HC Deb 04 April 1967 vol 744 cc33-6

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement as to the state of law and order in Aden.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Thomson)

A three-day general strike in Aden was called by the Front for the Liberation of the Occupied South Yemen (F.L.O.S.Y.) and the National Liberation Front (N.L.F.), beginning on the 2nd April, to disrupt the work of the United Nations Mission on its arrival on that day.

Sunday, 2nd April, passed off fairly quietly, but yesterday there were attempts at violent demonstrations. British security forces in support of the local police acted swiftly to maintain law and order. There were some incidents involving grenade-throwing and shooting.

As a result of these, I regret to say that reports so far show that three Arabs were killed and 11 of our troops, two Arab policemen and 10 Arab civilians were wounded. Our forces remain firmly in control of a difficult situation.

Mr. Thorpe

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. Is he aware that the whole House will deplore these senseless acts of violence—which appear to have the active support of Cairo—against the civil population and our own troops? Perhaps I might ask one or two questions.

First, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that much of the trouble flows from the shotgun Federation of 1950 between Aden Colony and a whole string of feudal sheikhdoms? Does not he think that this Federation is doomed to failure, as happened in Central Africa and Malaysia? Can he say whether the terms of reference of the United Nations Mission, announced on 23rd February, are sufficient to advocate some change in the Federal structure? If not, will the Government consider appointing something along the lines of the Monckton Commis- sion to make recommendations before independence?

Mr. Thomson

Whatever the errors of this policy, for which this Administration were not responsible, the main task now is to try to secure peaceful independence for South Arabia. We are satisfied that the terms of reference of the United Nations Mission give it full freedom to make recommendations about the securing of peaceful independence, and, therefore, we think that the duty of everybody is to co-operate with the United Nations Mission to try to secure a settlement.

Mr. Sandys

After all that has happened, why have the Government not banned the terrorist organisation F.L.O.S.Y.? Will he now cancel the Government's invitation to the terrorist leaders to return to Aden, and ask his right hon. Friend not to write any more grovelling letters to Nasser?

Mr. Thomson

I repudiate absolutely the right hon. Gentleman's quite offensive language about my right hon. Friend, who has just communicated further with President Nasser. The communication is, by its nature, confidential, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that what my right hon. Friend has said to President Nasser, in denouncing the terrorism, is the same sort of thing that he has said in this House. The task here is that of statesmanship, to try to produce a peaceful settlement. It is not to be secured by arbitrary banning. The task is to try to get people away from weapons and terrorism, and round the table for some civilised talks.

Mr. Winnick

Will my right hon. Friend agree that there will never be peace in Aden until the South Arabian Federation is dissolved? It should never have been created in the first place. If we are not careful we will be engaged in a full-scale colonial war. Is it not necessary to talk with all the nationalist leaders, including A1 Asnag?

Mr. Thomson

There is no question of a colonial war. There is a difficult situation in which British forces are maintaining law and order. The leaders of the Federation are South Arabian nationalists, as much as anybody else has the right to claim the title of being a South Arabian nationalist. The aim is to try to get all the nationalists of South Arabia to abandon terrorism and to concentrate on what ought to be their real aim, and that is to secure the freedom and integrity of their own country.

Lord Balniel

As the rising scale of terrorism is designed to coincide with the arrival of the United Nations Mission in Aden, have the Government asked the Secretary-General of the United Nations, to remonstrate with President Nasser, who, at the moment, is running a school of subversion in the Yemen, and ask him to call off the gangs of terrorists which are under his direct control?

Mr. Thomson

Yes, Sir. Her Majesty's Government have remonstrated with everybody concerned in this unhappy problem. We met the United Nations Mission when it spent some days in London, and made exactly the appeal which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. I make the appeal again, that the right course is for people to abandon violence and to co-operate with the United Nations Mission in seeking a peaceful settlement.

Mr. John Lee

Will my right hon. Friend please assure the House that whatever the situation may now be in Aden, there is no question of any delay in the withdrawal of British forces?

Mr. Thomson

We have told the House on a number of occasions, and the House has approved of our decision, that there should be independence in South Arabia not later than 1968, and that remains the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Will the right hon. Gentleman honour our undertaking to maintain a defence agreement at least until the successor Government have had a chance of standing on their own feet against external aggression?

Mr. Thomson

This, too, has been debated in the House many times. The hon. Gentleman knows that we do not accept the interpretation which he puts on the arrangement made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) on behalf of the previous Conservative Administration. Nevertheless, our aim is to give every help that we can to South Arabia to establish its independence and to have a viable and prosperous future.

Mr. Colin Jackson

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that, while the whole House condemns terrorism, there is a very sincere feeling of fear in the Port of Aden that the Federal forces may move in and deny freedom to the people of that area? Would not he agree that it is urgently necessary for the leaders of the nationalist forces, at present in exile, to return, to drop terrorism, and to come round the table for talks?

Mr. Thomson

Responsibility for internal security in Aden will remain in the hands of Her Majesty's Government as long as Aden remains a British Colony.

I think that the responsibility for the self-exiled leaders of various nationalist groups outside Aden coming in to cooperate lies squarely with them, and that the responsibility for the blood which flowed in Aden yesterday lies squarely with those who are themselves safely outside Aden.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

In view of the increase in violence which is taking place in Aden, will the right hon. Gentleman now answer the question quite clearly? Is it the Government's intention to adhere firmly to their time-table for the withdrawal of British troops?

Mr. Thomson

Yes, Sir. I have just answered that question. It remains the Government's policy to seek independence for Aden not later than 1968.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

On a point of order. I am sure that, inadvertently in his statement the right hon. Gentleman said that three Arabs had been killed and 11 British. Will he correct that? I understand the true facts are that, very regrettably, 11 British soldiers were wounded and not killed.

Mr. Thomson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I inadvertently read my statement without the proper punctuation. I should have said: I regret … that three Arabs were killed, and 11 of our troops, two Arab policemen, and 10 Arab civilians were wounded.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Robert Carr. Private Notice Question.