Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons Statement [Rhodesia]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [917/240-54]
Editorial comments: Around 1530-1600. MT spoke at cc250-51.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 5505
Themes: Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (USA)
[column 240]


The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

I will, with permission, make a statement on Rhodesia.

On 22nd March my right hon. Friend, now Prime Minister, told the House that no settlement in Rhodesia was possible until all the parties concerned accepted the principle of majority rule, to be attained within 18 months to two years&semi: and that only when that principle had been accepted would Her Majesty's Government be prepared to play a constructive part in any negotiations.

During the summer months, a number of ministerial visits to Southern Africa took place, both British and American. These included two by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, and in particular a prolonged and crucial tour by Dr. Kissinger to whose forceful diplomacy I now pay tribute. The Prime Minister and I saw Dr. Kissinger both before and after his shuttle, and I have been in almost continuous touch with him during the whole of this period.

On 24th September, Mr. Smith announced that his regime now accepted the principle of majority rule within two years. This long-awaited development demonstrated at last a realistic understanding of the true situation in Southern Africa and has presented us with a real opportunity of achieving a rapid and peaceful transfer of power in Rhodesia.

The next step was to organise a meeting without delay between the Smith régime and the African nationalists to discuss the formation of an interim Government. Accordingly I announced on 29th September that I would convene an early conference for this purpose, and that the chairman would be Mr. Ivor Richard, QC, acting as the Government's special [column 241]representative. Last Friday, as the House will be aware, I announced my intention that the conference would assemble in Geneva on 21st October, with a view to a formal opening on 25th October.

I have decided to invite to this conference, on behalf of the nationalist interests, Mr. Robert Mugabe, Bishop Muzorewa and Mr. Joshua Nkomo. I am asking them to nominate additional delegates. I have invited Mr. Smith to nominate representatives of the Rhodesia Front. These invitations were despatched this morning.

There have, Mr. Speaker, been many statements by many people in the last few days about the forthcoming conference. I hope that the House will not press me to comment on these statements, or on the negotiating positions of the parties to the conference. It would not be helpful to become embroiled, before the conference has opened, in a public discussion of issues which can only be decided at the conference itself.

I am, of course, most anxious to do everything within my power to ensure a successful outcome to the conference. I have had most useful exchanges of views in New York and in London with a number of African Foreign Ministers in the last few days&semi: and I have sent my Special Adviser on African Affairs, Mr. Dennis Grennan, to Lusaka, to assist the process of liaison during the run-up to the conference. The prize within our grasp is a free, prosperous and multi-racial Zimbabwe. Her Majesty's Government are determined to do all in their power to bring a peace to Zimbabwe which is firmly rooted in majority rule and thus in equality and social justice.

Mr. Maudling

I thank the Foreign Secretary for making a statement and I am sure that the whole House will agree that we wish to see a successful conference, but there are a number of points on which I must ask for further information.

Is Mr. Smith 's account of the proposals put to him by Dr. Kissinger—the only account we have available at the moment—substantially correct? If not, in what way is it wrong? Were the proposals discussed with and agreed by the British Government in advance? Were they [column 242]discussed with and agreed by the African Presidents in advance?

The Foreign Secretary said in his statement:

“all the parties concerned accepted the principle of majority rule, to be attained within 18 months to two years” .

Does this mean that no one is pressing for an immediate transfer of power?

I appreciate the reluctance of the Foreign Secretary to say more, but the House is entitled to know the answers to these questions. After all, we are still responsible for Rhodesia.

Mr. Crosland

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. I am sure that the whole House wishes to see a successful outcome to the conference.

Mr. Smith 's proposals regarding the structure and functions of an interim Government reflect ideas previously discussed between the Americans and ourselves and the African Presidents. They constitute, in our view, a useful basis for further discussion.

As I said in New York, we have no intention of pre-determining these matters in advance. Our concern must be to ensure that whatever is agreed between the parties is consistent with the Prime Minister's statement of 22nd March, endorsed at that time by everyone in this House. We want a rapid and orderly transition of power to the majority. Mr. Smith has accepted the need for this, and that is the foundation on which we must build.

Mr. Maudling

If no one is committed in advance, to what extent is Mr. Smith committed in advance?

Mr. Crosland

That is a question which ought to be addressed to Mr. Smith. I have put the position of the Government, the African Presidents and the United States quite clearly. As far as the United States is concerned, I would add only what Dr. Kissinger said at a Press conference on 22nd September—that nothing had yet been settled regarding the composition of an interim Government or the allocation of ministries and that these were matters which required negotiation.

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Mr. David Steel

Should not the Foreign Secretary be stressing the importance of the basic agreement on transition towards majority rule within two years? Are not all other views and reservations and the jockeying for position prior to the conference, which is wholly understandable, completely subordinate to that end and that agreement?

There has been some criticism from the Foreign Secretary's hon. Friends and the African nationalists about the appointment of Mr. Richard as chairman of the conference. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that Mr. Richard 's appointment to the United Nations was a political one, that he enjoys the closest confidence of the Government and that the fact that he is not a Minister is irrelevant? Will he also confirm that once an interim Government has been set up there will have to follow the normal kind of constitutional conference, held by Great Britain, to form a proper independence constitution?

Mr. Crosland

I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman's first question. The crux is to get the conference and the interim Government. At a time when most disputes are increasingly settled by force and violence, the conference at least offers us the hope that we may get a peaceful settlement.

I confirm that Mr. Richard 's appointment was a political one. He holds a special position because of his connection with the United Nations and I chose him because of his personal suitability for this task. The appointment has been greatly welcomed by most people.

I confirm what the hon. Gentleman said in his third question, though that will be a separate stage. There will have to be a constitutional conference followed by legislation in this House confirming the independence of Zimbabwe, which will be then have majority rule.

Mr. Arthur Bottomley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that earlier this year I suggested to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that it would be better to leave the settlement of the Rhodesian problem to the Southern African Presidents and Mr. Vorster? I still believe that that is the best course to follow. What has led my right hon. Friend and Dr. Kissinger to believe that Mr. Smith will be able to keep his word on this [column 244]occasion? To what extent will Dr. Kissinger be involved in the negotiations, if they take place? What will be the cost to the British taxpayer of bailing out those who rebelled against the Crown?

Mr. Crosland

First, what led us to think that this course of action, this initiative, was the right one was a large number of separate discussions with all the parties concerned in Africa. Nobody can guarantee that it is the right initiative. Nevertheless, on the best advice that we have had from all parties, this seems to offer the best prospect of success.

Secondly, will Dr. Kissinger take part in the talks? No, he will not. The Kissinger rôle over the last six months, for a number of obvious reasons, has been critical and crucial. But, from now on, this country will convene and chair the conference.

Thirdly, the cost to the British taxpayer is not the cost, if there is such a cost in the end, of bailing out white Rhodesians. This is part of what I hope will be an international operation, first, to bring development to the newly independent Rhodesia&semi: secondly, to increase educational and technical opportunities for African development&semi: and, thirdly, to encourage white Rhodesians who are prepared to play their part in a multi-racial Zimbabwe to stay there and play the part that we want them to play.

Mr. Powell

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, by accepting a position of responsibility without power, the United Kingdom is incurring the almost certain prospect of humiliation without the slightest offsetting advantage to any of the parties involved?

Mr. Crosland

No, Sir. I have to accept the basic fact that in my view, and I think the view of a huge majority in this House, Britain has a moral and constitutional responsibility for a final outcome in Rhodesia. That is not a responsibility which this Government or nation would wish to abrogate.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Why were black nationalists not consulted about the detailed terms of the offer to Mr. Smith before it was put to him? Are we going to make the same mistake again by not inviting Mr. Sitole to the conference when he still represents a substantial slice of ZANU opinion, and has shown it?

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Mr. Crosland

There was a very high degree of consultation extending over many months with all representatives of black nationalist opinion. We think that we have got the best outcome that we can get from that consultation.

Regarding representation at Geneva, as I said in my statement, it was after consultations with the African Presidents that I decided to invite Mr. Mugabe, Bishop Muzorewa and Mr. Nkomo. Subject to further consultation, I should be prepared to consider other invitations if they would increase the chances of success at the conference.

Mr. Amery

Are we right in understanding that Mr. Smith 's acceptance of majority rule within two years was part of a package deal based on a document which, as he expressed it, was agreed between him and Dr. Kissinger and had been previously agreed with the British Government? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that is the position? Is he aware that the honour of the British Government is at stake?

Mr. Crosland

On this point, I repeat that Mr. Smith 's proposals regarding the structure and functions of the interim Government reflect ideas previously discussed between the Americans, ourselves and the African Presidents. As I said in New York, they constitute a useful basis for further discussions.

Mr. Amery

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is in danger of misleading the House, because he said “Mr. Smith 's proposals” . I understood that this was a document and that Mr. Smith was quoting something said by Dr. Kissinger.

Mr. Crosland

I referred to Mr. Smith 's proposal which opened up the possibility of a completely new situation. I cannot say in detail what Mr. Smith and Dr. Kissinger discussed. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the honour of the British Government. My hon. Friend the Minister of State visited and had talks with Mr. Smith, and those talks were conducted precisely on the basis which I have just explained to the House.

Mr. Maudling

We really must get this straight. Was Mr. Smith speaking the truth when he said that certain proposals [column 246]which he described were put to him by Dr. Kissinger? Was that done with the approval of Her Majesty's Government? It is a simple question which requires a simple answer. Why does not the Foreign Secretary answer the question?

Mr. Crosland

I will answer on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, not on behalf of other Governments. On behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I repeat that when the Minister of State spoke to Mr. Smith he spoke precisely on the understanding and within the framework of what I have already said to the House. Questions on behalf of other Governments must be answered by other Governments.

Mr. Hooley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the success of what happens at Geneva will depend on the situation on the ground in Zimbabwe? Is it not intolerable that the African nationalists should be expected to negotiate while the white racist regime continues to control the Armed Forces in Rhodesia? Would it not be advantageous to appoint a commander of those forces who is loyal to the Crown?

Mr. Crosland

No, it would not be advantageous. The fact is that all the parties concerned must negotiate on the position as it has now been reached. I believe that they will now so negotiate and that those invited will attend the conference. The essential thing is to accept that finally we have an opportunity for success and that the more preconditions which are laid down before the conference, the less chance there is of success.

Mr. Goodhew

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when I saw Mr. Ian Smith, as recently as last Saturday, he was still confident that there was a package deal put to him by Dr. Kissinger which the British Government would support but that he was becoming anxious about the noises now being made about negotiating as if the package deal had never existed?

Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that in 1961, when Sir Edgar Whitehead produced a constitution giving more political advance to the black Rhodesians, Mr. Joshua Nkomo, who had accepted it, went to the Organisation of African Unity and was sent back to reject it and to demand “one man, one vote” immediately? Is the right hon. Gentleman going [column 247]to stand by and allow leaders from other black African countries to talk him out of the agreement and thus dishonour Great Britain?

Mr. Crosland

Anybody who thinks that there is dishonour to this country in trying to achieve what most people a year ago would have thought was absolutely out of the question—a peaceful transfer of power in Rhodesia—is not reflecting in any way the opinion of people in this country.

I have read in the greatest detail what my hon. Friend the Minister of State said to Mr. Smith, whom he saw only a few days ago. What he said to Mr. Smith was clear. My hon. Friend was talking not in terms of a package deal but of a series of proposals which in his view would offer a useful basis for discussions. That is precisely the position.

Mr. Kinnock

Does my right hon. Friend accept that I regret that there appears to be some preconditions which must be established if we are to take out guarantees against the Rhodesian situation eventually descending into bloody chaos? They include that we cannot trust the Smith régime with authority over law and order and arms in Rhodesia and accept the prophecies of Mr. Gibbs of the Rhodesia Party, the Conservative Party, and Mr. Bashford of the Centre Party that the interim Government could be overthrown by a recalcitrant Smith régime in the event of things not going the way that they want them to go?

Mr. Crosland

No. I have been pressed for preconditions by both sides in the discussions. I have no intention of accepting the idea of preconditions. I am absolutely convinced that the more people on either side press for preconditions to be laid down prior to the conference, the less chance there is of the conference succeeding.

Mr. Blaker

Does the Foreign Secretary recall that on the evening of 24th September, after Mr. Smith 's speech, his Department put out a statement that said that Her Majesty's Government noted with satisfaction the acceptance by Mr. Smith of the proposals put to him by Dr. Kissinger? Did the right hon. Gentleman approve that statement?

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Mr. Crosland

The position is precisely as I have stated it. [Hon. Members: “Answer.” ] It is precisely as I have stated it and precisely as my hon. Friend the Minister of State put it to Mr. Smith—namely, that the proposals that Mr. Smith put forward when he made his statement were a useful basis for discussion. They will not be the only proposals before the conference, I have no doubt, but they will be tabled undoubtedly by Mr. Smith to the conference. Other proposals will be tabled and they will form, as we have told Mr. Smith, a useful basis of discussion.

Mr. Whitehead

As my right hon. Friend has said that he has issued invitations only to Mr. Smith and the Rhodesia Front as representatives of the minority community in Rhodesia, what steps will be taken to ascertain the opinions of other members of the white community in that country who may be more amenable to the kind of multi-racial State to which we all look forward in Zimbabwe than is the hard-line caucus of the Rhodesia Front?

Mr. Crosland

My hon. Friend the Minister of State talked to representatives of the white minority groups in Rhodesia and I considered very seriously the question whether to invite them to be represented at the Geneva Conference. Mr. Smith himself has made it clear that he would prefer the white Rhodesian delegates all to come from the Rhodesian delegates all to come from the Rhodesia Front, and there was no pressure in the opposite direction from African leaders. I therefore decided that as these parties were not represented in the Rhodesian Parliament, the sensible thing from every point of view was to have the representation solely from the Rhodesia Front.

Mr. Cormack

Is the Secretary of State aware that his evasiveness this afternoon could go far to damage the prospects of this conference, in which all of us believe? Will he state categorically whether Dr. Kissinger took a set of proposals to Mr. Smith, whether he saw those proposals, and whether they were in writing, or whether Mr. Smith himself, of his own volition, initiated the proposals which were then broadcast to his nation?

Mr. Crosland

I can state categorically only what the British Government have [column 249]said to Mr. Smith, and I have stated it categorically. I do not like to answer categorically for discussions between two leaders of other Governments. What my hon. Friend said to Mr. Smith—I repeat it categorically—was not that proposals which had been discussed with the Americans and African Presidents had been agreed but that those proposals constituted a useful basis for discussion. As far as the British Government are concerned, no set of proposals had been finally agreed as a basis for a settlement.

Mr. Jay

To avoid misunderstandings, will my right hon. Friend say whether the Kissinger Plan is recorded in some precise document or is a purely verbal one? If it is written, can it be published?

Mr. Crosland

No, Sir, it is not recorded in a precise document. The position is that in the course of this whole joint initiative, lasting over a period of months, a number of planning papers were produced on both sides. No definitive document was produced which constituted the offer which had the agreement and the endorsement of the British Government.

Mr. Hastings

In the event of an agreement between the parties, for which we must all hope, are the British Government prepared, either with the Americans or independently of them, during the transitional period to guarantee the integrity of Rhodesia's frontiers against Communist-inspired terrorism, and, if so, how?

Mr. Crosland

What further action the British Government will be prepared to take will depend on the outcome of the talks on the formation of the interim Government. I should prefer, as I think would most hon. Members, to answer questions about future British actions and responsibility when we see the outcome of the Geneva Conference.

Mr. John Mendelson

Will the Secretary of State accept that there is very widespread support for the initiative he has taken in this matter? Criticism from abroad now seems to be echoed by a very considerable number of hon. Members who for years have been pressing the Government to take such an initiative—and that comes very strangely from hon. [column 250]Members on this occasion, when the initiative has been taken.

Will my right hon. Friend also accept that while there will be a great deal of sympathy for his desire not to go into detail today, a number of people who have a great deal of information from the circles of those who have been fighting for freedom in their own country, Rhodesia, for so many years now, feel that those people must have the chance to live freely during the two-year or 18-month period as citizens there? Exiles must be able to return. My right hon. Friend must indicate even today that they can have the opportunity under the interim Government to exercise their democratic rights as citizens. That is what we of the Labour Party insisted upon when Sir Alec Douglas-Home was going on a conciliation mission, and we must insist on the same thing with my hon. Friend, as he represents us in the present negotiations.

Mr. Crosland

I am obliged for my hon. Friend's opening remarks, which I think are correct and true. As regards what may or may not come out of the Geneva Conference, I prefer to say nothing at present.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask Anthony Croslandthe Foreign Secretary again about the proposals put by Dr. Kissinger to Mr. Smith? It seems to me, from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that he is now saying that the Foreign Office was in error when it put out an official statement saying that Mr. Smith had accepted proposals put to him by Dr. Kissinger and that those proposals represented an elaboration of the plan originally advanced by James Callaghanthe Prime Minister. Is that a correct statement, or was the right hon. Gentleman's office at fault?

Mr. Crosland

No, Sir, that was a correct statement, because all the proposals made in the course of this series of discussions, with not only Mr. Smith but the Black African Presidents, were an enlargement of the Prime Minister's own statement of 22nd March. I am not authorised, obviously, to speak in detail on Dr. Kissinger 's behalf. I repeat, however, what he said at a Press conference at the end of September in New York. I have quoted it earlier. He said that nothing had yet been settled regarding [column 251]the composition of an interim Government or the allocation of Ministers. This is a matter which requires negotiation.

Mrs. Thatcher

What were the proposals that were accepted?

Mr. Crosland

The proposals that were accepted were what Mr. Smith set out in his six proposals. Dr. Kissinger has made it clear, and I have now made it clear, that these are in our view a useful basis of discussion. [Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] They are a useful basis of discussion. I repeat the statement of Dr. Kissinger—that these are matters which require negotiation. But nevertheless they offer a useful basis for discussion.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Is there not something rather obnoxious about the Leader of the Opposition and her cohorts accepting the word of a traitor rather than the words of a Minister?

However, to return to the constitutional conference in Geneva, is it the Government's view that Mr. Ivor Richard should play simply a neutral rôle as chairman, or will he have something positive to say, of some positive effect, on matters such as the release of all detainees and the ending of all hangings in Rhodesia?

Mr. Crosland

No, Sir, I shall not say anything more on the latter part of my hon. Friend's question. On the former part, the ethics of the Leader of the Opposition are no business of mine. However, a very large number of questions that have come from the Opposition today have hardly been conducive to the successful outcome of the conference.

Mr. Aitken

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that his answers this afternoon give the impression that something fishy is taking place? Are we now to understand that nothing has been set down definitively in writing and that nothing has been signed, but that all we are talking about is a vague series of other people's proposals floating around between Mr. Smith and the African Governments? If that is the case, there could not be a worse basis for a serious conference and a serious agreement.

Mr. Crosland

There has been no final or definitive document put forward by Her Majesty's Government. What I have [column 252]made clear—and I now repeat it—is that a number of proposals have been discussed both with Mr. Smith and with the African Presidents reflecting the ideas that have followed from a discussion between the British and United States Governments and African Presidents. A number of proposals have been put forward, but none represents a definitive statement of what the British Government have guaranteed to anybody.

Mr. Fernyhough

Does my right hon. Friend recall that when Mr. Smith declared UDI we were told by Conservative Members that it was militarily impossible to intervene? Since we were not then prepared to take military action to deal with rebels against the Crown, why should we now agree that, in the event of the arrangements in Rhodesia not succeeding, we should guarantee by military methods the borders which the Conservatives were not prepared to defend when Mr. Smith declared UDI?

Mr. Crosland

I have not said this afternoon—and I wish to emphasise this point—that whatever comes out of the Geneva Conference the British Government would be prepared to give military guarantees to Rhodesia, whatever régime emerges there. We shall consider what help we can give at that stage. It seems to me highly unlikely that the House would support military guarantees.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

The House has now spent half an hour dealing with this matter. I shall allow two more contributions, and we must then move on.

Mr. Brittan

If proposals have been put to Mr. Smith and if those proposals have been accepted, as the Foreign Secretary ultimately admitted, how can the Government consider that they have behaved honourably if they now describe those proposals and their acceptance as no more than a basis for negotiation?

Mr. Crosland

It was made clear by Dr. Kissinger and by myself in New York that these matters were bound to be the subject of negotiation at the conference It has been made abundantly clear by both the British and United States Governments that that has been the case. When my hon. Friend the Minister of State saw Mr. Smith—and I emphasise [column 253]that I do not wish to speak on behalf of the heads of other regimés—Mr. Smith accepted perfectly well the fact that the discussion was bound to go beyond the proposals that had been put to him.

Mr. Faulds

Is the Foreign Secretary not somewhat surprised that the sole concern of the Opposition this afternoon seems to be to seek to protect Mr. Smith and not to give a damn about the Africans? May I ask my right hon. Friend specifically whether he will seek to ensure at the conference that Her Majesty's Government see to it that the military leaders responsible for the massacre of Africans, the so-called judges who have perverted justice, and the rebel politicians responsible for this tragedy are brought to justice and face the retribution that they deserve?

Mr. Crosland

It would have helped all concerned if a single member of the Opposition—I except from this criticism the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling)—had offered a single word of encouragement for the success of the conference, instead of deliberately trying to sow confusion and misunderstanding.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate the matter now.


Mr. Cormack

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9—and I apologise that I could not give you prior notice, Mr. Speaker—for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration&semi: namely

“the uncertainty surrounding the background to the Rhodesian situation and the forthcoming conference to be held in Geneva.”

It is clear from what we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman the [column 254]Foreign Secretary this afternoon—and I wish to emphasise that the Opposition are just as anxious as anybody else to see a peaceful settlement of the dispute—that there is a most unfortunate element of uncertainty and equivocation emanating from the Foreign Office. Therefore, before this matter is discussed in Geneva, it is vital that it should be fully ventilated in this House and that we should have a full and unequivocal statement from the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration. namely

“the uncertainty surrounding the background to the Rhodesian situation and the forthcoming conference to be held in Geneva.”

As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take account of the several factors set out in the Order but to give no reason for my decision.

I have listened carefully to the representations mad made by the hon. Gentleman, but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.