HL Deb 19 September 1972 vol 335 cc872-5

2.53 p.m.


My Lords, since I made my Statement yesterday, our High Commissioner has had a further meeting with the Ugandan Foreign Minister. The High Commissioner once again expressed his concern at the arbitrary detention of a number of British citizens over the past 24 hours. He said that he did not think there was a single Briton who represented a security risk to Uganda, and once again denied the allegation by the Ugandan Government that Britain was involved in the present fighting. The Foreign Minister said that security checks were being carried out on foreigners of all nationalities and on Ugandans. There was no discrimination against British subjects. If there appeared to be discrimination, this was because British subjects were more numerous than other foreigners.

The situation in Kampala continues to be tense and the security checks continue. Five British subjects who were detained on September 17 have not yet been released. A further 35, including 4 children, were detained yesterday and have not yet been released. Seven British subjects were detained yesterday and have since been released. The High Commission staff was able to visit all but 10 journalists, whose location is still unknown. The British subjects who were visited were reasonably comfortable and had not been ill-treated. Representations were made both orally and in writing to the Ugandan Ministry of Foreign Affairs last night about the detained people, and the High Commission is continuing to press for their release. Her Majesty's Government are naturally keeping the closest possible watch on the situation. It must be for our High Commission in Uganda to give advice.

Outside Kampala the High Commissioner has reported this morning that his communications with the British community are still adequate except in the South-West, where telephone contact has not been re-established. The fighting in the South-West continues. We have no reliable information about what is going on but it appeared last night that the anti-Government forces, after achieving some local successes, had lost momentum.

The Indian Governent have announced that Asian United Kingdom passport holders expelled from Uganda holding entry certificates for the United Kingdom who wish to go to India in the first instance can be given Indian visas in accordance with Indian regulations. This is something which we warmly welcome. We do not know how many people will wish to take up this offer but we believe there could be considerable numbers, particularly among the elderly and those with close family connections in India. This will contribute greatly to easing the burden of resettling those who come to this country. We are in close touch with the Indian Government about transport and reception arrangements.

2.57 p.m.


My Lords, the House will again be grateful to the noble Baroness for making this Statement. We on this side of the House will certainly leave it to the discretion of Her Majesty's Government if they feel it necessary to make a Statement tomorrow or Thursday. We should not press for one unless we felt it necessary, but I think we should like to have a Statement on Friday before your Lordships' House adjourns until October. We should support the Government in their representations to the Ugandan Government. I think there is some assurance in the fact that the British subjects who have been visited appear to be reasonably comfortable and have not been ill-treated. Therefore we must hope that that applies to all those who are under arrest or in detention.

I wonder whether the noble Baroness could say anything about the reports of harassment of British passport holders on their way from their homes to Kampala airport yesterday, and whether she could confirm the report, I think on the "tape", that the British High Commission has processed some 8,000 Asians and that if those persons had been processed by the Ugandan Government there is no reason at all why they should not be in aircraft and on their way to this country. We have all read with great interest in our papers this morning of the way in which the first batch of refugees were received yesterday. It is perhaps too early to congratulate the Resettlement Board, since this is the first flight; but I think we can all be assured, particularly when we see the voluntary organisations such as the W.R.V.S. and the Red Cross there, showing their habitual and well-recognised kindness and understanding, which I am certain gave to the Asians a little more warmth than the weather gave to them on their arrival here.

I have only one more point on this matter. It seems from the first breakdown of those on the first aircraft that about half are likely to go to friends and relations in the heavily congested areas, and the other half, approximately, have no special place to which to go. I wonder whether Her Majesty's Government would not agree that this is a national effort and that an appeal should be made to local authorities and employers in those parts of the country where there is no immigrant problem to make a special effort and to come forward, either to Her Majesty's Government or to the Resettlement Board, offering accommodation and jobs. I think the Government would get a response if they made an early statement as to how they see their part in easing the burden on local authorities who will be presented with a special problem. Also, it would assist if the Government could give an indication of the monies that will be available and the terms they have in mind. If the Government could make an early Statement we might see some response from local authorities throughout the country which clearly would relieve much of the burden on those areas that we have particularly in mind.


My Lords, I should very much like to support the energetic action which is being taken by our High Commission in Kampala in defence of the rights and interests of British subjects. I should also like to applaud the generous decision of the Indian Government, which brings a ray of light into what is otherwise a most intolerable situation.


My Lords, I should like to thank both the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for their support of the frequent representations that have been made by our High Commissioner in Kampala. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, I will certainly be prepared—and I have cleared this with the noble Earl the Leader of the House—to make a further and last Statement before we rise on Friday. We understand that it is true that harassment has taken place between Kampala and Entebbe, which is about 15 miles distant, where some of the 8,000 Asians are hoping to board aircraft. Various road blocks were put up, but I believe that some have now come down, so perhaps this is an improvement in the situation.

It is perfectly true that 8,000 Asians have been cleared by both the Ugandan authorities and ourselves. We are not sure whether all of them have yet bought a ticket, which they do through the Bank of Uganda in Ugandan shillings, but certainly the aircraft that have been leaving have not been full. There are plenty of aircraft available, and we hope that this exodus will be staged. So far as the first reception was concerned, I should like to join with the noble Lord in congratulating (why not?) the Resettlement Board and also all the voluntary organisations. They seem to have given a warmth of welcome in very trying circumstances.

With regard to the national effort to which the noble Lord referred so far as it concerns local authorities, employers and individuals, and as to whether an early Statement can be made about the monies available, I notice that my noble friend the Minister of State at the Home Office has been listening to every word and will no doubt have taken it all in. So far as the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, is concerned, I am sure that we speak for everyone in the House when we say how grateful we are to the Government of India for what they have offered to do.