HL Deb 01 December 1965 vol 270 cc1267-80

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House I will repeat a Statement on Rhodesia that the Prime Minister is making elsewhere. These are the words of the Prime Minister:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a Statement. I am sorry that for reasons the House will recognise I was not able to make it yesterday.

"As the House knows, I have been in touch with the President of Zambia over the past few days, both directly by correspondence and through the intermediary of Mr. Malcolm MacDonald and the British High Commissioner in Lusaka, about the defence of Zambia in the light of current developments in Central and East Africa. The House will also be aware that, on the break-up of the Federation, the bulk of the Federation Air Force went to Southern Rhodesia; in consequence Zambia feels herself at present without effective means of air defence.

"Her Majesty's Government have therefore expressed their willingness to meet President Kaunda's request to fly into Zambia a squadron of Javelin aircraft complete with radar environment; the aircraft to be stationed at 'Ndola, the ground environment at Lusaka and a detachment of R.A.F. Regiment at both airports, and probably at Livingstone as well, in order to ensure the protection of the aircraft and installations. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, who flew to Lusaka last night, together with the military adviser who went with him, will be discussing with President Kaunda a further request for a battalion of ground troops. In addition, as a precautionary measure, H.M.S. "Eagle" is cruising off the coast of Tanzania.

"Any British troops sent to Zambia will be under unequivocal British command, though naturally in consultation with the Zambia Government. I wish to make clear to the House that these forces if sent to Zambia will go there purely for defensive purposes.

"There is one further matter on which I should report to the House, and it concerns power supplies from Kariba. As the House knows, power from Kariba supplies both Rhodesia and Zambia, but the power station is on the Rhodesian side of the Kariba Dam. It is in the British, as well as the Zambian, interests that power supplies to the Copper Belt should continue. I think it therefore only right that I should tell the House that I have given President Kaunda an assurance that we shall not stand idly by if Rhodesia cuts off power supplies to the Copper Belt.

"Now, Sir, I turn to economic measures. I undertook to keep the House informed of any further economic measures the Government decided to introduce. In addition to the embargoes on tobacco and sugar, which are already in force and which represent 70 per cent. of Rhodesia's exports to Britain, we have now placed embargoes on the following Rhodesian exports: asbestos, copper and copper products, iron and steel, ores and concentrates of antimony, chromium, lithium and tantalum, maize, meat and edible meat products, and a range of other foodstuffs.

"The embargoed items now account for over 95 per cent. of Rhodesia exports to us, so that we, who were once Rhodesia's best market, have virtually ceased to buy from her. We are in close touch with other countries which buy significant quantities of these or other commodities from Rhodesia. The object of these consultations is to deny Rhodesia, as far as possible, the export outlets on which the finances of the illegal régime depend.

"We are also reviewing certain items in our export trade to Rhodesia where these are relevant to our objectives of securing a speedy return of constitutional rule in Rhodesia, and are in touch with other countries about them.

Further, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is announcing from the Treasury this afternoon the details of further financial measures. I will not weary the House with the details, some of which are highly technical, but I ought perhaps to inform the House in general terms that a stop is being placed on practically all current payments by United Kingdom residents to residents of Rhodesia, except for those arising out of the very limited trade in goods still permitted, and also on remittances. Contractual obligations will not be repudiated, but they cannot be fulfilled in present circumstances. So far as Her Majesty's Government itself is concerned, money due to residents of Rhodesia will be held back for the time being and will be released as soon as constitutional government is restored in Rhodesia."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement of the Prime Minister.


My Lords, I am sure the House will be grateful to the noble Earl for having communicated to the House the very important and serious Statement just made by the Prime Minister. I have a considerable number of questions that I should like the noble Earl to answer. I do not know whether he would prefer me to put them all at once, or one after the other. This Statement really falls into two distinct parts: first, with regard to the economic measures and, secondly, with regard to the despatch of troops. If I might, I would put questions to him first with regard to that part of the Statement which relates to the despatch of troops, and perhaps when we have had his answers on that we might then turn to the economic measures.


My Lords, I do not want to upset the plans of the noble and learned Viscount, but it may be easier for me to answer his points before other speakers intervene. But I am in his hands.


That would be perfectly convenient to me, and I was wondering whether that course might be more convenient to the noble Earl.

I should like to say, first of all, with regard to the request from the President of Zambia, that it is the case—is it not?—that Britain has in the past responded to requests for help from other Commonwealth countries when they have felt themselves threatened. I hope the noble Earl can make it perfectly clear that this is a request from President Kaunda for assistance solely for the defence of Zambia, should Zambia be threatened. I should like the noble Earl, if he can, to give a very definite answer to that. The Statement goes on to say that the troops, if sent, should be "under unequivocal British command". "Unequivocal" seems to me a curious adjective in that connection. Can the noble Earl give an assurance that they will be solely under British command? The Statement says twice, I think, that they will be there for defensive purposes.

Then there is a passage in the Statement which contains, as I see it, a threat: that we should not stand idly by if Rhodesia cuts off power supplies to the Copper Belt—and the power station at Kariba is, of course, on Rhodesian territory. I should like the noble Earl, if he can, to be clear about this, because it is not very clear what that means in conjunction with the earlier statements, that the troops are required for defensive purposes. Does this later passage mean that it is contemplated as possible that British troops will enter upon Rhodesian territory for the purpose of securing the power supply? I think we should have a positive answer to that question.

I hope that the noble Earl will also be able to give a definite assurance that if we do send troops to Southern Rhodesia at the request of the President of Zambia it will be on the definite understanding that no other troops from other territories will go there.

If it is convenient, I will now put to the noble Earl the questions about economic measures. First of all, are these further steps being taken to fulfil the United Nations resolution, for which Her Majesty's Government voted, to cut off all trade with Southern Rhodesia? Or is it because it is now thought that the measures which the Prime Minister previously announced, and which are already in force, are likely to be insufficient or ineffective? The list is a fairly long one, and is certainly substantial. It contains copper and copper products. Can the noble Earl say whether it will be possible to distinguish between copper and copper products coming out of Southern Rhodesia, and copper and copper products coming out of Zambia? I should be grateful if the noble Earl would give answers to those questions.


My Lords, the noble Viscount asked me whether this request from the President of Zambia is definitely a request for assistance, and is designed purely for the purpose of defence against what the President of Zambia refers to as "a threat". I can give that answer quite definitely. As the noble and learned Viscount was good enough to point out, we have before now responded to requests for assistance from other Commonwealth countries when they have conceived themselves to be threatened. It is in that spirit entirely that this request has been met.

The noble Viscount asked me, secondly, what was meant by "unequivocal" British command. I must say that I had not found anything particularly suspicious about that word: I thought it was the clearest word that could be used. It means British command, sole British command. It seems to me the strongest word that could be used; and to that extent, at least, it should satisfy the noble Viscount.

The noble Viscount then asked about the statement that we would not stand idly by if the power was cut off to Zambia. I would emphasise, as was made plain in the Statement, that we conceive that not only as a threat to the economy of Zambia, but as a threat to the economy of Britain. That is a special point that I want to make there. That is not intended to conflict in any way with the earlier statement, that our troops would be in Zambia purely for defensive purposes, and certainly is not intended to conflict with earlier statements in which we have said, in this House and elsewhere, that there was no intention of using military force to coerce—to bring about the fall of the Smith régime.

He asked me one other point about the military force. That point I cannot answer this afternoon. He asked me whether there is the definite understanding that if our forces go in, no other forces will go in as well. I cannot give him an answer on that point. He appreciates that these and other matters are under discussion to-day between the Secretary for Commonwealth Relations, who presumably is now in Lusaka, and President Kaunda; so while I appreciate the importance of the point I cannot say anything about it this afternoon.

Then, on the economic side, the noble Viscount asked whether these measures are intended to give effect to the resolution of the United Nations, or whether they are an indication that the earlier measures were insufficient. I do not think I can give a clear "Yes" or "No" to either of those horns of the dilemma, if he conceives it as a dilemma. Certainly we are not taking these steps simply because the United Nations has called on us to take them; they are intended to implement the policy which the noble Viscount and so many others in this House have supported from the beginning, of taking effective economic measures to bring about a better state of mind and to induce a return to constitutional ways. Therefore, I should have thought it hypothetical, even without the United Nations resolution; that these steps would have been taken; but they are entirely in line with what was decided there.

Finally, about the copper and copper products, on which I am no kind of expert, I will look into this matter but I can only assume that those who are expert and who have drawn up this list thought it was reasonable to set the embargo in this way so that it can in fact be given effect to. I can only rely on the expert advice which I have been given.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his answers. I have not been seeking to do more than to obtain an explanation for some of the observations contained in his Statement. The noble Earl said something about "the troops not standing idly by" in relation to the Kariba power station. It is an ominous sentence, and I should like the noble Earl to give the assurance that, quite apart from possibly protecting the power station, there is no intention whatsoever of using British troops against Rhodesians. The noble Earl must know why the troops are being sent there, and I should like him to give an absolutely positive pledge about that.

With regard to the economic part, the questions I pet to him were not intended to place him on the horns of a dilemma but to try to ascertain exactly why it is that these further steps are being taken now, when the present sanctions have not been in force for very long and have not had time to operate and make their effect felt. I think it is a fair question to put to the noble Earl, because there is a difference of policy between that announced by the Government of this House which I supported, and the terms of the United Nations resolution. I think it is fair to ask whether these further steps are being taken for the purpose of implementing the resolution or for the purpose of supplementing the existing sanctions because it is thought they are ineffective. I think the noble Earl ought to be in a position to answer-that question and I ask him to answer it.


My Lords, I will try to answer that quite clearly, although it seems to me to be something of a matter of semantics. This action is intended to supplement the measures already taken. That is not an admission that after this very short time the other measures are proving ineffective. I am not suggesting this will be the last set of measures which will be taken, but if some more are taken it does not mean that this selection is ineffective so while I am entirely ready to use the words of the noble Viscount and say that these measures are intended to supplement the existing ones, it does riot mean that something has gone wrong with the existing measures or that we have somehow miscalculated.

The noble Viscount asked me about the phrase that "We shall not stand idly by". Inevitably, as he has hardly had time to study the document, I think the noble Viscount did not quite get the wording right. I think he said, "our troops will not stand idly by", whereas we have said, "We shall not stand idly by". There is a clear distinction. We are not making any sort of military commitment here but are giving a general pledge.


My Lords, I am grateful again to the noble Earl for his explanation, but he has not given the pledge for which I asked him—namely, that the troops we are sending to Zambia will not be used against Rhodesia. I did ask him to give that pledge.


My Lords, I give an absolutely firm pledge that they will not be used for any offensive purpose against the Rhodesians.


My Lords, I have no intention of turning this into a debate. We have recently had some unfortunate examples where the tradition of the House has been transgressed—namely, one short speech from each Party, of two or three sentences, and then one or two comments from noble Lords who have a particular knowledge of the matter in question. I have no greater knowledge of this subject than many of your Lordships, and I thank the noble Earl the Leader of the House for giving this Statement. I would assure him that we on the Liberal Benches are not divided in our support of the Government, whereas Mr. Smith seems to be supported only, apparently, by Spain, Portugal, South Africa and a splinter group of the British Conservative Party.

Would the noble Earl say a little more about this phrase "We shall not stand idly by", in order to clarify our minds? We know that the power station is in Rhodesia and that our troops will be in Zambia. If a Rhodesian goes into Rhodesia's own power station throws a switch and stops all the power to Zambia, what can we do? Also, are we intending to send a military adviser to help President Kaunda in his difficult decision? Finally, on a matter which is germane, though not in the Statement, can we have any expectation of an offer by Her Majesty's Government that loyal Rhodesians in Rhodesia will be given some positive reassurance about their future and about their security, so far as possible?


The noble Lord was very nice in his opening remarks but not quite so kind in the questions which followed, because he obviously wanted much more information than any Minister would be likely to be in a position to give this afternoon, and, therefore, with great respect to him, upon whom I look as a very good companion in this enterprise, I am afraid I cannot give him as much information as he would wish. With regard to the military adviser, of course the Secretary of State has a military adviser with him in his discussions with President Kaunda. But I will make sure that that question is studied, and whether he wants an additional adviser from us is something which would need to be explored.

The noble Lord asked for more information about the phrase, "We shall not stand idly by". I cannot do more than reiterate that this is not a military pledge but a general commitment to make sure that the Rhodesian power supply is not cut off. I am afraid I cannot add to the information this afternoon, and I think the noble Lord would hardly expect me to do so.


My Lords, may I express my appreciation for the Statement which has been made and of the fact that the Government are keeping us informed about the present very grave situation in Rhodesia. I hope that at some appropriate point there may be an opportunity for debate. Meanwhile, I want to ask only two questions. The first is this. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has raised the issue of defence. Is not the generating station at the Kariba Dam owned jointly by Southern Rhodesia and Zambia, and is not the British Government a party to that arrangement? Therefore, would not any interference with the supplies of power from that generating station to the copper belt of Zambia be regarded as within the sphere of defence?

The second question I want to ask is this, and it relates to much graver developments which may occur in Africa. The Organisation of African Unity is meeting next week-end. It will be considering some military action against the illegal Government in Rhodesia. The United Nations has passed a very serious resolution. Is it not desirable, before the situation becomes graver in Africa, that there should be direct consultation, at least between the Government and the Commonwealth African States and with the United Nations? The Prime Minister is intending to go to the United Nations. Might it not be desirable, in this very grave situation, that his visit should be expedited?


My Lords, I should have thought that the discussions as far as our Government are concerned, with all the members of the Commonwealth were very close, particularly at the present time, when, as the noble Lord knows, Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, who has unique experience under various Governments, is working prodigiously to make sure these contacts are maintained. It is correct, I believe, that the generating station is jointly owned, but I must not, in giving that answer, seem to imply that military forces are likely to be used. I cannot say anything further than the words of the Statement.


My Lords, might I ask two questions? One relates to the position of the British troops. As I understand it from what the noble Earl has said, their rôle is to be entirely defensive. The only exception he made, and I am doubtful whether it is an exception, was in the case of the Kariba Dam installations being threatened from Rhodesia. He said that in that case we should not sit idly by, but he added that would not necessarily mean—in fact, in his view, I understand him to mean that would not entail—the use of British troops. If that situation arose, would he give an assurance that the House would be consulted before any action was taken? After all, that would involve an invasion of Rhodesia. That is what it would mean. Therefore I do not think Parliament could sit idly by, either, and allow action of that kind to be taken by the Government without the prior approval of Parliament. That is the first question.

The second question is this. As I understand it, the noble Earl gave an assurance that the force would be unequivocally under British command. Does that mean that they are a force sent at the request of the President of Zambia, a British force representing no one but the United Kindom and not the United Nations or anybody else? The reason I ask that question is this. If we once admit we represent the United Nations, then there is no reason for us to object to any other force the United Nations might wish to send, and which might easily invade Rhodesia or take over the installations of the Kariba Dam or take any other violent action which we should regret and to which we should be ourselves firmly opposed. The last question is on the economic side. Would the noble Earl agree that the announcement he has made this afternoon means that the Government have decided on a full policy of punitive penal sanctions? If that is so, if his answer is "Yes", I would recommend that answer to the attention of the Front Bench of my own Party.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies to the question in which an assurance was asked that Parliament would be consulted before British troops in Zambia were used, will be consider very carefully that if the illegal Smith régime decided to cut off the power for Zambia from Kariba action would not he effective unless it were taken immediately by somebody, and no one could ask for Parliament to be consulted on a matter of that sort. This is a matter which affects Zambia.


My Lords, the noble Earl has been asked a question. It is not the custom—


The noble Marquess has enough Parliamentary experience to know that it is quite usual practice in both Houses to try to influence a Minister before he irrevocably commits himself to a course of action which does not command our approval. I think I have said enough.


I think it must be my turn now. I cannot enter into the verbal dispute between the noble Marquess and the leaders of his own Party on the word "punitive". As I said before, I once wrote a book called The Idea of Punishment, and I do not want to spend the rest of my life discussing that word. I do not think the word matters a great deal. I take the view (not shared by the noble Marquess and those with whom he is working most closely) held by certainly most of the noble Lords immediately opposite, that we have no option except to impose sanctions which will be effective, and they are bound to hurt. It is not a desire to be vindictive; it is a desire to bring about a change of mind. There is nothing more on the verbal matter I can say to the noble Marquess.

He asked whether the troops were unequivocally under British command. I have said that they are unequivocally under British command and that means they are what they purport to be, a British force, not sent by the United Nations, not wearing the colours of the United Nations. But in saying that, I do not want to imply that there would be something derogatory about describing them as a United Nations force. They are a British force, but if they were a United Nations force, all honour to to them. But they are a British force, which should satisfy the noble Marquess.

Perhaps I could turn aside to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, who came to my rescue in a way for which I am very grateful. It is so long since I tried to help him as his tutor that it was rather touching that he should see the old don in trouble. There is certainly a great deal of force in what he said, but I do not want to leave the impression—and I think that when the Statement is read the impression will not linger with anybody—that in some way there is some military threat or commitment involved in this Statement. If that were so, it would seem to me that the question of the noble Marquess would arise. But all I have said up to the present, all the Prime Minister has said, is governed by his earlier remarks that military force would not be used to coerce the Smith régime.


My Lords, in view of what the noble Earl has said, is he not aware that the Front Bench on this side is in no way committed to supporting every sanction which the Government thinks fit to impose? We have made it clear that we shall consider every proposal with a view to its possible effect and result. The noble Earl is quite wrong in assuming that the Party on this side will represent and support the Government in every sanction they think fit to advocate.


I do not want to continue that bit of the argument. I only introduced the noble Viscount because the noble Marquess seemed to be invoking my assistance against the noble Viscount. Otherwise I would not have brought the matter up.


My Lords, may we take it or not that there is an undertaking from the Government that British troops would not be used to enter Rhodesian territory under any circumstances to occupy the installations on the Rhodesian side of the Dam? Because if that undertaking is not given, it seems to me that this Statement has in it the seeds of civil war.


I think that, if I were not taking part in this dialogue myself as Leader of the House, I should feel called on to suggest that this was becoming a debate. It is rather difficult in the circumstances for me to try to bring it to an end. I am afraid that the questions are becoming repetitious. We have had that one before. I can only repeat that these forces are not intended for any kind of offensive purpose.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Leader a non-repetitious question? Will our forces in Zambia be allowed to help maintain internal law and order in that country, because there are saboteurs in Zambia, backed by the Communists—




Oh, yes, there are—particularly by the Chinese Communists, and it is quite on the cards that these gangs of saboteurs may try to interfere with the Kariba Dam, in the hope that any destruction they bring about will be blamed on the Rhodesian Government.


My Lords, if I may say so to the noble Viscount, I do not think we can speculate further about the part they might play by agreement between President Kaunda and ourselves, always remembering that they are for defensive purposes.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question which has not yet been asked? How does he see the end of this matter? If it succeeds and Mr. Smith and his associates are brought to their knees, what is going to be left except an economic desert and a moral and political vacuum? If it fails, what are we doing except fastening on that unhappy country a régime which is odious to all of us? Do we not all of us know in our hearts that the only way we are going to get out of this predicament is through a negotiated settlement? Should we not try to reach a settlement before we slide further down this appalling path?


Looking for points of agreement, I agree with the noble Lord that the Smith régime is an odious régime. He suggests that the right course is to negotiate with them. So far as negotiation is concerned, I can only repeat what I said the other day when repeating what the Prime Minister said: that we are, of course, ready when the time comes, when constitutional methods are resumed, to talk to any group recommended to us by the Governor.