HC Deb 10 April 1967 vol 744 cc743-57
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Brown)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to take this, the first, opportunity open to me to make a statement on the withdrawal of the United Nations Mission to South Arabia.

Her Majesty's Government deeply regret that the United Nations Mission should have broken off its work after only five days in Aden. This is a grave setback to the widespread hopes that the United Nations would be able to make a constructive contribution to the achievement of peaceful independence for South Arabia.

When news of the United Nations Mission's withdrawal reached me on Friday morning I immediately invited it to come to London to discuss fully and personally its complaints and its future course of action. I had hoped that the Mission would have accepted this invitation in time for me to report the results of my talks with it to the House today. I do not wish to prejudge the discussion I may still have with it. Nevertheless, I owe it to the House and to our Service men and civilians who are serving under such difficulties in South Arabia to reply to the public statements that the Mission has made attributing its decision to withdraw to failure on the part of Britain.

The Mission has made two main complaints, one general and one particular. The first, that there was a failure on the part of the British authorities in South Arabia to co-operate with it. The second related to the suppression of a radio and television appeal for co-operation which it wished to make on Thursday evening.

I am, frankly, puzzled by this complaint of non-co-operation, since from the moment we accepted the Mission Her Majesty's Government have done everything in their power to ensure its success. After making the fullest inquiries open to me of those who were on the spot, it appears to me that our authorities in Aden did everything possible to facilitate the Mission's work despite the appalling dislocation caused by the worst floods in living memory followed by a general strike and severe outbreaks of violence and terrorism.

At this point, the House would wish me, I am sure, to pay tribute to the immense skill, restraint and patience shown by the High Commissioner and his staff and by our Forces in tackling in one week the tasks of rescuing the civil population from a flood disaster and then turning to the suppression of terrorism with the minimum loss of life.

I can sympathise with the Mission at the frustration it felt as a result of the security measures that had to be taken for its own safety. After all, the strike and call for intensified violence were specifically directed against the Mission's work and compelled us to ensure the safety of the lives of the members of the Mission.

We repeatedly urged all political groups in South Arabia to co-operate with the Mission. During its visits to Cairo and to the detainees in Aden the Mission was unable to persuade the Front for the Liberation of South Yemen and the National Liberation Front to abandon their boycott and their terrorism. There were, however, persons in Aden who defied the threats against anyone cooperating with the Mission and asked to see it, but the Mission did not receive them.

This brings me to the second complaint, the failure of the South Arabian radio and television to broadcast a statement by the Mission at the times arranged. The television and radio stations in Aden are legally and physically in the hands of and under the control of the Federal Government. At the request of the United Nations Mission arrangements were made for the broadcast, but it had to be pre-recorded, since both the television and radio stations are terrorist targets and a live broadcast at night was impossible.

Recording took place on Thursday afternoon. When the Federal authorities later studied the text they took particular exception to a reference to the Mission's refusal to deal with the Federal Government. They took the view that they would not allow their legality to be questioned on their own broadcasting system. In our view, a very few changes in the script could have made the text acceptable to all concerned.

In the early hours of Friday morning I instructed the High Commissioner to ask the Mission to discuss certain amendments, but the Mission maintained its determination to leave by the first plane that morning. In my view, the matter could have been settled if the Mission had been willing to wait and talk.

The present situation in Aden is that the strike has been called off. There has been a marked falling off in the number of grenade incidents although two local nationals have been shot dead in circumstances which suggest that each terrorist party is seeking to eliminate its terrorist rivals.

As to the future, the twin aims of the Government's policy will continue to be the orderly withdrawal of our military forces and the establishment of an independent South Arabia at the earliest possible date.

As I told the House on 20th March, the Federal Government are considering the proposals which I put before them relating to the attainment of independence. I am, of course, in touch with them about this.

I hope shortly to be in a position to report further to the House on this, and I will certainly do so.

Perhaps we may discuss, through the usual channels, the question of the timing of a debate, if that is the wish of the House.

With the withdrawal of the United Nations Mission the problems associated with the future of South Arabia have taken on political proportions that go beyond the normal task of administering a Colony and producing constitutional progress towards independence. In these circumstances, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has agreed that my noble friend the Minister without Portfolio should go to Aden. The functions of the High Commissioner, the Commander-in-Chief and the local security commander will not be altered, but Lord Shackleton, of course, carries the full authority of a Minister of the Crown. He will report to me. In this way, those in Aden and the Government here will benefit by having high level political guidance on the spot.

The High Commissioner has told me that he is looking forward to working with my noble Friend and I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing him every success in the mission on which he is now embarking.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The House will be grateful to the Foreign Secretary for having given us this statement at the earliest possible moment. It is, I think, a totally discreditable and petulant performance of this particular Committee of Three of the United Nations.

The whole House will wish to join in the tribute which the Foreign Secretary has paid to the High Commissioner and his staff and to the commander and to the troops in Aden, who have had to act under an almost intolerable strain and have done so with their usual good temper and efficiency.

There is one question I should like to ask the Foreign Secretary about the members of the Mission. Did they say to him, before they left London, that they would be willing to talk with the Federal authorities?

There is now a very dangerous situation in Aden. There is, as far as we can make out, a complete absence of Government policy. We shall want to know what the instructions are that have been given to Lord Shackleton.

Because this is a matter of such urgency I shall, Mr. Speaker, at the appropriate moment, ask leave to adjourn the House to debate it.

Mr. Brown

I have, I trust, already made it clear to the right hon. Gentleman that if we are concerned with the future of South Arabia there are certain things which it would be wise to wait for so that we can take them into account; and it would not be possible, of course, to do that today.

As to the question of the Federal authorities, yes, we discussed this when the Mission was in London. The Mission made it quite clear that the United Nations resolutions, in its view, inhibited the Mission from recognising the Federal authorities as the Government. That is the situation. The Mission agreed with me that it would see them, and we agreed that ways and means would be found to overcome the problem. I regret that that did not happen.

As to the question of Government policy, I shall be very happy to discuss that whenever the debate arises.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those who are anxious to uphold the Charter of the United Nations will greatly deplore the non-judicial manner in which this delegation has gone about its work? I should like to ask two questions. First, will the right hon. Gentleman be careful not to attach too much weight to the advice given him by those who have been responsible for creating four Commonwealth federations which now lie in ruins? Secondly, is he aware that the heart of the problem stems from the artificiality of the present Federation, that it is only a matter of time before that Federation breaks up, and that it is better that it should do so as a result of a political decision by this Government before independence rather than after terrorism, six months after independence?

Mr. Brown

On the question of the delegation, I think that I have set out the situation as far as I have been able to discover it from talking to people who were there at the time. I want to talk to the delegation itself before I go any further. I do not think that I shall do a lot of good at this moment—when the delegation is still discussing whether to come and see me—by further animadverting upon them.

On the question of giving too much weight to the advice given me by the other side, their responsibility is clearly such that the right hon. Gentleman may take it for granted that there is not the slightest chance of my making that mistake.

On the question of the artificiality of the present Federation, since I am at this moment in consultation with the present Federal Government and others about the kind of constitution and the kind of Government there should be in this area—and that is why I think that a debate could more conveniently and constructively come a little later—it would be better if I did not comment further on that point.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

May I ask my right hon. Friend two questions? First, will he endeavour to find out who launched the lying rumours which were deliberately designed to make the United Nations Mission appear ridiculous and anti-British—for which there was no foundation whatever? Secondly, in view of the disastrous failure of parts of the policies produced by the late Conservative Government, will my right hon. Friend now make a completely new appraisal of the situation, including consultations with the leaders of all parties in Aden, including Asnag?

Mr. Brown

On the question of anti-British statements, there is no doubt from what I have been able to establish—ahead of seeing the Mission and hearing its side of the story—that a lot of things were said during the course of heated exchanges which I doubt those who said them would really want to stay with now. I have established that not all the blame, by a long manner of means, rested with the Mission for the shambles which the Press meetings became.

We have made a fresh appraisal. We are in consultation with all the authorities in Aden. We are trying very hard to get into consultation with the parties who are not in Aden, and Asnag is one of those.

Mr. Dickens

May I ask the Foreign Secretary two questions? First, will he give the House a categorical assurance that we shall be out of Aden by 1968, with no continuing defence commitment thereafter? Secondly, is he aware that many hon. Members on this side of the House—notwithstanding my right hon. Friend's white-washing exercise this afternoon—are very concerned about the anti-United Nations, anti-Labour Government attitude taken up by certain officials of the British High Commissioner's Office, and in the Army?

Hon. Members


Mr. Brown

I did not hear the last few words correctly. Perhaps it is well that I did not. If the suggestion is that I am engaged on any white-washing exercise, I certainly repudiate that.

On the question of the date for independence and the date for our withdrawal, as my hon. Friend knows, we have already pronounced upon those. Again, those are the very matters I am currently negotiating, as it were, and consulting upon with the Federal Government. I would prefer not to make any further statement at the moment.

Mr. Heath

As the right hon. Gentleman has rightly paid tribute to the High Commission and all those in Aden, surely he will repudiate the remarks of his hon. Friend, accusing them of having biased the whole project of the Mission.

Can the right hon. Gentleman now tell us what are the terms of reference or the instructions given to the Minister without Portfolio for his mission to Aden? He has stated that he has sent the right hon. Gentleman the Minister without Portfolio there to be able to give political advice—but political advice for what purpose? To what end is the right hon. Gentleman's mission to be devoted?

Mr. Brown

My right hon. Friend will be there to give political guidance on our behalf—my behalf—directly and easily to those who have responsibility there. He will be able to ease the burden on those who carry out a lot of executive functions by taking a great deal of political work on to his shoulders.

I am persuaded by those who have recently come back and have been talking to me—officials in the Department and from elsewhere—that our administrators and commanders out there are very heavily stretched indeed. It would be helpful if a senior Minister with a good deal of not only political but administrative experience were there to help on that. It will also improve communications with the Government here and the ability to get guidance from here and to get information to us as to what is happening. It is very clear that the High Commission and the commanders there see these advantages, and will welcome them.

That is the work that my right hon. Friend, Lord Shackleton, will do initially. He will also be available to them in consultations about measures relating to the attainment of independence and about the new constitutional arrangements which we shall have to make and which we had hoped would be discussed with the United Nations Mission. He will obviously be of enormous value to them when that goes on, and he will be able to come back here and give us very valuable advice.

Mr. Bellenger

Has my right hon. Friend assumed that the Mission is a fact-finding Mission and will, presumably, report back to the United Nations? If he thinks that that is the case, does not he think that he should make representations to the United Nations Secretariat to change the personnel of its Mission, so that we can get at the facts and not get a biased and prejudiced report?

Mr. Brown

I say seriously to the House that I do not think that it would help if I made comments derogatory to the Mission—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] For a reason that I know the Opposition find it difficult to accept: the United Nations exists. For many of us it remains the major hope of peace in the world. We can try to clear up what went wrong on this occasion, but we will not help at all by increasing the degree of feeling.

The Mission would be a fact-finding mission. It is to make a report to the United Nations—to the sub-committees or the Assembly itself. Many months were lost while we sought to arrange membership which would be acceptable to the United Nations and everybody else. I do not think that I will help very much by going back on that, and I ask the House seriously—if hon. Members are more concerned with South Arabia than with politics in this House—to remember that I am still trying to get the Mission to come and see me. It will still have a real rôle to play. In any case, the United Nations has.

Mr. Tapsell

Does not the Foreign Secretary, who, I recognise, has his heart in the right place where matters affecting the honour of this country are concerned, appreciate that the point has now been reached where, following our long and historic connection with Aden and Southern Arabia, we should tell the world that this is a British responsibility which we intend to discharge without foreign interference and that we have a moral responsibility to maintain our forces in the area until we can guarantee stable self-government for the people there?

Mr. Brown

That kind of speech—I recognise the kindness with which the hon. Gentleman opened it—has been made again and again about places all over the world by hon. Members opposite and the situations have almost invariably ended up in total disaster.

Mr. Winnick

In the consultations which are taking place now, what plans are there for Aden itself to leave the Federation? Would not my right hon. Friend agree that there can never be any form of peace until Aden is allowed out of the Federation?

Mr. Brown

It is not a question of allowing Aden out of the Federation. That point does not arise. Some of the main Ministers, some of the most active and responsible Ministers in this Government, are Adenis: they are themselves Arab nationalists. They are not asking to opt out. I beg my hon. Friend to recognise that what we have to find for an independent South Arabia, which I hope to help to bring about in the shortest possible time, is a constitution and a widened Government which will allow them all to play their part.

Mr. Sandys

Now that the Government's policy has totally collapsed, will the Foreign Secretary now at last stop running after Nasser and his hired assassins—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—as the Secretary of State for Defence has described them—and now try to work out a sensible policy in consultation with the Federal Government, who are the legal Government of South Arabia and who have behaved with loyalty and cooperation—

Mr. Winnick

The right hon. Gentleman is the architect of the bloodshed.

Mr. Sandys

—and in consultation with the Government of Saudi Arabia, who have a vital interest in the stability of this area?

Mr. Brown

The brazenness of the right hon. Gentleman ceases to astonish me. He must have the skin of a rhinoceros to go on as he is going on, knowing full well that he is the architect of the mess we are in. If the right hon. Gentleman spent a little less time writing statements—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] —and a little more time listening and reading, he would know—

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The Minister must answer in his own way.

Mr. Brown

—that all the things he asked for in the last part of his supplementary question are, in fact, now being done.

Mr. Molloy

Will my right hon. Friend take into consideration that many of the points made by hon. Members opposite are concerned with their own battle for leadership and control of the Tory Party? Because hon. Members opposite have a inherent distaste and dislike for the whole concept of the United Nations, will my right hon. Friend, while disregarding the contributions they have to make, consider some of the sensible propositions made from this side of the House, such as the one I now make—that, if Aden were under the control of the United Nations and taken out of the Federation, that might be a sensible start towards preventing the bloodshed and getting on to a reasonable course?

Mr. Brown

While I am engaged in the present consultations and the present proposals are under consideration, I obviously cannot, either during question and answer exchanges or at any other time, go into every possible means of solution. I have not given up hope that we shall get a constitutional arrangement worked out which will meet the wishes of everybody concerned.

As to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, like him, I am surprised at the masochism which would lead anybody to want to lead the Tory Party.

Viscount Lambton

The Foreign Secretary said that it is the Government's intention to leave Aden at the earliest possible date. Does he still say that this date must be 1968, or could it be later?

Mr. Brown

It was the Tory Government who said that independence would be in 1968.

Mr. Sandys

With a defence agreement.

Mr. Brown

It was the Tory Government—we will go into this in the debate, if the right hon. Gentleman wishes it—who so messed and muddled all that up with different advices and different written records that the thing was left in the mess it is. It is not my intention to do other than to help South Arabia to get to independence, to get protection as an independent nation in the world, and to withdraw our own troops at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Strauss

Following on a previous supplementary question, is my right hon. Friend aware that all the members of an all-party delegation that recently went to Aden were deeply impressed by the balanced judgment and outstanding ability of Sir Richard Turnbull, the High Commissioner?

Mr. Brown

When I paid tribute to Sir Richard in my statement, I seriously meant it. Sir Richard was over here recently. He has been over twice and has had very long discussions with me. I, too, am impressed with his balanced judgment. I am also very impressed with the strain he has been under now for, I think, about 20 months, without any leave, and there having been a very large number of attacks on his life. I am very anxious to give him all the help I can from here on. That is one of the reasons for Lord Shackleton's going out.

Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles

Will the Foreign Secretary now reply to the second part of the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in which my right hon. Friend was concerned that the Foreign Secretary should protect the High Commissioner from the imputations of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dickens)?

Mr. Brown

I may not have done it in the way that the hon. and gallant Member would have liked me to have done it, but I did, in fact, do it.

Sir G. de Freitas

To remove some of the confusion and to help Lord Shackleton, will my right hon. Friend consider changing the title of the senior British official there, which is at present "High Commissioner", to something which indicates quite clearly that he has important administrative duties as well as diplomatic ones?

Mr. Brown

I would not have thought that it was really important to go into that at this stage of the proceedings, although I must say that I was very surprised, when I arrived at the Foreign Office, to find that I had a High Commissioner at my disposal.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Arising out of the Foreign Secretary's reply to the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), is it not essential, if the United Nations is to function effectively, that its Mission should command confidence? In view of the observation made by members of the Mission about this country, and their contemptuous treatment of the Federal Ministers, is it not clear that until they are replaced the United Nations will not be able to play any part in the solution of these problems?

Mr. Brown

I note the right hon. Gentleman's views. I repeat that I do not think that it would help if I were to comment on that.

Mr. Colin Jackson

Has my right hon. Friend been in consultation with the United States and the Soviet Union, in view of the danger of those two Powers being drawn into this quarrel through the Yemen and Saudi Arabia? In looking at the future of South Arabia, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, whatever solution may be reached, we must all recognise the deep difference between the character of the people in the port of Aden and those of the hinterland?

Mr. Brown

Yes, I certainly recognise the difference to which my hon. Friend refers. It is not for me at this stage, I think, to say whether I would have proceeded in the way things were proceeded with a little while ago. We have to deal with things as they now are and try to get constitutional arrangements out of this situation.

As to consultation with the United States and the Soviet Union, I have enough trouble at the moment consulting all those who are actually parties to this problem without adding more to it. The United Nations would seem to be the place to discuss the matter with other countries.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Is the Foreign Secretary going back on the proud boast of the post-war Socialist Government that membership of the Commonwealth carried with it mutual defence against external aggression?

Mr. Brown

I am not going back on any Socialist claim at all. I am having an awful job trying to save this country from the cost of living up to the boasts of right hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Mendelson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in this extremely difficult situation there will be widespread support in the House and in the country for the fair and objective attitude he adopted today in assessing the situation and that, as he is trying to keep in touch and is inviting the Mission to London, he ought to be fully supported? This is not the time for inquests, but the time to support my right hon. Friend.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the dangerous situation confronting the Government in Aden as a result of the withdrawal of the United Nations Mission, and the urgent need for the House to debate a statement of Government policy before the departure of the Minister without Portfolio for Aden.

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman seeks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the dangerous situation confronting the Government in Aden as a result of the withdrawal of the United Nations Mission, and the urgent need for the House to debate a statement of Government policy before the departure of the Minister without Portfolio for Aden. Has the right hon. Gentleman the leave of the House?

The pleasure of the House having been signified, the Motion stood over, under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on definite matter of urgent public importance), until Seven o'clock this evening.

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps I should remind the House that, under the Sessional Order relating to morning sittings, the debate on this Motion will last from 7 o'clock till 9.30 tonight, being interrupted at 9.30, and that any time lost by the proceedings on the Motion for the Adjournment under Standing Order 9 will be made up after 9.30.

Mr. Thorpe

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we take it from that that you have granted leave for the Motion to be debated?

Mr. Speaker

I must enlighten the right hon. Gentleman. The traditional way in which Mr. Speaker indicates that he has accepted the view of the Member who seeks to raise a matter under Standing Order No. 9 is to ask whether the hon. or right hon. Gentleman has the leave of the House. If there is no objection by any hon. Member, it is taken that leave is granted. If there is objection, then the rising of more than 40 Members in their places means that the Speaker's decision under Standing Order No. 9 has been confirmed by the House. I hope that that is clear to the Leader of the Liberal Party.

Mr. Lipton

May I ask a question arising out of your remark, Mr. Speaker, that the time lost to the debate on the "Torrey Canyon" will be made up after 9.30? Does that mean that the debate on the "Torrey Canyon" will continue for 2½ hours after 9.30?

Mr. Speaker

I have not done the arithmetic of it yet. Obviously, the time which we have spent in question and answer from 3.30 till 4.5 p.m. is time which we cannot give back to the "Torrey Canyon" debate.

I can now tell the House that the debate on the "Torrey Canyon" will be concluded at midnight.