HC Deb 12 July 1976 vol 915 cc39-44
The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Edward Rowlands)

I shall, with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a further statement about Mrs. Dora Bloch.

On 7th July I told the House that we were sending our High Commissioner back to Kampala to discuss Mrs. Bloch's disappearance urgently and fully with the Ugandan Government. Mr. Hennessy saw President Amin on 9th July. On 10th July the Ugandan Government sent Mr. Hennessy a note which continued to deny knowledge of the whereabouts of Mrs. Bloch and repeated that Israel shouldered the responsibility for her as for all other hostages.

As we said at the time, this is totally unacceptable in that Mrs. Bloch was seen by a member of the High Commission staff in hospital well after the Israeli operation at Entebbe Airport was over. We are just not satisfied with the results of any inquiries the Ugandans may have made.

Our High Commissioner in Kampala arrived home this morning. I have had a report personally from him. As a result I deeply regret to have to inform the House that there seems little doubt that Mrs. Bloch was taken from her room in Mulago Hospital at about 9.30 p.m. —local time—on 4th July and that she is no longer alive. We extend our deepest sympathy to all her family. In whatever circumstances Mrs. Bloch's death took place, the Ugandan Government must bring those responsible to justice.

Her Majesty's Government's overriding concern, particularly in the present confused situation in Uganda, must be for the 500 British citizens who still reside there. We should do nothing which could jeopardise their welfare at this time. In the light of Mr. Hennessy's report, he will remain in London for further consultations, while we consider the future of our relations with Uganda.

I should like to take the opportunity to put the record straight on misleading Press reports that Her Majesty's Government sent a message of condolence to President Amin about Ugandan soldiers killed during the Israeli raid at Entebbe. In the course of our many contacts with the Ugandan authorities after the hijacking incident, we did, as did other Western Governments represented in Kampala, express sympathy to the families of all the persons killed in the hijacking incident. These were not regrets to President Amin. No personal message was sent either by my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary or by any other Minister. Her Majesty's Ambassador in Israel also conveyed to the Israeli Government our commiserations with the families of the Israelis killed in the course of the incident.

Mr. Maudling

I thank the Minister for that statement. I recognise the Government's proper concern for the safety of British citizens who are still in Uganda. There is no doubt that we are faced with a particularly hideous and brutal crime. What steps are the Government intending to take to ensure that the Ugandan Government bring those responsible to justice? Secondly, on the Press reports dealing with the message sent by the British Government, is the Minister aware of the degree of outrage felt at those reports over the weekend? I am glad that he has done something to clear that matter. May I ask him whether in the course of the message expressing sympathy, quite rightly, to the families of those who were killed in the incident, anything was said about Mrs. Bloch?

Mr. Rowlands

We shall press the Ugandan Government most strongly to bring these people to justice, but the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), with his experience in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, will know that we are in a very confused and potentially dangerous situation and therefore should do nothing that might jeopardise the welfare of over 500 British citizens who are now in Uganda. On the subject of the conveying of condolences, I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has accepted my statement. There have been many misleading reports. We were not aware in detail of the problem arising from the incident concerning Mrs. Bloch. The moment we were aware of that matter, we pursued it with vigour and determination.

Mr. Greville Janner

Is the Minister aware that yesterday I saw one of the sons of Mrs. Bloch and spoke to another? They have asked me to convey to Her Majesty's Government their deep appreciation of the personal help that has been given to them, not least by the British Consul in Israel. They wish also to say two other things. They wish first to say that they attribute the blame to one man and to one man alone, and that is to President Idi Amin, without whom nothing happens in that country. They ask Her Majesty's Government to use their best endeavours to see that if, hopefully, their mother is still alive, she is returned to them and, if she is dead, that her body may be returned to them so that it may lie alongside her husband.

Mr. Rowlands

I am extremely grateful for those remarks and for the wishes which my hon. Friend has conveyed from Mrs. Bloch's relatives. It would be only a cruel hope if I were to say that there were any hope that she was alive. As for the situation in regard to Mrs. Bloch's body, we have not been able to substantiate the situation. We have had a number of reports, but it would not be helpful if I were to go in for any surmise. I should not like to hold out hope on that last point.

Mr. David Steel

I join in the sincere expressions of sympathy to Mrs. Bloch's relatives. Sadly, is this case not just one among many hundreds of people killed, or missing without trace, in Uganda in recent years? In this wretched business, is not the loss of life among Ugandan soldiers the responsibility of President Amin and his policies? Will the Minister make it clear that international opinion increasingly regards the name of Amin as synonymous with butchery and terror?

Mr. Mellish

Careful David, he is black.

Mr. Rowlands

The hon. Gentleman made a number of points. I do not think that we can comment on whether President Amin was personally responsible. We have had no clear indication and no detailed inquiry into the incident and therefore we cannot make any specific comment. The hon. Gentleman's view will be noted, that international opinion will be outraged by the fact that the incident involved Mrs. Bloch.

Mr. Faulds

Wiil my hon. Friend accept that the murder of an old woman in circumstances such as these is quite beyond the pale of civilised behaviour? Will he further accept that none of us in this House has any time for the conduct of the régime of General Amin? Will he also understand that tragedies such as this will continue in other parts of the world until the major international injustice done to the Palestinian people is put right?

Mr. Rowlands

I do not think that I should go into the much broader issues that my hon. Friend has raised. I agree that the incident involving Mrs. Bloch will be an outrage to the international community.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

I hope that I may join in the condolences that have been expressed and pass on the opinion of a constituent of mine, a niece of Mrs. Bloch, that the Government have done all that they can. Does the Minister agree that what has happened bears a remarkable resemblance to the way in which the former Chief Justice of Uganda was dragged from his court? And those murderers were never brought to justice. What advice is the Minister prepared to give to the remaining British subjects in Uganda? Is it right that they should not be advised to leave? So long as they are there they represent hostages to the sort of foul blackmail that Amin is continuing to perpetrate.

Mr. Rowlands

British citizens in Uganda will be fully aware of the situation. They have gone through many crises in the past few years. If the Government were officially to make the kind of comment that the hon. Gentleman has made we could exacerbate the situation, and that is what we are trying to avoid.

Mr. Ogden

My hon. Friend's statement is important for what it does not say about other relations in Southern Africa or the presence of the Foreign Secretary to make a statement. May I therefore ask the Leader of the House to introduce a motion for the Adjournment of the House—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That does not come at this stage. I thought that the hon. Member wanted to ask a question.

Mr. George Cunningham

On the question of the 500 remaining United Kingdom citizens in Uganda—not British subjects, because General Amin and the entire population of Uganda are British subjects—will the High Commission in Kampala be informing them that it is impossible in present circumstances for us to guarantee their safety and that they ought to leave the country, and that if they do not we can take no responsibility for their continued safety?

Mr. Rowlands

I cannot say that the High Commission will be expressing advice in those terms, but it will be advising all individuals of the problems associated with the situation.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I shall allow only two more questions, because there is a further statement to be made to the House.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

First, will the Foreign Office make some amends for its incredible weakness so far by at least showing itself resolved at today's meeting of the Security Council to make a resounding condemnation of terrorism? That would give some gratification to those who feel totally let down by the weakest Foreign Office that this country has ever seen.

Mr. Rowlands

The right hon. Gentleman's remarks about our stance is quite unjustified. We shall support every effort at the Security Council to condemn international hijacking and terrorism.

Mr. Jay

In view of what appears to be the barbaric conduct of the Ugandan Government, will the Government seriously consider advising United Kingdom citizens in Uganda to return home?

Mr. Rowlands

I have noted the representations made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but I hope that hon. Members will realise the importance of such remarks if they were made by the Government at this time.