On 9th July an assurance was received from the Algerian Government that access to the two pilots would be allowed in the next two or three days. That assurance has not yet been honoured. In spite of the sustained efforts of the Swiss Ambassador in Algiers it has not yet been possible to see the pilots. The Ambassador is urgently seeking a further interview with the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Meanwhile, I have sent a message to the Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, M. Bouteflika, through Lord Caradon, in New York, asking that the Algerian Government's assurance about a visit to the pilots should be honoured at once. We are also, of course, in touch with the Governments of other countries involved.
I can assure the House that we are doing our utmost to get consular access to these two men. We are also pressing for their release.
I fully share the concern of the House in this difficult matter.
Clearly, this situation must not be allowed to continue indefinitely. While it would not be in the interests of these men for anything specific about retaliation to be said before the moment for it arrives, can the Foreign Secretary say generally whether contingency planning is now taking shape in case diplomatic representations have to be abandoned as fruitless?
As I said the other day, we are considering all the possibilities which are open to us, the various agencies and other channels which may be used. I do not want to discuss retaliation. As a matter of fact, I am not sure that there is all that possible in that respect, for reasons which will be apparent to the hon. and learned Gentleman if he considers the situation. In any case, I am sure that we will not do the pilots any good by talking in that way. But we are most certainly using every channel at the moment open to us and considering what others we can use if none of these succeeds.
I acknowledge that the top priority is to get these pilots back to this country, but can my right hon. Friend say whether anything emerged from his discussion with the proprietors of the company which the House ought to know, and whether some legislation may be required to prevent a recurrence of this sort of thing?
I do not think so. Mr. Gregory came to the Foreign Office and we had a full discussion with him, but I do not think that we know very much more about the exact circumstances of what happened at the time, or where it happened; and I do not think that we shall get much further with that until either the Algerians complete their inquiries and make a charge against the people concerned, or the pilots come back and we can ourselves discuss it with them.
Is not the treatment which is being meted out to these British subjects a most unhappy contrast with the very generous help which we gave to the Algerian refugees in 1963? While, of course, one must consider this very carefully, if access is not allowed, and if no charge is made, or if these British subjects are not released, should we not at least consider the Gas Council contract with the Algerian Government, a contract which has many years to run?
I still think that it is rather early to be talking about that, even though I do not seek in any way to endorse or to make excuses for what is going on. It is quite intolerable that more than a week should have gone by and that we should have not been allowed access to these men, quite apart from whether the Algerians are legally entitled to hold them during the inquiries. But it is a little early to talk in other terms yet. The message to my colleague the Algerian Foreign Minister can only just about have reached him and we ought to wait for a response.
Quite apart from the wider aspects of international relationships and humanity which arise in this matter, is there not a time limit under Algerian law itself, as there is in most, if not all, civilised countries, within which people can be held in detention without specific charges being preferred against them?
If there is such a period, it would not be as short as a week. I am told that in many cases detention before a charge is made has occupied rather more time than that. There are many limitations on what we can do, because in many cases the conventions for the use of an international agency have not been ratified by one or other of us. I would not myself make quite as much of the fact that a charge has not yet been made if the Algerian authorities would allow us to satisfy ourselves about the situation in which these men are now held.
It is only fair to say that we are assured that they are being held, as I said last time, under house arrest, that they are comfortably quartered and well looked after. That may be true, but what I want to know is whether I can be sure that that is so. That is what I am pressing for at the moment. A little later, how long they should be made to await the charge will be another matter.
I would much prefer not to be asked about the channels which I have used, for very obvious reasons, but my hon. Friend may take it from me that we have not neglected any channel as obvious as that.