HC Deb 16 April 1964 vol 693 cc590-2
Q3. Mr. Brockway

asked the Prime Minister on what grounds he authorised the bombing of Harib in Yemeni territory by the Royal Air Force on 29th March, 1964.

The Prime Minister

I would refer the hon. Member to the Answer I gave the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) on 9th April.

Mr. Brockway

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have not read the Answer, although I have read other Answers which have been given? However, in view of the very serious consequence an public opinion in Arab countries, and particularly in Libya with whom we are now negotiating, will the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that before this kind of thing happens again it will not merely be reported to the Security Council but we will ask the Security Council for a debate and a decision?

The Prime Minister

First of all, I hope this thing will not happen again. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] There is no possible excuse for the Yemenis to overfly our frontier with the Yemen or to make attacks over the frontier. There is no possible excuse for that. Only a day after the Security Council debate we had to complain to the Security Council a id to the Secretary-General because if were had been another overflight. I think it is well to warn the Yemeni Government that this kind of thing cannot continue. The Security Council and the United Nations must protect us and help us, which is what we want, to demarcate the frontier between the Yemen and the Aden Federation.

Mr. Hale

In view of the helpful answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave, in one respect, would he say specificially whether it is the view of Her Majesty's Government that they have the right to exercise reprisals in the form of the bombing of other countries without any declaration of war, and is this the policy that is going to be put before the electors?

The Prime Minister

That is not a very helpful question, if I may say so, in response to a helpful answer. What we have is a treaty under which we are obliged to defend the Aden Federation, and the Aden Federation has been subject to constant attack. My whole purpose is to arrive at a settlement between the Yemen and the Aden Federation, and the first thing to do is to demarcate the frontier.

Mr. A. Royle

Will my right hon. Friend raise in the Security Council the bombing of Yemeni villages by Egyptian aeroplanes, which has gone on for the last six months?

The Prime Minister

I have before now called attention to the double standards which operate in this case.

Mr. Mayhew

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that no British person who attended, as I did, the Security Council debate on this matter could help feeling profoundly disturbed by and extremely critical of the Government's action? Is he aware that, quite apart from the general principle which my hon. Friend mentioned, this again gave opportunities to our enemies and put a strain on our friends out of all proportion to anything that it may have achieved?

The Prime Minister

I think the hon. Gentleman must take account of the fact that we have a treaty by which we are obliged to defend the Aden Federation. If there are air attacks across the frontier which cannot be met in any other way, I do not know what the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends in similar circumstances would have done, but he must realise that if attacks from the Yeminis are allowed to proceed without any answer to them at all, the whole of the Aden Federation loses faith in Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Grimond

While accepting for the moment the Prime Minister's argument that the Yemenis should not transgress the frontier and that we have a treaty obligation, may I ask whether he can assure the House that this action has done any good? Has it not, in fact, played into the hands of the Egyptians who are the people we want to stop encouraging the Yemenis to transgress the frontier? Also has it not removed from us the argument presented by the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) which is that the Yemenis have been bombing dissident tribesmen in their own territory with napalm bombs'? Have the Government raised this matter in the United Nations? Would that not be a far more useful exercise than giving a propaganda bonus to the very people whom we want to prevent encouraging the Yemenis?

The Prime Minister

The United Nations are perfectly well aware of the fact that incendiary bombs have been used many times inside the Yemen by the Egyptian Air Force which is at the disposal of the Yemeni Government. This is said to be a matter of internal politics in the Yemen and not a matter of external aggression. That is not my interpretation, but it is the interpretation of others. I think we had really better, as a House, now concentrate on trying to get the United Nations to demarcate the frontier so that incidents from either side will be avoided.