HC Deb 28 July 1976 vol 916 cc621-5
1. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Great Britain's relations with Uganda, particularly on the position of British subjects there.

12. Mr. Brittan

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on relations with Uganda.

23. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will pay an official visit to Kampala.

26. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he plans to suspend diplomatic relations with Uganda.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

I have now considered the future of our relations with Uganda. These relations have a long and troubled history. The events of recent weeks have again demonstrated that it is not possible for our High Commission effectively to discharge its normal duties. Two members of the High Commission have been expelled for no good or adequate reason.

I have therefore decided that we should break diplomatic relations with Uganda. The Ugandan authorities are being so informed this afternoon in London and in Kampala.

We have for the past two weeks been advising the British community in Uganda that they should seriously consider leaving. My best estimate is that all but some 200-plus have now left. Those who remain are mostly residents of long standing who well understand the risks which they run in staying in Uganda.

I have asked the French Government to look after our affairs, and they have generously agreed to do so. I propose to leave a British interests section in the French Embassy to assist them in carrying out this task.

The Government have done their utmost to help and advise our people in Uganda. Bearing in mind the interests of those who remain, I hope that the House will accept the need for some restraint in language.

I have taken this decision with deep regret. This is the first time that we have severed relations with a Commonwealth country. We have no quarrel with the people of Uganda, and we look forward to the time when it may be possible to renew our traditionally close relationship.

Mr. Lamont

I welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement. I consider that this is the right and sensible thing to do in the circumstances. Is there anything further that the right hon. Gentleman can say about Mrs. Dora Bloch? I wish to observe his request that we should exercise moderation in our remarks. Nevertheless, does he agree that the movement of Ugandan troops to the Kenyan border is extremely alarming? Has any request been received from the Kenyan Government for assistance, and in view of our great interest in this area what information has he given to the Kenyan Government?

Mr. Crosland

Sadly, I have nothing to add to the statement made 16 days ago by my hon. Friend the Minister of State on the fate of Mrs. Bloch. In the meantime the High Commission has pursued further inquiries, but it is obvious that they will get nowhere without the co-operation of the Uganda Government and there is no sign that this has been, is or will be forthcoming. We have had no statement of the precise situation on the Kenyan border. Kenya has traditionally bought most of its arms supplies from this country. We have a defence agreement with the Kenyan Government and we propose to continue it.

Mr. Janner

There would appear to be no alternative to taking the step which the Foreign Secretary has announced today. While it is regrettable that relations with a Commonwealth country should be broken off, no one could have given greater provocation to us than President Amin. Will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to the work of the diplomats in the British High Commission in Kampala who have done so much to help the family of Mrs. Bloch, British residents still in Uganda, and those who have taken the High Commission's advice to get out?

Mr. Crosland

I am grateful for my hon. and learned Friend's opening remarks. I think it is true, as I understand it from a large number of hon. Members, that the family of Mrs. Bloch accept that everything possible was done by the Government. I would like to pay tribute to successive British members of the High Commission in Kampala who have carried out their duties, and will do so to the last moment, in circumstances of grave and serious danger.

Mr. Maudling

On this side of the House we entirely support the action of the Foreign Secretary, and we wish to associate ourselves with the tributes to the British High Commission staff in Kampala.

Mr. Hamilton

While welcoming what my right hon. Friend has said, may I ask him whether other Commonwealth Governments were consulted before the decision was taken? What will happen to the aid which is now given by the Government to Uganda? Also, can my right hon. Friend tell us where General Amin is at the moment?

Mr. Crosland

I have nothing further to tell the House on the last part of my hon. Friend's question. I did not have widespread multilateral consultations on this issue, because I do not think that that is the right way to approach it. It is a bilateral issue between the United Kingdom and Uganda, and it should be dealt with in that manner.

No aid has gone to Uganda since 1972, when the Ugandan Asians were expelled. We have precisely 11 supplemented teachers in Uganda at the moment on contract to the Uganda Government. We supplement their salaries, and we pay the supplements direct to the teachers. We have given them the same advice as we gave other British citizens in Uganda and I think they will accept it. Otherwise, and I would stress this, no aid has gone to Uganda since 1972.

Mr. Gorst

I welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement on behalf of the relatives of Mrs. Bloch who live in my constituency. I understand that there is an imbalance of trade between this country and Uganda which between January and June this year was running at the rate of about £14½5 million. Will this imbalance continue in the light of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, and is it in this country's interests that it should do so?

Mr. Crosland

The hon. Member is quite right about his facts. Last year we exported about £7 million worth to and imported about £23 million worth from Uganda. There is thus an imbalance in Uganda's favour. As the hon. Gentleman can imagine, I examined this position very carefully. Nothing would be gained by our trying to reduce the minuscule £7 million of exports. There is a complicating factor in the question of imports, should we wish to take action in that direction. It is that virtually all these imports, most of which are of coffee, are governed by the Lomé Convention. It would be difficult to do anything without being in breach of that convention. Apart from that, Uganda could achieve the same net result by re-exports going through another country, so that although the facts are as stated by the hon. Gentleman they do not open up any opportunity for effective action.

Mr. David Steel

We accept the inevitability of the right hon. Gentleman's statement and hope for a return of better days to that unhappy country. Will the Secretary of State pay a tribute to the missionaries and those who have given long service to Uganda and who intend to remain to serve the Ugandan people? Now that we have broken off diplomatic relations, will he arrange for stricter checks to be made on the sort of equipment we are supplying to the Uganda Government?

Mr. Crosland

I have not had the privilege, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has, of meeting these missionaries who are so determined to stay in Uganda in spite of the risks and provocations. I strongly echo that tribute. On the hon. Gentleman's last point, I think I know what he has in mind, and since hearing from him on the subject I am looking very carefully at the case again.

Mr. George Cunningham

Is it not a curious reflection on the illogicality of our citizenship law that General Amin is a British subject? More seriously, will my right hon. Friend say whether the British interests section attached to the French Embassy will have full diplomatic immunity, and will that section be composed of United Kingdom-based staff?

Mr. Crosland

On the first point, I am not expert enough either to assent to or dissent from the remarks my hon. Friend has made and which sounded extremely plausible to me. On the second point, the British interests section will have diplomatic immunity.

Forward to