HC Deb 07 December 1965 vol 722 cc242-5
Q9. Mr. Michael Foot

asked the Prime Minister when he expects to have completed the preliminary studies necessary for carrying out the United Nations Security Council resolution on the imposition of an embargo on oil shipments to Southern Rhodesia.

The Prime Minister

This will inevitably take some time since any oil sanction must be comprehensive if it is to be effective.

Mr. Foot

Does not my right hon. Friend think that this country should do everything in its power to expedite an agreement on this subject in favour of the resolution for which we, quite rightly, voted at the Security Council, and can he give the House any information about how this purpose might be assisted by dealing with the oil tanker which is now on the way to Southern Rhodesia?

The Prime Minister

I know the concern—I share the concern—about this oil tanker. It would not help in this particular situation because, obviously—I think that this is right—any oil sanction must be multilateral and must be effective. There are other tankers stacked behind that one, and merely to stop that one would make no difference to the supplies to Mr. Smith. Indeed, it might have an indirect effect in relation to possible oil supplies to Zambia. If it is to be done—we are hard at work on it—it must be multilateral and totally effective. A suggestion of the kind which my hon. Friend has in mind would not make any difference to the question of oil supplies at the present time.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Is my right hon. Friend not aware that at this very moment a British ship owned by a company in which the British Government have a controlling interest is carrying 12,000 tons of oil, sufficient for two weeks' fuel supply, to Southern Rhodesia? Will not he do something, while the investigations are going on about making the oil sanctions multilateral, to prevent this country, in anticipation of such a move, acting in plain defiance of a recommendation of the United Nations which the Government themselves accepted?

The Prime Minister

The fact that I am aware of the existence of the tanker —I gave details about it—was, I should have thought, shown by my answer to my hon. Friend's supplementary question a moment ago. I am aware of it. Incidentally, I think it is worth noting that very many of the countries which are putting the greatest pressure on us at the present time about our actions in relation to Rhodesia are countries which have not yet begun to carry out the United Nations' resolution, which we have done pretty thoroughly. So far as the tanker is concerned, there are other ships stacked behind it. Our interference with the ship would not make any difference with the two others immediately behind it. I have said that we will study the matter and that when an oil sanction is introduced it will be fully effective. Merely to stop one ship out of three at the present time would be a moral gesture, but it would have no significance in creating an effective oil sanction.

Mr. Grimond

Would it not, however, be an extremely effective moral demonstration? Would not the Prime Minister agree that if the British Government are going to say that they are primarily responsible for handling the Rhodesian situation they should make it perfectly clear that the action of a company which they control in sending an oil tanker from a port in a country whose foreign affairs they also control should be stopped, and that, whatever indefensible action other countries may be taking, it is no excuse for us to do the same?

The Prime Minister

As I have said, when we work out an oil sanction it must be fully effective. If all those who at the present time are resting on the doctrine of a moral demonstration would take as many effective measures as we have done in the past we might be much nearer an end of the problem.

Mr. John Hynd

With regard to the United Nations' resolution, is my right hon. Friend aware that Iran is one of the countries which have applied a full embargo on the export of oil to Rhodesia? How does he reconcile his attitude with the initiative that has been taken by countries like Iran, and would not this gesture be of enormous psychological value in encouraging Iran and others to maintain the oil embargo?

The Prime Minister

The problem is not one of supplying countries. As I explained a week ago, the problem is to make quite certain before we can get an effective oil sanction that we do not get privateers and others, who might divert ships in mid-ocean which have collected their oil from any part of the world, supplying Rhodesia through Beira and in other ways. We are working to ascertain whether it is possible to get a fully effective sanction so that when we apply it it will be effective. It will not be made effective, however much we welcome—and we do welcome it—the initiative taken by Iran, and now Kuwait, unless the holes are plugged, and we want to make sure that they will be plugged. As for a moral demonstration, here I must point out to my hon. Friend that it would be possible to get a moral demonstration which might be extremely harmful to Zambia before we have completed our arrangements for relieving Zambia of the consequences of an oil embargo.

Mr. Zilliacus

Could not the Government, in addition to stopping the tanker, close the British-owned pipeline from Beira to Umtali and take the initiative in the Security Council by requesting that sanctions be made mandatory under Articles 39 and 41 of the United Nations Charter?

The Prime Minister

I will bear in mind my hon. Friend's suggestion, but we are more concerned with the effectiveness of sanctions than with demonstrations or resolutions, mandatory or otherwise. This is an extremely difficult thing to do. More than any other nation, we have shown, by a very long chalk, our determination to deal with Rhodesia and I should like to see some of the other countries come into line with us. Meanwhile we are working in relation to the oil sanction but I insist that it must be effective.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Can the Prime Minister tell us whether the Foreign Secretary, when he was in Moscow, discussed the oil sanction with the Soviet Government? Did they give an assurance that they would fully apply it?

The Prime Minister

There was a short discussion about Rhodesia. There is no reason, as far as I am aware, to believe that the Soviet Union intends to provide aid and assistance to the illegal régime in Rhodesia. That is not a possibility that we are afraid of.

Mr. Thorpe

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your permission to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 to consider a matter of urgent public importance, namely, the refusal of Her Majesty's Government——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must raise that point of order at the appropriate time. Mr. Cousins—statement.