HC Deb 01 December 1965 vol 721 cc1429-41
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement. I am sorry that, for reasons the House will recognise, I was not able to make it yesterday. I am sorry, also, that this statement is not as definitive or final as I had hoped it would be.

As the House knows, I have been in touch with the President of Zambia over the past few days both directly by correspondence and through the intermediary of Mr. Malcolm MacDonald and the British High Commissioner in Lusaka, about the defence of Zambia in the light of current developments in Central and East Africa. The House will also be aware that, on the break-up of the Federation, the bulk of the Federation Air Force went to Southern Rhodesia, and in consequence Zambia feels herself at present without effective means of air defence.

Her Majesty's Government have therefore expressed their willingness, to meet President Kaunda's request, to fly in to Zambia a squadron of Javelin aircraft, complete with radar environment, to be stationed at Ndola, the ground environment to be stationed at Lusaka and a detachment of the R.A.F. regiment to be stationed at both airports, and probably at Livingstone as well, in order to ensure the protection of the aircraft and installations.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, who flew to Lusaka last night, will, together with the military adviser who went with him, be discussing a further request for a battalion of ground troops.

In addition, the House should know that, as a precautionary measure, H.M.S. "Eagle" is cruising off the coast of Tanzania.

Any British units sent to Zambia would have to be under unequivocal British command, though naturally in consultation with the Zambia Government.

I wish to make clear to the House that these forces sent to Zambia will go there purely for defensive purposes.

There is one further matter on which I should report to the House, and that concerns power supplies from Kariba. As the House knows, power from Kariba supplies both Rhodesia and Zambia, but the power station is on the Rhodesian side of the Kariba Darn. It is in the British interests as well as the Zambian interest that power supplies to the Copper Belt should continue. I think it, therefore, only right that I should tell the House that I have given President Kaunda an assurance that we shall not stand idly by if Rhodesia cuts off power supplies to the Copper Belt.

Now, Sir, I turn to economic measures.

I undertook to keep the House informed of any further economic measures the Government decided to introduce.

In addition to the embargoes on tobacco and sugar, which are already in force and which represent 70 per cent. of Rhodesia's exports to Britain, we have now placed embargoes on the following Rhodesian exports: asbestos, copper and copper products, iron and steel ores and concentrates of antimony, chromium, lithium and tantalum, maize, meat and edible meat products, and a range of other foodstuffs.

The embargoed items now account for over 95 per cent. of Rhodesia's exports to us, so that we, who were once Rhodesia's best market, have virtually ceased to buy from her. We are in close touch with other countries which buy significant quantities of these or other commodities from Rhodesia. The object of these consultations is to deny Rhodesia, as far as possible, the export outlets on which the finances of the illegal régime depend.

We are also reviewing certain items in our export trade to Rhodesia where these are relevant to our objectives of securing a speedy return to constitutional rule in Rhodesia, and are in touch with other countries about them.

Further, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is announcing from the Treasury this afternoon the details of further financial measures. I will not weary the House with the details, some of which are highly technical, but I ought perhaps to inform the House, in general terms, that a stop is being placed on practically all current payments by United Kingdom residents to residents of Rhodesia, except for those arising out of the very limited trade in goods still permitted, and also on remittances. Contractual obligations will not be repudiated, but they cannot be fulfilled in present circumstances. So far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, money due to residents of Rhodesia will be held back for the time being and will be released as soon as constitutional Government is restored in Rhodesia.

Mr. Heath

The Prime Minister will recognise that the statement he has just made is one of considerable gravity. Will he accept that we believe it is right for the British Government to accede to the request from President Kaunda, the head of another country of the Commonwealth, for British defence forces to go to that country? At the same time, can he be more explicit about their purpose there? Has he had any indication that Zambia is under danger of attack from Rhodesia? Hon. Members on this side of the House have none. Or is it that it is regarded as undesirable that other forces should themselves go into Zambia? Does he recognise that from this side we believe it is right that these forces should go there, providing—as he said—that they remain under British control, provided also that other forces do not go into Zambia, and provided that the British forces are not expected to trespass either on the ground or air space of Rhodesia itself? If I understand his statement aright, that is correct. He said that they will go there purely for defensive purposes.

In this connection, I must ask him to clarify the last sentence of the next paragraph, in which he said "we shall not stand idly by if Rhodesia cuts off power supplies to the Copper Belt." This is a statement of such importance that the Prime Minister must clarify this to the House. At first reading it is in contradiction to his own statement that the forces are there for defensive purposes, because it can only imply that our forces will invade Southern Rhodesia to defend the power supply.

Thirdly, I should like to ask him about the further economic measures which are now being taken. He told the House previously that the measures taken by the Government would be effective and that the Government would enter into other measures only if all other countries were doing the same thing. Is this in fact the position? We should like to give further consideration to the measures which he has now announced.

The Prime Minister

I fully understand that the right hon. Gentleman will need time to give further consideration to the question of these economic measures. They are in the spirit of what I said last week, when I said that it is not only more effective but, in the short and the long run, better that the measures should be quick and sharp rather than a long drawn out continuing agony on Rhodesia. I well understand that there are different views, and it is only fair that the right hon. Gentleman should have far more time than he has had to study these things.

I thank him for the expression of support he gave to the proposition that we should accede to the request for air cover in Zambia. I only regret that I am not in a position to be clearer about the discussions with President Kaunda. I have to tell the House that the communications are in a shocking state at the moment, owing to atmospheric conditions which are holding up radio telegrams as well as ordinary telephone discussions. Therefore, I am not in a position to record the agreement that I hope it will be possible for Mr. MacDonald—and, I hope, my right hon. Friend—to get.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the question of a possible attack from Rhodesia. We have no information of an impending attack from Rhodesia, but President Kaunda has no air cover in any circumstances, and he feels very aggrieved about the fact that nothing was done to build up his forces after the discriminatory way in which the Federation's forces were divided up. It is a fact that if we are to maintain the position that we have asserted, that Rhodesia is our responsibility, we should do everything in our power to prevent the stationing of other air forces in Zambia, wherever they may come from, as a means of providing air cover for President Kaunda.

There is still a difficulty about the ground forces, as will have been made clear from what I have said. I will not make any bones about it; the Zambian Government are anxious that we put in forces there with the idea of taking out the Kariba generating station, which is on Rhodesian territory. This we feel is wrong, and have made this clear. There is still a lot of argument about ground forces. That is what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, together with a vary senior military officer from the Ministry of Defence, has gone out to discuss.

I agree with him that the phrase about not standing idly by is a very important and grave one. Rhodesian copper is absolutely vital to our own industrial production, as well as to the economy of Zambia, and there have been threats from time to time—I have myself heard them—from the Smith regime, that at the end of the day they could always pull the switch and stop Zambia getting electric power. I believe that it is right that there should be enough of a deterrent in the minds of the Smith régime that if he interferes with Zambia's power supplies there might be some other power supply interfered with. I do not think it is appropriate here to say the means which might be used, but while we are putting forces in—if we can reach full agreement with President Kaunda—on a defensive basis, it must be clear that we have the power to provide a deterrent to a cutting-off of the electric supply and we must be prepared to use that power.

Mr. Grimond

In relation to the right hon. Gentleman's assurance about Kariba, will he also consider the situation of the railway which is also vital to Zambia and, therefore, indirectly to this country? On his phrase about "contractual obligations", I understand that these are not being repudiated but cannot be fulfilled. Does this apply to all the contractual obligations, whenever entered into—even before U.D.I.—and does it also mean that we shall eventually fulfil them, or will fulfil only those to those people who did not support the illegal régime?

The Prime Minister

The railway is very important to Zambia, but what we have said relates to the cutting off of power. We shall also be watching very carefully the supply of coal from the Wanki colliery in case there is any attempt to use that as a means of destroying the economy of Zambia. We cannot make any general statement about the railway. Steps are being taken to provide transport facilities not crossing Rhodesia, and we are co-operating in helping to get certain roads and other transport facilities put in a state of better readiness so that, if necessary, Rhodesian transport does not have to be used. With regard to the contractual position, the right hon. Gentleman should await the very detailed statement which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be issuing later in the day. No doubt there will be questions on it. But the position, as I say, is that there will be no repudiation. There just will not be transfer for the present until constitutional government is restored.

Mr. Ennals

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is in this country a tremendous respect for the courage and statesmanship of President Kaunda in the difficulties with which Zambia is faced? Is he aware that the decision which he has announced today will make a significant contribution to the maintenance of the unity of the Commonwealth at this very vital time?

The Prime Minister

I certainly hope so. I agree with my hon. Friend that there is very great respect for President Kaunda and, I think, a very great sympathy for him in his predicament. He is subject to the most tremendous pressures at present, and I think this may be responsible for some of the difficulties which we face in our discussions with him. Of course, it has been his hope all along—his earnest hope, which he has expressed publicly—that we would go ino Zambia, alone, with no other countries and then make a military attack on the situation in Rhodesia. We have said, of course, that this is contrary to our policy, and there is, I know, a lot of disappointment in his mind that we propose only a purely defensive operation. This, particularly with his emphasis on his desire—which we think is unrealistic—that we should take out the generating station and capture it and safeguard it, is what is causing the difficulties in our present discussions with him.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I fully share the Prime Minister's respect for President Kaunda, but are not his difficulties internal? Is it not the case that the Smith régime has no conceivable interest in attacking Zambia? Can the Prime Minister assure us that everything possible will be done to see that arms smuggling across the Zambesi is brought to a stop, in co-operation with the Zambian authorities, and that broadcast incitement to racial conflict from across the Zambesi also ceases?

The Prime Minister

It is not for me to speculate on whether Mr. Smith will or is likely to undertake an act of aggression. I have only said that there is no evidence that he intends to do so at the moment. We had many reasons to doubt whether he was going to commit an illegal act, which he has now done. It is only right that all contingency planning should be made for any action of that kind. With regard to the question of broadcasting incitements to racialism, I heard an awful lot of that when I was in Salisbury.

Mr. Paget

Has my right hon. Friend asked Mr. Smith whether he would have any objection to being lent additional guards for the Kariba power house? One would have thought that it is in Mr. Smith's interests that these guards should be provided, since the power house is valuable property of Rhodesia and is certainly in no danger from Mr. Smith.

The Prime Minister

I made it plain that any request from the Governor—we have no dealings with Mr. Smith—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—whether inspired by Mr. Smith or by any other eminent private person in Rhodesia, would be seriously entertained by us, whether it was for troops for general law and order or for guarding any vital position such as the Kariba Dam. I think that the spirit of Mr. Smith's statement yesterday—in which he made a rather offensive remark about a swimming pool for a start—and then his attitude to any British troops south of the Zambesi is probably the best answer which we can get in present circumstances to my hon. and learned Friend's question.

Dr. Bennett

Can the right hon. Gentleman clarify what he said about H.M.S. "Eagle" cruising off the coast of Tanzania? Is she intended to supply combat aircraft, or has she commandoes embarked? Has he secured over-flying facilities from the Tanzania Government?

The Prime Minister

Aircraft only; that is the purpose of H.M.S. "Eagle's" pre-positioning. She has been there for a few days. As the House will realise, the position is that it would be impossible for the Javelins to operate without a radar environment, and it takes time to erect the necessary radar cover at Lusaka. There was always the danger and possibility, although a remote one, of a preemptive strike, and it was therefore considered necessary for H.M.S. "Eagle" to be in those waters, because it would be possible for her Sea Vixens to provide temporary protection until we had the full radar and Javelin cover.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Does the Prime Minister realise that many of those who most desire to avoid the use of force believe that an oil sanction is the most effective means of so doing? Can he tell us what the United Nations Committee has been doing during the 12 days since the decision to impose an oil sanction was taken? Will he press on them that every day lost in making the sanction effective will reduce the possibility of rapid success?

The Prime Minister

I have expressed the view, which I hold very strongly, that an oil sanction, to be effective—without going into the merits of the proposal one way or another—must be virtually universal. The oil trade contains a lot of privateers who might easily supply oil. There are other considerations, not least the effect on Zambia, and there is the problem of South Africa and so on. Therefore, if an oil sanction is to be introduced—we are not contemplating one immediately—we should have to be satisfied that it was effective and internationally co-ordinated. So far as the United Nations are concerned, since there was nothing in the resolution calling for the Secretary-General, or a committee, to work on this, the United Nations are not taking the initiative in this matter.

Mr. Wall

While I appreciate the argument for giving Zambia air cover, may I ask the Prime Minister to clarify what he has in mind about the task of the British battalion if it is sent there? Will it be concerned with internal security only? Does he agree that any crossing of the frontier would be an act of war?

The Prime Minister

I am not at all sure what the hon. Member means by his last statement. For British troops to enter British territory is not an act of war. It is not for legal reasons of that kind that I have said that we are against using military force for getting a constitutional settlement. I am sure that I am right in saying that. But it is not a question of transgressing international frontiers. If the ground forces are to go there—that is, in addition to the R.A.F. Regiment defending the aircraft—there might be additional troops required for defending the aircraft and the airfields. My right hon. Friend will be discussing where they would be positioned in Zambia. There might be a case, for example, for at any rate part of a British battalion to be on the Zambesi, but of course we are insisting that it be on the Zambian side of the Zambesi.

Mr. Michael Foot

Would the Prime Minister say what is the legal position in respect of responsibility for the Kariba Dam at the present time? If the illegal Government of Southern Rhodesia has abrogated its rights to be responsible for the maintenance of the dam, have not the Government of this country directly assumed responsibility for maintaining it?

The Prime Minister

There are many difficulties about it. In the first place, this was built as an international operation, not for the supply of electricity to Southern Rhodesia only. Indeed, the British taxpayer and the British Treasury were very heavily involved, certainly in connection with the guarantees. This is one reason why we believe that it would be a gross breach of everything ever intended when the dam was built if there were an attempt, for reasons of a quarrel between the illegal régime of Rhodesia and Zambia, to cut off the electricity power supply to Zambia. That is the position. On the other hand, while the Smith régime is illegal and therefore has no more authority to run the Kariba power station than to run anything else in Rhodesia, we have the practical fact to face, that his troops have de facto control of the Kariba Dam, and however much we may regret that situation, in present circumstances it can be put right only by putting in other troops, which we do not propose to do. But we intend to take every effective action by economic power to bring this illegal régime to an end as quickly as possible.

Mr. Heath

May I return to the question about Kariba? I do not wish to press the Prime Minister about any other things he may have in his mind on this subject. I only wish to ask him for one clear undertaking. He has said that the forces going to Zambia—which we support—are for purely defensive purposes. As he has never intended to use national or international forces in Rhodesia, in fact this means that these forces in Zambia will not cross on to Rhodesian soil or infringe Rhodesian air space, even if there is action in Kariba. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is a matter——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have argued this question so far without too much heat. Too much heat means not enough light. Mr. Heath.

Mr. Heath

It is a matter of the utmost importance concerning the use of British forces. I ask the Prime Minister to say that, whatever other things he may have in mind, it is not his intention to use British forces to invade Rhodesia.

The Prime Minister

This is of the utmost importance, but I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance for which he asked, and I will tell him why. I have said—and I stand by this—that we believe it wrong to use British forces for the purpose of restoring constitutional rule, that is, for taking over Rhodesia and reinstating a constitutional Government. I have said that we are opposed to the use of the forces which, if we can reach agreement with President Kaunda we shall send to Zambia, for the purpose of any military confrontation in battle, if hon. Members like to put it this way, whether by air or on the ground, with the Rhodesian forces. But I have said—and I stand by this—that if Mr. Smith uses his illegitimate control over this international project, the Kariba Dam, to destroy the economy of Zambia, and indeed very seriously to disrupt our own economy, we cannot stand idly by. The right hon. Gentleman, I know, will understand that I cannot go into all the possible ways in which one could deal with it, but there are more ways of dealing with an electric power station than choking it with cream.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

It is essential that the Prime Minister should make his position absolutely clear. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is far too important a matter for jeering. We have supported the Prime Minister in his desire to send troops to Zambia. But he has used the phrase, "we cannot stand idly by". As he has used that phrase, and as he has suggested since that there are other ways of dealing with Mr. Smith's Government if there should be an interference with the power station on Rhodesian territory, he must say this: is it in his mind concerned with other means, this phrase "stand idly by", or does he envisage military intervention in Rhodesia? This must be made absolutely clear by the Prime Minister now.

The Prime Minister

It is important. It is quite fair that the question should be asked and that I should answer it. I have said that while we do not contemplate the use of these forces in an aggressive rôle against Rhodesia, and certainly not in support of troops of other countries, providing them with air cover against Rhodesia or any general military movement, I mean what I said—that we should not stand idly by but should take whatever action was necessary in order to fulfil the deterrent threat which is involved there. If that did mean a limited operation we should be prepared to undertake that operation.

I think that it is important that the whole House should realise what the situation is. For a year the right hon. Gentleman's Government were blackmailed and for a year our Government have been blackmailed by the threat to cut off this electric power. I have had it from Mr. Smith many times and I suspect that it was a nightmare with which the right hon. Gentleman had to live for a very long time. We have to envisage a situation in which Mr. Smith—or perhaps it would not be Mr. Smith, for I have always taken the view that he is nothing like as bad as some of the people around him—or someone might go mad in Rhodesia and be tempted to cut off the electric power, destroying or distorting a large section of our industry. In those circumstances, if we had forces there it would be the height of folly to say that in no circumstances should we be prepared to make our deterrent effective. This is a deterrent. I hope in heaven's name, as I am sure does the House, that it need be no more than a deterrent. I do not need to lecture the right hon. Gentleman on the importance of a deterrent, but I believe that the fact of this deterrent will be a final guarantee that this action will not be taken by Mr. Smith's ràgime. But it is no good talking about a deterrent unless you are prepared to make it effective.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

I must intervene now. I have tried to see that a cross-section of the House took part in the questioning——

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

On a point of order——

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member will have a chance to make his point of order when I have finished addressing the House on a matter of order. I have endeavoured to call a cross-section of the House in the questioning, but I must protect the debate which is ahead of us, and which, singularly enough, happens to be on Rhodesia. Mr. Eldon Griffiths wished to raise a point of order.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

In view of the importance of the statement just made by the Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker, may I have your leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 on the ground that this is by any measure a matter of definite, clear and urgent public importance, which I believe ought to be debated now because of the possibility that these British forces may be used in manners which have not been described by the Prime Minister?

Mr. Speaker

This happens to be perhaps the easiest application under Standing Order No. 9 in history on which to give a Ruling. Standing Order No. 9 permits the Chair to allow an hon. Member, because a matter is of definite, urgent, public importance, to raise that matter and for it to take precedence over the Orders of the Day so that a debate may take place. The simple fact is that there is no earlier moment ahead of us than the present moment and we are now to debate Rhodesia, so there is no question of Standing Order No. 9 being invoked at all.