§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Edward Heath)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on the supply of bombs to United Nations forces in the Katanga.
33 Fighting in the Katanga has continued to spread and has become more intense since I answered a Question in the House last Wednesday.
The United Nations forces are still being attacked at their headquarters in Elisabethville, at the airport and on the road joining them. The United Nations forces have attacked the Katangan gendarmerie camp, and it appears to have been in the course of this that a number of mortar bombs fell in or near the hospital. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] They have also attacked communications by which Katangan reinforcements are being brought to Elisabethville. These include railway engines, stations and fuel supplies.
The radio station and General Post Office have also been attacked. In addition, there are reports of attacks on power stations and mining installations, although I have not yet had confirmation of these from official sources. This situation is, therefore, highly dangerous.
Her Majesty's Government have been faced with a grave decision during this time as a result of the request by the Secretary-General of the United Nations for the supply of 24 1,000 lb. bombs for the use of the Canberra squadron stationed in the Congo.
As the House knows, throughout these troubled months in the Congo Her Majesty's Government have done their utmost to restrict the use of force and to bring about a reconciliation between the opposing groups. In particular, during the events of last September they endeavoured to prevent the conflict from spreading to air warfare.
This request of the Secretary-General was specifically related to the need for the United Nations to avoid a recurrence of the situation in September in which the lives of its troops were endangered by the operations of pirate aircraft. Since then, additional planes capable of military use have arrived in Katanga and have been in operation.
As I told the House last week, Her Majesty's Government fully recognise that the United Nations force must defend itself and its means of communication. They were very much alive to the dangers of allowing the United Nations forces, including those from Commonwealth countries, to be deprived of protection against air attacks.
34 With these matters in mind, Her Majesty's Government considered the Secretary-General's request. Her Majesty's Government recognised the reasons for it, but, at the same time, they were loath to see an intensification of the fighting by this means. At the request of Her Majesty's Government, the Secretary-General gave specific assurances in writing that the bombs would be used only against Katangan military aircraft on the ground and against the airstrips used by them.
The Secretary-General undertook to pass these assurances to the United Nations Command in Leopoldville with orders that they should be conveyed to commanders of the squadrons and to pilots in the field.
In these circumstances, and in view of these assurances, Her Majesty's Government decided to meet the Secretary-General's request. The United Nations itself is making the necessary arrangements for the collection of the bombs, which, we understand, will be carried out at the end of this week.
As I have repeatedly told the House, Her Majesty's Government have consistently supported the United Nations operation in the Congo and, equally consistently, we have urged the course of conciliation. We have always believed that the Congo should remain a viable entity within its existing frontiers. We have not supported or condoned a movement for secession of any part of the Congo. But the constitutional differences inside the Congo should be resolved by the Congolese themselves. The imposition of a political settlement by the United Nations is specifically excluded by the Security Council resolution of 9th August, 1960.
Her Majesty's Government are now seriously disturbed by the way in which the fighting in Katanga has developed. Attacks on non-military objectives, such as power stations, mines, dams, hospitals and private houses, have been reported, although some of these have not been confirmed. There has been some loss of civilian life in addition to military casualties.
Her Majesty's Government are also greatly concerned about certain statements which have been made over the week-end by both military and civil 35 United Nations officials in the Congo about their objectives in Katanga. In this connection, they are studying the important statement made by the Secretary-General last night, and, in particular, the latter part describing the purpose of the present military operation. They feel that aspects of this policy will have to be clarified before Her Majesty's Government feel that they can authorise the release of the bombs.
In his statement last night the Secretary-General also said:I shall welcome any initiative which will enable us to achieve our aims as peacefully and as speedily as possible.Her Majesty's Government believe that the first step must be to bring about an end to the fighting, and they are prepared to contribute to this in any way they can. Her Majesty's Government have already been seeking methods by which this can be achieved, and they will continue to do so in conjunction with like-minded Governments and the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Mr. H. Wilson
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he is now equivocating from the position taken up last Friday, no doubt under pressure from the same group of hon. Members opposite? Is he aware that we agree with him that there must ultimately be a political settlement brought about by conciliation, and that the purpose of the present military operation is not to bring about a political settlement? But will not the right hon. Gentleman say that he accepts the United Nations resolution which says that there can be no political settlement until the mercenaries have been cleared out—
At any rate, it is known who is paying the United Nations' troops.
Will the right hon. Gentleman make it absolutely plain that he supports the operation to clear the mercenaries out so that negotiations can begin to get the right kind of political solution at the end of the day? Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that until we are a lot clearer about who is paying these mercenaries, and until their pay 36 masters are dealt with, there will be no peace in the Congo?
§ Mr. Heath
The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to have appreciated that the United Nations itself has stated that this operation is not an operation for clearing mercenaries out of Katanga. What is going on with the United Nations force at the moment is declared to be a defence of its force against attacks which have all originated from the incident at the road block. It is a deplorable thing that the incident at the road bock should have led to fighting on this scale. Of course, Her Majesty's Government support the removal of mercenaries, and they have done so all the time.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what change there has been since last Friday. I described the disquiet which we have felt at some reports which have appeared. In particular, there was one of the Commanding General of the United Nations force saying that peace overtures from Mr. Tshombe would be rejected. That gave us cause for anxiety about the real meaning of the operation. Another was a report of an interview given by Mr. Linner, of Leopoldville, which appeared in the Swedish Press on Friday, and of which we received reports on Saturday, about the ultimate objective of the United Nations force in the Congo. The Secretary-General of the United Nations last night issued a statement saying that this was not United Nations policy, but we still have to clarify what the relationship is between the statement of the Secretary-General in New York and other statements being made in the Congo at the moment.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have the impression that the efforts to improve our acoustics have resulted in our picking up rather more of the conversation in undertones which is permitted to us than was the case before. Mr. Turton.
§ Mr. Turton
Will my right hon. Friend clarify two aspects of the situation? First, before the request was made for the bombs, was it made clear why the Indian Government had refused to send bombs from their own stock? Secondly, 37 will my right hon. Friend make quite clear what is the position about the release of the bombs during the week? Are we to understand that these bombs will not be released at the end of the week unless my right hon. Friend receives further assurances from the Secretary-General? Can he also explain how the use of these bombs can be in conformity with the purpose of the United Nations resolution of 21st February?
§ Mr. Heath
The Secretary-General of the United Nations stated that the United Kingdom was the only place from which these bombs could be obtained. That was the information given to us, on which we had to make our decision. I stated quite clearly the position about the dispatch of the bombs at the end of the week. I said that the Government must see these discrepancies in the policy statements of the United Nations clarified and sorted out before they can authorise release.
§ Mr. Wigg
Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that when the Canberras were supplied to the Indian Government Her Majesty's Government did not themselves then supply at least 24 of the 1,000 lb. bombs? In other words, can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether, from the knowledge of the Government—never mind what the Secretary-General says—the Indian Government had these bombs? Is it not a fact that it is obviously easier to supply bombs from India than from this country?
§ Sir P. Agnew
Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that Her Majesty's Government no longer regard themselves as being committed to supplying these bombs at all, and that they will have to judge, after consulting the House, whether satisfactory assurances can be given as to their use? Can he further assure us that they will not be used except with the approval of the agents of Her Majesty's Government on the spot, who can approve their use or withhold it?
§ Mr. Heath
I have explained to the House the reasons why Her Majesty's Government reached this decision. I 38 have also told the House that these matters must be clarified before the bombs are released, and that we must be assured that the undertaking given by the Secretary-General can be carried out right through the operational command in the Congo.
§ Mr. Grimond
Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House one piece of information about Her Majesty's Government's attitude to the Katangan Government? The right hon. Gentleman said that these bombs are to be used against pirate aircraft. Does not that imply that not only the aircraft but all the forces of Mr. Tshombe are regarded as pirate forces, and that we do not recognise his Government at all? Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman said that the operation which is now going on is not to get rid of mercenaries. Can he tell the House what representations we are making to the United Nations about the ultimate object of this exercise? It seems clear that there is warfare between the Katangan Government and the United Nations, however much we deplore it, and that the United Nations is bound to be considerably concerned about the ultimate political solution. It would be folly to close our minds to that.
§ Mr. Heath
I used the word "pirate" to describe the attacks by "rogue" aircraft which began in September and have been going on again recently. That does not affect our view of the status of Mr. Tshombe's Government. We believe that it is a properly constituted and duly elected provincial Government in the Congo as a whole.
The last point made by the right hon. Gentleman is the crux of the matter. This is the reason why we have been urging that strife of this kind should be limited to the minimum, and that any force used by the United Nations in the defence of its own forces, its positions and its communications, should also be restricted to the utmost minimum. That, I believe, would be the desire of the whole House. Otherwise, if it extends beyond that, we come into the very difficult political situation which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned.
§ Sir R. Grimston
May we take it from my right hon. Friend that his statement amounts to a definite undertaking that the bombs will not be dispatched—that 39 is, if they are dispatched at all—until after the House has discussed the matter on Thursday and possibly taken a vote?
§ Mr. A. Henderson
While the Government are making up their mind about the release of these bombs, will they enter into consultations with the Secretary-General of the United Nations with a view to his immediately inviting the main political leaders in the Congo to meet him, say, in a neutral place outside the Congo, in an endeavour to get a peaceful settlement of this problem on a basis which is just to all concerned?
§ Mr. Heath
I should have added, in reply to the supplementary Question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston), that the provisions I referred to in my statement remain.
We will gladly pursue the suggestion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson). But I must explain that the consequence of that sentence in the Secretary-General's statement last night is that whereas, in a normal conflict, we look to the United Nations to provide mediation, in this case there is strife between the United Nations force and the forces in Katanga, and the Secretary-General is inviting mediation from outside. Therefore, we ourselves are pursuing this matter to see which is the best form of mediation to bring the fighting to an end.
§ Mr. McAdden
Will my right hon. Friend be kind enough to explain what value can possibly attach to assurances given by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as to the future use of these bombs when the military commander on the spot has so far shown himself incapable of distinguishing between hospitals and genuine military targets?
§ Mr. Healey
Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to the statement by the Federal Prime Minister of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland this weekend that he would prevent the transportation of these bombs through Federal territory—a statement made in the course of a disgraceful attack on the policy of Her Majesty's Government and on the policy of the personnel of the United Nations in the Congo?
In view of the fact that foreign policy and defence are matters reserved to Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, is not the whole speech made by Sir Roy Welensky subversive of the Federal Constitution? Is it not the case that Sir Roy Welensky has no right whatever, constitutionally, for political foreign policy reasons, to threaten to veto the transportation of British bombs through the Federal territory to the United Nations forces in the Congo?
§ Mr. Heath
If the Prime Minister of the Federation is not responsible for external affairs, he may very well think that he has a right—and that he can take advantage of it when there is an opportunity—to criticise the policy of Her Majesty's Government, who are responsible for external affairs.
As the United Nations is responsible for transporting these bombs the last part of the hon. Member's supplementary question does not arise.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
Will my right hon. Friend give some precision to his answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) by giving the House a positive assurance that the bombs will not be dispatched until after the foreign affairs debate on Thursday?
§ Mr. Shinwell
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why it is that people outside who support the "Ban the Bomb" movement are in gaol, or are being fined, while hon. Members opposite holding similar views go free?
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
Will my right hon. Friend please assist the House in clarifying this one issue, which is totally indeterminate at the moment? If the 41 conditions in which the bombs would be used are so uncertain in the Government's mind, surely that must mean that the whole operation is also in doubt. How can Her Majesty's Government at one moment say that they support the United Nations and are prepared to finance the operation, and the next moment refuse to give the United Nations the very means to carry out the policy?
§ Mr. Harold Davies
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, on both sides of the House, whatever opinions we may hold, we deprecate this sad affair in the Congo, and that we would all like to see it end in peace? But is he also aware that some of us sincerely believe that the present situation is due to vacillation and to vested interests playing a part in the area?
Will the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, consider, because the United Nations is involved, calling together some of the leaders of the Afro-Asian nations, together with non-colonial Powers, and asking them to consider this matter from the point of view of African and Asian nations?
§ Mr. Heath
We are prepared to consider any means of securing a cease-fire. As I have pointed out, we have already taken the initiative during the past few days, in conjunction with the Secretary-General, in trying to find ways and means of achieving a cease-fire. That is our purpose. It was our purpose last September, even though at that time and since we have been greatly criticised in certain quarters.
A conciliation committee is already in existence in the United Nations and it may be that in these circumstances it has a rôle to play. We would welcome any initiative taken. Meanwhile, we shall pursue those initiatives which we have already begun.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify a little further the reason why the Government changed their mind about the release of the 42 bombs between Friday and today? Am I right in understanding the right hon. Gentleman to say that it was because of certain statements made in the Congo by United Nations officials or representatives? If the inquiries which the Government are presumably making about these statements bring a satisfactory answer, may we take it that the Government will authorise the release of these bombs? Will he also explain precisely what all this has to do with Thursday's debate?
§ Mr. Heath
I think that, in view of the great interest in the House, hon. Members will want to discuss these very matters, in which the situation is very dangerous.
Among the causes of doubt which I mentioned were the remarks of General McKeown, which were reported in today's British and American Press, to the effect that peace overtures by Mr. Tshombe were to be rejected. That is not consistent with the policy expounded by the Secretary-General and emphasised again last night.
In addition, there was an interview in the Swedish Press with Mr. Linner, which has not, as far as we have been able to find out, been denied, although the Secretary-General says that it does not represent his views. Mr. Linner made it plain that he sees the long-term aim as being…to force a political solution on the Katangans by smashing the military strength of the present political leadership.He made several remarks of this kind. The report says that he wished to point out that he had carte blanche from U Thant, and said:I have had completely free hands".The Secretary-General, however, says that this is not the case. These matters gave us genuine cause for the gravest alarm, and it is absolutely right that they should be clarified at the earliest possible opportunity. Over the weekend we have been engaged in that process, and the Secretary-General has at least made his position clear.
§ Mr. Speaker
I want to help the House about this. I am in the hands of the House, but I understand that Thursday's 43 debate is on the Motion for the Adjournment. In these circumstances, I have a feeling that we should not be trying to debate this matter irregularly now. I will allow the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition one more question, and then we must stop.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am obliged, Mr. Speaker. My question relates to the arrangement for Thursday's debate. If the results of the Government's inquiries show that the United Nations policy is what the Government believed it to be last Friday, when they made the decision to release the bombs, may we take it that the Government will go ahead with that decision?
§ Mr. Heath
If we can be assured, in the course of this clarification, that the policy laid down by the Secretary-General is in accordance with the Security Council resolutions, and if he can give assurances that those resolutions are to be carried out throughout the Congo and Katanga, then the Government can adhere to their undertaking. As I said, the Government will only take steps, because the United Nations so arranged it, at the end of the week.
§ Sir T. Moore
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the decision reached by the Government is one of the most shocking decisions that has ever been taken, and as we are all deeply humiliated that we should be intending to repeat the Hiroshima policy of destroying innocent human lives, surely you would allow us a few more questions to try to find out just what the Government's policy is?
§ Mr. Speaker
No. I have already indicated that in my view we should stop this matter now. I wish to apologise both to the Leader of the House and to the Leader of the Opposition for miscalling the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I beg to ask leave, Mr. Speaker, to move the adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely,an immediate British initiative in the United Nations Security Council to bring about a cease-fire in Katanga and the withdrawal of United Nations forces to their main base.44 I apologise to you, Sir, in that the precise terms of the Motion with which I acquainted you this morning are not those of the Motion I am seeking leave to move. I judged that the terms of the Motion you were good enough to receive this morning would not be within the rules of order on the ground of anticipation of Thursday's debate. We now learn that the question of the bombs is reserved until after Thursday, but there remains the question of immediately bringing about a cease-fire and thus saving loss of life and damage to property not only of Africans, but of our own people as well.
I have here a telegram from someone who has a father and mother in Elizabethville. This matter is one of urgency. If Her Majesty's Government were to be so influenced by this House as to be able to bring a resolution before the Security Council to secure a cease-fire, that would prevent the further loss of life and damage to property which is in prospect.
§ Mr. Speaker
The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) asks leave to move the adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely,an immediate British initiative in the United Nations Security Council to bring about a cease-fire in Katanga and the withdrawal of the United Nations forces to their main bases.I cannot concede the noble Lord's application. It does not seem to me to come within the Standing Order.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I beg to ask leave to move the adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely,the indecision of Her Majesty's Government regarding the provision of bombs for use by United Nations forces in the Congo.I do not think that I need to establish that this is a definite matter. Mr. Speaker. Nothing is much more definite than a bomb. As for the urgency, I submit that my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal has shown it to be that today. As for public importance, I cannot believe that there is a single citizen in this country who is not dismayed at the Minister's announcement.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) asks leave to move the adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely,the indecision of Her Majesty's Government regarding the provision of bombs for use by United Nations forces in the Congo.There are few things less definite than indecision, and few less urgent than bombs which will remain where they are under the control of the Government until this House has debated the matter. I cannot concede to the application.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison
I beg to ask leave to move the adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely,the failure of Her Majesty's Government to provide for the protection of British lives, property and interests in Katanga, attacked and threatened by the failure of United Nations forces to observe The Hague Convention and distinguish in their air and mortar bombardments between military and civilian targets.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) asks leave to move the adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely,the failure of Her Majesty's Government to provide for the protection of British lives, property and interests in Katanga, attacked and threatened by the failure of United Nations forces to observe The Hague Convention and distinguish in their air and mortar bombardments between military and civilian targets.I cannot accept the Motion, which is clearly not within the Standing Order.