HL Deb 29 November 1978 vol 396 cc1296-300

2.49 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 positive action has been taken to protect white farmers in Zambia from assaults to their person resulting in severe injury to certain individuals within that country.


My Lords, we have made representations to the Zambian Government in Lusaka and in London about the recent abductions and I am confident that that Government will honour their responsibility for safeguarding all sections of the community. Our High Commission in Lusaka is keeping in close contact with the farming community.


My Lords, although I thank the noble Lord for his Answer, I am not quite convinced that it goes as far as I should like. May I ask the noble Lord whether he has seen the recent Press reports of the suffering and damage, and even worse, that has been inflicted on the white farmers in Rhodesia? What positive assurances have Her Majesty's Government received from Zambia that these white farmers are now afforded Zambian police protection? Do they not pay Zambian income tax? Apart from that, are they not entitled to protection on humanitarian grounds?


My Lords, certainly. As I have said, we are in very close touch with the Zambian Government here and in Lusaka. Additionally, I can assure the House that we have been in touch with Mr. Nkomo and have also impressed upon him the importance which we attach to the inviolability of the freedom and, indeed, the persons of British nationals in that country, who are making a contribution to the economy of the country.

The attitude of President Kaunda and his Government has been wholly receptive to our representations, and I am confident that they will do everything they can to maintain fairness among the various elements in the population of that country. In addition, my honourable friend the Joint Minister of State has drawn the attention of the High Commissioner for Zambia in London to our anxiety over these incidents. We have received assurances. We expect those assurances to be implemented in practice. We have every confidence that that will be so.

On the third point made by the noble Lord, I am very glad to tell the House that on more than one occasion when groups and even mobs have harassed or threatened British and other nationals, the Zambian police force has itself intervened effectively in order to protect those individuals from harassment. I have no information that serious injury has accompanied these abductions, whether of farmers or of OSAS personnel. Of course, any injury would be serious; any abduction or any harassment would be regarded as serious by us. But it is some consolation that although there is this flurry of incidents at this particular time, arising from a number of causes with which I shall not detain the House, nevertheless the Zambian authorities themselves have rendered signal service in protecting the very class of people the noble Lord has mentioned.


My Lords, did the noble Lord say that we had appealed to Mr. Nkomo to maintain order in Zambia? If that is the attitude of Her Majesty's Government, are we to take it that they recognise that the Zambian authorities, like the authorities in the Lebanon, are no longer responsiible for or capable of keeping order in their own country? If that is so, is it not a little strange that we should be presenting them with sophisticated weapons?


My Lords, the noble Lord is, of course, stretching the truth in his own way, and I shall not connive at that exercise. I said nothing of the sort. I informed the House—every part of which is concerned about the safety and welfare of British nationals in Zambia and, indeed, throughout the whole of Africa—that we had made the proper representations to the constitutional Government of Zambia, and, of course, have spoken to Mr. Nkomo, who is there and who has influence. To translate that into the kind of rodomontade we have just listened to is to stretch the truth beyond recognition.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, the Western Powers have frequently been castigated before the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination for colour discrimination, and I believe rightly. However, is it not time that a little balance was taken in this, and time that this kind of case was reported to the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination—in this case for once discrimination against whites, wherever they may be and in whatever circumstances?


My Lords, of course discrimination can work in any number of ways. Discrimination is macabrely not a respecter of colour, and I see no reason why I should not agree with the noble Baroness. I think that we should take a deep breath before we take any initiative in this kind of case, especially at this juncture when we are all hoping that a recent initiative by our own Prime Minister, with the support of all Parties in both Houses—and I imagine international support—may conceivably yield results. However, the point which the noble Baroness has made is fundamentally correct.


My Lords, I should like to revert to the noble Lord's answer to his noble friend on the other side of the House. In the light of that answer, can he explain the relevance of his reference to Mr. Nkomo in his answer to this question?


My Lords, the relevance is the relevance to fact. Mr. Nkomo is there, supported by a very considerable body of Rhodesian and other opinion. Therefore, when any British national may in the future, or has been in the past, be harassed, abducted or ill-treated, we take every opportunity of going to the possible sources of such harassment, and seek future policy which will safeguard against that. I would add that our representations to Mr. Nkomo have not been without result.


My Lords, may I ask how many innocent Zambians and civilians were killed in the recent attacks by the armed forces of the illegal regime on Zambian territory? When making representations to the Zambian authorities on behalf of our citizens there, will the Minister undertake to make it equally clear that, unlike some of those who put questions this afternoon, we are concerned about the loss of life in Zambia by both black and white people?


My Lords, of course we are concerned about the loss of life in any quarter in this unfortunate situation. The first concern of the British Government is to protect their own nationals, just as the Zambian Government's first concern is to protect its own nationals and its own territory. That is why our Prime Minister came to an agreement with the Zambian President so as to help him protect his own nationals from outside incursion. Of course, what the noble Lord has said underlines the need for a speedy, effective and peaceful solution of the situation as a whole. If we can achieve that, then the subject of this Question, properly raised, will be solved.


My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us how many British nationals are involved, white or coloured?


My Lords, relatively few. I do not have an actual number. I do not think that it exceeds very many more than 20, but I should not wish to be held to that figure. I have here a list of incidents involving British nationals—not only farmers, but OSAS personnel, VSO people, school teachers and the like—who, for quite trivial reasons, have been detained and released within the hour or so, although sometimes they have been detained for considerable periods and some have been ill-treated. Fortunately, the numbers are not very high; but any number, of course, is a matter of serious concern for the United Kingdom Government if British nationals are involved.