HL Deb 10 June 1985 vol 464 cc999-1000

2.54 p.m.

Lord Molloy

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 whether British ex-servicemen are being recruited by international (particularly United States) organisations to fight as mercenaries against the Nicaraguan Government in E1 Salvador and elsewhere in central America; and, if so, whether they will take action to prevent this.

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

My Lords, we can neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of press reports about the recruitment of British ex-servicemen to fight as mercenaries against the Nicaraguan Government. But we deplore the recruitment and use of mercenaries, and we are playing a full part in the United Nations ad hoc committee on the drafting of an international convention against the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Baroness for that reply and for saying that while she cannot confirm that British nationals are being used as mercenaries, the Government do not in any way support the use of mercenaries and, indeed, deplore it. Is she aware that there will be a hopeless situation if the British Foreign Secretary, while condemning the hooliganism in the Brussels football stadium, as he has done, does not take adequate action to prevent cold-blooded murderers going to South America and committing the crimes which responsible newspapers have shown they are committing?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I would not wish to draw any analogy with what my right honourable and learned friend has said about football hooliganism in Europe, which not only he but also the Government and I think everyone in this country have condemned. On the particular point which is the subject of this Question, I should make it quite clear that we have been unable to find any trace of the two men who were named in the newspaper article as having served in the British Army. Without further information than that in the press reports it is not possible to make any checks on the others.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that I find myself in full agreement with her Answer to this Question? This has not happened hitherto, but may we mutually agree that it is a tendency which we should hope will be followed in future?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I hope that I shall always agree with the statement which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, has made, but I fear that there will be many occasions when I shall not.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, can the noble Baroness define a mercenary for us? Does she define as mercenaries those who go involuntarily to another country, compelled by their own Government, but paid for by another foreign government, which seems to me to be a very large pattern of the situation at this moment?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I think that I should be most unwise to attempt in the House a definition of the word "mercenary".

Lord Molloy

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she is aware that the replies she has given will be found most encouraging by many people such as journalists, commentators and those generally interested in political affairs, in that the British Government have endeavoured to establish whether the facts reported, particularly those in the Observer, are correct? It is most encouraging that the Government have undertaken a defence of the good name of Britain.

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