HL Deb 24 May 1979 vol 400 cc487-8

11.21 a.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 whether they have information on the number of (a) Cuban military personnel, and (b) USSR advisory and ancillary personnel, serving in the following five countries encircling Rhodesia: Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique.


My Lords, reports indicate that there are approximately 20,000 Cubans in Angola, a large number of whom are military personnel. No accurate estimate can be given of the USSR advisory and ancillary personnel in Angola, or of the numbers of Cuban military and USSR advisory and ancillary personnel currently serving in Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. So far as Her Majesty's Government are aware, there arc no Cuban or USSR personnel in Malawi.


My Lords, will the new Government now take a fresh initiative and make it clear to, first, the Soviet Union and, secondly, the Cubans that the widespread intervention by their personnel is totally against the spirit of Helsinki and further undermines any residual faith in détente?


My Lords, we regard the intervention of the Soviet Union, or indeed the Cubans, as a matter of great concern. The Soviet Union are perfectly well aware that good East-West relations do not refer only to the Soviet Union and Great Britain, and that they are at risk if the Soviet Union or others seek to exploit the instability of other countries. They are fully aware of that. With regard to Cuba, I can tell my noble friend that when the Cuban Ambassador called on my right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office the other day he was told in no uncertain terms how much Her Majesty's Government disapproved of the presence of Cuban troops in Africa.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that if more sympathy were shown to the problems of the African countries and there were less blind antipathy towards them on the part of some noble Lords, there would be less likelihood of their needing assistance from other powers?


My Lords, I think that what has happened in the last few days indicates that Her Majesty's Government are acutely aware of the very sensitive area around Rhodesia and in all the countries to which my noble friend has referred in his Question; and it is because of this acutely sensitive nature that the Government wish to do all that they can to bring the problems of Rhodesia and the encircling countries to a fruitful solution.


My Lords, the Minister is giving us a generous array of figures about Cubans. Is he in a position to say what is the estimated number of Cubans in Somalia?


Not without notice, my Lords, No.


My Lords, while realising that the noble Earl and the Government may not wish to compromise their intelligence sources by giving figures, may I ask whether they will bear in mind that if some figures were given it would help inform Commonwealth countries and Third World countries where the motivation of the Patriotic Front is coming from? While they must balance this against the (as I say) compromising of intelligence sources, it is not without advantage for the world to know just what support the Patriotic Front is getting from foreign troops and foreign advisers.


My Lords, I accept the concern of my noble friend, and I am sure that he will appreciate, as he has suggested in his supplementary question, that there is a balance to be achieved between divulging what information you have and not divulging what information you have. On the whole, we have concluded that the answer that I have given is the one most likely to have the desired effect.