HC Deb 07 July 1964 vol 698 cc215-22
The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to make a statement on the Federation of South Arabia.

At the conference which ended on 4th July, the representatives of the Federation of South Arabia decided radically to reshape the Federal Constitution on democratic lines. A White Paper, setting out the conclusions reached, is being printed and, I hope, will be available tomorrow.

The new Constitution will provide for a Legislature, consisting of a Council of State composed of one representative from each State, and a national Assembly whose members will be chosen wherever possible, by direct popular election. In those parts where tribal conditions make this impracticable, there will at first be indirect election through electoral colleges. An independent commission will advise where and when a system of direct election can be introduced.

There will be a constitutional President elected by the Legislature and the present rotating chairmen will be replaced by a Prime Minister who will be dependent upon the support of a parliamentary majority. Certain other changes were also agreed, the effect of which will be to give to the States a greater say in matters relating to internal security and in the control of the security forces.

The delegates unanimously requested that the Federation should have independence not later than 1968 and that Britain should continue thereafter to retain her military base in Aden for the defence of the Federation and the fulfilment of her worldwide responsibilities. On behalf of the British Government, I agreed to this request and I undertook that we would, at the appropriate time, convene a conference to fix a date for independence and to conclude the necessary defence agreement.

The British Government agreed that the constitutional status of Aden, which is at present a Crown Colony, should be raised to that of the other members of the Federation, which are protected States. Sovereignty in respect of Aden will be transferred in part to the Federation and in part to Aden, in accordance with the distribution of functions between the Federal and State authorities. As soon as practicable after the Aden elections this autumn, a meeting will be convened to agree upon the arrangements for the transfer, and upon any further constitutional changes which may be necessary.

What was, in any case, bound to be a difficult negotiation was made more difficult by the activities of one of the delegates, the Sultan of Fadhli who, by the offer of bribes, tried to induce other delegates to break up the conference. When he saw that his efforts were unsuccessful, he flew to Cairo, where he made a number of completely false statements to which I feel obliged to refer.

The Sultan said that, at the conference, he had demanded that United Nations resolutions on Aden should be implemented: he never said a word about this. He said that he had called for the removal of the British base in Aden: on the contrary, he presented a paper to the conference proposinig the retention of the British base after independence. He said that he had asked for the granting of immediate independence: in fact, he proposed that there should be independence not later than 1969, although he subsequently accepted the earlier date of 1968. He accused my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of having deceived Parliament about the supply of arms to the Yemeni Royalists. That is, of course, totally untrue.

I hope that the House will forgive me for having dealt in such detail with these allegations, but, in view of the world-wide publicity they have received, I thought it necessary to refute them unequivocally.

During the course of the conference, three more States in South Arabia applied to join the Federation and were admitted to membership. As I have already explained to the House, we recognise the importance of economic as well as political advance and therefore, at the end of the conference, I invited the Federal Minister of Finance and one or two other members of the Federal Government to remain in London to discuss with us proposals for increased aid.

The constitutional changes which were agreed at the conference represent a decisive step in the political evolution of the Federation and will undoubtedly make a significant contribution to the unity and progress of the inhabitants of South Arabia.

Mr. Healey

I welcome the fact that agreement has been reached in principle on independence for South Arabia in 1968. Can I take it from the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the relationship between Aden and the mainland States remains to be negotiated after elections in Aden? Can he assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will not renounce its sovereign responsibilities in Aden to the Federation until agreement has been reached on a status for Aden inside the Federation which is acceptable to a representative Aden Government?

Has the right hon. Gentleman any information so far about the reactions of the inhabitants of the State of Fadhli to the action of the Sultan of Fadhli? Is it the case that if his action is supported by the inhabitants, he is constitutionally free to apply to secede? I think that many of us are somewhat in the dark about the constitutional position.

Finally, there is one statement which was made by the Sultan and to which the right hon. Gentleman did not reply. I wonder whether he could do so now. The Sultan of Fadhli said that he and four other sheikhs had approached the Federal Government of protest against the transit of arms to Yemeni Royalists through their territory. The right hon. Gentleman did not rebut this in terms. I wonder whether he would be kind enough to say whether, in fact, such a protest was made by the sheikhs, as there is a good deal of concern in the country about this matter, particularly in view of the article in the Sunday Times last Sunday.

Mr. Sandys

I have made inquiries about the hon. Gentleman's last question, but I have not yet had the information whether there has been any protest about anything. However, I have already stated the position about any British Government action. Of course, arms are moving about all over the place in this part of the world. They are almost currency, as the hon. Gentleman knows.

On the other issues he has raised, I can give him the assurance, as will be seen from the report of the conference, when it is published, that it is quite clear that the meeting to discuss the transfer of sovereignty in respect of Aden is a meeting to secure agreement by all concerned. The people mainly concerned are, of course, the people of Aden themselves, but the Federal Government and the British Government will also have to reach agreement on the arrangements for the transfer of sovereignty both to Aden and the Federation, in accordance with the distribution of powers under the Constitution.

The reaction of the inhabitants of Fadhli is still rather obscure and I do not think that it would be wise for me to try to make any statement about it. The constitutional position is that the Constitution of the Federation, like the constitutions of most federations, does not provide for secession.

Mr. Wall

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on an exceptionally good conclusion to what must have been a very long and difficult conference? Will there be any immediate change in the High Commissioner's powers with respect to the State of Aden before the general election? How many States which are British-protected States in Southern Arabia are not yet members of the Federation? Is there any machinery for their later accession to the Federation?

Mr. Sandys

There are no immediate changes in the position in Aden. The transfer of sovereignty has been agreed in principle, but nothing can take place until the meeting which I have mentioned and which is to be held after the elections in Aden, when the arrangements for the transfer and the consequential changes will have to be agreed. I think that I am right in saying—but I am open to correction—that there are three other States in the Aden Protectorate which are still not members of the Federation.

Mr. Wade

May I ask for a little further clarification about the transfer of the sovereignty of Aden in part to the Federation? Will this be subject to confirmation at elections to be held in Aden? Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the electorate is sufficiently wide and representative to ensure that the wishes of the people of Aden are clearly known?

Mr. Sandys

The franchise is a matter for the Legislature of Aden itself. It decides its own franchise and has recently revised it. The meeting to which I have referred will be held after the elections in Aden. I think that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Renton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his efforts in bringing this conference to a successful conclusion in spite of the difficulties created by the Sultan of Fadhli will afford great satisfaction in this country as well as in the Federation? Can he tell the House whether he is in a position to know how the Sultan of Fadhli was getting funds for bribing the other members of the conference and what was the source of those funds?

Mr. Sandys

It is quite easy to receive money if someone wants to give it to one. I leave it to my right hon. and learned Friend, with his own vivid imagination, to guess where this money came from.

Mr. Healey

May I press the right hon. Gentleman on one question? When he says in his statement that sovereignty will be transferred in accordance with the distribution of functions between the Federal and State authorities, does that imply the existing distribution of functions, or is it still open for the negotiations which will be held after the Aden elections to revise the Constitution in this respect?

Mr. Sandys

It is open to the representatives of Aden and the States, who will be meeting after the Aden elections, to decide the arrangements for the transfer of sovereignty and to make any further changes which they think necessary in the Constitution. The Constitution also includes the question of the distribution of powers as between State and Federal authorities.

Mr. W. Yates

Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting, or confirming, to the House and the country that the money which is supposed to have been sent to the sheikhs came from the U.A.R. Embassy? This is a very important matter. It is all very well to make sly remarks at the Box without following them up, but is he aware that the Foreign Secretary is doing his best to improve our relations with the U.A.R., as is the Prime Minister, and that remarks like that can do nothing but damage all the work which they have been able to do? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that what he has proposed has been to support the United Nations and to implement the resolutions, but is he also aware that the relations of Aden and the Federation will be extremely difficult? Will he bear in mind that if he has selected Mohammed Farid to run the South-West Federation he may have made a grave miscalculation which may have been the result of the present local difficulties?

Mr. Sandys

I do not feel that my hon. Friend's question was intended to be helpful.

Mr. W. Yates

That is absolutely cheap.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that whereas it is good that there has been an agreement about independence, the essential question—the relationship between Aden and the rest of the Federation—has not been solved, but has been postponed, and that the really central problem therefore still remains to be solved by some Government or other in the future?

Mr. Sandys

I do not claim that it has been solved, but a lot of progress has been made. One of the outstanding features of this conference was the sense of South Arabian unity. Throughout the conference nobody at any moment suggested that Aden should be withdrawn from the Federation. Everyone recognised that they belonged together and must work out their future together.

Similarly, since certain things have been said, I want to make it clear that nobody at any stage in the conference suggested that he wanted to see the British base in Aden removed, either before or after independence. There was a general desire to see us remain there for the defence and protection of the Federation and also so that we might continue to discharge our worldwide responsibilities, in respect of which Aden is so important.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

We cannot debate this now.

Mr. Stonehouse

On a point of order. Is it in order for a Minister to refuse to answer a question from his own side of the House because he considers—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order.


Mr. W. Yates

Mr. Speaker, the rules of the House are very strict in respect of references made to other countries or to heads of States of other countries or their ambassadors or embassies in this country. It must have come to your knowledge, Mr. Speaker, as well as to that of many Members, that there appeared in the newspapers on Sunday a suggestion that the disappearance of one of the leading members of this conference occurred through a bribe—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I assume that the hon. Member is addressing me on a point of order. If not, he has no right to address me. Will he indicate what his point of order is?

Mr. Yates

My point of order is very clear, Mr. Speaker. Where a Minister, at the Dispatch Box, by innuendo invites hon. Members to believe that an ambassador or embassy staff—[HON. MEMBERS: "He did not."] Yes he did, by implication. I suggest that by the rules of order he is precluded from making these statements unless he can substantiate them at the Dispatch Box. Is not that the rule of the House?

Mr. Speaker

There was nothing at all out of order in that context.