HL Deb 02 November 1978 vol 396 cc41-51

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on Zambia.

"When the Prime Minister and I met President Kaunda at Kano on 22nd and 23rd September, the President asked for our help in dealing with Zambia's economic problems and for military assistance, making it clear that he was turning to us in the first instance as a fellow member of the Commonwealth with which his country has had economic and defence relations since independence in 1964. We discussed in detail the urgent problems they faced of obtaining maize seed, fertilizer, and pesticide which were needed to ensure next year's harvest. We also discussed the problems of the Benguela Railway.

"Zambia also faces severe economic difficulties arising from the low world price of copper and difficulties with her road and rail links to the sea. The Rhodesian raids deep inside Zambia on 19th October have reinforced the Zambian Government's concern about their national security. I have just heard of a further raid today.

"We have agreed to provide military aid to improve Zambia's defensive capability. Some ground equipment and spares have already been supplied strictly for the use of the Zambian armed forces and police. More will follow after detailed consultations with the Zambians. We will also step up military training for Zambians in Britain. No British service personnel or aircraft will be stationed in Zambia.

"The Zambian Government have given us firm assurances that the equipment will be used for no other purpose than the defence of Zambia and will not be passed to any third party, and the air defence equipment will safeguard the integrity of the capital. When we have established with the Zambians their exact needs, I will immediately tell the House the cost to the Exchequer of the military assistance we are providing. Parliamentary approval for this expenditure, which I expect to be of the order of £10 million, will be borne on Foreign and Commonwealth Office votes, and will be sought in a supplementary estimate in due course.

"The Government have agreed to help meet Zambia's urgent need for foreign exchange by making an advance payment now of £20 million in respect of purchases of copper for British industry. We expect this copper to be shipped to Britain during 1980. The quantities, up to £20 million in value, will depend on contract prices at the time of delivery. The copper will be resold to British buyers in such a way as not to disrupt the normal workings of the market. We have also offered technical assistance to Zambia to help in development of Zambian cobalt production.

"The Benguela Railway is due to be re-opened on 4th November, and should ease the problem of transporting Zambia's exports, including copper, and imports. We have offered financial assistance for improving the Zaire section of the Benguela Railway and are offering technical assistance for the Angolan section.

"I hope this assistance for Zambia at a time of great difficulty will strengthen her links with this country and the Commonwealth."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. I do not think that there will be anybody in any quarter of the House who does not sympathise with the economic position in which Zambia finds itself, due largely to the economic recession in the world, and of course, as the noble Lord said, to the falling price of copper; and in that I think that the House will approve wholly of what the Government have done. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether it is the Government's intention to encourage President Kaunda to diversify his economy, and in particular to rehabilitate his agricultural industry, for his dependence upon copper is the cause, very largely, of this difficulty.

However, I do not think that the Government can have been surprised at the concern shown by a great many people in this country about the shipment of British arms to Zambia, because it coincided with an escalation of the war, and without any explanation it appeared to be almost an intervention in it. If what had been decided had been announced after Kano, the reaction might have been a little different. After all, it is very much better that arms purely for the defence of Zambia should come from Britain than from Cuba or from Russia, with all the military and political interference that that might bring. But there was no explanation after Kano; and indeed it was a strange, secretive meeting from which journalists were excluded.

The fact remains that the timing has made us very suspicious. Like it or not, there are guerrilla camps in Zambia, some—at any rate, one—not very far from Lusaka. From these camps on Zambian soil guerrillas enter Rhodesia and kill Rhodesians, black and white. Like it or not, it is surely not very surprising that the Rhodesian forces attack these camps. Now the Government have sought to remain neutral in all this, but if British arms are to be used to defend these camps, that is taking sides, and I must ask the noble Lord whether he will give an assurance to the House that British arms will not be used for the defence of these guerrilla camps. Secondly, I must ask him whether he will assure the House that there were no more secret undertakings reached at Kano of which we know nothing.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the Minister for repeating this important Statement. It seems to me that, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, nobody can object to our granting economic assistance on a considerable scale to Zambia in her present unfortunate position. I also think that if this friendly Commonwealth Government appeals for some military aid, then in principle it should not be refused. I do not see that we should make any sort of objection about that. The only question, of course, is what sort of aid it will be and for what purpose it will be employed. As I understand it—I do not know whether this is the case, but perhaps the Government can tell us—it is confined to a certain amount of assistance to the ground forces of President Kaunda (that is not a very great consideration) but principally to the air defence of Lusaka, the capital. If that is so, again I do not see how we can really object. The fact is that President Kaunda is in a very weak position. He has hardly any effective force at his disposal, and he therefore cannot prevent the establishment of guerrilla bases in his country even if he wanted to do so. Anyhow, they are there. I suppose the intention is for the Government to provide for the military air defence of the capital, Lusaka, but not in any way to give military assistance to the rebels in the defence of their guerrilla bases. It is obvious that the guerrillas will obtain air support and assistance in the anti-aircraft defence of these bases from countries other than ours in the fairly near future. Missiles against low-flying aircraft and helicopters are very easy to install and cannot easily be detected, and there is every reason to suppose that the guerrillas will go in that direction. However, if they do we cannot do anything about it. So I would ask the Government to say that it is not their intention to do anything to help the guerrillas protect their bases, which they will defend anyhow, but that our support will be limited to the defence of the capital, Lusaka, which I believe the Queen is to visit in the near future.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their comments on the Statement that I have just read and, in both cases, for putting (if I may say so without presumption) the right questions. On the first point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, Her Majesty's Government certainly see the need to encourage the Zambian Government in every possible way to diversify their economy and to place renewed emphasis on agriculture. The noble Lord is quite right in saying that dependence, possibly over-dependence, on a commodity which, however important and rewarding, is nevertheless subject to very marked fluctuations of price over the years, can make for special vulnerability at times like these. But copper and, one hopes, other minerals like the one or two I have mentioned, will continue to be very important indeed in the economy of Zambia. However, the point is well made and, I hope, freely taken.

As for the assurance which both noble Lords sought about the destination and the use of the ground equipment and spares, the arms that we seek to make available to our Commonwealth partner, Zambia, I can give that assurance by repeating what my right honourable friend said in the Statement which I have just read. I myself am very confident, totally confident, that the President and the Government of Zambia will do everything in their power, and effectively so, to ensure that this assistance is used by the Government for Government purposes; namely, those purposes very tidily described by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, as the defence of Zambia at a time of considerable difficulty for that country and in the defence of its capital.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, also asked what the nature of the aid would be. I would refer him to the last two paragraphs of the Statement I have read, which describe how we seek to assist in the question of foreign exchange availability to Zambia, very badly needed by them, by a forward purchase of up to £20 million worth of copper, the payment to be made immediately or as soon as possible but the delivery to be in 1980. There was a suggestion by ourselves, a natural one, that delivery might be in 1979, but we want to have value for this money; that is, the right kind of copper, which will in effect be available in 1980 rather than 1979. In any case, the extra time available to the Zambian Goverment and economy will be a form of assistance to them within that category.

I have also outlined, like my right honourable friend, the ways in which we are striving to assist the Zambian export economy to reach the sea; that is, by offering assistance, financial and technical, to the three sectors of the Benguela Railway—a very long railway which starts on the Atlantic coast and goes on through Central Africa and then southwards, and which, in varying degrees in varying parts of the area it serves, is in very poor condition. That is assistance well worth making available, not only to Zambia but to at least two of its neighbours. My Lords, may I say that I appreciate the tone and content of the contributions so far made, and I am sure that the Prime Minister and my right honourable friend will equally appreciate them.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would be good enough to assure the House that there were no other agreements reached at Kano about which we know nothing?


My Lords, I doubt whether the noble Lord is quite right in saying that we knew absolutely nothing as to the outcome of the Kano meeting. It was held in conditions of urgency, and as a result the Press and other arrangements were momentarily not comparable to those which normally obtain on these occasions. There is no secret about what transpired. A good deal has been said in the Press since then, and indeed my right honourable friends in the other place have been most forthcoming about their own statements. As to whether there will be further Kano-type meetings, I very much hope so; but I join the noble Lord in hoping that next time it may be somewhat less urgent and that, therefore, the Press will have no grounds for complaint, and neither will the noble Lord.


My Lords, I apologise for intervening again but the noble Lord really has not quite taken my point. We did not know until recently that the Prime Minister had agreed to send arms to Zambia. What I want to know is: At Kano, were there any other agreements reached with President Kaunda of which we now know nothing?


My Lords, if there had been I am quite certain that they would have been included in the official Statement made in the other place and repeated by me today. I am sorry if I did not quite catch the point of the noble Lord's question.


My Lords, would it not be true to say that if we did not come to the help of the Zambian economy, which is in a bad way, the Soviets are waiting in the wings ready to come to the help of Zambia with arms, as they usually do in the case of any country in Africa which needs help?


My Lords, I am sure there is a good deal in what my noble friend says. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister touched on this yesterday, when in another place he spoke to the Motion of thanks for the gracious Speech. It is perfectly clear that President Kaunda chose to come to us in the first instance, and I am sure that Members of the House will put themselves in the position of our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary when they heard of this double request for assistance, and will consider not only what our duty and desire would be as a fellow-member of the Commonwealth but also what might be the consequences of not acceding to this request.


My Lords, when the question of South Africa was discussed in another place on the 24th February 1976, Mr. Julian Amery recommended not only supplying armaments to Zambia but that trainers and instructors should be offered to them as well, if they wanted them. Would the noble Lord say whether any request was made by Zambia that we should supply instructors to help them with the use of the equipment that is now being supplied? Is it a question of putting the Rapier missiles back into order, and can they do this without the presence of British personnel in Zambia? Would he also take the opportunity, having made the Statement, of condemning the fresh attack on Zambian territory which the Secretary of State said had been made today involving probably the loss of Zambian lives—and of women and children—as well as, perhaps, of the guerrillas?


My Lords, I join the noble Lord in the latter part of his supplementary question. Of course, we condemn these things, from whatever source they emanate. As to the comparability of this arrangement with other moves we have made in similar circumstances in other parts of Africa, he is right; the present contract in regard to one aspect of the defence of Zambia was signed by the then Labour Government in 1968 with the Government of Zambia. It was slightly amended by the successor Government in this country in December 1970 and deliveries began in 1971. And there are predecessors of what had been contracted to be delivered by us in 1968.

As to the position in Kenya, he is referring, of course, to the events of 1973 when the then Government—quite rightly, I think—made to the Kenya Government a grant of military assistance not dissimilar from the one that we propose to make to Zambia.


My Lords, are the Government aware that their policy in this part of Africa is beginning to look somewhat one-sided? Not only have they given this assistance to Zambia—about which one has no real objection to raise—but, during the Recess, they announced the grant of a £10 million interest-free loan to Mozambique which harbours Mr. Mugabi and his guerrillas. Meanwhile they persist in continuing sanctions against the Government which has already gone inter-racial and is anxious to hold majority rule elections.


My Lords, I have much hope that before very long what my noble friend has said about the intentions of the present interim Government in Rhodesia may be proved to be true by facts and performance. So far, I cannot share his views on the intentions, let alone the practices, of that Government. As to it being onesided, certainly not. We are members of the Commonwealth. The Zambians, as the President of Zambia made clear in an eloquent speech at the last meeting in London of the Heads of Commonwealth Government, greatly value their membership of the Commonwealth. It is a great encouragement and assurance to those of us who still believe in the Commonwealth that they should have come to us in the first instance for help in their economic difficulties and their real military apprehensions which stem from one quarter and one quarter only. It is a matter of pride that we have been able to say: "Yes, we will help you and we will accept your assurances as to how you will use the help that your fellow partner of the Commonwealth will make available to you".


My Lords, is that answer quite correct: that they first came to us? Is it not the fact that when the legions of Kaunda and Nkomo were distributed to the winds or the bush, Kaunda came to us and Nkomo went to Russia? From Russia he got a dusty answer. The Russians told him—I ask whether this is so—that they had no intention of sending arms which the Rhodesian Government could collect at will. Kaunda got a softer answer from us. But what are we going to do when Rhodesia do decide either to intercept these planes into Salisbury—for they have control of the air—or simply to knock out the aerodromes before they are installed? It is very indiscreet, is it not?


My Lords, my noble friend, deliberately, I think, but without his accustomed skill, associates Nkomo with Kaunda. We are dealing with the Government of a country which is a fellow member of the Commonwealth with us, the Government of President Kaunda. We are not dealing with Nkomo. The Statement referred to requests made to us by the lawfully constituted Government—and there are lawfully-constituted Governments in Central Africa—for help in the economic and military field. We have said that we will do our best to help. There is nothing in this Statement or in this situation about Nkomo.


My Lords, if I correctly understood the noble Lord in his references to the Benguela railway, it appeared that British technical aid was to be provided for the resuscitation of that portion of the line—presumably civil and not military—which went outside Zambia. Would that not bring those agencies into conflict over the length of the line? Some portion is within the control of the Government of Angola and other portions are within the control of its opponents. It would appear that the British Government would then be taking sides. Secondly, is it to be understood that the present passage of exports from Zambia to the sea, through Rhodesia and South Africa, is inadequate to meet the copper supply for which a market can be found?


My Lords, taking the second point first, it is pretty unanimously agreed that a far better way of exporting the copper—which, in any case, is largely exported to the West and to this country—is by access to the sea, to the Atlantic, to Benguela and the adjacent port. For this purpose it is necessary to repair in varying degree, in varying parts of Central and Southern Africa. It is a very long railway and it goes through at least three countries, as the noble Lord knows. In some parts it will need financial assistance and, no doubt, in others technical assistance. We are now considering with the various Governments concerned how best to help. As to the hazards in some of these countries, I do not think that this part of Angola, for instance, through which goes that sector of the railway ending in Benguela itself, gives rise to quite those apprehensions at the moment. Nevertheless, the situation is not wholly stable in any part of the territories through which this very long railway moves.

We need to help to reinforce this link and, as the Prime Minister has said, this will indeed be a very direct additive to the Zambian economy. It will cut costs, speed up deliveries and increase the effective output of the copper industry.