HL Deb 16 February 1978 vol 388 cc1511-6

3.20 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what representations have been made through—

  1. (a) diplomatic channels, and
  2. (b) the United Nations
concerning the continued increase of Cuban troops, sponsored by the USSR, in Angola and the Horn of Africa.


My Lords, the British Government view with grave concern the evidence of large-scale Soviet and Soviet-sponsored military intervention in the area, believing that such intervention is likely only to make conflicts more bitter and the achievement of peaceful settlements more difficult. I can assure the House that we have left the Soviet and Cuban Governments in no doubt of our concern about their military involvement in various regions of Africa.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, when Her Majesty's Government recognised Angola two years ago, we were given the assurance that the number of troops from Cuba, then 10,000, would be progressively reduced, but that exactly the opposite has happened; that is, that there are now 19,000 Cuban troops in Angola and another 4,000 civilians in support of them? Is he aware that they have spread their activities into many other African countries? The situation is now really alarming, with 3,000 Cuban troops now in Eritrea, with further reinforcements on the way. Does this not greatly add to the danger of a really major conflict in that area, and what do the Government intend to do about it?


My Lords, it is fortunate that the noble Lord added the last part of that supplementary question, because I was on the point of agreeing with almost everything he had said before that. I share his disquiet, indeed concern, and I tried to express that in my substantive Answer. As to what we are doing about the situation, we are co-operating actively with our friends and allies in making the diplomatic and other representations which I described in my previous Answer.


My Lords, the Minister said that we had made our disapproval clear. Have we any reason for believing that either the Soviet Government or the Cubans care a jot as to whether or not we approve?


If they did not, my Lords, the House and the country would expect us to do precisely what we are doing.


My Lords, what are we doing to monitor the number of Soviet aeroplanes coming down the Persian Gulf and round the coast of Arabia to Ethiopia? Have we any definite knowledge of how many aeroplanes have come recently?


My Lords, obviously I cannot give a detailed answer to that question, as the noble Lord among others will particularly understand. Let me say that we are adequately informed on this matter.

Lord HOME of the HIRSEL

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to agree that, had any country other than one sponsored by the Soviet Union deployed force in another independent country on the scale on which Cuba is deploying it now, there would have been a spate of Resolutions in the Security Council? Why do not the Government—indeed, will the Government?—go to the Security Council and ask for an order from them for an orderly withdrawal from the territory of Angola and the territory of Ethiopia?


My Lords, I agree with the purport of the first part of the noble Lord's question. As to the second part, I invite him to consider the fact that our first priority must be to support the OAU mediative initiative in Africa led by Nigeria. However, I can assure him and the House that we are actively engaged in considering with our friends and allies precisely the course he has urged on us.


My Lords, would the Minister be kind enough to answer the second part of my noble friend's question in which he asked what representations had been made through the United Nations? From the reply which the noble Lord has given, one would conclude that the answer is, none. Is that so?


My Lords, going to the United Nations would involve the procedures which were described by the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, and I indicated that we are considering with others precisely that course; namely, recourse to the Security Council. I do not want to anticipate what may be decided by us in concert with other like-minded countries.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, would the Minister not agree that time is really of the essence? Have we not seen already what happens when one waits for a response from the Soviets—as in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and on countless other occasions—and is this not a pressing matter and not one to be delayed?


Indeed it is, my Lords. It is urgent, but it is also in relation, I repeat, to the wishes of the various States of Africa. They have a very strong and firm view that the Organisation for African Unity should be allowed in that Continent to take the lead. They have taken the lead; Nigeria has pressed for a peaceful settlement and we have strongly supported that initiative. I think we have been right. The time may come, as I have indicated, when recourse to the Security Council must overtake the African initiative.


My Lords, while fully recognising that the presence of the Cubans is the worst in Africa, may I ask the Minister, particularly arising out of his last answer, to take a comprehensive view of the military presence of other countries in Africa?—reports of the French in Mauretania and Zaire, reports of the Libyans in Chad, and reports of South Africans in Namibia and in Angola before the Cubans were there. Will he seek, with the OAU, to look at the whole problem in this broader way?


Certainly, my Lords. There is no need to remind us of the fact that what is of immediate concern to us, for instance in the Horn of Africa and in Angola, is to some extent at least, duplicated in other parts of Africa and no doubt in other parts of the world. It comes to this: in Africa it is essential that the West should allow the African initiative to develop. It has been developing so far, but there comes a time, as we have been reminded this afternoon, when the rest of us must consider whether other measures need to be taken. I would not wish to be pressed beyond that point this afternoon.


My Lords, will the Minister also show concern for the many thousands of Angolan civilians who have been forcibly deported to Cuba and for the great number of children who have been torn from their families in Angola and who are, I understand, being brainwashed in Cuba? Will Her Majesty's Government try to put their concern into practice?


My Lords, we would, of course, all wish to express once more our deep concern about such practices, wherever they happen.


My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that on 17th May 1977 he said: 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."?—[Official Report, 17/5/77, col. 558.] That was nearly a year ago. We have waited, in all, two years for some initiative and strong action to be taken at the United Nations or elsewhere; we could certainly make representations at Belgrade where the international community are now gathered. Surely it is time—long enough has been given—for such a step. Is it really right to rely on a co-ordinated effort by the Organisation for African Unity, which has many different opinions? Would it not be right now to take this matter in front of the Security Council as a matter of urgency?


I think I have already answered that question, my Lords, and I have, I hope responsibly, precisely given that proposed course in the African connotation. It is essential, if we are to exert any influence at all in Africa, that we bear that precisely in mind. There are so many ramifications to this question and the related ones; for instance, there is the position of Kenya and there is the fact of Nigeria—a country of great importance to us and of great influence and power in Africa—having taken the lead. I would ask the noble Lord to relate what he has urged on me to the fact of the need to consult African opinion. We have done that and, as I have indicated, we are very seriously considering the course he has suggested.


My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that there is a danger that, in waiting for an initiative to develop from within Africa, that initiative may well be dictated by yet larger numbers of Cuban Communist troops entering Africa?


Yes, my Lords; of course there is this danger, and we must try to time our own initiative and that of our friends, bearing that kind of urgency in mind.