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Volume 976: debated on Wednesday 16 January 1980

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asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the progress being made towards a ceasefire and new elections in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, following the appointment of Lord Soames as Governor.


asked the Lord Privy Seal what arrangements have been made to hold elections in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.

The ceasefire in Rhodesia came into effect at midnight on 28 December. Rhodesian forces disengaged and deployed to the vicinity of their company bases. Some 20,000 members of the Patriotic Front's forces have subsequently gathered with their arms at designated assembly points. A number of breaches of the ceasefire have been reported. These have mostly been attributable to elements of Mr. Mugabe's forces. The Governor has taken appropriate steps to deal with breaches of the ceasefire in accordance with the, Lancaster House agreements. Cross-border liaison arrangements have been made between the monitoring force and the defence forces of Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana. These are working satisfactorily. Zambia and Mozambique have opened liaison offices in Salisbury. The House will wish to pay tribute to the skilful and courageous performance of the monitoring force during this difficult period.

The Governor has announced that elections for the white roll seats will take place on 14 February and those for the common roll seats on 27 to 29 February. Registration of parties for the election was completed on 14 January, and nominations have to be in by 21 January. The election commissioner and his staff are supervising preparations for the elections.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. While appreciating and acknowledging the difficult, dangerous and unique combined military and civil operation now under way in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia—and in no way wishing to belittle or exaggerate any recent problem or tragedy in the last three weeks—may I ask my right hon. Friend to give the House some reassurance about how the Administration intend to deal with possible intimidation of voters, especially in the scattered rural areas?

My hon. Friend will be aware that intimidation is forbidden by the Lancaster House agreements and it will be for the Governor, his staff and the police to see that intimidation does not occur. It is impossible to abolish it completely, but the Governor will do everything in his power to see that it is kept to a minimum.

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that South African troops have been withdrawn from Zimbabwe-Rhodesia? If they have not been withdrawn, will he assure us that they will not be allowed to interfere with the election process, and that all the parties involved in the election will be allowed access to the broadcasting media? Is the right hon. Gentleman disturbed by the comments made by the front-line Presidents to the effect that there should be complete impartiality in these matters?

I cannot assure the House that all South African troops have been withdrawn because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Governor has reviewed the situation and has decided that a small contingent of South African forces is required to guard the Beit bridge. The Governor will keep this matter under review. The bridge is half South African property. On the question of broadcasting, an official from the BBC visited Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. The Governor is observing the broadcasts carefully and, here again, it is laid down in the Lancaster House agreements that there should be impartiality. So far I have heard no complaints.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the tribute of the House to General Acland and the British and Commonwealth forces is not merely recorded here but is actually transmitted? Secondly, will he deal with what seems to me a small problem that has been built up to major proportions, namely, the small contingent of South African forces which is on one side of the bridge—

which is considered incorrect? Is it not possible for the Commonwealth monitoring forces to be there? It seems that this matter is greatly exaggerated in the eyes of many coloured people.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I shall certainly see that the tribute is sent out to General Acland. I also entirely agree with my hon. Friend that this matter has been greatly exaggerated. We made clear at the Lancaster House conference that there will be no external intervention or involvement in Rhodesia at this period, and we are in touch with the Governor to ensure that this is so. But I cannot accept that a small South African presence to defend Beit bridge amounts to external intervention. All that is required is the protection of the bridge, which is a joint venture. I can assure my hon. Friend that there is a monitoring force very close to the bridge which monitors what goes on.

I am sure that the whole House will welcome the progress which has been made so far towards the difficult goal of acheiving an effective ceasefire and taking the first and very important steps towards holding elections, which we trust will be free and fair. May I turn to two questions, one of which has just been raised by the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans)? The question of the safeguarding of Beit bridge is difficult. We know very well that it is a crucial installation and therefore it must be properly protected. There should be no doubt in anyone's mind about that. The right hon. Gentleman will know better than most that a specific pledge was given at the Lancaster House conference, and in the House on 18 December he said:

"…there will be no foreign forces in Rhodesia."—[Official Report, 18 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 309.]
In the light of the need to keep good will and general acceptability and to build up trust, it does not make sense to do what is being done. I am in favour of using either the direct Rhodesian security forces to secure the Rhodesian side of the bridge or of using any Commonwealth or other forces which are available. Does not the right hon. Gentleman understand—he surely must—the legitimate and reasonable sensitivity that there is about this matter, particularly in the light of his own strong words and the pledges which he has given?

My second question—

All right—I shall put it quickly.

In terms of the ceasefire arrangements, is the Lord Privy Seal satisfied that enforcement is in the first instance by the forces of the two sides and, where an infringement takes place, does he agree that that process ought to precede any attempt to call out the security forces, which should be the last resort? Is he satisfied that that procedure is being followed?

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's second question is that that is in fact what happens, and the Patriotic Front commanders are invariably, if time allows, contacted before anything happens. As regards the right hon. Gentleman's welcome to what is going on, I think that the House will be interested to hear one figure which puts a good deal of the reports of the past few days into perspective. The total number of people killed in Rhodesia since the ceasefire is the same as the number killed daily before the ceasefire. That again calls for considerable congratulations to all concerned—to the Governor, the monitoring force, the Rhodesian forces and the Patriotic Front.

I have already said what I have to say about Beit bridge. I cannot accept that the presence just across the border of a very small detachment of South Africans can be said to be a foreign involvement in Rhodesia. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] As I have said, this is also monitored by the monitoring force, and the Governor will, of course, keep this situation under review. We hope that, before independence, the need for special measures to defend the bridge will have disappeared.

May I join right hon. and hon. Members on both sides in pressing the Government to look again at this question? Is it not normal practice, where there is a crossing point between any two States, that each side is guarded by the respective State? Why is that normal rule not being followed here? Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that this is a provocative irritant in an otherwise possibly successful ceasefire settlement?

With respect, I must ask the House to look at this matter with some sense of proportion. Let us look at what has happened since the Governor took over. The ceasefire has been established; the monitoring force is deployed; a large number of the Patriotic Front forces have been assembled, with very few incidents involving the forces of both sides; restrictions on political parties have been lifted and arrangements for elections are well in hand; the majority of ZANU and ZAPU political leaders have returned; relations with neighbouring countries have been normalised; plans for the return of refugees are well advanced and it is hoped that movement will start next week; internal restrictions have been greatly relaxed; many detainees have been released, while the cases of the remainder are being reviewed, and a general amnesty has been declared.

Those are remarkable achievements in a very short time, and it seems to me extraordinary that, instead of concentrating on that, the House should concentrate entirely on a very small detachment of South African troops.