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Uganda (Mr D Hills)

Volume 894: debated on Monday 23 June 1975

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With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement about Uganda.

The House will have heard with very great regret of reports on Uganda radio that President Amin has said that Mr. Hills will be executed if the British Foreign Secretary does not visit Uganda in the next 10 days. If these reports are supported by the letters which I understand President Amin is sending to the Queen and to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, it will mean that the President has turned down Her Majesty's appeal for clemency for Mr. Hills. General Blair, who transmitted the Queen's message to President Amin, will be returning to London early tomorrow. I am sure that the House will agree with me that both the General and Major Grahame, who accompanied him, have conducted themselves skillfully and honourably in their delicate task. General Blair will be reporting to me when he arrives tomorrow.

I shall, of course, study the reply, but in view of the reports already reaching us I am making this statement so that there shall be no misunderstanding of Her Majesty's Government position.

President Amin's decision has taken us back to where we were before the Queen's message was delivered. He has repeated his insistence that I should go to Uganda before he is prepared to remove the death sentence hanging over Mr. Hills. It is right, therefore, that I should emphasise to the House that Her Majesty's Government have made every effort to find a way through this difficult situation.

In the course of two messages the Prime Minister has dealt fully with President Amin's six points of 10th June.

It is utterly wrong that a man's life should be bartered against political conditions. There is no indication that President Amin has dropped his earlier demands; for example, the demand for the expulsion of Ugandans from this country or an end to criticism of the President in the press and radio and television of this country. These conditions we cannot fulfil. But President Amin has been told that his request that we should supply spare parts for equipment bought from Britain is capable of fulfilment, and he is aware that representatives can go to Uganda to see what is needed.

Our policy is clear. I am ready to go to Kampala to discuss with the President all outstanding problems but I am not prepared to go under duress. I have made no other condition and I give no other undertaking. If even now President Amin is prepared to exercise clemency, then my visit to Uganda will follow in a short time. In following this policy the Government have in mind their responsibility both now and in the future for the safety of another 700 British residents in Uganda insofar as we can safeguard them.

I repeat: President Amin has only to exercise clemency and he would have the opportunity for the full discussions for which he has asked. I join all those leaders of foreign Governments and the many distinguished international men and women who have appealed to him to show mercy, and I ask him without conditions to spare Mr. Hills' life.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the Opposition are grateful to him for making this statement? We should also thank all those who have been engaged with him in this terrible business, especially our diplomats in Kampala, and General Blair and Major Grahame, and also the many African Heads of State and other friends of this country in Africa who have intervened on Mr. Hills' behalf. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware also that we sympathise deeply with his personal position and the difficulties which he himself faces? We admire the way that he is handling the problem, especially the forthright and strong way in which he made his statement this evening.

The Opposition would welcome good relations with Uganda and wish for nothing more than their restoration, but we believe that human life can never be bartered for friendship. We appeal to General Amin, in the name of our long history of friendship with his country and in the name of our desire for good relations, to meet what the Foreign Secretary says and to spare Mr. Hills' life without conditions.

I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the sentiments that he expressed. I hope that they will find their way, through the BBC and through Uganda radio, to Presi- dent Amin himself so that he will know that on both sides of his House and, I am sure, in all parts of it this appeal is made to him unanimously and that the Government's stand is accepted unanimously.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that many of us who have been in touch with him about this matter know what an agonising decision he has had to take but believe that he is right when he says that no British Foreign Secretary can negotiate under duress, and that we are fully with him in what he has tried to do? Is he aware, further, that from now on it is President Amin who is being judged? He is being judged by the world, by the Organisation of African Unity, and by the Commonwealth, the Head of which has sent a message for clemency. On all sides, he is being judged.

Would it be possible to indicate to President Amin that many of us who have fought, against great opposition, to see African countries become independent, self-governing and taking their part in the world believe that if he goes forward with this appalling act he will do great damage to the cause of many of us who wish to see Africa one of the respected, forward-looking and mature political entities in the world making a contribution to world peace? That is what is at stake.

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I take note of what he has said, and I hope that it will be taken note of elsewhere. I thought it right to make the statement tonight in order to avoid any speculation about dubiety—I shall not use the word "weakness"—and any doubts about our course of action on this matter. President Amin should be quite clear where we stand on this particular matter, and that is why I have interrupted the proceedings now.

How did the Prime Minister dare to court the humiliation which has been inflicted on the Crown by advising the Queen to write to President Amin?

The right hon. Gentleman is always idiosyncratic in his views. Her Majesty acted on the advice of the Prime Minister, but I should not like it to be thought that there was any relucance on anyone's part to act on any advice that was given. I do not think I should go further than that. The fact that General Blair took the message himself on behalf of Her Majesty is in itself an indication of the way in which the message was conveyed.

As the Member for Solihull, where Mr. Mills' brother lives and where he himself made his home and was nursed back to health before he returned to Uganda, I should like to thank the Secretary of State for making this grave and important statement tonight. Within the last hour I have been in touch with the Hills family in Solihull, and they have desired me to say that they are immensely grateful for the tremendous efforts which Her Majesty's Government have made, through diplomatic channels and through the friends of this country in Africa and throughout the world, to save the life of their brother.

Speaking for myself, but, I believe, also for the Hills family, I take the view—I am sure the whole House agrees—that there is a limit to which Her Majesty's Government can incline to duress. No one in this country more than I, as the Member for Solihull where Mr. Hills lived for so long, and as a great friend of Africa, desires the friendship of the African countries, but it cannot be bought and bartered for human life, as the right hon. Gentleman has said. On behalf of the Hills family and my constituents, I desire to thank the right hon. Gentleman.

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) for mentioning Mr. Hills' family. They have been in contact with the Foreign Office and we have done our best to keep them up to date with events as they progressed. I know the anguish and the doubts which they have experienced. I am grateful to them for the forbearance and consideration that they have shown to me in all their contact with me.

Nearly 12 years ago I had the honour, on behalf of this House, of presenting the independence gift to the National Assembly of Uganda. The gift was a mace for their Parliament. It was presented as a token of friendship from our democratic assembly to their democratic assembly. I express the hope that with the help of the Foreign Secretary that friendship will turn out, after this affair, to have been an enduring one.

It is Her Majesty's Government's keen desire that there should be friendship between the people of Uganda and the people of this country. According to the radio reports that we have received, there are 10 days before Mr. Hills will be executed. We shall not remain idle in those 10 days. I must give serious and earnest consideration to what steps should be taken within the limits of the policy that I have laid down. We shall do our best to bring home to the people of Uganda that it is our desire—the desire of the whole of the British people—that there should be friendship between us, but it can be secured only on a basis of equality.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn