HL Deb 09 July 1984 vol 454 cc583-6

3.53 p.m.

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

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the abduction of Mr. Umaru Dikko which is being made in another place by my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a Statement about the abduction of Mr. Umaru Dikko which will bring the House up to date on developments since the Statement by my right honourable and learned friend in the House on Friday. Police and other inquiries are continuing. I will make a further statement to the House later this week.

"As the House will know, a British Caledonian aircraft with its crew and passengers was unlawfully detained by the Nigerian authorities in Lagos from 5th to 7th July. We protested strongly to the Nigerian authorities both in London and in Lagos at this totally unjustified and unlawful act. Subsequently we have made a further strong protest about the conditions under which the passengers were held at Lagos airport. The plane was released at 14.00 local time on Saturday 7th July and arrived back in the United Kingdom at about 4.30 on the Sunday morning.

"I understand that air services between the United Kingdom and Nigeria are now functioning normally.

"Meanwhile, the police are continuing their inquiries into the abduction of Mr. Dikko and the attempts to smuggle people out of the country. I am advised that these have made some progress, but that they are not yet complete, not least because it has only just become possible for the police to start questioning Mr. Dikko. I understand that some criminal charges are likely to be brought quite soon. I appreciate, of course, that the House wishes to have the fullest and earliest possible information on these aspects. But it is important that any decisions that have to he taken should be based on the fullest available information, and should not interfere with or prejudice police inquiries. That is why neither I nor my right honourable and learned friend can make a definitive Statement on these aspects today and why I may have to decline to answer fully some of the questions which may be put to me.

"Nevertheless, it is already clear that if the police are to be able to complete their inquiries satisfactorily, they will need to interview members of the Nigerian High Commission staff. This need arises from the presence at Stansted airport on 5th July of at least one member of the Nigerian High Commission staff and vehicles from that high commission. The Nigerian High Commissioner has, accordingly, today been asked specifically to allow the police to carry out the necessary interviews, and told that we require a very early reply to this request.

"As the House will know, it is the duty of all persons enjoying privileges and immunities in accordance with the Vienna Convention to respect the laws and regulations of their host country. It is plain that the commission of acts of violence on British territory, and the plotting of the abduction of a person from the United Kingdom, is a matter of the gravest concern. Not least in view of the good relations which have traditionally existed between Nigeria and the United Kingdom, I am sure that the House will join me in looking for an early and positive response from the Nigerian High Commissioner. As I have already made clear, the Government will keep the House fully informed of further developments."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for repeating the Statement made in another place by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. We on this side of the House do not wish to embarrass or prejudice the continuing inquiries which are being made into this grave matter. Not surprisingly, some criminal charges are likely to be brought quite soon. I say "not surprisingly", in view of matters which are already publicly known. However, this makes imperative the request that we must not press unduly for precise particulars as to who is to be charged and what may be the nature of the charges. I venture to think that the whole House will endorse the decision of the Government to ask the Nigerian High Commissioner to allow the police to carry out the necessary inquiries with certain members of the Nigerian High Commission staff. As has been said, we know of the presence of at least one member of that staff and of vehicles from the High Commission at Stansted airport at the material time.

As has been said in the Statement, it is also right, that an early reply should be given to the communication from the Foreign Office. I venture to think that I am expressing the view of the House when I say that refusal of that request would be wholly unacceptable and, if I may say so, quite contrary to international comity. It is basic to the Vienna Convention, creating diplomatic privileges and immunities, that diplomats and their staffs should respect the laws of their host country. We have had bitter, recent experience on our own shores of acts of violence by those sheltering behind diplomatic immunity. Clearly, there must be a stop to this kind of activity. No country, or people, can allow this to happen, least of all to continue. We have traditionally had excellent relations with Nigeria and current events are deeply saddening to us. Many of us have excellent friends there. I shall not name any of them because I might merely embarrass them. We therefore greatly hope that there will now be a favourable response from the Nigerian High Commission to the request that has so reasonably been made.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, in view of the intemperate attack made on this country yesterday by General Buhari, and the fact disclosed to this House on Friday that no application had been made for the extradition of Mr. Dikko, it may well be that the general does not appreciate the great tradition of this country in these matters and that what we are objecting to particularly is the completely unlawful way in which the attempted removal of Mr. Dikko from this jurisdiction took place. Is it not important that no kind of application was made by Nigeria for the extradition of Mr. Dikko, whatever the legitimacy or otherwise of the complaints against him? Is it not necessary to bring this home to the Government of Nigeria in view of the very good relations that this country has enjoyed with Nigeria in the past? Can the noble Baroness say whether there had been any informal approaches by the Nigerian Government to our Government—a sounding operation on extradition, as it were—or whether there had been no approach of that kind at all?

Baroness Young

My Lords. I should like to thank both noble Lords for their response to the Statement. I should like particularly to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, for what he said in this very difficult situation. His remarks were very helpful in setting out the views in all parts of the House on this matter. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for not pressing me on the particulars of the case which I would not be in a position to give. I am grateful that he has endorsed the Government's request to the Nigerian High Commissioner to co-operate fully with the police in their inquiries on this matter. We hope that we shall receive an early response to this request that has been made by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

As the noble and learned Lord rightly says and as the Statement makes clear, it is the duty of those who enjoy diplomatic immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the countries which are their host country. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, asked two points about this matter. We do not have an extradition treaty with Nigeria. In fact, we do not have an extradition treaty with any of the Commonwealth countries. The noble Lord also asked about informal talks. I can tell him that there have been no such informal approaches.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend tell us whether any explanation or perhaps apology has been offered by the Nigerian Government for the detention of the British Caledonian aircraft and its passengers?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the answer I think to that question is that there has been no further explanation. We are of course glad that there is now once again normal air traffic between the United Kingdom and Nigeria.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that if, as I believe is the case, the Nigerian Government deny all responsibility for this outrage, it is up to them to do their best to discover who is responsible and, if possible, to bring them to justice? If, on the other hand, the Nigerian Government, by any means, implicitly or explicitly, admit responsibility, surely, it is for them to express great regrets and to say that so far as they are concerned it will never happen again.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the present statement of the Nigerian Government to the reaction of our calling in the Nigerian High Commissioner is that they have publicly denied any involvement in this affair at all. Nevertheless, as we have asked the Nigerian High Commissioner if he will co-operate with the police in their inquiries, we hope that he will do so.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, while not wishing to render a delicate atmosphere any more delicate, may I ask whether the noble Baroness can inform the House if any explanation at all so far has been given by the Nigerian Government as to why the crates were addressed to the Ministry of External Affairs?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am afraid that I am not able to answer that question.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, I recall that some years ago Mr. Kwesi Armah was Ghanaian High Commissioner here, was subsequently charged with an offence that the Ghanaian Government wanted him charged with, and was tried at the Central Criminal Court. I remember that it was the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, who defended him. Cannot the Nigerian Government's attention be drawn to that, so that they can take similar action over Mr. Dikko?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am not aware of the case to which the noble Lord. Lord Pitt, has drawn attention. I shall study carefully what he has said and draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend.