HL Deb 06 July 1967 vol 284 cc759-63

3.15 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 whether H.M. Consul-General in Algiers has yet been able to interview the pilot, and/or co-pilot, of the British plane in which Monsieur Tshombe was travelling and which is still detained by the Algerian Government.]


No, my Lords. No satisfactory response has been made to the inquiries of Her Majesty's Consul-General, who is also the Head of the British Interests Section in Algiers. Nor has there been any satisfactory response to the representations which the Swiss Government, who protect British interests in Algiers, and the Kuwait Government, who protect Algerian interests in the United Kingdom, have been asked to make.


My Lords, arising out of the noble Lord's reply, may I ask this further question? Does he know that it appears that yesterday a member of the Spanish Consulate interviewed the two Spanish passengers of the plane; and can he say why, so far, Her Majesty's Government have not met with equal success?


My Lords, I cannot say why this should be so; nor, indeed, do I know as a fact, other than what the noble Lord has told me, of the Spanish interview. All I can do is to repeat that we have made every attempt through our Consul-General and through the protecting Power, the Swiss Government, to get a proper settlement and access to British subjects. So far we have failed.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Walston, says that the Government have had no satisfaction in these matters. What are the Government going to do about it? Are they just going to sit down and say, "It is just too bad; we cannot get satisfaction"?


No, my Lords. We will continue through the channels which are open to us. We have made no secret of the fact that we regard the situation as an extremely unsatisfactory one and the attitude of the Algerian Government as extremely unsatisfactory and uncooperative. But one must take a realistic attitude, and the only action open to us is that which we are pursuing at the present time, and intend to continue to pursue.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether the Algerian Government is under a legal obligation to liberate kidnapped passengers?


My Lords, in the first place, one has to establish that the passengers have been kidnapped. I do not want to pre-judge this issue because, so far as we are concerned, it is still wrapped in a considerable veil of mystery. But to the best of my knowledge—and this is a highly technical question of International Law—the Algerian Government is at this stage not infringing any international obligation.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether the Algerian Government has signed or ratified the Tokyo Convention? It is directly applicable in this case, as we know from our previous debates on the Bill.


My Lords, it has not done so.


My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that the failure of the Government of Algeria to acknowledge the representations made by our Consul-General is an intolerable humiliation of this country? Is not its action also a breach of the Charter of the United Nations? May I repeat my suggestion made last week, that Her Majesty's Government should consider raising this matter at the United Nations, not only as a breach of the Charter but as a breach of the Declaration of Human Rights which no doubt, like other Governments, the Government of Algeria has already signed?


My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that this is an intolerable act on the part of the Algerian Government, and that Government is in no doubt at all as to our feelings on that matter. But I am afraid that, so far as the United Nations and Human Rights are concerned, there is no machinery, either in the United Nations General Assembly Third Committee, which deals with human rights, or in the United Nations Human Rights Commission, for hearing complaints about individual violations of human rights. Therefore, from the strictly legal point of view, I fear that there is no profitable avenue to be explored there.


My Lords, may I ask whether it would not be better for Her Majesty's Government at once to refuse the acceptance at any British airport of Algerian-registered aircraft until we have received satisfaction?


My Lords, before taking any particular action, either of the kind the noble Lord suggests or any other action, we must ascertain the true facts of the case. I emphasise that as yet we do not know what the situation is. All we know as a fact is that we have been refused access to two British subjects. That is the only matter on which we are absolutely certain. I do not think that at this stage the action suggested by the noble Lord would be an entirely appropriate one.


My Lords, the noble Lord has said that we do not know the full circumstances, and that is true. But is one thing not quite clear: that this aeroplane was hi-jacked? Do the Government need to know any more than that before they pursue the matter?


No, my Lords; even that is not entirely clear. All we know is that the aircraft took off from, I believe, Majorca, having filed a certain flight plan, and eventually landed in Algeria. More than that we do not know, other than that a radio message was picked up somewhere—and I do not know where that was—purporting to come from the pilots. But until the pilots have been seen and interviewed, it is impossible for us to be absolutely clear about anything.


My Lords, supposing the Algerian Government continues its policy of refusing any information, this situation may go on for ever. It seems to me that there must be some counter-action which Her Majesty's Government could take and ought to be take. I agree entirely with noble Lords who have said that this is an intolerable humiliation for us. Surely there is some counter-action we can take that would affect the Algerian Government. Are Her Majesty's Government considering any such counter-action, in whatever field it may be?


My Lords, I know that the noble Marquess will not expect me to indulge in future hypotheses as to what might be done if something did or did not happen, but I can assure him that the Government are considering very actively the sort of steps which will be taken or might appropriately be taken, in certain circumstances.


My Lords, but the circumstance I am envisaging is that no reply is received from the Algerian Government to all our complaints. What action do the British Government propose to take in such circumstances?


All I can tell the noble Marquess is that consideration is being given to that action, but he, with his very much greater experience than I have, will not expect me, in answer to a hypothetical question, to say what Her Majesty's Government might do.


My Lords, may I pursue the point which was raised by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye? It appears that everybody in the world, except the British Government, knows the simple facts of the case. The facts are that our pilots have been incarcerated. Why on earth cannot the Government say, "Until we get satisfaction, Algerian planes will not land in this country"? That we have every right to do.


Of course the Government can say that, and can do that; but the decision at this moment—what the decision will be in 24 hours' or 48 hours' time I cannot tell, because the situation is continually moving—is that the best way of achieving our desired purpose is by the means which we are pursuing at present.


My Lords, will my noble friend not allow himself to be pressed into taking economic sanctions, as has been urged from the other side of the House, until we are in full possession of all the circumstances?


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will grant me the indulgence of asking one further question. Could the noble Lord inform the House where, and in what conditions, these two pilots are being detained at the moment?


No, my Lords, I am afraid I cannot even do that, because we have not been able to get even that information from the Algerian authorities.