HC Deb 22 July 1971 vol 821 cc1678-81

Mr. Goodhart (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the removal by the Libyan authorities of passengers from a B.O.A.C. aircraft flying to Khartoum.

The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Joseph Godber)

A B.O.A.C. VC10 en route from London to Khartoum on a scheduled flight entered Libyan airspace early this morning and was ordered by Benghazi air traffic control to land at Benina airport. The pilot turned back towards Malta but shortly afterwards while the plane was still over Libyan territory Benghazi air traffic control threatened to shoot it down if it did not land at Benina. As the pilot was carrying a full load of passengers including women and children, he had little choice but to obey these instructions.

On landing at Benina airport the Libyan security authorities asked to speak to Colonel Babiker el Nur, who was travelling on the aircraft. Both he and Major Farouk Hamadalla who was accompanying him were instructed to get off the plane. They at first refused to do so, but after the Libyan authorities had told them that they were endangering the lives of the other passengers, they agreed. The plane then returned to London with the remaining passengers on board all of whom are safe.

Her Majesty's Government take a most serious view of the action taken by the Libyan authorities which is clearly in complete violation of international civil aviation practice. On hearing of the matter, I immediately summoned the Libyan Ambassador and told him that his Government's action had been outrageous. I protested in the strongest possible terms at an action which we condemned as inexcusable. I demanded that the Sudanese who had been removed from the plane should be released at once and allowed to proceed to Khartoum or to return to London as they wished. I demanded an apology and told him that his Government's action was bound to have a severe effect on our relations with Libya.

Mr. Goodhart

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is it not plain that this is official kidnapping, and can my right hon. Friend say what international action we are taking to try to bring pressure to bear on the Libyan Government to behave in a less irresponsible fashion?

As my right hon. Friend will be aware, there is at the moment a Libyan arms purchasing mission in this country. Is he aware that many of us think that it would be quite wrong to sell any arms at all at the moment to a Government who behave in such an irresponsible fashion?

Mr. Godber

My hon. Friend will appreciate that at the moment we are seeking to get the fullest possible facts of the matter. I have chosen my words with some care, and I should prefer not to add to them at this stage, other than to say by way of reply to the last part of my hon. Friend's question that a matter of this kind will be certain to be affected if we do not get satisfaction on this issue.

Mr. Healey

May I associate the Opposition completely with everything that the right hon. Gentleman has said? I should like to follow up the question asked by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart). While recognising that this is a matter which the Government must take very seriously indeed, since it concerns relations between ourselves and another Government, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman would agree that it is an act of international piracy, as well as kidnapping, and is it not the case that some means must be found of engaging an international organisation, the United Nations, in some action in this regard, otherwise a precedent may be set which may have the most damaging consequences in other areas?

Mr. Godber

I recognise the international significance of this. On previous occasions when we have been concerned in this kind of incident we have tried to get agreement for international action. We would still hope to do that, and this is a further case to re-emphasise the need for it. I share the right hon. Gentleman's view.

Mr. Thorpe

Whilst wholly welcoming the firm action taken by the Government in deploring this act, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can say, first, that breaches have been committed under I.A.T.A., to which Libya is a signatory, and may I ask what representations the Government intend to make there?

Second, would the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it is part of this scheduled flight's normal passage to overfly Libyan territory, and therefore there was consent for that overflying to be made?

Mr. Godber

The answer to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question is "certainly". I think that there is a point to be followed up, and I shall be glad to do so. On his second question, I confirm that we have flying rights over Libya in this matter. This plane was on a normal scheduled flight over Libya. It had every right to overfly, and it should never have been interfered with.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Does my right hon. Friend recall that this is not the first case of a deposed political personality from Africa being kidnapped from a British aircraft? In view of the increasing acts of piracy and international lawlessness, will Her Majesty's Government try to concert with allied Governments and all civilised Governments, so far as possible, collective action to meet this threat?

Mr. Godber

I accept the need for collective action, which the Government have tried hard to promote in the past. On the facts of the case, my hon. Friend will appreciate that this is not the case of a deposed leader but a leader who has recently taken over.

Mr. Paget

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a complaint to the United Nations concerning the conduct of a member of the Afro-Asian Communist majority is the equivalent to doing nothing, and will he on this occasion take the responsibility for getting satisfaction ourselves? We shall not get it any other way.

Mr. Godber

Without commenting on the first part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question, may I say that we recognise our own responsibility and that that was the reason for the strength of the statement that I made.