HC Deb 21 December 1962 vol 669 cc1603-27

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Dick Taverne (Lincoln)

I wish to draw the attention of the House to the suppression of political rights in Aden. I know that a number of hon. Members wish to speak and I shall try to be as brief as possible. The situation in Aden has grown steadily worse since 1960. Since 1956, the Aden trade union movement has developed strongly and since that date it has been affiliated to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. It has always been in the interests of the West that developing trade union movements should be affiliated to this body rather than to the World Federation of Trade Unions and this in itself is a matter for encouragement.

Nevertheless, after a considerable number of strikes, the Industrial Relations Ordinance, 1960, was passed in Aden which provides for compulsory arbitration and, in effect, makes strikes illegal. Any person who is guilty of encouraging a strike is liable to be sentenced to six months imprisonment and any person who takes part in a strike is liable to three month's imprisonment. I do not deny that difficulties have existed and that the number of strikes was very large. I do not deny that the Aden Trades Union Congress has not forsworn politics. In fact, it regards political and economic questions as being very much intertwined. Its fight has been as much concerned with constitutional advancement as with industrial matters.

However, two facts stand out. The first is that the right to withdraw labour, which is fundamental to any trade union movement, has been denied; and secondly, that a report from the commission of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions which visited Aden and also a report from the International Labour Office have been strongly critical of the existing industrial legislation in Aden. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions has reported that, in its view, the Aden trade union movement is one of the most mature and certainly the most encouraging in the Arab world.

The root cause behind the unrest and the eventual legislation which has been passed has undoubtedly been political. Since the announcement of the Government's policy of the merger of Aden with the South Arabian Federation, the position has become much worse.

Early in September this year, processions and public meetings were banned and it was for taking part in a demonstration that the Aden trade unionists who were later flogged found themselves in gaol. Also, since then Al Amel, which is the trade union newspaper, has had its licence withdrawn. So that the trade union movement cannot strike, it cannot organise processions or public protests and it has no newspaper to express its views.

A week or so ago, the trade union leader Asnag was gaoled for twelve months for sedition. As the matter is under appeal, I cannot comment on the case, much as I should like to do so. I ask the Government, however, to look carefully at this case and to ask themselves whether in the particular circumstances of Aden and the special position which Asnag holds, the prosecution in this case was advisable.

Many nationalist leaders who have ultimately turned out to be responsible leaders have spent unnecessary years in gaol. Although the Parliamentary delegation which recently visited Aden did not see Asnag, most people seem to report that he is far from being an entirely irresponsible trade union leader. Even the Governor seemed to regard him as not altogether unreasonable and by no means the worst trade union leader, or nationalist leader for that matter, the Government may have to deal with.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

I saw him in jail on behalf of myself and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale), and I can assure the hon. Member that he is a perfectly moderate man who wants to co-operate with Britain and the Government.

Mr. Taverne

The hon. Member has confirmed the general opinion which seems to have been expressed by others.

At present, the position threatens to become even worse since a new ordinance is due to come into law, the Societies Bill, to which I want to draw the particular attention of this House. The overall effect of the Bill is to make the continued legality of political organisations and political parties dependent on the discretion of a registrar. The Bill provides for the registration of all societies, with a number of exemptions, but certainly for the registration of all political societies. If societies are not registered they become illegal. The officers of such a society would be subject to one year's term of imprisonment, in effect, and members of that society would be subject to six months' imprisonment.

I want to read out first of all Clause 6 (5) of the new Bill, which reads as follows: The Registrar may refuse to register a local society where he is satisfied that such society is a branch of or affiliated to or connected with any organisation or group of a political nature established outside the Colony. It would, perhaps, be understandable that if a local society were a branch of a political party outside it might be regarded as being undesirable, but, for example, it would seem that the registration and therefore the legality of a local branch of the Fabian Society could be refused.

Then it goes on "if it is affiliated to". This is a much wider term. This may well affect the Trade Union Congress, which I shall refer to later; it may well affect the People's Socialist Party, which is the political wing of the trade union movement, if this should be affiliated to the Socialist International as is, for example, the British Labour Party. Then this would become subject to the discretion of the registrar and registration may well be refused and its existence may become illegal. Again, if the Arabian League were affiliated to a wider Arab organisation then its registration could be refused.

Thirdly, the subsection says registration may be refused if the local society "is connected with" any outside political organisation. This surely is a term which could hardly be wider. It establishes some sort of guilt by association. It means that if there are friendly relations with, or if observers are sent or delegates are sent to, an outside conference, it would be impossible to say there was not some sort of connection with the outside body. These are cases where the registrar may refuse registration.

Subsection (6) deals with cases where he must refuse to register. I will read the subsection, which is particularly important: The Registrar shall refuse to register a local society where it appears to him"— so he has a discretion— that such society has amongst its objects or is likely to pursue or to be used for, any unlawful purpose or any purpose prejudicial to or incompatible with peace, welfare or good order of the Colony or that the interests of peace, welfare or good order in the Colony would otherwise be likely to suffer prejudice by reason of the registration of such society; or (b) it appears to him that the terms of the constitution, rules … of such society are in any respect repugnant to or inconsistent with the provisions of any law for the time being in force in the Colony". This means, particularly in a situation where strikes are outlawed, newspapers are suppressed, processions have been declared illegal, that it might be very hard to argue that Opposition parties determined to end the ban might not if they are registered be prejudicial to good order in the Colony. If some sort of demonstration may result, or it appears to the registrar that some sort of demonstration may result, he may refuse to register that society; also if such society "may be used for any purpose which is prejudicial to the interests of good order." There could hardly be a wider phrase giving the widest possible discretion to refuse registration.

If the object of one of the societies may be to oppose a merger between Aden and the Federation, a merger which is fundamentally unpopular in the Colony under the present terms at any rate, it may be that such terms in the constitution would be deemed inconsistent with some law in the Colony. Therefore the registrar has the widest and vaguest powers and in fact the legality of political organisations depends upon his discretion. I do not know what sort of figure he will be. If he is not a political figure it means Civil Service controls extends to political parties. If he is a political figure it gives full control to the Government. If this Bill becomes law there will, in effect, be no further safeguards for democratic opposition left in Aden.

I said I would refer to the position of the Trades Union Congress. Trade unions are specifically exempted from local societies and therefore from registration, but first of all it is questionable whether the Trades Union Congress itself is already registered under the Trades Union Ordinance and even if it is registered under that Ordinance it seems that by Clause 7 of this Bill: The Registrar may with the prior approval of the Governor in Council, rescind at any time any exemption from the registration granted under the provisions of this Ordinance". So that in effect the registrar and the Governor have power to make the Trades Union Congress registrable. But if it has affiliation with the I.C.F.T.U. its position could well be challenged and this could be well regarded as a political organisation.

I would ask the Minister to look at this Bill very carefully. Why are the powers given so extraordinarily wide and vague? If it is said that the powers will not be used, why insert them? If they may be used, it is intolerable that some such threat will hang over the continued existence of political Opposition parties in Aden.

It may be said that, because of the intimidation which was referred to in a previous debate, this Bill may be necessary. It may be that there has been intimidation, but I think it is significant that Mr. Luqman, the father of the member of the Executive Council whom I spoke to when I was in Aden, and whose political objects are quite different from those of the Trades Union Congress or the People's Socialist Party, denied that any intimidation had taken place except on the part of the Government. However, having been there in effect only one day, I should not like to say there was not any intimidation. But I do know that intimidation has often in the past been the excuse for suppressing the rights of democratic liberties and that it becomes inevitable if constitutional ways of expressing opposition are suppressed.

I suggest to the Government that there is a substantial case for an independent inquiry, rather like the Devlin Corn-mission, to inquire into the whole political unrest in Aden and to inquire whether there was intimidation. The trade union leaders I spoke to would welcome such an independent Commission of inquiry. Certainly the Devlin Commission, which reported on intimidation and on the massacre plot, which it investigated, was the basis for the political development which has taken place there since, and I do not think that anyone at this moment could deny that the outlook for Nyasaland is profoundly hopeful and encouraging.

I warn the Government that, unless there is a change of policy, Aden in the next few years will be the first trouble spot of the Commonwealth—with the possible exception of Southern Rhodesia. It is extremely likely that we shall find the greatest unrest and violence and difficulties there.

If the policy of the merger is pressed on, which would have the effect of making the future development of Aden itself dependent on the decisions of the feudal rulers of the Protectorates, and if, at the same time that this unpopular Measure is passed, all political opposition is effectually suppressed, there is bound at some stage to be an explosion. We have often failed to anticipate trouble in the past. Let us not make the same mistake again. I profoundly hope that the Minister will press by every means he can for a change in the present policy, and for relaxation of these oppressive laws.

11.21 a.m.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

I should like to say that I think the balanced speech of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) is one which should commend itself to the Front Bench and to the country. Some of my colleagues in the Government think that we have been obstructive, or that we have not been helpful, in our visit to Aden in examining the problem of civil liberties and other matters there. They must be assured that we as back bench Members of this House do not expect obstruction by authorities trying to dissuade us from carrying out what we consider to be our duty to this House.

I am sure that the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale), if he intervenes during this debate, will agree that we were investigating the problem of civil difficulties and the political problem in Aden, and that we were surprised to receive official letters encouraging us not to carry out our duties to this House. I can assure the Government that, in the future, whenever I hear that I should not examine problems, both of a political and administrative nature. I shall on all future occasions decide and make the judgment for myself.

There is a very short time in which to go into the problem of the political situation which has arisen in Aden and examine why it is necessary even to contemplate the suppression of political liberties and political expression. This honourable House and this country has taught the people the world over to express themselves, to run a democratic Opposition and to run constructive governments. To enforce, or to attempt to enforce, orders such as this, to which the hon. Member for Lincoln has drawn attention, is asking for trouble by inflaming that area, with all the attendant dangers to our oil interests, and, even now, while the United States anticipates the problem in that part of the world and does not want to see civil liberties suppressed, we are going ahead in this way.

We are responsible for Aden. Aden is our duty. I want to warn the Government today that unless they change their policy there is going to be some serious trouble. Who will pay? Who will foot the bill in the end? The British taxpayer. This is Cyprus all over again, with the suppression of political liberties. This House should not stand for it, and the country should not stand for it, either. There may be doubt why it has been thought necessary to bring about suppression of political liberties. Why is it necessary to suppress the trade unions and the P.S.P.? I will tell the House why. I will quote what the Minister said on 13th November in refer- ence to the General Election which is to take place in Aden: If the P.S.P. won, it would at once start agitating for Aden to merge with the Yemen. That outcome would be totally unacceptable both to the Protectorate and to Her Majesty's Government.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1962; Vol. 667, c. 327.] There is wide suppression of liberty in Aden because Her Majesty's Government, unlike the Government of their ally the United States, which has got more sense, do not choose to recognise that the problems of Aden and the Yemen are inseparable. For somebody to start writing about civil liberties in The Times suggesting that the present Yemeni Government is working with the Russians and Chinese is quite fantastic. Do we imagine that the United States has recognised the Yemen because the Russians and Chinese are working with the present Yemen Government? It is absurd.

We must get on good terms with the Government of the Yemen. Why has all this trouble arisen? It goes back to the problem of the P.S.P., who according to the British Government, is a party supported by President Nasser. Why not be honest and say to the world that we believe that, because of the close link which the P.S.P. really has with President Nasser, that we should suppress it as a party for all time. That was the reason.

I give the Minister warning. The B.B.C. the other night chose to refer to the head of the foreign State, according to the reported comment, as a "dog", and to the head of a country which the United States has recognised as a "donkey". What would this House and this country feel about its goad manners and its courtesy if Cairo television permitted reported comments on our Sovereign in anything approaching these terms. Good gracious, there would be uproar in the country. The B.B.C. lost its manners. As for the Minister, he failed to send a message to the B.B.C., as I requested yesterday, to ask the B.B.C., in view of the Panorama broadcast on 17th December, to eschew the reporting of abusive comments about the heads of foreign States with whom Her Majesty's Government have diplomatic relations. What did he answer? "No."

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

Quite right.

Mr. Yates

Does that mean that the B.B.C. is permitted to use abusive remarks about the heads of other States? I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) if he wishes to reply. The hon. Gentleman does not answer; he has not got the courage. I wonder why? Here we are, a country renowned for our manners, and the Minister is not prepared to stop the B.B.C. using abusive comments on the heads of other States.

We are going into a tragedy over Aden. I can see Cyprus all over again, and unless the Government can somehow change their line of policy, and if the Government do not change their policy, the British people will in the end find out, and the consequences for those responsible for these policies will become known and world-wide, and it will be the end of the Government.

11.28 a.m.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

There is so little time for this debate that it is difficult to know what to say, but I should like, in the first place, to say how much I agree with my hon. Friend, if I may be allowed to call him that, the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) in what he has said about the Yemen.

I think it is quite extraordinary that our Government should not in this case follow the United State's. They follow them in so very many matters of which we do not altogether approve, but in this case they have not. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in the statement he made in this House was somewhat disingenuous. All he said in an answer to a question which I put to him a few days ago, was that there might be Press reports when he must have known already about United States recognition of the Yemen. He did not care to say so but sheltered behind time, and the announcement came about half on hour afterwards. It is strange that our Government should not realise that it is much better to recognise a Government supported by President Nasser than to allow the Russians or indeed the Chinese to take over control of that country by supporting a new and relatively demo- cratic régime which, according to Colonel Baidani, the Foreign Minister of the Yemen, is no more Socialist than the present Conservative Government in this country, and I do not think that is saying very much.

I turn now to Aden and I want to say a word about the prisoners. This matter was not referred to in detail in the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne). What is the situation? The prisoners went on hunger strike to help a friend of theirs in the prison—not a political prisoner who was anxious to see his own dentist—no more than that—but who was not allowed to see him for reasons which the superintendent thought good. I will not take that point any further. Because of what the prisoners did, they were, on the instructions of the superintendent of the prison, ordered to be caned, and they were caned not just lightly but very seriously indeed, and the effects have remained ever since.

Who is responsible for this? In the first place, obviously, the superintendent of the prison. I am glad of at any rate one thing. The superintendent of the prison was not an Englishman, because the English governor of the prison was away and so his position, I understand, had been taken by an Arab Adenese. But the governor cannot escape responsibility. He heard on the radio, if he did not hear in any other way, that half the prisoners had been caned, but he did nothing at all for twenty-four hours and allowed the caning of the others to take place. I want to know what is to happen to the superintendent and the governor.

All the way along the governor showed a most extraordinary attitude towards our delegation. First of all, he did not want the delegation to go there at all. He asked the Secretary of State if he would request us not to go, but he was told that one could not stop Members of Parliament going there. When we arrived he certainly received us most courteously, but at first he refused to allow us to go to see the prisoners. At last he gave me permission to go, but none of the other members of the delegation. He said that I could go personally and see them, but he said it so late that I was unable to go. Later, he allowed the hon. Member for the Wrekin to go instead of me and he said that at that time the prisoners were being well treated. I was very glad to hear that.

The governor's attitude the Whole time was one of deep suspicion. He was afraid that if we went to Aden there would be a riot. I have never caused a riot anywhere so far, and I do not think any of us have, but I said that we would not sneak there. We did not cause a riot. When we arrived the governor said, "If you co to the prison, you may cause a disturbance there." All the time his attitude was one of suspicion of Members of Parliament who were attending to their duties in a part of the world for which Britain is responsible.

I should like the Under-Secretary to tell me whether the Governor has been reminded of his duties—I will not say more than that—let alone whether any worse consequences have happened to him. I should like to know also, what has happened to the superintendent of the prison. Is he going on to be superintendent of a still higher prison where he can get even more people punished, or not? Will he suffer for this in any way? The attitude of the superintendent and the governor has been most reprehensible. This should be said in public in the House of Commons, and I hope the message will go back to Aden. I hope that the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, when he went there—I know he was engaged upon much more important matters in connection with China and India—found time to look into this question, and that the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us something about it so that justice may be done.

Mr. Yates

The right hon. Gentleman must be fair. The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations went to the prison and himself examined the prisoners.

11.34 a.m.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

The right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) is a little unfair about the Governor. The conditions in Aden are rather special, as they are in any colony. Aden has perhaps a specially volatile population, about half of them being Yemenis—foreigners—who are not in a position to be trusted, and it is very necessary, as the right hon. Gentleman will know because he has visited Aden, that Aden should be entirely quiet, because conditions under which a campaign of murder and violence could break out would be very serious for our people there, especially the families.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman, because of his great experience, will appreciate what a very nerve-racking job it is to keep the population both quiet and on our side. Incidentally, the immoderate and hysterical speech of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) will have done nothing in this regard to help.

Aden is in a special position because of the foreigners there, because it is entirely dependent on Western trade, over which it has absolutely no control, and also because of the defence installations which are there. Therefore, I think the Government of Aden are entitled, first, to take precautions against disorder on the part of the Yemenis there; secondly, to ensure that the prosperity of the colony continues by keeping the port open and working properly, as other ports in the neighbourhood would be only too willing to take over its trade; and, thirdly, for defence reasons, both to keep order and to keep a friendly population the whole time.

To depict, as the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) did in his very reasoned and excellent speech, the trade union movement in Aden is struggling against great adversity is not to give a true picture. After all, the democratic institutions which are starting in Aden represent today an island in a sea of primitive and despotic countries. It is the only place round there where any political progress of this sort is being made.

We all know what the objective is. It is the colonial objective at any time—namely, self-government in due course. We have responsibility to ourselves, to the local population and to the whole Arabian peninsula to make sure that the movement of progress does not break down, that we have orderly progress over the years and not a sudden conflagration such as might easily destroy our position and the future of the population there.

11.38 a.m.

Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)

The House owes a debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) for raising this matter and, in particular,for explaining the enormity of the new ordinance which is now being proposed. It merely proves that we were right in the case which we pressed on the Government in recent debates. We told the Government that if they went ahead on this course of imposing federation against the consent of the people of Aden and without first obtaining their co-operation, inevitably, as they found out by their bitter experience in Central Africa, they would be forced further and further along the road of repression.

First of all, there was an ordinance in effect making strikes illegal. Now there is one which is equally intent on imposing a similar type of ban on freedom of political association. I hope that as a result of this debate the Minister will send the ordinance back and say that the Governor must reconsider the advice which he has given to his Ministers about this matter.

I merely want to bring up one further point, which has not yet been raised, about the policies of repression which are now being pursued. I refer to the threat that the Government of Aden are now making to the Aden T.U.C., that if it does not desist altogether from participation in political purposes, it will have its premises closed down. I have had correspondence with the Minister about this, and I am sure he will not mind my putting on record the answer that he gave on behalf of the Government: As there is ample evidence that the premises have recently been used for political purposes, the Governor of Aden issued a warning to the A.T.U.C. on 16th November, reminding them that the existing arrangements would be terminated, if they continued to use the premises for improper purposes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln said, the Aden T.U.C. has also been closely associated with the political activities arising out of the problems there. This threat to the Aden T.U.C. is utter folly on the part of the British Government and reflects on the reputation of this country with its traditions of democratic freedom. Here we have, as the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) said, a relatively enlightened area of political advance in that part of the Middle East, with a trade union movement which is following the same sort of historical development and traditions as Western trade union movements. It should be encouraged, conciliated and helped rather than have these repeated efforts to restrict its activities.

I hope that the Government, in the light of what is happening in the Yemen and American recognition of the new Republican Government there, will decide seriously to change their policies in Aden. It is on the basis of friendship for the new regime in the Yemen that the Government should turn to policies of conciliation in Aden rather than those of repression. They must try even at this stage, for I do not think that it is too late, to start a new and happier chapter of progress and advance in that part of the world.

11.41 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Nigel Fisher)

For a relatively short Adjournment debate, this one has ranged fairly widely over a large number of different subjects. I hope I shall be able to answer adequately at least the most important of the matters brought out by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) dealt mainly with the Industrial Relations Ordinance and the Societies Bill, and I will try to cover these two issues first before coming to the other points which have been made.

As the hon. Member knows, the background to the Ordinance is the misuse—I think that I am entitled to use that word—of the strike weapon, which caused the Aden Government to introduce legislation in 1960 restricting the right to strike. I might remind the House that this was done on the specific advice of Mr. T. E. Fallows, special adviser on industrial relations and formerly a British trade union official of long standing. He went out to Aden and made a lengthy investigation.

It is true that the Ordinance prohibits strikes and lock-outs under certain circumstances and provides for unresolved disputes to be settled by the compulsory arbitration of an industrial court. I make it clear that the prohibition of strikes in any particular industry can be removed by the President of the Industrial Court, as the hon. Member knows, if he finds that there is a satisfactory collective agreement between management and men. In fact, ten such agreements involving nearly all the major unions are now in operation.

If the unions were prepared to work this Ordinance instead of boycotting it, they could secure the exemption of their members from its provisions without great difficulty. This point was fully covered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air last May when he held my present job and was replying to an Adjournment debate initiated by the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards). I have not sufficient time to go into it in detail now, but hon. Members who wish to follow the matter up will find it covered in more detail in that debate, which is worth reading.

Negotiations with employers under the collective agreements have resulted in substantial improvements in wages and working conditions over the past two years. I do not think that the Ordinance is suppressing and stifling union activity. Nevertheless, it is now possible that the purpose for which it was originally designed—promoting the more peaceful settlement of disputes and reducing the number of strikes—has been achieved. I am able to say, gladly, that the Aden Government have informed the Aden T.U.C. that they are willing to consider suspending the Ordinance as soon as local conditions permit.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Fisher

The Aden Government have also invited employers and the Aden T.U.C. to serve on a joint consultative council which is now being established and which will review the Ordinance. I hope very much that the Aden T.U.C. will accept the invitation, for I consider it to be a constructive move forward which could lead to the result which the hon. Member has in mind.

Now I turn to the Societies Bill, which the hon. Member also criticised. There is no connection between this Bill and the proposed merger between the Colony and the Federation. It was first considered by the Executive Council in Aden as long ago as January and was finally approved by the Council on 11th June. As far as I know, there is no intention to introduce the Bill immediately. The general objectives of the Bill are quite proper ones, such as ensuring that societies publish their accounts, elect their officers in a proper manner, and generally conduct their affairs responsibly. The Bill is modelled on exactly similar legislation in a great many other Colonies, including Kenya and Hong Kong, and there is nothing sinister about it. It is not unusually wide in character. It is the same model as is used everywhere else.

It is true, however, that some Clauses have been criticised in Aden as well as in this debate, and there may well be something in the criticisms. For instance, the right of appeal under the Bill is to the governor. This also follows other colonial precedents, but it might be that the right of appeal should be to the courts. That could certainly be looked at.

The provision for the registration of political parties again merely follows precedent in other Colonial Territories, including Kenya, Hong Kong and Northern Rhodesia. It may be thought, too, that the powers of the police to obtain information about societies is too wide and I am quite happy to suggest to the Aden Government that this point should be examined there in the light of the suggestions that have been made. I believe that the registrar will be the Chief Registrar of Aden, who could, I think, be described as a civil servant.

Then there is the question of the Aden T.U.C. As the hon. Member knows, individual unions are not affected by this Bill because their registration is covered by a separate Ordinance. But the T.U.C. will be affected. It will have to be registered under the Bill. There is something to be said for this. It may be thought that the T.U.C. should publish its accounts and that member-unions deserve protection in respect of their contributions to it. Whatever the merits, I know that it is intended to include the Aden T.U.C. in the Bill.

I am advised, however, that its inclusion will not make its affiliation to international trade union organisations unlawful. That is definite. I am also advised that the Bill is consistent with Article 11 of the Declaration of Human Rights, and I am having the Bill further examined to see whether it contravenes any other international conventions to which we adhere. I do not believe that this is the case, but if it proves to be so it will certainly be brought at once to the attention of the Aden Government.

I will certainly draw the attention of the Aden Ministers to the views expressed in the debate. But I must say that the Bill has been drafted and approved by the lawful Executive Council in Aden which is, in effect, the Government. We have a Ministerial system there and to deny Ministers the right to bring this Bill in would be to fetter their rights in an unprecedented way.

Mr. Dugdale

Does not the hon. Member agree that it is not a fully and properly elected body which rules Aden?

Mr. Fisher

It is a Ministerial system. It is very near to internal self-government. I know that we have not yet reached that point there, but the Colony is moving towards it. These Ministers have a right to bring in Bills in the Executive Council. To deny them that would fetter their rights in a most unusual way.

Mr. Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)

Would it not be expedient to have prior consultation with the Colonial Office before Bills of this kind are drafted? There is obviously consultation afterwards, and now a difficult situation is arising as to whether instructions or advice have to be given after the event by the Colonial Office. Is it not desirable to have prior consultation?

Mr. Fisher

I will have a look at that. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether there was any prior consultation; I think probably not, in the light of the queries which are now being raised, but I will go into that.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

Is it just coincidence that without consultation these elected Ministers in Aden have produced an ordinance identical with that of Hong Kong, Northern Rhodesia and Kenya?

Mr. Fisher

This is why I qualified my reply to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I do not know. But it is perfectly normal that if they wished to bring in a Bill of this sort they would naturally consult the precedents—certainly they would be advised to do so—which exist in other Colonies. I do not think that there is a great deal in that point. This an accord with the sort of legislation which exists in other and comparable colonial territories and with the Ministerial system which today exists in Aden.

Comments were made about the newspapers. Three licences have been withdrawn, but there are still six newspapers being published some of which are quite critical of the Government of Aden.

I do not think that I can go into the question of the arrest and conviction of Al Asnag in much detail because there is still time for him to lodge an appeal and the matter is therefore sub judice, but I have noted the comments about it.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) raised the question of B.B.C. broadcasts. As far as I can see, this has nothing to do with my Department, but my hon. Friend the Assistant-Postmaster-General was here and no doubt she noted the point. The comment was addressed really to her.

May I turn to some of the other points which have been raised? The right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dug-dale) referred to the visit of Members of Parliament to Aden, as did my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin. I do not want to labour the point, but I remind the House that the Governor is responsible ultimately for internal security. I do not comment on it, but in his judgment at that time he thought that the visit of Members of Parliament might be unhelpful and might possibly provoke deputations, disturbances and so on. Of course it did not do so; we know that it did not. But it is fair to point out that the man responsible in this sort of post at a politically difficult time—as it was—should be allowed to express an opinion whether such a visit would involve a security risk or not. This was the advice which he received from his chief security people in Aden. He may have erred on the side of caution, but I believe that personally he received hon. Members courteously, and my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin visited the prison and the right hon. Member for West Bromwich and other members of the delegation could have done so had they been able to stay a little longer.

The reason I mention this in defence of the Governor, quite apart from the conventional reasons for which one defends a Governor, is that there was a near-riot situation when the hon. Member for Bilston visited Aden earlier this year. I remember that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) was there. I am not criticising him, but the hon. Member for Bilston made speeches there which created a very tense atmosphere, and in the light of this background the Governor was anxious about further visits of Members of Parliament.

Mr. G. NI. Thomson

I was part of that visit. In defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards), who is not in the House, I would say that that remark by the Minister is a most astonishing remark to make about an hon. Member and his activities in a territory for which we are responsible. We spent a week there. We saw as many people on every side as we could, and at the end of the visit in a final session with the acting governor he assured me, on my asking him, that out visit had been nothing but helpful.

Mr. Fisher

That is not the information which I have received from anybody out there. I have no criticism of the hon. Member for Dundee, East. He would never do anything irresponsible. This we all know. But the interventions of the hon. Member for Bilston in the Colony of Aden during his visit were moist unhelpful to the Ministers, to the Government, to the governor and to everybody else. They created a situation which was very nearly a security situation. This I have no hesistation in saying, because I have been told it again and again from Aden.

If I may say so, the question of the recognition of the Yemen does not seem to have very much to do with this debate on Aden. At any rate, it has nothing to do with the Colonial Office. It is obviously a matter for the Foreign Office, and it should certainly not be dealt with by me as an Under-Secretary in a Christmas Adjournment debate. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not think me discourteous if I do not follow that point, although naturally I noted his views.

Mr. W. Yates

Surely the policy of the Colonial Office in Aden is to work in the long term for good relations between Aden, for which my hon. Friend is responsible, and the new Government of Yemen, because Aden is full of Yemenis.

Mr. Fisher

Of course it is, but we do not know what the Government of Yemen is going to be. Our policy—and it has always been the policy of British Governments—is perfectly clear and it is to give recognition when a particular Government have established complete control, or very nearly complete control, in the country concerned. It is not our information at this time that the republican Government have complete control over the Yemen. It is very much disputed. They probably have control over—I do not know—50 or 60 per cent. of it, but not by any means the whole country. That is the criterion, and we shall not depart from it.

Mr. W. Yates

My hon. Friend does not know who is in control.

Mr. Fisher

Nor does my hon. Friend know.

It is because of the doubt in the matter as to who is in control in the Yemen that we are adhering to our well-known policy of recognising only when we see that a Government, one or the other, has control.

Mr. Dugdale

If possible a reactionary one.

Mr. Fisher

That was a totally irrelevant intervention.

I do not pretend to be on quite such firm ground on the subject of the Aden canings as on some other points. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we had already drawn the attention of the Aden Government to the fact that their prison regulations were not in our view satisfactory or in line with British practice. Those regulations have been altered, as my right hon. Friend has announced to the House, and they now conform to our own regulations here. I have never attempted to minimise this matter and I express my regret to the House that the changes in the Aden regulations were not made before this incident occurred. In fact, had they been made beforehand, the incident would not have occurred.

But at the same time we should not fall into the error of exaggerating the gravity of this occurrence. The incident arose in this way, if I may correct the right hon. Gentleman, although it is a minor point: one of the prisoners asked to go to the dentist, and permission was granted. When he got there—this was outside the prison—he refused treatment. He said, "I will not have it done".

Mr. Dugdale rose

Mr. Fisher

These are the facts which I am reporting to the House. Many of us have felt like that. But he was in fact adjudged to be a malingerer and as such was sentenced to four days penal diet. As a protest, his friends in prison refused food and work. These are the facts given to me as a result of an inquiry into the matter. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman interviewed all these people. Does he wish to intervene?

Mr. Dugdale

I have interviewed some of them. The facts are that they said that he could see the prison dentist, and he wanted to see his own private dentist because he did not think that the prison dentist was any good.

Mr. Fisher

I said that he wanted to go to a dentist outside the prison, that he went to a dentist, and that he then refused treatment. We are not in dispute, it appears. He was then adjudged a malingerer on that account. That is the information which has been given to me. He was sent to a dentist for treatment, sent outside to a dentist, and he refused treatment. I will check it again although I have checked it already, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will check his source of information, too, if there is a dispute on facts.

These were a comparatively sophisticated group of prisoners, and they were engaged in a concerted attempt to subvert discipline in the prison. Both the prison superintendent and the Governor have been the subject of criticism for ordering and allowing, respectively, these canings, but as the rules then stood, the superintendent, Mr. Chowdery, was acting within them, with the sole exception, to which my right hon. Friend referred last week, that the provision requiring a delay of 24 hours between the award of the punishment and carrying it out was not observed. There was, moreover, the possibility of a break-clown of order in the prison. This was quite a posibility. The superintendent thought it necessary to sound the siren in the prison and to summon the armed police from the nearby barracks. It may be that by acting quickly in this way in relation to these prisoners more serious consequences were avoided. There was in any case no alternative to this form of punishment, because there are no facilities in Aden prison for solitary confinement—I shall say a word about Aden prison later, if I have time—nor could he deprive the prisoners of their entitlement to remission, because some had already forfeited that and others were not entitled to it anyway.

There is no evidence to show that the superintendent lost either his head or his temper. In fact he gave every opportunity to the prisoners to withdraw from the position which they had taken up and he released without punishment one of them who did withdraw. After the canings the prison returned to order and there were no further incidents. The superintendent is a long service prison officer with a perfectly good record and is the first Adeni to hold the post of superintendent, which he has held for two years.

Mr. Dugdale

The hon. Gentleman said that there was no alternative to this punishment then. Is there an alternative under the new Regulations, or does the same situation apply?

Mr. Fisher

Under the new Regulations the award of the punishment is given only under very limited conditions. The whole situation has changed as a result of amending the Regulations. We are now in line with the practice here in the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State outlined last week what the new Regulations were, so I do not think this problem would ever be likely to arise again. In so far as it is still true that there is no facility in Aden prison at the moment for the solitary confinement of any large number of prisoners for any length of time, I regret it, and I shall say a word about Aden prison later because I think it is important.

I want to stress that, in ordering the canings, the superintendent was carrying out the rules as they then stood. He was fully responsible, and it would have been most unusual for a higher authority to intervene. It has now been established—I want to be perfectly frank about it—that the responsible Aden Minister, and also the Governor, knew that the first canings had taken place. The right hon. Gentleman raised this matter last week. The Minister decided not to intervene because the Superintendent was, under the rules at that time, the responsible officer.

The question whether or not the superintendent acted correctly has been the subject of an inquiry. Both the Governor of Aden and my right hon. Friend visited the prison and questioned the Superintendent personally. They are both satisfied that no further action should be taken.

Mr. Dugdale


Mr. Fisher

In reply to this debate, not having been to Aden myself and not having personally investigated the matter, I do not think that I could possibly agree to reopen this aspect of it. I do not think the House would expect me to do so. I should be doing something in deliberate defiance of the ruling already given by my own Secretary of State.

I was going to say something about the medical side of the story, but I think I am trespassing on the time of the next debate and perhaps I ought to leave that. They were not physically unfit at the time. This was the point of the hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Oram), who wondered why the four people who were caned on the second day were said to be unfit for caning on the first day and then miraculously were fit twenty-four hours later when they had not had any food in the meantime. I was a little puzzled about that myself, but the doctor's explanation was that they were not physically unfit on the first day. They were in "an excitable and nervous condition"—these are the words he used—and this had corrected itself on the second day.

In any case, the great point made by the hon. Member for East Ham, South last week was that they had fasted in between. I find that this is not so. Two of the four men took food on 12th November, after they were sentenced, and all four of them took food the following day, the 13th, before they were caned. I do not think that there is very much in the argument that they fasted and there- fore had to be necessarily in a worse state physically on the second day than they had been in on the first. I do not think that is correct. The doctor examined all the prisoners before and after the canings and himself witnessed the canings.

Lastly, I want to say a word about the Aden prison, because I am not at all happy about this. I really am not. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin was there—he told me about it and I was very shocked—and saw the sane and the lunatics in what I gather is very close proximity in this prison. My right hon. Friend saw that too, and he did not at all like what he say there.

The truth is that there is at present no mental hospital in Aden. This is a serious position. A new prison is being built at once. I believe that the building has already begun. At any rate, it is urgently in hand. Provision has also been made under C.D. and W. plans for a mental hospital to be built.

Mr. W. Yates

About time, too.

Mr. Fisher

I agree. I say that without any hesitation. But until these are completed, which cannot be for some months, gather, the position is far from satisfactory. Both buildings are now being given top priority.

In a way these things justify the House of Commons when points of this sort are raised and made much of in the House of Commons. This spotlights deficiencies which exist in colonial territories, I am sure, but which do not readily come to the attention of hon. Members until an incident occurs. It has this good effect, that it hustles things on which would perhaps have been done in a rather leisurely way in the Colony concerned.

I cannot say more than I have done today, but I personally am obliged to the hon. Member for Lincoln and to all the other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate for raising these matters this morning, because I think that it has enabled me to amplify some of the points which were not fully covered in the Aden debate.

Mr. W. Yates

Has the governor's resignation been called for?

Mr. Fisher

Not at all. I hope that nothing I have said reflects in any way on the governor. My right hon. Friend has the greatest confidence in him, and I was most careful to point out that in the circumstances we did not attach any blame whatever to him. I do not take that point.

I think that the debate has been useful. I am sorry to have strayed, Mr. Speaker, a little over the time and I am sorry also that I have not replied fully to all the points which were raised, but there were many of them.