HC Deb 27 July 1967 vol 751 cc978-81

Mr. Ronald Bell (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what further information he has about the British pilots held in Algeria and what action Her Majesty's Government have in mind to procure their release unless some specific charge is preferred against them.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Brown)

As the House will be aware, in response to our requests for consular access Her Majesty's Consul-General was allowed to see the two pilots on 17th July. They were then both cheerful and confirmed that they were in good health and that all their essential needs had been met. The Consul-General has asked for further access, but this has not yet been granted.

Her Majesty's Government are continuing to make repeated efforts to obtain the early release of the pilots. I regret that no reply has yet been received to the representations made by the Swiss Ambassador, who protects our interests in Algeria, or by Her Majesty's Consul-General, nor to the messages which I sent to the Algerian Foreign Minister, M. Bouteflika.

The Swiss Ambassador submitted on 25th July an urgent request for an audience with the Algerian Foreign Minister. He is repeating his request daily, but he has not yet had any positive answer.

As I have said before, the Algerians, in this matter, are acting contrary to international custom, but I am still hoping that they will respond to our representations.

Mr. Bell

Have not these men been held now for four weeks without any charges being made against them and with only one visit having been allowed on behalf of the British Government? Does not the Foreign Secretary feel that the representations which he has been making have not been effectual and that it is now time to consider what other action may usefully be taken by the British Government to exercise pressure upon the Government of Algeria?

Mr. Brown

I agree with all the first part of that supplementary question certainly, and am very concerned about it. However, I do not believe that the hon. and learned Gentleman, if he will allow me to say so with respect, is doing his constituents' interests any good with the second half of his question.

Mr. Ridley

Since the two pilots have now been detained for 27 days without trial, has the right hon. Gentleman gone to the United Nations to ask it what it can do? Further, has he asked the United Nations whether there might be erected some form of international habeas corpus to deal with cases of this sort in future?

Mr. Brown

It would take a very long time to get an arrangement for an international habeas corpus to be erected, and I should not like the pilots to be there all that time. I am using every channel open to us, direct and indirect. I am, just as in the case of the Suez Canal, more concerned with getting results than with making propaganda remarks in the House.

Mr. Molloy

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that the attitude of the Algerian Government has been an offensive affront to the principles of international law? Here are two innocent men being held without trial. Will my right hon. Friend not agree that further action must be required? These two individuals have committed no crime, so far as anyone knows, and, therefore, they are not being held for the purpose of being brought to justice. Surely, the interests of those two people are as important as if 2 million people were involved.

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. They are as important to me as if they were many millions. But I ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind that the making of denunciatory statements about the Government concerned does not necessarily help in getting the men out.

Sir W. Teeling

Has the right hon. Gentleman yet consulted the Spanish Government about the two Spanish policemen who have been got back already? Will that help in any way?

Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware, with regard to Tshombe and this matter as a whole, that many of us have applied to various Heads of State and that today I have had a reply from the President of France that he does not consider that France should interfere in foreign countries?

Mr. Brown

He must have been drawing a distinction between foreign and Commonwealth countries.

On the question of Spain, when I said just now, in answer to an hon. Member, that I have been using and am using every channel open to me, direct or indirect, I think that he may assume that I have the point in mind.

Mr. Rankin

Has my right hon. Friend any idea whatsoever of the nature of any difficulties which may be preventing the release of the pilots?

Mr. Brown

No, I would not like to speculate on that. The fact that the Algerian Head of State and the Foreign Minister have both been out of the country for quite a time may have had something to do with this. The fact that the decision about Mr. Tshombe has not yet been taken may have something to do with this; but I am not speculating on that. My business is to use every channel I can to get these men, who have not been charged, released as soon as I can, and that I am doing.

Lord Balniel

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that we regard this as being a very serious matter, that two British nationals have now been detained without trial for approaching a month? What action has he taken to call to the attention of the United Nations that this is a direct breach of Article 9 of the Declaration of Human Rights? If the diplomatic endeavours are not successful, what further steps is the right hon. Gentleman thinking of taking during the Recess?

Mr. Brown

It is a very serious matter. That is the view I take and on which I have been acting. Article 9 of the Declaration of Human Rights really does not help us in this matter, because the provisions there laid down do not deal with an individual case of this kind. Anyhow, even if they did, the time scale involved is very considerable and one that I am not really prepared to entertain.

I have invited the Secretary-General of the United Nations to use his endeavours to reinforce ours. That is being done. All these channels, every single one of them—and there would have been no other channels open to right hon. Gentlemen opposite if they had been in my place—are being used, and we will get these men released as soon as we can. Talking about retaliatory or other action, in my view, would be a mistake and I do not propose to get drawn into it.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the whole House is very anxious about this matter, particularly those of us who have constituents related to one or other of these men? Is he also aware that some of us think that the diplomatic method is probably the best one and that we wish him well in that?