Mr. H. Wilson
(by Private Notice) asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will make a statement about the position of four British prisoners in Laos.
§ The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. J. B. Godber)
No additional information about the doctors and two members of Her Majesty's Embassy at Vientiane who are missing in Laos has come to hand since my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary made a statement yesterday in another place on this subject.
Her Majesty's Ambassador at Vientiane has been in constant contact with Prince Souvanna Phouma and also with Prince Souphannouvong and his military commanders, from whom the units holding the prisoners are understood to accept orders. He has also spoken to the Soviet Chargé d'Affaires and the Polish Commissioner on the International Control Commission.
Although the Ambassador has been assured on several occasions that there is no cause for concern, and that delays can be accounted for by difficulties of communication, it has been impossible to establish any direct contact with the prisoners or their captors.
The Ambassador delivered a personal message to Prince Souvanna Phouma from my noble Friend at the end of last week, in which he requested the Prince to give very urgent attention to the matter. The Prince promised an early reply on the subject, but none has so far been received.
The disappearance of the four British subjects is a matter of most serious concern to Her Majesty's Government, who deeply sympathise with the next-of-kin of those who are being held captive. We shall continue to do everything possible to secure the prisoners' release.
This is getting rather intolerable. Since all of us are desirous of seeing the success of the new Government in Laos, will the Minister ensure that our representatives there make clear to the members of the Government, and particularly to those to whom it is 1160 understood the captors of the British prisoners owe allegiance, that we attach the very greatest importance to this matter being cleared up, not only because it is intolerable that both doctors and diplomats should be held in this way, but also because the whole world wants to see some sign of the return of effective Government in Laos? Will the Minister also say what information he has to confirm or disprove the statement that one of the doctors in captivity is ill?
§ Mr. Godber
On the second point, we have been unable to get any confirmation one way or the other.
I agree entirely with the rest of the right hon. Gentleman's question. I think that both sides of the House deplore this situation deeply and that it would be to the advantage of the Vientiane Government if they were to take immediate action in this matter. We want to see that Government succeed, but they must abide by proper international rules.
§ Dame Irene Ward
Would it not be a good idea if my hon. Friend were to fly out to Laos and insist upon seeing, through the appropriate channels, these men who are held in captivity? Why should he merely sit here and ask for something to be done which the Laos Government are not prepared to do? Why cannot he go out and get on the track straight away?
§ Mr. Godber
I would be very willing to do so if that would serve any useful purpose, but we have complete confidence in our Ambassador there.
§ Sir C. Osborne
Can nothing be done through our Chargé d'Affaires in Pekin, since the Soviet representative seems not to be able to help us? Surely, we have a very good man in Pekin. Could he not help us in this matter?
Mr. H. Wilson
While dissociating ourselves from the suggestion that the Minister should go himself—we shall find other means of getting rid of him before long—may I ask whether, when the proposals are made for reconvening the conference in Geneva to clear up any of the Laotian problems, he will at least make it clear, particularly to Prince 1161 Souphannouvong, that we do not want to bring him to Geneva until he has cleared up this matter? We would not want his presence in Geneva to be used as an excuse for further difficulties in getting this request for release through to the captors of these prisoners.
§ Mr. Godber
It is important that we should take up this matter in the strongest terms, but I do not think that we should link it necessarily with the return to Geneva. The two things are separate. But we want to bring the utmost pressure to bear and to that extent I agree with the right hon. Gentleman.