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Rhodesia

Volume 976: debated on Tuesday 18 December 1979

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

All parties at the constitutional conference have now initialled the final conference report. Formal signature of the report and of the ceasefire agreement is expected to take place within the next two days.

The conference has thus reached final agreement. The Government welcome the spirit of compromise shown by all the parties and are grateful to the other Governments involved for their contribution towards a settlement.

The House will wish to know that in the light of the requirement for a monitoring presence and its need for self-sufficiency of road and air transport within Rhodesia, the latest estimate for the cost of the pre-independence arrangements is £27 million.

In the interests of reconciliation following a settlement, the Government intend to instruct the Governor to confer an amnesty in the law of Southern Rhodesia which will apply to acts committed in good faith by both sides.

Though many problems still lie ahead, I am sure the House will agree that the successful conclusion of the Lancaster House conference opens the prospect of peace and prosperity in Rhodesia.

I congratulate the Lord Privy Seal and the Foreign Secretary on the right hon. Gentleman's statement. The House will not wish to mute in any way its welcome for the successful conclusion of the Lancaster House conference. Despite the vehemence with which rival claims and fears have been expressed, we recognise and salute the underlying will of all the parties involved to compromise and to reach an agreement within the guidelines that were laid down at the Commonwealth conference in Lusaka.

With regard to the hazards and difficulties that lie ahead, is the Lord Privy Seal aware of the great importance of cementing the Lancaster House agreement by rapid action now in Salisbury? While welcoming the amnesty inside Rhodesia, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can assure us that the ban on proscribed political parties will now be lifted, that political prisoners will be released and that martial law will be revoked?

Can the Lord Privy Seal confirm also that maize supplies are moving now to Zambia? Will he give us a timetable for the arrival and build up of the Commonwealth observer force and for the withdrawal of South African troops? Has he considered the possibility of sending an all-party group from the House of Commons to observe and report on the forthcoming elections?

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his congratulations and kind words. I am also grateful to him for the co-operation of the Opposition Front Bench during the last few weeks, and in particular for his forbearance yesterday.

Of course, I agree that it is important to keep up the momentum. That is what we aim to do. Proscribed parties will cease to exist as soon as the final agreement has been made at Lancaster House. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, martial law courts have been ended, and martial law will come to an end as soon as it is clear that the ceasefire is taking root.

I confirm that maize is now free to go into Zambia.

As regards South African troops, there can be no question of any foreign intervention in Rhodesia.

The question of an all-party group to observe the elections is for the House rather than for me to decide. No doubt discussion will continue through the usual channels.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal and his noble Friend the Foreign Secretary on the patience and courage with which they have secured agreement for the Lusaka proposals. While I retain grave reservations about those proposals, I hope that the event may prove that I was wrong and that my right hon. Friends were right.

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for his generous attitude. Needless to say, I also share his hope.

It the Lord Privy Seal aware that we welcome the tribute that he has paid to the parties involved in the negotiations and to the other Governments concerned? As has been said, it is also right to congratulate the Government and their officials on all that they have done to make an agreement possible which many thought impossible. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the Governor will be flexible in his response to any requests for additional assembly points, even if that has the consequence of causing the monitoring force to be increased?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words and also for his remarks concerning officials at the Foreign Office. Those officials have been incredibly dedicated and efficient during the past few months. They have hardly gone to bed at all, and no Foreign Office in the world could have performed as well.

The House should be aware of what has been agreed concerning flexibility. We have agreed that there should be 16 assembly points, and we believe that that number will be quite adequate for the forces of the Patriotic Front. The question of additional places will arise only if Patriotic Front forces assemble with their arms and equipment in numbers greater than can be dealt with by all the assembly points designated in the ceasefire agreement. We do not expect that question to arise, but if it does we shall deal with it.

Having been somewhat critical in the past, may I offer my sincere congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman, to the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) and to his noble Friend the Foreign Secretary? Does the Lord Privy Seal recognise that that success was due not only to his own persistence, patience and restraint but also to that of the leaders of the Patriotic Front, who have been under considerable pressures from their own people? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that we pray that fair and free elections will crown these protracted negotiations with an independent and democratic Zimbabwe?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's words. I think that he has introduced a new definition of "somewhat". I accept that the conference could not have taken place without the co-operation of the Patriotic Front as well as of the other delegations. However, I stress that the success of the agreement and the success of the future of Zimbabwe will depend upon exact compliance with what has been agreed at Lancaster House. That is vital. All parties must comply with that agreement.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it was a major act of courage and reconciliation that this Government decided to launch into the Lancaster House conference? Does he also accept that the spirit of reconciliation and compromise engendered by the conference must continue after Zimbabwe becomes independent if that country is to avoid the problems of the last 15 years?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Throughout the Lancaster House negotiations we stressed that reconciliation is our aim and must be the aim of everyone in Rhodesia. There must be a spirit of compromise, but I emphasise that no one will achieve what we want—the peace and prosperity of Rhodesia—unless there is full compliance with what has been agreed.

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have already risen in their place.

Will the Lord Privy Seal accept that all who wish to see a peaceful Zimbabwe welcome the agreement because it offers that prospect? Will he also accept—I am sure that he does—that the period until the elections is crucial if the agreement is to stick?

What specific action are the Government taking to ensure that South African troops remove themselves from Rhodesia at the earliest opportunity? Will he confirm that the ban on ZAPU and ZANU that prevents them from operating in the country legally will be lifted tomorrow?

What arrangements are being made to put proper limits on election expenses and to provide for the proper accounting of those election expenses? There are widespread reports in the press today that South African commercial interests are intent on pouring money into the support of Bishop Muzorewa's party.

As I have already said, there will be no foreign forces in Rhodesia. The only forces in Rhodesia will be Rhodesian forces and those of the Patriotic Front. We made very clear both at the conference and elsewhere that we did not contemplate any sort of purge in the personnel of the forces of either side. It is impossible to go through the forces of either side and to say that this man is a South African or that that man is a Mozambiquan.

I am in the middle of my answer.

There will be no foreign intervention during the elections. I agree that the next few weeks are vital for Rhodesia. I confirm what I said to the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore)—that as soon as the ceasefire agreement has been signed ZAPU and ZANU will be fully legalised.

I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend and his colleagues on this exceptional achievement. Can he clarify whether the ending of martial law means the immediate lifting of censorship on newspapers, radio and television?

I did not say that there would be an immediate ending of martial law. I said that the martial law courts had been suspended, but martial law itself would be lifted only when it was clear that the ceasefire was working successfully. We have said—as my hon. Friend will appreciate, it is part of the agreements—that there must be fair coverage by the media of all political parties during the elections.

As the ultimate successful outcome of the negotiations depends upon having an election which is accepted as free and fair by all the parties concerned, will the Lord Privy Seal confirm that the Governor has power to correct any imbalance which may have arisen because of the present superiority in election organisation of one side within the country? Will he be able to override civil contracts in order to ensure that all parties have proper access to buses, offices and the like for the establishment of their election arrangements?

We have said, of course, that the elections must be fully free and fair. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, those are all matters for the election commission, which will be set up immediately.

Will my right hon. Friend agree that it is not a moment too soon to follow through the success of this imaginative policy of reconciliation with an imaginative policy of reconstruction analogous to that which General Marshall applied to Europe immediately after the Second World War? Does he agree that there is now a great need for economic reconstruction in Rhodesia, and will he bear in mind that one of the major contributors to that economic reconstruction is bound to be South Africa?

I entirely agree that economic reconstruction must follow these political agreements and the elections—or, indeed, begin even before the elections. I was in Brussels today and mentioned that there was scope for Community help to Rhodesia, and I hope that that will be forthcoming.

I add my heartfelt congratulations to all concerned with the conference and its successful outcome. The right hon. Gentleman will know that I am particularly worried about the Commonwealth monitoring force and the possibility that it could be sucked into what I may call the happenings which such monitoring forces have historically encountered. Is the Governor aware of the feeling in the House that we would not want this force to be sucked into any mischievous happenings on the part of either side in Rhodesia which could pull our forces into what could be called set battles or anything of that kind?

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his congratulations and, if I may say so, the absence of "ifs" and "buts" in what he said. I share his hope and desire, and I can say that we shall have no intention of the monitoring force being drawn into incidents of the kind which he has in mind.

In view of the heartening news brought to the House by my right hon. Friend, can he now indicate the proposed timetable for the withdrawal of power and influence on the part of the present Governor?

The ceasefire period will begin to run from the signing of the agreement and should be complete a fortnight after that. There will then be elections at some period in February. The Governor will then be responsible for choosing a Prime Minister and also for setting in hand the elections for the Senate. Once the independent Rhodesia—or, at least the nearly independent Rhodesia—is on its feet, the Governor will immediately withdraw, or, rather, come back to England and resume his normal duties in this country.

I offer unstinted admiration and thanks to the Government and to all who have played their part in bringing about this agreement. Can the Lord Privy Seal enlarge on what he said about the instructions that he has given to the Governor about the amnesty, and, in particular, will he say whether in these circumstances the Government may feel it necessary during the remaining interim period before the election is held to issue further instructions, or does civil legislative and executive responsibility lie with the Governor? Without doubt, considerable tensions will remain and could give rise to disputes of a kind which might involve the Government directly. Are they prepared to consider these matters?

A copy of the ordinance which the Governor will issue will be placed in the Library of the House. I do not expect any further amnesty to be needed in the law of Southern Rhodesia, but obviously we shall keep the matter in mind.

In congratulating my right hon. Friend, I can assure him that his statement today will be greeted with great joy by the white Rhodesians and their families in Rhodesia, who have desperately wanted this settlement. Will he accept my assurance also that it will bring similar joy to the many thousands of families in Britain who have relatives over there and who have worried about them over such a long time? I congratulate my right hon. Friend wholeheartedly on having arrived at this happy solution to a dreadful situation.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I trust that the statement which I have made will bring great joy to the white Rhodesians and to their friends and relations over here, but I hope that it will bring great joy also to all Rhodesians of all colours, because the one thing that Rhodesia needs above all else is peace.

What consideration has been given to the position of General Walls now that the Governor is in post?

I add my congratulations to the entire Foreign Office team, both political and professional, on the achievement of this magnificent agreement at Lancaster House. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the economic reconstruction of Rhodesia may begin straight away, and, in particular, has he authorised the Commonwealth Development Corporation to resume its operations in that country?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. I entirely agree that the economic reconstruction must begin as soon as possible, but I think that it will be for the new independent Government to consult with the Commonwealth Development Corporation.

Order. I shall call the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) and the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton), since both have taken an interest in this matter, but they rose after I drew the line.

I am extremely grateful, Mr. Speaker.

In adding my congratulations to all concerned in the settlement, may I refer the right hon. Gentleman to something that he said about South African troops? He said that there would not be a purge in the various forces as to whether they were Mozambiquans or South Africans in one or other group. Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that that is not the point? The point is that there are official South African troops on the soil of what is now a British colony. Will he therefore answer the question which was put a little earlier: have they now been instructed to leave Rhodesia?

I thought that it was understood that there is no question of the presence of foregin units or South African units in Rhodesia under the Governer.

What steps are being taken to limit Soviet influence in Rhodesia and, in particular, the use of Soviet money in the forthcoming elections?

I can imagine no greater contribution to limiting Soviet influence in Rhodesia than the successful conclusion of these agreements, and, equally, no greater contribution to preventing Soviet influence than the bringing of peace to this country where there has been war. So I do not think that that is really a danger for the future.