Rhodesia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th November 1978.

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Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley 12:00 am, 7th November 1978

No. It is extremely late. I have waited nine hours to make this speech. I respect the hon. Gentleman, but I prefer to get on with my speech. Others of his hon. Friends also wish to speak.

We must consider the consequences of the failure by this country, the United States and France to press the sanctions issue. Throughout the debate there has been a lack of emphasis on the co-responsibilities of our so-called allies in this matter. After all, we have within NATO and the Western world countries such as the United States, France and Germany that ask for our economic co-operation and expect us to operate within the ambit of the Western world. On this issue they have not been particularly forthright and forthcoming hitherto in dealing with the problem of Rhodesia.

The consequences of not taking effective steps through international sanctions have been, first, that Smith's rebellion has been allowed to survive for 13 years, whereas otherwise, as is clearly indicated in Bingham, the denial of oil would have seriously damaged Rhodesia's economic framework and the regime.

Secondly, the failure on sanctions convinced the people in Zimbabwe that the only way to get rid of the racist regime that they were saddled with was to resort to an armed struggle. That has led to the civil war and the ghastly casualties mentioned in this debate.

Thirdly, the failure on sanctions has done nothing good for this country's reputation in Africa, the Commonwealth and the United Nations. The United Nations has given us all we asked for on the sanctions issue. On 17th December 1965 the United Nations approved oil sanctions against Rhodesia. On 9th April 1966 the United Nations took a step that was unprecedented to that date and I think is unique in the whole of the postwar period. It authorised this country to use force on the high seas to interrupt international commerce—in other words, to prevent oil going to Beira. That was an important decision by the international community, because it gave us the lawful right to use force against the commerce of other countries in pursuance of bringing down the illegal regime in Rhodesia and destroying the rebellion there.

In subsequent years the United Nations also gave full support to demands for sanctions against South Africa, as well as Rhodesia, to make sure that the problem was solved if possible by peaceful means.

The decision about the Beira patrol represented in a sense the high point of the Government's policy of international sanctions and international pressure against Rhodesia and the point at which we had acted sensibly, fairly and honourably in a difficult situation. We had set aside the option of making war, for reasons that I have mentioned. We had called into play the force of the international community and used the mechanism of the United Nations Charter in a perfectly proper manner, and the United Nations had responded to what we had wanted very fully and very promptly. Unfortunately, from that point on there seemed to be on the part of the Government and of the international community a curious lack of interest in or concern about carrying through the sanctions policy, which was effectively the alternative to war, in settling the rebellion.

Two years after the Beira patrol had been authorised and put into effect the Government were notified—in February 1968, according to the Bingham report —that Shell and BP, two British companies, had been supplying oil to Rhodesia, but no action was taken. Nothing at all was done. Nobody disputes the authenticity of the document in Bingham. Nobody disputes that the Government were told at that time—I think George Thomson, as he then was, was the Minister concerned—that Shell and BP had been supplying oil to Rhodesia, but no action was taken.

In February 1969 the Government were again informed about the swap arrangements with Total—in other words, the agreement to make it appear at any rate that British oil companies were not involved was breaking sanctions, although everyone knew that the French company was. Again, no action was taken following this information, and, candidly, I find the explanation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) rather feeble—that on a matter such as this apparently a Minister who was not even directly responsible for the sanctions business conducted the talks with the oil companies and that, after that, somehow the document which contained the statement about these talks wandered round from the secretary to the Cabinet to Ministers here and people there, and no one really took much notice of it. If the account is true, and probably it is, it is a very strange commentary on the seriousness with which the Labour Government in 1969 took the whole issue of sanctions.

But even more astonishing was that, according to the Bingham report, between 1969 and 1976, for a period of seven years, there was no further contact between the Government and the oil companies. That is a most extraordinary situation. Here we had economic sanctions, in which oil clearly was a key factor, approved year in and year out by this House. It was a policy which we had persuaded the international community to adopt and endorse. Yet for a period of seven years there was, according to Bingham—and there is no reason to dispute it—no serious contact between the Governments of the day—Conservative and Labour—and the oil companies about how matters were progressing, despite the fact that it was common knowledge in the world at large that oil was flowing freely through South Africa to Rhodesia. In fact, at the time of the oil crisis in the autumn of 1973 and the beginning of 1974, it was a joke that while we were printing petrol coupons with a view to introducing a rationing scheme, petrol was freely available in Salisbury. Yet no effective action was taken.

In 1973, there was an interesting change, because the Arab countries decided, for their own policy reasons, to impose an oil embargo against South Africa. As a result, South Africa became almost entirely dependent upon Iran for her oil and to this day gets 90 per cent. of her supplies from Iran, which may have some political significance in the present situation.

But far from bringing any additional pressure to bear on South Africa to reinforce the sanctions policy in the period from 1974, I regret to say that since 1974 the Labour Government on three occasions used the veto in the Security Council to protect South Africa from the consequences of her own policies.

The result of all this has been that with sanctions allowed to become ineffective by the neglect of the United Kingdom Government and of the Western world—I emphasise again the responsibility of the United States, France, Germany and other Western Powers in this, because it is very important—we had the drift into civil war in Rhodesia, with the African groupings and leaders coming to the conclusion that they could not look to effective action from the Western world and that there was no alternative but to reach for the gun.

As for Bingham, more than two years ago, in June 1976, there was published in New York a document called "The Oil Conspiracy" by a group called the United Church of Christ. This was based on hitherto secret documents of the Mobil company, which indicated clearly the paper chase and the various schemes and stratagems that Mobil, at least—and, by inference, other oil companies—had been using to get around sanctions.

I mention the date of June 1976 because within a couple of months the British Government were telling the United Nations Sanctions Committee, on 2nd September 1976: The competent United Kingdom authorities have studied the report most carefully, and have discussed its contents with the British oil companies mentioned. These authorities are satisfied that the report contains no evidence of sanction breaking by any British company or individuals, and have accepted the assurance given by Shell and BP that neither they nor any company in which they have an interest has engaged, either directly, or with others, in supplying crude oil or oil products to Rhodesia. This is the same position established as that in 1968, when Her Majesty's Government investigated similar charges at the highest level with the same companies. We had the documents produced in New York, thorough and comprehensive statements, and the Government cheerfully rejected the idea that Shell or BP could be involved in anything. Yet, within seven months of this clear denial that anything wrong was going on, the Bingham inquiry was set up. During the course of that inquiry various bodies have produced abundant evidence of breach of oil sanctions. Just about a year ago, on 16th December 1977, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling on the Security Council to impose oil sanctions against South Africa. This was carried by 113 votes to nil, with 10 abstentions. I cannot give the names of the abstaining countries, but I suspect that they were the Western Powers.

The crucial point which emerges from this history is our policy towards South Africa. In a sense this debate on Rhodesia is a debate on our relations with South Africa. It is peculiarly appropriate that this should be taking place in International Anti-Apartheid Year. Smith's rebellion was possible, and has been continued, only because of support by South Africa. Smith's war machine is fuelled by oil from South Africa. The international war which is now spreading from Rhodesia into Mozambique, into Zambia, into Botswana and, perhaps soon, into Angola, is being waged by aircraft, trucks and military weapons fuelled by oil supplied by South Africa.

The United Nations position is clear. We should support oil sanctions against South Africa. I believe that this is the logic—one Conservative Member said this—of continuing with the policy of sanctions against Rhodesia.

An interesting report has just been submitted to the United Nations Centre against Apartheid by two British economists, Martin Bailey and Bernard Rivers, which deals in detail with oil sanctions against South Africa. It points out that oil is the one vital raw material that South Africa does not possess. A total of 90 per cent. of her supplies come from Iran, and this is vital for the strategic mobility of her armed forces.

The report deals with the suggestion that South Africa could get by for some time without oil imports. It is suggested that she has only one and a half year's stocks and her capacity to produce oil from coal, which has been commented upon a great deal, amounts to meeting only 1 per cent. of her needs. It would be quite feasible for the international community to take a decision that any oil tankers that broke the sanctions and called at South Africa could be subsequently impounded when they called at any other port.

I have concentrated on the sanctions issue because I believe that it is very important to the credibility of this country and other Western countries within the United Nations. I believe that it is very important to the United Nations system of collective security, and that if we do not now abandon the policy of indifference and casual approach towards the issue, make sanctions really effective and take on the challenge of South Africa, not only the interests of this country but the chances of a peaceful settlement of disputes in the world at large will be seriously imperilled.