HC Deb 22 March 1965 vol 709 cc33-5
Mr. Thorneycroft (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement about the engagement on the Aden-Dhala Road and the resultant loss of British soldiers' lives.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)

In view of repeated attacks against Federal National Guard and Federal Regular Army positions in Dhala and against traffic on the Dhala Road, units of the Federal Regular Army have begun an operation in a small area east of Dhala. The operation is supported by a company of Coldstream Guards and is proceeding satisfactorily.

I regret to inform the House that as a result of a mortar attack on Saturday evening against elements of our forces three guardsmen were killed; one Royal Artillery officer, two N.C.O.s of the Coldstream Guards and one guardsman were wounded. The next-of-kin have been informed.

I am sure that the House will join me in conveying their sympathy with the families concerned.

Mr. Thorneycroft

May I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself with the Secretary of State's very proper expressions of sympathy? I do not press him about the nature of the engagement, but will he keep us informed of the progress of these arrangements, because it was an incident of this kind which led to fairly widespread hostilities about a year ago?

My other question is whether the Government are making any representations to the U.A.R. which, after all, has 50,000 troops on the other side of the border. There is not the slightest doubt that these tribesmen are being armed, equipped and incited to operations of this character.

Mr. Healey

Of course I will keep the House informed, although it is believed and hoped that this will be a short-term operation on a minor scale. We have no evidence at the moment that the mortars with which our men were attacked on Saturday were supplied from abroad, but this may well be the case. Certainly, if it should turn out to be so, we shall make representations in the appropriate quarters.

Mr. Shinwell

May I reinforce the request of the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thornycroft) for a rather fuller statement on the operations in this area? We have had very little information of late. A very large number of our troops are deployed in the area, where we are spending a lot of money, yet we hear little or nothing about attempting to reach a political solution. Will my right hon. Friend take an early opportunity to make a full statement in the House about what is happening in the area?

Mr. Healey

I am not sure to what extent it would be for me to make a statement of the nature for which my right hon. Friend asks, but I can say that this is a very small operation. Only one company of British troops is involved and this operation is entirely separate from the operations which took place last year in the Radfan area, which is substantially to the south.

Mr. J. Amery

While this operation may be fairly small, there have recently been a number of terrorist operations in Aden mounted from the Yemen. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions? First, would he consider with the Colonial Secretary and the Federal Government in South Arabia whether the road from Aden into the Yemen ought not to be closed? I understand that the Egyptian Army and the Yemen Republic are largely supplied by this road. Is it advisable that we should be supplying authorities operating actively to attack our men and to subvert the South Arabian Federation?

Secondly, will he undertake to keep the Foreign Secretary, who is now in Washington, informed of these latest developments? The United States has been supplying a good deal of aid to the United Arab Republic and might like to discourage Colonel Nasser from using its aid against its own allies.

Mr. Healey

The possible closing of the Dhala road into the Yemen raises many questions which, of course, are under consideration by Ministers. There is no evidence arising out of this incident on which I am reporting which would justify us in making the sort of approach which the hon. Gentleman has proposed.