HC Deb 20 December 1965 vol 722 cc1690-703
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the latest developments in relation to Rhodesia and Zambia, and in particular the imposition of an embargo on oil shipments to Rhodesia.

As I have repeatedly stated in the House, Her Majesty's Government were not willing to take action unilaterally on oil supplies; our position was that an oil embargo must be multilateral and likely to be effective. In addition, I referred to our very special concern for the safeguarding of oil supplies to Zambia.

Discussions on both points were being actively pursued, and agreement with the United States Government was well advanced before I left for Washington last week. In my first talk with the President on Thursday afternoon last, we were able to set the seal on these arrangements and, as the House knows, a mission headed by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations was discussing the organisation of emergency oil supply arrangements with the Government of Zambia at the same time.

When we were clear on both points, the embargo and the airlift—that is, by Friday afternoon—it became possible to make the Order in Council prohibiting British subjects from supplying oil to Rhodesia and prohibiting the import of oil by Rhodesia. The United States Government welcome and support our decision, fully recognise the authority of Her Majesty's Government in this matter, and are advising all United States citizens and enterprises to comply with the terms of the Order in Council. We have also taken diplomatic action to seek the cooperation of the other main oil exporting countries.

I should add that I have heard today that the Governments of France and Italy are co-operating fully in the arrangements to stop the flow of oil.

Simultaneously, the Minister of State's mission has reached agreement on detailed arrangements to provide Zambia with alternative supplies of oil and on equitable arrangements for the financin2 of the agreed contingency measures. These consist primarily of an airlift of oil supplied to Zambia—and we have been assured of all appropriate support from the United States to make it effective—with the result that, when the illegal régime in Rhodesia took the expected step of refusing to maintain oil supplies to Zambia, the first British aircraft carrying oil supplies to Zambia was able to fly in yesterday, Sunday, to Lusaka. The airlift will build up rapidly in the next few weeks, but its success will depend on our receiving full co-operation both from Zambia's neighbouring African States and from other countries who are in a position to help with the transport of essential supplies to Zambia.

It was for this reason that I was particularly glad to hear from the Prime Minister of Canada during my visit to Ottawa yesterday that the Canadian Government will be considering very urgently how far they can supply aircraft to reinforce the British and American effort.

I repeat that these measures are directed to one purpose only—the return of Rhodesia to constitutional rule—and they are essential to that end. They will mean great inconvenience and hardship, but they are essential if we are to get the quick solution which is needed to avoid much greater dislocation and hardship and if we are to avoid, too, the immeasurable dangers of outside intervention, whatever form they might take—dangers which I was able to sense and assess as a result of continuing exchanges that I have had with Commonwealth and other African countries and as a result of the almost irresistible pressures which are building up for still graver and more far reaching measures in the United Nations.

Mr. Heath

As we are to have a debate on overseas affairs today and tomorrow, may I confine myself to some factual questions to the Prime Minister? Firstly, taking his criterion of effectiveness, to what extent does he consider now that the arrangements that he has made will be effective? How will the United States enforce these measures, and to what extent will other Gulf producing countries take part in them?

Secondly, there have been reports from Washington that arrangements have been made by the President and the Prime Minister to deal with hardship in Rhodesia, particularly in the case of hospitals. Is there any substance in those reports?

Thirdly, to what extent is the supply to Zambia meeting its needs today, and how quickly will it build up?

Fourthly, can the Prime Minister give the House his assurance that these measures are intended to operate in the way in which he has so far announced, and not by military blockade?

Fifthly, is he aware that these measures emphasise particularly the need to state again and again the path by which Rhodesia can come back to legal constitutional government?

The Prime Minister

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said.

On the question of effectiveness, he asked about the adequacy of United States enforcement. The United States Government are completely satisfied with the assurance that they have had from the American oil companies that they recognise our authority in the matter and will give full effect to the action that we have taken. There are still important supplying, countries from whom we have not had a final answer, and the Netherlands is obviously very important here. I have every reason to think that we shall get full co-operation. If that is not so, we shall have to consider what action can be taken to deal with any leakage there.

Secondly, on hardship, the right hon. Gentleman is quite right. I did raise this matter in Washington. A great part of the distribution in Rhodesia of the products of the Umtali refinery is in the hands of one company with whom we have some influence. It has distributed stocks all over the country, and we have asked it to do everything in its power to reserve supplies for hospital use—generating plants for hospital surgeries, for doctors, midwives, ambulance services and the rest.

Thirdly, he asked—and this is a question that we were most concerned with—about the speed at which the airlift and the mobilisation of surface means of transport to Zambia can meet all their requirements. It is a build-up. It will take time. The American planes, for example, have not yet crossed the Atlantic. Our first planes have started and are being powerfully reinforced, but the Americans have said that they will join us to make it effective, and we have hopes of planes from other areas. The limiting factor at the end of the day may be airfield capacity rather than aircraft, and we have given satisfactory assurances to Zambia about that.

Fourthly, the right hon. Gentleman asked about a military blockade. We do not contemplate that at this stage, because I believe that the combined effect of the boycott by certain powerful Middle Eastern oil producing countries added to the action of Governments who have important oil distributing companies under their control should be effective. If there should be any seepage or leakage by one or two spivs—and I gather that it is possible for spivs to invade the oil trade for the purpose of defeating the laws that have been made; I know that the former Attorney-General does not like the word "spiv", but that is how we would see any such action—we would then have to consider the matter in consultation with our colleagues in this.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman said that it was important to state again and again the methods by which there could be a return to constitutional rule. I agree, and I did make a statement in the House a week last Friday. We have also had the valuable statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas Home). I agree with every point that he made as to the four points on which we should move forward, although it will be recognised that every one of those four points was turned down categorically time and time again by Mr. Smith. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman in his speech setting forth the detailed working out of the five principles, set out what both of us have in mind and, indeed, what we laboured incessantly to secure before 11th November.

Mr. Taverne

In the event of certain countries hindering or frustrating the oil embargo, will the Government consider promoting a mandatory resolution in the Security Council?

The Prime Minister

I said that if there is frustration of this we shall have to consider what action should be taken. At the moment this question is hypothetical. I do not think that we should try to envisage what measures would be appropriate and I was well aware during my visit to the United Nations last week that Chapter VII resolutions on any aspect of the Rhodesian question might have a habit of escalating.

Mr. Grimond

Is the Prime Minister aware that all those who think that effective steps must be taken to put an end to what is generally agreed to be a police State in Rhodesia will welcome the proposals which have been brought in at last, and will support them? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions? First, do I understand that the American Government are making it mandatory on American oil companies not to send oil to Rhodesia? Secondly, if it is so important to get multilateral agreement for this embargo, why are we not raising it under Article 41?

The Prime Minister

I am glad that now all three party leaders have used the phrase "police State" about the Smith régime. It was used by the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) on 10th December. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said that we had brought in this measure at last. I would point out to him—he was very pressing on this, and I understand it, although it was difficult for me to answer at the time—that the talks which have led to this solution were very far advanced at the time he was raising it. I was not able then to give him details, but it shows that sometimes when we are being pressed we are not being more backward than those who are doing the pressing.

There are certain legal difficulties about the United States Government making orders forbidding their oil enterprises to frustrate the purposes of this Order, but I know that the United States Government are fully satisfied with the assurances which they have had from the oil companies.

I am not sure what was the last point.

Mr. Grimond

Raising it under Article 41.

The Prime Minister

That was the alternative way of doing it, and it had certain attractions rather than the somewhat flat means of an Order in Council denying importation, but, as I mentioned earlier, there are certain dangers in dealing with this by United Nations resolution, and Chapter VII language on this, confined to Article 41, might be one thing. What worries us is that there are dangers that this might escalate into other resolutions which would be much less acceptable to this House.

Mr. William Hamilton

Can the Prime Minister say whether the runways in Zambia are adequate to deal with the air-lifted oil? Can he say whether there has been any official reaction from Portugal or South Africa to the proposition which he has expounded this afternoon? Thirdly, will he indicate whether a naval blockade of Beira has not been ruled out in the event of the leakage to which he referred?

The Prime Minister

With regard to runways, it was this which I had in mind when I referred to the possible limit on the air-lift being airport capacity. Action is being taken to extend certain of the runways, but it should be remembered that we occupy a considerable part of the hard-standing on one airfield and part of another with the Javelin operation. At the same time, a lot of urgent action is being taken and we are providing a lot of money to improve surface transport, both road and rail.

With regard to South Africa and Portugal, we are in touch with both those countries.

With regard to the third point about a possible military blockade, I take it that my hon. Friend has in mind a naval blockade of Beira if there were leakages. I have said that this is quite hypothetical at the moment. We would have to consider what was the proper way of dealing with the problem if it arose. There are more ways than one. There are a lot of people, and some whom one would least expect, in Africa who have displayed a considerable gunboat mentality on this question during the last few weeks. Not all of them, however, have gunboats.

Mr. J. Amery

In view of the deep disapproval with which many people view the Government's decision, and in view of the Government's repeated assurances that Orders would be brought to the House as soon as possible, will the Prime Minister undertake that this Order will be brought to the House before Christmas so that those who wish to oppose it can have a chance to do so?

The Prime Minister

I had the great help when I was in the United States of seeing the Motion on the Order Paper from the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, which I am glad to say was treated with just about the right degree of importance we would all attach to it.

Hon. Members

Answer the question.

The Prime Minister

I was answering the preamble. The question of a debate in this House must be a matter to be pursued through the usual channels. The Government would like to get the affirmative Resolution in respect of the Order as quickly as possible to show the people of Rhodesia, one or two of whom still have vain ideas that the right hon. Gentleman represents real power in this House, where this House as a whole stands, but we recognise the difficulties in this last week before the Christmas Recess—the problem of the foreign affairs debate, and also private Members' time on Wednesday. I think that this is a matter to be pursued through the usual channels to see what best meets the convenience of the House as a whole.

Mr. Shinwell

Has my right hon. Friend observed that the storm with which he has been threatened during the last few days has failed to develop? May we have an assurance that the deterioration which threatens to destroy the Tory Opposition will not prevent him from seeking every possible means of bringing this affair to a successful conclusions?

The Prime Minister

I am afraid that I have not had the chance to read the newspapers on the point made by my right hon. Friend and I do not think that it is really the main issue with which we are faced today. The main issue today is for this House to show that we are determined to bring this matter to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible, because the more quickly we can do this, the less will be the dislocation and economic hardship in Rhodesia, the less will be the bitterness in Rhodesia, the easier it will be to get economic reconstruction, which could be very quick indeed, and the easier it will be to get the tolerable constitutional situation to which the right hon. Gentleman referred a moment ago.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that we have had a good deal of experience in two world wars of naval blockades, and that any proposal to blockade Portuguese and South African ports would lead us into very dangerous straits indeed, and no doubt he will point this out to those African States which want to take instant and warlike action in this way?

The Prime Minister

I have said that the question of a possible blockade through the United Nations or in any other way really raises a very hypothetical question, and only if there were a serious frustration of the Order in Council would we have to consider that and a number of other alternative means of dealing with this situation.

What the right hon. Gentleman said about African States wanting to pursue warlike actions strikes something of a chord in my breast. I tried to make this point the other day in the United Nations, though they were not all listening—they were outside reading my speech—why we felt in this House that a military solution was not the right answer to this question.

Mr. John Hynd

I note my right hon. Friend's reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), but in view of the importance of this development, and in view of the solid support that we have had from the United States, France, and other allies, is it not equally important that we should know what is the attitude of the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition?

The Prime Minister

I think that that is a matter for the right hon. Gentleman. We all recognise his difficulties, and he has, if I may say so, over a very difficult period of time been extremely helpful in connection with a large number of measures which were repugnant to him, and are repugnant to us, but they are forced on us by an even more repugnant situation. It would be useful if we were able to get a quick resolution to give effect to this, but I have mentioned some of the difficulties which the House as a whole faces, and I think we had better leave that question to the usual channels.

Mr. Braine

May I ask the Prime Minister whether appropriate support from the United States—those were the right hon. Gentleman's words—includes financial assistance, or is the cost of helping an oil-lift to Zambia to be borne solely by the British taxpayer? Secondly, may I ask whether he is aware that the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said earlier this afternoon that the response from other countries to a trade embargo has been very satisfactory? Can he explain this sudden haste in imposing oil sanctions?

The Prime Minister

First, with regard to the assurances concerning all appropriate support from the United States to make the airlift effective, any action taken by the United States will be the financial responsibility of the United States and not the British taxpayer. We have made a useful contribution in respect of surface transport, and we are bearing the cost of the United Kingdom airlift into Zambia. As to trade sanctions, it is true that day by day we are receiving more and more information that individual countries—and Commonwealth countries have given a fine lead here—are applying very wide-ranging restrictions on imports from Rhodesia. The results are certainly satisfactory. But we have had to consider not only the background of the internal situation in Rhodesia but what some hon. Members may have disregarded, namely, the very grave danger of this becoming a major conflagration in Africa, and it was necessary to get this matter settled as quickly as possible. We took the view that it was right to take this action in relation to oil.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Would the House be right in understanding from the Prime Minister's original statement and subsequent answers that there is a clear distinction between the position of this country and that of the United States—and, presumably, the other countries to which he has referred—namely, that whereas in this country the prohibition of oil supplies to Rhodesia is thought to require the criminal sanctions of an Order in Council, which the right hon. Gentleman will introduce, in the United States it will rely solely on compliance with the exhortations of the American Government? If that is thought to be effective there, why should it not be effective here, and vice versa?

The Prime Minister

There certainly is this difference, and it arises from the fact—and I am glad to say that the United States was very strong on this point—that instead of its being a joint operation it was an operation taken by Britain with America's full support coming in behind. This was done to reinforce the point that we have made throughout at the United Nations—and it is an important point—that this is our responsibility, and that we are seeking the support of other nations in carrying out the responsibilities that we are discharging rather than asking for international action, in which we would then be only one party.

As for the methods used in the United States, they have certain legal difficulties about making an order, but they have had satisfactory assurances. We were advised that in our case it was better to deal with this quite simply by an Order, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman—who is a far better lawyer than I ever will be, even if I tried—will know that this is helpful in relation to claims for compensation. This point was also made in the United States.

Mr. Paget

Is not my right hon. Friend very well aware that by using all the available tankers in the Union and other things this embargo cannot possibly succeed in seriously incommoding Rhodesia? Is not the proposal with regard to the sanctions, which he knows well cannot succeed, merely a preliminary step to the next move, which is war? Is it not time for the country to be told fairly and truly that we have reached the point at which the only alternative to negotiating with the existing régime is to fight it?

The Prime Minister

My hon. and learned Friend is wrong on both points. I am a little surprised that the very small minority on this side of the House —I think that it is confined to my hon. and learned Friend—and the somewhat larger minority on the other side are not quite sure whether to attack this Measure because it will be ineffective—which is logical after all that they have said—or because they think that it will be effective. We do not regard it as a step towards a military solution; on the contrary, if my hon. and learned Friend will forget for one moment what he has said in the past few weeks and study the facts, he will be aware as I am aware—and as anybody will be aware who is in touch with African opinion—that in the last week we have been within inches of very serious intervention by other countries. We have said in this House—and I hope that everybody will agree about this—that this is our responsibility. We must take the measures, and must do everything in our power to avoid a military solution being sought by anyone.

Mr. Heath

The right hon. Gentleman has already spoken of escalation. Following the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), is the Prime Minister aware that any escalation of these measures into the use of force would be entirely unacceptable to those on this side of the House and, I believe, to the people of this country?

The Prime Minister

When I used the word "escalation"—and I think that I did so twice—I was referring to suggestions that have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House that we should use Chapter VII language at the United Nations, limited to economic sanctions. I referred to the danger that mandatory resolutions in the Security Council, even though limited to economic measures, could escalate into mandatory Chapter VII resolutions relating to much more serious and grave measures. That was the phrase in which I used the word "escalation".

On the general question of the use of military measures for settling this problem, what the right hon. Gentleman said is what all of us have been saying for several weeks past, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have seen that I stressed this very strongly indeed in my speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

Mr. Heath

On a point of order. For the guidance of the House in the forthcoming debate, it is clear that after the statement of the Prime Minister many hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to discuss the subject of Rhodesia. Would it be convenient to arrive at an agreement between ourselves that today we should concentrate on matters of foreign affairs other than Rhodesia and that tomorrow we should deal for most of the debate with Rhodesia?

Mr. Speaker

On the pure question of order, Rhodesia is in order in the debate, as is the question of oil sanctions. If the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition should commend itself to the House—[Horn. MEMBERS: "No."] Order. If the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman should commend itself to the general sense of the House hon. Members will try to comply with that suggestion, namely, that we discuss foreign affairs generally today and Rhodesia tomorrow. But it will be in order for any hon. Member—we are debating on the Adjournment, and the Adjournment is on foreign policy—to make points about Rhodesia or general foreign policies whichever day he is called.

The Prime Minister

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House will be grateful to you for your Ruling, and particularly for your making it clear that references to Rhodesia will be in order in the Foreign Affairs debate going beyond the foreign affairs aspects of Rhodesia. I am sure that many hon. Members will take advantage of that. I want to be clear about this. Quite a number of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will seek to catch your eye tomorrow and will want to talk about foreign affairs as well, and I thought that there was a desire on the part of some hon. Members that I should report on my talks in Washington and in the United Nations. If I am confined to the subject of Rhodesia tomorrow it will be a little restrictive. I hope that the advice that you have given will mean that we will be free to range over both subjects as may he appropriate.

Mr. J. Amery

Can the Leader of the House tell us whether he hopes to be able to announce that the Order will be brought before the House before we separate for Christmas?

Mr. Hugh Fraser

I am sure that, however hon. Members feel about this Order, the whole House will agree that it is important that it should he debated before Christmas. It will be a turning point, one way or the other, in the Rhodesian affair. It is, therefore, only right that we should debate it, even if it means having an extra day to do so.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Fraser

I am asking the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister

I have said that this question was being considered through the usual channels. We are naturally anxious to get the Order approved by the House as quickly as possible, but there are other considerations of general interest to the House as a whole, and it is only right that the usual channels should meet in order to arrive at a decision which is acceptable and is to the greatest possible convenience to the House as a whole.

Mr. Wall

On a point of order. Could we have a statement on this matter as soon as the usual channels have met so that we know exactly where we are?