HC Deb 24 January 1964 vol 687 cc1431-4
Mr. Bottomley

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations if he will make a statement about the request of the Uganda Government for British troops to be sent there.

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

yesterday afternoon I received a message from the British High Commissioner in Uganda in which he informed me that troops of the Uganda Rifles stationed at Jinja had broken out of barracks and that the Uganda Minister for Internal Affairs, Mr. Onama, and the British Commander of the Uganda Forces, Brigadier Tillett, had been held for a while by the mutineers.

At the same time, our High Commissioner informed me that the Prime Minister of Uganda, Mr. Obote, had inquired whether Her Majesty's Government would be prepared to send British troops to help in restoring law and order. He was asked to confirm his request in writing. Meanwhile, the matter was urgently considered by Ministers in London and it was decided to accede to the Uganda Government's request.

In the interval troops and aircraft in Nairobi were alerted. The result was that by the time that Mr. Obote's formal confirmation of his request was received the aircraft were ready to take off. On arrival at Entebbe they were met by the British High Commissioner and a Minister of the Uganda Government. They will operate under the orders of Brigadier Tillett, subject to overall political guidance from the British High Commissioner. Their first task is to assure the security of the airport and to guard certain vital points in Kampala. The latest reports this morning indicate that the situation in Uganda is calm and that there have been no civil disturbances of any kind. The troops which mutinied at Jinja are once again obeying the orders of their British and Ugandan officers.

Although the right hon. Gentleman's Question relates only to Uganda, I must inform the House that a request for assistance was also received yesterday from the Government of Kenya. During the afternoon the Kenya Government informed the British High Commissioner in Nairobi that they were concerned lest the disorders which had occurred elsewhere in East Africa might spread to Kenya. They accordingly asked that, should the need arise, authority should be given for the use of British troops to help the Kenya Government in the maintenance of law and order. This request was subsequently confirmed in a formal letter from the Kenya Government.

Having regard to all the circumstances, Her Majesty's Government have felt it right to accede to the request of the Kenya Government. The necessary authority has been given to the British Commander-in-Chief to assist if requested in the maintenance of law and order, subject to overall political guidance by the British High Commissioner in Nairobi.

In order to avoid any misunderstanding, I wish to emphasise that the situation in Kenya is perfectly normal and that the Kenya Government's request for authority to be given for the use of British troops was a purely precautionary measure. However, in view of the generally unsettled state in East Africa, it was thought desirable to make it publicly known that in the event of trouble, British support for the Kenya Government would be available. It is considered that the knowledge of this fact would be likely to have a steadying effect.

Mr. Bottomley

While recognising the need for Her Majesty's Government to consider requests made for help by Commonwealth Governments, and while feeling that in the case of Uganda and Kenya, about which we have just heard, this is justified, would the Secretary of State not agree that these further military commitments are rather extending our limited Army reserves? In these circumstances, does this not rather underline what was said by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, that we should try to secure further Commonwealth co-operation and help in defence?

Would the right hon. Gentleman, in particular, consider getting in touch with Commonwealth Governments and asking them if they would provide troops who could be put into a pool for use in emergencies of this kind? Could he further give an assurance that the safety of the British personnel in both Uganda and Kenya is assured?

Mr. Sandys

As I have already stated, the information I have is that everything is perfectly normal in Kenya. This request was a purely precautionary step. The situation is also entirely calm in Uganda. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would expect me, in reply to a Private Notice Question on an emergency situation that has arisen, to go into the much wider issues of policy but I have no doubt that he will find other opportunities to raise them.

Mr. Bottomley

Is it not possible for the right hon. Gentleman to say that these matters will be considered? We on this side think it very important that help should be given from Commonwealth countries, and I am sure that, if they were asked, we would find them very willing to co-operate.

Mr. Sandys

We always welcome co-operation from Commonwealth countries in all these matters, but I should not like my reply to give the impression that we were considering the particular formula which the right hon. Gentleman suggested.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that millions of people in this country must have been delighted this morning to learn of the speedy and effective action which the Government took in dealing with this disturbance, and possible disturbances, in East Africa? Will he take the opportunity, either now or on a future occasion, of saying to what extent these disturbances are brought about by training or subversive action by Cuban or Chinese Communists, about which we have heard in some parts of the world?

Mr. Sandys

At this stage, it is difficult to say. I seem to make almost a daily statement of this kind, but on the last occasion I said that we did not yet know what forces and influences were at work in this strange chain of troubles that have occurred in East Africa.

With regard to the action taken yesterday, I am sure that the House will agree with me that our military commanders are to be congratulated on the speed with which they reacted, and the high state of readiness of our forces.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Paget

Whilst concurring with the right hon. Gentleman in congratulating the Armed Forces on what they have done, might we not also congratulate the Government of Uganda and Kenya on having learned the lesson of Tanganyika? Can the Secretary of State assure us that there are immediately available the forces needed to comply with these requests?

Mr. Sandys

We would not undertake a commitment unless we had the means of carrying it out.

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