HC Deb 08 February 1967 vol 740 cc1609-21

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now Adjourn.—[Mr. Armstrong.]

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

should like, first, to congratulate the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley) on his translation to the Ministry of Defence. Any hon. Member would be proud to speak for the Royal Navy from that Dispatch Box. I must admit that I envy the hon. Gentleman, but I hastily add that I do not envy him having to reply to this debate.

We are to discuss the Simonstown Agreement between Britain and South Africa. The House will recall that this Agreement was signed in 1955, and that the main terms were as follows: first, it provided for the defence of sea communications in an area vital to the free world. Secondly, it provided for South African naval expansion, and it laid down that ships would be built by British yards. Thirdly, it provided for British naval command in both peace and war, and for the use of the Simonstown base in both peace and war. It also provided for other facilities in other parts of South Africa for British forces, and it stated that the British C.-in-C. was to have operational command in a war in which both countries were involved.

In short, the Agreement provided our country with everything that she wanted if South Africa was a co-belligerent or if she was at peace. It did not commit Britain to help South Africa if South Africa alone was involved in hostilities. I suggest, therefore, that the Agreement was very much to our benefit. It is quite clear that it was a package deal, tied to the purchase of British warships, and it is inherent in that deal—certainly there is a moral obligation—that these warships should be supplied with spare parts and ammunition, and I shall come to this question a little later.

On 3rd February, at column 195–6, in answer to a Written Question from myself the Government said that representatives of our Government and of the South African Government met in Cape Town on 25th to 27th January of this year to discuss certain aspects of the Simonstown Agreement. It also said that the British C.-in-C. South Atlantic would be withdrawn, that the frigate normally on the South African station would be withdrawn, that alternative command arrangements were being worked out, and that the whole question of British naval representation was under discussion.

What does all that mean? If the C-in-C South Atlantic is to be withdrawn, what is to happen to the very important communication and intelligence facilities operated by his staff in Southern Africa? I would remind the Minister that the intelligence officer on the staff of the C-in-C South Atlantic is responsible for the whole continent of Africa from Senegal in the west, to Tanzania in the east. He is also responsible for the Antarctic and half the continent of South America. This is a vitally important intelligence post and I should like to know how the British Government will be apprised of this important intelligence if the C-in-C and his staff are withdrawn. I have a particular interest in this, because, traditionally, the S.O.I. South Atlantic has always been a member of the Royal Marines.

What is to happen to the command in war time? I have already shown the House that the Agreement laid down that the British C-in-C would have command in war. If we are not to provide a C-in-C in South Africa, or any ships, how is this Agreement to be maintained?

Perhaps more immediate is the whole question of the provision of spare parts and ammunition for the frigates and destroyers which South Africa has bought from us since the signing of the Agreement. I submit that the Government have a rather guilty conscience over this, because on 16th November last my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) asked about the supply of live ammunition for South African ships, and in column 107 he was referred to the Prime Minister's statement in November, 1964. On 28th November my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) asked much the same question. He was told that spare parts and practice ammunition were being supplied. No mention was made of live ammunition. On 1st December I asked a similar Question, and was referred to the United Nations resolution of 1964. On 14th December I asked the same Question and was told that there was no obligation under the Simonstown Agreement to supply live ammunition, which showed, by implication, that it was not being supplied. Finally, on 25th January of this year my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) asked the same Question and was told that only practice ammunition was being supplied. This was the first time in two months' questioning that the Government were prepared to clearly admit that they were not supplying live ammunition to South Africa.

Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles (Winchester)

Has my hon. Friend noticed that on page 4 of the Simonstown Agreement it says that the British Admiralty agree to act as agents for the Union Government in the matter of the supply of spare parts and ammunition, and does not he think that it is disgraceful of this Government to break an obligation of this nature?

Mr. Wall

I certainly do agree. It is not only the possibility of a legal breaking of a contract, which the Agreement is. It needs better legal brains than mine to elucidate whether it has been broken, but I am convinced, and I think that the House is, too, that we have a moral obligation here. In the past we have refused to supply ammunition to the ships of nations engaged in war, but now, in peacetime we are refusing to supply ammunition to the ships of a friendly nation which is defending the Cape route which is so important to Britain.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

Does not the hon. Gentleman recognise that there are moral obligations to the United Nations which should take precedence over obligations to South Africa?

Mr. Wall

I shall come to the cant and hypocrisy about moral obligations to the United Nations.

In the Yorkshire Post on 6th February there was a report that spare parts for Buccaneer aircraft, which were built in my constituency and supplied to South Africa some years ago, were not being supplied. If this is so, it is a direct contravention of what the Prime Minister promised in this House. It is also reported that spare parts for Centurion tanks were also being held up. The tanks were supplied to South Africa, in accordance with the undertaking that she would supply armoured forces in the Mediterranean area should the need arise.

I think that we have to examine in more detail the excuse for evading these moral obligations. In the past, under Conservative Governments, the policy adopted since 1954 was that we should not supply arms to South Africa which could be used for internal purposes, for example to quell civil disturbances. I am thinking of small arms, armoured cars, and so on. I think that that fulfilled our obligation to the United Nations. The Government felt that the defence of the South Atlantic was of vital importance to this country, and continued to supply weapons required by South Africa to maintain this security, but, on the advent of a Labour Government, they decided, in view of the Security Council Resolution of June, 1964, as announced by the Prime Minister on 17th November, 1964, that they would no longer supply arms or equipment to South Africa. At the time my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) denounced this as an abrogation of the Simonstown Agreement. This was denied by the Prime Minister who went on to threaten the Prime Minister of South Africa, who was making rumbling noises at that time, that he could not unilaterally denounce the Simonstown Agreement because the Agreement could be denounced only after consultation between both sides, which is the argument the Malta Government are using today.

I warned the House at that time after the Prime Minister's statement that if we persisted in this policy we would not only lose the orders for supplying arms to South Africa, but that decision would affect our normal industrial trade. I hope to show the House that this prophecy is being fulfilled. What worries me more than this is the denunciation of the spirit in which the Agreement was signed. Apparently we can refuse to fulfil our moral obligations, yet we expect South Africa to fulfil hers. She has been extraordinarily co-operative. She has fought on our side in two wars and her ports were of immense value to this country during the Suez crisis. Although there has since been disagreement between us about the conduct of her internal affairs, she is still willing to co-operate with us in the revised Agreement.

What is the real reason for the renegotiation of the Agreement? I suggest that there are four possibilities. The first is the official reason given by the Government, which covers a multitude of sins—defence savings. The staff of the C.-in-C. consists of 14 officers and 50 ratings. Will the Minister tell us what the saving will he in hard cash, allowing for the loss of the intelligence facilities to which I have referred? Will he also tell the House what will be the total loss due to our refusal to supply arms to South Africa? Fighter aircraft are now being supplied by the French. As a result, the French are superintending the birth of the South African aircraft industry, which will be of immense importance in the future. Italy is supplying 200 training aircraft, and there are reports that the three submarines that we all knew would have been ordered from this country are now to be ordered from another European country. The value of that order is estimated to be about £40 million.

We have refused to supply Bloodhound and the Maritime Comet. This again is another illustration of the Government's guilty conscience. On 10th February, 1966, I asked why there was a refusal of an export licence for Maritime Comets to South Africa, and the answer was that no application had been made. The Government knows that the South African Government inquires privately whether an export licence is likely to be given, and if they are told "Yes" they at once formally start negotiations to place an order, but if they feel that they are going to leave themselves open to a public snub by a Government refusal they will not ask for an export licence. I suggest that the Government statement in reply to this Written Question underlines the extraordinary policy that the Government have adopted.

I should like to know what the total loss is to British industry. It may be as much as £150 million—just about equivalent to the amount that we are spending in our economic war against Rhodesia. Why should this situation exist? Is it because we dislike apartheid? If so, how can Bloodhound or submarines be used to enforce apartheid? The whole idea is ridiculous.

The second possible reason for this procedure by the Government is, however, that they wish to demonstrate their dislike of apartheid. Let us examine that possibility. They obviously feel that the African Commonwealth is of great importance. Indeed, when there was an exchange in the House at the time of the statement on the embargo of arms to South Africa, the Prime Minister, in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire, who had said that this announcement would have far-reaching implications, replied: Not to have made it"— that is, the announcement— would have had far-reaching implications for our relationships with and membership of the United Nations and for our relations with a large number of Commonwealth countries in Africa and elsewhere."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1966; Vol. 702, c. 201.] In accordance with this general policy we are now offering Tanzania £7 million, in spite of the fact that they have cut off diplomatic relations with us, and £14 million to Zambia, who only last year suggested that we should be expelled from the Commonwealth.

I suggest that the Government are suffering from the disease of apartheid in reverse. They have already annoyed Canada, Australia and New Zealand because of their implementation of some of the provisions of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act in respect of citizens of those countries. The Government are conducting an economic war in Rhodesia and are about to create a situation in Malta which will create an unemployment rate of 18 per cent. These are all white countries of the Commonwealth.

Mr. John Binns (Keighley)

Is the hon. Member trying to argue that our Agreement with South Africa is sacrosanct and yet our agreements with the rest of the world, through the United Nations, are cant and hypocrisy?

Mr. Wall

I am arguing that the Government's policy is cant and hypocrisy. An excellent example is afforded by the Buccaneer deal, which they allowed to go through because they realised the industrial implications. I am glad they did, because it helped my constituency. But their whole policy is based on cant and hypocrisy and there may be more sinister reasons behind this.

My third suggested reason for the action of the Government is that they are preparing to participate in a United Nations blockade of the whole of Southern Africa. In the debate on mandatory sanctions on Monday it was clear that the Government have got themselves into an impossible position. They will either have to veto a United Nations resolution on mandatory sanctions and lose the support of many of the Commonwealth countries or agree with it. It would be very embarrassing for them to participate in a United Nations blockade and to have a British naval officer and his staff sitting in Cape Town.

The House may think that this is an exaggerated picture, but it is clear, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) has pointed out, that they are already blockading Beira. The answer was given in the House the other day to the effect that this blockade is to prevent oil tankers going into Beira. I cannot see why, because we know that Rhodesia is receiving oil by every route apart from Beira. We know, for example, that oil is passing through the Commonwealth territory of Botswana. I heard the other day that British naval forces off Beira had stopped an Italian passenger vessel and boarded it. That is not an oil blockade. This rumour is current in South Africa and has done a great deal to undermine British prestige in that part of the world. I hope it can be denied.

If the British Government contemplate assisting the United Nations in a blockade of Southern Africa it means blockading a coastline of 4,000 miles from the Congo River on the west right round the Cape of Good Hope to the river Ruvuma, in Tanzania. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has pointed out that this operation would need at least 50 warships—which we have not got—and 300 aircraft, and it would fail and would need to be backed by a military force of 93,000 which would suffer between 7,000 and 8,000 casualties on the first day of an amphibious assault.

I know that the Government would not lightly enter into this form of blockade on their own, and one wonders what American policy is in this respect. The policy of the American State Department seems to switch from day to day. After the recent extraordinary occurrence in Table Bay, concerning the aircraft carrier "Franklin D. Roosevelt", one wonders whether the State Department has any clear policy. What is clear is that the policy adopted by the present British Government is destroying the friendly relations between the British and South African navies, which has been built up over many years.

The last possible alternative behind the Government's move to renegotiate the Simonstown Agreement is that it is the precursor of a complete withdrawal of our Armed Forces from east of Suez. This would be received with delight by certain hon. and right hon. Members opposite. I admit that there is a case for a gradual withdrawal from Aden and perhaps Singapore in due course, but the worst possible way to proceed is that which the Government have adopted in, for example, Aden. I suggest that it is essential for us to retain maritime bases in the Southern Hemisphere and that these should be in areas backed by an industrial complex, from which our amphibious maritime air forces could operate. We could then secure control of Indian Ocean communications at minimum cost. From this point of view the Simonstown Agreement is of immense importance to us. I hope that a similar agreement will be brought about with the Australian Government, so that our British naval/air forces can be based, say, on Fremantle.

If we do not do this it means abandoning the Indian Ocean and abandoning our responsibiliies to the Commonwealth, particularly to Australia. This may, of course, be the price that the Government are prepared to pay for their new policy in respect of entry into Europe.

We in this country do not like the policies of the U.S.S.R. and China—their external as well as their internal policies—but we encourage trade with them. We trade with North Vietnam and Cuba, despite the annoyance that that might cause to some of our allies and, in particular, to the United States. That being so, why do we refuse to allow arms to be supplied for the external defence of South Africa, a country which is sited in such a vitally strategic area?

The refusal to supply arms to South Africa will lose Britain trade; that is trade with our third best customer. The trend to this effect is clear from the 1966 figures. Is this policy a preparation for the use of force against Rhodesia or for mandatory sanctions against South Africa? I fear that such a policy would lead to economic war and would cost us £1 million a day, and might possibly lead to a physical war which would split this nation from top to bottom. I therefore beg the Government to maintain this vitally important Agreement, not only in its letter but, more important, in the spirit in which it was negotiated—a defence Agreement between two nations which share common defence problems.

12.51 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Navy (Mr. Maurice Foley)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) for introducing this subject and for the kind remarks he made in connection with my first appearance at the Dispatch Box as part of Ministry of Defence. We are aware of his loyal service in the Royal Marines. On a personal note, I might mention that he and I, albeit some years ago, were closely involved in visiting different parts of Africa and looking at the problems there.

I cannot help but feel that in the last six years we have drifted somewhat apart in terms of our views on this subject—and whereas the hon. Gentleman now talks about apartheid in reverse in relation to our attitude, I recall some speeches which he made, but not in the House, in which he movingly spoke of the immorality of apartheid. I wonder whether from time to time in recent years—when one recalls some of the things he has said about Rhodesia, the break-up of the Federation and so on—he has been endeavouring to give a measure of respec- tability to something which in conscience he abhors.

The debate has ranged wide afield and at times I have thought it to be a dress rehearsal for the defence debate which we will be having shortly. Perhaps the hon. Member for Haltemprice wants more that one bite at the cherry. Anyone listening to the hon. Gentleman's remarks about Simonstown and the South Atlantic might imagine that our discussions had broken down in absolute failure. The plain fact is—and the hon Member knows this—that our discussions with the South African Government were conducted in the most amicable atmosphere. A conclusion was reached and we reached agreement. This has been announced in South Africa and was announced in reply to a Question tabled by the hon. Gentleman on Friday of last week.

Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)

Would the hon. Gentleman say when the details will be made known? The withdrawal of the C.-in-C. was announced to the House in an aside by the Secretary of State following a supplementary question, but we still do not know the terms of the new agreement.

Mr. Foley

The hon. Gentleman has a Question down on this topic. It may be convenient if I give him the answer now. At present the Royal Navy maintains a Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic, in South Africa with a staff of more than 100 naval and civilian personnel. The Defence Review, 1966, concluded that we must reduce naval commitments in a number of parts of the world. This is the reason, and the sole reason, why we have come to conclusions in relation to Simonstown. We considered it right and proper that we should consult the South African Government about those proposals and no change in the Simonstown Agreement was or is envisaged.

Preliminary consultation began last year and in January of this year the Vice-Chief of Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral Sir John Bush, went to Cape Town and there the British team, led by Her Majesty's Ambassador to South Africa, had these talks, which took place between 25th and 27th January. These discussions were concluded successfully, with agreement on the recommendations to be put to the two Governments.

One important change proposed as a result of decisions arising from the Defence Review and following the Simonstown talks is a change in the command structure. That part of the present South Atlantic and South American Command in which South Africa lies will become the responsibility of the C.-in-C. Home Fleet, under whose command we will appoint a senior British naval officer of the rank of Commodore who will act as C.-in-C. Home Fleet's representative in South Africa and will continue the existing liaison with the South African Navy.

The senior British naval officer, who will also be the naval attaché, will have a small staff and will be located in Cape Town. As part of this arrangement, the proposal is that the Chief of the South African Navy will take greater responsibility for the South African area in times of war. The maintenance of the Simonstown Agreement means that the Royal Navy will have continued use of the facilities in South Africa hitherto enjoyed. These include use of the facilities at Simonstown Dockyard and the use of communications provided by Cape Naval Radio.

Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles

Will the joint training arrangements with the South African Navy continue?

Mr. Foley

There is no question of disturbing what already exists, and joint training does take place. In this connection, I thought, when the hon. and gallant Gentleman intervened in the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice in connection with the Simonstown Agreement, that he was being a little unfair in his selective quotation. I, too, nave that quotation and have read it. I think that if the hon. and gallant Gentleman reads it again he will see that Article 3 states: The British Admiralty agree to act as agents … in this matter". The phrase "in this matter" refers to decisions in Article 2 relating to equip- ment to be supplied during the period 1955–63. He must be careful not to assume something which is not in the Agreement. The question of ammunition was raised, although this and other questions connected with it have already been answered in Parliament. The hon. Member for Haltemprice will be aware that any matters relating to equipment for the South African Armed Forces come to Ministers here, must be studied by them and examined in the light of our adherence to the United Nations Resolution relating to the embargo; and any decisions are then taken. I cannot answer now the question of spare parts for the Buccaneer, I cannot answer that now, but I will look into the matter. To answer question asked about Beira and the blockade of this area, while my geography may be somewhat slight, I suggest that it is not in the South Atlantic. It is, however, important in this context and, therefore, must be borne in mind.

I am not aware of the rumour to which the hon. Member for Haltemprice referred. I will make inquiries and let him know the position. I hope that he will be one of the first to squash it if it is found that the rumour is unfounded. He will be aware that Questions have been tabled relating to the Beira Patrol. He will also be aware that the whole of the operation of the Beira Patrol does not come from Simonstown. This is Middle East Command, and it was arranged in this way for clear reasons in terms of operational ability and so on. Regarding Simonstown generally, this Agreement has been reached between the two Governments and, when one thinks of the difficulties involved in our military redeployment in other parts of the world, I am happy to inform the House that, in this case, our difficulties have been fully understood and accepted; and on this basis I believe that we can proceed.

The debate having been concluded, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER suspended the sitting till half-past Two o'clock pursuant to Order.

Sitting resumed at 2.30 p.m.