a good record in this House for representing black opinion as well as white opinion, will take into account what will be the black opinion in Rhodesia. It is my belief that representation at Maputo will help towards expressing the democratic case for a peaceful transition. I believe that there are many black Africans who would wish that voice to be raised in Maputo.

I have made clear to the House that I am open-minded about the question of a mission, but such a decision must be taken at the right time in negotiations. At this stage, we have not even made a decision whether to go ahead with the conference. We have not yet had the sort of in-depth consultations that may be necessary. At a certain stage it may be helpful to have a mission in Salisbury, and I do not exclude that possibility. I was prepared to go there myself. I am prepared to send officials there under some circumstances. But the question of when and where to establish a mission is a delicate question of timing, and I think that it is premature at this moment.

Since there is obviously a need for an early test of opinion in Rhodesia, could the Secretary of State now address his mind to a matter that he did not mention at all when he made his statement after his return from Rhodesia—namely, the question of Bishop Muzorewa's proposal for a referendum? What are his views on that?

Bishop Muzorewa's proposal for a referendum, if carefully analysed, is effectively a call for a general election, with power then being transferred to the victor in the referendum, which is effectively a transition to a black majority Government, as it would then be. In such terms this, therefore, is unacceptable to Mr. Smith and the Rhodesian Front. What Mr. Smith has proposed at various stages is a referendum, followed by negotiations with the black leaders on a transition to majority rule, or negotiations on a constitution. That has been specifically excluded by Bishop Muzorewa. An internal referendum of the sort proposed by Mr. Smith would not carry conviction, either inside or outside Rhodesia, among black Rhodesian opinion.

Has my right hon. Friend received any further communications from Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Nkomo since their public comments on his constitutional proposals, as many of us believe that a continuing dialogue with them would mean that the rather regrettable statements which they made are not the last word they have to say about the constitutional proposals?

A number of informal and private discussions have taken place which I do not think it would be appropriate to reveal, but I am open at any time to discussions and I certainly welcome my hon. Friend's suggestion of a continuing dialogue. That is what I want, as well as a discussion of the whole question of trying to achieve a transition with an expression of all forms of opinion.

May I press the right hon. Gentleman a little more on the question of a British mission to Rhodesia? Is he absolutely satisfied that it should be bound up with the whole question of the negotiation of the general problem? Might it not be practicable and sensible first to announce that we are re-establishing a British governmental presence in Rhodesia?

I do not believe that it would at this juncture. It is a question of judgment. What it is quite clear is necessary before one can take any of these steps is a realistic assessment of the chances of a successful outcome were one to call a conference, and the general determination, particularly of Mr. Smith and the Rhodesian Front, to achieve a settlement. This is a balance of judgments.

I note that the Opposition think that a mission should be established now. It is my firm view that it would be premature to establish it now. I agree that consultations must take place, and they certainly must take place in Africa at a fairly early stage