HL Deb 19 December 1972 vol 337 cc979-87

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps it will be for the convenience of the House if, with your Lordships' permission, I now repeat a Statement which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

"The House will be aware of the statement made on Sunday night by General Amin with its historical travesties and its insulting references to this country.

"The Ugandan Government is taking over all tea estates belonging to non-Ugandans, whether owned by companies or individuals, and a number of industrial and other companies. Most of the interests affected are British. The companies taken over are being asked to submit valuations by the end of this month. I am putting a list of the companies affected in the Library of the House.

"The trading licences of some Ugandan companies will not be renewed. Many of these companies are likely to be British-owned and the refusal to renew licences will bring the businesses to a standstill and result in serious loss to the British owners.

"Banks are required to transfer blocked accounts to a Ugandan bank. These accounts will mainly be those left by the expelled Asians, and the banks will be deprived of important working balances.

"General Amin also announced decisions affecting our aid personnel, but the interpretation of these measures is not yet clear.

"On any count these actions are outrageous by any standard of civilised behaviour and certainly incompatible with the behaviour expected within the Commonwealth partnership.

"Once he had expelled the Asians it was to be expected that General Amin would turn his attention to British interests and personnel. He may claim that his actions are not directed against Britain but the fact is that it is almost wholly British interests that will be affected by his new measures. We are already taking the necessary steps to protect the legal interests of our nationals, both individuals and companies.

"We have already given very careful consideration to the legality of General Amin's decrees affecting the property of the British Asians whom he expelled and we have concluded that to the extent that expropriation of that property has already occurred, it is contrary to international law because it is clearly discriminatory. The Ugandan Government has publicly promised that people expelled from Uganda will be allowed to transfer their assets. But I must tell the House that I have seen no sign so far that it intends to honour this promise.

"We have just received the full text of General Amin's latest decree and we are studying it urgently. We shall be considering the legality of these measures also. In any event we shall call on him to provide prompt, adequate and effective compensation for all British interests affected.

"The House will be aware that we have already cancelled our £10 million development loan. We have also announced that we shall not continue supplementing the salaries of aid personnel employed by the Ugandan Government once their contracts have expired or supply any other aid in Uganda. Between August and the present time the number of our 'belongers' in Uganda has been reduced from 7,000 to around 3,000. Apart from the farmers, who number about 200, most of these people have their base of operations in Britain.

"The fact that we have reduced the target for General Amin's inhumanity does not make the treatment of those who remain any the less deplorable. Specifically, it would seem that in some cases quite unjustifiable restrictions are being placed on the money and possessions that can be taken out of Uganda.

"We shall do what we can to help any of our people that are forced to leave, in particular those who, like the Asians who were forced to leave before them, have lived all or most of their lives in Uganda and made their livelihood there.

"I have instructed our representative in the United Nations to bring the matter to the notice of the General Assembly to-day.

"We shall retain our present representation in Uganda in the hope that one day more reasonable counsels will prevail there."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be very grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating that Statement. When the Government made a Statement in regard to the British Asians and their expulsion from Uganda, I made a plea, which the House thought right and supported, that we should treat the matter with care and caution, bearing in mind that there were then some 7,000 British nationals in Uganda, apart from the British Asians who were directly threatened. I am certain it is right for the Government to express, as they do in this Statement, the very strong feelings that will exist in all quarters of the House at the latest actions of General Amin, but I hope that the House and the Government, in particular, will remember that there are some 3,000 British nationals there and that our thoughts and actions should in no way put them at greater risk.

We on this side of the House very much approve of the fact that the Government will be raising the matter at the United Nations. I wonder whether the noble Baroness will consider it right to consult with other Commonwealth countries, particularly African Commonwealth countries, to see whether the matter could be raised at the O.A.U., because I am certain that the noble Baroness will appreciate that what General Amin is doing is attacking not British nationals as such, but Commonwealth citizens, although he wishes to play a part within the Commonwealth. I take it that the fact that we are retaining our representation in Uganda means that the Government do not have it in mind, at the moment, to advise British nationals as to whether or not they should stay. Perhaps the noble Baroness would care to give us some further information on this matter.

I suspect that those who are likely to be expelled, or who may have to leave because of loss of employment, will fall into three categories. First, there will be those who may be sufficiently well-off to look after themselves; secondly, there will be those who are in Uganda on company contracts, and their companies will look after them; and, thirdly. as those who know East Africa, and particularly Uganda, will appreciate, there are very many teachers, doctors, missionaries and nurses who are not employed by any Government, who have never sought wealth of any sort and who will clearly find it difficult to come back to this country in these circumstances, particularly at the height of winter. Therefore I hope that the Government will bear these people particularly in mind, and that the welfare organisations who have done so much for British Asians will feel able to take on this additional burden.

In regard to companies, I suspect that those companies which will not have their licences renewed may well find themselves in an even worse position than those companies which are being taken over. I presume there is hope that some form of compensation will be available to those companies which are being taken over, but for a company to lose over-night a licence to trade, without any form of warning, can have only one end: that is, not only hardship to the employees, but the loss of all capital, savings and the like. I think that the Government will need to give close attention to what can be done to mitigate any hardship for these people. I have seen the list of the tea companies. Am I right in thinking that this is the total of the companies so far being taken over by General Amin, or are there others which do not fall within the definition of "tea estates"?

May I ask the Government whether they are prepared to act for all our nationals, individuals and companies, in negotiations with the Ugandan Govern- ment? I hope they will do so, because it would be very difficult for individuals and companies to negotiate separately with the Ugandan Government. I think there are precedents in the case of Indonesia and Egypt, when the Government took over responsibility for negotiations about sequestered property. The Secretary of State said that we are taking the necessary steps to protect the legal interests of our nationals, both individuals and companies. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could say what steps have been taken and what steps the Government have in mind. I am certain that this is a matter which we shall need to come back to, but I hope that the Government will keep the House informed and will recognise the considerable hardships which hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of people may suffer. I also hope that they will feel ready to give support, with the full knowledge that this House of Parliament, as a whole, will support them.


My Lords, I am sure that I am right in associating my noble friends on these Benches with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, on the deplorable situation that has arisen in Uganda, which was described in the Statement by the Foreign Secretary. For my part, I should like to ask the noble Baroness two questions. First, would the Government agree that, if as now seems probable, if not certain, what General Amin really wants is to contract out of the whole system of free societies and of the methods of trade associated with it, he should be allowed to do so without undue recriminations on our part, but in that case there should be no question of any continued aid of any kind to Uganda by all free countries subscribing to prevailing conceptions of international law? Secondly, if the Government agree with that, would they not further agree that what is now necessary is a common policy in this respect on the part of all Western countries, and notably by all members of the enlarged European Economic Community? I think it would simply not be understood in this country if any of our partners in the Community sought to profit by the quite unjustified onslaught on Britain by General Amin.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend, before she replies, whether the Ugandan Government owns many assets in this country? If it does, would it not be wise temporarily to block such assets? While I appreciate Her Majesty's Government's warning to General Amin that he must be held responsible for all compensation to British citizens, I very much doubt whether the Ugandan Government has the material means to offer such compensation.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, very much for what they have said, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. for saying that we must show care and caution in dealing with this matter, bearing in mind that we still have just over 3.000 British nationals living in Uganda. The noble Lord asked me whether we would consult with other Commonwealth countries, perhaps with a view to bringing this question before the O.A.U. I would say to him that that suggestion has not yet been considered, but I will draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend.

On the question of whether we have given definite advice to British nationals to stay or not to stay, this we have not done. We do not think that it is in their interest. We are quite certain that they are well capable of making up their own minds on this question. I would agree with the noble Lord that it is those professionals in the O.S.A.S. scheme who perhaps will have the most difficult time. We do not think that there may be very many. Those of our own technical personnel we will, of course, do all we can to help.

I would agree with the noble Lord that it is very important that the voluntary organisations should continue to give help to any British national returning to this country, as they have done so magnificently in the case of the Uganda Asians.

On the question of housing, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary at the moment is considering what could be done in the way of temporary accommodation if that were needed. The noble Lord asked me about the list which I am circulating in the Library about the companies and whether it included all of them. I would say that the list does not include those tea estates which do not belong to companies. Only companies are included. He asked me what was the legal position. Our acting High Commissioner has been instructed to reserve our rights in relation to all British property with a view, of course, to contesting if necessary in the courts. The noble Lord asked whether Her Majesty's Government would act for all companies rather than leaving them to negotiate separately. We are very willing to help in any way necessary. We had a meeting with several representatives yesterday but I think that at the moment the position is still unclear. Finally, I would say that certainly we will try to keep the House informed but there is a great deal more information that we wish first to get ourselves.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, asked me whether Her Majesty's Government agree that as General Amin, to put it in his own words, has now contracted out of free society, there should be no question of continued aid. I described in my Statement the aid that we are no longer giving and the proposed new aid that we do not now intend to give. We are at the moment still supplementing the salaries of those aid personnel still on contract and will do so until their contracts expire. The second question that the noble Lord asked was whether there should not be a common policy by all Western countries and particularly by the enlarged Community so that no member of the Nine should profit by the action taken by General Amin. I would only say in answer to the noble Lord that I think this action is taken against all foreign personnel. It happens that the British are much the largest in number but I think the action is taken against all of them.

Lastly, my noble friend Lord Masserene and Ferrard asked whether we should not block any Ugandan assets in this country. It is difficult to define exactly how many assets Uganda has in this country. We do not think they will be large. In any case, to block them might put us in the same position of taking illegal action—which is one of the things that we so much regret in Uganda to-day.


My Lords, may I put to the noble Baroness two ques- tions? First, will Her Majesty's Government show special concern for the doctors, the teachers and the nurses of British nationality who are now serving in Uganda and who are dedicated to the purpose of assisting the African peoples; and will Her Majesty's Government seek to find some means, if necessary, by which those services could be given to other African countries?


My Lords, to the first part of the question I would certainly answer Yes. As to the second part, I am sure that there will be no lack of demand for the specialised services of those people who have done so much for Uganda.


My Lords, before we pass to other business, may I ask one question? Can the noble Baroness throw any light on whether air communications to and through Uganda are in any way interrupted or whether they are likely to continue normally?


My Lords, so far as I understand, they are likely to continue normally.


My Lords, may I ask whether we are involved, directly or indirectly, in any expenditure in educating Ugandan nationals in our educational institutions in this country, and, if so, whether the noble Baroness knows the amount involved?


Yes, my Lords, we do educate some of them. Some are doing postgraduate courses and some are at university. The number is not very large at the moment. I could not, without notice, give the total sum involved.


My Lords, the second question I wanted to ask is this. Looking at the long term, while the racialism of General Amin, his utterances and methods are condemned everywhere —and in Africa as well as in this country and the world—do Her Majesty's Government realise that, despite the crude and rough methods adopted, the Africanisation of the economy in Uganda, as in other parts of Africa, is a logical development of their independence? Will Her Majesty's Government therefore be very careful in this situation not to establish any permanent blocking of the right of African peoples to control their own economy in the interests of African peoples?


My Lords, I think that everybody realises that countries wish to have a larger number of their own people running their own businesses but the fact remains that it is illegal and racialist to expel people, and even more so to take their property. If any African country, unlike Uganda, expects to attract general investment and capital, it will not do so in this way.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that many doctors on the staffs of Ugandan hospitals who have been forced to resign have been replaced by unqualified medical students? Could not the attention of General Amin be drawn to the danger involved to the health and life of Ugandan citizens by action of this type?


My Lords, I think the trouble is that General Amin appears not to care what are the results of his policies.