HC Deb 08 May 1970 vol 801 cc727-9
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement about the kidnapping of Mr. Brian Lea.

On the evening of Monday, 4th May, Mr. Lea was able to meet his wife in President Obote's office, and subsequently returned to his home. He was dishevelled and haggard, with severe swellings on his left foot and left hand. The fracture of a small bone in his left wrist was suspected but not confirmed. He was put under sedation immediately and slept until midday on 5th May. He was still exhausted thereafter, but described his experiences to a member of the High Commissioner's staff, and I received a report on 6th May. This stated that Mr. Lea had been forcibly abducted and held in captivity with his leg tied to a boulder. Subsequently he was driven blindfold to a point where he was handed over to an Indian lawyer whom he knew who drove him to a police post. Meanwhile the Ugandan authorities were continuing their inquiries and took a statement from Mr. Lea on 6th May.

In view of the public interest, I agreed that, subject to the concurrence of the Ugandan authorities, Mr. Lea should give a Press conference on 7th May. On the evening of 6th May, the High Commissioner was requested by the Ugandan authorities not to hold the Press conference, since they had certain reservations about Mr. Lea's account of the events. The Press conference was accordingly postponed. The same evening President Obote outlined to the Deputy High Commissioner the information which in his view cast doubt on the account of his kidnapping which Mr. Lea had given to the Head of the Ugandan Special Branch and indicated that he would feel it necessary to say something in public on this subject on Friday, 8th May.

At about 2.30 p.m. local time yesterday the Deputy High Commissioner received a letter from the Ugandan authorities stating that President Obote would make a statement on this subject in the Uganda Parliament the same afternoon, in which he would announce the appointment of a one-man commission of inquiry. In his statement President Obote recounted a series of circumstances which he held to call in doubt the kidnapping of Mr. Lea and announced the appointment of Mr. Justice Russell, a Judge of the Uganda High Court, as a one-man commission of inquiry to look into all aspects of the circumstances leading to the disappearance and reappearance of Mr. Lea.

I am sure the House will agree that it is in everyone's interest that the full facts about these events, which President Obote described in his statement as a mystery, should be established beyond any doubt. To this end I shall be in communication with the Ugandan authorities about the commission of inquiry set up by President Obote. Her Majesty's Government were not consulted about the setting up of this commission, and the House will I think understand that in the circumstances of this case the appointment of the commission raises a number of questions on which I shall need to consult with the Uganda Government before making any further statement.

Mr. Braine

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for making a statement on this distressing affair. We note that President Obote has decided to set up a one-man commission of inquiry, without, however, prior consultation with Her Majesty's Government.

Two questions immediately arise. First, when will the House be told Mr. Lea's side of the story as recounted to the High Commission? Secondly, in that connection, are the Government considering setting up an inquiry of their own?

Mr. Stewart

On the first question, I have already given the House very briefly the substance of what Mr. Lea told one of the High Commissioner's staff. In view of the proposed commission, I do not think I should go into further detail at this stage. Before I could answer the question about whether the Government will set up an inquiry, I must get answers to a number of questions about what the Uganda Government propose and what the nature of their inquiry will be.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Without pressing the Commonwealth Secretary, but further to what my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) has just asked, would the right hon. Gentleman consider with the Uganda Government the possibility of Her Majesty's Government being associated with whatever inquiry takes place? What is at issue is, first, good relations with Uganda and, secondly, the morale of the Diplomatic Service. As allegations were made against Asians in Uganda in connection with this affair, may we have a statement as soon as possible so that if the allegations are unfair to Asians they can be put right?

Mr. Stewart

I will try to keep the House as up-to-date as I can with information on this matter. On the aspects mentioned by the hon. Member and on all other aspects of the matter, we want the full facts to be ascertained and, in due course, made generally available. I will certainly consider the suggestion made by the hon. Member in the first part of his remarks.

Mr. Hunt

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the allegations which are re-referred to in the miscellany column of the Guardian this morning? If so, will he please ensure that the fullest investigation is made into this aspect of the affair?

Mr. Stewart

I have seen the report. I cannot, of course, comment on it. The fact that reports like this appear again underlines the importance of getting the full facts established beyond doubt.

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