HL Deb 11 May 1983 vol 442 cc461-2

2.41 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress they have made in securing the release of the British mercenaries who have now been imprisoned in Angola for over six years.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, we continue to press the Angolan Government at the highest level on the early release of the prisoners, and we shall maintain our efforts as a matter of high priority.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, in view of the long time that has elapsed, and particularly in view of the success of the Americans in securing the release of their nationals from Angola, can the Minister tell me whether our representative there knew of the American efforts, whether he co-operated with them, and whether we are willing to do a deal? The Minister spoke of high level efforts but, with respect, they do not appear to have been very successful. I should like to know whether we are making real efforts, and efforts which may incur doing a deal of some sort.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords. I cannot say whether a deal is in prospect. If it is, of course, this would be confidential information. So far as our pressure goes, our Ambassador last made representations direct to the President when he had his last private audience on 9th February. But his normal channel of communication with the Angolan Government is through the Minister of External Relations, to whom he has frequently put the case for the prisoners' early release. The two most recent dates were 4th May and 7th May.

As regards the American deal to which the noble Lord referred, I do not know whether there was any British input into that, but most certainly the Ambassador would have known that it was happening.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, has my noble friend any information about the conditions under which these soldiers are imprisoned? Has any attempt been made by the International Red Cross to obtain information on this score?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, it is inevitable that conditions in an Angolan prison are hard, but I can tell my noble friend that embassy staff visit the prisoners monthly. When they were last visited on 14th April, the men were reported to be in reasonable health. So far as the International Red Cross is concerned, I regret that I have no information.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord for the information he has given about the representations which Her Majesty's Government have made in this matter. Would he confirm that this matter was raised by his right honourable friend when the Angolan Foreign Secretary visited this country a few weeks ago? Would he not agree that the continued detention of these British mercenaries, whose presence there initially we certainly did not condone, can do nothing but damage any prospect of good relations between this country and Angola?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, whatever our nationals have done abroad, this Government believe in making the greatest efforts not to endanger bilateral relations, between two particular countries, and I can certainly confirm that to the noble Lord. So far as his original question is concerned, yes, I can confirm that my right honourable friend, when he met his opposite number in London recently, raised the subject of these prisoners.