Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons Statement [Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (London)]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [933/561-73]
Editorial comments: Around 1539-1605. MT spoke at c563.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4456
Themes: Commonwealth (general), Commonwealth (Rhodesia-Zimbabwe), Foreign policy (Africa), Terrorism
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The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

I apologise for having to make two statements, Mr. Speaker. The second is about the meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government that ended in London yesterday.

Thirty-three Heads of Government of their personal representatives attended, together with the Commonwealth Secretary-General, whose work contributed greatly to the success of the meeting. The communiqué and separate statement on apartheid in sport have been placed in the Library.

It has often been said that the Commonwealth provides a unique bridge between peoples of different races, areas and stages of development. This feeling has never been stronger than at the conclusion of our successful meetings at Lancaster House. We discussed serious and difficult issues without acrimony and with a growing understanding of each other's positions, and on many issues we reached a complete identity of view.

A distinctive feature of the meeting was a concentration on basic human values and rights.

One area where human beings are deprived of these basic rights is Southern Africa. All the Commonwealth leaders welcomed our current initiative to achieve an independent Zimbabwe enjoying majority rule in 1978, and all of them would prefer to reach that objective through a negotiated settlement, but a number were deeply sceptical about the chances of success. The exchanges reinforced my view that if the minority régime in Rhodesia fails to negotiate constructively, the fighting and the bloodshed will continue and the destruction will go on, with all that that implies for the future of that country. Some Commonwealth leaders put their faith primarily in the armed struggle to bring about majority rule in Southern Africa. We shall continue to try to find another way.

In the context of Southern Africa and following informal discussion at Gleneagles a statement was issued on the question of sporting contacts with South Africa. This expressed our general [column 562]detestation of apartheid in sport and looked forward to the holding of the Commonwealth Games in Canada next year.

We had constructive discussions on the international economic structure, noting with deep concern the declining living standards and poverty in which many are living in the developing countries. We affirmed our view that the economic health of both developed and developing countries is interdependent. Thus, in addition to the moral grounds for solving the problems of poverty and inequality, this is also necessary if the wealthier parts of the world are themselves to continue to prosper.

Equally, it was recognised that these problems could not be solved without the continued economic strength of the industrialised countries. There was disappointment that more could not be achieved in recent international negotiations, but the conference noted the progress made and agreed that we should build on this in forthcoming negotiations. As a practical step we agreed to set up a Commonwealth technical working group to consider in detail the possible operations of a common fund, to report before the UNCTAD negotiations begin in Geneva in November.

We identified some of the difficulties faced by the different regional groupings in the Commonwealth and asked the Secretary-General to draw up a special programme of Commonwealth assistance. The Heads of Government also welcomed the continuing expansion of the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation, and several members of the Commonwealth, including Her Majesty's Government, indicated that they would make substantial increases in their contributions to the fund.

Against the background of the tragic events in Uganda, Commonwealth leaders reaffirmed their belief in the fundamental rights of all men to life and liberty, to those personal freedoms that are the common heritage of their peoples, and to respect for human dignity and the equal rights of all men. The Commonwealth condemned, in unequivocal terms, the disregard for the sanctity of life and of the massive violation of basic human rights in Uganda, which should invoke the concern of the world. The House [column 563]will endorse this statement by Commonwealth leaders and will look forward, as does the whole of the Commonwealth, to the day when the people of Uganda can once more enjoy freedom and security and be represented with dignity at our meetings.

There was a general wish to make this a useful and constructive Commonwealth meeting, and we succeeded. No one who attended is in any doubt that the discussions, both in the formal sessions and most particularly in the informal gatherings during the past 10 days, have proved once again the vitality and value of the Commonwealth.

Mrs. Thatcher

I thank James Callaghanthe Prime Minister for making this statement on the somewhat lengthy communiqué which some of us have yet completely to read. Is he aware that most of us believe that the outstanding achievement of the conference was the forthright statement on Uganda and the atrocities which are occurring there? It is a statement that we warmly applaud.

Having said that, I shall confine myself to putting one question to the Prime Minister. There appears to be a point at which his statement today differs from what he said in the Press conference yesterday. It concerns the armed struggle and negotiations in connection with solving the problems in Rhodesia. We believe that it is urgent to get these problems solved by negotiation. Today the right hon. Gentleman has appeared to say that he rejects terrorism as a means of furthering political objectives, although he recognises that other Commonwealth Prime Ministers do not. He is reported verbatim as having said yesterday in the Press conference that there is now an understanding that both paths—negotiation and armed struggle—should be followed.

May I ask the Prime Minister totally to reject terrorism as a means of furthering political objectives? It would seem quite inconsistent to have a statement about human rights and then to say that terrorism, which is an attack on innocent people, would ever be a means of furthering political objectives.

The Prime Minister

I do not want to discuss this subject in terms of semantics, and I have not in front of me exactly what I said at the Press conference. But [column 564]the point I have constantly sought to make and which was made during the course of the conference is that whatever moral judgment may be made about the armed struggle, it will be followed and it will be continued. That is the reality of the situation.

It is for this reason that in my view a negotiated settlement becomes that much more important. But I cannot bring myself to condemn the Governments of Zambia, Tanzania, and of any other country, such as Mozambique, which is on the borders of Rhodesia, for feeling threatened by some of the events taking place. I cannot find it proper to condemn them. What I can and do say, and I reiterated it most strongly at the conference—I hope that nobody will try to undermine this position—is that for us the most constructive thing we can do is to try to get a negotiated settlement.

Mr. David Steel

Is the Prime Minister aware that the whole House will be pleased by the particularly constructive nature of the Commonwealth conference? Does he agree when he uses the phrase that we shall continue to try to find another way—in reference to the armed struggle in Zimbabwe—that time must now be severely limited? What hope has he that this is really understood in Salisbury?

To what extent are the Government continuing to review their own relations with Uganda, following the withdrawal of the diplomats within the last 24 hours? Are the Government hastening their consideration of the continuance of Uganda Airlines flights into Stansted?

The Prime Minister

I am unable to say whether it is understood in Salisbury that time is short. It is possible that Mr. Smith understands it, but I cannot say whether all his followers understand it. There may, therefore, be some difference there.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave a reply yesterday about the flights to and from Stansted. He is reviewing the situation in order to see what legal powers he may have to deal with this matter. If we could legally cut off these flights, I should certainly think that it was our responsibility to do so.

Mr. Greville Janner

While my right hon. Friend is right, I am sure, in saying [column 565]that the entire House will endorse and welcome the unanimous condemnation of the Uganda regime, will his Commonwealth colleagues now join in putting resolutions to get action, as they have rightly done with Rhodesia, and by introducing sanctions against the Uganda regime in the hope of bringing it down?

The Prime Minister

It is for each individual country to do what it thinks best and right in accordance with the decisions that we reached yesterday. I have already intimated, in answer to the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), the way we should like to proceed, but other members of the Commonwealth must carry out their responsibilities in the way they think best.

Mr. Amery

The communiqué appears to state that the disbandment of the Rhodesian security forces will be an essential condition in any negotiated settlement. Have I got the point right? If so, does not this amount virtually to a demand for the unconditional surrender of the Smith régime—[Interruption.]—and, if so, does not this scupper any chance of a negotiated settlement?

The Prime Minister

There is certainly a very strong view, expressed by some of the members attending the Commonwealth conference that there should be a disbandment of the Rhodesian armed forces as they exist at the moment. These member countries have advanced in their view from the position two years ago at Kingston, where no request or demand of this sort was made, because they say that there is now a war going on in which the Rhodesian armed forces have invaded Mozambique, so it is alleged, and have attacked other parts of the Southern African area. This, they say, is making the Rhodesian armed forces unacceptable in a future Zimbabwe.

This matter will have to be taken very seriously into account, although all these matters have to be negotiated in a way which will try to get the best settlement. I must, therefore, ask the right hon. Gentleman to reserve his question for the time being. There was not the same attitude expressed against the police force of Rhodesia at the present time, and I hope that the police will not become involved as the armed forces have.

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Mr. Spearing

Has my right hon. Friend noticed some of the appreciative comments of Commonwealth leaders of his chairmanship of the Commonwealth conference? Does he know that this gives pleasure to some of his hon. Friends, who know that he has been dealing with other issues of importance over this period, particularly because the Commonwealth is a genuine, worldwide, international body of nations in which all human conditions and economic circumstances are found? Do the Commonwealth leaders see the common fund and the technical panel to which the Prime Minister referred purely as a means of stabilising prices, or do they see it as a means of transfer of resources?

The Prime Minister

There is no agreement as yet on what purpose the common fund should serve. The group of eight and the group of 19 are still wide apart on this matter, and there were considerable discussions in the course of the Commonwealth conference about exactly what it represented. It is for this reason—because there is no agreement—that we have set up the technical working party, which will be made up of representatives of developed and developing nations, to try to get some agreement as to what we could put forward.

There are extremes at either end. There are those who believe that a common fund should mean no more than a right to have overdraft facilities. At the other end of the scale there are those who believe that there should be an integrated fund covering 19 commodities with the capability of transferring funds from one commodity to another. Between those extremes it may be possible to find a solution, and that is what I hope the technical working group will do.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said about the conduct of the Commonwealth conference. It is true that I have been somewhat distracted from other events over recent days. I now have one or two matters here to which I intend to turn my attention.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Does the Prime Minister realise that some of us regard this communiqué as one of the largest curate's eggs that the history of the Commonwealth has hatched, good in parts—I have no hesitation in admitting that—but [column 567]very bad in others? How can the Prime Minister seriously expect us to accept that Rhodesia's 250,000 peace-loving people are threatening Zambia? The last time this type of statement was made was when Hitler accused this country of threatening Germany in 1939. Will the Prime Minister talk to the mother of a young boy of 6 who was killed the other day and to some of the relations of the natives who had their ears and lips cut off? What will he say to them? Will he say that they were threatening Zambia, Mozambique, or Botswana?

Mr. Faulds

You twerp! What about the 600 slaughtered in Mozambique?

Mr. Lloyd

When will the Prime Minister achieve some sense of realism in the House?

The Prime Minister

I had a very long discussion with President Kaunda about affairs in his country. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, even in his excitement, was not comparing President Kaunda with Hitler, because that would be a monstrous comparison. The President of Zambia is extremely concerned about the position of Rhodesian forces on the border and is alarmed at the prospect that attacks might be made across the border. That must be recognised. If the hon. Gentleman has any continuing influence in Rhodesia, I hope that he will tell his friends there that that is so.

Mr. Hooley

Is it the implication of the communiqué that Her Majesty's Government are now firmly committed to the concept of a common fund and will work for its success through UNCTAD and other United Nations bodies?

The Prime Minister

The definition of a common fund was laid down in the Downing Street communiquè. We adhere to that and that is our starting point. The idea of a common fund put forward by some protagonists has never been acceptable to Her Majesty's Government. After all, we should have had to pay rather a lot into such a fund.

Mr. Brocklebank -Fowler

In view of the Prime Minister's reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), will he tell the House whether he discussed the part that a Commonwealth force might play in the event of the Rhodesian security forces proving unacceptable during a period of interim government?

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The Prime Minister

There was no formal discussion on that matter. But I have little doubt that as discussions proceed this matter will come more to the fore, because it is essential that the new Zimbabwe has adequate and proper forces to safeguard its future.

Mr. MacFarquhar

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most significant factors of all Commonwealth conferences is that they are conducted in the English language? In view of that, will he instruct his colleagues at the Foreign Office and at the Ministry of Overseas Development, when considering technical assistance, to give far more attention and money to sending English language teachers to Commonwealth countries? For many countries the English language is the high road to technical development, and for all of us in the Commonwealth it is a means of linking us more closely.

The Prime Minister

I accept that, but we should not underrate what we are doing. There are at present 6,000 experts from this country teaching in English in Commonwealth countries. In return about 8,000 students from Commonwealth countries are learning here, and at least 1,200 of them are learning technical and scientific subjects. I think that we are doing well.

I had discussions with one Head of Government—as arrangements have not been formalised, perhaps I should not indicate who—about taking an increased number of students from that country in our universities and technical training institutions. I hope that we shall have no complaints about that, because it is a long-term investment for this country as well as helping the advancement of those countries.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the Prime Minister aware that Members of the Scottish National Party regard the Commonwealth conference as having served a very constructive purpose in grappling head-on with very thorny problems and coming up with very civilised and humane answers? As one of the most acceptable decisions was made at Gleneagles, does he accept that we look forward to the day when an independent Scotland will take part in these Commonwealth talks?

Although many of us are fully in favour of the sums involved in aid to developing countries and regard them as too low, there is some anxiety that in many [column 569]countries they are not finding their way to those who should be receiving them.

The Prime Minister

Certainly the hospitality at Gleneagles was very delightful, even though it rained all the time. I do not think that the visiting Heads of Government would want to pronounce on the subject of an independent Scotland. I have a feeling that they will leave that to the people of Scotland, and I also have a feeling that I know what the answer will be.

On the question of aid funds, when one attends this conference it is brought home that, despite all the anxieties, complaints and grumbles in this country, we are much better off than 75 per cent. or more of the world's population. I should like to see an increase in the aid funds and the technical assistance that we give to these countries. I hope that in the afterglow of the Commonwealth conference we shall not give voice to it and then forget it when the Estimates come on the Floor of the House.

Mrs. Jeger

Will my right hon. Friend expand a little on the question of Belize, to which I recently had the honour of heading a CPA delegation? Is he aware that our delegation was deeply impressed with the efficiency and good spirits of our Forces in all kinds of difficult circumstances in that territory? However, we were very disturbed to find that the forces of Guatemala, which are threatening Belize, are almost entirely armed and trained by the United States of America? Will he consider making representations to his friend President Carter about this difficult complication for the Commonwealth?

The Prime Minister

The Commonwealth gave support to the independence for Belize, but the best way to secure that independence is through a negotiated settlement with her neighbours. That will be the surest means of maintaining her boundaries.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is in contact with the American Secretary of State about these issues. A Commonwealth committee, made up of a number of Caribbean and other countries, will be overseeing the negotiations that we are conducting with a view to helping us to reach a solution. I believe that, [column 570]with the aid of the Caribbean countries and others, we may be able to do that.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. There is a Business Statement to follow. I shall take three more questions from each side.

Mr. Temple -Morris

Does the Prime Minister consider that it is possible to get a solution in Rhodesia whilst we try to keep everybody happy? Does he not foresee a situation when, in order to get a solution rather than just talk about it, we shall be obliged to choose between some of the various black interests involved?

The Prime Minister

What would be very helpful at present, although I understand that it is not possible, would be for all the African leaders to come together in order that there could be one common platform on this matter. I know that this view is held by a number of African Presidents in the front-line States and elsewhere. But until we can do that we should not give up our approach. We must continue it, because the only alternative is the destruction of many more lives and a great deal of property. That is why it is our task, whatever responsibility others may have, to try to keep negotiations going.

Mr. Atkinson

Does the Prime Minister agree that the ultimate solution for the future of Cyprus will come from Ankara rather than from the continuing intercommunal talks? Will he now tell us whether the meeting of Commonwealth leaders has authorised any part of the Commonwealth or any one Government to conduct negotiations with the new Government of Turkey? Have any efforts been made, or initiatives taken, to meet Mr. Ecevit to discuss the future of the island?

The Prime Minister

The discussion on Cyprus, which was led by Archbishop Makarios, concluded that it was better for the inter-communal talks that have been begun between Archbishop Makarios and Mr. Denktash to continue along the guidelines that they themselves have laid down and agreed within the framework of United Nations resolutions to which we have adhered. There was certainly no authority given to the Government to begin talks with Mr. [column 571]Ecevit or with anyone else on this matter. We shall continue to play what part we can to reach an agreement.

Sir Frederic Bennett

Will the Prime Minister say a word about the Seychelles? Why were no representatives of a Government who were on a “one man, one vote” majority, a system which is so beloved by the present Government, not represented in any way at the Commonwealth conference? The Seychelles Government were elected by a 66 per cent. majority only a few months ago. Will the Prime Minister bring up to date his Government's interpretation of what amounts to an illegal régime?

The Prime Minister

That question was discussed at the first meeting of the conference. There was an agreement that Mr. Mancham should not be invited. Therefore, he did not attend. In this matter we have taken the view that has always been taken by successive Governments, namely, that we recognise a situation when it appears to have become stabilised. In that sense the United Kingdom, the United States, Tanzania and other countries have now recognised the new régime in the Seychelles.

Mr. John Mendelson

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, in contrast with one or two critical opinions expressed by Opposition Members about the conduct of the British Government at this conference, early international opinion, particularly from the United States, indicates that the Government have achieved considerable success in getting agreement on the attitude towards Rhodesia and Southern Africa? In that connection can the Prime Minister say something about the position in Namibia and the initiative of the five ambassadors?

The Prime Minister

We discussed that matter formally and again in informal sessions. The five permanent members of the Security Council have had discussions with the South African Government. I am bound to say that in my view and in the view of African leaders with whom I have discussed this matter there has been a considerable advance.

I am not without hope that we might yet save Namibia from the worst excesses that could have followed. The South African Government seem to have abandoned the Turnhalle proposal. They [column 572]seem to have moved into a situation which would involve the United Nations more closely. I think that there is a real prospect of a solution, whereas two years ago, when I met Mr. Vorster, I would not have thought that possible. That is why we should not give up in Rhodesia. We should never stop trying to negotiate for peace, even while war goes on.

Mr. Evelyn King

Does the Prime Minister accept that guerrillas from over the borders of Rhodesia use torture and barbarity of the foulest kind? Is he aware that this treatment is applied to many persons who are close relations of some of my constituents and probably of some of the right hon. Member's constituents? Will the Prime Minister unreservedly condemn such action? Will he distinguish the possibility of sending a disciplined force—whether from here or the Commonwealth—and will he dissociate this country from the guerrillas, over whom we have no control and of whose deeds we can only be ashamed?

The Prime Minister

No one in the Commonwealth would support barbarous torture by guerrillas or anyone else. There is no question of the conference being divided into those who support torture and those who do not. It was condemned by everyone. The hon. Member knows what can happen in a guerrilla war. That is why I believe—and I came in for some criticism at the conference for this—in asserting that we should try to get a negotiated peace. Instead of niggling, I hope that the hon. Member will support the idea of having constructive negotiations so that we can achieve majority rule as soon as possible.

Mr. Faulds

Whilst I endorse my right hon. Friend's stand on the freedom of Zimbabwe, does he not agree with another great and good man, President Kaunda, that the solution to the Southern African problem in the wider context involves action against South Africa and the imposition of restraints on multinational oil companies.

The Prime Minister

Mr. Bingham is reviewing oil sanctions and the abuse of entry of oil to Rhodesia. A report will be made to us in due course.

The situation and attitude towards South Africa is changing. I hope that my [column 573]hon. Friends will listen to this. There is little doubt that the situation in South Africa is becoming much more explosive. I doubt whether we can avoid something like the riots and killings that we have had over the past few years. I hope that Opposition Members will not ask me if I condemn that. We are talking of an escalation to a degree of tension that is becoming frightening in South Africa. I think that this country may have difficult decisions to make. I hope that we shall have the support of the House when we do so.