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Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Volume 958: debated on Wednesday 22 November 1978

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Rhodesia

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will now invite the four leaders of the transitional Government in Rhodesia to London.

No, Sir, but, as I made clear on 4th October, if there appeared to be overriding reasons for granting immunity from prosecution to one of the parties in the interests of achieving a negotiated settlement I would be prepared to put an Order in Council before the House to facilitate all the parties coming to this country.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Rhodesia leaders' visit to America was a great success? Why will he not ask them to visit the United Kingdom? Is he frightened that they will appeal over the heads of the Government to the British people? Will he put pressure on his friends in the Patriotic Front to come to a conference which the transitional Government have already agreed to attend without any prequalifications?

It has been agreed by successive Governments—including the Conservative Government when they held office—that those who are closely associated with the illegal regime should not be offered facilities to enter this country. If they did so, they would be liable to prosecution. That is the legal situation. I cannot change that by executive decision. There would have to be a decision to change the law, and I have indicated the way in which that could be done.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, far from being a success, Mr. Smith's visit to the United States put back the cause of peace in Rhodesia by a long way, especially bearing in mind his attitude in the United States which was contradicted by the beastly action that he took in bombing Zambia?

I think that we all found it deeply regrettable that the decision was taken to make the raids into Zambia appear to coincide with the discussions—[Interruption.] I do not know whether the Conservative Opposition think that it was a good decision to raid Zambia. We consider it deeply regrettable. It has delayed the possibility of having an all-party conference, and it is certainly not something that should be encouraged by any part of the House.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that he and a number of his right hon. Friends have often pointed out in the House that we had to shake hands with Mr. Kenyatta and Archbishop Makarios. I did so with the Archbishop, with great pleasure. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that Mr. Smith is in exactly the same position? Would it not be very much in the interests of achieving a settlement if Mr. Smith were allowed to come here not only to give his point of view but to be subjected to the expression of British public opinion towards him?

One of the first actions that I took in the early months of being Foreign Secretary was to go to Rhodesia to meet Mr. Smith. I met him first in Cape Town and later in Salisbury. I have throughout been ready to meet any of the parties to the dispute. I have been to Salisbury on three occasions to meet Mr. Smith. I am not saying that we should not speak to Mr. Smith. I think that in the search for a negotiated settlement we should speak to him and others associated with the regime. At the moment, I do not believe that it would contribute to a negotiated settlement to allow into this country Mr. Smith and others closely associated with the regime.

Is it not now clear, as I foretold when the matter was first discussed, that the internal agreement is a fraud and a failure?

One of the great myths is that the success or failure of the internal agreement will be determined by the attitude struck in this House. Its success or failure was a matter to be determined by what the people of Rhodesia thought of it, and particularly whether the initial claim, that the fighting would be reduced and that the liberation fighters would return, could be sustained. Events have tragically shown that the violence has increased. I think, therefore, that on one of the central problems, which is to bring about a cease-fire, there is as yet no alternative to an all-party conference.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a meeting such as is envisaged in the Question would be very helpful in achieving the fifth principle?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree also that the more talk there is between the British Government and all the parties, the more hope there is for a settlement? Will he say what progress he has made towards establishing a high-level mission in Salisbury?

There is another Question on the Order Paper dealing with the right hon. Gentleman's last point.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the more conversations there are between all the parties, the better. That is why I am not closing the door to the possibility that it might be wise to bring them together in the way suggested in the Question. What I am saying is that the time is not right.

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further inquiry he proposes to set up into the role of Her Majesty's Government and the British oil companies with regard to the implementation of sanctions against Rhodesia.

The Government are giving careful consideration to the question of a further inquiry in the light of the views expressed when the issue was debated in this House on 7th and 8th November and in another place on 9th November.

Does the Foreign Secretary recall that that is almost exactly the answer that was given 10 days ago by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who said then that the Cabinet was "actively considering" this? I think that those were his words. I sympathise with the Foreign Secretary and his right hon. Friend in trying to get any kind of decision by the Cabinet, but does he recognise that the House will not easily tolerate a delay which takes place again and again for party political purposes? It is time that we had a decision.

I agree. It is important to reach a decision and the House expects that. But extremely complicated issues underlie this and it is far better to come to the House with a proposal which has been carefully worked out and will stand up to the critical scrutiny which hon. Members on both sides will wish to give it, rather than to come with an ill-worked-out proposal on this very difficult issue. As has been promised, we shall explain the position as soon as we can.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the important decision which is now required is one which will bring about the physical interruption of the flow of oil to Smith's war machine, and that this can only be accomplished by imposing an oil embargo against South Africa?

In strict logic, I am sure that that is true. The only other way in which this could occur would be if the South African Government themselves decided to make such a decision, but there is very little sign of that happening.

With his experience, does the Foreign Secretary agree that all sanctions are futile, and that Rhodesian sanctions are particularly futile? Instead of looking back in anger on this unfortunate episode, should we not look constructively to the future to see what can be done to help, in particular to help the interim regime in Rhodesia?

If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, which I do not think he is, that we should look constructively at how sanctions can be made to be more effective, he has my full support. There is nothing which should give Opposition Members delight in the fact that the history of sanctions as they have been applied does not give the world confidence that they can be used as a substitute for violence. In consequence, we have seen far too much violence and an ineffective use of peaceful means to bring about an end to the dispute. I do not rejoice in that fact.

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to visit Rhodesia.

11.

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

14.

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

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will report on the current situation in Rhodesia.

Not at present, but I am in close touch with the United States Administration on how we can best achieve a successful all-party conference and will ensure that the House is given further information shortly.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that every day that passes means that black and white Rhodesians are losing their lives because of terrorist activities? Will he reconsider his decision, go to Salisbury at an early date to hold a round-table conference with all the parties involved and establish in Salisbury a substantial mission to assist the interim Government, to get an electoral register prepared and to arrange for elections? This is vital to the future stability and peace of that wonderful country.

It is important to achieve not only an all-party conference to which all the parties actually come, but one which has a chance of success. That will be very difficult to achieve in the present atmosphere. I have not given up hope that it is possible to achieve, but it will need careful preparation.

I propose to call first those three hon. Members whose Questions are being answered with Question No. 10.

Now that the General Election date in Rhodesia has been postponed to 20th April, will the Foreign Secretary seize the opportunity that has been made available by the extra time to assist the Rhodesian Government to prepare properly an electoral register so that a fair test of public opinion may be made on 20th April, with the British Government's backing?

There is no doubt that if the Rhodesian Government wish to prepare an electoral register they have the means to do so. The problem that they face is that the level of fighting is such, with martial law covering 70 per cent. of the country, that it is extremely difficult to envisage an election that would be free and fair and would be a test acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole. I do not rule it out, but at present it is hard to see it coming about.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this wonderful new oportunity which Conservative Members have described is simply another example of Mr. Ian Smith defaulting even on the so-called internal settlement? Does he agree that that further discredits Mr. Smith's position at any all-party conference? Does he agree also that our own position as honest broker in this matter will vary inversely to the length of time that passes before we set up an inquiry into sanctions busting?

I agree that it is important that we should demonstrate our commitment to sanctions and our readiness to ensure that if mistakes have been made or if acts have been taken which have breached our own sanctions legislation, the people concerned should be brought to book.

On the central issue of how to achieve a conference in the present climate, I think that it will require patient preparation and a readiness on all sides to compromise, which at the moment they are not showing a willingness to do.

In view of the collapse of the Anglo-American initiative, what further consideration has the Foreign Secretary given to the constructive suggestions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) during the debate on 7th November? My right hon. Friend called for a permanent mission in Rhodesia, further negotiations based on the internal settlement, a contact group and a conference to be chaired by the British Prime Minister.

On the question of the "collapse" of the Anglo-American proposals, the fact is that these still offer the best framework for achieving a settlement. They are not perfect, and they may need modification and change, but they still offer the best way of bringing all the parties together. What the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) advocates—basing negotiations on the internal settlement—will not even bring all the parties around the conference table, let alone into a measure of agreement.

On the other questions, in consultation with the United States we are looking carefully at the best way of keeping going the momentum for a negotiated settlement. We are considering all the factors that were raised in the debate.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that his influence in Rhodesia will be greatly enhanced if he quickly sets up a full inquiry into the Bingham report on sanctions busting? In setting up such an inquiry, will he resist the temptation to have a cosy little committee of Privy Councillors and judges and make sure instead that Back Bench opinion in this House is in the majority?

I promised that there would be no cover up and there will not be. I promised to listen to the House and I have listened very carefully. Some of the points that were made by my hon. Friend were made very forcefully on both sides of the House and we shall take them into account.

The Foreign Secretary gives the impression to everyone that he thinks that he has unlimited time. He has not. Is he aware that his current lethargic approach to the problem is being interpreted by an increasing number of people as a total lack of desire to obtain any settlement at all?

I do not think that we have unlimited time. But an example of playing for more time has been the postponement of the elections which were promised for December. Within weeks of the internal settlement we heard private reports of members of the regime touring around talking to civil servants and others behind closed doors and casting great doubt on whether the elections could ever be held in December. Eventually that information became public, and some of our newspapers even managed to print it, at least in some of their editions. The serious fact that must be faced is that from the very outset there have been doubts among many whites in Rhodesia about the sincerity of the regime's commitment to December elections.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the front-line States and the Patriotic Front believe that action by this Government in obtaining a settlement in Rhodesia is constrained by the political situation in this country and by the attitude of the Opposition, which is pro rebel Smith? Is there any way at all in which he can convince them that this Government, supported by the majority of the House, are in a position to make a real contribution towards a settlement in Rhodesia?

The best way to demonstrate that is by referring to the votes in this House: first to the vote on the Government's general strategy towards Rhodesia and then to the vote on sanctions. The motion on the first matter was defeated by a large majority. I thought that it was wrong to launch an initiative just to get through the sanctions debate. Too often, that has been done. I thought that it was necessary for the House to express its views and to vote, as it did. I regret any division along party lines which occurred on the first motion, but I accept that the sanctions vote was not a division along party lines. We are now taking our time to see how we can achieve a negotiated settlement. I know that time is not on our side, but there is only one card to play, and that is a conference that is successful. I doubt whether we can go through a whole series of conferences, and we want to avoid what happened in Geneva.

As it must be the Government's top priority to facilitate a test of acceptability, will the Secretary of State make it plain to Mr. Mugabe, by what-every means possible, that if he wishes to play a constructive role in the affairs of his own people he must immediately repudiate the reported statement by his party that it intends to assassinate no fewer than 50 internal African leaders in Rhodesia? Will he urge Mr. Mugabe to support the ballot box rather than the gun and to participate peacefully in a test of acceptability?

Mr. Mugabe has always said that he will accept elections. The statement that came from a press spokesman from ZANU was deeply abhorrent to all of us and I have made my views on that very clear. Furthermore, I have tried to establish the exact support for this idea. Mr. Mugabe is not in Mozambique at present and was not there when this statement was issued. No one would believe that that sort of statement would contribute to a negotiated settlement.

Republic Of Ireland

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement about relations with the Irish Republic.

Our relations with the Republic of Ireland are close and friendly. There are regular discussions with the Irish authorities at all levels on matters of common interest, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be meeting the Taoiseach on 27th November.

Since the Taoiseach's last visit, have not terrorist outrages in the Republic further demonstrated the need for common action against the common enemy? While acknowledging the improved police cooperation, may I ask whether the Prime Minister will be discussing with Mr. Lynch the frustration of law and order throughout Ireland by the refusal of extradition and also the failure of the Irish Republic to adhere to the European convention on the suppression of terrorism?

My right hon. Friend will be discussing the whole range of relations with our Irish friends and colleagues, but I can say from first-hand experience that there is every reason to believe that the Irish Government take the security question every bit as seriously as we do. We are anxious to maximise practical cooperation in every way that we can.

Will the hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that the next time these talks take place strong representations will be made about the continual closing of the rail link between the North and the South, as armed terrorists from the South are continually closing this link? It is closed at the moment and this is hindering emergency supplies of cement coming to Northern Ireland to keep the construction industry in business.

We naturally regret the closure of communications between the North and the South. We shall do anything that we can together to ensure that they are kept open regularly in future.

China

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is his Department's current attitude concerning the sale of military equipment to China.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Anglo-Chinese relations following the recent visit of the Chinese Vice-Premier, including his policy on arms sales to that country.

Defence sales were among a wide range of political, economic and industrial issues which I and my colleagues discussed with Vice-Premier Wang Chen. The British Government are willing to consider selling defensive equipment, subject to consultations with our allies. We want a deeper relationship with China. Defence must form part of a balanced development of our relations, covering the political, trade, economic, scientific, technological and cultural fields.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that it is now five years since I first went to the Foreign Office and saw my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle), who was there at that time, to impress upon him the need for the British Government to give the green light to go ahead with the sale of Harriers to China? With whom are these so-called consultations with our allies taking place, when it is well known that the only opposition to the sale of Harriers to China comes from the Soviet Union and the Tribune group? Will the Foreign Secretary stop allowing the Soviet Union to dictate British foreign policy?

The hon. Gentleman may be able to claim consistency, but many people on each side of the House might have wondered whether it would have been prudent to make that decision five years ago. Very welcome changes have taken place in China and it is now much easier for us to have a relationship with China in all these fields, which we wish to encourage. But we do not want a foreign policy which moves around from day to day. We want a steady development of balanced relations with China and with other major countries in the world.

Would not selling Harriers to China be as damaging to peace as the sale of non-military goods would be beneficial? Does my right hon. Friend recognise that this is bound to damage seriously the prospects for detente with the Soviet Union? [Interruption.] Conservative Members may think that that is of no importance, but it is important to me and to my children, and to the whole human race.

Secondly, does my right hon. Friend recognise that it would also damage the strategic arms limitation talks, whatever NATO may think about these sales, and NATO will think they are fine?

It is way outside the narrow confines of strategic arms, which is the subject of SALT, but, of course, it could have an impact on detente. But I do not think that it should be seen in those terms. We cannot always avoid how other people might wish to see it. What is important is how we view our foreign policy and how we express our intentions. Our intentions are quite clear. They are to have a continuation of detente with the Soviet Union, and continuing relations with the Soviet Union, but not to allow any third country or anyone to dictate the shape of our foreign policy.

Part of the independent national sovereignty of many countries is a wish to establish relations not merely on economic and trading matters but also covering defence. That is part of a balanced and mature relationship between countries. One cannot exclude defence without its often also damaging the development in other areas.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we on the Conservative Benches are in full support of the policy to increase our trade with China? Concerning the specific sale of military equipment, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance to the House that the Government's judgment on this important matter will not be based primarily on domestic or political considerations, but primarily on strategic considerations?

It will be judged solely on overall political, strategic and economic issues. It will not be judged by pressures from any part of the country, either the active pressure of those who regard the only element in our relationship with China as whether the sale of a particular aircraft takes place, or criticisms that we should not in any circumstances sell arms to anyone. We have to achieve a balance in this, but we shall make our judgment solely on the basis of our own foreign policy considerations.

Nicaragua

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on British relations with Nicaragua.

Although we have diplomatic relations with Nicaragua, we have no resident ambassador. Our exports to Nicaragua in 1977 amounted to about £9 million, and our imports to about £1.4 million. We have a small technical cooperation programme of around £150,000 for this financial year.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government wil give no support to the Somoza regime, that, in particular, there will be no military training here or advice given by us and that no arms of any kind will be made available to the Somoza regime?

I can most certainly confirm all the points that my hon. Friend has asked me to confirm concerning a regime which has abused in the most flagrant way the human rights of its own country.

Will my hon. Friend press this point of view on the United States Administration, which has not been entirely consistent in its opposition to the Somoza regime? Does my hon. Friend agree that it would not be possible for Somoza to survive if the United States ceased to give him any support?

We have close consultations with the United States on issues in Central America in particular. As my hon. Friend will know, the Americans have been endeavouring to get mediation going to try to bring some peace to that country and to re-establish human rights there.

Anglo-Soviet-Chinese Relations

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he intends to talk with the Foreign Secretaries of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and China regarding improving Anglo-Soviet-Chinese relations.

I discussed British-Soviet relations with the Soviet Foreign Minister in New York on 25th September, and British-Chinese relations with the Chinese Foreign Minister during his visit to Britain in October.

I recognise my right hon. Friend's preference for peace instead of war, but will he confirm that the old imperial policies of divide and rule no longer dominate his Department? Will he make a special initiative to establish good Soviet-Chinese relations in order to improve East-West relations?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Good Soviet-Chinese relations are of crucial importance to the world. One of the problems has been the absence of any dialogue between the two countries for some years now. I hope that we shall see China taking a place in the committee on disarmament which has newly been formed. I hope that the Chinese will start, as they are starting in the United Nations and other international forums, to take a part and that that will extend into a dialogue between themselves and the Soviet Union.

Will the Foreign Secretary explain to his hon. Friends below the Gangway that if we now refuse to sell Harriers to the Chinese it will severely damage our prospects of selling them many civilian goods as well? Will not that be bad for our relations with China?

That is a question of judgment. I have often from this Dispatch Box had to defend various arms sales. I do not believe that one can totally dissociate them from one's overall relationships with a country and from economic and other matters. They are seen as an overall entity and are part of deepening relationships between countries. For instance, it is very rare to have close relationships with a country with whom one has a complete embargo on any defence relationship.

In his consultations with Britain's allies on the sale of defensive weapons to China, will my right hon. Friend undertake to do this on a bilateral basis rather than through reference to COCOM, which would raise formalities and a possible veto by the United States?

There are various ways of handling these problems. There is a combination of formal arrangements, which are COCOM, which are done at official level and tend to be technical, and there are bilateral consultations, which deal with sensitive political issues. I think that one uses a combination of both in these sorts of circumstances.

Yugoslavia (Pub Airport Incident)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Yugoslav Government concerning the treatment of Miss Little at Pula airport; and what compensation is to be made.

Since the hon. Member wrote to my right hon. Friend about this case on 1st November, our consul general in Zagreb has raised it with the authorities at the airport who have explained that their refusal to allow Miss Little to enter Yugoslavia was because they did not consider her passport to be in order. In the circumstances, my right hon. Friend does not think there are grounds for compensation.

Is it not intolerable that a British subject travelling on a valid British passport should be returned on the next plane to England because the passport officer did not think that her photograph looked like her passport photograph? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this might happen to many other people? Surely it is most unsatisfactory that, under those circumstances she was not allowed to get in touch with the British consul and was sent straight back to this country, to an airport from which she had not left, which cost her a great deal of money?

I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's constituent, but I must correct him on one or two points of fact. It is not the case that she tried to get in touch with our consul in Zagreb. According to our information, there is no record that she made such an attempt. She was staying at a hotel from which she could quite easily have telephoned had she wanted to. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman said that she had a perfectly valid passport. I must inform him that the passport has been examined by our own passport authority since she returned and it agrees that there is evidence that it was tampered with. In those circumstances, I do not think that we would be justified in making a protest to the Yugoslav Government.

Despite that case, is the Minister aware that a similar situation took place with one of my constituents who was refused entry to Czechoslovakia—

Order. In that case I advise the hon. Gentleman to put down a Question about it.

Cyprus

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further initiative he proposes to resolve the problem of displaced persons in Cyprus.

A British contribution of £500,000 has recently been approved for refugee relief in Cyprus. The problem of displaced persons can only be finally resolved in the context of a political settlement.

Can my hon. Friend give some indication of the Government's response to the American proposals for a Cyprus settlement, which are reported in today's press? Can he also say something about the severely practical and immediate problem of tracing about 2,000 Greek-Cypriots who are missing but presumed still alive and whose plight is causing great distress to their relatives, both in Cyprus and in this country?

There is a later Question on the Order Paper about new initiatives, and I think that we should await that. As to the other part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I think that it is a disgrace that no progress has been made on the issue of missing people. There is great anguish among many people and I have witnessed it myself in Cyprus. I am sad that there has been no response to the proposals by the United Nations for a commission of inquiry which would set about the job of finding an answer to these questions.

Has the Minister given any thought to trying to persuade both the Turkish-Cypriots and the Greek-Cypriots to agree to the return of Famagusta, a city of about 40,000 people, to the South? Would not that be a positive step towards looking after the plight of displaced persons and a step towards a comprehensive settlement of this dispute?

Famagusta is a critical part of the overall problem. I know of the hon. Gentleman's long-standing interest in the whole subject of Cyprus, but I put it to him that we should now concentrate on finding an overall strategic solution. As I have said, a later Question on the Order Paper deals with this issue.

Meanwhile, can the Minister say what part the Government are playing in the Security Council discussions on Cyprus, and why?

Our approach in the Security Council, as elsewhere, is to do everything constructive and positive that we can to promote the resumption of intercommunal talks because we believe that progress will be made only when the two parties sit down and start talking directly together about their common interests in finding a solution.

Malta

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to visit Malta in the near future.

Is my hon. Friend aware that when the British Forces pull out of the island next March there will be a big formal ceremony of handing over to the civil authorities? In view of the valiant stand which the island made on our behalf during the war, would it not be diplomatic to have a member of the Royal Family there at the time of the ceremony? Many Heads of State have been to Malta, but never our Head of State. Does my hon. Friend realise that if a member of the Royal Family were to go it would cause great delight to the Prime Minister, the Government and the people of Malta?

Our respect for the people of Malta and the Maltese contribution during the war is as great as it has ever been. We look forward to having good and positive relationships with the Maltese people after the completion of the military withdrawal in March. I am sure that my hon. Friend's suggestion will be taken fully into account as one possible way of marking the significance of this new chapter.

Will the Minister indicate to the authorities in Malta that recent actions taken by them against British broadcasters and journalists are not conducive to having the best possible relationship between the two countries?

We are naturally sad that there have been these difficulties in our relationships with the Maltese Government. I am glad to report to the House, however, that after the Maltese Government had had talks with the BBC recently it was agreed that the corporation's journalists should return and, furthermore, that British Forces' broadcasting should go back on the air.