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Rhodesia (Sanctions)

Volume 927: debated on Wednesday 2 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is satisfied that no major British companies have been involved in the breaking of sanctions against Rhodesia.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what evidence he has received about the breaking of Rhodesian sanctions.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is satisfied with the operation of sanctions against Rhodesia by British companies.

I am generally satisfied with the observance of sanctions against Rhodesia by United Kingdom firms, but where we have evidence suggesting breaches of sanctions we certainly investigate these. Our record in this respect is second to none.

Has my hon. Friend seen the documents "The Oil Conspiracy" produced by an American church group and "Shell and BP in South Africa" produced by the Anti-Apartheid Movement? If he has, does he agree that they contain allegations and evidence that British oil companies have been involved in breaking sanctions, which allegations and evidence warrant a full and independent inquiry? Does he agree that this is particularly important in the case of BP, since the Government have a majority shareholding in that company?

As the reports to which my hon. Friend refers were published only yesterday, I have not had a chance to look at the evidence collected in them. I shall certainly look at it very seriously indeed and if there is evidence relating to sanctions-busting by British companies we shall take appropriate action.

While appreciating that it is only yesterday that the reports were published, may I ask whether it is not a fact that the Rhodesian régime can exist only for so long as oil is delivered to it in large quantities? Since the only companies that can deliver that oil are Mobil, Shell and BP, there is a strong circumstantial case that they are breaking sanctions. Will my hon. Friend refuse to allow parent companies in London to say that these are subsidiary companies over which they have no control, in view of the large ownership that the companies in this country have in Southern Oil, for example?

I do not think it would be right and proper for me to comment on what my hon. Friend has rightly described as circumstantial evidence. There have been occasions in the past when evidence that has been brought forward on this score has not been proved sound enough to take action. Any additional evidence will, of course, be looked at extremely seriously.

When my hon. Friend considers the reports that have already been mentioned, will he bear in mind that BP Southern Oil is 100 per cent. a British-owned company and that one of the managing directors of BP is also a director of Southern Oil? In view of this fact, will my hon. Friend seriously investigate the claims made by the parent companies and the claims made against them by the anti-apartheid group?

We shall certainly look seriously at any new evidence that is brought forward relating to sanctions-busting by any British company, irrespective of its ownership.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that sanctions were introduced long before terrorism began, with the idea of exerting peaceful economic pressure on the Smith Government? Is he further aware that terrorism has increased to a large extent since then and that to maintain or even tighten sanctions at present means that we are becoming accomplices of the terrorist war against Rhodesia? Does the hon. Gentleman think that this is an acceptable position for the British Government to be in?

The right hon. Gentleman referred to our being accomplices of the terrorists. But if we lifted sanctions at this stage we would be accomplices of the Smith regime. Only a couple of months ago this House debated sanctions and approved the order, which it has done for the past 11 years. We would be willing to lift sanctions if we could establish an interim Government who were acceptable to all.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that sanctions have totally failed, particularly as the only people they have hurt are the black Rhodesians? Does he also agree that the time has now come for the Government to go to the United Nations and say that it is right for sanctions to be lifted?

Of course, sanctions have not been effective as they ought to have been. Nevertheless, they are a clear demonstration by this country that we stand by what we said—that the Smith regime is illegal and that we do not intend to condone it in any way.

Does my hon. Friend agree that if sanctions had been applied vigorously and efficiently, the Rhodesian economy would have collapsed years ago? Will he conduct an independent inquiry into the allegations that were made yesterday?

There are well-known and established procedures for dealing with evidence in relation to any cases of sanctions-breaking. Those procedures should be followed in this case as, indeed, they have been in previous cases.