HL Deb 14 January 1964 vol 254 cc535-9

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to give to the House a statement which my right honourable friend has just made in another place:

"Early on Sunday morning the British High Commissioner in Zanzibar informed me that serious disturbances had broken out in the island. In view of the possible danger to British lives and property H.M.S. "Owen", which was in the vicinity, was immediately ordered to proceed to Zanzibar and arrived there that evening. She has since been standing off-shore ready to evacuate United Kingdom citizens if this should prove necessary. The Commanding Officer has orders not to intervene for any purpose other than the protection of British lives.

"A Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel, now at Mombasa, has also been alerted so that she could be off Zanzibar within about ten hours. In addition, the frigate H.M.S. "Rhyl", was ordered to steam from Aden in the direction of Zanzibar so as to be available if needed.

"We have received assurances from Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda that if British nationals have to be evacuated their Governments will afford such help as may be necessary.

"These measures are purely precautionary and, in the opinion of the British High Commissioner, the need for evacuation has not as yet arisen.

"In fact his latest report received this morning states that the situation is calmer and that movement in the town is now resuming though many shops remain closed. He says that all members of the British community are safe and well and in good heart.

"The Sultan left the island on board a Zanzibar ship on Sunday for Mombasa. With him on board were members of his family, members of his Administration, including certain British police officers, and about 25 British subjects. some of whom may already have been on the ship as normal passengers before the Sultan came on board. On arrival at Mombasa the Kenya Government felt unable to give permission to anybody on the ship to land. They explained that conditions were exceptional in the Coastal Strip, which had until recently been part of the Sultan's dominions. Thereupon the Sultan got in touch with us to ask for assistance. I accordingly sent an urgent message to President Nyerere; and he has assured me that there will be no difficulties, if the Sultan and his party wish to land at Dar es Salaam and to stay there until they can make arrangements to proceed elsewhere.

"As regards the political situation, the status of the authorities which have seized control is still rather obscure. The Zanzibar radio announced the creation of a Republic with Sheikh Abeid Karume, the leader of the Afro-Shirazi Party, as President, Abdullah Kassim Hanga as Prime Minister, and Sheikh Abdul Rahman Mohammed, known as Babu, as Minister for External Affairs. On the other hand we have just received a telegram signed by Mr. John Okelo, who describes himself as "Field Marshal of the Zanzibar Republic", asking us to recognise the "Revolutionary Republican Government." We cannot, of course, consider the question of recognition until the position is much clearer."


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Duke for the statement he has made on behalf of his Minister. I should like to express appreciation of the steps taken so far to ensure the safety of British nationals and, I feel sure, their general interests. It is yet one more tribute to the re-sources of even our limited Navy that it should come to the assistance of British nationals in this way. The situation is surprising—and apparently, subject to what the noble Duke says, was as big a surprise to the three other members of the Commonwealth in the vicinity, Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika, as it appears to have been to Her Majesty's Government. I hope that the Government in the next day or two will be able to undertake to make further statements on the situation as it emerges. I feel it is all the more important to ask for this in view of the rather astonishing claims—at least, to me they are astonishing—recently made by the newly-styled Field Marshal. I think it would be advisable, for I am sure your Lordships' House will want to be kept posted on this matter.


My Lords, I shall, of course, be only too ready to make further statements as the situation develops and clarifies. I should like to associate myself with what the noble Earl says about the rôle and the work of the Royal Navy in this particular episode.


My Lords, I am wondering whether my noble friend has sufficiently emphasised the seriousness of the political repercussions of this matter—although, of course, I think it was quite clear that something of the sort could happen as a result of what I feel must have been the premature independence of Zanzibar.

I should like to ask the noble Duke certain important questions. Is it not a fact that the individual known as Sheikh Babu, now Minister of Foreign Affairs, is a well-known Chinese Communist agent, trained in Moscow and, until recently, in Peking, and that he has been largely responsible for this coup? Secondly, is it not probable that the whole plot was hatched in Peking, with the inevitable result that Zanzibar will become the advance post of Chinese Communist penetration into Africa—a sort of Chinese Cuba threatening directly Kenya and Tanganyika? Thirdly, is it not a. fact that this Communist movement has not got the support of the whole ex-Opposition Afro-Shirazi Party of Zanzibar, but in fact has only been made possible by what I can only describe as the folly of the late Zanzibar Government in getting rid immediately of all their British police officers, on the one hand, and the intrigues of Sheikh. Babu and Messrs. Hanga and Moyo, who are the two leading, and I think probably the only leading, Communist members of the AfroShirazi Party, on the other hand? These all seem to me to be important questions, having regard in particular to the threat which this involves of Chinese intentions in regard to Africa. Is it a coincidence that Chou En-lai is in Africa at this particular moment?


My Lords, before the noble Duke replies, may I suggest that it would have been quite easy to put down Questions of this sort at this time from the official Opposition. I would rather deprecate any detailed statements being made in reply to such questions until the matter has been further considered and in the light of proceedings in the next day or two. I would prefer that the House should rely on the promise made by the noble Duke to keep us posted as to the situation and then perhaps to give us the information.


My Lords, I hope the noble Earl who leads the Opposition will be satisfied with my answer. It will be in general terms, with one exception. First of all, so far as Sheikh Babu is concerned, I do not think—and I hope the House will agree with me that this is the moment to try to analyse the political views of the leaders of this revolution. The position is still far too obscure. Nor have I any idea whatsoever—and my noble friend seems very well-informed on this—where the plot was hatched. I can say with absolute truth that neither I myself, my right honourable friend, nor anybody in our office has any idea where the plot was hatched. The only specific point I would make is this. The previous Zanzibar Government did not get rid of the British police officers. They remained on, and indeed a number of them are with the Sultan on board the vessel which is now at sea.


My Lords, I would not contradict my noble friend, but, of course, the Commissioner of Police was removed immediately after independence, and a number of others were under notice; the whole police were certainly disorganised and demoralised. I understand that there is no question of recognising this new Government of Zanzibar at the present time. Are there any steps contemplated for preserving the lives and safety of the Arab minority in Zanzibar?


My Lords, if the implication behind that question is that we should send some force to Zanzibar for this purpose, the answer, as I said originally, is that our only interest in Zanzibar is to preserve the lives of British citizens. We must remember that, whether this is approved or not, Zanzibar is now a totally free, sovereign people and any outside interference by anybody is quite out of the question.


My Lords, I recognise that fact, but in the event of the lives of these, I think it is, 56,000 Arabs in Zanzibar being threatened, would there not perhaps be a case for invoking the United Nations?


I think I may say that that is really rather another question from the one we are answering this afternoon. If my noble friend wishes to put down a Question on those lines, I shall of course be only too pleased to answer it.