HC Deb 20 February 1964 vol 689 cc1398-402
Mr. Bottomley (by Private Notice)

asked the secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations whether he will make a statement about the request of the Zanzibar Government for the United Kingdom High Commissioner to leave the country.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

Her Majesty's Government have been giving very careful consideration to the question of recognising the new régime in Zanzibar. This has necessarily taken a certain amount of time, for two reasons. The first is that the internal position after the revolution has been somewhat obscure. The second is that, since Zanzibar is a member of the Commonwealth, the recognition of a new Government is a matter of more than usual significance and has necessitated the fullest consultation with other Commonwealth countries.

I had hoped that in the meantime the British High Commissioner and his staff would have been allowed to remain in Zanzibar. However, yesterday Mr. Karume, the President of the Revolutionary Council, asked the High Commissioner to leave the island today.

I at once sent Mr. Karume a personal message explaining that Commonwealth consultations were proceeding and that an early decision on recognition might be expected. However, he replied that he did not feel able to reconsider his request that the British High Commission should be withdrawn until such time as recognition had been accorded.

Although I regret this development, and would have appreciated a more understanding attitude, this is a decision which any Administration in that situation is at liberty to take. The British High Commissioner and his staff left Zanzibar this morning and have arrived in Dar-es-Salaam.

There has been a long and happy connection between Britain and Zanzibar and it is our wish that this should not be interrupted. This same feeling is, I know, shared by Mr. Karume, who has expressed the desire that Zanzibar should remain a member of the Commonwealth.

Mr. Bottomley

Is it not shocking that Her Majesty's representative should be asked to leave a Commonwealth country? Has this ever happened before? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we on this side of the House feel that the responsibility is that of Her Majesty's Government because of their dilatory action?

Is there any truth in the newspaper reports that the Prime Minister discussed the matter first with President Johnson in Washington? If so, why were not the Commonwealth countries consulted earlier? Since five African Commonwealth countries have recognised Zanzibar, including the three most closely affected, why could not Her Majesty's Government have done so earlier?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The request to confirm a newspaper report, for which the Minister is not responsible, is out of order.

Mr. Sandys

Commonwealth consultations began long before my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister went to Washington. This is quite a difficult and complicated matter. The facts are not very certain and there has had to be a considerable amount of consultation. Of course, I deplore the action that has been taken, but I think that, if criticism is to be made, it is not to be addressed to Her Majesty's Government, who have been doing what is necessary and what is proper in this situation.

Mr. H. Wilson

While associating the Opposition with the right hon. Gentleman's statement deploring the suddenness of the request to withdraw the High Commissioner, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House what conversations the Prime Minister did have on this subject with President Johnson and whether an agreed solution has been reached between them on recognition of the new régime?

Mr. Sandys

As part of a review of many different subjects, this matter was, of course, touched upon in the talks between the Prime Minister and the President, as I think has become known. But there is no question of an agreed policy. We have to decide on our own relations with Commonwealth Governments and that is why we are in consulta tion with Commonwealth countries on this matter. I hope that the consultations will be completed at a very early date and that we shall then be able to reach a decision.

Mr. Wilson

Has a decision been reached and indicated to the American Government? If it has, can the House be told?

Mr. Sandys

The American Government know exactly what I have told the House of Commons. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I spoke to the American Ambassador a few minutes before I came into the House because the United States consul in Zanzibar has also been asked to leave. I have told the American Government exactly what I have told the House, which is that we are engaged in consulting Commonwealth Governments and have not yet reached a decision.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us think that no blame whatever attaches to Her Majesty's Government for not rushing into recognition of this régime in Zanzibar? What British officials if any, still remain in Zanzibar and Pemba?

Mr. Sandys

The House may like to know how many British nationals still remain in Zanzibar. There are about 270 United Kingdom citizens of United Kingdom origin in Zanzibar, mostly men who remained there after the recent evacuation of most of the women and children. About 130 of them are serving in the Administration of Zanzibar and have been asked by the present régime to continue. They have been assured only today that they can count on safe conditions and I am assured that the situation there continues to be normal and calm.

Mr. Wade

While fully sharing the desire that Zanzibar should remain in the Commonwealth, may I ask whether there is not a very serious risk of getting the worst of both worlds by delay in recognition, since we lose the diplomatic link while, at the same time, playing into the hands of those who wish to create anti-British feeling in the island?

Mr. Sandys

Of course, we do not have a diplomatic link at a time when we do not recognise a Government and do have one when and if we recognise them.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

Since this clearly is a Commonwealth matter, can my right hon. Friend confirm that we are not by any means alone in taking a reasonable time to make up our minds about this and that a large number of other Commonwealth countries are taking precisely the same attitude?

Mr. Sandys

I think that it may interest the House to know which countries have recognised the new régime. As the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) said, they include the three Commonwealth countries in East Africa—Tanganyika, Uganda and Kenya—and Ghana. In addition to these Commonwealth Governments, recognition has been accorded by Ethiopia, Guinea, Egypt, Israel, the Soviet Union, China, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Albania, East Germany, Cuba, North Vietnam, North Korea and Bulgaria.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We must get on.

Mr. Warbey

Can the right hon Gentleman say why he omitted West Germany from that list? Can he say why, in the matter of Zanzibar, the British Government have applied principles totally different from those which they have applied in the last few months in South Vietnam where, following the lead of the American Government, they have twice recognised successor Governments within hours of military coups?

Mr. Sandys

We are adopting exactly the same criteria as in the case of recognising other new régimes. As I have explained to the House, the difference is that before recognising a new Commonwealth Government we feel it necessary to have very full consultations with other Commonwealth Governments. I did not mention West Germany because, I understand, it has not recognised.

Mr. H. Wilson

Does the right hon. Gentleman's latest answer mean that in this, as in all other questions, the criterion applied by the Government, and which has been applied many times to the Yemen, is simply whether a Government are in effective control of the country? Is that still the criterion as it has been applied in so many other cases—that the decision is not taken on whether we like the colour of the Government or the colour or their eyes, or anything else? If this is the criterion, would he inform some of his hon. Friends behind him, so that they do not look at this matter purely in the terms of the prejudicial attitude of the list of countries which he read out?

Mr. Sandys

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, as I have already assured the House, that we are applying the same criteria, which are broadly those which he has defined.