Rhodesia (Prohibited Trade and Dealings)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th February 1967.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Evelyn King Mr Evelyn King , South Dorset 12:00 am, 6th February 1967

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. Leaving aside the point of the United Nations, the argument which is adduced—this is true—is that the House by a majority has committed itself to sanctions. That I concede. Then the Front Bench will seek to argue that because that is so it must be logical to escalate the dispute. This is a similar argument in principle which could be used by the Americans in Vietnam—because we have started a war we must escalate it to the furthest possible point. This is not an argument which I can accept. I should have thought that the spirit of the United Nations was that where one is involved in an issue, where war is feared, our duty is not to escalate it, but to mediate, to conciliate, and to seek to the last moment agreement between those concerned. I should have thought that it did not need arguing that this was the first duty of this House and of the United Nations in all circumstances.

What are the Government trying to do? It is a facile and attractive argument to say that they are trying to make sanctions succeed. What are sanctions? There are in Rhodesia 220,000 Europeans and 4 million Africans. When the Government say that they are imposing sanctions, let us turn this into more ordinary language. They are seeking so to disrupt trade as to create unemployment among 4 million Africans. The Government regard unemployment as a universal cure. If there is an economic crisis here, create unemployment. If there is a defence problem in Malta, create unemployment. If there is a Commonwealth problem in Rhodesia, create unemployment.

These things are all the more painful than is sometimes appreciated when there is great unemployment. It is better to use an accurate word to describe what the Government are doing. What they are trying to do when they use this measure is to create hunger, possibly even to the point of starvation, among 4 million Africans. Indeed, it will be more than 4 million if we think of the people in Malawi and Zambia. They are doing this in the hope that the pressure brought by these hungry Africans on the well-fed 200,000 Europeans will induce the Government there to change their minds. A more unlikely theme I have seldom heard.

I ask the Government to pause for a few moments and think what their objective is. There are two possibilities. The first is to hurt, and in this I concede that they have in certain measure been successful. The other is to convert. If they are seeking to convert opinion in Rhodesia, as opposed to having a desire to hurt people there, they have been wholly unsuccessful. Indeed, as the weeks and months go by the degree of the lack of success becomes daily more evident. In other words, they have lost their way because they have never defined what their final objective is.

How do we convert people, and if we seek to be successful what is the nature of the success? Are they seeking another Government in Rhodesia? Are they seeking chaos there? Are they trying to create hunger and strife in Rhodesia? I do not think that they are, but what I do think is that they have not thought out what they are seeking to do.

What is this policy? The Lord Chancellor is reported as saying in another place, with a measure of pride, that the sugar crop in Rhodesia had been ploughed in. In a world in which millions are starving, if he be right, let us in this House realise that this is not a matter for pride. It is something about which we ought to hang our heads in shame. [Interruption.] I look forward to the Attorney-General answering some of the legal points which I have raised, because so far no legal authority on that Front Bench has sought to answer them.

I turn now to the narrower point of the Order itself which seeks to extend to British subjects without citizenship or to the United Kingdom citizens resident abroad the penalties which previously have been confined to United Kingdom citizens resident in this country. What have the Government in mind? Let us consider the case of a single country trading with Rhodesia. For example, at this moment British subjects in Malawi are trading with Rhodesia. They are not now subject to a penalty because they are citizens not resident in the United Kingdom. As I understand it, after the Order is passed such a person will be guilty of a crime if he continues, whilst in Malawi—perhaps on behalf of a Malawi firm—to trade with Rhodesia. It is relevant to this point that the Prime Minister of Malawi has said openly that he intends and wishes to continue to trade with Rhodesia. What is a British subject resident in Malawi supposed to do? Is he to obey the laws and wishes of the country in which he resides, or is he to suffer two years' imprisonment on returning home?

There are many British citizens working in South African firms, holding British passports and presumably abiding willy-nilly by the laws of South Africa. Any such person—perhaps a person who has worked for 20 or 30 years for a South African firm and is shortly entitled to a pension—is to be told, at a few days' notice, "Either throw up your job, because your firm is trading with Rhodesia, or when you return to the United Kingdom you will be subject to two years' imprisonment or a fine". Is that a reasonable or practical thing to say? What will such a person do? Either he will seek South African citizenship or he will never return to England. Do the Government really want to achieve such a result?

Let us consider the case of an ordinary English girl—and there are thousands of them—who is travelling round the world, as many do nowadays, seeking a job as a typist with a South African firm which happens to trade with Rhodesia. If she gets the job, when she returns to this country she will be guilty of a criminal offence. Tens of thousands of people from all over the world will be in that position. The Attorney-General ought to tell us precisely how he intends to deal with that sort of case.

A major argument against these Orders, in the narrower sense, is that they are either impracticable or cruel. I implore the Government not to concentrate merely on how many tens of thousands of pounds we have robbed Rhodesia of, or of how much hunger we have brought to that country, or how far we have reduced its trade or how far we can impoverish it or made it a nation of beggars. Let them think whether their actions are taking us towards the achievement of a worthwhile objective. Above all, let them think of the nature of that objective, and what sort of Rhodesia would emerge if these policies, which in my view are disastrous, were to succeed.