HL Deb 13 July 1967 vol 284 cc1269-73

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I will now answer the Private Notice Question which the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool asked earlier. If I may, I will use the same words as were used by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in another place in answer to a Question. His words were:

"On the 9th of July an assurance was received from the Algerian Government that access to the two pilots would be allowed in the next two or three days. That assurance has not yet been honoured. In spite of the sustained efforts of the Swiss Ambassador in Algiers it has not yet been possible to see the pilots. The Ambassador is urgently seeking a further interview with the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Meanwhile I have sent a message to the Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, M. Bouteflika, through Lord Caradon in New York, asking that the Algerian Governments assurance about a visit to the pilots should be honoured at once. We are also, of course, in touch with the Governments of other countries involved.

"I do wish to assure the House that we are doing our utmost to get consular access to these two men. We are also pressing for their release.

"I fully understand the concern of the House in this difficult matter."


My Lords, arising out of the disappointing, but not entirely unexpected, Statement made in reply to my Question by the noble Lord, may I ask whether Her Majesty's Government realise that many people in this country—and I do not doubt that that includes many in your Lordships' House—are extremely perturbed (I refrain from using stronger language) at the complete failure of Her Majesty's Government to obtain access to these British pilots or, indeed, to obtain any reliable information about this distressing affair. Is it not possible for Her Majesty's Government to use some more effective action to bring this about?


My Lords, I am well aware of the feelings of the country and of noble Lords, including the noble Lord who has asked this Question—feelings which are to a very large extent shared by Her Majesty's Government. But I can assure the noble Lord that the courses that we are pursuing not only are the main ones which are in fact open to us, but also are those which, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, are the most likely to succeed, in the first place, in gaining access to the pilots and, in the second place, in securing their release.


My Lords, could the noble Lord give us any reassurance as to the health of the two pilots and their well-being?


My Lords, that assurance can only be given second hand or third hand. We have been assured indirectly, through the channels we have, that they are in good health and are being well looked after.


My Lords, if the two pilots are eventually cleared of any responsibility for the diversion of their aircraft in the kidnapping of Mr. Tshombe, would the Government consider putting in with the Algerian Government a claim for damages in respect of their long, and apparently quite unjustified, detention?


My Lords, this is a matter involving a certain amount of legal expertise which I do not pretend to have, but I should have thought that, had the pilots been unjustifiably detained in a manner contrary to the law of Algeria, they themselves would be in a position to institute proceedings against the Algerian Government. But I am not myself an expert on Algerian law.


My Lords, would not a claim lie for damages in respect of detention of the aircraft?


My Lords, that would be a matter for the owners of the aircraft, or the charterers of the aircraft, to investigate; not for Her Majesty's Government.


My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that this has now become an international scandal? Is it not a fact that only nine days ago the General Assembly, by 116 votes to none, passed a resolution, one of the provisions of which was to call on all member States to recognise the essential and inalienable rights of the human individual? The fact that these two men are being held incommunicado surely is in conflict with that resolution. What I should like to ask my noble friend is whether, in addition to contact made with the representative of the Algerian Government in New York, the services of the Secretary-General could not be invoked, in view of the fact that this is in conflict with the wish and will of the General Assembly itself?


My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that this has now become, in his words, an international scandal; and I also agree with the words he used on an earlier occasion about the intolerable behaviour of the Algerian Government in this respect. With regard to eliciting the help of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, I should have thought it would be better, in the first instance, to pursue the matter through my noble friend Lord Caradon in New York, and at a later stage, if he is unable to get any satisfaction, I think that the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Rowley should certainly be given very close consideration.


My Lords, is there any suggestion that these pilots may have been in some way connected with the kidnapping of Mr. Tshombe?


My Lords, I know of no evidence whatsoever to support that suggestion.


My Lords, I think that the noble Lord said last week that Algeria was not a signatory of the Tokyo Convention. Is it not a Convention widely accepted in the United Nations, and is not Algeria a member State of the United Nations? Furthermore, ought they not to be forcibly and publicly reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, or anybody else who can bring influence to bear, of the provisions of that Convention for the return of aircraft and permission for the passengers in aircraft in these conditions to be allowed to go on their way?


My Lords, I am quite sure that this is a line which my noble friend Lord Caradon will pursue in his preliminary negotiations. Whether it will more effectively be followed up, if he fails, as I hope he will not, by a more public announcement and statement on these lines, I think we shall have to leave to future developments.


My Lords, I associate myself with the deep concern expressed from all quarters of this House about this intolerable position. The noble Lord said that there was no evidence that the two pilots were in any way implicated with the kidnapping of Mr. Tshombe. Does the noble Lord have any more information about the circumstances in which this incident in fact took place? I think I am right in saying that two of the Spanish guards have now been released. Are Her Majesty's Government in contact with the Spanish Government? Have they approached the Spanish Government with a view to eliciting from them at least some further knowledge, or some further information, about this case? I hope the noble Lord can tell us that they are taking this action. Can he also assure us that if the Government do not receive satisfaction to the various representations which they are making they have not closed their mind to taking, or at least considering, a whole series of possible steps which they should take to secure the release of these two men and the aircraft?


My Lords, I would remind the noble Earl of one sentence in the Statement made by my right honourable friend which I have just repeated, where he said: We are also, of course, in touch with the Governments of other countries involved". So far, I repeat, there is no evidence that has come out to implicate the pilots in the kidnapping. But I can assure the noble Earl that we are in touch with any other Governments which may be involved in this matter, which of course includes the Spanish Government. With regard to the second part of his question, I can also assure him that the Government's mind is never closed, and in this case it is certainly not closed on these particular aspects of the problem.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether Her Majesty's Government have had discussions or consultations with the French Government, and whether he does not feel that possibly it might be useful, and more effective than relying on the Swiss Government? Also, does not the noble Lord feel that the relationship between the French Government and Mr. Bouteflika and Colonel Boumedienne may assist in some small way?


My Lords, since we have no diplomatic relations with Algeria, we naturally have to work through—and are very happy to work through, and are most grateful to them for being prepared to let us do so—the Swiss Government, which is the protecting Power in this particular case.