HC Deb 26 June 1963 vol 679 cc1337-9
Mr. W. Yates

(by Private Notice) asked the Lord Privy Seal if he has any statement to make concerning the progress of the diplomatic negotiations requested by him between the United States Government and the Yemeni Republican authorities to secure the release of 18 British subjects detained in Yemen since Sunday.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Peter Thomas)

The latest information I have is that the United States Embassy in Ta'iz has not yet received a reply from the Yemeni Republican authorities in Sanaa to their request for the release of the men, but the United States Chargeé ďAffaires has been assured that they are being well-treated.

The United States Vice-Consul in Aden has also been assisting a British political officer in negotiations on the frontier.

Mr. Yates

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware, first, that the House is grateful for the help given by the United States to us in our difficulties? Secondly, does he not agree that this is a time when the House must wish to have good relations between the Yemeni people and our own country? Thirdly, would he not also agree that this House is concerned about the worry of the parents of the people who are now in imprisonment? Fourthly, if it is intended to move these people from the border area to Ta'iz, it might be possible for a British official to go with them.

Further, is the Under-Secretary aware that I have sent a message to the effect that if I could do anything to assist in the movement of these people—[Interruption] I know that some hon. Members think it very funny; something like the Daily Express this morning. This is a serious matter, and not a matter for joking. I have spoken to the American Embassy and, in view of this, may I say that if the United States Government and the Republican Government of the Yemen would like my help in any capacity, I am prepared to go there?

Mr. Thomas

I should certainly like to reiterate what my hon. Friend has said about our gratitude to the United States. We are grateful to them for their offer of help.

In regard to my hon. Friend's question about good relations between the British people and the Yemeni people, I can assure him that we have nothing but good will towards the Yemeni people. As has frequently been said in this House, we are anxious to establish good relations with whatever régime is in effective control in the Yemen.

My hon. Friend referred to the anxiety of the parents. I have been told by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence that a British Service doctor has been allowed to visit these Service men today, and found them fit and in good spirits. They are receiving food supplies from our troops.

We are grateful to my hon. Friend for his offer to mediate in this matter, but I think that the United States is doing everything possible, and that possibly it is wise not to cross wires at this moment.

Mr. Healey

Can the Under-Secretary of State say whether money passed to secure the release of the four women of Her Majesty's Forces who have already been released to Aden? Further, can he say whether Her Majesty's representative in Lahej has negotiated with the tribal leaders of the tribe that has captured the personnel, or whether he is negotiating with representatives of the Yemeni Government?

Mr. Thomas

As far as I know, no money passed. The negotiations have so far been conducted with police and tribal authorities, but also directly, through them, with the Yemeni Republican authorities.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

Is my hon. Friend aware of the story current in some organs of the Press today to the effect that passage may be allowed to Yemeni forces through British territory in order to escort these prisoners, not to freedom but into imprisonment within the interior of the Yemen? Can my hon. Friend comment on that, and say whether there is anything in this quite astonishing suggestion?

Mr. Thomas

I know nothing about this. The report, as I saw it, was that Egyptians were seeking to go over parts of Aden territory, but I did not know that any Yemeni forces were seeking to do so.

Mr. Bennett

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was referring not to the definition between U.A.R. forces and Yemeni forces, but to the forces in the country at the moment.

Mr. Snow

In view of the quite exceptional knowledge and experience of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates), will the Minister not take too lightly his hon. Friend's offer, because all possible aid should be brought to bear on this delicate problem, in which these men may be in peril of their lives?

Mr. Thomas

I do not think that I did take the matter too lightly. I expressed gratitude to my hon. Friend for his offer to mediate, but said that the United States authorities are doing everything possible at the moment and that I thought it wiser not to cross wires.