HL Deb 31 July 1961 vol 234 cc3-5

2.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government if they will make a statement regarding the arrest of three British soldiers by the Iraqi authorities.]


My Lords on the morning of Sunday, July 23, two non-commissioned officers and a sapper of the 34th Field Squadron Royal Engineers set out in a Ferret scout car on a routine road check in the northern part of Kuwait. Scout cars carry armour for the protection of their occupants but this one was unarmed and the only weapons it contained were the personal ones of the crew. The party had instructions to stop at a check point twelve miles from the frontier but failed to do so and passed through it in the direction of the border. The country between the check post and the border is flat, featureless desert and the border is undemarcated. It is now evident that the men lost their way, inquired it of an Arab boy, and were directed to the Iraqi post at Safwan, where they were arrested.

According to the latest reports, the men are at Baghdad, where our information is that they are being well treated, although no member of the staff of our Embassy at Baghdad has yet been allowed access to them. On July 25, Her Majesty's Embassy addressed a note to the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs asking for an assurance that the men and the vehicle would be returned to Kuwait and that in the meanwhile the Embassy should be permitted immediate access to the men. The Ambassador repeated these requests when he saw the Iraqi Foreign Minister on July 29. The only communication received as yet from the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a Note protesting at this incident, which it describes as a provocative, aggressive action, a breach of the sovereignty of Iraq and a violation of international law. The Iraqi Government has also addressed a similar letter to the Security Council. The Iraqi Note said that the decision in the case had been entrusted to the investigating and judicial authorities. We have not yet been informed of the results of this investigation.

The Iraqi authorities seem to be making rather heavy weather of an unfortunate human error; their investigation can reveal only that the men were guilty only of getting themselves lost.


My Lords, I beg to thank the noble Earl for his reply. Arising out of it, may I ask him three supplementaries? First, has the noble Earl seen the report in the Press that a Baghdad newspaper has alleged that the three men have confessed to having been on a sabotage mission; and would he make a comment on that allegation, which is quite a serious, if not a sinister, one? Secondly, will the noble Earl continue to demand either the release of the men and the vehicle or, at any rate, that the Ambassador or a member of his staff should be allowed to see these men, in view of the fact that they are not prisoners of war but merely accidental trespassers into Iraqi territory? Thirdly, if the men are to undergo what seems to be little more than a propagandist demonstration for internal purposes, if they are tried will the noble Earl see that they have a proper defence, both of their legal and other rights that may be involved?


My Lords, I have seen the Press report from Iraq that these men have confessed that they were on a sabotage mission. That allegation is ridiculous—that is the only word I can use about it—and it can only be cheap propaganda. As we are not in a state of war with Iraq, certainly these men ought to be allowed to see a representative from the Embassy, and the Ambassador will continue to press that they should be allowed to do so. The answer to the noble Lord's third question is: Yes. Should this come to a trial, we shall certainly see that the men have proper representation; but I hope it will not. We have friendly relations with the Iraqi Government, in spite of what has happened, and I hope they will treat this matter, as I indicated in the last sentence of my original Answer, as one in which the men made a genuine mistake and there was no military intervention in Iraqi territory of any kind.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Earl.