HL Deb 17 May 1977 vol 383 cc554-9

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what was the last date, if any, when they made diplomatic representations concerning the deployment of Cuban military personnel in Angola, Zaire, Mozambique, Eritrea or Ethiopia.


My Lords, sovereign independent States are entitled to decide from which countries they choose to seek assistance, and representations by Her Majesty's Government would not therefore be appropriate. However, we have made known our view in appropriate quarters that detente is an indivisible process and that legitimate concern arises if and when outside influences put at risk the achievement of peaceful solutions to critical and dangerous situations.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the second part of the reply. Is it not true that, by insufficient initiative and objections by Her Majesty's Government, we are to some extent condoning the activities of Cuban mercenaries transported and armed by the USSR? Does not their presence there in so many places contribute to the turmoil in that part of the world, and is it not helping to undermine the position of the Free World in Central and Southern Africa?


My Lords, I cannot accept the conclusions which the noble Lord draws from the policy of Her Majesty's Government. It is not in fact practicable for us to interfere with the invitation of one sovereign Government to another to come to its assistance. We do this with friendly countries ourselves. If we were to condemn the one, we should have to abandon the other. As to the concern expressed by the noble Lord, I entirely agree and we miss no opportunity of making absolutely clear, in Africa and in Europe, our concern about the danger to peace in various parts of the world from unwarranted interference by one country in the internal affairs of another.


My Lords, am I not right in thinking that at the conclusion of the Angolan hostilities—the Civil War—there was an undertaking by the Cuban Government progressively to withdraw its forces? If I am right—and I think I am—how many Cuban troops are now left?


My Lords, I could not put a figure to the Cuban presence in Angola, but it runs into some thousands; some say about 15,000.


Has there been a reduction, my Lords?


I would not say so, my Lords, but I should like to be fairly precise about numbers in this case, if I can. As the noble Lord said, there was an indication that the Cubans might consider a progressive withdrawal. I believe he is right in saying that, but I do not see that it has happened yet.


My Lords, if Her Majesty's Government accept the principle that countries may call for help wherever they wish, is that not an exact parallel to the case of Czechoslovakia when the Sudeten Germans called in Hitler, and was that not an equal invitation? Can the noble Lord say just what the qualifications are by which an invitation can be made and who can make it?


My Lords, I do not think most of us would equate the Henlein movement in Sudeten Germany with the established and recognised Government of a country.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he can confirm the reports of prisoners of war in Southern Zaire, in Shaba, that Cuban instructors or Cuban troops crossed into Zaire and withdrew from Zaire only when there was a reaction from Moroccans, with the assistance of the French? May I further ask him whether Her Majesty's Government are aware that in addition to the places mentioned in Lord Orr-Ewing's Question there is clear evidence of Cuban presence in Libya, Conokri, Guinea Bissau, Congo Brazzaville, Nigeria, Somalia and Mali? Can Her Majesty's Government confirm the presence of Cuban troops in those places, and, if so, will they make it clear to the Soviet Union that future progress on detente will depend upon the Soviet Union bringing pressure on the Cuban troops to withdraw from those places as it is clearly the Soviet Union which has put them there?


My Lords, I think I can go along with my noble friend on the third point. Certainly we have conveyed, do and shall convey to the Soviet Union and other Governments views approximating very closely to those put by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. On his first question, whether I can confirm the reports to which he referred, no, I cannot at this moment. I will look into the point he has raised and see how far we can confirm the information he clearly has.

On the second point, he instanced a number of countries where there may or may not be varying degrees of involvement by the Cuban Government officially, with or without Soviet connivance. The situation varies, as he knows, from one country to another. Most of the countries he mentioned have, of their own volition, asked for this kind of assistance. Whether or not we approve of this it is their right and privilege to do so. In one or two cases I should like to look at the details of my noble friend's second point. I welcome the interjection. It is necessary to give particular attention to it.


My Lords, whether or not the Cubans were involved in the invasion of the province of Shaba in Zaire, has the noble Lord noticed reports of brutalities and serious ill-treatment committed against journalists trying to report on the conflict there? What representations will Her Majesty's Government make to the Government in Zaire on behalf of those journalists in respect of the brutalities, which do not encourage people in the West to defend the régime there against subversion?


My Lords, as I understand it—and I may not be completely in the picture about this particular point—these reports are not fully authenticated. If they are, then I certainly would wish to make representations about these practices. I give that assurance now. As to Cuban involvement, once more, leading on from the very important questions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, the Cuban Government have denied reports of involvement in the invasion of Shaba province, and indeed their Ambassador has attended at the Foreign Office precisely to make that denial.


My Lords, so that there may be no doubt, will the noble Lord say what he meant when he said that diplomatic representations had been made in the appropriate quarters? Did he mean they had been made to the Soviet Government and the Cuban Government? May I ask the noble Lord whether Her Majesty's Government accept the fact that these actions by Cuban troops in many countries in Africa pose a very real threat indeed to the independence of the countries concerned and to their neighbours?


My Lords, I appreciate the faith in many countries in Africa that the noble Lord has introduced into his supplementary question. I have no doubt that in many countries these actions do produce a potential threat to the independence of those countries. What we have to be careful about is that we do not decide for those countries what threat, if any, there is to their independence. However, it is perfectly proper for us to make representations to them, in a friendly way, to indicate the risks which may be run.

As to the nature of our representations, I think I had better confine myself to repetition of what I said at the beginning. Ministers, officials, have, as appropriate, to a wide range of Governments, both in Europe and in Africa, conveyed the feelings that I can best describe as those presented from all quarters of this House, namely, that détente is indivisible. If one insists on non-intervention in Europe and in Eastern Europe, so one must insist on there not being intervention in Southern and Central Africa.


My Lords, the noble Lord will have read the dreadful stories of massacres occurring in Ethiopia, which is one of the countries mentioned in the original Question. Can he draw to the attention of the Cuban and the Soviet authorities the fact that, in the eyes of all reputable opinion, involvement with such a Government is inevitably going to tar them with the same brush?


Yes, indeed, my Lords, and I welcome the form in which that suggestion was made. I most certainly will act on what the noble and learned Lord has said.

The Marquess of SALISBURY

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question which I understand it is convenient to ask now, namely, whether the report in The Times today is correct, that the Zambian Government state that there is a formal state of war existing between Zambia and Rhodesia?


My Lords, I understand that President Kaunda has placed his armed forces on alert against the possibility of Rhodesian armed incursions into Zambia. Her Majesty's Government have made it clear to Mr. Smith that any escalation of fighting could have very serious consequences.

The Marquess of SALISBURY

My Lords, arising out of that answer, could the Minister say why it is serious for the Rhodesians to cross the frontier, when they are constantly under attack from both Zambia and Mozambique? Surely it is not unreasonable for them to take the appropriate action to prevent this recurring?


My Lords, I think it is a matter for very careful thought and judgment as to what is unreasonable in these extraordinarily dangerous circumstances. I think what our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have already said to all concerned, particularly to Mr. Smith, ought to have the effect of defusing this extremely dangerous situation. I regret that I cannot add to what I have said to help the noble Marquess or the House on this point.


My Lords, can my noble friend explain why the military activities of the Cuban Government, either of their own volition or as inspired by the USSR, or some other authority, should be a matter for Her Majesty's Government, who apparently cannot use very much influence in the matter? Why does the Security Council, this peace-keeping organisation, not intervene? Have they any authority, any influence? What are they doing?


My Lords, I think it is of legitimate and compelling interest to our country, and indeed to any other country, when there seems to be a danger that outside intervention, even by an independent country at the invitation of another, may have the result of accentuating the already dangerous situation in that area. I think it is reasonable for anybody to make representations in the right way in that situation. As to the role of the United Nations, my noble friend will have noticed that there is a conference in Maputo at the present time, at which the Joint Minister of State is expressing, I think today, in clear and unmistakeable terms the United Kingdom's attitude to Southern African problems.


Finally, my Lords—


My Lords, I know that all noble Lords feel that there is great interest in this Question, but I must point out that we have spent 22 minutes on it. We have another Question to deal with, and I think I take the feeling of the House that we should proceed to the next Question.


My Lords, I think it is normal to allow the original questioner to round things up, but if the noble Baroness has ruled against me I bow to her ruling.