HC Deb 14 January 1964 vol 687 cc37-40
Mr. G. M. Thomson

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies if he will make a statement about the action taken to protect British nationals in Zanzibar.

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

I think it may be convenient if I make a general statement on recent events in Zanzibar.

Early on Sunday morning the British High Commissioner in Zanzibar informed me that serious disturbances had broken out in the island. In view of the possible danger to British lives and property, H.M.S. "Owen", which was in the vicinity, was immediately ordered to proceed to Zanzibar and arrived there that evening. She has since been standing off-shore ready to evacuate United Kingdom citizens if this should prove necessary. The Commanding Officer has orders not to intervene for any purpose other than the protection of British lives.

A Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel at Mombasa has also been alerted and could be off Zanzibar within about ten hours if needed. In addition, the frigate H.M.S. "Rhyl", was ordered to steam from Aden in the direction of Zanzibar so as to be available if required.

We have received assurances from Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda that if British nationals have to be evacuated their Governments will afford such help as may be necessary.

These measures are purely precautionary and, in the opinion of the British High Commissioner, the need for evacuation has not as yet arisen. In fact, in his latest report received this morning, he states that the situation is calmer and that movement in the town is now resuming, though many shops remain closed. He says that all members of the British community are safe and well and in good heart.

The Sultan left the island on board a Zanzibar ship on Sunday for Mombasa. With him on board were members of his family, members of his administration, including certain British police officers, and about twenty-five British subjects, some of whom may already have been on the ship as normal passengers before the Sultan came on board. On arrival at Mombasa the Kenya Government felt unable to give permission to anybody on the ship to land. They explained that conditions were exceptional in the Coastal Strip, which had until recently been part of the Sultan's dominions. Thereupon the Sultan get in touch with us to ask for assistance. I accordingly sent an urgent message to President Nyerere; and he has assured me that there will be no difficulties, if the Sultan and his party wish to land at Dares Salaam and to stay there until they can make arrangements to proceed elsewhere.

As regards the political situation, the status of the authorities which have seized control is still somewhat obscure. The Zanzibar radio announced the creation of a Republic with Sheikh Abeid Karume, the leader of the AfroShirazi Party, as President, Abdullah Kassim Hanga as Prime Minister, and Sheikh Abdul Rahman Mohammed, known as Babu, as Minister for External Affairs. On the other hand, we have just received a telegram signed by Mr. John Okelo, who describes himself as "Field Marshal of the Zanzibar Republic", asking us to recognise the "Revolutionary Republican Government". We cannot, of course, consider the question of recognition until the position is much clearer.

Mr. Thomson

May I thank the Secretary of Slate for making such a full statement about the latest position in Zanzibar? We would wish to leave over the political question until the situation is clearer. Can the right hon. Gentleman say anything about the position of the British officers and civil servants in the Administration in Zanzibar? Has any advice been given to wives and families as to whether they ought to leave the island?

Mr. Sandys

I have mentioned the British police officers, who, I think, were the ones who were probably in the greatest difficulties. I have not full information, but certain British officers who are serving in the civil administration of the Government of Zanzibar are continuing at work. Up to the present, the advice given to families by the British High Commissioner has been to stay indoors. As I have already mentioned, he does not consider that there is as yet any need to consider evacuation. However, as I have also explained, we are in a position to arrange for the evacuation of British nationals at very short notice.

Sir H. Harrison

Would my right hon. Friend agree that to him, to myself and to other Members of the House who attended the Zanzibar Independence celebrations—I, with two other Members, saw the opening of Parliament the following day, which was carried out with great dignity, with a Speaker filling the Chair and with tradition which would have pleased you, Mr. Speaker—this case of Parliamentary democracy so quickly gone wrong, and to mob rule, cannot be other than distressing?

Mr. Sandys

I am sure that this is sad and disturbing news for all of us.

Mr. Grimond

Can the Secretary of State say a little more about the responsibilities of this country? As I understand it, there has been no suggestion of Zanzibar leaving the Commonwealth. Therefore, while we retain no commitments for internal order, we would be involved were there any external threat to interfere in the affairs of Zanzibar.

Mr. Sandys

Not automatically. The question whether Zanzibar remains a member of the Commonwealth is as obscure as the general political situation in the island. As to an external threat, as far as I know there is no suggestion that anybody is thinking of attacking Zanzibar.

Mr. Brockway

While all of us will want to see democracy retained, is it not one of the difficulties in Zanzibar that the constituencies were demarcated in such a way that the Opposition, which had 54 per cent. of the votes, had only 13 members in a Legislature of 31? In view of the co-operation of the Commonwealth countries in East Africa, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he will follow their example in recognising the new Government in Zanzibar?

Mr. Sandys

I do not want to go into the question of the demarcation of constituencies in Zanzibar, but it is, of course, not unknown, even in this country, that certain parties sometimes have a concentration of their supporters in certain constituencies. I think that that was the case in Zanzibar. I had to discuss this matter in the course of the Independence Conference the other day, and to the best of my recollection—I speak subject to correction on this, as I am speaking from memory—there was no evidence to show that the constituencies in Zanzibar were numerically wrongly distributed. It may be that certain parties are very strongly represented in certain constituencies while other parties are more evenly distributed among the constituencies. That, as I say, can happen in any Parliamentary system. We must know a great deal more about the situation in Zanzibar before we take a decision on recognition.

Sir C. Osborne

Is not this yet another unfortunate example, which hon. Members on both sides of the House must deplore, of the loss of liberty and security and of disorder and chaos whenever the Union Jack is pulled down? Will the Government promise the House and the country that in future the Union Jack will not be pulled down so easily and so often?

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