HL Deb 18 November 1982 vol 436 cc627-9

3.7 p.m.

Lord Gridley

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 they intend to make a statement on the alleged torture of certain white army officers while in the service of the Government of Zimbabwe.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, we are aware of allegations of ill-treatment. Although some of those still detained are United Kingdom citizens, they are also citizens of Zimbabwe, so Her Majesty's Government are not entitled to intervene formally on their behalf. We have, however, made clear our concern to the Zimbabwe Government that all detainees should be brought to trial as soon as possible.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend the Minister for that Answer and appreciating his difficulty and that of Her Majesty's Government in initiating any interference on the issues which arise, is it not a fact that this arises from the destruction of half of Mr. Mugabe's jet air force at Thornhill Air Base in Zimbabwe on July 25th by Zipra guerrillas; and that in that connection Air Vice-Marshal Hugh Slatter and Wing Commander Peter Briscoe were arrested and detained and, my Lords, tortured; and that, according to a medical report, that torture has been confirmed? May I ask my noble friend whether in this matter we can morally stand aside altogether? Would he not agree that the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Mr. Mugabe, has surmounted many difficulties since independence? Might it not be helpful if an unofficial approach were made to him or to some other source which might solve the difficulties which now are before us?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I fully understand the concern expressed by my noble friend. Indeed, during the month of September, on a visit to Zimbabwe, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence made it clear that, while we recognise that this was essentially an internal matter for Zimbabwe, we were concerned about reports of ill-treatment. My right honourable friend urged that the air force detainees should be brought to trial soon, and he was given to understand that this would be the case.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that there is virtually universal condemnation throughout this House, and, indeed, throughout this country, of the inhumanity of torture in any circumstances? Would he agree further that that condemnation pays no attention to the skin colour of the tortured persons? Would it not be unfortunate if, as a result of this Question, the idea were to spread that we were concerned about inhumanity towards people of white skins but not people of other-coloured skins?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I do not think that there is any such assumption in the Question which has been asked by my noble friend.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether the kind offices of the International Red Cross have been sought?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am not aware that this has been done. I repeat—and my noble friend was good enough to recognise the difficulty—that we are in a position where we cannot make formal intervention on behalf of those detained, although informally we have expressed our concern. If I find that the International Committee of the Red Cross has been approached, I promise that I will write immediately to my noble friend.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, can the Minister say a word about the current military assistance that we may be giving Zimbabwe? Is it the case that they have requested further air force officers and that this request has been rejected, and that army officers are still continuing to be supplied to train the Zimbabwe Army? Is that the position?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, no decisions have yet been taken on the size and scope of our future military aid for Zimbabwe.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, surely this is not a question of black and white? These are distinguished officers of the RAF who took on the Zimbabwe job because our Government advised and, in a sense, requested them to do so, and they took on Zimbabwe citizenship for the same reason. These people are there because we asked them to be there. Surely, in those circumstances we have a right to intervene, and a right to say very firmly that not one shilling's worth of aid goes into Zimbabwe while these men are under detention?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, in a case of this kind, we operate under the Haig Convention on the Conflict of Nationality of 1930 to which we are a party. That is the principle of international practice under which we operate. Having said that, I think that I have made clear to the House that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence in particular has made energetic representations in this difficult case.