HC S: [Southern Africa]
|Document type:||public statement|
|Document kind:||House of Commons Speech|
|Venue:||House of Commons|
|Source:||Hansard HC [971/620-30]|
|Themes:||Foreign policy (Africa), Commonwealth (Rhodesia-Zimbabwe)|
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. MacGregor.]
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
The Government welcome this opportunity to make clear their approach to the problems of Southern Africa and the discussions that will be taking place on these and other matters at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Lusaka, and the opportunity to hear the views of hon. Members.
There is naturally deep concern in the House and in the country generally about the situation in Rhodesia. Rhodesia is the last sizeable territory of the British Empire which we have not yet been able to bring to legal independence. It is the Government's objective, as it has been our predecessors', that the principles of a non-discriminatory multi-racial society should be enshrined in all our former territories at the time we grant them independence.
In relation to Rhodesia, successive British Governments laid down clearly before the unilateral declaration of independence in 1965 the way in which those principles should apply to negotiations for a political settlement. Those five principles were: first, the principle and intention of majority rule already enshrined in the 1961 constitution would have to be maintained and guaranteed; second, there would have to be guarantees against retrogressive amendment of the constitution; third, there would have to be immediate improvement in the political status of the African population; fourth, there would have to be progress towards ending racial discrimination; fifth, the British Government would need to be satisfied that any basis for independence was acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole. After the illegal declaration of independence, a sixth principle was added by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), namely, that it would be necessary to ensure that, regardless of race, there was no oppression of majority by minority or of minority by majority.
That is the basis on which successive British Governments have sought to 621achieve a solution to the Rhodesian problem. Our election manifesto reaffirmed our commitment to those six principles. It made clear our intention to achieve a settlement based on the democratic wishes of the people of Rhodesia and to ensure that the country, when it proceeds to independence, gains international recognition.
The House is familiar with the attempts made by one Government after another over the past 16 years, for they began well before UDI, to find a basis for Rhodesia's independence which stood up to the test of those principles. Those attempts ended in failure. It has not been for want of trying that successive British Governments have been unable to bring about a solution, but there was no significant change in the internal situation in Rhodesia. White minority rule continued. The terrorist war intensified, claiming more and more lives and a growing list of atrocities.
There was, however, for those who could see it at the time, real hope for the future when, in response to the Kissinger proposals, Mr. Smith, in September 1976, accepted a commitment to majority rule within two years. It nevertheless proved impossible to reach agreement at the ill-fated Geneva conference, and further attempts at a settlement under international auspices were also unsuccessful. Eventually, agreement between black and white was reached within Rhodesia on 3 March 1978. This internal settlement, despite its imperfections, represented a major advance, and it is right that we should acknowledge this fully. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I were united in urging the then Government to recognise that this was so and to take positive steps to encourage it to develop in the direction that both we and they wanted. The late Reginald Maudling, whose understanding in these matters we remember so well, spoke strongly in that sense in our debate on 8 November last year.
The response of the British Government at that time was never more than grudging, yet remarkable progress was made in Rhodesia. All racially discriminatory laws have been repealed. In a referendum of the white electorate a new constitution was approved. After that came the elections in April, the first 622ever held in Rhodesia on the basis of universal suffrage.
Many critics have sought to deny the significance of that election, in which 65 per cent. of the electorate voted, attributing the high turnout to pressures of various kinds. If the turnout had been small it would no doubt have been argued that that demonstrated a lack of support for the internal leaders and the arrangements they had negotiated. That election cannot possibly be written off as an event of no significance. It is, indeed, an advance without parallel in the history of Rhodesia.
There are those who, against all the evidence, have sought to deny that major changes of a kind and on a scale that would have been unthinkable a short time ago have taken place. There are others who have sought to minimise the importance of what has been achieved. That is not the view of the Government, nor is it the view of the team of observers under the distinguished leadership of my noble Friend Lord Boyd. It seems to me self-evident that our policy must be based on a full appreciation of what has been accomplished and that we should pay tribute to it. I believe that it has brought us much closer to a solution than ever before.
We are conscious of Britain's responsibilities towards Rhodesia. We intend to carry them out with full regard to the situation as it exists now in that country and to the wishes of its people. Terrible war still rages in Rhodesia. Hundreds of ordinary anonymous Africans who never had any part in UDI are being killed every week by fellow Africans.
It is imperative that we seek a solution that contributes to a better and more secure future for the people of Rhodesia and of the neighbouring countries. To that end we initiated a full process of consultation. Our first concern was to establish proper contact and communication with the newly elected Government in Salisbury. A senior official, Mr. Day, was sent to Salisbury for that purpose. He keeps us in constant touch with what is happening there. One of the main purposes of these contacts has been to break down the atmosphere of suspicion, bitterness and mistrust which has bedevilled all attempts to achieve a solution to the Rhodesian problem over the past 15 years. Rhodesians, both black and white, 623are now coming to realise that we are determined to do the best we can to help them and their country and that we do so as their friends.
The Government appointed Lord Harlech as a special emissary to visit the Commonwealth and other African States most closely concerned with the Rhodesia problem. I am most grateful to him for the way in which he has carried out that task. He has had discussions with the Presidents of Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, Malawi and Angola, with the Mozambique Government, and with the federal military Government in Nigeria. He also met Mr. Mugabe and representatives of Mr. Nkomo. Although, not surprisingly, the views of the people he met varied considerably, he found general agreement on three points: first, acceptance that the situation in Rhodesia has changed and that account must be taken of this; second, criticism of certain aspects of the Rhodesian constitution; third, a firm view on the part of all the leaders to whom he spoke that a solution to the Rhodesia problem must stem from the British Government as the legally responsible authority.
Later, Lord Harlech visited Salisbury to discuss with Bishop Muzorewa and his colleagues the results of his consultations with the African Presidents. Later again, Bishop Muzorewa saw President Carter and Mr. Vance in the United States, and my noble Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and I had talks with Bishop Muzorewa in London. We welcomed this opportunity to discuss with him the way towards a settlement. We impressed upon him that the present British Government recognised and accepted the extent of the progress that has been made inside Rhodesia. We explained that the British Government were engaged in a process of consultation with a view to bringing Rhodesia to legal independence with the widest possible international acceptance.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Lusaka will be an important stage in these consultations. Subsequently, the British Government will put forward firm proposals on the constitutional arrangements to achieve a proper basis for legal independence for Rhodesia. In that task, I stress that we shall be guided by the six principles that have been supported by successive British 624Governments in relation to Rhodesia. We shall aim to make the proposals comparable to the basis on which we granted independence to other former British territories in Africa. They will be addressed to all the parties to the conflict.
The Government's purpose will be to help those who wish to resolve their political problems by democratic and peaceful means. We cannot subscribe to a solution which seeks to substitute the bullet for the ballot box.
Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)
Will the right hon. Lady say whether the Government will in any circumstances be prepared to recognise the independence of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia in the present circumstances, which enshrine, for the white minority, certain rights which cannot in any way be taken away from them? Those rights, as many hon. Members are aware, would be totally at variance with the terms upon which independence was granted to any other Commonwealth country.
The Prime Minister
As the hon. Gentleman has heard, I have said that the proposal which we shall make will depend upon two things. The first is the matter of the six principles. Secondly, it will be similar to the basis upon which independence has been granted to other African States. In his own way the hon. Gentleman is asking me whether we would decide whether the fifth principle, the test of acceptability, has been fulfilled by the elections which took place. I shall be frank with him. Although sometimes diplomatic process and frankness go ill together, we have not yet determined whether that is so. We are extremely anxious to try to take along as many as possible with us in bringing Rhodesia to legal independence. We believe that the path that we have chosen to that end is the better one.
I am aware that other people have already made that determination. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has read carefully every word of the report of Lord Boyd, who is held in great affection in many British Commonwealth countries in Africa. In a chapter on the nature of the vote, the report states that
"It was the intentions of the voter when he voted that we wished to probe and we are satisfied that the election did in fact constitute a kind of referendum on the constitution"
625That was his view.
We have not yet decided on the matter, because we have wanted to go another way—a way that we believe will be better for Rhodesia in the longer run. It is a way that we believe will bring more countries along with us, and if we go along that consultation route it will be to the benefit of Rhodesia. It is a way in which we can gain that country's acceptance to legal independence.
Mr. James Johnson (Kingston-upon-Hull, West)
I should like to ask a perfectly fair question at this stage of the right hon. Lady's speech. She talks of conferring legal independence and says that she does not expect to carry all with her. Will she answer a question that she has dodged on two Wednesday afternoons in succession, while sitting on that Front Bench beside her Lord Privy Seal? Will she tell the House whether she has met any other Commonwealth leader who, like herself, believes at this stage that it is possible to confer legal independence upon this State of Rhodesia?
The Prime Minister
With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, I have tried to answer that question in as much detail as possible. I shall shortly say something about the constitution. The hon. Gentleman will understand that I have to go to Lusaka for further consultations. Therefore, I am not in a position to put detailed proposals to the House ahead of those consultations.
The progress that Rhodesia has made towards democracy in the past two years cannot be brushed aside. At the same time, because it is in Rhodesia's own interest to be accepted fully into the international community, we must have regard to the views of other Governments. That is the point I was trying to make to the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, West (Mr. Johnson).
Many black Rhodesians realise the extent to which the country's economic future depends on the continued involvement of the white community and, consequently, on retaining their confidence. Some elements of the present constitution are based on provisions which have been accepted and implemented in virtually all other independence constitutions. For example, there are precedents for a measure of special representation for minority 626communities, both white and Asian. However, there has been criticism of the blocking power of the white minority and of the character and powers of the public service commissions.
Our concern is to find a solution which, while acceptable to other Governments, will enable the white community to play a full part in the future of the country, a solution in which their skills and contribution are recognised, their confidence maintained and which will encourage them to stay.
At this point, we should like to make clear that we are wholly committed to genuine black majority rule in Rhodesia. We believe that it is possible in Rhodesia, as in other countries to which Britain has granted independence, to reconcile reasonable reassurance for the white community and the protection of their rights with black majority rule.
We feel deeply the need to do everything in Britain's power to bring an end to the war. Unfortunately, that does not depend on us alone. It depends on an equal disposition to do so among those who are engaged in the fighting.
There are those who seem to believe that
"war is better than any negotiations".
That remark was made by Mr. Nkomo on his arrival at the OAU summit earlier this month. Mr. Nkomo said to Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos:
"the war has reached such a stage that there can only be a settlement by military means. If there are to be talks, they will have to be carried out by generals meeting on the battlefield."
The British Government totally reject that view. Those who rely on force to achieve their ends must not have a veto over those who seek to advance their cause by democratic and constitutional means.
The need for peace is equally great among Rhodesia's neighbours. The Government intend to do all that they can to contribute to a solution which would be of benefit to the people of Zambia and Botswana as well as bringing to the people of Rhodesia, both black and white, a stable and peaceful future.
Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I was delighted to hear my 627right hon. Friend say that the proposals by the British Government will be put to all parties to the conflict. Will she undertake that in putting those proposals to all parties to the conflict she will expect all parties to call off the conflict while they are considering the proposals?
The Prime Minister
There is no longer any vestige of excuse for the conflict to continue. Most of us recognise that fact completely. I hope that at Lusaka we shall have the co-operation of other Commonwealth nations in calling off a war in which hundreds of Africans who had nothing to do with UDI are being killed and maimed weekly, their crops burned and their stock taken. There are some similarities between the situation in Rhodesia and that in Namibia. In both cases there is a choice between a solution by violence and a solution by peaceful agreement. There are also major differences. Britain has no direct responsibility for Namibia. We are one of five Western countries which have worked out in a process of long and arduous negotiations a settlement proposal which is designed to enable free and fair elections to take place in Namibia under United Nations supervision and control, leading to full independence with international recognition and support.
Perhaps the major difference compared with Rhodesia is that the proposal of the five Western countries has been accepted formally by all those concerned—South Africa, SWAPO, by virtually all the other Namibian parties, by the Security Council, by the remainder of the West and by the Third World.
Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
Before the right hon. Lady leaves the question of Rhodesia, will she clarify the Government's position on sanctions? She made a statement in Australia that has caused some confusion. Will she, before she goes to Lusaka, say what her intentions will be on sanctions in November?
The Prime Minister
I have already made it clear that the top priority is to try to move Rhodesia to legal independence with wide international acceptance. If we bring Rhodesia to legal independence sanctions will fall because, I am advised, the United Nations sanctions motion depends upon there being a state of illegality in Rhodesia. I am the first to say that there is not much time left. 628If we do not make progress towards legal independence within a reasonable time this year, I do not think there will be any better chance next year or the year after. I therefore regard the consultations at Lusaka and the proposals that we shall make in the light of some of those consultations as crucial. If we are successful, the problem of sanctions will not arise. I do not think that I can add to that.
Before I was interrupted I was referring to Namibia. I said that agreement had been reached but that there were difficulties in respect of precise interpretation and implementation of the agreement. The current obstacles are about how the SWAPO armed forces inside Namibia at the time of the ceasefire are to be dealt with and how SWAPO's adherence to the ceasefire and to the other provisions of the settlement proposal are to be monitored in the countries that border on Namibia.
The five countries concerned have devoted intensive efforts to trying to resolve these matters in a way which all concerned could accept. We agree that there should be a further round of more detailed talks, and in the past fortnight the five have put to the South African Government suggestions about how these might be best handled. It was announced this morning that Sir James Murray, the United Kingdom's permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, has been appointed as the envoy of the five to conduct these talks with the South Africans. A great deal is at stake there. A success in Namibia—a success for peace and negotiation—could have tremendous effects on the prospects for peaceful solutions to other problems in Southern Africa. It could affect the whole relationship between South Africa and the rest of the world. By the same token a failure would have the most dangerous and negative effects for all our efforts in that part of the world. It is for these reasons that the five will spare no effort to try to bring about the agreement which we all seek.
If there are to be peaceful settlements to the problems of Southern Africa, the role of South Africa is critical.
Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
Have the South African Government accepted the size and composition of the United Nations body which will supervise and control the transition?629
The Prime Minister
The details in the interpretation of that agreement are what have caused the problem. Quite a number of soundings have been taken. Any further negotiations are being handled by Sir James Murray on behalf of the five. It is not possible at the moment to go any further.
I was referring to the critical role of South Africa in the settlement of the problems. The policy of apartheid, with its emphasis on separating peoples rather than bringing them together, and all the harshness required to impose it on the South African population is wholly unacceptable. Within South Africa, as in the outside world, there is a growing recognition that change must come. It is in everyone's interest that change should come without violence. We must work by fostering contact, not by ostracism. We must be ready to acknowledge and welcome progress when it is made, even when it may appear slow and inadequate. We must not drive the South Africans into turning their backs on the world. We need to recognise the immensity and complexity of the problems they face. We must encourage progress in working out solutions to those problems.
The heart of the problem in Southern Africa in the immediate future will be Rhodesia. That is so for two reasons. The first is that if it can be given peace Rhodesia stands at the threshold of resumed economic growth and prosperity. That can be of great benefit to its neighbours, some of whom have been less favoured by nature and by circumstances. Rhodesia can feed others as well as itself. Greater prosperity in the region can bring greater stability and can reduce the tensions on which terrorism feeds and from which it profits.
The second reason is that it is vital to the future of Southern Africa that the democratic process should be seen to succeed and that terrorism should be seen to fail. Whatever further progress remains to be achieved, the plain fact is that Zimbabwe-Rhodesia has moved far along the road, by means of elections, towards building up a democratic society founded on racial partnership. This achievement must not be thrown away or discarded in favour of the rule of force. I look forward to the consultations in Lusaka, believing that they can help us in our task of creating 630an independent Rhodesia—a Rhodesia that will win that widespread acceptance from peoples of good will that is so important for its future.