Angolan Conflict 1975/76

House of Commons

Angola: British Mercenaries

10th June 1981 vol 421 cc215-7. ...2.48 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make representation to the Government of Angola for the release of the young British mercenaries who have now been in prison for four years.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, any decision on the cases of the seven former mercenaries is, of course, a matter for the Angolan Government, but we have taken steps to ensure that the Angolan Government is fully aware of our concern for these men, to whom our Embassy now has regular consular access. We shall continue to pay close attention to their cases.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. It is true that our information is that the Embassy now have close contact with these men and that their treatment is better. Would the Minister not agree, in view of the fact that other mercenaries of other countries have been released by negotiation, and that these men have now been in prison for five years and not four years, that Her Majesty's Government might use their improved relations with many African states to exact further pressure to try to get these young men released who, certainly, have now been sufficiently punished? One can only despise the people who recruited them but they themselves surely do not deserve further punishment.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, this is something which, in the first instance, is a matter for the men themselves and their relatives. We have intense consular activity in that area. Secondly, it is a particularly touchy part of the world, as the noble Lord and the House will appreciate; and it is unlikely that the Angolans will see things in quite the light that the noble Lord would hope until there is an improvement in that part of Southern Africa.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, if I may put a further supplementary question, is it not time to open these negotiations in view of the fact that earlier mercenaries have been released and in view of the fact of the excellent relations that the noble Lord the Leader of this House has with neighbouring states, and that perhaps a little more pressure could be exerted than is being exerted at the moment?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, representations have in the past been made and when there is the slightest hope of the further possibility of successful representations, this will be done.

The Earl of Gosford

My Lords, could the Minister say what steps Her Majesty's Government have taken to stop the recruitment of mercenaries? I believe this was a point raised by the Angolan Government three or four years ago.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, all Members of the Government, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, my right honourable and noble friend the Foreign Secretary, have always condemned mercenaries. We do this without hesitation and will continue to do so.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, the noble Lord says that representations have been made. Can he say to what extent those representations have been supported by our fellow members of the European Community?

Lord Skelmersdale

No, my Lords, I have no background information on that point.

Lord Sinclair

My Lords, can the noble Lord say anything about the conditions in which the men have been kept, and whether any are seriously ill or have died?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, currently all the men are reported to be in reasonable health. They are allowed regular exercise and receive medical treatment when necessary. Recently, I understand, one of them has undergone surgery, but there has been no problem about this and all are in excellent health.

Lord Milford

My Lords, following the supplementary question put by my noble friend on the stopping of recruitment of mercenaries, could not the Governments of the European Community get together and make it illegal for any mercenaries to go anywhere?—so to stop these thugs who have no ideology and who only want to kill people and make money. Can they not be stopped?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, we are now moving into a difficult area. We should all like to stop it, but it is not quite so easy as one would think. We are continually having discussions between ourselves, member states and all other Governments, and will obviously do our best to bring these to a conclusion, but I cannot hold out any hope at the moment.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, would my noble friend's Government join their condemnation of the recruitment of volunteers to a denunciation of the actions of Communist Governments such as Cuba intervening in Africa?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, that is another question.

Lord Byers

My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm to the House that it is illegal to recruit mercenaries in this country? It must be.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, as I am unsure on that point, I will certainly write to the noble Lord.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, will the Minister not forget, in the middle of the subsequent arguments about my Question, that these unfortunate men are unlikely ever to be recruited again and they have been in prison now for five years?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, whether they are going to be recruited surely depends on whether they are going to be released.

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