Congo (British Subjects)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14 December 1964.

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Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East 12:00, 14 December 1964

I will now, with permission, answer Questions Nos. 25, 35 and 43.

Her Majesty's Ambassador in Leopoldville has been in continuous touch with the Congolese Government about the safety of British subjects. Mr. Tshombe and his Government are thus so well aware of our concern that no purpose would have been served by a further approach to him during his recent visit to Paris.

As far as an approach to the rebels is concerned, we cannot negotiate with people who are in armed rebellion against the Government which we recognise as the legitimate Government of the Congo. There is, in any case, no effective rebel authority with which we could negotiate.

We believe that there remain in rebel held territory 27 United Kingdom citizens, two Australians and one New Zealander. In our opinion, the most effective agency for rescuing these people and other hostages is the advance of the Congolese Army which, since the fall, of Stanleyville, has released several hundred civilians, including 15 British subjects for whose protection we are responsible. It would be impracticable to attempt a rescue in any other way. For one thing, we are not certain where the remaininig British subjects now are.

I regret to say that since my hon. Friend answered a Private Notice Question on 30th November, the death has been reported of one more British subject, Mother Marguerite Bradley, a Roman Catholic nun at Dakwa. I should emphasise, however, that the gravest atrocities committed by the rebels have been against other Congolese.

The total number murdered is estimated to be over 20,000, including 5,000 in Stanleyville alone. According to Press reports, those murdered include 18 Malaysian and nine Indonesian rubber experts who were training Congolese plantation workers, together with a number of African trainees from Kenya and Gabon.

Photo of Mr Anthony Fell Mr Anthony Fell , Yarmouth

I am most grateful to the Minister for that statement. I do not want to press this too hard, but I should like to ask this: it seems odd that immediately after all possibility of rescue by the Belgian forces had finished Tshombe comes to Paris, he spends three days there, and yet the Government do not make any attempt to see him. It seems odd, even though they were in constant touch with Leopoldville. It seems odd that they did not attempt to see him.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

What I am allowed to permit in these circumstances is some form of supplementary question. We must have an element of question about it.

Photo of Mr Anthony Fell Mr Anthony Fell , Yarmouth

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. May I then ask: does it not seem odd?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

No, Sir. If any useful purpose could have been served in terms of saving human lives we would have made such an approach, but, as I have explained, there was no purpose of that kind to be achieved. Everything possible was being done in Leopoldville by our Ambassador there.

Photo of Mr Peter Blaker Mr Peter Blaker , Blackpool South

While thanking the Minister for that reply, and agreeing that this is a difficult and delicate situation, may I ask whether he has thought further about the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) on 30th November about the possible use of the Organisation for African Unity, the Red Cross, or the Secretary-General of the United Nations?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

Yes, Sir. All these suggestions have been very thoroughly explored. The rebels have never permitted the International Red Cross to arrange the evacuation of any foreign nationals. They refused to allow Red Cross aircraft to land at Stanleyville when approached about this in October.

The Government would like the Organisation for African Unity to do everything it can, with any encouragement that it wishes from us, to help in this situation and to bring about the conciliation on which, in the end, the ending of violence in the Congo depends.

Photo of Mr Richard Glyn Mr Richard Glyn , North Dorset

I accept that the Government cannot negotiate directly with leaders who are technically in a state of rebellion, but would the Minister bear in mind that in the past the offer of a reward saved many lives, especially of members of crashed aircraft in South-East Asia, and that the reward concerned was on many occasions paid to tribesmen who were then technically in a state of rebellion? The fact that they were technically in rebellion has not prevented lives being saved by offering a reward in this way. As there appears to be no other way in which we can help our unfortunate countrymen who are prisoners in the Congo, will he look at this matter again?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

The hon. Gentleman's suggestion was closely looked at, as were all others which might help to save lives in the Congo. One of the difficulties of the suggestion is that the rebels themselves are very disorganised. We have no knowledge of the whereabouts of leaders with whom to conduct these negotiations.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

Since Foreign Office questions will not be reached orally again for several months, and since one of the British subjects referred to in Questions Nos. 25 and 35 as being in urgent peril in the Congo is the British subject referred to in Question No. 50, will my hon. Friend give an undertaking to continue too make the strongest possible representations on behalf of this man?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

Yes, Sir. I am glad to have the opportunity to assure my hon. Friend that Her Majesty's Ambassador in Leopoldville has been making repeated representations to the Congolese Government about the case of Mr. Hugh Scotland, who is at present imprisoned in Leopoldville. Her Majesty's Consul was permitted to see him on 9th December and is arranging to provide him with a change of clothing and other necessities. In the meantime, the Embassy will continue to do everything possible to assist him.

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

The Minister answered a point about the Organisation for African Unity. Can he tell me what contact he has with that Organisation to attempt to help? Secondly, can he tell the House what contact we have with official Congolese troops and what, if any, assistance we can give in searching out British subjects?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

Our Embassy is in constant touch with the Government there, and an R.A.F. Beverley is still standing by at short notice to evacuate or fly relief to British subjects. This will be used in consultation with, and on the advice of, Her Majesty's Ambassador.

Consultation with the Governments composing the Organisation for African Unity is taking place through the normal diplomatic channels, in particular, in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Ashfield

As the Minister has given the House figures of murders in the Congo, will he also give the figures of African civilians murdered in the Congo by the forces of President Tshombe and those assisting his forces?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I think that in the conditions of civil war in the Congo appalling violence is taking place on both sides. I would need notice on the question of particular losses of life caused by the actions of the Congolese Army.

Photo of Mr John Tilney Mr John Tilney , Liverpool Wavertree

Will the Minister see that any murderers who can be identified are brought to justice later, if at all possible?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I do not think that that is a question for me.