HC Deb 11 December 1963 vol 686 cc398-400
Mr. Mayhew

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement about the bomb outrage at Aden Airport yesterday.

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

This incident occurred yesterday morning at Aden Airport, when the High Commissioner and some Ministers and officials were about to leave for constitutional talks in London.

A hand grenade exploded outside the airport building among the departing passengers and people seeing them off. The assailant has not been discovered.

I regret to say that an Indian lady was killed and 43 people were wounded. Among those seriously injured were the Ruler of the Fadhli State and two British administrative officers. I am glad to say that the High Commissioner escaped with a slight hand injury.

The House will, I am sure, wish to express its horror and indignation at this outrage. Hon. Members will also wish to join me in expressing our sympathy to those who have suffered injury or bereavement.

The Supreme Council of the Federation of South Arabia has since declared a state of emergency throughout the Federation and has ordered a number of detentions and deportations in the interests of public security. I have asked the High Commissioner to keep me closely informed of developments.

Mr. Mayhew

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the sympathy which he has expressed is shared on both sides of the House and that even those who have some reservations about the Government's policy in this area will not expect them to be diverted from the course which they think right by loathsome acts of violence of this kind? However, will he give an assurance that he will not allow this incident, serious as it is, to prevent further progress, which is already seriously delayed, towards a broader franchise in this area?

Mr. Fisher

The hon. Member is referring to the constitutional talks which we were to have had this week. I am a little uncertain about their immediate future, because some of the Ministers who were to attend them are already in London, having left before the incident, while other delegates, including the High Commissioner himself, are still in Aden, and some of them in the circumstances will no doubt wish to remain there. Therefore, I think that it is clear that the talks cannot begin this week, as we had intended. I am in touch with my right hon. Friend and the High Commissioner and it may be that the talks will have to be postponed for a little while. If so, I would hope that it would not be for very long.

Mr. W. Yates

Will the Under-secretary have a discussion with the Yemeni Government, which Her Majesty's Government have now recognised, concerning the future of South West Arabia, or are the Government now considering a Greater Yemen and a different policy?

Mr. Fisher

There is no different policy. The talks which we were to have had in London this week were concerned merely with constitutional advance and the constitutional future of Aden itself.

Mr. Grimond

While sympathising with the victims of this outrage, may I ask the Under-Secretary to make it clear whether this was an isolated attack; or has there been further trouble in other parts of the Protectorate?

Mr. Fisher

No, Sir. There has been no other trouble of this sort. Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, there always tend to be border incidents in the Protectorate—these are a time-honoured pursuit in that part of the world—on the undemarcated Yemen frontier with the Federation. But they are quite separate from an incident of this sort, which has not happened before. We hope that it is an isolated incident and not a prelude to other violence of this type.

Mr. Oram

As a member of a very recent delegation to Aden, may I join in the expressions of sympathy to the victims of this explosion? Some were our very kindly hosts, to whom we were very grateful. May I urge the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend to learn the right lessons from this and similar events, which is that there is a need to get the processes of democracy in Aden working very quickly, which means early elections on a widely acceptable franchise? Is it not only by the processes of democracy that violations of law and order of this kind can be forestalled?

Mr. Fisher

The hon. Gentleman put that question to me at Question Time yesterday and I can only give him the answer I gave then, which is that the new franchise proposals are under consideration in Aden and will no doubt be discussed when we meet the Ministers from Aden. We have no intention of postponing the elections, which are due to be held there by April of next year.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

Can the hon. Gentleman give the House any information about the reports of arrests of people in Aden, including many leaders of the People's Socialist Party? Is he aware of the concern that, in the legitimate anxiety following this event, there should not be any indiscriminate arrests of political leaders, thus aggravating the political situation?

Mr. Fisher

Yes, Sir. Twenty-nine people have been detained by the Federal authorities. I do not yet know the names of those who have been detained, or the details of any charges which may be made. I have sought, and am awaiting, further information from our High Commissioner.

Mr. Mayhew

Does that answer imply that the Minister will deny the protest made by the Aden T.U.C. that 200 people, including leaders of the Aden T.U.C. have been arrested?

Mr. Fisher

I do not know anything about those figures. The figures that I have given are of people arrested, and are the latest that I have from the High Commissioner. It may be that the hon. Gentleman is thinking of deportations rather than arrests, and in that context I must tell him that according to my latest report 142 Yemenis have been deported over the border to their own country.