HC Deb 10 March 1976 vol 907 cc409-11
14. Mr. Beith

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many of the passports confiscated from British citizens returning from Angola have not yet been returned.

Mr. Ennals

Thirty-eight up to today.

Mr. Beith

Will the Minister confirm that those which have been returned to former mercenaries have been returned on the basis of an undertaking that they will not in future go to Angola for those purposes? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that action of that kind sets a precedent which might be used by future Governments in order to silence critics or prevent other kinds of conduct which was disapproved of on grounds that it might be controversial?

Mr. Ennals

I think that there are very limited categories in which this action can be taken. The list of categories of persons from whom passports may be withdrawn was given to the House on 15th November 1974 and included those whose past or proposed activities are so demonstrably undesirable that the grant or continued enjoyment of passport facilities would be contrary to the public interest."—[Official Report, 15th November 1974; Vol. 881 c. 265.] I remind the House and especially Opposition Members that this action was taken at precisely the time when reports were coming to this country that some mercenaries had been massacred in Angola. I am happy that the recruitment of mercenaries has now ended. I also point out that if those from whom passports have been withdrawn now apply to the Passport Office their passports will be returned, provided they sign an undertaking that they will not return to Angola as mercenaries.

Mr. George Cunningham

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that many hon. Members in all parts of the House are very disturbed about this practice and feel that while the comparison is far from being an exact one it ill behoves us, who criticised the Berlin Wall, to impose any restrictions upon the exit of citizens of this country from this country? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the impounding of a passport does not prevent a citizen of this country from leaving, nor, indeed, take away his right to come back so long as he has some proof that he is a settled citizen of this country?

Mr. Ennals

I am naturally interested to hear the concerns of my hon. Friends. I think it right that whenever action is taken like this it should be—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I shall answer, because the most recent occasion when this action was taken was when the Conservative Party was in power. This is an action for which there is a precedent set by a previous Conservative Government. Therefore, I shall not take criticism on this issue from the Conservative Party. It is perfectly right for my hon. Friend to express his concern. The fact that this was done for a brief period for a situation that caused great alarm in the House—a situation that has now changed—and the fact that passports can be returned will be a reassurance to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Mandling

Is it not true that the circumstances of the precedent to which the Minister has just referred were quite different, because it had a United Nations resolution behind it? The Minister said that people would not be allowed out if their activities were "demonstrably undesirable". To whom are they "demonstrably undesirable"?

Mr. Ennals

It was demonstrably undesirable—[HON. MEMBERS: "To whom?"] I cannot imagine that hon. Members on either side of the House would say that it was desirable that British citizens should go to Angola as mercenaries and become involved in massacres of other British citizens as well as in the destruction of the lives of the Angolan people.