Lesotho

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th April 1970.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Armstrong.]

10.9 p.m.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I wish to raise the question of suspension of aid to Lesotho. The question of suspension of aid is interlinked with the question of recognition. Therefore, I propose to pursue first the question of recognition and then come to the details of the aid programme being suspended.

The root of the constitutional crisis, the latest manifestation of which took place on 30th January this year when a state of emergency was declared and the constitution was unconstitutionally suspended, lies in the past. The basic causes are twofold.

The first is the differences between the Nationalist Party and the Basutoland Congress Party. The B.C.P. has always taken the pan-African line, it wanted Lesotho to be used as a base against South Africa, and has been assisted by Powers which wanted to see a black-white confrontation in Southern Africa. The National Party, under Chief Leabua Jonathan, was also utterly opposed to apartheid and the racial policies of its neighbour, but it took a realistic line in appreciating that Lesotho lay within the economic orbit of South Africa and, therefore, reciprocated in that good neighbour policy introduced by the present South African Prime Minister, Mr. Vorster.

I think I am right in saying it would be wholly agreed that in the present constitutional crisis South Africa has played a completely neutral part, has not interfered in any way at all and has acted thoroughly correctly.

The second root of the crisis is, I suggest, the position of the King, His Majesty Moshoeshoe II. I had the privilege of putting the case for the King, or Paramount Chief as he was then, from the Opposition Front Bench when we debated the Lesotho Independence Bill on 20th July 1966. I said to the House at that time that the King had seen what had happened in Swaziland and in Botswana and wanted to be more than a constitutional monarch, wanted more power.

If I may quote to the House, I said: He"— that is the Paramount Chief— believes that in his capacity as Head of State he should succeed to the reserve executive and legal powers in external affairs and over internal security which today are exercised by the Secretary of State. He agreed that these powers should be transferred to the Prime Minister, but he thinks that the Head of State should have the right to step in and assume these powers if an emergency arises. A little further on I said: I do not think that we should feel that this young man is being too unreasonable. But history is against him. But I concluded: If we pass this Bill we introduce a constitution which makes the Paramount Chief a constitutional monarch. I wholly agree with the Secretary of State that in the circumstances, in spite of his"— that is, the King's— misgivings, he should agree to accept this position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1966; Vol. 732, c. 1620–1.] In other words, I maintain that this House has some direct responsibility for the present constitutional crisis, because it derives to some extent from the determination of the King to secure more than the constitutional power awarded him in the constitution passed by this House. In fact, in December, 1966, the King, supported by the Opposition, the Congress Party, clashed with the Government, riots ensued, and the King was put under house arrest, and, I understand, signed an instrument of abdication, to be used if he again interfered in politics.

I think it is proven that the King did advise chiefs and others to vote against the Nationalist Party in the recent general election. We do not know exactly what happened in that general election. The best information is that the National Party and the Congress Party won 23 seats each. Then the constitution was suspended. Irregularities had occurred during the election, and it was discontinued.

It is clear that this was an unconstitutional act on the part of Chief Leabua Jonathan, the Prime Minister. Indeed, he has admitted that. Since then there has been some unrest in Lesotho, but the major area of unrest was in the diamond mines—and that really stems from quite a different cause altogether—the removal of certain tribes to allow the diamond workings to start.

To bring the constitutional history up to date, the King is now in Holland, as it were, on three months' leave of absence.

I am glad to be able to quote to the House two statements issued in Lesotho, the first one by Chief Jonathan on the 1st April: Although the constitution has been suspended and certain executive powers assumed by Tona-Kholo during the state of emergency, the monarchy continues to exist and the monarch remains the head of State for the purpose of international relations subject to the advice of Tona-Kholo. In other words, the position of the King is protected and there is no question of forcing his abdication.

The second and perhaps politically more important statement was issued on 8th April. I quote the first paragraph: In view of the present situation in Lesotho, we the leaders of the above-mentioned political parties, in our capacity as representatives of the people of Lesotho, have agreed in principle to arrange between ourselves a round-table conference to discuss the prevailing situation and the future of Lesotho. We firmly believe that the present situation being a domestic matter can only be solved by us and not by any outsiders, through dialogue and not by violence. That is signed by the leaders of the Basutoland National Party, the leader of the Basutoland Congress Party, who was arrested after the General Election, and the leader of the Marematlou Freedom Party and the leader of the United Democratic Party. I suggest that the sentiments contained in that communiqué should commend themselves to both sides of the House and should be encouraged.

What has been the British Government's action? We are the only country which has refused recognition to the new Government. No one has suspended recognition as we have. There has been no withdrawal of its representative or aid by any other State. In fact, the Ambassador from Lesotho to France has presented his credentials since the General Election.

The British Government's action is unique and strange. It can be argued that the action taken by the Prime Minister was wholly unconstitutional but in the background of Africa we have had coups d'etat of one kind or another in the following African States since the independence of Lesotho: Central African Republic, Upper Volta, Nigeria, Ghana, Burundi, Togo, Sierra Leone, Dahomey, Congo—Brazzaville, Mali, Sudan and Libya. As far as I know Her Majesty's Government have in each case recognised the new Government immediately, whether it came into power by coup d'etat or any other way.

I would like to quote from an excellent editorial in the Daily Telegraph of 27th February which said about aid to Lesotho: There was a similar situation in 1965 in Uganda, when the Prime Minister, Mr. Obote, moved against the Kabaka of Buganda, lawful President of Uganda. According to learned opinion, Uganda was in grosser breach of its own constitution than Rhodesia, when Mr. Obote made himself President, but Britain's official relations were transferred smoothly to him. So could they be in Lesotho, too, we suspect, had the coup come from the Left. Anyone who studies the Libyan situation and the immediate recognition of the new Libyan Government would come to the same conclusion.

I began by discussing at some length the constitutional situation because I believe that, as the Government spokesmen have said, this is linked to the suspension of aid but it is the suspension of aid which is the responsibility of the right hon. Lady.

We are the only country which has suspended aid to Lesotho. United Nations aid continues, as does aid from other countries. What is this aid about which we are talking? The aid announced in Parliament last March for 1969–70 showed budgetary aid of £2·8 million and development grant of £1·2 million, totalling £4 million. The 31st March this year marked the end of the three-year period of agreed aid to Lesotho, and the new three-year aid programme, therefore, started on the first of this month.

The amount in the next three years was discussed by a technical mission which visited Lesotho in 1969. I understand that agreement was reached, for 1970–71, for budgetary aid of £1·2 million. This showed a reduction because of the Customs agreement with South Africa, which has been very much in Lesotho's favour and meant that the British budgetary contribution could be decreased. Development aid of £1·5 million was to be offered to Lesotho for the coming year, and all this was to be in grants. Incidentally, this underlines the foolishness of the dispute that has lasted over a year with Malta. The one country we give aid wholly by grants, and in the case of the other, Malta, there has been argument over whether 25 per cent. should be grant or loan which led to suspension of aid for over a year.

What is the effect of the suspension of aid? There has been a serious drought in Lesotho, and no maize crop has been produced this year because of it. Maize is a staple diet of the population, and unless ploughing starts straight away for the winter crops there may be widespread starvation. Yet the suspension of aid affects schemes which are designed to increase food production and which were agreed last year or this year with the British Government.

Immediately affected are the tractor hire scheme, the feed and fertiliser subsidy, credit by the Co-operative Union of Lesotho, the agricultural development fund, and certain research schemes which cannot be interrupted without great loss of previous work, particularly irrigation research, on which £40,000 was to be spent in the coming year. There are also pilot projects for fisheries development, counterpart funds for the £500,000 given by the United Nations and the soil and water conservation programme, on which £100,000 was to be spent will have to be abandoned if the Government continue to suspend aid to Lesotho. The whole future of the livestock industry is endangered, as about £500,000 is allocated for this.

All these matters concern the people of Lesotho; they affect the amount of food that can be produced to feed them. The Government's decision, if it is prolonged, could lead to serious starvation in the country.

Why are the Government doing this? Is it because they do not approve of an unconstitutional act? I can understand that, and that it might mean refusal to recognise the régime or a delay of recognition. What I cannot understand is why they also suspend aid. Why are we the only country in the world that has taken this action over Lesotho, which will affect not so much the government or régime but the people of Lesotho? Do the Government really want to ferment revolt and ensure civil unrest in Lesotho? I cannot see any justification for that.

The result of the Government's action will be to force Lesotho closer and closer to South Africa. That is the only alternative source from which it can obtain funds. Is that what the Government want? Their Rhodesia policy has forced Rhodesia closer and closer to South Africa. Do they want to repeat that in Lesotho, which is supposed to be an independent Commonwealth country?

What are the criteria for recognition? The other day the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said in reply to Questions that the normal criteria were that the new Government enjoy, with a reasonable prospect of permanence, the obedience of the mass of the population, and have effective control of much the greater part of the territory of the State concerned. A little later he said: I think that the question is, first, one of recognition, and as soon as there is recognition there are negotiations and discussions on aid."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April 1970; Vol. 799, c. 23–24.] In other words, he said—and I cannot think why—that the whole question of recognition must come before the restoration of aid to Lesotho.

Who is to decide when those criteria have been implemented? Who will decide whether the Government are in control over a major part of the country, as I believe they are? The British Government have already refused to allow the British High Commissioner to have anything to do with the present régime in Lesotho, and have more or less put the Lesotho High Commission in this country into quarantine, so how will they judge when their criteria have been met?

I again emphasise the burden of my case. The suspension of aid to Lesotho is an unprecedented action not carried out by any other country in relation to Lesotho, and not carried out by this country in relation to African States where new governments have come into power by coups d'état or revolutions. The delay in the aid programme may cost the lives of innocent people, and I ask the Government how long they propose to continue this delay.

10.25 p.m.

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East

I intervene briefly to express the deep concern we on this side of the House feel over this delicate and difficult situation. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) is right in saying that there is no precedent in the history of Commonwealth relations for the extraordinary decision of Her Majesty's Government to suspend aid to a friendly country and to refuse recognition to its Government, so that, in effect, diplomatic channels are closed and it is not possible for any communication to take place. If there is one thing that we should have learnt it is that we cannot turn off the tap of aid without doing serious harm to a developing country's economy; taper it off, by all means, but not cut it off altogether.

The right hon. Lady will recall how the Government were criticised for cutting off aid to Tanzania for political reasons. I am glad, as I think the whole House is, that they have since reversed that decision, and rightly so.

As I understand it, the financial year in Lesotho has just come to an end. Discussions took place with Her Majesty's Government last December on the aid programme for the next three years, and now the country is cut off from any assurance of support at a time of acute difficulty. One is bound to ask, therefore, whether it is the purpose of Her Majesty's Government to precipitate economic crisis and collapse in Lesotho in order to attain certain political objectives? Such a suggestion is not fanciful. The Government must be aware that widespread drought has not only been sweeping Lesotho but is affecting the southern regions of Rhodesia, the whole of Botswana, parts of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. No rains were experienced up to the end of December, and since then very little rain has fallen and the main maize crops have been very hard hit. Those farmers who planted early in October will harvest a little, but the majority of the African farmers planted later than this, many of the fields are a complete write-off. I understand, too, that maize stalk borer damage is also severe in the later planted plots. The situation is already causing very grave concern to the people in Lesotho, and it is almost certain that there will be widespread starvation among the people.

My hon. and gallant Friend has asked how long it will be before a decision is taken on resuming aid. It is surely wrong that this human consideration should be bound up with the question of recognition. At this moment the Government and the people of Lesotho have not the faintest idea what lies ahead for them. It seems clear that this policy if unchecked will have exactly the same result as the policy of Her Majesty's Government on Rhodesia of driving Lesotho into the arms of South Africa, which can hardly be in the interests of its people, of the Commonwealth or of this country. I shall await with interest to hear what the right hon. Lady has to say.

10.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam

I intervene only briefly to say that I have recently been on a delegation to Lesotho, where I had a foretaste of the drama which has that country in the two months. I visited the Senate, and I met the representatives of the various parties. It occurs to me that this constitutional crisis has occurred because the Paramount Chief who became King has a feudal and tribal background. I was interested to learn today that the King is in Holland and that representatives of all the major political parties will attend a round table conference.

When will the Government recognise the present position in Lesotho and when will they embark on an aid programme? At present there has been a fair amount of bloodshed. The Guardian last week calculated that between 100 and 150 people have died as a result of insurrection.

The first question to be asked is when will the present Government be recognised. Secondly, I very much hope that not only the aid programme outlined by my hon. Friend but the help this country can give to that country to support itself against independence will be implemented.

Could the right hon. Lady say what is happening to the more ambitious programmes to enable Lesotho to get foreign currency, particularly schemes involving the supply of water to South Africa where it is so badly needed. It we leave Lesotho on its own and do nothing to help that country, we will, as my hon. Friend said, drive the country into the hands of South Africa. It will be left quite on its own, not getting the support from Britain which it could expect. This in Westminster terms may be a constitutional crisis, but it has a background which is very different from our own situation.

10.32 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Judith Hart Mrs Judith Hart , Lanark

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) has raised a question, which, of course, has already been the subject of Question and Answer in the House. I would have thought that the position had been made quite clear. But it is an important question and I am glad to amplify what has been said—by myself and by right hon. and hon. Friends who are Ministers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It may indeed be helpful to have the opportunity to do so, and I am, therefore, grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He will allow me, I am sure, to state what I see as being the basic principles governing this issue and to summarise the developments in Lesotho as we have seen them since 27th January.

The criteria for the recognition of a State are, of course, primarily a matter for the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. I am sure the hon. Gentleman fully appreciates this, but he spent a considerable part of his remarks on this aspect of the matter, so I must deal for a moment with it.

Since recognition is a key and, indeed, a main factor in the provision of aid, it is clearly important to me in terms of the resumption or discontinuance of aid. The criteria are as follows. The hon. Gentleman has summarised them clearly, but perhaps it would be as well if I state them.

The first is that a Government must clearly be in effective control of a country. Second, it must clearly command the obedience of the mass of the community. Third, it must demonstrate a reasonable prospect of permanency.

If we look at the developments in Lesotho since 27th January, we can summarise the position as follows. Chief Jonathan appeared to have lost the General Election and, accordingly, heads a minority régime. There have been disturbing reports of unrest——

Photo of Mrs Judith Hart Mrs Judith Hart , Lanark

I am sorry. I have little time left. I have been generous in the time I have allowed. There have been disturbing reports of unrest, notably in the mountainous North-East. We are bound therefore to have our doubts about whether our normal criteria can be satisfied in relation to the present position in Lesotho. I must confess I am a little surprised that the hon. Gentleman who has read the newspapers as well as I have can suggest that conditions in Lesotho would justify at present the recognition which would prompt the resumption of aid. He must have read the report in The Times from Cape Town on 9th April: Police reinforcements were flown to the rebellious areas in the mountainous north of Lesotho today amid reports that at least 100 and possibly 150 people have been killed in fierce fighting. He must have read, as I did, the report from Johannesburg on 2nd April in The Times: The events of the past few days, culminating in the exiling of the King last night, suggest that the situation after the Prime Minister's nullification of the election at the end of January and the subsequent incarceration of the opposition leadship, who claimed to have won, is finally but slowly coming to the boil. I express a slight but justifiable degree of surprise that, having read these reports, the hon. Gentleman can seriously suppose that in circumstances of this kind, the normal criteria of recognition can be held to be satisfied. Since he makes a point about other countries' recognition of the Government of Lesotho, perhaps I might say that the countries which have so far recognised the new Government of Lesotho are South Africa, France, the Netherlands and Taiwan. No other country has, so I express my surprise at this.

However, let me emphasise that there are encouraging developments. It was reported from Maseru on 8th April that the leaders of the four political parties are to arrange a round table conference to discuss the prevailing situation and the future. We are glad about this. We hope that the present unhappy situation in Lesotho can be speedily resolved. Nothing would please us more. We would like to be in a position where we could continue our aid programme and, as we have done before, assist in a development effort to help the people of Lesotho.

In the meantime, we must continue to regard the whole area of British-Lesotho relations as under review, including the aid programme. We are one of the two major donors—probably the major donor—to Lesotho. There are not many others. Apart from South Africa, the only two who are marginally concerned are Germany and Sweden. So it is a matter of vital concern both to Lesotho and to us.

Our present position on aid is that there has been no contact with the Lesotho authorities since the end of January. O.S.A.S. and technical assistance recruitment has been halted. Requests for training are in abeyance. Apart from one payment of £45,000 in February in settlement of a particular O.S.A.S. claim, no aid payments have been made. The claims presented for payment to us, but which we have returned to the Lesotho authorities, total just over £1 million.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the increase last December, and he will be interested to know that I am about to give for the first time publicly the figures which were involved. The aid programme which we offered for Lesotho covering the three-year period from 1st April of this year included budgetary aid up to £2·575 million and development aid of £4·5 million over the three years 1970–73, both in grant form. In addition, the full range of technical assistance, including O.S.A.S., the provision of experts and training, would be made available to Lesotho. The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know the firm details of this offer, since they are new to the House.

If the criteria for recognition are satisfied—and I have indicated that the signs are hopeful—and recognition is accordingly granted, I will, of course, consider the resumption of the aid programme in the light of these new circumstances. The basis on which our offer was made last December will now be looked at in the context of recent events. Before I could feel it right to resume budgetary and development aid, naturally I would want to be assured that Lesotho's capacity and ability to spend money usefully remained as it was when the offer was made, and that the level of budgetary aid remained justified. Naturally, these would be points on which I would need to be satisfied in the light of the events of the past few months. But I would certainly hope that the circumstances prevailing would prove to be such as to present no great difficulties on either.

I think that things are moving now in a more satisfactory direction and——

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-one minutes to Eleven o'clock.