HC Deb 05 December 1961 vol 650 cc1143-8

Mr. A. Henderson (by Private Notice) asked the Lord Privy Seal whether, in view of the criticism yesterday by Mr. Tshombe of the United Nations and its Secretary-General, he will make a statement on the further deterioration in the Congo.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Edward Heath)

The situation in the Katanga has deteriorated in the past week. Incidents which have taken place have resulted in casualties on both sides. The Katangans are believed by the United Nations to be holding a number of United Nations Service men and civilians, although they have only admitted to Her Majesty's Consul to holding one. The United Nations deny that they hold any Katanga gendarmes.

Her Majesty's Consul has told Mr. Kimba on his own initiative that he hopes that any prisoners held will be released at once. He has since repeated this at the request of the United Nations. I have seen reports of Mr. Tshombe's speech in Paris on 4th December and I very much regret the intemperate nature of some of his remarks.

There are now reports from the Katanga that fighting has broken out again. The extent of this is not clear. The United Nations civil authorities, after announcing that they had discovered a Katanga "battle plan", said that in the circumstances they had handed over control to their military colleagues. I have instructed our representative at New York to make immediate inquiries about this. Her Majesty's Government will continue their efforts to lower the tension in every way open to them.

Mr. Henderson

In view of the allegations made yesterday by Dr. O'Brien, would the Lord Privy Seal clarify the Government's policy on these two points? Is it their intention to work towards the recognition of Katanga as an independent republic? Or is it their policy to give the fullest support to the new United Nations Secretary-General in his efforts to secure a peaceful settlement of this problem by implementation of the resolutions of 21st February and 24th November in the General Assembly?

Mr. Heath

Her Majesty's Government's policy in the Congo has been made absolutely plain on a very large number of occasions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—by my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary at the United Nations, by the British delegate at the United Nations in each of the debates, and by myself here in the House of Commons, and in the country during the events in September when the House was not sitting. It is that the Congo should remain within its present frontiers as a united country. That we have always emphasised. Whatever constitutional arrangements there may be within those frontiers is a matter for those in the Congo to settle themselves. We believe that they should be given every help in settling them. I think that that answers the right hon. and learned Gentleman's first point.

In answer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's second point, Her Majesty's Government have supported the resolutions of the United Nations and made their position plain. When they have had reservations, the British delegate at the United Nations has explained those reservations. We have, in fact, supported the United Nations in carying out its resolutions. On 17th October we debated the events of September in the House. I gave a very full account of those events and Her Majesty's Government's attitude towards them. I pointed out then that what was at stake was not the question of implementing the resolutions, but whether those in the Congo had exceeded the authority which they had under the resolutions. That is a quite separate question. Her Majesty's Government have supported the resolutions.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Would it not be quite wrong for the United Nations again to try to suppress the aspirations of the Katangan people? Is it not clear, that, if the United Nations forces were not there, there would be no conflict? However, taking the position as it is, is my right hon. Friend aware that Her Majesty's Government will have the full support of this country in anything that they can do for conciliation?

Mr. Heath

Her Majesty's Government have made it plain that they believe that force should be used in the Congo only in the last resort and to prevent civil war among those there. That is Her Majesty's Government's policy, and we adhere to it.

Mr. H. Wilson

While endorsing what the right hon. Gentleman said in deploring the terms of Mr. Tshombe's recent speech, and also his concern about the very serious deterioration in the situation in Katanga now that the Katangan forces seem to be completely out of control, may I ask him whether he is aware that we feel that the Government have still quite a lot to explain to this House, particularly the statement of the British representative to the Security Council, our vote on the resolution and a number of other allegations, including those referred to by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson)? Would the right hon. Gentleman consider either making a fuller statement, or asking the Leader of the House whether we could have Government time to debate this matter more fully in the near future?

In advance of that, would the right hon. Gentleman clear up one matter which is causing concern, namely, whether it is a fact that Her Majesty's Government's Vice-Consul in Elisabethville is also a member of the Ministry of External Affairs of the Central African Republic?

Mr. Heath

Since the right hon. Gentleman is speaking for the first time in his new capacity on the Opposition Front Bench, may I congratulate him on his new post? I must say that I do not understand the point of the last part of his question. I dealt with the last resolution in the United Nations at considerable length last Wednesday at Question Time, during Questions on the Congo.

The right hon. Gentleman's request for a debate is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who has heard what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Fell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, if some of the African gendarmerie in Elisabethville have been out of control recently, it is a direct result of the policy of getting rid of the so-called mercenaries and white officers of the forces? In so far as they supported this policy at the United Nations, Her Majesty's Government must take some responsibility in this matter.

Is it really fair to ascribe the word "intemperate" to the terms of the speech made by Mr. Tshombe when Mr. Tshombe and his Government see their whole country being wrecked by the United Nations' adventures in Katanga? They are, in fact, in a state of war with the United Nations, which has invaded them once and has been responsible for the uprising of the Balubas, and so on. Therefore, are we immediately going to withdraw our supply of money for this force in Katanga?

Mr. Heath

Concerning the situation about the gendarmerie, we have not yet been able to get any direct information from our own officials in the Congo or from the United Nations about the situation in Katanga this afternoon. Therefore, I do not propose to comment on that aspect of the situation. I do not think—and here I believe that the House will agree with me—that this serious situation will be helped by intemperate language from any quarter.

I much regret that there should have been language of the type used by Mr. Tshombe in his speech. It is again indicative of the very high tension which exists in Katanga and other parts of the Congo at the moment, which is why Her Majesty's Government have been devoting all their efforts to trying to bring about a meeting between Mr. Tshombe and Mr. Adoula in order to lower the tension and to reach a settlement of the constitutional problem.

Mr. Warbey

In view of the fact that Mr. Tshombe and the Katangan authorities are now in full and flagrant defiance of the United Nations, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the Government will desist from weakening the United Nations in carry- ing out the decisions of the Security Council and will henceforth give the United Nations full support in carrying out whatever actions may be necessary to ensure that those decisions are executed?

Mr. Heath

I must completely repudiate the hon. Gentleman's remark about Her Majesty's Government's policy.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

Can the Lord Privy Seal tell us what protests were made by Her Majesty's Consul in Elisabethville to Mr. Tshombe against the continued incitement to violence which he has carried out over recent weeks, particularly the speech inciting the people to all-out war against the United Nations which preceded by one day the attack on Mr. Ivan Smith and Mr. Urquhart?

Mr. Heath

Her Majesty's Consul in Elisabethville has throughout used his influence in the cause of conciliation. He has been doing it untiringly. We have complete confidence in him. Moreover, there have been a number of occasions in recent months when Her Majesty's Consul has been the only form of "go-between" between the United Nations and the Government in Katanga. The United Nations has asked him to carry out functions for that purpose. We have complete confidence in him.