§ The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Joseph Godber)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to make a statement on the kidnapping of the British Ambassador to Uruguay.
Her Majesty's Ambassador in Montevideo was kidnapped on his way to his office on 8th January. I know the whole House will share my anger and dismay at this barbaric and senseless act and will join me in expressing the deepest sympathy for Mr. Jackson and his wife and family.
We have been in the closest touch with the Uruguayan Government from 77 the beginning. A Foreign and Commonwealth Office security expert flew to Montevideo on 10th January to help the Embassy. Last night, Mr. Oliver Wright, a Deputy Under-Secretary of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, left for Montevideo. He will review the position urgently with the Uruguayan Government and will also assess the needs of the Embassy.
A communiqué issued by the terrorists on the 11th January, which is thought to be authentic, stated that all the hostages they hold were in good health. There is no news of Mr. Jackson's whereabouts. As is usual in such cases, various conflicting anonymous messages have been received. We are examining these very carefully but have so far no evidence that any of them is authentic.
The Uruguayan Government are continuing an intensive search and have instituted emergency powers for a period of forty days.
The terms which the terrorists may demand for Mr. Jackson's release are as yet unknown. It would be wrong for me to attempt to disguise from the House the gravity of the situation. Her Majesty's Government will of course do everything they can to help secure Mr. Jackson's safe release.
§ Mr. Healey
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. Her Majesty's Opposition and, I am sure, the whole House share the anger he expressed at the kidnapping and his expressions of sympathy for Mr. Jackson, his wife and family. On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the steps already taken by the Government to pursue the matter. Is it the Government's intention to pursue the same policy on this matter as in the case of the kidnapping of the British official in Canada?
§ Mr. Godber
Yes, Sir. I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. The analogy he has drawn with the Canadian case is very much in our minds. We were very glad of the result of that case, through patience and perseverance, and we hope that this will happen on this occasion as well.
§ Mr. Temple
Does my right hon. Friend remember the conversation we had recently regarding my anxiety concerning the safety of the families of diplomats in Latin America? In view of the changed circumstances, in which almost no Government can guarantee the security of their own nationals, let alone foreign nationals, will he forthwith institute an inquiry within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to see in what way he can further ensure the security, safety and welfare of our diplomats in exposed conditions?
§ Mr. Godber
Yes, Sir. I recall that conversation, and I also recall that last summer, when other diplomats of other nationalities were kidnapped in South America, I called for a full report in the Department about security arrangements in South America. The last Government instituted inquiries and sent security officers out there in April and May last year. I was satisfied that the steps that had been recommended then had been followed and that there was no more useful action which could be taken at that stage. However, we have sent a security officer out again and we shall await urgently any recommendations he may make, either for Uruguay or any other of these States where these dangers may exist.
§ Mr. Faulds
While sharing the House's abhorrence at this sort of activity, may I ask what additional pressure the right hon. Gentleman intends to bring to bear on the Uruguayan authorities—in view of the fact that they are particularly intransigent in matters of this nature in contrast with the attitude of the Canadian authorities—in trying to preserve the life of this most unfortunate gentleman?
§ Mr. Godber
The hon. Gentleman will realise that I have to choose with great care any words I use because of any effect that they could have on Mr. Jackson's safety. We are in close touch with the Uruguayan Government. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has sent a personal message to the President of Uruguay and Mr. Oliver Wright will be in touch with the Uruguayan Government. I prefer not to add to that at this stage.