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Volume 975: debated on Wednesday 5 December 1979

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With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on Rhodesia.

In the conference on 22 November, the Government put forward full proposals for a ceasefire, on which there have since been intensive discussions. The Salisbury delegation accepted these proposals on 26 November. My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and I are at this moment in touch with the Patriotic Front leaders and we hope that they will shortly be able to agree. Only the detailed implementation will then remain to be discussed. I do not envisage that these discussions need take more than two or three days.

Both sides have now agreed on a constitution which guarantees genuine majority rule, on the pre-independence arrangements and on the ceasefire proposals. There can now be no reason for delay in setting in train the arrangements for the ceasefire and for elections under our authority. An order in Council has been made and was laid before the House yesterday which provides for the appointment of a Governor with full executive and legislative powers. The full text of the independence constitution has been given to both delegations. I have arranged for copies to be placed in the Library of the House. It is intended that an order providing for the constitution will be laid before Her Majesty in Council later this week.

The Government will also introduce into the House tomorrow the Zimbabwe Bill, which will allow Rhodesia to be brought to independence at the appropriate moment. The process of finalising the arrangements for a ceasefire will require a British authority in Rhodesia. We are therefore making plans to send a Governor to Salisbury in the next few days.

The whole House will have been encouraged by the Lord Privy Seal's statement. It would indeed have been inconceivable that the conference should be allowed to fail so very near to success, or that without a ceasefire the Government should despatch a British Governor to Salisbury to preside over what would have been a continuing civil war.

We look forward now, as the Lord Privy Seal does, to the early announcement of a ceasefire. As negotiations are, I understand, continuing during the day, there are questions that I will not press but that I might otherwise have pressed, although if there is anything that the Lord Privy Seal can tell us about how the negotiations have moved forward we shall be very interested to hear it.

I put to the right hon. Gentleman just this one point, which I believe could greatly assist the whole climate of the London conference. I invite him to make absolutely plain not only that South African intervention is unthinkable when the Governor arrives in Salisbury, as his noble Friend has already established, but that South African troops whose presence was confirmed by their own Prime Minister only a few days ago will be immediately withdrawn.

My final comment is on the independence Bill. We shall, of course, look at it with our normal close scrutiny, but may I establish with the Lord Privy Seal that the powers that he is now talking about—to go forward, as it were, and to activate the processes of election and of interim rule—are not themselves dependent upon the independence Bill, which is the final stage in the whole story?

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said and for his forbearance. I do not think that I can say anything useful about the negotiations now, except that I expect there to be a plenary session this afternoon, probably at 5 o'clock.

On the question of South Africa, we have made it quite plain that under the British Government there will be no external interference in Zimbabwe at all. We have made that perfectly plain to all the Governments concerned.

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right on the question of the independence Bill. The powers under which we are proceeding stem from the enabling Bill that the House passed recently. Apart from giving power to introduce an order to create independence, the independence Bill will be chiefly concerned with British law—citizenship and matters like that.

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that the whole House will be hoping that the Patriotic Front will come to an agreement with the British Government on the ceasefire proposals shortly? May I press him a little further on the subject of South African troops? It is a question not only of the official South African troops but of the freelance mercenaries from South Africa who are at present in Rhodesia. Will they also be withdrawn?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the first part of his question. I can go no further than I have gone. As I have said, under a British Governor there will be no external interference in Rhodesia.

Can my right hon. Friend say when he expects the general election to take place?

Not at this moment. I should not like to give the exact date, but my hon. Friend will have an idea of the sort of dates that we have in mind.

Will Her Majesty's Government have the wisdom, even at this eleventh hour, to draw back from the suicidal folly of committing British forces to the Rhodesian morass?

The right hon. Gentleman has made his position very clear, and I appreciate his point of view. I appreciate that there are dangers. But I think that the whole House agrees that the Rhodesian issue has not only been extraordinarily dangerous for Southern Africa but has poisoned British politics. It is in the interests above all of the Rhodesians themselves, and of the whole of Southern Africa and the Commonwealth, that the issue should be solved now. In our view, it can be solved only under our proposals.

Looking ahead to the elections, can the right hon. Gentleman say what arrangements will be made under the British Governor for the broadcasting system in Rhodesia during the elections? Will it remain in the hands of the present Rhodesian-Zimbabwe authorities?

Like the hon. Gentle-can, I have seen reports about this matter. He will be aware that under the interim proposals we are committed—it is a commitment that we shall certainly honour—to see that the media provide a fair balance between the parties.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the immense patience that he and my right hon and noble Friend have displayed in recent weeks. May I stress to him now that the time has surely come to press on and not to accept any more prevarication from the Patriotic Front, because it is recognised that if legal elections are held its support will be shown by the ballot box to be as meagre as it is?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. Of course, I agree that the momentum must be maintained. As I said in my statement, it is very important that the implementation of discussions should not be long drawn out, and should take place in a matter of days.

We all hope that agreement will be reached, but do the Government recognise at long last how disastrous it would be for Britain's reputation if agreement were reached only with the Salisbury regime? If such a second-class solution were found, would not Britain be involved, with South Africa, in a colonial war in that part of the world? Would not Britain's enemies clap their hands with joy at such a prospect?

We hope that we shall reach an agreement with the Patriotic Front this afternoon on our ceasefire proposals. The Salisbury delegation has already agreed. We shall then discuss the implementation of those proposals. No hypothetical situation can be discussed with profit now.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are many indications that from the beginning of the negotiations the Patriotic Front has had as its objective an arrangement under which the official security forces are bottled up, which would allow the Patriotic Front terrorist forces, not in mili- tary clothing, to operate freely m Zimbabwe-Rhodesia?

With respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think that that is an issue that we should enter into now.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the responsible way in which the Patriotic Front has conducted itself during the negotiations has shown that it has a commitment and a genuine desire for a peaceful settlement? Is the right hon. Gentleman insisting that the Patriotic Front forces should remain in 15 defined locations whilst the Rhodesian forces and air force are allowed to roam at will? If he is, is he not putting at risk the prospect of the solution which we all hope desperately that we shall achieve?

I am sorry to weary the House by saying the same thing on successive occasions. However, I think that it is better for negotiations on the ceasefire to take place at Lancaster House rather than in this House.

When providing the independence administrative back-up which the Governor will require in the difficult days ahead, will my right hon. Friend remember that available in this country is a reservoir of experience of Africa provided by former members of the Overseas Service?

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Patriotic Front has negotiated responsibly? Does he agree that it has demonstrated its desire to reach a genuine agreement? Will he therefore reassure the House that the Patriotic Front will not be faced with a fait accompli but that genuine negotiations on the ceasefire will take place so that we reach an agreement which does not lead us towards the tremendous problems that will occur if agreement with all the parties is not reached?

I have nothing to add to what I have said. We are seeking an agreement with all the parties, and we hope that we shall reach it quickly.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider publishing—in a few days time might be the appropriate moment—the agreed ceasefire arrangements as he published the other stages of negotiations in the form of Lancaster House papers? Can he assure us that the independence Bill will involve no peremptory procedures of the kind that we experienced three weeks ago?