Alec Douglas-Home – 1972 Statement on an All-Party Delegation to Rhodesia

The statement made by Alec Douglas-Home, the then Foreign Secretary, in the House of Commons on 2 March 1972.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement.

I said that I would report further to the House on the possibility of an all-party delegation visiting Rhodesia. Mr. Smith has finally replied that he would feel unable to agree to the visit of the delegation proposed. He gives as his reason not only the strongly expressed opposition to the settlement of certain members of the proposed delegation, but also their alleged support for movements in Africa which make use of terrorist methods.

Since both the Labour and Liberal Parties have stated that they are not prepared to change their nominations to the all-party delegation, a position which I quite understand, I regret that there is now no point in pursuing the proposal further.

Mr. Hattersley

Will the Foreign Secretary accept that this is not simply a matter affecting the Labour and Liberal Parties but is the cause of concern to the House as a whole? Indeed, will he further accept that since Mr. Smith’s message is indicative of Smith’s character and policy, the right hon. Gentleman’s statement is central to relations between Britain and the Rhodesian régime?

In the light of that understanding, may I put three specific questions to the right hon. Gentleman? First, having reported Mr. Smith’s message to the House, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say what reply lie has sent to Mr. Smith’s impertinence? Second what conclusion does the Foreign Secretary draw from Mr. Smith’s attitude about the Rhodesian Front’s likelihood of honouring any bargain that may be struck between Salisbury and Whitehall?

Third, does the Foreign Secretary realise that since he, unlike his predecessor, claims to have struck a bargain with the Rhodesian régime, he should be in a position to exercise some influence in Salisbury? When does he intend to do so?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I think the hon. Gentleman knows that I have always thought that if there was to be observation of the Pearce Commission from this House, that would be better done by an all-party delegation. I made that clear to Mr. Smith. I also made clear the fact that in this House it is the practice for parties to select their own members to take part in delegations and that therefore it was intolerable that the choice should be limited. Thus, my preference was for an all-party delegation, though Lord Pearce is getting on with his work successfully without observation.

I will answer the three specific points the hon. Gentleman put to me. The answer to the first is that I have told Mr. Smith that I regret his decision. [Interruption.] The answer to the second, about the honouring of any bargain, is that that is a different matter in relation to the settlement that has been proposed; he must put the whole of his authority and party behind it if the settlement is to be brought into the Rhodesia Parliament.

The answer to the third is that I think the hon. Gentleman knows very well that the only sanction I have—I hope he is not asking me to use it—is to withdraw the Pearce Commission, which is something neither he nor his right hon and hon. Friends want.

Sir F. Bennett

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it would be misleading to suggest that this represents an overall objection of hon. Members from this House going to Rhodesia? [Interruption.] Is it not a fact that very prominent right hon. Members from both sides of this Chamber, including one distinguished former Labour Minister and an equally prominent former Conservative Minister, have been to Rhodesia in the last few weeks?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that at least some of us feel that the more that Lord Pearce is allowed to get on with his job—without interference from political sources, including those who favour a settlement and those who are opposed to one—the better?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Yes. I have never thought that we should transfer our political differences from this House to Rhodesia, particularly while the Pearce Commission is there, or indeed at any time. It is true, of course, that hon. Members have been to Rhodesia in recent weeks.

Mr. David Steel

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why he believes that, although he has been unable during these negotiations with Rhodesia to get Mr. Smith to accept a modest demand that an all-party delegation from this House be allowed to see what is happening as part of the test of acceptability which is being carried out, there is any real hope or promise of Mr. Smith, once the negotiations are over and the formal ties with this country are cut, accepting the more substantial demands contained in the agreement that has been concluded with him?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Mr. Smith has accepted the proposals for a settlement—[Interruption.]—and has agreed to put his authority behind them in his own Parliament. Having done that, I should have thought that he must keep the agreement. [HON. MEMBERS: “Rubbish.”]

Mr. Hastings

Is not the first objective to ascertain the views of the Rhodesian people in this matter? Is that not the responsibility of this House as well as of the Government? Has anyone explained to my right hon. Friend or to the House how this delegation could possibly help?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

No, Sir, they have not, but if there were to have been a delegation, it should have been an all-party one.

Miss Lestor

Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly publish all the exchanges he has had with Ian Smith over this matter so that we may see whether or not the Foreign Secretary explained to Mr. Smith why I and many Members of my party believe that violence becomes inevitable—[HON. MEMBERS: “No.”]—and often legitimate, but only if all normal methods of democratic change are closed?

Is he aware that the conduct of Ian Smith in Southern Rhodesia since the Pearce Commission went there demonstrates that this course is rapidly becoming the position? Will he acknowledge that if ever those who believe in equal rights in Southern Rhodesia are compelled to answer force with force, they will have been taught by masters who have been supported by the Foreign Secretary?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I will ignore the hon. Lady’s final remarks. I hope she will recognise that the whole purpose of this settlement is to enable peaceful democratic change to take place so that the Rhodesians should not have to resort to violence.

Sir Gilbert Longden

If my right hon. Friend thinks that it would be advantageous for an all-party delegation to go from this House to Rhodesia—though in my respectful submission Lord Pearce is doing very well without such a delegation—why not put them in an R.A.F. aeroplane, fly them to Salisbury and see what Mr. Smith does next?

Mr. Thorpe

While not wishing to see my Chief Whip detained without trial and therefore dissociating myself from the suggestion of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden), may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he does not feel that, in fairness to the House, he should go further than expressing regret to Mr. Smith, which is the sentiment one expresses if one is unable to accept a supper invitation?

Does he not think that he should make it clear that he received an undertaking from the two political parties that they would refrain from expressing an opinion publicly or from taking part in political activities while they were in Rhodesia and that he had accepted those undertakings as having been given in good faith?

Does he not believe that he should reject the suggestion that the members of the proposed delegation support terrorist methods and are themselves alleged to be terrorist sympathisers? [Interruption.] Is he aware that if the Pearce Commission concludes that there is support for the proposals that this House should be asked to grant £5 million for 10 years to lift sanctions, grant independence and give recognition to the Smith régime, this House should be given an opportunity to see how the Pearce Commission has worked, prior to such a conclusion being reached?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I have already conveyed to Mr. Smith the two suggestions which the right hon. Gentleman has made. On the last point he raised, I suggest we await the Pearce Report.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

Is my right hon. Friend aware that hon. Members on this side of the House as well as hon. Gentlemen on the benches opposite are deeply disappointed that the Smith régime has felt unable to accept the presence in Rhodesia of an all-party delegation from this House? Will he present our dissatisfaction to Mr. Smith over this?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I have told Mr. Smith that I supported the idea of an all-party delegation to observe the Pearce Commission working. I will certainly tell him that I think he has made a mistake in this matter.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Is it not a fact that, contrary to the impression which the right hon. Gentleman gave in reply to a question from his hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), which disparaged the value of an all-party delegation, the suggestion for an all-party delegation came specifically from the Foreign Secretary? Is it not the case, therefore, that his own suggestion has been rejected by Mr. Smith? Does not this conduct on the part of Mr. Smith affect the right hon. Gentleman’s mind about the value of any bargain that may be struck with Mr. Smith?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I am not sure if the right hon. Gentleman was around when this was considered, but the position was that Mr. Smith rejected a request for a Labour Party delegation and a Liberal Party delegation. I have never been keen on Lord Pearce’s Commission being observed, but if it was to be observed—[Interruption.]—I agree that could have been better expressed, I meant it in the sense that Lord Pearce could get on with the work of the Commission perfectly well without any external observation—but if there were to be observation, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I said that it should be an all-party delegation, that was the best form. This has now been turned down.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he told Mr. Smith that he was not very keen on the proposition he was putting forward?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I told Mr. Smith that he ought to accept an all-party delegation. He has not done so.