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Volume 978: debated on Wednesday 6 February 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

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

The elections are now only three weeks away. Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Mugabe have returned to the country. The political campaign is under way.

Election broadcasts have begun. Each party has been allotted, equal time.

Election supervisors froth the United Kingdom are positioned throughout the country to oversee preparations for the elections. Arrangements have been made to return ballot papers to this country after the poll to set at rest fears that the secrecy of the vote will not be preserved.

The Commonwealth observer team has been in Rhodesia since 24 January and official observers from individual European and Commonwealth countries will arrive shortly.

Arrangements are being made through the usual channels for a small group of parliamentary observers to witness the elections.

Violent incidents continue to cause deep concern, although the numbers of incidents and of casualties remain far below those prevailing before the ceasefire came into force. The two attacks on buses last Sunday were particularly horrifying and distressing examples.

Today, we have heard of attacks on the house of Mr. Robert Mugabe and of one of his party officials. I know that hon. Members will join me in deploring all such attacks.

The great majority of the incidents investigated formally by the Ceasefire Commission have been attributed to Mr. Mugabe's ZANLA forces, several thousand of whom remain outside the assembly places in breach of the agreements.

Patriotic Front military commanders are present at all meetings of the Ceasefire Commission and have accepted these findings. Action has been taken to discipline elements in the auxiliaries who have acted in breach of the agreements.

The principal threat to fair elections comes from large-scale intimidation of the rural population. In certain parts of the country it has been made impossible for even Mr. Nkomo or Bishop Muzorewa to hold meetings. People have been told that if they, do not vote according to the wishes of a party, the war will continue or they will be killed. This is a matter of great concern.

The parties signed a solemn undertaking at Lancaster House to campaign peacefully and without intimidation. The Governor has invited them to renew that commitment. It is vital that people should be able to make up their own minds about their political future without fear of the consequences.

The Governor has also taken the power to impose limited penalties against any—any—party or its candidates which fails to honour its undertakings.

The return of refugees from neighbouring countries has begun under arrangements co-ordinated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It is hoped that all those in Botswana will return before the elections, as well as a high proportion of those in Zambia.

The return of the refugees from Mozambique is also proceeding, though more slowly because of the unsettled condition in the east of the country.

At our insistence, the political detainees held by ZANU in Mozambique have, like all political detainees in Rhodesia, been released.

Road and rail links with neighbouring countries are being reopened. Diplomatic representatives from nine countries are present in Salisbury with six more to follow shortly. An important and positive development has been the introduction of joint patrols by Patriotic Front forces and the police in the vicinity of assembly areas.

Nevertheless, the Governor's task the remaining weeks will be, no easier than it has been up till now But what has been achieved so far by way of giving effect to the Lancaster House agreements represents a much greater advance than many people dared to hope for.

I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to the Governor for the determination and fairness that he has shown in dealing with the sensitive problems and conflicting pressures that I have described.

Against this background of solid achievement, the Government regret that the tone of last week's debate on Rhodesia in the United Nations Security Council was absurdly one-sided and selective. Such polemics can only increase tension and make the implementation of the settlement more difficult.

Machinery already exists in Salisbury for the investigation and redress of grievances, and, as the Security Council has frequently told us, that responsibility is ours.

The Government felt it inappropriate to associate themselves in any way with a resolution that purported to reinterpret the agreements reached with the parties at Lancaster House. The United Kingdom did not, therefore, participate in the vote.

I am sure that the whole House will wish to condemn the attacks last night on Mr. Mugabe and one of his leading supporters in Salisbury. It illustrates once again the real dangers to which all African politicians in Rhodesia are exposed today. It also indicates that the dangers that threaten arise from many different quarters and are not to be identified with any one faction or allegiance in that country. It further illustrates the paramount need to make the ceasefire effective and to combat terrorism.

We welcome the progress that has been made and a number of the matters that are recorded in the Lord Privy Seal's statement, but we understand that there are still great difficulties to be overcome in the next three weeks.

We note that the Governor has taken important powers in the new ordinance to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. The use of some of those powers may be unavoidable. However, I suggest that any decision to disqualify a political party, whether nationally or in any of the eight electoral regions of Rhodesia, would be a decision of the utmost gravity and would put in doubt in a dangerous way the validity of the whole electoral process. I certainly hope that every opportunity will be given to the House to comment upon any proposed decision of that kind before it was taken.

We understand the difficulties of the Governor and his small staff. They are inevitably relying upon an Administration who, by history and tradition, have a view of the future which is not necessarily the view of hon. Members on either side of the House. We understand all the limitations, but it is important that the Governor should not only be impartial but be seen to be impartial in all the things that he does.

I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that it is not sensible for him to be so dismissive of the recent discussion in the Security Council. When all is said and done, all that it was calling for at the end of the day was that we should all observe the Lancaster House agreement to the full. I cannot have it said that there are 15 members of the Security Council, all of whom have some deep-dyed animosity and suspicion directed against this country. That is not so.

I should like to put three brief questions. The right hon. Gentleman referred—this is an important matter—to action taken not only against ZANLA guerrillas who have not legitimised themselves by reporting to their assembly points but against the auxiliaries—a genuine and real problem. The right hon. Gentleman says that some action has been taken. What action? This is important in relation to the building up of confidence.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the return of refugees. This, again, is an important matter. My information is that there have been extraordinarily protracted procedural delays at the borders, particularly with Botswana. Can the right hon. Gentleman throw any light on this matter and suggest how the problems can be overcome?

I am aware that the political detainees have been released, but the right hon. Gentleman will agree that there are over 2,000 court martial offenders who have not yet been released. There may be difficulties, but there are, surely, ways of accelerating this process. At the very least, in my view, the ICRC should be admitted to them. That would be a reassuring measure in itself. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider releasing them at least to the assembly points? If they are people who have previously belonged to one or other of the Patriotic Front forces, why cannot they be released to the assembly points where the others are gathered?

On the crucial question of the prevention of intimidation and the proper enforcement of the ceasefire, will the Government look again, and get the Governor to look again, at the text of the Lancaster House agreement, with its clear and specific emphasis on the role of the separate armed forces, and how each of them, in the first instance, is to enforce the law? I should like to feel, and I should like him to assure the House, that the right hon. Gentleman is calling upon the different armed forces to enforce the peace and to deal with breaches of the ceasefire in their areas. Will he give the assurance that only if they are unable to do that will he call in those forces who are prepared to obey the Governor's remit?

I thoroughly agree with the early part of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks but I regret slightly the somewhat grudging tenor of his later remarks. I should like to take what he said in order.

Of course, we agree that to disqualify a political party would be an act of utmost gravity. That is why the Governor has promulgated the ordinance today that gives him far less draconian and far more moderate powers. For instance, he can prohibit meetings by the party concerned in certain areas where it has breached the agreement, or suspend a candidate from all or part of the campaign, and so on. I agree that the exercise of any of those powers, in itself, would be undesirable, but it is far less undesirable than the systematic intimidation that is at present going on. If there are to be full, fair and free elections, there must be a great diminution of, and an end to, this intimidation. Therefore, the Governor has to take these powers and has to be unflinching in his operation of them.

I regret what the right hon. Gentleman said about the impartiality of the Governor. Of course, he is impartial—

By all men of good will, he is seen to be impartial. He has undertaken this task as a matter of great public service and he is discharging it exactly as one would expect, according to the highest possible standards.

What the right hon. Gentleman said about the United Nations is wrong. A great many allegations have been made that the right hon. Gentleman would not countenance if he read what has been said. He would deplore them more strongly, if anything, than I have done. There are 14 other members. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that all the Western members gave an explanation of their votes that showed clearly what they thought. Their view of what was going on was far nearer mine than that of the right hon. Gentleman.

The achievements in respect of refugees have been considerable. Nearly 10,000 have already been moved from Botswana. It is hoped that the operation will be completed by 21 February. There are fewer than 2,000 martial law detainees still detained. It would have been fairer if the right hon. Gentleman had said—as I told him earlier—that originally there were over 5,000 martial law detainees. Considerable progress has been made. We hope that further progress will be made, but the right hon. Gentleman and the House will appreciate that there is a considerable security problem. The Governor is reviewing the matter and hopes to let out more, but I cannot promise that all will be let out by the time the election comes forward.

The auxiliaries are, of course, monitored by the monitoring force. When accusations have been made against them, these are investigated. Disciplinary action has been taken, and will continue to be taken, against them if they transgress what they should be doing, but the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that in many parts they are doing things, such as reopening schools, and so forth, that cannot possibly be open to any form of criticism. If they go too far and engage in intimidation they must be dealt with, like anyone else.

I preface my remarks by welcoming the progress that has been made since the Lord Privy Seal last made a statement. Does he recall that a few weeks ago he was very irritated in this House at those of us who questioned the implementation of the Lancaster House agreement in terms of the removal of South African troops? Will he, therefore, not turn his current irritation against the Security Council? There must be something deeply wrong when we find ourselves at variance with the United States on the vote. I hope that all this will be put behind us now that the South African troops are removed, and that we shall concentrate on the future rather than blame the Security Council.

According to reports that I have received—I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can confirm them—one of the difficulties in the country is the growing scale of independent banditry among groups of people not properly under the control of Mr. Mugabe or Bishop Muzorewa. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the monitoring forces are satisfied that they are able to monitor the auxiliaries when they, unlike the guerrillas, are not even required to be, or supposed to be, in particular assembly points?

Will the right hon. Gentleman give a reassurance that it is intended that the Commonwealth monitoring force will remain until after polling day and until the newly elected Government have been formed and properly installed?

The date of the monitoring forces' withdrawal has not yet been decided. The auxiliaries are monitored. Plainly, however, there have been incidents where they have been at fault. Otherwise, they would not have been disciplined. They will continue to be monitored.

The right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that there are some bandits about. I do not think that anyone believes that they are the main cause of the trouble.

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman said in welcoming the progress that has been made. As to his remarks about the United Nations, I can only repeat what I said to the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore). If the right hon. Gentleman reads the debate he will see that he is lining himself up with sentiments with which he could not possibly agree. It is for the American Government to explain their vote. I should, however, point out that both the American and the French representatives made strong statements of support for the Governor's efforts and endorsed our view that the resolution could not be treated as a reinterpretation of the Lancaster House agreement.

:Can my right hon. Friend confirm that between 4,000 and 5,000 of Mr. Mugabe's guerrillas are still operating inside the country and that a similar number of Mr. Nkomo's guerrillas are under arms on the Zambian side of the frontier? Is he aware, following upon the disqualification question raised by the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), that there is a growing feeling inside Rhodesia, among blacks as much as, if not more than, whites, that the Government are embarking upon a public relations exercise over the elections to get us off the hook? Will he refute that calumny and make clear that we shall support the Governor in every way possible to ensure that the letter and the spirit of the Lancaster House agreement are observed?

I said that there were several thousand ZANLA guerrillas about. It is impossible to make an exact estimate of their numbers, but I have no reason to believe that my right hon. Friend's estimate is particularly inaccurate. As to the ZIPRA forces, I do not know the answer. They have co-operated very well in the ceasefire and with the Governor, and we have no complaints against them.

I did not know that it had been put out that we were engaged in a public relations exercise. It is hardly worth refuting the calumny. I certainly welcome the opportunity that my right hon. Friend has given to say that we shall carry out the Lancaster House agreement to the full, and that we shall ensure that there are free and fair elections in Rhodesia.

Does the Lord Privy Seal not agree that when the entire Security Council takes a different view from Britain about what is going on in Rhodesia it creates some uncertainty for us about his assurance that nobody is in any doubt about the Governor's impartiality? Would it not reinforce that impartiality if we were to end martial law, let out the martial law prisoners, who are detained only because they were involved in the fighting, and keep the auxiliaries in barracks, just as the Patriotic Front forces are kept in their assembly areas?

No one could accuse the hon. Gentleman of inconsistency in these matters. I think that he would certainly have fitted very well into the United Nations debate. However, if only he would read that debate even he would be shaken by what was said, and he would also realise that to say that 14 members of the United Nations were agreed against us is sheer rubbish.

It would be impracticable to free all the martial law detainees. More than half have already been freed. It is right that the auxiliaries should be closely monitored, and they are, but the idea of returning them to barracks is not practicable.

At a time when the cool courage of the British and Commonwealth troops is being praised on all sides, will my right hon. Friend give the most careful consideration to arguments in favour of withdrawing those forces before the final election result is known, since many feel that otherwise they will be in a perilous position?

As I have already said, we have not yet decided on the exact date of withdrawal of the monitoring force. I am glad to hear what my hon. Friend said about it. It is universally agreed that its behaviour has been marvellous. Very small detachments brought in large numbers of guerrillas, and those detachments behaved with considerable courage and great skill and impartiality. I know that the whole House will want to pay tribute to them.

Towards the beginning of his statement the Lord Privy Seal referred to observers from individual European countries. What is their locus and their function?

Their locus is that they are representatives of European countries. They will be observing the elections.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that only the most biased person would question the independence and impartiality of the Governor? In order to deal with matters of intimidation, has not legal action been taken in respect of a considerable number of instances and court sentences passed on those found guilty?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The House should realise that not just Bishop Muzorewa or the internal parties are complaining about intimidation. Mr. Nkomo and his party have also complained. Labour Members should bear that in mind.

What contingency plans have been formulated to meet the possibility, if not the inevitability, that any election result that does not advantage Mr Mugabe's party will not be regarded as valid?

I do not think that contingency plans are needed for that. Clearly, however, certain people have made up their minds already. Their definition of a free and fair election is that Mr. Mugabe should win.

Last year, in spite of the hostility of the Patriotic Front, an illegal regime managed to hold what many independent observers regarded as free and fair elections. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the resources now exist on a similar scale to ensure that free and fair elections will be held under the present regime?

I think that the resources are there. They will be very similar, because the same people are involved. However, there have been some worrying incidents, which is why the Governor has taken additional powers today under the new ordinance.

Will the right hon. Gentleman be very careful of his language in this fragile matter? What can he mean by saying that Bishop Muzorewa and the "internal parties" are concerned and that Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Mugabe are also concerned? Both men represent internal parties and have every right to take part in the elections. It is this kind of slight that is continually renewing the problem, especially when severe restrictions are placed on the return of refugees. Males are individually examined and told that they cannot come in because they are guerrillas. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore confirm that every refugee from Rhodesia is entitled to return to that country as quickly as possible in order to participate in the election?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's motives are good, but his first point is frivolous. He must know perfectly well that when I refer to the "internal parties" I mean those that were internal before the Lancaster House agreement. That is what they are called, and that is well known. It is a point too obvious to stress that Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Nkomo are allowed to take part in the election. If that were not so they would not have been allowed to return to the country. The hon. Gentleman does not need to labour matters of that sort.

On the question of refugees, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has read the Lancaster House agreement. Refugees are allowed to return, although it was made clear that it would be impossible for all of them to return before the election. It was also made clear that guerrillas or former guerrillas would not be allowed to return under the guise of refugees.

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been rising and the Opposition Front Bench spokesman at the end as usual.

Is it not true that the overwhelming proponderance of acts of intimidation so far, including the murders at Rusape last weekend have been the direct responsibility of ZANU/ZANLA? If that is so, is it not the duty of the Government to make that absolutely plain, not only in Rhodesia but in this country and the rest of the world.

It is true that of 70 incidents adjudicated on by the Ceasefire Commission, 54 have been ascribed to ZANLA or ZANLA-dominated areas.

To meet the United Nations criticism, would the Lord Privy Seal consider inviting United Nations observers to join the other observers? I welcome the withdrawal of South African troops from Bietbridge, but can the right hon. Gentleman give a categorical assurance that there are no South African troops or mercenaries operating in the country? I want to maintain impartiality, but why is the aged Catholic Bishop Lamont being asked to leave Rhodesia?

The bishop has been allowed in. There are no South African units in Rhodesia, but, as we said throughout the Lancaster House conference and since we would not carry out a purge either of the Rhodesian forces or the Patriotic Front forces. There are South Africans in the Rhodesian forces just as there are Mozambiquans among the Patriotic Front.

As for the United Nations observers, there are already 100 observers of one sort or another in Rhodesia. The behaviour of the United Nations in the debate last week has not reinforced its claim.

:Will my right hon. Friend continue the resistance that he has shown to the pressure being placed upon him by some Labour Members to cast serious aspersions on the important role that the South Africans have played in the defence of Western interests in Southern Africa, including Rhodesia, since, if things go seriously wrong, the South Africans alone will have the power to retrieve the situation?

We have been grateful to the South Africans for providing certain materials for the elections. I hope that the South African Government and all neighbouring Governments will continue to co-operate with us.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that the nature of the questions from his fellow Tories and the nature of his answers clearly indicate that the Government are being dragged, kicking and screaming, towards democracy in Rhodesia? Does he not realise, when talking about intimidation, that Mr. Mugabe's relatives and Mr. Mugabe himself have been attacked? Mr. Mugabe was kept out of Rhodesia by the British Government and their biased Governor—who has been condemned at the United Nations—and he and the Patriotic Front have not had sufficient time to campaign. Why are such questions emerging from the Tory Party and why are such answers being given when the Patriotic Front would have returned ultimately despite the South African racialist troops who were operating in that sensitive situation until they were kicked out by the Security Council?

There is a great deal of soap-box nonsense about the question of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). It is quite wrong to say that the Governor is biased. When they look back on the United Nations' debate even Opposition Members, who do not have very high standards in these matters, will not relish the company that they were keeping.

Does my right hon. Friend believe that it would be a fine thing if the Opposition in this House was as impartial as the Governor? Does he agree that in promoting thin, second election the Government have taken on a heavy responsibility for ensuring that it is at least as fair and free as the first one? Will he and the Governor not hesitate to use any powers that are necessary to ensure that intimidation does not succeed?

I can give that assurance to hon. Friend. I apologise to the hon. Member for Hillsborough, who asked about Mr. Mugabe. Of course I have deplored the attacks on him. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not here when I made it clear in my statement that we did deplore it, as we deplore all attacks of that kind. It is worth bearing in mind that part of the reason for the delay in Mr. Mugabe's return to Rhodesia was that he was locking up 71 politicians in Mozambique. We thought that those politicians should be allowed to return to Rhodesia to fight the elections. I hope that the hon. Gentleman approves of that.

With regard to those bounders in the Security Council who made unwarranted allegations so effectively that they swayed everyone else to vote against us, does the Lord Privy Seal extend his criticism in these matters to any of the 104 members of the General Assembly who voted against the Soviet Union?

The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) can always be relied upon to put in a plug for the Soviet Union. It should be realised that there are many reasons for casting votes in the United Nations as the members of the Opposition Front Bench are well aware. A vote cannot always be taken at its face value as those same Front Benchers know.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied and confident that the losers in the coming election, whoever they might be, will accept defeat in peace? Is he also satisfied that the forces of law and order that will then operate under the authority of the winners of the election, whoever they might be, will be able to maintain peace in that lovely country?

All these matters were agreed at the Lancaster House conference. They are enshrined in the agreement and we must all hope that all the parties to that agreement will keep their word.

In his statement the right hon. Gentleman spoke of systematic intimidation in Southern Rhodesia and said that he deplored it. In view of the moderate and conciliatory speeches being made by both leaders of the Patriotic Front would the right hon. Gentleman like to deplore the systematic intimidation being carried out by the leader of the Rhodesian Front in his continuing dialogue with South Africa and the threat that that dialogue poses to the result in any election in Zimbabwe?

I do not know what the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) is talking about. I am not aware of the dialogue to which he refers but I and the Government deplore all intimidation, wherever it comes from. The majority of that intimidation is coming from one quarter but all intimidation is thoroughly to be deplored.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the reply he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) was completely unsatisfactory? Will he now tell me what is the locus and what are the functions of the independent European countries in Rhodesia?

The locus of those countries is much the same as that of countries from other continents. I do not see why the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart), or the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) are particularly worried about Western European countries. The United States and other countries have been invited to send observers. Their locus is that they are independent countries and as I have said their functions are to observe.

If I may say so, the Lord Privy Seal has been uncharacteristically dyspeptic and ill-tempered throughout the course of our exchanges. His mood has not been helped by the contributions made from the Government side. We all accept the tribute paid by the right hon. Gentleman to the monitoring force that has played, and is playing, an absolutely crucial role in the ceasefire arrangements. However, is it not the case that Rhodesia is still bedevilled—as the incident referred to and the attempt on Mr. Mugabe's life demonstrate—by bandit groups? I take the phrase from the Leader of the Liberal Party. Those groups are not necessarily part of the main forces of either of the major guerrilla groups. There are elements of the guerrilla groups that have not reported and they are also dangerous.

I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that there is also a danger from at least elements of the auxiliary forces, who, as he knows, are not under the same kind of supervision as other forces in Rhodesia. My question, linked to the tribute already paid to the Commonwealth monitoring force, is whether is is possible to get a modest but necessary reinforcement of the Commonwealth monitoring force into Rhodesia during the next few weeks.

I believe that an additional force of between 600 and 800 Commonwealth military observers could make a substantial difference to the situation. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the return of Bishop Lamont will be unconditional? The bishop is a man who is held in high esteem in Rhodesia, and it would be a great pity if limitations or constraints were imposed on his stay there. I know that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to give as fair a record as possible. Will he therefore say how many charges have been brought against auxiliaries who have been accused of acts of misconduct and ill discipline?

I welcome what the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) said about the monitoring force and its conduct of events. If any of the auxiliaries behave badly they will be dealt with. I will draw the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman to the attention of the Governor, who, I know, is well aware of all relevant matters. If the Governor requested reinforcements we would seek to get such reinforcements from the Commonwealth. He has not done so. I have no further information about Bishop Lamont. When I have more information I will give it to the right hon. Gentleman.