HC Deb 22 March 1979 vol 964 cc1705-7
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr. David Owen)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.

Hon. Members will have been deeply shocked to hear this morning of the death of our Ambassador to the Netherlands, Sir Richard Sykes, and a member of his domestic staff, Mr. Karel Straub, a Dutch citizen. Sir Richard Sykes was shot while leaving his residence shortly after nine o'clock this morning and four bullets were fired at the car at short range. According to an eye witness, the shots were fired by two men who have not yet been traced and no organisation has yet claimed responsibility for the incident. We are in close contact with the Dutch Government and with other European Governments.

I know the entire House will be appalled by this premeditated act of violence and will join with me in expressing our sincere condolences to Lady Sykes and her family and to the family of Mr. Straub.

Sir Richard was an outstanding representative and his death is a great loss to this country, of which he was a distinguished servant, to the Diplomatic Service, of which he was a greatly liked and respected member, and, above all, to his wife and family, to whom we will all wish to extend our deepest sympathy.

Mr. Pym

The whole House is profoundly shocked by this brutal and pre-meditated murder. The Opposition send their heartfelt sympathy to Sir Richard Sykes' widow and family, and to the family of the Dutch member of staff.

Sir Richard was one more highly distinguished representative of our country, and a completely innocent citizen, whose life has been taken. It is a horrifying event—so much so that it is difficult to grasp and comprehend. Not only are we deeply concerned for his family, but we are also anxious about the safety of our ambassadors and representatives. Only recently the United States ambassador in Afghanistan was murdered.

May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether he will undertake a review of the security arrangements, because it would seem that we are in a new situation now in which the existing level of protection may no longer be appropriate?

May I add a message of sympathy also for our Diplomatic Service, whose members play such a vital role for our country all round the world? While sending our condolences to, and thinking about, this grievous tragedy for Sir Richard Svkes family, we think also of the service of which he was such a respected member.

Dr. Owen

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about Sir Richard Sykes and his family, as well as his remarks about the Diplomatic Service. There is very little doubt that in many different parts of the world it takes risks on our behalf, and they are not always recognised. The security arrangements are under constant review, and must change with the changing situation in many different countries. Arrangements are made either with the host Government or, in exceptional cases, by Her Majesty's Government to protect our ambassadors in posts overseas. I shall certainly look at them, but I can assure the House and the right hon. Gentleman that they are constantly looked at and that the utmost vigilance is observed.

When all is said and done, and as anyone who has lived under any form of protection knows, if people are to conduct themselves in public life openly and in a civilised manner, there will always be some risk. What we must do is to root out the terrorism that makes such occurrences possible.

Mr. David Steel

On behalf of my colleagues, may I join in the expressions of sympathy to the families of Sir Richard and his Dutch member of staff? Sir Richard was known to many of us in this House, in both his present and previous postings. I join with the official Opposition spokesman in supporting the Government in any further steps that they may think it necessary to take to improve the security of our representatives overseas.

Dr. Owen

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Roper

Does my right hon. Friend accept that a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House knew Sir Richard Sykes personally, both in his capacity as a member of the Western European Union Council and, more recently, at The Hague? We know what he did to promote co-operation between parliamentarians in European countries and, therefore, feel very deeply about his tragic and deplorable death. We should like to associate ourselves with the condolences that my right hon. Friend has sent to Lady Sykes.

Dr. Owen

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. One of the striking things about Sir Richard Sykes was the great many friends he had in all walks of life, in this House and elsewhere, who will greatly miss him.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I suggest to the House that we might not wish to continue with a lot of questions on this matter, but I shall call the hon. Member in whose constituency the diplomat resided.

Mr. Michael Hamilton

The Foreign Secretary may be aware that the Ambassador was not merely a constituent but, after more than 30 years in the Foreign Service, was beginning to look forward to his retirement. Will the right hon. Gentleman personally ensure that treatment of the Ambassador's family by his Department, and more particularly by the Treasury, reflects the sympathy that has been expressed on both sides of the House this afternoon?

Dr. Owen


Mr. Speaker

I apologise to those hon. Members who I know had personal links and wanted to put questions on this matter. I think that it is in the best interests of the House for us to move on.