HL Deb 07 July 1983 vol 443 cc643-4
Lord Mackie of Benshie

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what new steps they intend to take in order to secure the release of the British mercenaries held for so many years in Angolan prisons.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, we continue to seek the agreement of the Angolan Government to the early release of our prisoners. Our new Ambassador has been instructed, as a matter of priority, to emphasise the importance that we attach to this.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. I am very glad to hear that the new Ambassador—who she was kind enough to let me meet—is going to make this matter an important part of his duties. May I ask the noble Baroness whether the Foreign Office knew of the American negotiations with the Angolan Government for the release of American prisoners, and, if the Foreign Office knew, whether any attempt was made to get in on the act and to associate ourselves and our own prisoners with this release? In view of the fact that the horse trading of the Americans, and indeed of the Soviet Government, has succeeded in freeing their nationals from the Angolan prisons, will our new Ambassador have power to negotiate and in fact to horse trade, or are we going to continue only to plead?

Baroness Young

My Lords, on the question of the exchange of American mercenary prisoners, I must explain that we had no standing and no involvement in the negotiations leading to their release. But, in the light of what information was available to us, it was our judgment that it was simply not feasible to have our prisoners included and that our interests would be best served by continuing the bilateral contact. As I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate, all discussions of that nature that are going on have to be confidential.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware of the reports which have been published in the newspapers that the conditions under which these prisoners are living in Angola are appalling? Can she confirm that, and can she say what steps are being taken to ensure that the prisoners have a reasonable diet, as well as medical attention? Can the noble Baroness tell the House what is the precise nature of the commitment by the Angolan Government to release the prisoners this year, "when time is appropriate"? Do the Government regard that as a formal commitment? Finally, will the noble Baroness confirm that the continued imprisonment of these British subjects, when other nationals have been released, is a major obstacle to improved relationships between this country and Angola?

Baroness Young

My Lords, on the matter of the prisoners' conditions, I would say that Embassy staff visit the prisoners each month, and they are able to take in food and mail. I would draw the noble Lord's attention to an Answer which was given in another place, in November, by my honourable friend Mr. Onslow, setting out in some detail the conditions of the prisoners. Although it is never agreeable to be in prison, I think one can say that the prisoners have enough to eat and that their health is regarded as good. On the point that the noble Lord raised about the negotiations themselves, I would point out that, during his visit to London last February, the Angolan Foreign Minister said that his Government were looking for an opportune moment to release the prisoners, which he hoped would occur this year. We have urged that it should be done as soon as possible.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that there is no official money available to help the prisoners, and that what the Embassy does is to pass on private contributions? Can she perhaps assure the House that the Ambassador will have the power to horse trade, if necessary, to get the prisoners out?

Baroness Young

My Lords, with regard to the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question, my understanding is that, yes, the food and other supplies come from private contributions. The other matters are entirely confidential, and I think that to comment on them at this time would not help the prisoners, nor anyone.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether she is aware that these unfortunate young men were lured into this service by recruiting agents in this country—they were unemployed of course—and are the Government giving any consideration to restricting the activities of these agents in future?

Baroness Young

My Lords, we are aware of the circumstances which led these young men to be recruited as mercenaries. We regard this as a quite deplorable practice, and we have condemned it. As I have indicated, we are taking all steps we possibly can to try to see that they are released.

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