HC Deb 24 May 1965 vol 713 cc28-33
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Anthony Greenwood)

In reply to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Tinn) on 11th May, I said that I would make an Oral statement to the House as soon as practicable about the composition of the constitutional Commission for South Arabia. I am happy to say that we have secured the services as Chairman of Sir Evelyn Hone who, in the course of a distinguished overseas career, has served in South Arabia and was Governor of Northern Rhodesia in the period immediately before independence.

My consultations as regards membership of the Commission are proceeding. Honourable Members may have seen speculation in the Press about the possibility of our asking the Secretary General of the United Nations to suggest one or two names. I think it right to inform the House that we should have welcomed such an arrangement and have in fact discussed it with the Secretary General. He has told us, however, that while appreciating the suggestion, he has regretfully concluded, after giving it careful consideration, that it would not be feasible for him to adopt it. I am naturally sorry that he has not felt able to do so, but I still have it in mind to se cure in addition to United Kingdom membership one or two members from outside the United Kingdom. I will inform the House of the full composition of the Commission as soon as it is possible to do so.

Mr. Sandys

The right hon. Gentleman seems frantically to be trying to avoid taking a decision himself. Does he not recognise that the responsibility for the future of Britain's dependencies rests entirely with Her Majesty's Government and that it is no good the right hon. Gentleman trying to pass the buck to the United Nations or to anybody else? As the terms of reference of the Commission do not mention the need to maintain the British base in Aden, both for the discharge of Britain's worldwide responsibilities and also for the protection of the Federation, will the Secretary of State make it quite clear that Her Majesty's Government intend to retain the base so long as their responsibilities re quire it?

Mr. Greenwood

Far from seeking to avoid taking a decision, I am trying to ensure that the decision I take stands a good chance of success. Nobody should understand more than the right hon. Gentleman that the formation of a new Arab and Moslem State in the Middle East involves very special problems. It is for that reason that I want to make quite sure that the membership of the Commission will be as widely representative as possible, so that it can command the maximum confidence in the area, so that it can show that we have nothing to hide, and so that it can reflect the wide international interest in the problem. The right hon. Gentleman talked about my shirking responsibility, but the Commission will be appointed by me and it will report to me. It will be for Her Majesty's Government to reach decisions on the report after consultation with the local governments and political parties.

The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the base and regretted that it was not included in the terms of reference. The Commission's prime concern will be with the constitutional steps which must be taken and the future of the base does not lie within its terms of reference, but the Commission will no doubt receive representations on this subject.

I remind the House of the statement on our policy with regard to the base which was made by my noble Friend, Lord Taylor, in another place a few days ago. The policy of Her Majesty's Government in regard to the base remains as stated by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Defence in another place on December 17 last, when he mentioned the extreme importance which Her Majesty's Government attach to creating the political conditions in South Arabia which will enable us to continue to fulfil a peace-keeping rôle from there with the consent of its people. The eventual arrangements for the base will be a matter for negotiation between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the new State of the time when South Arabia becomes independent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords; 17th May; Vol. 266, c. 274.]

Mr. J. Amery

Can the Secretary of State confirm that, whatever recommendations the Commission, if it comes into being, may make, a final settlement must be a matter for agreement between Her Majesty's Government and the Federal Government? Further, can he confirm that, while the Federal Government have acquiesced with some reluctance in the proposal for the Commission, the Aden Government and the opposition parties are opposed to it? In the circumstances, might it not be better to accept the resolution proposed by the Federal Government and carried by the Federal Council to hold a conference of the interest parties locally first?

Mr. Greenwood

I have already made clear that the decision is one that Her Majesty's Government will have to take after consultation with the Governments and parties in South Arabia. It is quite likely, I think, that the proposed Commission will have a rather mixed reception to begin with, but I hope that the political parties which are at present opposed to it will realise that this is a genuine effort to make progress in getting consultations going in South Arabia and that they will be prepared to negotiate.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the resolution of the Federal Council of 19th May and suggested that there should be an early meeting of representatives of all the South Arabian States and of the political parties. That is something that I should welcome very much. I believe that it would help the Commission in its work and I believe that the Commission, in its turn, could also help a general conference of the Governments and parties in South Arabia.

Mr. A. Henderson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that hon. Members on this side of the House would welcome any appointments he is able to make to the Commission of representatives from the Commonwealth?

Mr. Greenwood

I am much obliged to my right hon. and learned Friend. I would certainly like to see that that was done.

Mr. David Steel

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the refusal of the United Nations Secretary General to appoint representatives to this Commission will be received with regret in all quarters of the House? Could the right hon. Gentleman say to what extent this position is made inevitable by the refusal of the previous Government to co-operate with the United Nations Committee of Inquiry?

Mr. Greenwood

I much appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has said on behalf of the Liberal Party, and I think there is no doubt that many of the difficulties with which I am having to contend today stem from what happened in previous years both in New York and in South Arabia.

Mr. Robert Edwards

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we welcome his statement very much? It needs great patience to deal with this complex situation in South Arabia where two or more British Service men are losing their lives every week. I hope my right hon. Friend will continue to press for an early meeting of the Commission and also that he will continue his efforts to get United Nations representation in that area.

Mr. Fisher

Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether the outside members of this Commission will be from within the Commonwealth or from outside the Commonwealth, for which, so far as I know, there is no precedent at all, in advising on the future of a British Colony or Protectorate?

Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman say how it is possible to divorce the future of the Aden base from the future of Aden Colony?

Mr. Greenwood

The hon. Gentleman tions will be in the mind of the Commission. I hope that some members will come from inside the Commonwealth and some from outside for the reasons I gave in reply to the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys). As to the future of the base, I have always understood that it was the policy of the last Administration to negotiate the future of the base with the new Government whenever it was created. That remains the policy of the present Government.

Mr. Lipton

Will my right hon. Friend say whether it will be an instruction to the Commission, whatever form the Commission takes, that in setting up the future Government of the Federation, and in particular Aden, the national, religious and racial rights of all minorities will be protected under whatever constitution is ultimately devised?

Mr. Greenwood

It is not for me to give instructions to the members of the Commission, but I hope those considerations will be in the mind of the Commission.

Mr. Sandys

The right hon. Gentleman said that the previous Government had undertaken to negotiate the future of the base with some future State when it was formed. The only commitment that we had arose from the conference last summer when all the representatives of the Federation and of Aden asked that we should negotiate with them and make arrangements for the independence of the whole area and for the continuance of the base for the protection of the area.

Mr. Greenwood

I understood that it was the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman that facilities for a base should be freely negotiated between the two Governments involved. If I was wrong I did the right hon. Gentleman more than justice.

Mr. Fell


Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate this matter without a Question before the House.