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Volume 977: debated on Wednesday 23 January 1980

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( by private notice)

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether, following the assassination last night in Salisbury of a candidate of one of the main political parties, he will make a statement on the progress of the ceasefire and the preparation for the elections.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Richard Luce)

In the absence of my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, I shall reply.

We naturally greatly regret the incident to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. I understand that police investigations are in hand. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal gave a full account of progress on the ceasefire and preparations for the elections in this House on Wednesday 16 January. I have nothing to add to that and to the remarks that I made during the debate on the two Southern Rhodesia orders the following day.

I thank the Minister. Because we all want elections that are free and fair, we deplore this act of violence and, indeed, all other breaches of the ceasefire, from whatever source they come. Whoever turns out to be responsible—and I understand that police investigations are taking place—does not the Minister agree that this event reinforces the warnings and complaints against the use of undisciplined auxiliaries made by Mr. Sithole and Mr. Nkomo in Salisbury only this weekend? Can the Minister assure the House that these auxiliaries are under proper control and are being effectively monitored by the Commonwealth military observers? Will he now reaffirm the Lancaster House agreement that breaches of the ceasefire should in the first instance be dealt with by the armed forces—Rhodesian and Patriotic Front—to which the malefactors are thought to belong?

Will the Government now instruct the Governor that in those circumstances, when the security forces have to be used it will be the regular forces and not the auxiliaries that are deployed?

Finally, will the Minister take this opportunity of refuting the very damaging report in The Times today that Mr. Mugabe may be banned from entering Rhodesia owing to unresolved differences over the release of detainees? Such a ban would be a disastrous error of judgment.

The specific incident to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, as I have said, is under police investigations. I do not think that there is any more that I can add to that.

The auxiliaries, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows—we discussed this last week—are, of course, accountable, like all the other forces—Rhodesian security forces, the police and the Patriotic Front forces—to the Governor. In that sense they are monitored. If any incidents are reported with regard to their activities—there have been some—they are reported to the Ceasefire Commission and investigated.

Breaches of the ceasefire are part of the same question. All these forces are responsible to the Governor for ensuring that the ceasefire is observed. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Governor's primary responsibility is to call out the police first, and it is only when the police are unable to deal with the situation that he can call upon the Rhodesian security forces, or, for that matter, the Patriotic Front forces, to help him to deal with the situation and to bring matters under control.

As for Mr. Mugabe, I understand that he hopes to return very soon. There is one very serious point and one very serious obligation, which I believe—I am sure that the whole House will agree—is of very great importance if this agreement is to succeed. At present,Mr. Mugabe detains no fewer than 71 people in Mozambique. If the Lancaster House agreement is to be fulfilled, it is singularly important that he should undertake his part of the agreement and his obligation by releasing the detainees. I hope that he does that this week.

Perhaps I may pursue the Minister a little further on the question of the detainees. Of course they should be released, but is the Minister confident that these detainees are in the charge of Mr. Mugabe and not in the charge of the Mozambique Government, in whose territory, certainly, they are? What efforts have been made to establish that point? The Minister mentioned a figure of 71. That is an important number, but can he say how many detainees there still are inside Rhodesia itself—those who are still being held under martial law and other legislation? I think that it is time that we had the two figures, as it were, brought together.

The detainees in Mozambique are people who were detained by Mr. Mugabe and his ZANU movement, but they are detained in Mozambique prisons, so there is a joint responsibility by both the Mozambiquan Government and Mr. Mugabe. I should say that we are therefore making very strong representations both to the Mozambiquan Government and to Mr. Mugabe. We hope that they will both be able to respond.

I should also add that in many other respects the Mozambiquan Government have been very co-operative in respect of this agreement.

Is my hon. Friend aware that while the Governor is troubled on all sides by those who seek to gain political ground by the use of violence, many Conservative Members feel that the Governor has been remarkably judicious and even-handed in the weeks during which he has been in Salisbury? Secondly, will the Government continue to resist calls for British troops to play a more active part in maintaining peace in Rhodesia?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am quite sure that the Governor will be. Bearing in mind the extremely difficult situation with which he deals, he will be the first to accept that complaints are coming in from all sides, and he regards this as part of his job. I do not think that he would mind my saying that he has broad shoulders, both physically and metaphorically, to enable him to deal with this very difficult situation. The House should not underestimate the achievements of the Governor and his team over the last five weeks. They are quite remarkable.

As for British troops, as my hon. Friend knows, we make a substantial contribution to the monitoring force. The Governor has already stated that in his view all component parts of the monitoring force have fulfilled an outstanding task in the last five weeks. There is no question but that their task is a monitoring task and not a peacekeeping task. There is no suggestion that any British troops should be involved in peacekeeping as opposed to monitoring.

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the Governor is complying with the agreement in the following respects: in allowing the undisciplined auxiliaries, with their personal allegiances, to act as part of the security forces; in allowing Walls—as he has been doing—to publish communiqués without the Governor's oversight and vetting; in making clear in public comments—again, he has been doing this—that he hopes that Robert Mugabe does not win; and in accepting South African intervention, particularly in view of the Lord Privy Seal's words during Question Time on, I think, 18 December, that there could be no question of any foreign intervention in Rhodesia?

I am a little surprised by the one-sided nature of those questions. [Interruption.] Of course, I accept that they are all valid questions, but I am slightly surprised by their one-sided nature.

All the parties agreed at Lancaster House that the auxiliaries would come under the authority of the Rhodesian forces and, in turn, of the Governor, once he arrived. That is the position now. As I have already stated several times previously—last week and today—any incidents that are reported with regard to the auxiliaries or, for that matter. any other forces—and we are at present deeply disturbed by the number of incidents that have emanated from the ZANU forces—are reported to the Ceasefire Commission.

General Walls is accountable, and all his actions are accountable, to the Governor. At the end of the day, all these forces are accountable to the Governor. That is the essential prerequisite to success.

As for the South African situation, we made it plain before the Governor arrived that there would be no external intervention. As we discussed very fully last week, the Governor has announced, with the agreement of my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary, that there should be a small contingent of South African troops within the vicinity of Beitbridge, whose sole purpose is to defend that bridge. We have been over the argument for this, and I gave the reasons very carefully last week.

Given that it is enormously difficult to protect people from assassination, can the Minister assure the House that particular efforts are being made to protect the major personalities, who are obvious targets in the election? Given that two wrongs do not make a right and that the detention of people in Mozambique cannot be justified by the argument that some are detained in Rhodesia, will the hon. Gentleman say what right of appeal exists for those still in detention in Rhodesia? What direct contact has he had with the Government of Mozambique in regard to the 71 persons in detention there?

It was agreed at Lancaster House that the Governor would have responsibility for doing his best to ensure that during the election all the political candidates were as secure as possible. Naturally, the Governor is deeply concerned by what happened last night. His major obligation is to undertake to give the best security possible to the main political leaders in Rhodesia. That he has undertaken to do.

I apologise to the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) for not giving a complete answer to his original question about detainees, whether in Mozambique or Salisbury. The Governor has released the 81 detainees who were detained under ministerial orders in Rhodesia when he arrived. The final lot were released during the course of last week. He is at the same time reviewing the cases of all those who might be affected by the amnesty ordinance that was passed in Rhodesia.

As for martial law detainees, which may have been in the back of the right hon. Gentleman's mind, martial law will be brought to an end just as soon as all the parties are prepared to conform with the ceasefire. We are in daily touch with the Mozambiquan Government, the President and his Ministers, as well as with ZANU, on the question of the detainees in Mozambique.

Order. I propose to call three more hon. Members from either side. This is a private notice question, and an extension of Question Time.

Does my hon. Friend realise that the happy marriage is never news but the seamy divorce always hits the headlines? It is important that the achievements of the Governor and information such as that of the release of the 81 detainees that the hon. Gentleman has given to the House today—all moves in the right direction—should be given greater publicity. It is important to obtain a balance rather than that the world press should report only the odd bad instances that occur during the ceasefire.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is a natural characteristic to focus on the problems rather than on the progress that has been made. My hon. Friend is right in stating that we should not underestimate the remarkable achievements of the last few weeks, whether we are talking about progress on the ceasefire, the normalising of relations between Rhodesia and the surrounding States, the progress on refugees, freedom of the individual, electoral progress achieved by the Election Commissioner, or economic progress.

Is it not clear that the Governor has shown unmistakable bias against ZANU and that the total evidence indicates that he is going out of his way to ensure than ZANU is inhibited in the election campaign? If that is not true, will the Minister give details in response to the written questions that I asked earlier this week? His answers neglect to show how many incidents were attributable to ZANU and how many to any other party.

I refute totally any suggestion that the Governor is biased. It is my view and, I think, the view of those who have observed him at work, that the achievements of the Governor and his team over the past few weeks have been terrific. He should be thanked for everything that he is doing in that respect. The hon. Gentleman may have his complaints—he has every right to raise them—but participants in the election, now that they are in Salisbury, have every right to make their anxieties known through the machinery that is available—the Ceasefire Commission, the Election Council, or the Governor himself—which all the leaders are in the process of doing. The Governor's doors are open. He is anxious to fulfil the letter and the spirit of the Lancaster House agreement.

Is it true that there are still many thousands of ZANU guerrillas out in the bush and that no serious attempt appears to have been made to persuade them to come in to the collecting points? If this is true, why should Mr. Mugabe be permitted to take part in this election on the same basis as other parties?

About 21,600 Patriotic Front forces have now assembled in the 14 assembly places. That is a remarkable achievement in itself. On the other hand—I think that this is the point that my hon. Friend is making—there are still substantial numbers of forces, particularly ZANLA forces, who have infringed the ceasefire agreement, who have come across from Mozambique and who are still operating, particularly in the eastern parts of Rhodesia. This is a very serious point. It challenges the whole agreement. We hope that, very quickly indeed, Mr. Mugabe will bring his forces under control.

Surely, the Minister will agree that it is a cause of concern that there are deteriorating relations between British troops enforcing the ceasefire and some of those who have come out of the bush. How many instances have been reported to him of attacks upon, and shooting of, ZANU and ZIPRA forces, who have initially come out of the bush into the assembly areas?

I am not able to give precise figures. As the hon. Gentleman will know, every day complaints of incidents are taking place. I can tell him that the largest proportion of allegations of incidents and actual evidence of incidents comes from the operation of ZANLA forces. That is a clear fact.

Will my hon. Friend make clear to the Governor not only that he enjoys our immense admiration for what he has already achieved but that he will have the whole-hearted support, at least of the Government side of the House, for any steps that he considers it necessary to take anywhere in Rhodesia to make clear that legitimate terrorism no longer exists?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that his views reflect those of the vast majority in the House. In fairness, this point was made last week by Opposition Members.

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that there are increasing complaints about auxiliary forces and indiscipline? What steps is the Governor taking to summon Bishop Muzorewa, whose forces are mainly involved, to make sure that these people are taken out of sensitive areas? Will he publish, as early as possible, the reports so far of the Ceasefire Commission so that we can see the evidence? Will he accept from me that the evidence that we read in the press in this country—we have no other source of information—is that emanating from the Governor's office, and that it takes the form of a continuing bias and continuing statements against Mr. Mugabe? If the hon. Gentleman thinks that this policy will succeeed, perhaps in his own interest he will advise the Governor that the more the Governor's staff complain about Mr. Mugabe and ZANU, the more likely it is that they will win the election.

I have already said that the Governor has broad shoulders and can take this. He has been criticised by all participants as well as being praised by many sources. That is perhaps an indication of his impartial approach to the whole problem. I am interested that the hon. Gentleman focuses solely on the auxiliaries. I have already told the House that there have been a number of reports of incidents caused by auxiliaries that are already being investigated, but the largest bulk of reports of incidents emanates from ZANLA. This is the serious aspect of the problem.

We want all sides to participate successfully in the agreement. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that after a seven-year war the Governor can simply wave a magic wand and overnight solve the problem, he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. Great progress has been made. Casualties are down, and all incidents are fully investigated.

We acknowledge that progress has been made, but the Government would be unwise to minimise the growing concern—there is plenty of evidence of it inside and outside Rhodesia—about stability and the way in which the ceasefire arrangements have been carried out. The Commonwealth military observer forces have a crucial part to play. Those forces and units, regular or irregular, that are observed by them are clearly under a form of scrutiny that limits their freedom of action. That is important. Has the hon. Gentleman given any thought to the possibility of reinforcing the tightly stretched 1,200-man force there now? If so, has he consulted other Commonwealth Governments?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his reference to the importance of the work of the monitoring force, which is, of course, fully stretched because its task is extremely difficult. Without going into precise figures, I can say that there are roughly 1,400 personnel in the force, the bulk being British soldiers, with other component parts. They are doing a marvellous job. I think that it is up to the Governor—he is the man on the spot, and in a position to judge—and if it becomes necessary to ask for additional assistance, I am sure that he will feel quite free to ask us to provide it.