HC Deb 13 April 1964 vol 693 cc21-6
18. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why Her Majesty's Government did not bring the situation on the Yemen-South Arabian frontier to the attention of the Security Council before ordering the attack on the fort at Harib.

24 and 25. Mr. Rankin

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) if he will instruct the British delegate at the United Nations to raise with the Security Council the matter of the attack made by a Yemeni helicopter on camels grazing in the British-protected State of Beihan prior to the reprisal raid made on the town of Harib by eight Royal Air Force Hunter jets on 28th March last; and

(2) in view of the effect on the relations between Great Britain and the Arab Republics of the attack by eight Hunter jet aircraft on the town of Harib in the Yemen, what steps he proposes to take to restore good relations.

30. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what instructions have now been given to the representative of Her Majesty's Government at the Security Council regarding action to be taken at the United Nations to avoid further military conflict on the Yemen-South Arabian Federation border.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I will, with permission, answer this Question and Nos. 24, 25—

Captain Litchfield

On a point of order. Referring to Questions Nos. 24 and 25, may I ask whether it is in order that an assertion which has been denied by Her Majesty's Government—that is, the statement in Questions Nos. 24 and 25 that the town of Harib was attacked, which reflects upon the conduct of Her Majesty's forces—should receive publicity on the Order Paper?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member tabling a Question takes responsibility personally for the assertion of fact contained in it.

Mr. Butler

As I said, I will, with permission, answer this Question and Nos. 24. 25 and 30 together.

I would refer hon. Members to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 9th April in answer to a Question on the same subject by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin).

References to an attack on "the town of Harib" are entirely mistaken. There was no attack upon the town of Harib, but only upon the isolated fort some distance away and this after warning by leaflet. Before that attack was authorised, our representative at the United Nations had made numerous representations to the President of the Security Council about Yemeni attacks, including that of 13th March. He has since made a number of suggestions in the Security Council designed to reduce tension, to restore good relations and to avoid further conflict on the border between the Yemen and the South Arabian Federation. These include a withdrawal of forces on both sides of the frontier, the establishment of a demilitarised zone, probably supervised by United Nations observers, and an attempt to secure an agreed delimitation and demarcation of the frontier. In addition, Sir Patrick Dean has proposed to the Council that all parties concerned should refrain from infringements of the frontier as well as from the promotion or encouragement of other hostile activities.

I must inform the House that on the day following the passage of the resolution by the Security Council calling on all to exercise restraint a Yemeni aircraft again crossed the Federal border and twice circled places near the area which had been the target of the last two attacks. We immediately notified the President of the Security Council and asked that all members of the Council should be informed.

Mr. Henderson

Is it not a fact that the first Yemeni aerial attack on South Arabian territory took place as far back as October, 1962, and was followed by a second aerial attack in February, 1963? Why was it that Her Majesty's Government took no action and did not go to the Security Council and ask it to investigate the situation which followed these aerial attacks? Instead of that, they wait until there are further attacks and then take unilateral action. Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that we will strengthen the authority of the United Nations if we bypass them in this way?

Mr. Butler

That does not give a proper picture of the situation. There were the attacks referred to by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Then on six separate occasions, which I have here—in March, July and September, 1963, and three times in March, 1964—we made representations to the President of the Security Council and asked for proper consideration to be given to the Yemeni attacks.

Mr. Rankin

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the first Question which I put to which he referred I mentioned Fort Harib and was informed by an authority that that was wrong. Therefore, I was between the devil and the deep sea. Has the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of this country, accepted the doctrine of retaliation? That has been condemned by the United Nations. Why do we not renounce it now? If this incident is of such a serious nature as the right hon. Gentleman says, have we made a charge in the Security Council against the Yemen and are we seeking redress?

On my second Question, since it would appear that we have destroyed our good relations with the Arab countries, and in view of the damage to life and limb which was done by this raid, will the right hon. Gentleman consider the question of compensation for the damage done?

Mr. Butler

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's last point is "No, Sir". In answer to the penultimate point which he put, we attach the first importance to our relations with the Arab countries, and I hope that the positive suggestions given in my Answer about the frontier, about a possible demilitarised zone, about the possibility of observers, and so forth, will be taken up by the Security Council and by all those concerned so that there is no repetition of these incidents.

With regard to the hon. Member's earlier point about Harib, I have given the facts about that. I must accept what he has said, but I have given the facts as they were true. With regard to retaliation, this was not retaliation. It was an act of self-defence in honouring the solemn treaty which we have with the Federation of Southern Arabia.

Mr. Dempsey

Will the Foreign Secretary bear in mind that the border is a very ill-defined one and that this has now been established by those who have done aerial runs over the border between the Yemen and South Arabia? Will he, therefore, ask the Security Council to take steps to ensure that the border is carefully defined, even though the undefended and neutralized zone may not be accepted? Will the right hon. Gentleman remember that sending these punitive expeditions is not the wisest or best way to solve these border problems? Will he rely on the conference table at the United Nations rather than have a repetition of such military action?

Mr. Butler

In my previous answer, I said that we attached great importance to these positive steps, and we hope that they may be followed up.

Mr. Goodhew

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Southern Arabian Federation has been troubled by other incursions from the Yemen for a long time and that the matter which is of much more concern to other Arab nations is that the Egyptians should be asked to withdraw their troops from the Yemen?

Mr. Butler

We have made repeated complaints through the United States Government, who represent us at San'a, to the Yemen Government about these incursions, and we trust that those, combined with these positive steps, will have some effect.

Mr. Gordon Walker

The right hon. Gentleman did not really answer the question put to him by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson), namely, why he did not ask for a meeting of the Security Council. It is not enough, in these circumstances, just to report to the President. Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that we put ourselves in a position in which we embarrassed some of our best friends in the United Nations? They were extremely embarrassed. Would he accept from me that there are many people who would like to see him assert himself somewhat more strongly against the Commonwealth Secretary in this matter?

Mr. Butler

I entirely repudiate the right hon. Gentleman's last suggestion. All decisions taken in this matter have been taken by the Government as a whole, and we all bear an equal share of responsibility. Regarding the right hon. Gentleman's question as to why we did not appeal to the Security Council, we took the step on six or eight occasions—six occasions for certain since March, 1963—of informing the President of the Security Council, and we thought that that was adequate. If that did not prove to be correct, we must take other steps.

Captain Litchfield

On a point of order. In view of my right hon. Friend's reply, ought not the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) to withdraw his allegation that the Royal Air Force attacked the town of Harib?

Mr. Speaker

It is not a matter for the Chair to get people to withdraw factual statements, however inaccurate. I am not saying that this one was inaccurate. I do not know the state of the hon. Member's knowledge at the time the Question was put down.

Sir P. Agnew

On a point of order. For the sake, of accuracy, ought not my right hon. Friend to make it clear that in his last reply but one, when he used the phrase "the Yemeni Government", he was not referring to the Government which Her Majesty's Government recognise?

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is enough difficulty already in getting on with Questions. I do not want hon. Members rising to entirely bogus points of order. The practice is growing, and I confess that as the servant of the House and in the interests of everybody, I shall have to take some desperate step about it if it goes on.

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