HC Deb 29 November 1961 vol 650 cc438-41
Mr. Healey (by Private Notice)

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will make a statement on the attack on Mr. Bryan Urquhart in Katanga yesterday.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Edward Heath)

We have received reports from New York stating that the acting United Nations representative, Mr. Ivan Smith, an Australian citizen, as well as Mr. Bryan Urquhart, a British subject, was involved in this attack. They were dragged from a private house where they were dining in Elisabethville last night by Katangese gendarmerie and armed forces and beaten with rifle butts. It is reported that one or both suffered broken ribs.

Mr. Smith managed to escape his attackers, but Mr. Urquhart was released only after strong protests to Katanga Ministers by Mr. Smith.

I have called for an immediate report on this deplorable incident from Her Majesty's Consul and hope to receive it very soon.

Her Majesty's Government deplore the indiscipline which led to the attack and, if the facts are confirmed, have instructed Her Majesty's Consul to lodge a strong protest with the provincial authorities of the Katanga.

I have just seen on the tapes that a Gurkha major and his driver were also seized by Katangans. The driver has been found dead.

Mr. Healey

The House will have heard with a great sense of shock and dismay the news given to us by the Lord Privy Seal. I should like to express, on behalf of all hon. Members present, our profound sympathy with those concerned, particularly Mr. Urquhart, who served the world as a member of the United Nations Secretariat over the last ten years with the same distinction as he served this country in time of war.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman first, whether he can assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will support the efforts which are taken by the United Nations in Katanga to find and punish those who were guilty of this attack? Secondly, does not this incident underline the unwisdom of Her Majesty's Government's delegate in refusing to support the resolution in the United Nations last week which would permit the United Nations in Katanga to use force in the last resort in the pursuit of its agreed aims?

Mr. Heath

I am sure that the House joins the hon. Gentleman in extending sympathy to those who have been affected by this deplorable incident. I have told the House that we have asked for information about it. I have had further information now from the Consul in Elizabethville confirming the details which we have already received. We must consider what action we can take in these circumstances.

This incident is indicative of the great tension existing in Katanga between the United Nations and the provincial authorities and their forces. It has always been our fear that a resolution of the kind which was passed at the United Nations, and others which have been put forward, would lead to greater tension in that area. That is why we have done our utmost—although, as I know, heavily criticised by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite—to prevent this sort of situation occurring. It does not make it any the less deplorable that this incident should have occurred.

Mr. Healey

Is the right hon. Gentleman really suggesting that the provincial authorities in Katanga are responsible for this incident? If not, what is the meaning of his comment?

Mr. Heath

The hon. Gentleman cannot possibly have misunderstood me in that sense. Of course, I am not for a moment suggesting that the authorities themselves are responsible. I am saying that the tension has been heightened by these events. Then we see incidents of this kind, and they arise from great tension. Our object is always to try to lower that tension and encourage conciliation.

Sir R. Grimston

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that this tension was started, and certainly has been heightened, by the action of United Nations troops in Katanga, last September? Has any inquiry been called for into what happened then in view of the allegations on the B.B.C. and by other independent witnesses of what was done by the United Nations?

Mr. Heath

This is the difficulty in which we find ourselves. One incident leads to another. Her Majesty's Government have felt that it would not lead to a reduction of tension to demand inquiries of this kind. We have been working for a meeting between Mr. Tshombe and Mr. Adoula in the hope that between the two of them they could reach a satisfactory solution to the internal problems of the Congo; and we shall continue to work for that.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

Is it not the case that the indiscipline of the Katanga gendarmerie was probably caused by the wholly lamentable speech made by Mr. Tshombe two days ago, and was not it in accord, alas, with the reports he mentioned that Mr. Tshombe was present when Mr. Lumumba was murdered?

Mr. Heath

All these things are interacting, and at the moment they are creating greater tensions. Our object must be to reduce them.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Seeing that the United Nations resolution of two days ago, coming on top of a previous resolution, was quite capable of making the situation in Katanga worse than it is now, why did not Her Majesty's Government veto that resolution in the Security Council?

Mr. Heath

I think that the House knows that it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to use the veto as seldom as possible, and only in situations of the gravest emergency. We were not prepared to use it on that occasion.

Mr. Grimond

In view of this appalling incident in the Congo, which is not the first, can Her Majesty's Government say whether, in their view, the United Nations is capable of giving protection to its personnel whatever they are doing, and, if not, what steps are being taken to see that this is done?

Mr. Heath

It is primarily a matter for the United Nations commander in the Congo to organise the protection required for his forces, but the new Secretary-General of the United Nations appealed in his speech after the debate in the United Nations for an increase in forces to be sent to the Congo.

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