HL Deb 07 April 1986 vol 473 cc7-9

2.55 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 are making in their efforts to secure the release from custody of members of the former Royal Family of Ethiopia.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we regret that our many appeals to the Ethiopian Government to release the detained members of the former Ethiopian Royal Family have been of no avail. We have ensured, and we shall continue to ensure, that our concern is made clear to the Ethiopian authorities at every opportunity.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply and I am glad to hear that efforts are continuing. Is the noble Baroness aware that the ladies concerned, seven of whom are grand-daughters of the Emperor and who never held any political post whatever, have been imprisoned for 10 years? Is the noble Baroness further aware that they have to sleep on a damp floor with mattresses only and that at various times their health has suffered severely?

Furthermore, is the noble Baroness aware that they are the symbol of many other political prisoners in that country who are held in like circumstances? They were imprisoned on the excuse that it was to protect them from the wrath of the people. Does the noble Baroness not agree that perhaps the wrath of the people in the past 10 years has died down and has even turned into a longing for previous regimes?

Will the noble Baroness also enlist the help of our partners in Europe, to whom the Ethiopian Government may well be obliged for aid, and try to show that government that an act of clemency towards the royal prisoners and others would improve their name in the world and do them no harm? Will the noble Baroness see that we prosecute, along with Amnesty, vigorous measures to try to release these people?

Baronesss Hooper

My Lords, we are well aware that these prisoners have been kept in detention without charges since the revolution in 1974. We are, as I said, making every effort with our European partners to take every opportunity to remedy the situation. In fact, we have no information to suggest that the prisoners are being ill-treated or that they are in ill health. For example, we understand that their medical treatment, when necessary, has been adequate. However, we are fully aware of the difficulties of their situation.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, do not the particularly friendly links between this country and the former Emperor and his family—which became very intense when Mussolini attacked the country; indeed, the Emperor took refuge in this country—give us a special footing in this matter for intervention on the lines that the Government have already carried out? If these efforts fail through that kind of direct diplomatic exchange, can the matter be raised before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, in answer to the first part of the noble and learned Lord's question I should say that nine members of the former Ethiopian Royal Family were released from custody under an amnesty in September 1983. In fact, one of them came to the United Kingdom for medical treatment and has been allowed to stay. Although Ministers have made clear our concern on numerous occasions, it is our assessment that any decision to release these prisoners is unlikely to be taken by the Ethiopians in response to external pressure.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, is it not a fact that we in this country have a close association with the members of the Ethiopian Royal Family? Was not the Emperor a guest of this country for some years? Were not his grand-daughters educated in this country?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we are well aware of those factors, none of which, unfortunately, necessarily carries great weight with the present Ethiopian Government.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell me when the last representations about the prisoners were made by this Government to the Ethiopian Government?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords; the Secretary of State raised this subject with the Ethiopian Foreign Minister in March last year and subsequently reiterated our concern to the new Ethiopian ambassador on his arrival in London in July last year. These of course were formal occasions, but there has been no lack of opportunities for informal representations to be made as well.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I am sorry to press the noble Baroness, but can she perhaps respond to my suggestion that we might enlist the help of our EEC partners?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I think I have already said that we are acting in co-operation with our European Community partners in this matter, and I feel sure that the Government will continue to do so.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, I am not quite certain what was the answer to the question of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones. Although outside pressure may not be very effective, will the Minister say whether she thinks that it would be a good idea to raise this matter through some agency of the United Nations? After all, the Ethiopians are in receipt of immense aid from all over the world and it seems to me possible that some conditions could be attached to it.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I have already responded to one part of the noble Lord's question. In replying now to the noble Lord I can answer specifically that as regards the suggestion of a United Nations resolution, or representations made through the United Nations, so far as I am aware no specific steps have been taken, but no doubt it is under consideration with the various governments concerned. Certainly where aid is given to Ethiopia in this context, particularly through the European Community, representations are always made in so far as human rights are concerned.