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Volume 975: debated on Friday 7 December 1979

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

I told the House on 5 December that we were making plans to send a Governor to Salisbury in the next few days. I can now inform the House that Her Majesty the Queen has been pleased to approve the appointment of my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Soames as her Governor of Rhodesia during the interim period. Lord Soames will arrive in Salisbury in the course of next week. In view of the exacting nature of the tasks which the Governor will have to perform during this period, the Government thought it right to recommend the appointment of a senior member of the Cabinet with wide ministerial experience.

The Deputy Governor will be Sir Antony Duff, deputy to the Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The Government are thus demonstrating the great importance that they attach to the fulfilment of their responsibility to provide the conditions in which free and fair elections can be held as the means of bringing Rhodesia to independence on the basis of genuine majority rule. When the Governor arrives in Salisbury and his authority is accepted, Rhodesia will return to legality.

This is an important statement. We all know that a task of unique difficulty awaits the Governor in Salisbury, because his arrival there marks the return to legality after 15 years of rebellion.

I assume, and I should be grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's confirmation, that the Government are now wholly confident that the agreed ceasefire will be formally announced before the Governor departs. I also assume that the Govern- ment made at least informal soundings of the interested parties before announcing the appointment of Lord Soames. In making their decision, I again assume that, personal qualities apart—we know of the varied and wide experience of Lord Soames—it is precisely his direct contact with the British Government and the Cabinet here in London that has been a major and perhaps decisive element in his appointment.

Finally, I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends would wish me to extend good wishes to the newly appointed Governor in his task, which is of such immense importance not only to the future of the people of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia but to the reputation and success of this country as well.

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said, particularly about my right hon. and noble Friend. The parties to the conference have, of course, been informed of what I have said. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have already agreed on the ceasefire and only the details remain to be settled. We believe that that can be done quite quickly. But the process of finalising these arrangements will require a British authority on the spot in Rhodesia.

My right hon. and hon. Friends should also like to join in welcoming the appointment of Lord Soames, who I think will be the right person for what will be a difficult and testing role. We wish him every success.

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain the last sentence in his statement, which begins:
"When the Governor arrives in Salisbury and his authority is accepted"?
What exactly has to take place before his authority is accepted? Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the document which many hon. Members will have received this morning, presuambly from the Muzorewa Government, which sets out the proposals for independence and also sets out in some detail what the Governor's role will be? It seems to be very wide-ranging. Can he confirm that the information contained in the document is, roughly speaking, correct?

I have not seen the document. I assume that it is accurate, although I do not know that. I think that the authorities accept that Lord Soames will arrive to take over. That is all the significance that attaches to the last sentence of my statement.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about my right hon. and noble Friend, who, as the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) and the hon. Gentleman have said, will have a most difficult task to fulfil. Lord Soames has great qualities which I am sure make him almost uniquely fitted to carry out the task.

On behalf of my hon. Friends, I express good wishes for the success of the new Governor. He will have a difficult task, as we all appreciate. When he arrives in Salisbury, will all sanctions be lifted?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about my right hon. and noble Friend. Sanctions will be lifted on the return to legality, which is when the Governor goes to Salisbury. If there were any other outcome, it would mean that we were applying sanctions against ourselves.

May I press the Lord Privy Seal about when the Governor will go to Salisbury? Will it be when the formal declaration is signed at Lancaster House, or will it be only when hostilities have ceased, the Patriotic Front forces have assembled in their particular locations and the Zimbabwe forces have been withdrawn to barracks?

It will be well before that. One of the primary tasks of the Governor will be to supervise that process. It is inconceivable that it could be done without him. As I said earlier this week, he will be going in the course of next week.

May I, on behalf of Conservative Back Benchers who had the privilege of sitting in the House with Lord Soames, congratulate him on his appointment and congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his conduct of what have been very difficult negotiations?

Will the Lord Privy Seal say when the monitoring forces are likely to be in place in Rhodesia and what equipment will they have? Can he give an assurance that, should hostilities not have ceased before they are in place, they will not be used as a military force?

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. They will not be used as a military force. They will be in place in time to supervise the concentration of forces and the reciprocal withdrawal that will take place.

We all wish the new Governor great success in his new task in Salisbury. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could tell the House who will take over Lord Soames's responsibilities at the Civil Service Department in his absence.

Lord Soames remains Lord President of the Council. In the other place, the Deputy Leader of the House, Lord Ferrets, will deputise. The Prime Minister is the Minister for the Civil Service. The Minister of State, Civil Service Department will be in charge of that Department on a day-to-day basis. Civil Service questions in the other place will be taken by Lord Ferrers.

Will the Lord Privy Seal accept that we wish the Governor well in his daunting task in Southern Rhodesia? Will he get his noble Friend to comprehend the understandable reluctance of the Patriotic Front—whose struggle has brought about the abandonment of Smith's racist regime—to put itself at the murderous mercies of the regime's army and air force, especially the activities of the white mercenaries of the Selous Scouts and other such obscene outfits?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the first part of his remarks. I am sure that he will agree that the rest of his remarks would be better discussed at Lancaster House at the meetings which will be taking place today and on Monday.

I wish my right hon. and noble Friend the Governor-elect the greatest possible success and good fortune in his task, but can my right hon. Friend say whether he is establishing a precedent by appointing a Cabinet Minister as Governor, and whether he considers, as I do, that if it is a precedent the special rank of Governor, in this combination, is an advantage in the special circumstances in which the Governor will operate?

I am not certain whether there is a precedent for this, but I rather doubt it. It indicates to the House, to the country and to Rhodesia the importance that we attach to the great and difficult task of restoring peace and democracy in Rhodesia.

Following the agreement on the principles of the ceasefire two days ago, we all understand that there are further details which can, and hopefully will, be settled in London in the next two or three days. There are other details which the Lord Privy Seal is entirely right in saying can be settled only when the Governor goes to Salisbury and has established his military council there. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that there will be a declaration of a ceasefire before the Governor departs for Salisbury?

I cannot give the exact machinery or say whether there will be a declaration. It will depend on how matters proceed next week. As I said, it is important that these things should be done concurrently. The Governor should be in Salisbury and be able to tie up the final arrangements. I very much doubt whether it will be possible to have a declaration on a ceasefire before he arrives.