Congo (British Subjects)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30 November 1964.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden 12:00, 30 November 1964

(by Private Notice)asked the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement about the safety of British subjects in the Congo.

Photo of Mr Walter Padley Mr Walter Padley , Ogmore

The rescue operation has been carried out with a large measure of success, but not, I am sorry to say, without casualties. As the House knows, the rebels had assembled several hundreds of hostages, and had repeatedly declared their intention to kill them when the counter-attack on Stanleyville began.

The greatest number of casualties was among the Belgian hostages, but Her Majesty's Embassy in Leopoldville has unhappily confirmed that, among the British subjects for whose protection the Embassy are responsible, two have been killed, Mr. R. Latham, and Mr. C. Taylor, who is a New Zealand citizen. Four others are injured, Mrs. Mary Harrison, and Mrs. Joy Taylor and two of her children. The latter family are also from New Zealand.

Thirty British subjects are known to be safe and well. Between 40 and 50 others are believed to be in the territory to the north and east of Stanleyville, but no reliable news about them has yet been received. The above figures do not include Canadian citizens, who are under the protection of the Canadian Embassy in Leopoldville.

In addition, about 200 Indian and Pakistani citizens and British subjects or British-protected persons of Indian and Pakistani origin have been safely evacuated from Stanleyville to Leopoldville. The Government are making arrangements for the welfare and evacuation of our nationals as quickly as possible. One party has already been flown by the Royal Air Force from Leopoldville to Nairobi.

While the Government deeply regret the loss of life among British subjects and others, it is clear that had the rescue operation not been carried out there would probably have been a massacre of both European and other civilians on an even more appalling scale than has happened so far. We have expressed our warm thanks to the Belgian and United States Governments for their contribution to the saving of so many lives.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I am sure that the House will be obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his statement of facts and will endorse what he has said about our gratitude for the rescue operation, gratitude which we expressed earlier. What I am anxious about is the future, and I am sure that I carry with me a lot of feeling in the House.

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether, through the United Nations, or the Secretary-General, or through the Red Cross, or the Organisation for African Unity, or in any other way, he can give the House any reassurance about the future safety of British citizens in the Congo who at present, as he has stated, are in rebel areas?

Photo of Mr Walter Padley Mr Walter Padley , Ogmore

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, prior to the launching of the rescue operation, Her Majesty's Government sought the co-operation of the Organisation for African Unity and sought the entry of Red Cross units. Her Majesty's Government will continue to be vigilant and to do everything possible, but I should like to emphasise that, as the British nationals are at present scattered, it would be impracticable to mount a paratroop rescue operation comparable with that which descended on Stanleyville.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

Has my hon. Friend's attention been drawn to reports, notably in The Times, of indiscriminate slaughter committed by the rescue party on landing in and around Stanleyville? Has he made any inquiries about this and, if he has not done so, will he do so? Will he bear in mind that while many of us would support the intervention of any means designed to rescue people in danger of being massacred, we are not in favour of intervention in the internal affairs of the Congo?

Photo of Mr Walter Padley Mr Walter Padley , Ogmore

My hon. Friend will have noted that the paratroops have been withdrawn. A civil war is raging in the Congo and it was necessary for Britain and her allies to effect this rescue operation. I have no confirmation of the reports which my hon. Friend has mentioned.

Sir C. Mott-Radelyffe:

I appreciate the extreme delicacy of the position; but would not the Minister of State agree that the Government cannot entirely wash their hands of all responsibility for the 40 or 50 British subjects and their families in an area where law and order have completely broken down? What the House wants to know is what action the Government are taking now to see whether anything can be done to effect a second rescue.

This is not a question of days, but probably of hours. It is very urgent. Would the hon. Gentleman undertake to make a further statement to the House this time tomorrow, or even sooner, if he has further information? I beg him to realise that the Government must not just sit back and do nothing.

Photo of Mr Walter Padley Mr Walter Padley , Ogmore

Her Majesty's Government have no intention of sitting back and doing nothing. Right from the beginning we have been active in this matter, as has been proved by events. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that we shall remain vigilant and that anything which is practicable will be done.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

Is it not one of the lessons of this whole tragic business that a number of nations, European, Asian and African, should allocate standby forces for immediate use by the United Nations when rescue operations, or other emergencies of this kind, occur? Is my hon. Friend aware—I am sure he is—that the Scandinavian countries and Canada already have some standby forces in being, or are making arrangements to have them?

Photo of Mr Walter Padley Mr Walter Padley , Ogmore

As my hon. Friend knows, Her Majesty's Government are of the opinion that the peace-keeping forces of the United Nations should be strengthened. It would certainly be desirable to involve troops of all nationalities in the United Nations peace-keeping forces. One day, we might be able to rely on the United Nations. Meanwhile, this operation was vital.

Photo of Commander Sir Peter Agnew Commander Sir Peter Agnew , Worcestershire South

In the event of the still-scattered British nationals in the northeastern part of the Congo being rounded up by the rebels and brought to a place of temporary confinement, and that coming to the knowledge of Her Majesty's Government, will Her Majesty's Government consider sending in a force of British paratroops to rescue them?

Photo of Mr Walter Padley Mr Walter Padley , Ogmore

In common with other Ministers who have stood at this Box, I find it difficult to answer hypothetical questions. Her Majesty's Government will take all necessary and practical steps to defend British subjects in the Congo and everywhere else.