HL Deb 03 April 1984 vol 450 cc607-8

3.52 p.m.

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

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat the Answer which has been given to a Private Notice Question in another place on the British hostages in Angola. The Answer is as follows: "Our interest in this matter is a humanitarian one. We wish to see the British hostages released as quickly as possible. Consistent with our normal position on hostage-taking, we are quite happy to speak to anyone if that is what is required to secure their release and are already in touch".

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, may I thank the noble Baroness for repeating that Answer, and may I further ask her a few questions? Can she say how many Britons are now resident in Angola and how many in Unita-held territory? Can she say what arrangements are being made to ensure their safety, and can she further say how the hostages are being treated and whether we are able to monitor their welfare either through the Red Cross or in some other way? Given that the hostages have been in captivity for five weeks, is the noble Baroness aware that we welcome this more constructive attitude by her department during the past 48 hours? Is she able to say why the Government did not take some steps to secure the release of the hostages rather sooner? Finally, are the Government able to contact Unita without difficulty?

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, I should like to associate myself with what the noble Lord has just said. In the event that Mr. Savimbi, who, I understand, is holding these hostages, would say that our intervention on behalf of the hostages constitutes some form of recognition, the Government should firmly repudiate any such suggestion, since my understanding is that nothing of the sort arises in the event. But I imagine that out of the release of the hostages he would try to make such political capital as he can. I hope that the Government will be able to resist that.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank both the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for their reception of this Answer. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked me how many British citizens are resident in Angola. I understand that there are about 200 British citizens in Cabinda, north of Angola. There are, of course, a number of missionaries, as well. In Luanda there are 60 to 70 British citizens. He asked me how the hostages are. I am glad to say that all are reported to be in good health. He also asked why we had taken no steps sooner to do anything about the situation. I should like to make it plain that since the seizure of the hostages we have been making representations through the International Committee of the Red Cross to try to get their release. Dr. Savimbi said that he would not indicate terms until their arrival at base camp. They have now arrived and we are trying urgently to clarify Dr. Savimbi's position.

A Unita representative today discussed the position with a Foreign and Commonwealth Office official and we hope to get an authoritative reaction very soon. I hope that what I have said will also answer the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn; but I should like to make it quite clear that the contact with Unita is not a recognition of Unita. The contact is purely on humanitarian grounds. It follows our standard practice in these situations.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness the Minister about the last phrase in her repetition of the Answer? She said that she was "in touch". Can she tell the House with whom she is in touch and in what circumstances?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I hope that what I have said—that a Unita representative had discussed the position with a Foreign and Commonwealth official—makes this quite clear.