HC Deb 02 November 1978 vol 957 cc186-99
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr. David Owen)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on Zambia.

When the Prime Minister and I met President Kaunda at Kano on 22nd and 23rd September, the President asked for our help in dealing with Zambia's economic problems and for military assistance, making it clear that he was turning to us in the first instance as a fellow member of the Commonwealth with which his country has had economic and defence relations since independence in 1964. We discussed in detail the urgent problems they faced of obtaining maize seed, fertiliser and pesticide which were needed to ensure next year's harvest. We also discussed the problems of the Benguela railway.

Zambia also faces severe economic difficulties arising from the low world price of copper and difficulties with her road and rail links to the sea. The Rhodesian raids deep inside Zambia on 19th October have reinforced the Zambian Government's concern about their national security. I have just heard today of a further raid.

We have agreed to provide military aid to improve Zambia's defensive capability. Some ground equipment and spares have already been supplied, strictly for the use of the Zambian armed forces and police. More will follow after detailed consultations with the Zambians. We shall also step up military training for Zambians in Britain. No British Service personnel or aircraft will be stationed in Zambia.

The Zambian Government have given us firm assurances that the equipment will be used for no other purpose than the defence of Zambia and will not be passed to any third party, and the air defence equipment will safeguard the integrity of the capital. When we have established with the Zambians their exact needs, I will immediately tell the House the cost to the Exchequer of the military assistance that we are providing. Parliamentary approval for this expenditure—which I expect to be of the order of £10 million—will be borne on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Votes and will be sought in a Supplementary Estimate in due course.

The Government have agreed to help meet Zambia's urgent need for foreign exchange by making now an advance payment of £20 million in respect of purchases of copper for British industry. We expect this copper to be shipped to Britain during 1980. The quantities, up to £20 million in value, will depend on contract prices at the time of delivery. The copper will be resold to British buyers in such a way as not to disrupt the normal workings of the market. We have also offered technical assistance to Zambia to help in the development of Zambian cobalt production.

The Benguela railway is due to be reopened on 4th November and should ease the problem of transporting Zambia's exports, including copper, and also imports. We have offered financial assistance for improving the Zaire section of the Benguela railway and are offering technical assistance for the Angolan section.

I hope that this assistance for Zambia at a time of great difficulty will strengthen her links with this country and the Commonwealth.

Mr. Pym

This is a very important statement, but not a particularly precise one. We on the Conservative Benches naturally recognise fully the vital importance of the Commonwealth and our relations with all its African members, but is not the right hon. Gentleman aware of the grave anxieties that exist, not only about the terms but about the implications of this arrangement within the context of the Rhodesian crisis and the central aim of Her Majesty's Government to bring peace as soon as possible to that land?

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what guarantees he has about the use and destination of these weapons, especially in view of the presence in Zambia of substantial guerrilla forces? There is a phrase in the statement about? firm assurances that the equipment will be used for no other purpose than the defence of Zambia". Does that mean the defence of Zambian troops and aircraft, or does it mean the defence of terrorist bases inside Zambia? If it is the latter, how can the Government defend this position when the terrorists operating from these bases are killing innocent black and white Rhodesian civilians?

Secondly, how can the right hon. Gentleman be sure that these British weapons will be totally restricted to the defence of Zambian installations, as distinct from air space? The phrasing of the statement is vague. Certainly it is too general. References to the "national security" of Zambia and to the provision of military aid to improve Zambia's defensive capability". are very vague phrases, which could be open to wider interpretation. We would certainly like the Foreign Secretary to be more precise.

Thirdly, can the right hon. Gentleman say what undertaking the Government have secured from President Kaunda to the effect that he will use every endeavour to bring Mr. Nkomo to the conference table so that progress towards a peaceful settlement in Rhodesia can be achieved? That seems to us to be a vital need at present. What we are questioning is whether the right hon. Gentleman has viewed his action in the whole context of the immensely serious situation in Southern Africa as a whole.

Dr. Owen

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement about his support for the Commonwealth, which I know to be genuine, and particularly for African countries in the Commonwealth. I also welcome his statement about the central aim of the Government being to achieve a peace in Rhodesia. It is. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and the House that there has been no more difficult decision that I have had to take as Foreign Secretary than this issue. As the right hon. Gentleman said, I believe that we had to take it in the whole context of an extremely grave and serious situation.

As to being precise, I would with respect go back to the statement that I read to the House, which I believe answers the right hon. Gentleman's point about guarantees. It says: The Zambian Government —that is, the Government and the President of that country— have given us firm assurances that the equipment will be used for no other purpose than the defence of Zambia and will not be passed to any third party —there are other liberation movements than the ZAPU forces in Zambia at the moment, and that is why I have used the expression "third party"— and the air defence equipment will safeguard the integrity of the capital —the capital of that Commonwealth country. I believe that that is quite clear.

Of course, any hon. Gentleman may ask how I can be absolutely certain. I have, and this House has in this situation—as we have with many other questions of arms equipment—to make our best judgment of the integrity and the word of honour of the Government of that country. I for one am prepared to rest on the integrity of President Kaunda and of the Zambian Government.

Mr. David Steel

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm, first of all, that Zambia, more than any other individual nation State, has had to bear the burden of the British and United Nations' sanctions policy over the last decade? Secondly, will he accept that it is right that any British Government should always be prepared to consider giving assistance to any fellow member of the Commonwealth which finds its territory violated? Does he not find it both illogical and hypocritical that the very people who have been criticising this aid to Zambia would have been the first to criticise the growing influence of other Powers in the world if Zambia had had to turn elsewhere?

Dr. Owen

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for understanding the complexities of this issue and for his support over a difficult decision, but, I believe, a right decision, to stand by the Zambian Government. As to his last point, I urge the House to look at this matter in its widest context. It is no use our trying to resist the spread of influence of others if we, when asked, are not prepared to stand up and be counted.

Mr. Hooley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the indiscriminate bombing by Smith's air force is strongly reminiscent of the behaviour of Mussolini's air force in Abyssinia in the 1930s". Does he also agree that the other side of this equation is the flow of oil and arms from South Africa to Smith's regime, which is the basic reason why he is able to commit aggression against Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana and other surrounding countries? Is it not high time that the Security Council was seized of this problem and brought the whole pressure of the Western world to bear to destroy this rebellion?

Dr. Owen

My hon. Friend raises a wider question about sanctions and other issues which we shall be discussing next week. On the subject of attacks, I think tha it is a matter for great regret on the part of every hon. Member of this House that in this dispute, unfortunately, many hundreds of civilians on both sides and in many different countries are losing their lives—some as the result of bombing and other military atacks, and some as the result of indiscriminate killing. There can be no one on either side of this House who does not want to achieve a peaceful and negotiated settlement. That will be extremely difficult, but, in the context of this issue, let it not be forgotten that few people in Southern Africa have played a more significant role in trying to achieve a negotiated settlement than President Kaunda. Time after time, at very considerable risk—he has been frequently attacked—he has stood for a negotiated settlement. The whole history of various initiatives which he has taken is the most eloquent testimony that this man is prepared to take political risks to achieve a negotiated settlement for Rhodesia.

Mr. Maudling

Before agreeing to supply these arms for the defence of Zambia, did the Foreign Secretary seek an assurance from President Kaunda that he would do all in his power to restrain the activities of the guerrillas who are using the relative safety of Zambia, now to be enhanced by British arms, to conduct a campaign of murder and terrorism in Rhodesia against black and white alike? If he did not ask for that assurance, why not?

Dr. Owen

The right hon. Gentleman knows President Kaunda, as do many others in this House. President Kaunda has made clear on a number of occasions his dislike—and in stronger words than that, too—of the civilian casualties that have taken place on both sides. He has asked and urged the Western press to make certain that its censure of that type of killing of innocent civilians is applied equally to both sides.

Equally, I make clear that President Kaunda, like other African Presidents, has stressed at all times his commitment to the liberation struggle. They have supported the continuation of that struggle. In the case of President Kaunda, however, it has not been at the expense of giving up the route which he would far prefer—a negotiated settlement.

Mr. Faulds

Is it not a fact that these heroic attacks by the courageous young whites of the Smith regime have not been against the armed camps of trained men, where they would have been met with ground-to-air missiles, but against such places as refugee camps and a camp where women civil servants were being trained? [Interruption.] Hon. Members should learn the facts. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to ensure that, whatever Zambia's defence needs may be, the Government will meet them readily and effectively?

Dr. Owen

I have already expressed to my hon. Friend our intention to meet those requests which are made for the defence of Zambia. It is a tragedy that these raids resulted in loss of life; a large number of women were, in fact, killed in the last series of raids. I do not yet have enough information about the raid that took place this afternoon, but I hope that that will not reveal further loss of civilian lives.

Mr. Amery

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in giving arms to Zambia he is providing a shield to the host country for the Nkomo guerrillas? I believe that Mr. Nkomo has just been to Moscow. Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that the Soviet Union is providing the sword—the weapons—with which the Nkomo guerrillas strike at Rhodesia? Is this not tantamount to military collusion between Britain and the Soviet Union?

Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that giving financial aid to Mozambique, Zambia and now, apparently, Angola, and military aid to Zambia, and at the same time asking for the renewal of sanctions against Rhodesia, explodes to smithereens his claim that he is even-handed in his attitude to the transitional multi-racial government and the Patriotic Front?

Dr. Owen

I claim at all times the need to try to achieve a negotiated settlement in relation to the parties in dispute. But let there be no illusion that we are not even-handed when comparing the actions of Mr. Smith and of President Kaunda. We do not supply arms to the liberation forces. That is a decision that this House has maintained ever since the armed struggle started. But times certainly change; the right hon. Gentleman might do well to look at Hansard and at what he said as short a time ago as February 1976. He argued then that we should give maximum support to the black African countries which are, broadly speaking, aligned with us, and I exclude Tanzania and Mozambique. They are Zambia, Zaire, Malawi and Botswana. The first two are desperately short of foreign currency, and I hope that the Government, with European and American support, will make generous aid available to them, secured against the copper stockpile which they have at their pit heads and which they cannot move at present. Let us make armaments available to them if they want them, and advisers and instructors if they want them, too."—[Official Report, 24th Febrauary 1976; Vol. 906, c. 228]

Mr. Ioan Evans

Does my right hon. Friend realise that there will be full support on the Government Benches for the action that he has taken? We welcome the fact that he and the Prime Minister went to Nigeria to meet Kenneth Kaunda and wish to express our support for him in the difficulties that he has faced. Does he also realise that if we have a responsibility for Rhodesia we must have some responsibility for the continuation of the illegal regime? If we have that responsibility, we must also have responsibility for the consequences of that continued illegality.

Will my right hon. Friend, therefore, not only do what he has said that he will but also consult other Commonwealth members to ensure that there is wide support for Zambia in its present situation and to bring an end to that illegality in Rhodesia? Does my right hon. Friend further realise that there is almost no one in the world—outside South Africa—who supports the illegal regime, except for some members of the Conservative Party?

Dr. Owen

I have always believed that the Commonwealth could play a very important part in bringing about a negotiated settlement in Rhodesia. I spoke to the Commonwealth Secretary-General only this morning—he was flying to Lusaka later today—and I believe that the Commonwealth link can still bridge problems in Southern Africa and elsewhere in the world. However, that means that we respond when a member country asks us, irrespective of whether it is black or white, whether it is rich or whether it is strong. In the Commonwealth we try to bind together those things which are common to us.

I believe that at Kano there was such a time when two countries—in the background of events—could have embarked on a collision course, in the aftermath of the publication of the Bingham report. Instead, they came together to discuss the future. At that Kano meeting a major part of the discussion concerned the question how we could bring about an all-party conference, which was the point raised by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), to which I did not refer earlier. I believe that President Kaunda still feels that that offers a route to a negotiated settlement.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call three speakers from each side, in addition to those from the Front Benches who may wish to ask a final question.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Does the Foreign Secretary recall that the Organisation of African Unity achieved the somewhat precarious unity of a black leadership in Rhodesia under Bishop Muzorewa? Does he also recall that President Kaunda backed that leadership unreservedly and said that he would never support anyone who broke away from it, and yet Mr. Kaunda is giving full support to Mr. Nkomo and his terrorists? In view of that, did the Foreign Secretary make any attempt to warn Bishop Muzorewa, Mr. Sithole or Chief Chirau about this action, which they, at any rate, regard as very hostile?

Dr. Owen

I am always ready to enter discussions with any of the parties to the dispute, and I do not believe that anyone can claim that I am not. I have recently spoken to Mr. Sithole and I am always ready to see Bishop Muzorewa and Chief Chirau, as I am to see anyone who can contribute to a settlement.

It is an interpretation of the event to which the right hon. Gentlemen referred which lies at the root of a great many of the personal problems between Bishop Muzorewa and President Kaunda. I know that it is the wish of President Kaunda that that personal problem between them should be resolved, and that he would like to have a better relationship with Bishop Muzorewa than he currently has.

Mr. Newens

Does not the statement made from the Opposition Front Bench, as well as those made from the Back Benches, suggest that the Opposition do not recognise the right of Zambia to defend its territory against the incursions from the illegal Rhodesian regime? Will not this lead only to black Africa regarding their stand as totally hypocritical and incline it even more to turn elsewhere in the world for aid?

Dr. Owen

I hope not. Of course this is a difficult decision, and of course the Opposition are bound to probe the matter. They are right to question it here in the House of Commons. I have no objection to that. I hope that when they reflect on this issue they will feel that we have decided rightly. When they faced a similar problem in 1973—when they felt that Kenya, another country in the Commonwealth, needed military assistance—they were prepared to give military assistance and to charge it to the Foreign Office Vote, as we have done.

The whole history and the strength of the Commonwealth is that it has been supported on both sides of the House, and I hope that that will remain the case.

Sir J. Eden

Did President Kaunda tell the right hon. Gentleman from where he expected the military threat to Zambia's integrity to come? Did he tell the right hon. Gentleman to which other supplier of arms he was considering turning? Finally, why did not the right hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to bring pressure to bear upon President Kaunda to ensure that the guerrilla forces of Nkomo were dispersed out of Zambia?

Dr. Owen

We certainly took the opportunity of the Kano meeting—if that is what the right hon. Gentleman refers to—to pursue the ways in which we could achieve a negotiated settlement. President Kaunda has made his position on the liberation struggle perfectly clear. He is the sovereign Head of State of an independent sovereign country. That country will make its decisions. We have to make our decisions. We have to live together in the world, and we have to face the fact that Zambia has decided to support the liberation forces. We will not support the liberation forces. [HON. MEMBERS: "You are now."] I believe, when hon. Gentlemen look at the very difficult distinction that has to be made, they will see that we are not supporting the liberation forces. We are supporting the defence of Zambia.

Mr. Grocott

Will my right hon. Friend convey to President Kaunda the admiration and sympathy of the House at the tremendous sufferings of the people of his country resulting from the continued treason of Smith and the failure of successive Governments to put it down? Will he confirm that the troubles in that part of Africa are made immeasurably worse by the feeling of some elements in Rhodesia, rightly or wrongly, that Smith's treason is in many ways sympathised with by certain Members of the House?

Dr. Owen

On the last point, it is undoubtedly true that in their attempts to achieve a negotiated settlement successive Governments have been bedevilled by an increasingly strong element in this House that is thought to be not only helpful to, but prepared to sustain, the regime. I believe that it is also true, and needs to be said in this House, that the front-line countries—Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique—have paid a heavy economic price for the events of 1965. When we debate the issue on Tuesday and Wednesday, we shall have the opportunity to look back and to learn lessons of what has gone wrong.

None of us, however, should be ashamed to admit that the heaviest burden has fallen on countries such as Zambia, whose economy has been gravely damaged.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

One does not doubt President Kaunda's intentions, but is not the real question his ability to keep these weapons out of guerrilla hands? What grounds has the Foreign Secretary for believing that if we send weapons to Kaunda Moscow will stop sending them to the guerrillas in his territory?

Finally, since some British personnel—most likely civilians—will be on the ground maintaining the weapons, if they get involved in Rhodesian counter-strikes how will the Foreign Secretary defend them? Will he send in British troops?

Dr. Owen

I have made it clear to the House that no British Service personnel will be stationed in Zambia. If it is decided that there should be civilian personnel, that is for them to decide. There is a large British population in Zambia—people who have lived there peacefully for many years. There are British passport holders who have become Zambian citizens. Let us not forget that there are many thousands of British people there. The hon. Gentleman knows that. One has to trust people, as the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said in the debate on 24th February, when I suggested that we should also offer Zambia British military advisers if it wished to receive them. President Kaunda is the same President now, in 1978, as he was in 1976. He was then under some of the same pressures, though they were not as acute as they are now. I believe that he can be certain that when he gives his word to us it will not have the consequences that the hon. Gentleman fears.

Mr. Bryan Davies

Is it not a reasonable interpretation of the present status of the internal regime that it is one of white racialism, only partially blackwashed by the limited participation of black Ministers? Is it sufficiently realised in this House and in the country at large that black Ministers have no say over whether the Rhodesian security forces invade Mozambique or Zambia, that those Ministers' participation is limited to the internal situation, and that those actions are the actions of the power which has been illegally in control of Rhodesia for the past 13 years?

Dr. Owen

My hon. Friend has just returned from a visit to Rhodesia. I am glad that he went, as did some other hon. Members. There is no doubt that it will be unacceptable in this House and also in many other countries all over the world for the military to have the power of decision-making that it currently has inside Rhodesia. I believe that it is a serious issue in judging the degree to which the decisions are shared in the Executive Council. The fact is that a further raid took place on the territory of Zambia today. All that this does is to underline the vital importance of a negotiated settlement involving all of those people who are currently fighting each other.

Mr. Pym

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman dealt with one of the questions that I put to him. What undertaking has he received from President Kaunda in return for the present deal that he will use every practical effort to get Mr. Nkomo to participate in the affairs of Rhodesia? Will he please answer now the questions put by my right hon. Friends the Members for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) and Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden)? What assurance has he received from President Kaunda? What effort will President Kaunda now make to disband the guerrilla bases in Zambia, which are at the core of the trouble?

Dr. Owen

I made very clear what President Kaunda's stand is on the liberation struggle. I make no secret of it to the House. It is announced in frequent press conferences. There is nothing new about this. As for President Kaunda's endeavour to bring about a negotiated settlement, I have no doubt about it—it was discussed in considerable detail in Kano—and about his wish for a successful all-party conference, after he has done the necessary preliminary work to try to make it possible to get a basic frame work for understanding. I have no doubts about those matters. They were discussed in considerable detail. Some of the negotiations since that Kano meeting have been fully in the spirit of what we discussed then.

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