David Owen – 1978 Statement on Rhodesia

Below is the text of the statement made by David Owen, the then Foreign Secretary, in the House of Commons on 4 May 1978.

The central issue facing Rhodesia at this moment, and therefore facing this House—since we still have constitutional responsibility for Rhodesia—is how to end the fighting which currently ravages that country. The extent of the fighting is not often understood. To the casual observer based in Salisbury it appears that the country is relatively stable and peaceful, but one does not have to look very far beyond Salisbury to realise that Rhodesia is torn by a war which makes whole tracts of the country answerable to the authority of whichever fighting forces happen to be operating in the area at any given moment.

So far this fighting has been a fight for independence, for freedom—a fight to end the rule of a minority white regime and replace this with a majority government. So far, despite the differences between the black nationalist leaders which have bedevilled the resolution of the Rhodesian problem, the differences have not led to organised open fighting between the nationalists. There have been many and varied differences of policy. There have been personality conflicts and clashes, but until now there has never been fighting organised between, on the one hand, one section of black nationalist leaders and, on the other, the Patriotic Front.

The grave danger which could face Rhodesia in the coming months is that the fighting will change from a traditional liberation struggle into a genuine civil war with fighting taking place between nationalist leaders in the name of a particular path towards independence and freedom. If this happens, and one section of black nationalist leadership is identified with the white minority regime, there is a very grave danger that the other black nationalist leadership—the Patriotic Front—will seek support in its struggle, not just from countries sympathetic to its cause in Africa but also from countries outside Africa.

I do not believe that the Patriotic Front wishes to be placed in such a situation. It has constantly said that it does not want other people to fight battles for it. I have no doubt, that the front-line States do not wish this escalation of the conflict and internationalising of the war. I have no doubt that South Africa does not wish to see this escalation of the conflict or internationalising of the war. It is because many of the countries surrounding Rhodesia, holding differing political views and different forms of government, are aware of the gravity of the current situation that I have recently found growing support for Britain and the United States to continue their efforts towards a negotiated settlement.

It is because people in Southern Africa are only too well aware of the consequences of our giving up our attempt to achieve a negotiated settlement that they believe that we should continue. Some believe that we should do so because they believe the internal settlement to be fatally flawed, wrong in concept, objectionable in character and that it should be condemned outright. Some believe that we should pursue our negotiations because, though they support some aspects of the internal settlement, they fear that it may not be sufficient and that it may not be able to achieve the necessary acceptance from the people of Rhodesia as a whole. Some wish us to continue because they believe, as I believe, that the principles of the negotiated settlement which we have been struggling to achieve for the last year are in themselves right, sound and capable of bringing about an independent Zimbabwe in peaceful and stable circumstances.

Whatever, therefore, the motives of the people who wish us to continue our search for a negotiated settlement, I have no doubt that it is the responsibility of the British Government, with the United States Government, to continue, despite all the difficulties, to try to bring about an agreement which would permit elections under conditions of a ceasefire or, if this is unattainable, to achieve such a measure of political agreement between all the parties as would permit a genuine test of opinion of the people of Zimbabwe.

The history of liberation struggles wherever they have taken place—and this House has had many debates about them, ​ whether in the past over Africa, India, Cyprus, or the Middle East—demonstrates clearly that the error of successive British Governments over many decades has never been in taking too much notice of those fighting for their freedom but repeatedly of taking too little notice of the freedom movements and feeling that their aspirations and their motivation can be brushed aside. Time and again, this House of Commons has witnessed debates where previous Foreign Secretaries or other Ministers—charged with the responsibility of trying to bring about peaceful settlements and independence to the peoples of differing countries—have been attacked for a readiness to talk to people who have been variously described as terrorists or guerrillas. Time and again, those people so described have gone on to lead their countries and have often lived to find their names spoken of in this House with respect and honour.

I do not, therefore, seek to justify my readiness to negotiate with all the parties to the dispute in Rhodesia. I am confident that time and history will show that it is right and inevitable that I should do so. I intend to focus on the outstanding issues which have to be resolved before a negotiated settlement can be achieved. The risks of failure, as I have already indicated, are terrifying for their consequences and, though I cannot guarantee success, the one thing I can guarantee to this House is that were the British Government and the United States Government to give up now our current attempt to negotiate a settlement, the consequences that I fear would be immediate and grave. This is no idle threat, no irresponsible judgment, but a sober recognition of the realities of the situation.

Let this House be clear, let the country be clear, and let the world be clear, that the British Government have no intention of giving up their attempt to achieve a negotiated settlement. We will not change the present situation of illegality in Rhodesia nor recognise any Government there until we are satisfied, and this House is satisfied, that what has been achieved is acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole. Nor shall we contemplate, before being so satisfied, the lifting of economic sanctions. For us to recognise the internal settlement, as some irresponsibly now urge, would be for Britain to go back on the Fifth Principle to which successive Governments have honourably held.

In 1971 and 1972, the then Conservative Government, even though they had negotiated an arrangement direct with Mr. Smith, felt that in order to fulfil the Fifth Principle, the acceptability of their negotiations should be measured by the Pearce Commission. Many people in Africa and some even in this House questioned whether the then Government would accept the view of the Pearce Commission. Many people wondered whether the Pearce Commission would be so arranged that it would be impossible to come to a contrary view. It is to the credit of that Government and of this House of Commons that we honoured the Fifth Principle then.

When the Commission reported, the settlement did not have the support of the people of Rhodesia. When it became apparent that the majority of the 5 million people who lived in the tribal trust-lands did not support the agreement, the Government refused to recognise the regime or to lift sanctions.

We learned then, or we should have learned, that the people of Rhodesia as a whole do not reside in Salisbury. They do not have access to the media. They are largely a rural population who are quite capable of making up their mind whether the form of government offered to them represents their true aspirations for majority rule.

In 1972, the then Government were not prepared to recognise the regime until not only the proposals had been shown to be acceptable to the people of Rhodesia but the necessary changes had been made to the Rhodesian constitution and the process which they believed would lead to majority rule had been started. How can it now be seriously argued that Britain should, in the midst of a major conflict which clearly demonstrates a divided nation, unilaterally and in direct contravention of the Fifth Principle recognise the internal settlement and lift sanctions? It would be utterly wrong to do so. It would leave Britain with barely a friend in the world, discredited and despised. It would also, even more importantly, be a betrayal of the people of Rhodesia as a whole. We owe to them a debt of honour, and it is a debt which I intend to discharge.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)

What form of government does the Foreign Secretary anticipate ​ history would record and our debt of honour would reward if Mr. Nkomo or Mr. Mugabe were to form a Government either by force of arms or by election?

Dr. Owen

It is crucial that they form a Government, if they were to be chosen by the people of Zimbabwe, as a result of an election and not by force of arms.

Mr. Fairbairn

Then what?

Dr. Owen

It is a central objective of mine that the transition period during the period up to that election is one which will allow that election result to stick permanently and not to be overthrown. That is an extremely important reason why we need a stable transition period.

We have no debts or obligations to individuals or to parties in Rhodesia, and I think that that answers the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn). We have never had any interest in choosing between the different black nationalist leaderships. That is for the people of Rhodesia to decide. But we owe to the people of Rhodesia as a whole, black and white, the opportunity to become free citizens of an independent Zimbabwe in a way which they find acceptable.

At Question Time today, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was asked what humanitarian assistance—I assumed what was meant was humanitarian assistance through the voluntary agencies—we could give to the victims of the war in Rhodesia. This is an issue which has been concerning me for some time. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development will, subject to parliamentary approval, provide £238,000 for relief work within Rhodesia as part of her programme of assistance to those affected by the political situation in Southern Africa. This money will be used to support Christian Care, an organisation established by the Churches within Rhodesia in 1967 and which provides assistance to the families of detainees and the families of those executed by the regime and which also helps to rehabilitate ex-detainees and war victims. The money will be channelled through the International Universities Exchange Fund, for whom my right hon. Friend is also providing scholarships. Other Government support, Christian Care through the International Universities Exchange Fund, voluntary bodies such as the International Defence and Aid Fund, Oxfam, and Christian Aid also provide money for it, and the grant from Her Majesty’s Government will provide about 17 per cent. of Christian Care’s budget this year.

I believe that this is the right way to deal with a very genuine problem of humanitarian assistance and how it can be channelled effectively to those concerned.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I welcome, applaud and am grateful for the assistance which my right hon. Friend has announced. Will he also recognise that there are many refugees who have had to flee to Mozambique and to neighbouring Zambia? What assistance will my right hon. Friend provide for them?

Dr. Owen

We have already provided assistance for them, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State will gladly give details to the House of the way in which we have tried to channel humanitarian assistance as fairly as we can between all the differing sections in the community.

I have made it clear on numerous occasions, not just to this House but in all my negotiations and to the world, that Britain will honour the Six Principles. Even now, faced by an internal settlement which we believe to be inadequate, which causes us many anxieties and which gives us grave doubts, were such a settlement to be demonstrably acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole, despite the fact that it means continuation of the armed conflict, were elections to be conducted which were seen by this House of Commons to be fair and free, and were a new Government to be installed with a new constitution which was clearly acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole, we would be bound to honour our commitment.

However, we face a situation where it is far from clear that the internal agreement is acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole. There are conflicts within Rhodesia, as the dismissal over the last few days of Mr. Byron Hove clearly demonstrates. The armed struggle itself continues, and it is a brave man and, I would suggest to this House, a foolish man who would put his hand on his heart and say that the internal agreement is ​ acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole. It is not for us to make this judgment, anyhow; it is for the people of Rhodesia. The world will watch closely to see whether, after an initial response by the liberation fighters, the appeal from Salisbury to lay down their arms and support the internal agreement, the process continues. At present, both sides are expressing confidence in their own position and in their own influence over the liberation forces, although Bishop Muzorewa’s UANC clearly do not think nearly enough has been done. In this atmosphere, it may well take some weeks before either side is willing to consider compromising previously held positions.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

Without recognising the internal settlement, will the Foreign Secretary say whether he agrees and supports the appeal of the internal Governments to the guerrillas to lay down their arms?

Dr. Owen

I should like to end all the fighting. I do not believe that the way to resolve the issue is through armed struggle. I have made that clear on numerous occasions. However, the way to deal with this situation is to try to negotiate a settlement, and that means that I have to try to talk to people who, obviously, at this moment will not lay down their arms.

For us in this House, for the British Government and the United States Government, our task is not to waver from our objective, which is a negotiated ceasefire and arrangements for a transitional administration which will allow fair and free elections and the emergence as soon as possible of an independent Zimbabwe.

Despite shifting alliances among the parties and various swings of optimism and pessimism reflected in the day-to-day reporting from Rhodesia, it is our task to hold to the principles which we believe can bring about a negotiated settlement. The emphasis on a negotiation among all the parties to the dispute is the essence of the Anglo-American plan. The details of that plan have already been modified in negotiations from that set out in Command 6919 which was published on 1st September last year. I am not, and never have been, attached to all the details of our proposals. The only reason that we felt it necessary to put specific and detailed proposals on the table was ​ the inability of the parties to come together and compromise and negotiate.

Since 1st September we have seen steady movement towards some of the fundamental principles incorporated within the Anglo-American plan. Far from the plan being dead, I see an underlying trend which is steadily moving towards an independent Zimbabwe as a result of free and fair elections. I have placed in the Library the working documents which we gave to all the parties in February. Since then we have had further detailed discussions in March and in April, and I intend to outline to the House those areas upon which we must concentrate if we are to achieve a negotiated settlement.

Under the Anglo-American plan it was always envisaged that sanctions would be lifted at the start of the transitional period. In order to achieve international support for the lifting of sanctions, we had to ensure the irreversibility of the process towards independence. This irreversibility is fundamental if we are to satisfy others that sanctions should be lifted and that recognition should be given to any Government.

Under the internal settlement, there is no such guarantee of irreversibility, no transfer of power and no ceasefire. The commitment to an early election under universal suffrage is crucial, as is the undertaking to release detainees and to start the process of registering voters. Regrettably, however, there is anxiety that it is the wish of some inside Rhodesia to postpone the date so recently fixed for elections and independence for the end of the year.

I note that the UANC has commented that the release of detainees has been only a “partial measure” and that, according to reports reaching it, nothing has been done to create, in the tribal trustlands, a climate conducive to holding free elections. The UANC has also pointed out that moves have not yet been made to end racial discrimination and that—and I quote—

“If it is expected that the guerrillas should respond to the call for a ceasefire, it must be shown, tangibly, that if they returned home they would not suffer the same racial humiliation and disabilities under which they lived before they took to the bush.”

[HON. MEMBERS: “Rubbish.”] Hon. Members opposite may say “rubbish”, but that is what Bishop Muzorewa’s ​ organisation thinks at the moment, and we should take this into account.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

The Foreign Secretary talks about guarantees of irreversibility. These do not exist in politics. What guarantee of irreversibility was there when we gave independence to Uganda on a democratic basis?

Dr. Owen

The task is to ensure that the transitional period will lead to an election, and one of the ways of getting as good a guarantee as possible—and I agree there are no perfect guarantees in this world—is to ensure the presence of the United Nations throughout the process. The United Nations would be observers of the election and would be committed to the election process, the lifting of sanctions, and the recognition of the Government. That is a concrete way of achieving a fundamental guarantee. This was one of the issues underlying the proposal to bring Namibia to independence. By having United Nations involvement there is a guarantee that Namibia will have elections that will be recognised by the UN. This enabled the South African Government to overcome their understandable reservations about certain aspects of the proposal.

Against this background of danger and uncertainty it is easy to despair. It is easy to think that there is no prospect of a negotiated settlement. It is easy just to want to give up. I believe, however, that, as so often in these types of negotiations, as more people become aware of the precipice in front, there is a tendency to start making the necessary compromises to achieve agreement. Nothing I have heard over the last few weeks makes me change my conviction that round-table talks are necessary as soon as we can ensure a reasonable chance of success at those talks.

I have no wish to repeat the experience of Geneva. I am determined to try to lay the necessary basis for successful talks by careful and detailed preparation beforehand. I do not wish to pretend that this will be easy, but the areas of agreement are now sufficiently clear for us to have a reasonable chance of building on them and, providing that all the parties will be ready to negotiate without preconditions, quietly and in detail, we could prep are for successful talks. We have had ​ in recent months enough public meetings with extensive television and Press coverage. We are now in a position where we can best make progress by careful preparation on the ground.

The Patriotic Front, whilst reserving its negotiating positions on a number of important points, has expressed a readiness to come to the talks and the parties in Salisbury, though expressing considerable reservations about whether future talks will contribute to a negotiated settlement, would, I believe, be ready to participate if they could be convinced of their value.

I have therefore decided, in consultation with the American Secretary of State, to send Mr. John Graham, the Deputy Under-Secretary in the Foreign Office concerned with African affairs, to Africa to work with the United States Ambassador to Zambia, Mr. Stephen Low, and to stay there for as long as is necessary to carry out the preparatory work for successful round-table talks.

Both will have to travel together extensively in order to keep in continuous contact with all the parties. Their task will be to work towards round-table talks at which Mr. Vance and myself will be present and representatives of all the parties at the earliest possible moment compatible with careful preparation and the emergence of sufficient common ground to give a reasonable chance of success.

Mr. Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler (Norfolk, North-West)

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether Mr. Graham will be based in Salisbury or in another part of Africa?

Dr. Owen

That is up to the discuscusions that we have with people in Salisbury. I am quite prepared for Mr. Graham to go to Salisbury and base himself there. However, it is up to them, I do not want to force it, and I am prepared to discuss this with them.

The main areas for detailed negotiation are now clear—first, the Council covering the transition. All parties now want to have a Council of Ministers. All parties now believe this Council should effectively have legislative as well as executive powers. The difficult areas yet to be resolved relate to law and order and the constitution under which the ​ Council will operate during the transition and the method of exercising its legislative authority and, of course, the composition of the Council itself.

Law and order has been the area on which the Kissinger proposals foundered and the Geneva Conference broke down. It has always been the most sensitive issue, and it is not surprising that in Salisbury at the moment the internal settlement has found so soon law and order to be the most divisive issue.

The Anglo-American plan had as one of its central themes that law and order and defence should be vested during the transition in a neutral authority. The front-line Presidents have always seen the validity of this argument. At Dar-es-Salaam the Patriotic Front proposed that a resident commissioner should hold reserve executive powers over defence and law and order. This is a very considerable advance and, though we still believe that these reserved powers should also cover external affairs and the recommendations of the electoral commission, and should also include legislative powers in those fields, the concept of crucial powers residing in the hands of a neutral authority has been agreed.

It is true to point out, too, that previously Bishop Muzorewa and the Reverend Sithole in consultation over the Anglo-American plan, supported this principle and indeed both argued at various stages in the discussions over the internal agreement for a neutral chairman and saw advantages in having responsibilities in the area of defence and law and order vested in such a neutral chairman. I have no doubt that in these sensitive areas during the transition it is right for the ultimate responsibility for defence and law and order to be held by an acceptable and neutral figure.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the need for an independent chairman. Are we to assume that there is now agreement that he would be backed up by a neutral United Nations force as well? This was a great matter of difference between the Patriotic Front and the internal settlement.

Dr. Owen

I shall go on to describe that. This is another thing which came out of Dar-es-Salaam—that, whereas we have had difficulty previously in accepting ​ the concept of the United Nations, we have now made significant progress in that area, too.

Another major area is whether the Council should operate under the powers of the illegal 1969 constitution and its related Parliament or should have a new constitution specifically designed for the transition. It might be possible to explore arrangements whereby such a transitional constitution, under which the Council would have legislative authority in place of the present Rhodesian Parliament, would be set up both locally and also by legislation approved by the British Parliament. The exact composition of the Council is unlikely to be resolved until the round-table talks take place.

In February we proposed that the transitional constitution should itself provide for the establishment of a governing council consisting of the resident commissioner and of 10, though it could easily be 20 or 30, other members, to represent the parties who participated in the Geneva Conference. In this scheme the resident commissioner would have been required to consult the governing council except in relation to certain specified subjects reserved as his special responsibility such as, at the minimum, external affairs, defence, internal security and the recommendations of the electoral commission and to accept its advice if it represented the views of two-thirds of its membership.

In Dar-es-Salaam the Patriotic Front argued for a majority position on any council but we made it clear to them that the British Government and the American Government could not support effective control of the Council being given to the Patriotic Front, since we felt that this was totally incompatible with the concept of a neutral transitional period and a free choice for the electorate. Nevertheless, it is clear now that all parties want more authority to be vested in the Council. If there is agreement to this, the British Government can certainly accept that, though if there is to be a British resident commissioner with real responsibilities he must have the power to enable him to discharge them.

Since then there has also been a demand by the parties to the Salisbury agreement that they should be treated as a single entity and that we should negotiate with them not as separate ​ parties. It may be that the pattern of future negotiations will increasingly become one between the Patriotic Front on the one hand and the parties to the Salisbury agreement on the other. This is, anyhow, a decision for the parties to take. Hitherto, the British and American Governments have negotiated with the five parties represented at the Geneva Conference. A lot will depend on the cohesion and unity of the Salisbury agreement.

The second major area for detailed negotiation remains the defence and police forces. The ceasefire will require very detailed negotiation. All the parties have had a detailed explanation by Field Marshal Lord Carver of his proposals for creating a Zimbabwe national army and also how the arrangements for the ceasefire could operate. They have had, too, the opportunity of discussing the working of a United Nations peace-keeping force with the United Nations Secretary-General’s special representative, General Prem Chand. We have circulated to them a paper describing the concept and the possible working of a UN Zimbabwe force and of how United Nations civilian police observers could be attached to the Rhodesian police force, to help assure the impartiality of any police action. The exact mandate and working of the United Nations, however, is subject to a decision by the Secretary-General and the Security Council. There would, however, be considerable merit in discussing the possible mandate with the parties in greater detail and trying to reach a greater measure of agreement than exists at present.

These issues have always been the most controversial. It was on this issue of integration that the discussions with Mr. Smith broke down in July 1977. In the past, the concept of integration has not been acceptable to Mr. Smith and to many white Rhodesians. It is interesting now that the integration of liberation fighters, prepared to return in peace, is being discussed in Salisbury as part of the internal agreement. The concept therefore of integration, which was always inevitable if there was to be a reduction in the level of fighting and an eventual ceasefire, appears now to be acceptable. This again is an important advance.

The police forces represent a far greater problem. It is interesting that, just as ​ the Patriotic Front has raised questions over the police force, so this is becoming for Bishop Muzorewa and the UANC an important issue. It has always been the view of the British Government and the American Government that a major dismantling of the existing police force in the transitional period was not a practical proposition nor desirable for itself.

Yet it was because we recognised that there were genuine anxieties about the police forces during the transitional period that we proposed the United Nations civilian police observers who have operated in other countries in somewhat similar circumstances and have been able to ensure through their presence on the ground the impartiality and fairness of the police force. They would be answerable directly to the United Nations force commander. Their possible operation was described in the paper given to the parties in February and now placed in the Library of the House of Commons.

It has always been an important part of the Anglo-American plan that a new police commissioner should be appointed. The running of the police is a highly professional business and we have always felt that without professional advice and without studying the position on the ground we could not make commitments as to what restructuring and other changes would be necessary in the transitional period and, of course, the period immediately following independence.

One thing is vital—that the police force should be maintained throughout the transitional period as a credible and reliable force giving confidence to the community as a whole. Any transitional period must have some basic stability, which can come only by retaining the Civil Service, the judiciary and the police forces as elements of continuity during the transition.

That is not, however, to argue that there should be no changes. In all these spheres there will, of necessity, have to be adaptation in order to prepare for independence and in order to pave the way for a majority-rule Government. I share the fears expressed by Mr. Byron Hove when he said:

“What Mr. Smith envisages is a situation in which the civil service, the police, the judiciary, the army, and all the State apparatus remain in the hands of white people. In other words, he believes in the substance of power remaining in white hands, with the shadow of authority passing to blacks.”

I hope that that is not the position, because it would make for great difficulties. Yet the necessary changes must come by agreement and by negotiation. If this can be done prior to the transition, then the stability and neutrality of the transitional period can be guaranteed.

The thread interweaving throughout the discussion on the issue of law and order and defence is the role of the United Nations. The major benefit to Rhodesia in involving the United Nations is not just that it can monitor and ensure that what is negotiated in detail prior to the transition for the ceasefire is maintained—that is important—and that it can be a stabilising force during the period of the transition, but that involvement of the United Nations is a guarantee of international acceptance and will allow the lifting of economic sanctions to take place at the start of the transition. It also opens up for Rhodesia the possibilities of economic assistance from the World Bank and from member States of the European Community through the proposed Zimbabwe development fund. All of this can lay the foundation for a secure economic future for Zimbabwe. It is in the interests of everyone. It ensures that Zimbabwe, when it reaches independence, can if it wishes be a member of the Commonwealth, the Organisation of African Unity and the United Nations.

A United Nations peace-keeping presence has other significant benefits, too, for Rhodesia. An essential part of any ceasefire agreement is that the liberation fighters currently based in Mozambique, Zambia and Botswana should return in an orderly and controlled way to the country. It is vital for the future security of Rhodesia that none of these forces should constitute a threat to the stability of the country as a force capable of attempting to reverse the result of any election.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

Was consideration ever given to the establishment of a Commonwealth peace-keeping force as an alternative to a United Nations force?

Dr. Owen

As is well known, that would have been my preference, but I think that there were formidable difficulties in it—not least the fact that many member nations of the Commonwealth would not have been prepared to partici- ​ pate in such a force under Commonwealth auspices, lacking all the history, framework and structure for having a force that the United Nations possesses. They would prefer to make their contribution—as I think they would be prepared to do—in the context of United Nations peace-keeping, which is how many Commonwealth countries have in the past traditionally exercised that option. I see obvious advantages in terms of acceptability and control in having a Commonwealth involvement and in preserving the concept of Commonwealth responsibility for a country which all of us hope will become a member of the Commonwealth. However, in my judgment, it was not practical politics to achieve that.

Far from United Nations involvement being against the interests of the white Rhodesians—as many of them still think it is—it can truly be argued to be in their interests and in those of Rhodesians of all races. Whereas when the Anglo-American plan was first put forward there was in Southern Africa itself a great deal of scepticism about the possibilities of the United Nations, the Rhodesian people can now see that the South African Government have been prepared to accept a role for the United Nations in the supervision of the elections for the territory of Namibia, or South-West Africa, as some of them would call it.

Furthermore, it has been seen by many of the people in Namibia that a United Nations force can offer them not only fair elections and international acceptance but the assurance of independence. It must be profoundly hoped on all sides of the House that the settlement proposed for Namibia will be acceptable to SWAPO and that it will be carried forward expeditiously and fairly. There can be few better examples and influences on Rhodesia than to have United Nations involvement in the attainment of independence actually operating in Southern Africa. It was a major advance—a point the right hon. Gentleman raised—that at Dar es Salaam last month the leaders of the Patriotic Front accepted the principle of a United Nations military presence.

The final main area for discussion will be how to handle the independence constitution. There are many areas which still need to be clarified and the detailed proposals on the constitution which we sent ​ to all the parties in February should provide the necessary framework for further discussion. It may be that the best way to proceed over the independence constitution would be to leave this to be discussed further during the transition period, perhaps on the basis of recommendations made by an independent commission or other independent experts. It may be, however, that all the parties will wish to clarify in detail the constitution prior to the transition. The main issues have been identified in the documents sent to the parties in February and which have been placed in the Library of the House of Commons. I think that right hon. and hon. Members will see that a great deal of useful and good work has been put in on that, which will be very helpful.

The question which now needs to be asked is how we can achieve the sort of dialogue about which I have talked and which I profoundly believe to be now necessary. I made it clear in my speech to the Pilgrims on 13th March, and have done so since frequently in this House, that no one need come to these discussions conceding in advance any of their previous positions. Attendance at the discussions carries no recognition in any way whatever. All we ask is a readiness to try to put the future of Zimbabwe first, for us all to be prepared to examine the issues objectively in a genuine search for peace. I warn now that unless we do so, there is only one alternative—the continuation of a bloody war. The situation could worsen rapidly. Britain and the United States will approach any discussions firm on principle but flexible, determined only in our belief that it is necessary to negotiate a cease fire and to provide for a transitional administration which will ensure a period of stability and peace in which fair and free elections can take place and the transition to independence and majority rule be carried out in a way which will lay the foundations—

Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Dr. Owen

—for a prosperous, secure, multiracial Zimbabwe.