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Foreign Affairs

Part of Orders of the Day — Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st July 1961.

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Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley 12:00 am, 31st July 1961

That is one of the matters to be discussed at the conference in Geneva.

One matter in which I know the House is interested is Angola. We have received a report from the Consul-General at Luanda describing his recent visit to Northern Angola with the military and air attaches from Lisbon. The military attaché has remained in Northern Angola to carry on his tour.

My noble Friend explained in another place at the time when he announced that the Consul-General was going on this visit that it would not be possible to publish the report of the Consul-General, but perhaps I might give an indication to the House of the contents of the report. I do not want the hon. Gentleman to be uncomfortable. I will give a précis, and at no time quote, any document which has been presented to us.

The Consul-General and members of his party visited a number of places in the area of disturbance, mostly by air because road travel was impossible. They were able to talk to Europeans, Africans, Government officials, members of the forces, and to a number of missionaries. The Portuguese Government co-operated in making facilities available to them.

I explained to the House that we hoped that this would give us a better picture of what had been happening and what is now going on. This it has done, but there has been one major difficulty. The members of the party received a great deal of information, but much of it was second hand and hearsay, and on this they formed the best judgment that they could.

In the debate on 5th July I traced the main outline of events, and the Consul-General's report goes over these and comments on them. He points out that the rebellion and the operations to suppress it have passed through various stages. At the outset there were mass attacks by Africans on European settlers in centres of population. We all know that these were savage in the extreme. Apparently they were planned with the object of killing as many Europeans as possible. It was as a result of this, as I think everyone will agree, intense provocation, that there were then acts of lawless and indiscriminate reprisal by armed Portuguese civilians against Africans, and in many cases these Africans had not been connected with the rebellion in any way. The Consul-General believes that the senior Portuguese authorities did what they could to stop these excesses. As I think I mentioned to the House at the time, they were prevented from taking effective action by the small number of security forces in Angola at the time.

As the Portuguese forces have been built up, a new pattern, so the Consul-General believes, has been emerging. The rebel bands are now much smaller and better organised. They are concentrating on cutting roads and communications. They are attacking, in particular, coffee plantations which are now being harvested.

The Portuguese forces are trying to defeat the rebels mainly by getting control of key points and keeping open the roads in between these areas. Some centres have been reoccupied, but there are still large areas which are not yet under control. The Consul-General reports that he saw many signs of the devastation which was caused by these disturbances. Centres and settlements have been destroyed or abandoned. In many places he saw African villages and European settlements which had been burned to the ground. Some of this was caused by military operations, and some by the rebels themselves. There has been severe fighting and harsh methods were used. The Consul-General's view is that the majority of the refugees fled to avoid becoming involved in any way in the operation. If they had stayed, they would have been faced with the choice either of joining the rebels or risking rebel reprisals if they remained loyal to the Portuguese.

All this is not to say that there was no basis of grievance behind the revolt, as I told the House in the last debate. We differ from Portuguese policy in this matter, as the House well knows, and my noble Friend discussed it when he visited Lisbon.

As for the question of the methods used and the allegations which have been made about harsh treatment, I have already pointed out the difficulties in which the Consul-General and his colleagues found themselves in trying to evaluate any particular piece of hearsay evidence. He has little doubt that there have been cases of arbitrary and repressive conduct by civilians and by some members of the police, but he has reported very favourably on the sense of duty amongst senior officials and military commanders whom he met on these visits.

He found that they were attaching great importance to the task of rebuilding racial harmony, of restoring confidence, and of trying to meet the needs of the Africans. Both the civilian and military authorities were trying to create conditions in which the Africans could safely return to their villages, and they were trying to persuade them to do so.

In particular the Consul-General flatly denies the other allegations which have been made, namely, that the Portuguese forces are following a deliberate policy of burning out the Africans. He deliberately denies that they are following a policy of extermination. I brought that denial from the Portuguese Foreign Minister to the notice of the House during our last debate, and the Consul-General has emphasised it.

I have tried to give the House as clear and dispassionate a picture of the situation seen in the Consul-General's report—