HC Deb 10 May 1966 vol 728 cc217-20
Q6 Viscount Lambton

asked the Prime Minister (1), whether, in view of the threat of Egyptian troops in the Yemen, he will give an assurance to the local governments of the Aden Protectorate that they will receive British aid in the event of Egyptian invasion after United Kingdom withdrawal from the Aden base;

(2) whether, in view of the terrorism in Aden, he will reconsider withdrawal from the Aden base on a fixed date and make it dependent upon peace and security existing in Aden and the Protectorate.

The Prime Minister

The intention is that the withdrawal from the Aden base shall take place at the same time that South Arabia becomes independent. As the Federal Government fully understand, it is not our intention to conclude a defence agreement with them after independence.

Viscount Lambton

Will the Prime Minister agree that there is a changed set of circumstances in the Arabian Peninsula and, as a result of the changed Egyptian policy, unless there is some sort of guarantee the new Aden Government will have very little chance of survival?

The Prime Minister

It happens to be the fact that the noble Lord's criticisms are not shared by at any rate the Federal Internal Security Minister, who has said that the presence of the British base has not only marred the reputation of South Arabia but has created an Iron Curtain between the Federation and other Arab countries. There is no reason to think that any change has taken place as a result of our decision, but if we had not taken this decision we should have been landed with a policy, which right hon. Gentlemen opposite followed at such heavy cost, of trying to maintain a base in the face of a totally hostile population.

Mr. Tapsell

Does not the Prime Minister accept that this country has obligations to the Rulers in South Arabia following more than 130 years of treaty relationship with them? What steps do Her Majesty's Government intend to take to protect their personal security and that of their families after our withdrawal?

The Prime Minister

What we do not accept here—this was very fully argued in the two-day debate on defence and subsequently is that this country has a unilateral obligation to police a very large part of the world by itself and not on a collective basis.

This is the basis of our policy, and the implication of the hon. Gentleman's question would be that, after leaving the Aden base, we would then have to maintain troops either again there or very near and to defend them, we should literally be back to "first base", and we should be in the original situation of trying to maintain a base in hostile territory, which, I hope, we have all learned now is not a viable policy.

Mr. Maudling

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the Government's announcement about the withdrawal from the Aden base causes great distress to our friends and great joy to those in that part of the world who are not our friends? Will he do something to put that right?

The Prime Minister

I have just quoted one view, from the Federal Minister, who did not take the view quoted by the right hon. Gentleman. However, when one is considering, as we have had to consider, the whole of our military commitments and the whole of our defence policy, it is clear, as we have said many times, that one cannot stay in a hostile base. The previous Government—as the right hon. Gentleman knows, having been Chancellor of the Exchequer—spent more hundreds of millions building up bases which they had to close than they spent, or wasted, on missiles. That being so, we have at least learnt the lessons that they did not.

Mr. Sandys

Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, whatever the Minister for the Interior may have said in very difficult circumstances, the Government of South Arabia still want a defence agreement with Britain? Does he not realise that by leaving South Arabia defenceless against Egyptian attack he is making a mockery of independence?

The Prime Minister

The Federal Government understand that we do not need to be—do not intend to be—in a position to maintain troops either in Aden or near that base which would enable us to have the kind of treaty that the right hon. Gentleman would want us to have. No doubt, after independence, we hope, the new State will secure United Nations membership, and an attack on it would be an act of war and aggression to which I think all of us would react. But we simply cannot go on on a basis of accepting these unilateral military commitments which are far beyond the economic, military and financial capacity of this country.

Mr. Thorpe

While I welcome this modest withdrawal from Britain's defensive rôle east of Suez, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he has considered negotiating a United Nations presence, either in military terms or in observer terms, to ensure the integrity of the area?

The Prime Minister

This is a very relevant proposal. The United Nations has taken a very great interest in the problems of Aden. We found last year —I found, following up the actions of right hon. Gentlemen opposite when they formed the Government—that as long as we said that we were holding on to the base it would be impossible to negotiate a timetable for independence. It all depended on that, and it is on that that further United Nations action must depend.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

As the Prime Minister has already changed his mind on a number of important aspects of foreign and defence policy, would he perhaps consider changing his mind again? Does not the reply that he has given today amount to saying that, if necessary, because he wants to reduce our defence commitments he is prepared to hand Aden and the South Arabian Federation over to Egyptian imperialism?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. That is not what I am saying. What I am say- ing is that the only way to do what the Opposition want would be for us once again to say, "We will maintain in Aden a substantial military installation and defend it", and the very fact that we were not prepared to announce our withdrawal from the base was fouling up all our relations with Aden and leading to the very grave and serious situation that we had to put up with last year.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the difference between the views of the peoples of those territories and the views of their hereditary chiefs?

The Prime Minister

I think that we were all made very well aware of this, as were right hon. Gentlemen opposite, in our negotiations. I repeat that unless we had been able to announce the date for withdrawal from the base, it would have been impossible to negotiate a timetable for independence, and without that we should have been involved in far greater internal police measures and a far greater campaign of terrorism and murder than we have had to face.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on.