§ 3.34 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Brown)
I begin, first, with an apology and then an explanation—[Laughter.] I am very glad to see the House in this mood. It may help.
The apology is that the House has been asking for a long time for a very full statement about policy in South Arabia. I am about to make it, but it does mean that I shall make a rather longer speech than the House normally likes, or than I should like to make. I hope the House will accept it.
The explanation is that, as the House knows, there is an emergency special session of the General Assembly of the United Nations which I am to attend. I have deferred my journey to New York in order to make this statement of Government policy, but I will have to leave before the end of the debate, and I hope that the House will understand and accept the reasons for this.
The problem of South Arabia has, of course, been greatly affected by the aims of the United Arab Republic in the Middle East. Recent events will undoubtedly have a tremendous effect on this. Whether these events will lead to the United Arab Republic withdrawing from the Yemen, whether they will alter relationships between Arab States, it is not possible to say with any certainty at the moment.
It is impossible at this moment to foresee how events may work out, and, therefore, how the proposals on South Arabia which I am about to make may have to be reconsidered. But, clearly, throughout this debate we will have these larger considerations of the Middle East situation very much in mind. May I say that I hope that nothing will be said in the debate to make the handling of these wider problems more difficult.
If I may turn to the background to the decisions which I want to announce to the House, when our Conservative predecessors in office decided to aim at ending the dependent relationship of South Arabia with Great Britain, they also aimed to leave a united territory behind and to seek to avoid fragmentation. But the process of unification was only started 1127 in 1958, and by 1964 Ministers of the day declared that there should be independence by 1968. That left precious little time in which to create a sense of unity, particularly when we consider the ages of disunity which had preceded 1958 and the primitive conditions of much of the territory.
It also meant a dangerously rapid pace of development where the particular problem of Aden was concerned. Many Arabs from the hinterland know Aden well and understand it. But very few Adenis know the Protectorate, and few understand the importance of friendly association with the hinterland.
Time was needed to promote full understanding, and for an understanding of the mutual benefits which would flow from greater unity. Yet, I repeat, the programme left very little time indeed. This is why we, when in opposition, had strong doubts about the way the merger was brought about.
The previous Government had intended that the merger would be followed by further integration of the Government and economy of Aden and the Protectorate so that the central Government of the territory could be the effective Government for the whole before independence. But when we came into office we found that no such progress had proved possible.
There had been an attempt to arrange a conference in December, 1963, on constitutional advance, but this had been frustrated by non-co-operation exacerbated by acts of violence. When the conference was finally held in the summer of 1964 it achieved no constitutional progress.
But the two conclusions of that conference which did emerge were to cause much difficulty later on. The first was the formula of independence "by 1968". This not only shortened the time available to achieve progress, but also gave the opponents of the Federation a time limit against which they could work. Secondly, the conference report looked to a further conference which would discuss not only how independence would be brought about, but also the possible conclusion of a defence agreement in which Britain would continue to have some defence facilities in Aden.
1128 This was the situation which we inherited. Given the doubts we had about how it had been brought about, we nevertheless tried to make it work. We made repeated attempts with the co-operation of the Federal Government to arrange further constitutional discussions. None succeeded.
The major factor in the lack of success was the campaign of armed subversion supported and increasingly organised by the United Arab Republic in the Yemen and carried out on Federal territory.
I do not propose to examine whether a different policy, adopted earlier on, concerning either South Arabia or the Yemen might have prevented this. The fact is that by the time we inherited these problems in 1964 the United Arab Republic was committed to this campaign.
I know that the House is in absolute agreement in its condemnation of this campaign of intimidation and violence. In so far as this terrorism was directed at us, we should note that it continued long after we announced our firm intention of leaving South Arabia. In so far as it was directed at Arabs—and it is Arabs who have been by far the most numerous victims—it has betrayed the ideal of Arab unity which the United Arab Republic professes. This quite vicious campaign has been conducted by people safely outside the territory with cynical disregard for the true interests of the Arabs of South Arabia.
I do not think it unfair to contrast this with the courage of those South Arabians who remained in the territory and came together to form the present Federal Government. They have had the wisdom to sink their regional interests for a wider cause, and it is to their enlightened approach to the necessary democratic advances in the country that the future political life of South Arabia owes a very great deal.
Despite the toll which terrorism has taken among them and among their officials and friends, they have continued to play a central part in political development of the territory. Even so, nobody doubts the need for a broader and more representative government.
I turn to the questions of protecting the Federation and of the British military position with which we were also faced 1129 on taking office. The 1959 Treaty between the United Kingdom and the Federation was a treaty between the United Kingdom and a dependent territory. It could not, by its nature, survive as the basis of relationship between two independent States. It had to be either replaced or allowed to lapse.
The Federal Government had come to believe—or had been led to believe—that it would be replaced by a defence treaty in new form. But by 1966 the declaration of unanimity of purpose which opened the Report of the 1964 conference had been vitiated. Many of the Adenis who had signed the Report had gone into opposition, and the conference which the Report envisaged had never, as I have said, been held because it was impossible to arrange it. Apart from this, we had to consider also the true interests of the South Arabian people and their Government. Though our military protection might help them, our treaty and military position also attracted attack to them. If I may say so, I do not think that this factor has been accorded enough weight in the discussions which we have had in the House on this subject.
It is true that pan-Arab nationalism, as led by the U.A.R., calls for social revolution and has attacked the so-called reactionary and feudal Sultans. But recent Middle East history has many examples of the U.A.R. being able to live with Arab régimes it does not like.
Events, in fact, showed that the Federal Government and South Arabia generally were under attack not so much in their own right, but because of their association with us. And this despite the fact that we accept Arab nationalism and have tried in South Arabia to work with it.
Because of our base and our defence arrangements, the Federal Government were attacked as imperialist stooges. Because of our support, they were described as puppets. The attacks on their supporters and officials were declared to be attacks on collaborators with the imperialists. The object of the whole campaign of subversion and terrorism was to attack the British position and the British relationship. It therefore became clear that the British association was 1130 more of a handicap to South Arabia than a protection.
Therefore, when it came to 1966 and we had to make some decisions, this was one reason why we decided not to have a defence treaty with the successor Government. The other reason has often been explained in the House. We concluded that we should no longer maintain a base in South Arabia. The new pattern of British defence arrangements which was emerging made it both unnecessary and undesirable. Having reached that decision, we concluded that it would be quite wrong to have a defence treaty with the successor Government of South Arabia, since without any military position in the territory we could not honour its provisions.
And on top of this, we foresaw extreme difficulty in maintaining a military position when it became more and more apparent that the defence of the base against the local people who opposed it was becoming a quite disproportionate burden to carry.
On the other hand, we recognised that South Arabia would still need our help in ways that did not weaken her politically in the Arab world. We welcomed and, so far as we could, we tried to assist her efforts to develop closer relations with neighbouring Arab countries. Equally important, we recognised that the Defence Review decisions had serious consequences for the South Arabian forces. These forces were not balanced forces for an independent State. They lacked certain arms which our forces had, until then, supplied. This, clearly, had to be put right.
Because of this, we had discussions in the middle of 1966, and as a result of this we committed ourselves to spend over £5 million on the transformation and re-equipment of South Arabia's forces, and to contribute nearly £31 million to their recurrent costs in the period up to 1971. In addition to maintaining civil economic aid until independence, we also agreed, at the same time, to continue economic aid after independence at levels to be decided later. Under this heading we have since decided to make grants totalling £9 million in the three years after independence for the support of the South Arabian Government budget as well as making available an interest-free 1131 loan at a level to he worked out. We have also decided to give appropriate technical assistance. Altogether, we agreed to provide up to £50 million in respect of the three years after independence.
I now turn to the situation in 1967. It is a fact of life that there are people who prefer to have a grievance around which they can organise politically rather than to accept a solution or, in this case, decolonisation. As a result of this, we continued to face subversion from the Yemen and the resulting deadlock on constitutional advance.
The United Nations Mission to Aden was frustrated by the extremists. The Mission has remained on the job, but it has so far had no more success than we have had in persuading the two extremist organisations to join in round-table discussions. Nevertheless, I still believe that the United Nations can play an important—and perhaps vital—rôle in helping to bring about the broad-based government we all seek.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
Does my right hon. Friend confirm that the representatives of F.L.O.S.Y. were due to meet members of the Aden Mission on the day the war in the Middle East broke out and that it is hoped that they will do so as soon as conditions permit?
I will come later to F.L.O.S.Y. I am delighted my hon. Friend has up-to-date knowledge about it. But there is a good deal more to it than that.
What we have to do is ensure that, with independence in 1968 advancing steadily, the country is enabled to withstand the sizeable and continuing threat. This brings me to the basis of our present decisions.
The House already knows that the serious situation which had developed in this way by the early part of this year has occupied a good deal of my time. As early as February, I recalled the High Commissioner for consultations and my right hon. Friend had two days' intensive consultations with the Federal Government in March. In that month, and again in April, we had discussions with Federal Ministers in London.
After the breakdown of the U.N. Mission's visit and the situation caused by 1132 the strikes at that time, Her Majesty's Government decided that my right hon. and noble Friend, Lord Shackleton, should go to South Arabia as our personal representative on the spot, to help our authorities there and to see the situation for himself. He paid two extended visits. Towards the end of these, I decided to replace the previous High Commissioner by Sir Humphrey Trevelyan and the arrival of Sir Humphrey and the second visit of Lord Shackelton overlapped by two weeks.
Her Majesty's Government have now received recommendations on which Lord Shackleton, Sir Humphrey Trevelyan and our military commanders in Aden are all agreed. I should like to add and to emphasise that Her Majesty's Government have accepted all these recommendations. All the proposals which I am about to commend to the House have the full support of the principal men who are on the spot, whether they arrived comparatively recently or have been there over a longer period.
Her Majesty's Government have now decided on a package of proposals, all of which, taken together, constitute a major decision of policy.
The first group of decisions concerns constitutional advance. We have decided that we should accept, in respect of Aden State, a draft Constitution which the South Arabian Government are circulating to the member States of the Federation for an independent South Arabian State.
The new Constitution will be modern in form, will provide for an effective Government, for human rights, for eventual elections on the basis of a universal adult franchise and for the integration of Aden and the present Federal capital of A1 Ittihad in a capital territory for the whole State. There will be provision within the Constitution for the immediate formation of a central, more broadly-based caretaker Government as soon as this becomes possible.
The Constitution is largely based on recommendations by two distinguished constitutional advisers to the Federal Government, Sir Gawain Bell and Sir Ralph Hone, whose report to the Federal Government was placed in the Library of the House last year.
1133 Though South Arabia is not yet independent, we are prepared for such a Constitution to come into force before independence provided that certain essential transitional provisions are made to cover the remaining period of our sovereignty in Aden State and our responsibility for its welfare.
We regard a new Constitution as essential now. The present Federal Constitution is cumbrous and rigid and is a positive obstacle to democratisation, economic rationalisation and progress. We are confident that, when the new Constitution is introduced, it will both allow and generate the right kind of political progress.
The second group in the package involves action under four heads to strengthen the future defence of South Arabia.
§ Mr. Sandys (Streatham)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the Constitution, will he say whether the introduction of the new Constitution before independence will imply that responsibility for law and order will be transferred to the Federal authorities before independence?
§ Mr. Brown
I do not think that I can say that. One of the things we have to discuss when we have gone beyond this point is at what stage and in what manner transfer of responsibility for law and order is effected. This needs a good deal more discussion.
As I was saying, the second group in the package involves action under four heads to strengthen the future defence of South Arabia. I have listened carefully to the arguments on this subject put forward in the House, from whichever side. Without agreeing with all that has been said, I recognise the force of some of the arguments and have given them very full consideration.
We recognise that the most determined efforts at political improvement could be undermined by continued armed subversion fomented from abroad. I have, therefore, come to the conclusion that the South Arabian Armed Forces need some more help, and that there should be additional money, assistance and equipment for the Army, the Air Force, and the forces in the Eastern Aden Protectorate. We have also decided on a 1134 major reassurance to the new State which I shall describe in a moment.
Concerning the Army, we have informed the Federal Government that we are prepared to pay for the South Arabian Army to be re-equipped with more modern small arms—for example, the self-loading rifle instead of the Lee Enfield—to obtain additional armoured cars and field artillery, and to have the assistance of a British military aid mission after independence which will help with advice and training. We will also help with such things as communications, base maintenance, and with some medical staff for the Federal forces hospital. All of this represents a very important strengthening of the Armed Forces of South Arabia.
As regards the Air Force, we have agreed to finance the provision and operation of eight Hunter aircraft, which would be additional to the jet Provost ground attack aircraft which the Air Force is already to have. The continued incitement to subversion in the States outside Aden, and the threat from across the frontier, in cynical disregard of the interests of the people and of Britain's departure from the territory, create a clear need to ensure that a South Arabian Air Force is equipped more powerfully than it would otherwise need to be. We have accepted this need and decided to help to meet it.
§ Mr. Brown
This is a matter which will be settled in the same way as the problem of who will fly the jet Provosts. This is a matter which is being arranged already. Arrangements are being made for pilots, as the hon. Gentleman clearly knows, and I imagine that the same arrangements will be made for these. They will not of course, be R.A.F. pilots.
Her Majesty's Government have also considered the problem of the unfederated States of the Eastern Aden Protectorate. In the modern world they can hardly stand on their own. Our policy is to encourage these States to join the Federation. But it now seems unlikely that they will commit themselves to independence. This leaves a practical problem 1135 of considerable importance. Peace at this moment is maintained not by British arms, but, first, by the State forces of the Eastern States, and secondly, by the Hadhrami Bedouin Legion. The latter is almost entirely an Arab force, but it is British-paid and, at present, British-controlled.
It operates throughout the Eastern Protectorate, and is not confined to any single State. If it were disbanded, and current external pressures continued to operate against South Arabia, there could be serious risk of widespread disorder. Clearly, this risk on the flank of the newly independent State of South Arabia cannot be ignored. We are, therefore, informing the Federal Government and the Governments of the three Eastern States that we are prepared to pay for the Hadhrami Bedouin Legion for two years after independence, provided that satisfactory command arrangements can be worked out among the States concerned.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
The right hon. Gentleman has enumerated a number of items of expenditure. Can he say upon which Department, here at Westminster, it is proposed that these should fall?
§ Mr. Brown
That is a very valid question, but it hardly occurs at this particular point. When I have finished outlining the whole package I will be very happy to deal with it.
We are proposing co-ordination by representatives of the Federal Government and of the three Eastern States to control and co-ordinate its operations. If these arrangements can be made, the Legion would thus remain in being, and this would help to preserve order and give the Eastern States and the Federation time to work out after independence the form of their merger, if they have not already done so before independence.
We are also informing the Federal Government that if it becomes possible to negotiate merger terms in earnest for the Eastern Aden Protectorate States we are prepared to consider helping the Government with the economic problems which the merger would create, and among those especially where State customs revenue is concerned.
I now come to the major reassurance I mentioned earlier. We recognise that 1136 the South Arabian Government will face a difficult period immediately after independence. It will then be fully responsible for the entire territory, including Aden; but the subversive and terrorist campaign may well continue.
The South Arabian Government will wish to make reconciliation and public order its first preoccupations. But we recognise that there is some danger that an attempt might be made to disrupt this by military aggression from outside the country.
In looking at this problem the aim should be to assist South Arabia to stand on her own feet, not simply to prop her up. Her Majesty's Government, for their part, have, therefore, decided to station a strong naval force in South Arabian waters for the critical first six months after independence. It will include an attack carrier. [Laughter.] I do not think that is regarded as a joke in South Arabia. If hon. Gentlemen opposite keep their attention on the problem that we are discussing, and not ride off on to others, maybe we would do better.
If military aggression against the independent State should occur, the aircraft in that force would be committed to the repulse of that aggression.
We have also informed the Federal Government that we are prepared to keep a force of V-bombers, with their extensive radius of action and their capacity to carry heavy loads of conventional weapons, within easy range of South Arabia for the critical months after independence. They will be stationed on the Island of Masirah.
The V-bombers will be available for the six-month period of the naval force and for as long thereafter as Her Majesty's Government may determine, according to circumstances ruling at the time. I want to be quite clear about this. This force, together with the naval force, will constitute a very powerful conventional deterrent which anyone minded to consider aggression will have to take very much into account.
These measures are designed to ensure the security of the independent State against external aggression, and I am confident will add greatly to achieving that object.
§ Mr. John Lee (Reading)
If this carries on beyond the six months, do I take it 1137 that the basis of payment for this will be altered? In other words, it will not be a charge on the British taxpayer if it should become an open-ended commitment?
§ Mr. Brown
The V-bombers will be somewhere, anyway. The naval force will finish at the end of six months, but the V-bombers may go on thereafter. If they were not going there, they would he going somewhere else, so my hon. Friend is bothering himself about additional expense unnecessarily.
On the other hand, I am sure that it is my hon. Friend's desire, as it is mine, that this country shall come to independence and that we shall be able to withdraw ourselves from its territory. The proposals that I am making, which, I repeat, have been taken after listening to a lot of argument and advice from all kinds of quarters, seem to me to be the right ones to support what my hon. Friend and I want to do.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
Is my right hon. Friend intending to tell us, now or later, what is the cost of all the proposals that he is making? Would he also explain to us how he believes that subversion can be dealt with by V-bombers or aircraft carriers?
§ Mr. Brown
I dealt with subversion on one side. We are dealing with something else, too, and that is the threat of open, external aggression. V-bombers may not be much use for subversion—that is the understatement of the afternoon—but they could be a very powerful deterrent to open external aggression.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
In the proposals which my right hon. Friend is outlining for a head-on clash with Arab nationalism, will he say how he reconciles his proposals for financing, arming and protecting the South Arabian Federation and accepting their draft Constitution with the excellent point which he made earlier, that by going too far in we expose them to the charge of being puppets and thus being undermined by their own people?
§ Mr. Brown
My hon. Friend, who was, as I remember, in favour of staying on longer than I wanted to stay on, is not very well placed for accusing me of seeking a head-on clash with Arab nationalism. I am not seeking a head-on 1138 clash with Arab nationalism—quite the reverse. I am often attacked for not doing enough on that. On the other hand, I have come to the conclusion that here is an Arab State, with Arab nationalists in the Government which, I would hope, will be reinforced by other Arab nationalists currently out of the Government which should be given the chance to exert its independence as an Arab nationalist State.
I come to the third part of the package —I insist that this is a package—of decisions which we have made.
§ Mr. Sandys
The right hon. Gentleman was asked a question by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). Could he give us an answer? Since the closing down of the base was justified, in the main, on the ground that it would save money, in view of all the additional expenditure which the right hon. Gentleman has announced today what will be the final saving on the closing of the base?
§ Mr. Brown
I was trying to give a balanced package of three sets of proposals which go together. The House—or some parts of it—as always, is more interested in defence than in anything else. May I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman and others listen to the whole package. I dealt with the constitutional proposals. I dealt with the defence of the new State. The third part of the package is the question of internal security in Aden. If, at the end of that, I have not dealt with all the things which the right hon. Gentleman thinks that I should have dealt with, it will then be for him to ask me a question. But I beg him, for the first time for a long time, to see the matter as one rounded whole. He would have helped us a long time ago if he had done that.
I come to the third part of the package of decisions, and this relates to internal security in Aden. When I asked Sir Humphrey Trevelyan to go to Aden he and I agreed that he must give first and paramount attention to the question of internal security and concentrate on two things: first, to deal more effectively and severely with those practising violence; and, secondly, to ensure, at the same time, that this was supported by actions which would provide scope for 1139 more constructive activity by the organisations at present outside the Government.
The High Commissioner and my noble Friend have given me their recommendations. It is clear that a major handicap for the authorities has been the intimidation of witnesses and jurors which has effectively prevented the trial of known terrorists. The absence of criminal convictions and the scrupulous observance of the principle that people detained without trial are not convicts has left detainees in a situation which has contained far too little sanction against terrorists. This must stop.
I have, therefore, decided, with a good deal of regret, that trial by jury shall be suspended in respect of terrorists' offences, subject, of course, to suitable safeguards for the defence of accused persons. Suspension of trial by jury is always a serious matter and I have thought long and deeply about it before concluding that this step is right. I should add that the Chief Justice of Aden has himself urged that this step should be taken. But the other side of this coin is to make a special effort to open the way to reconciliation.
The High Commissioner and Lord Shackleton have also recommended—and I have accepted—that the proscription of political parties and even of other organisations is pointless. Experience has shown that it does not seriously inhibit terrorist activity. But experience has also shown that it is a bar to useful negotiation. I have always recognised the illogicality, pointed out in the House from time to time, that one organisation which has maintained violence is proscribed and the other which does exactly the same has not been proscribed.
I have, therefore, agreed with the recommendation by my noble Friend Lord Shackleton and by Sir Humphrey Trevelyan that the ban on the National Liberation Front should be lifted. We are also considering the question of releasing some of the detainees, but it is too early to make a firm announcement on this at the moment.
These measures should help people to pull back from violence to peaceful political activities; but more is obviously required on the political side. We can- 1140 not expect more than they are doing already from the Federal Government and the political parties in Aden who have stuck to constitutional activity. I have often told the House that I want to get in touch with the leaders of the extremist organisations outside the territory. The Federal Government, for their part, are also ready to have these organisations work in peaceful co-operation, leading to their taking their proper place in the government of the territory. I had hoped and I still hope, to arrange a round-table discussion of all the parties concerned.
I am sorry to tell the House that F.L.O.S.Y., including both A1 Asnag and Mackawee, have so far failed to respond to any of these efforts. The N.L.F. has so far also failed to respond. The United Nations Mission had not made any real progress in its efforts to talk to these people up to the time that the Middle East crisis made everything that much more difficult.
I want to make it clear, however, that we shall welcome any readiness to talk shown by the extremist leaders—if, in the case of F.L.O.S.Y., the Egyptians who now dominate it will allow them to talk. I know that the Federal Government will also welcome the opportunity.
I hope very much, too, that the United Nations will find a way to give the help which I have always said could be crucial in promoting the formation of the central caretaker Government for which the United Nations resolutions call. We start from a position of full support for the existing central Government. We entirely concur in their decision that they must go ahead with constitutional reform now because time is so short. But we also welcome their intention to provide in the new Constitution for the speedy formation of a central caretaker Government if and when co-operation from others makes this possible.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker
As my right hon. Friend knows, I came back from New York not many hours ago. Is he aware that the United Nations Mission was informed that representatives of F.L.O.S.Y. would be in New York and would be available to meet other people on the day that the hostilities in the Middle East started and that the information in New York was, at least until my right hon. Friend made his statement 1141 today, that these representatives were still planning to go to New York? Surely my right hon. Friend knows that.
§ Mr. Brown
I must tell my hon. Friend, who is very optimistic in these things, that the number of places where F.L.O.S.Y. representatives were going to turn up over the last few months is pretty well legion. I must tell him that I have accepted a number of propositions, I have appointed Ministerial colleagues to go and I have made the arrangements. The trouble has always been that the F.L.O.S.Y. representatives have never found it convenient to get there.
I therefore stand on what I have said. If F.L.O.S.Y. or the N.L.F. representatives are ready to talk, the Federal Government are ready to talk with them. We certainly are. What is essential now is that somebody comes to a meeting place and we have the talks. What happens, however, and has happened all the way through, is that they are willing to promise to come but find it very difficult to come. I would say to my hon. Friend that a day or two's quiet about this, given the situation in the Middle East, is probably the right advice at this moment.
Having given the package, perhaps I may now answer the question which I was asked. I again insist that the package—the Constitution, the defence and the internal security—must all be taken together. I told the House earlier that we had committed ourselves to spending £50 million over the three years after independence. The cost of all the various things which we are proposing to do will involve us in another £9 million or £10 million. One can never be quite sure of these things, so let us take £10 million. We know then that we are on the safe side. That is over the whole period. It is a 20 per cent. increase on what we have already undertaken to do.
§ Mr. Brown
Over three years. It is a 20 per cent. increase on what we have already undertaken to do.
I now turn to the independence. We consider that having taken these decisions, having made these announcements, we have established the conditions in which South Arabia can become inde- 1142 pendent, even though we cannot follow precisely the pattern of decolonisation in countries which faced easier problems. The formula of independence "by 1968" was not defined when it was enunciated. There are reasons for and against any particular date in 1968, but, in our view, events impose their own logic. When one decides to go, it is well to go as fast as safety allows. I repeat, there are particular reasons for this in South Arabia, where the local Governments are attacked less for themselves than for their association with us. And Arab problems must, in the end, be solved by Arabs.
The transformation of the Federal forces and the additional strengthening which I have described will be adequate to the needs of the territory, by the end of this year. We have, therefore, informed the Federal Government that we consider that the independence of South Arabia should come about on 9th January, 1968—this is, the earliest practical date after 1st January because of the Moslem period of Ramadhan and the religious events which follow it.
The consequences of independence seem to be these. In January, we shall reach the following position. British sovereignty in the colonial territories of South Arabia will have come to an end. At the same time, the Royal Prerogative, which Her Majesty has graciously put at the disposal of Parliament, will be exercised to terminate our relationships with the Protectorate. All the associated processes which are necessary to establish the independence of a country will also take place.
South Arabia, united we hope, but at all events with some association between the Eastern and Western areas, and with Aden as its capital territory with enhanced status, will become entirely free to decide her own future. She will, I have no doubt, speedily apply for membership of the United Nations.
Her Majesty's Government will have no treaty relationship with the new State, but there will be available to it the extensive assistance which we have offered to give in the first few years of independence, including the powerful military and economic support which I have outlined. It will thereafter be very much more difficult for States of the Middle East to foment trouble for South Arabia in disregard of the rights of all peoples to live 1143 at peace in the way of their own choosing.
It will be apparent from what I have said that Her Majesty's Government have thought long, hard and flexibly about the problem of South Arabia. Hon. Members opposite will concede that I have not been inhibited from thinking about what they have said to me as well as what other people have said to me. I have taken them into account. There is no point in giggling at me because I have done so. The whole point of a democratic assembly is that I should do so.
Our policy in South Arabia as now established has two objectives, which can be summarised in one sentence. We intend to withdraw our military forces in an orderly way and to establish an independent South Arabia in January, 1968. The two elements of our policy are completely interdependent. Given the situation in the Middle East, independence must mean independence without our troops remaining there. We have to deal realistically with the situation as it exists today in the Middle East. In my view, there can be no comparison with Malaysia or other places.
To achieve these objectives, we have approached the problem in its many and related aspects. The Federal Government are providing in the new Constitution for the creation of a broader-based Government and evolution towards a democratic society. This will proceed, and we hope that the United Nations will be able to help in the process.
In our efforts to establish a strong and representative Government, we shall continue to make every reasonable effort to talk with all those inside and outside South Arabia who wish to co-operate in providing for the future of their own country.
An essential step towards this is a further effort to restore the rule of law; and I have oulined some of the measures, both by way of conciliation and firmness, which we would propose to take. I hope that this will, not least, hearten the British civil and business community who have done so much in the most difficult circumstances for the administration and economy of South Arabia, and many of whom expect to stay on after independence.
1144 At the same time, we have decided greatly to increase the very considerable support which we have already promised to the South Arabian Government to enable them to defend their independence by additions to the strength of the South Arabian Armed Forces and by the provision of a powerful deterrent against external aggression for as long as we judge necessary for South Arabia to establish itself as a free and independent nation.
I hope, therefore, that later tonight the House will give the Aden Bill an unopposed Second Reading. I hope, too, that it will forgive me for speaking so long, but it was a statement for which the House has pressed me for a long time. It is one to which a lot of attention has had to be given. I hope that the House will understand if I am not present at the end of the debate.
Whatever detailed criticisms the House may have, I hope that it will agree that the package of measures I have announced today demonstrates the determination of Her Majesty's Government to make every effort to bring our objectives about.
In the last resort the success and stability of independence will depend on the people of Arabia themselves, and we are determined to help them in that task.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Bexley)
I can assure the Foreign Secretary that the House has listened with the greatest interest to his long-awaited statement. It has proved to be of the utmost importance. It shows radical changes in policy by the Government which, in themselves, we believe to be necessary and which are, therefore, for that reason to be welcomed.
I would like to say to the right hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend and I are grateful to him for making us aware of the substance of his proposals this morning so that we could at least give some consideration to them. I assure him that he need not apologise for the length of his speech. I would only put on record my regret that his statement, important as it has proved to be, was not published in advance of the debate, or, better still, published as a White Paper. I believe that any statement containing so many 1145 new, important and necessary measures could well have been published in advance with advantage to the whole House.
The Foreign Secretary has looked at the past and drawn lessons from it, and I should like to do the same for a short time. First of all, what are the reasons for the tragic catalogue of events which we have seen in Aden over the past few months? I think that the House will recognise that the plain fact is that, until the Foreign Secretary's statement this afternoon, and for well over a year, the Government have had no policy for dealing with the situation of Men other than to get out, and to get out at any cost.
The consequences of that approach, which stems from the original declaration of the Government, have become clearer every day. The first was the decision of President Nasser not to carry out his agreement on the Yemen with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. It may be that he never intended to carry out that agreement. We cannot know. But the Government's announcement that they would grant independence to Aden in 1968 without a defence agreement—in fact, just to pull out—gave President Nasser every incentive to stay in the Yemen and step up terrorism in Aden.
As this is a general debate on the Adjournment, perhaps I might say that I find the attitude of the Government on the use of poison gas in the Yemen an extraordinary one, in that they have failed to take any initiative in the United Nations. In particular, the Foreign Secretary's answer to me last week, in which he said:I did not take the view that in this situation it was for us to take the initiative on that… I thought that it was better for us to concentrate on the main issue."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th June, 1967; Vol.747, c. 1296.]is not one which I find justifiable.
I do not believe that in days past the Labour Party would ever have sat still and silent in the fact of the use of poison gas by any Power in the world. Therefore, I make a fresh appeal to the Foreign Secretary, going on to the United Nations as he is, that he should consider afresh the possibility of a resolution, instigated by the British Government, to deal with poison gas—
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker
I am obliged to the Leader of the Opposition for giving way. I agree that I would support a resolution on the use of poison gas. In fact, I have put my name to a Motion on the Order Paper. But perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would also agree that if poison gas is to be considered, the defoliation gases and the crop killing gases which so vitally affect the life of South Vietnam should be considered.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. The right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) is not giving way. The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) must not persist.
§ Mr. Heath
The second effect of the general announcement about withdrawal from Aden has been that lawlessness, terrorism, disorder, wounding and murder have increased substantially. The Foreign Secretary did not really emphasise—and I make no complaint about it, in view of the time at his disposal—the extent to which they have grown since the Government's policy was announced.
The figures are most striking. In 1964, there were 64 incidents in Aden State. In 1965, there were 279. In 1966, there were 480. In the first two months of this year alone, there have been 265 incidents, in which 44 people were killed and 239 injured. That represents a tremendous 1147 increase in terrorism, murder, assassination and wounding as a result, I believe, of the declaration of the Government about our withdrawal.
I was glad to hear the Foreign Secretary say—and I agree with him—that the measures which he has announced will hearten the British civil and military administration there. I am sure that in that he includes the British business personnel who have been carrying on and looking after British interests under very great difficulties.
The third effect is that the confidence of other countries for whom we have responsibilities in the area has been gravely undermined. In the Middle East debate, the Foreign Secretary said that the Persian Gulf is a clear example where our contribution has been crucial and successful. It has been crucial and successful because we have treaty commitments to the Trucial States, and we have forces to carry them out. The same applies to Kuwait, Bahrein and Qatar. This has been undermined by the Government's decision to withdraw in this fashion originally from Aden.
Fourthly, I believe that the announcement gave President Nasser confidence that he could get away with almost anything, and, fifthly, it led other countries in the Middle East outside those for whom we have direct responsibilities, but including some of our friends, to switch their policies and fall in line with President Nasser's. As a result, some of our friends, and Jordan, in particular, have suffered grievously. These last two results were themselves contributing factors to the situation which we have seen recently in the Middle East and with which the United Nations is now dealing.
I am sure that the House sincerely wishes the Foreign Secretary success in his forthcoming mission tonight to the United Nations in trying to solve some of these problems. However, I have no doubt that, if a glimmer of success appears on the horizon, he will quickly find the Prime Minister landing at Kennedy Airport. But that, after all, tends to be the fate of the Foreign Secretary—[HON. MEMBERS: "Of all Foreign Seretaries."] I was not distinguishing.
Very often, over these past months, I have tried to think what were the reasons 1148 behind the Government's decision on their original announcement about withdrawal. The Foreign Secretary has touched on some of them today. First, there was the determination to cut defence expenditure in accordance with a prearranged Budget figure and without consideration of commitments. I believe that that was a crucial factor. That attempt to save money quickly has proved disappointing and has cost a great deal not only in cash but also in lives.
Second, I suspected sometimes that, at the back of the mind of the Government, was the belief that a shock announcement such as that made on the Indian sub-continent by the Labour Government immediately after the war would make everyone work together and solve the problems. That consideration has proved to be ill-based and a fallacious doctrine—a complete misjudgment.
Third, there was the attempt by withdrawal from Aden completely to create the atmosphere and a basis for a fresh agreement with the President of the U.A.R. I think that that, also, has proved to be a complete misjudgment, for the reason which I gave in the Middle East debate, that President Nasser comes to agreements and keeps to them only when he sees that people are determined to protect their own interests.
Fourth, there was the belief that the defence of the Federation against outside aggression and internal stranglehold could be left to the United Nations after withdrawal. I believe that that was another element in the situation. Recent events have shown that there can be very little validity now in that judgment. If it was an attempt to shuffle off responsibility, it has proved mistaken. The conclusion is clear. The Government's original policy and the way in which they have attempted to handle the situation has proved to be a disastrous failure in every respect.
The rest of the world has recognised this, but until this afternoon the Government have failed to do so. They have refused to let the Federal Government deal with internal security, but they have failed to deal effectively with terrorism themselves. They have insisted on early independence, but until this afternoon they have taken no steps to deal with the outstanding constitutional issues. They 1149 have had the Hone-Bell Report for 18 months and have taken no action on it.
The Government have brought in the United Nations, but, as the Foreign Secretary frankly admitted, this organisation has not been able so far to help towards a solution of the problem. I believe that this was natural, because the people from outside who were inciting terrorism did not want a United Nations' solution. They wanted a take-over in Aden itself, and, therefore, I do not believe that the United Nations, put into this situation, can he blamed for failing to solve the problem.
I agree with the Foreign Secretary that as soon as the Federation is independent it will want to become a member of the United Nations, as did Kuwait when she achieved independence. This being so, it is right that the United Nations should be given every facility possible in the circumstances in Aden. I hope that the organisation will be able to make full use of these and use them wisely, but I do not think it right or fair to the United Nations for the Government to attempt to shuffle off on to it a responsibility which it is not in a position to accept.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman would be a little more specific? He says that we should not shuffle responsibility on to the United Nations. He has condemned the Mission in rather contemptuous terms, yet he says that it should have facilities in the area. What does he mean by that?
§ Mr. Heath
I did not deprecate the action of the United Nations. I said that it should not be blamed for any failure to bring about a solution, because it is not in a position to bring it about. I say that because terrorism in Aden is coming from organisations deliberately sponsored from outside by members of the United Nations. They are doing this because they do not want a United Nations' solution, but a take-over. The United Nations cannot, therefore, solve this problem.
I want the United Nations to have all the facilities the British Government can give to help to bring about a broader basis of government, if it can help in that way, and by having discussions with those involved, but I do not believe that it should be told, "It is your responsibility to find a solution". This responsibility must rest with the British Government.
1150 The Foreign Secretary has criticised us from time to time, as he tended to do this afternoon, for the present state of affairs, but what is the basis for this criticism? It cannot be for the creation of the Federation itself, which the member States wanted. The Foreign Secretary is not proposing that it should be dissolved or broken up, not does the Federation want it to be. The right hon. Gentleman is proposing that it should be extended. It cannot be for agreeing that Aden should become part of the Federation, because the right hon. Gentleman has said publicly that there is no part of Aden or of the Federation which wants them to be separate. It cannot be for agreeing to independence, though the right hon. Gentleman tended to hint that we agreed to independence too early.
This is the first time that I have heard anybody from those benches, in power or in opposition, criticise us for giving independence too early. The right hon. Gentleman is also committed to independence, and I fail to see the basis on which he is criticising us.
We, too, are committed to independence for Aden, and for this reason we will give the Aden Bill an unopposed Second reading as the right hon. Gentleman asked. In Committee, my right hon. and hon. Friends will wish to raise points of detail particularly about Perim. The right hon. Gentleman knows, but I want to make it quite clear, that there must be no misunderstanding anywhere in the Middle East that both sides of the House are in favour of the independence of the new Federation. Whatever criticisms—and they are substantial—we may make of the Government's past policy, we support the Bill tonight.
We committed ourselves to independence with a defence agreement, and we must be quite clear about this. I was a member of the Cabinet which did it, and it was a clear commitment, the details of which were to be negotiated later in the usual way. The Foreign Secretary has sometimes suggested that there was no commitment of a defence agreement, or he has sometimes suggested that words meant something else, or he has said there was not one because the details had not been negotiated—that was his line in one speech—or because the Federal Government were told one thing 1151 and Parliament another—without ever producing any evidence of this—or there was not a defence agreement because his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence did not know about it when he agreed to the withdrawal—
§ Mr. Healey
I know that the right hon. Gentleman is usually careful, but I assure him that what he has said is totally untrue, and I hope that he will withdraw it.
§ Mr. Healey
I think that we might be better off if sometimes the right hon. Gentleman were to reveal the information he has, and the sources from which he has obtained it.
§ Mr. Heath
I can make it available to the right hon. Gentleman.
Those are reasons why the Foreign Secretary has said there has been no defence agreement. I believe that that is unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman, because there was a very clear commitment about this, and we stand by it. This has always been our position. But, even if there had not been a defence agreement, I believe that at the time of discussing independence the Government ought to have asked themselves whether the Federation could he viable. Had they done so, they must have come to the conclusion that there was a need for a defence agreement, and in fact now, belatedly, after a loss of life, they have come to that conclusion in substance without formality. This is what the Foreign Secretary's statement this afternoon means, and I welcome it.
I propose now to deal with the specific changes of policy which the right hon. 1152 Gentleman has proposed. I would like to make two general points before coming to the specific items. The right hon. Gentleman asked that this should be considered as a package deal, and I do so. My first general point is about the future of the Federation in the light of recent events in the Middle East. There are some who have expressed the view that with the defeat of the army and air force of the U.A.R. there is no longer any threat to the Federation. The Foreign Secretary has not accepted that view. I agree with him, and I am glad that he has not done so.
Secondly, there are those who argue that because the Government took no action in the Middle East during the recent crisis, Britain is incapable of taking action there, or ought to become incapable of acting there. The Foreign Secretary has rejected this view, too. I agree with him, and I am glad that he has done so.
I come now to the specific proposals. We welcome the proposal for constitutional advance on the basis of the Hone-Bell Report. I am glad that this can come into effect before independence. My right hon. Friend raised the question of internal security before independence, and I would like to say a word about this in a moment or two.
I welcome the additional support which the Government are prepared to give the Eastern States. One of the main reasons why they have not joined the Federation, or been prepared to join it, is their doubt about joining a Federation without a defence agreement. They are in doubt about the viability of the Federation. The support for two years of the Hadhrami Bedouin Legion and the other defence arrangements which the right hon. Gentleman has announced will go some way to removing these doubts and fears. I therefore hope that the Eastern States will decide to join the Federation, if not before independence, then during the two-year period following it.
We welcome the measures which the Government are taking, however belatedly, for internal security, and for more effective action against terrorism. The right hon. Gentleman is right. He is proposing serious steps, but this is a very serious situation. I am certain that the Government and their legal advisers 1153 will watch carefully the legal aspects of this matter, but in the circumstances I believe that the measures, however regrettable, are justified.
The Foreign Secretary has recognised, again rather belatedly, the anomaly of one terrorist organisation being proscribed, and not the other. He has now removed the proscription of the N.L.F. So long as the measures against terrorists are pursued with resolution, I believe that this step is acceptable, but if it is found that these organisations go on supporting violence and gain support in Aden because it is thought that the Government are acquiescing in violence by not proscribing them, he will have to consider the matter again. It is to be hoped that these organisations will abandon terrorism and join in a more broadly-based caretaker Government. If they do not the caretaker Government must be prepared to go ahead without them.
The cautious approach of the Foreign Secretary on the subject of detainees is correct, but I want to put to him a different point of view on the subject of internal security. I hope that in his consideration of the question he has not excluded from his mind the possibility of making the caretaker Government responsible for internal security in Aden as well as outside it after the constitutional changes have taken place.
The Federal Government should be given a period during which they can gain more experience of internal security over the whole area before they take over. This has happened elsewhere in constitutional changes and it would be conducive to more stable Government later. I hope that in the consideration that he is giving to the subject he will come to the conclusion that this change should be made.
This brings me to the vital question of the external defence of the Federation. Here, the Government have moved a long way from their original declaration. It is right to say so, and to pay tribute to them for doing it. The Government will provide additional money, assistance and equipment for the Army and Air Force, for the Federation and for the forces in the Eastern Aden Protectorate; they will pay for the South Arabian Army to reequip with more modern small arms, additional armoured cars and artillery; 1154 the Government will help with communications, basic maintenance and medical staff. In comparison with what they previously proposed this is considerable. For the Air Force there are to be eight Hunters in addition to the jet Provosts.
The question how they are to be manned must be in the mind of the Secretary of State for Defence. The question is when they will become available to the Federation. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it will be before independence?
§ Mr. Heath
In addition, there is to be a military mission to advise and help the Federal Government. This is going a considerable way towards what the Opposition and some hon. Members opposite have been asking for. The Government have recognised the size and type of threat from outside and are determined that the Federation should stand on its own feet and be able to meet that threat.
There is also a major reassurance from the Government—a strong naval force in South Arabian waters for the first six months after independence, including a carrier of the attack force. No one on this side of the House was laughing at the right hon. Gentleman. There was merely a smile that, once again, the carrier has proved to be essential, and that it is likely to remain so.
There is to be a force of V-bombers at Masirah for so long as the British Government consider it necessary. I cannot believe that they would make a unilateral decision without discussing the question of withdrawal with the new Federal Government. It is, therefore, a binding undertaking for the defence of the Federation that the V-bomber force should be at Masirah and be able to act. It is a powerful deterrent.
The question arises whether the changes which the Government have made, in the form in which they are made, are sufficient to secure the Government's objective that there should be a free and independent federation of South Arabia. This is the key question which must be posed—
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
The right hon. Gentleman says that the V-bombers are a deterrent—a deterrent 1155 to what? Are they going to threaten to bomb Cairo, or to intervene in a mountain border incident?
§ Mr. Heath
They could not be used as a defence against internal subversion, but they could be used against any attack of any size likely to threaten Aden from the outside. They can use orthodox as well as nuclear weapons, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows.
I want to put one question to the Foreign Secretary He announced that the date of independence would be 9th January but he did not announce any date for the withdrawal of British forces at present in Aden. I do not know whether this was an oversight, or whether we should draw the conclusion that the forces are not to be withdrawn completely by the same date—9th January—but will continue in the base for a period afterwards, and that a phased withdrawal will take place.
§ Mr. George Brown
I do not want to mislead the right hon. Gentleman. The British forces will come out between now and then. Within a week or so they will all be out by 9th January.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
Will this withdrawal be irrespective of the withdrawal of Nasser's troops from the Yemen.
§ Mr. Heath
The question is whether the forces should be kept in the base. The Federal Government originally wanted the base kept in the Federation, but since the Government's declaration they have accepted the United Nations resolution and, as I understand, do not wish to have a British base in the Federation but wish to have a defence agreement in form as well as substance, and to be assured that forces can be brought in to deal with any aggression from outside.
The question is whether the V-bombers and the naval forces are sufficient. It seems to me that the further guarantee which the Foreign Secretary has given and the presence of a British military mission in the Federation can ensure that both the British Government and the Federal Government are speedily advised about any threat to Aden or the Federation from without or from the locality. 1156 The military mission can advise both Governments on what action can be taken. This situation is similar to that in respect of which the agreement was concluded with Kuwait. Although there was no military mission it was possible for the British Government to bring forces in very speedily to deal with any threat, because we were advised beforehand by the Government of Kuwait exactly what the threat was.
I therefore conclude that the standing force of a carrier plus the V-bombers would have to be implemented with other forces if the threat arose. The British military mission would be able to advise both Governments of any need which may arise, and this gives a further safeguard to the independence and safety of the Federation.
What does all this amount to? It is an admission by Her Majesty's Government that a defence undertaking by Britain to the new Federation is necessary and has to be provided. That is what the Foreign Secretary's statement amounts to. It is necessary until the Federation can properly defend itself and until threats from the U.A.R. in the Yemen are removed by the complete withdrawal of the U.A.R. forces from the Yemen.
I would have preferred these arrangements to be put in the same form as in the defence agreement which I negotiated on the independence of Kuwait in 1961. The Foreign Secretary said that there is no comparison here with the situation in the Federation of Malaysia or anywhere else. I do not accept that. I believe there is a comparison, and in the Middle East—in the agreement negotiated with Kuwait. This has worked effectively. It enabled Kuwait to be accepted as independent by every other Arab State and to gain immediate membership of the United Nations. There has never been any criticism of it, on any ground. I would have preferred the agreement which the Foreign Secretary has now made to have been in that form.
§ Mr. Healey
I have been trying to follow the right hon. Gentleman carefully. When his party was in power it was in favour of maintaining a substantial base in Aden. Do the Opposition now agree that the base there should be removed?
§ Mr. Heath
That is a much wider question of defence policy. I am dealing with the question of the defence of the Federation. We can deal with the defence of the Federation if effective provision is made outside it. But it involves obligations by the Government and their recognition of the necessary stationing of forces, and so on, while it is going on. The Government now propose to do it for a limited time with the naval forces and for an unlimited time with the Air Force, and so have moved a long way towards the Kuwait situation.
I would say to the Foreign Secretary, let there be no mistake about the vital importance of the firm and categorical pledges which he gave this afternoon to maintain the independence of the Federation. It is because the Government have given these pledges and are, therefore, committed to providing the forces to carry them out, that I welcome the package proposals which the right hon. Gentleman put forward and would advise my right hon. and hon. Friends not to vote against them.
They go a long way to provide the required defence, but the Foreign Secretary's categorical pledges mean that, if it is found that they are in some way lacking in implementation, it is the British Government's responsibility to see that that deficiency is made good.
§ Mr. George Brown indicated assent.
§ Mr. Heath
I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman accepts that.
We have now seen two damaging attempts by the Government to save money by inept policies and incompetent diplomacy—Malta, which cost us much good will and respect in the Mediterranean and afterwards cost the Government more money; and Aden, which has cost us much in lives and money and for which additional sums must now be found and defence arrangements must be made.
The Government must learn the lessons of these two places in their dealings with the Far East, but already there are far too many indications that the Government have learned nothing from the disastrous policies which they have been following—the way in which they have negotiated or attempted to impose them.
1158 I say to the Government that, in dealing with the problems of the Far East, they must learn the lessons which have been taught so bitterly in Malta and especially in Aden and the Federation. It is very hard to forgive the Government's mistakes in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, but they will certainly not be forgiven if they go on now to commit the same appalling blunders in the handling of our problems in the Far East as well.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
The Leader of the Opposition thanked the Government for letting him have a copy of the Foreign Secretary's speech beforehand, and I am grateful to him for suggesting that the same privilege should have been given to all hon. Members. Indeed, I might say that my need for it was greater than his, because to the Leader of the Opposition my right hon. Friend's speech must have looked extremely familiar. I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman needed to read a speech which he appeared to have written as well.
I could not help reflecting, throughout my right hon. Friend's speech, that it amounted in effect to an unconditional surrender to the Conservative Opposition. Point after point which he made, mistakenly I believe, had been put to the Government by the Opposition in these last months on the subject of Aden.
From exactly the contrary point of view to that of the Leader of the Opposition, I want to ask why the Government's Aden policy has undoubtedly failed so far, as it plainly has. Lives have been lost, great bitterness and disunity have been caused, and there have been insecurity and heavy economic damage. Yet it would be a brave man who said that the policy outlined by the Government today stands a much better chance of success than that which they have tried so far.
The essence of my right hon. Friend's speech was that he had despaired of reaching an agreed solution with the forces of Arab nationalism in South Arabia. That is a fair summary. Before that, he had attempted such an agreement. He had invited F.L.O.S.Y. and N.L.F. to take their responsibilities in reaching a settlement and had written letters to President Nasser inviting his co-operation. Today, 1159 the meaning of my right hon. Friend's speech was that he has decided that agreement is not possible and that he will face a head-on clash with Arab nationalism on a settlement of his own choosing.
One of the great dangers of my right hon. Friend's new attitude was excellently pointed out by himself at the beginnning of his speech. He began admirably with an analysis of the grave dangers to the Federal Government themselves of the British Government's appearing as their protector, and of our maintaining our intimate control of affairs in South Arabia, of creating the impression that the Federal régime were puppets, thus creating political conditions in which they would be doomed to failure.
As he spoke, I thought, "I am glad that he is reaching this conclusion and is now analysing it so clearly and well." But what did the rest of his speech contain? One measure after another by which we committed ourselves deeper and deeper, economically, militarily and administratively in South Arabia, in Aden. Hon. Members opposite cheered that part, and from their point of view were right, but it is totally inconsistent with that part of the statement of the Foreign Secretary in which he said that we are decolonising, that we are according the Federal Government independence, because we are afraid that, by staying, we may undermine their political position. In effect, the measures which he outlined could have been taken from a textbook on neo-colonialism, on how to create puppet Governments, how to play into the hands of nationalists opposing a puppet Government.
This is sowing the seeds of the kind of conflict we have seen in the world so often recently. Which of us on this side did not think, as my right hon. Friend was speaking, of the nasty parallels with the situation in Vietnam? After all, there too is a Government which is being given the same kind of support by a great Power, the same military, economic and administrative support, the same military mission. After all the denials that the Government is a puppet Government and all the assertions that all that the Americans are trying to do is maintain its independence, what is the net result of that policy? It is undermining the Govern- 1160 ment, playing into the hands of that Government's enemies. And now the same mistake is being made again. No lessons have been learned from contemporary history.
I admit that, if we are to maintain this kind of Aden rôle, the Government have chosen, in aircraft carriers, the right weapons system to do it. There is no doubt about that. And what a scandal it is that, when the Government are now going back into their east of Suez rôle and going back into the Middle East, and, perhaps—if they follow the Leader of the Opposition's advice—back into the Far East, they should at the some time phase out the one weapons system which all experience shows can do the job.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman made some good points about the technical performance of carriers as the best weapons system for this job; but there are carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin, and what do they do? They do a fine job for the purpose for which they are built, but they are not built against infiltration or subversion, and, of course, it is the infiltration from Yemen into Aden and the subversion in Aden which is the defence problem, not the twelve MIGs which the Egyptians had in Yemen. I should be surprised if they still have them. The problem is the infiltration of what are called the forces of liberation from Yemen over the hills into Aden and the carrier is not the weapons system for that job.
I had come prepared to say that the Opposition policy on Aden was worse, but now it appears that it is almost identical with the Government's. It suffers from the same dinosaur thinking, the same total inability to learn from experience. Their past policy failed, just as the Government's past policy failed, and the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) sowed the seeds of many of the difficulties we are now facing in Aden. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have nothing to teach us in this crisis.
I return to the important question: why did the Government's previous policy of trying to reach a compromise solution fail? Their intentions were good. They meant to leave in peace, leaving behind a representative, broad-based Government. They invited co-operation from F.L.O.S.Y. and the N.L.F. and they wrote to President Nasser. Nevertheless, their policy failed. Why?
1161 Hon. Members who recently visited with me a number of Arab leaders will recall that we impressed on them the sincerity of the Government's intention to leave Aden without leaving behind a puppet Government. No hon. Member will disagree that a policy based on agreement between the various elements in Aden would have been better than the policy which has been outlined today. Why did it fail?
The answer is that there is no solution to the Aden problem which is compatible with the Government's policies in other parts of the Middle East. The Government treat Aden in isolation; as just one more problem of giving freedom to a Colony, as though this were happening in Africa or Asia. They do not understand that their actions in Aden are weighed and judged by the Arab world in the light of their actions in other parts of the Middle East.
Thus, while Her Majesty's Government are trying to convince the nationalists in Aden that they intend to leave and intend to leave behind a representative, broad-based Government and that they are abandoning their old imperialist policies, they are actually building up their special military and political position in the Gulf. The Government have never shown an awareness of the fact that these two things are connected.
Anybody who speaks to the nationalists in Aden knows that their belief that we are simply leaving behind a puppet Government—and that we shall re-enter from Bahrein, if necessary, and reinforce the puppet régime—has been one of the difficulties in reaching agreement and getting talks with them. This difficulty has been largely based on their seeing that the Government are not abandoning their old Middle East policy and colonial rôle but are building up their special position in the Gulf and are even saying publicly, "This is an alternative to Aden". The Government have failed to see this and are tending to treat the whole matter in isolation.
I will not today go into the folly of building up our position in the Gulf. I could not believe my ears when I heard the Leader of the Opposition casually refer to the "success" of our military presence in the Persian Gulf. I will have 1162 to study the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow to make sure that I heard him correctly, that I heard him referring to this military presence which protects our oil and prevents it from being cut off. The Ministry of Defence has a terrible problem now in discovering how to protect the oil supplies to our ships and aircraft which are protecting our oil supplies.
What about stability? Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that our presence in the Gulf has increased stability in the last two or three weeks? Has it won us any friends and influenced people, or has it increased hostility towards us? There is no question but that the decision of the Government a year ago to build up our military and political rôle in the Gulf was one of the greatest acts of folly committed by the Government.
§ Mr. Heath
I was quoting the Foreign Secretary, who said that in the Trucial States our position has been crucial and successful, and it certainly has been. Surely the defence of Kuwait against Iraq was a successful operation. As for stability in the Middle East, the hon. Gentleman is judging events on the past fortnight. If he looks at the previous period—at Bahrein and so on—he will agree that there has been stability and that, when these problems have been settled, there will be stability again.
§ Mr. Mayhew
If the right hon. Gentleman was quoting the Foreign Secretary, I apologise. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between some of the remarks that both right hon. Members make.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
The hon. Gentleman is criticising what has been done for British oil in the last two or three weeks. Would he care to say what he has done for British oil in that period?
§ Mr. Mayhew
Out of 122 members of the United Nations, 119 have not had their oil cut off by the Arab world. By a strange coincidence, none of those 119 members has any military presence in the Persian Gulf. These facts of life should be learnt by hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I hope that an opportunity will be provided to discuss the subject of the Persian Gulf in detail on another occasion, perhaps when the new defence policy is outlined at the end of next month. My point now is that one cannot isolate what 1163 we do in the Gulf from the situation in Aden; and the Government have been seriously at fault in not understanding that the Arabs connect the two, even if Her Majesty's Government do not.
It is interesting and strange to look back on the grounds on which the Government decided to leave Aden first, and then to stay in the Gulf. If one is to withdraw from the Middle East, what possible political, military or economic reasons can there be for picking on Aden and not on the Gulf? The Gulf is extremely expensive to stay in. It is also easier to leave—and as one leaves the Gulf one makes it rather easier to leave Aden. By leaving the Gulf one, so to speak, diminishes the suspicions and antagonisms of Arab nationalists in Aden. For every reason, the proper thing was to have a phased disengagement from the Middle East as a whole and not to quickly scuttle out of Aden while staying in the Gulf. I have all along considered that 1968 was very soon to leave. My view a year ago—and it remains the same today—is that there should be a phased disengagement from the Middle East as a whole—from Aden and the Gulf—but probably from the Gulf first and from both within three or four years.
Naturally, by scuttling out of Aden, the Government unsettled their friends in the Gulf. Nobody could be more bitter against the Government—even more bitter than President Nasser—than King Faisal, since King Faisal says that we are letting our friends down in the Gulf. The second major contradiction in the Government's Middle East policy is that although bidding for co-operation from President Nasser, we are giving King Faisal £120 million worth of arms, we go on to invite him to London and say that we stand by the treaties to which the Leader of the Opposition referred. We send begging letters to President Nasser while sending arms to his enemy, King Faisal.
That is not a sensible policy. While asking President Nasser for his cooperation and while writing to him—as well as asking F.L.O.S.Y. and the N.L.F. to take part in arriving at a compromise settlement—Her Majesty's Government were going out of their way to give favoured treatment to the enemies of the nationalist Arabs, the traditionalists in the Gulf and King Faisal.
§ Mr. Robert Maxwell (Buckingham)
Would my hon. Friend rather have seen arms supplied by the United States to Saudi Arabia, instead of our supplying them and helping our balance of payments?
§ Mr. Mayhew
I would rather we reached a compromise solution in Aden. I remind my hon. Friend that one cannot run with the fox and hunt with the hounds at the same time.
There is a third contradiction which shows the obvious mistake the Government have made. So far they had only made things difficult for themselves. It might still have been possible to have reached agreement with the nationalists. On two occasions recently I have been round the Arab world with other hon. Members. They will bear me out when I say that, in spite of the difficulties, it still looked possible that a compromise agreement might have been arrived at in Aden.
But then the Aqaba crisis arose. It showed that Her Majesty's Government not only favour the traditionalist Arabs against the nationalist Arabs, but that they favour Israel against the Arabs as a whole. This is the third absurdity in the Government's attempts to reach a compromise solution in Aden.
The Israeli case on Aqaba was extremely powerful, but it was not a black-and-white case. There were some arguments on the other side. I do not believe that the Government even considered the arguments. If they did, they just swept them aside. They refused to take the matter to international arbitration, to the International Court, but simply declared that they would assert British rights in the Gulf of Tiran, not ruling out the use of force outside the United Nations. Of course, as soon as the fighting started they hastily backed down. The plans to clear Aqaba were hastily dropped as soon as the war began. We discovered that we had been neutral all the time. But this neutrality was a myth.
Turning over some old papers the other day, I was reminded that three years ago the Israeli Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary made representations to Labour leaders against what they called "Mr. Mayhew's attitude of nonalignment or positive neutralism on the 1165 Arab-Israeli dispute." The Israeli leaders were quickly reassured that my neutral attitude did not represent party policy, and Labour leaders continued the old easy assurances of mutual sympathy and support—until the crunch came.
When the first shot was fired they ran like rabbits, precisely as I had predicted to the Israeli leaders three years ago. They found that Britain was too weak economically, politically and militarily for them to fulfil the responsibilities they had accepted of military intervention on the side of Israel. Today we hear the Leader of the Opposition say that we must accept more responsibilities in Aden, that we are wrong to go from Malta. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that in the Far East he too will come to the same fate when the crunch comes. He too will find that he has accepted responsibilities and lacks the real power to carry them out. The Foreign Secretary's declaration of neutrality on that occasion was correct but it was done in the most humiliating and contemptible circumstances. Declining to accept responsibility is undoubtedly unheroic, but accepting responsibility and then, when the crisis comes, running away—that is treachery.
The Government's hope now seems to be that by letting down the Israelis they may have won some trust with the Arabs. I do not believe that at all. I do not believe that this new-found neutrality will convince the Arab world of the sincerity of the British Government, and I certainly think that the Foreign Secretary's speech this afternoon will mar any attempt he makes at the United Nations to project himself as an equal friend of Israel and of the Arab nationalist movement. The fact is that Aqaba has made the Aden situation far more difficult—together with our presence in the Gulf, and our special favouring of the traditional Arabs m the Gulf. The war may have made the Egyptians in the Yemen weaker, but the political position of the nationalist Arabs against the British is stronger.
What can the Government do to retrieve their mistakes? First, they must now deal with the Middle East as a single problem, announce a new overall policy for the Middle East and begin a phased disengagement from both Aden and the Gulf. Secondly, they must now pursue a policy of genuine neutrality between the Arabs 1166 and the Israelis, with a proper recognition that the Arabs have a case as well as the Israelis. Third, they must recognise, however it may be regretted, that the days when Britain could play a Great Power rôle in the Middle East are gone for good. The Government's Middle Eastern policy, which was always full of pretentions and contradictions, has now been blown to pieces.
As to Aden, it was madness to try to withdraw in one part of the Middle East whilst trying to build up in another part of the Middle East. It was madness to send begging letters to Nasser while sending arms to his enemy King Faisal. It was madness to bid for the co-operation of Arab nationalists in Aden and then to side with Israel at Aqaba. Aden and Aqaba are two examples of the general ineptitude of the Government's defence policy. They are examples of their worst failing—of accepting commitments and responsibility without the real power and will to fulfil them effectively.
The folly of this paper peace-keeping has been shown over and over again. "Paper peace-keepers" is a fair description of Ministers who attempt to maintain the Prime Minister's world rôle on the Chancellor of the Exchequer's defence budget. As a result, we see all over the world—in Hong Kong, in the Gulf, in Aden, Shanghai and Rhodesia—British interests trampled on and British citizens insulted. We saw reports of incidents in Shanghai in the newspapers this morning.
The time has come for a radical change in the Government's defence policies east of Suez. It is time the Government took some notice of decisions of their own party in this respect. It is time that the present policies, which have been disastrous and have led to humiliating failure, are changed. They have lost the confidence of a large section of the public and of many hon. Members on both sides of the House.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
The House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) for making the first speech for the Opposition during this debate. I confess that I find myself agreeing with much more of what he said than I would 1167 have thought possible in views of the events of the last fortnight. I would first add my thanks to those already given to the Foreign Secretary for his courtesy in making available some of the matters he intended to mention in this debate to quarters representative of this House; and likewise to wish him success at the United Nations. I hope that he has not been too much embarrassed by the volume of Conservative support his speech received.
The Foreign Secretary expressed the hope that nothing would be said that would make the negotiations in New York more difficult so, like Agag, I shall mince delicately. But I must confess that I felt slightly sick in my stomach when I heard the Leader of the Opposition castigate the Government for their neutrality on what he regards as a great moral issue, namely the use of poison gas in the Yemen, which I too, deplore as much as he, especially when some of us remember a few weeks ago that when many of us interpreted a threat of genocide against Israel he rushed to declare his complete neutrality, and hastened to join the Government in tearing up the Tripartite Declaration. Only when Egypt is defeated does the Opposition adopt a great moral stance and put back their Middle Eastern false teeth in order to bite. I thought, though I must check this later, that the right hon. Gentleman even suggested that some of the events in regard to Egypt and the other Arab States were caused by the instability in the area brought about by this Government. I would only say that I do not think that that is a view which will be generally accepted in the country. When there is plenty of live ammunition to fire at this Government, it is better not to use soft-nosed bullets.
In discussing this subject we are dealing with one of the last two great imperial commitments of this country—one is Aden and the other is Hong Kong. Whatever decision Her Majesty's Government take about Aden and the South Arabian Federation there are great risks We must accept that that follows any suggested solution. It should like to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the flexibility of their approach in this matter—and I do not use that word in an opprobious sense—in having stuck 1168 to the principle of independence, of having recognised that some form of external assistance is necessary, which cannot be open-ended, although whether in the absence of a treaty the Federal Government still themselves regard that as of sufficient value is a matter for them, and for them alone.
My main criticism of the Government's package deal is that they have failed to assess the reason why there are political difficulties in Aden and South Arabia today. The reason for it is that we attempted a shot-gun marriage. We built a federation on Sandys—spelt with a "Y"—and are in very grave danger that all the Foreign Secretary is doing is removing the "Y" and the "S" and building one on sand.
We have in the Federation an area which was a Crown Colony in 1935, which had elections in 1955, which has had universal suffrage from 1959 and we are basing the whole future in getting together a caretaker Administration in the area which will apparently be a coalition of Arabian nationalists and feudal sheikhdoms. It is rather like saying that Great Britain will be given independence as soon as a Government can be got together led by the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) and the Marquess of Salisbury. It is precisely that.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can speak with more personal knowledge about the Marquess of Salisbury and perhaps some feudal sheikhdoms are more progressive! We are dealing with a situation in which we must remember that the Chief Minister of Aden, Abdul Mackawee, was dismissed in March, 1965, for opposing the Federation and supporting F.L.O.S.Y. which had nationalist intentions and apparently also supporting terrorism. For precisely similar reasons we put in prison Dr. Banda, Mr. Nehru, President Kenyatta, Archbishop Makarios and almost every other African or Asian leader in the present Commonwealth.
I remember saying to Dr. Banda when I met him on his release from gaol that he would be Prime Minister because he had been in prison which was the university for Commonwealth statesmen.
1169 A large part of the Foreign Secretary's speech was that it would be possible to bring about this kind of caretaker administration. It is redolent of all the arguments we heard from the Tory Government about how the Central African Federation would work, how it was in the interests of everyone and how Joshua Nkomo and Roy Welensky and the others would all meet at Lancaster House, how the chiefs were coming from Northern Rhodesia and all of them would work together. There would be massive economic aid and, if needed, some guarantee from this country.
What we have to ask is not whether a caretaker administration can be formed but what is to be the position in one year or 18 months after independence. It is suggested that there is no move to break up the Federation. I think that is perfectly correct. I think the reason is that on the one hand there are the feudal sheikhdoms and, on the other, the nationalists each of which believes that it will be able to dominate the whole territory to the exclusion of the other. It is a double-or-nothing argument and each is prepared to take the risk but it could well be that 18 months after that Federation the threat would not come from without but from within. The Foreign Secretary said that this has nothing to do with Malaysia, but I think it has a tremendous amount to do with Malaysia because Aden is the Singapore of the Arabian Federation today.
The absence of any reference to the political situation or the diverse elements in this Federation is something to which we should give very much greater attention in this debate. After all, we have seen shotgun marriages in Central Africa, in the Caribbean and in Malaysia, and we have seen them break up. I prophesy that, if this goes through, Aden will secede within two years of independence and it will do so after bloodshed. If that is the case, will it not be very much better now to create a loose confederation? The Foreign Secretary said that the eastern protectorates will not be forced to join the 23 feudal States of the Federation. That is quite right; he wants that to come if it be the wish to have the inhabitants afterwards. I believe there is much more logical coalition of interests there than that between Aden Colony, which is progressive, and the 1170 rest of the Federation, which is far from so being.
This attitude is not surprising because, when the United Nations Mission went to the Federation, Her Majesty's Government approached it on the basis that whatever else the Mission was to discuss it was expected to prop up the existing Federal Government. Yet the terms of the General Assembly Resolution were that the Mission should takepractical steps for the establishment of a central caretaker government in the Territory to carry out administration of the whole Territory and to assist in the organisation of the elections.Therefore, I suggest that one of the most important things is to consider the future relationship between Aden Colony and the Southern Arabian Federation.
The other matters are of purely minor importance. What for example is meant by a six-months guarantee? I took a note of what the Foreign Secretary said—and for as long thereafter as Her Majesty's Government may determine according to the circumstances of the time.That is a good piece of legal drafting but it does not mean very much. I hope that we shall hear more about that later. What is the position about the capital city? Is Aden Colony to be a sort of Washington D.C. with equal or greater political powers since it will be the nerve centre of the future Federation where the so-called nationalists and terrorists will gather? I hope we shall hear more about that.
A throw-away line by the Foreign Secretary which was equally thrown away by the Leader of the Opposition was when he said that we may have to suspend trial by jury. We were told that there would be suitable safeguards for defence. It is a very grave matter that in a British Colony we are suspending one of the basic concepts of our criminal administration. What is meant by "suitable safeguards for defence"? Let us hope at least that in some quarters of the Opposition there is some concern about that. I hope that we may hear something about the prospects of F.L.O.S.Y., and N.L.F. joining together as has been suggested in reports from Cairo.
Let us by all means work towards early independence for this part of the world. Let us by all means have some form of guarantee through negotiation, but let 1171 us at least guarantee something which will be a durable political entity. I suggest that the present framework is something which will not and cannot last. I well remember from 1950 to 1957 being told that I was mad for saying that I did not agree—[Interruption.]—indeed the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) was one of the chief of those who said I was mad for not thinking that we could have a marriage between Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Even if the hon. Member for Macclesfield has reacted like one of Pavlov's dogs, Harold Macmillan sent out the Monckton Commission which was only allowed to go because its terms were so ambiguous that at the end of the day he was able to sell Roy Welensky down the river. We are not doing that here—
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
I never said anything of the kind. The right hon. Member must be dreaming.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I am delighted. This is the pleasantest dream I have had for a very long time. I thought that I heard an interjection from the hon. Member, but if it was not meant to have any profundity of purpose of course I withdraw. We are now talking about spending a lot of money and using a lot of troops and effort to preserve a political entity which will not survive more than two years after independence. I think it much better to recognise it now while we are in control of the situation and while we can bring about a looser political association among those territories without bloodshed, possibly by saying to the nationalists, "Your sphere of influence is in Aden Colony" and possibly saying to the sheikhdoms, "Your sphere of influence is in the sheikhdoms."
We should face that fact now rather than propping up this situation and then in two or three years' time having Questions put down about the safety of British subjects, requests for troops to be sent and for the United Nations to intervene. I can see all this happening as we have had this kind of thing before. Before we say yes to all the package proposals made by the Foreign Secretary, let us at least see that the political entity we are to prop up is durable. In my view as at present organised it clearly is not.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
As I always do, I listened to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party with pleasure, great interest and a good degree of agreement. I feel less cheerful than he does. Perhaps it was because, like my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), I did not have the advantage of knowing about the Government's statement in advance. The Foreign Secretary's speech has come to me as a very great shock and a very great surprise. When my right hon. Friend said to me, "A day or two's quiet on this, given the situation in the Middle East, would be a good thing", that was one of the few sentences he used which I cordially agreed with.
I found myself feeling that I had heard all this before. I found myself thinking that, if there was one way to kill the possibility of United Nations intervention, this was it, that we were going to prop up the Federal Government in their present shape, that we were going to give them massive military support, that we were going to meet terror with terror with new security arrangements. In effect, we are propping up a colonial puppet regime by British military force. I am afraid that any hope of effective United Nations intervention and help has been destroyed. I was shocked by what seemed to me to be contemptuous words, not only about F.L.O.S.Y., but about the United Nations Mission. I shall say a few words myself about that later.
I had not expected to hear the kind of speech we have heard from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. Because of that, I had prepared a very short, and I hope reasonably uncontroversial, speech, having just returned from the United Nations, where I spent some time at the end of last week. I am puzzled now as to exactly how to approach this debate. I went in my capacity as Chairman of the United Nations Parliamentary Group, which has about 300 members of this House and of another place.
In that capacity, I was privileged to have a long conversation with the Secretary-General and his senior advisers. U Thant asked me to treat what we talked about as confidential and not to 1173 quote him. I respect his wishes, and nothing I now say must be attributed either to him or to any of the many delegates to whom I spoke, including Lord Caradon, with whom I often profoundly disagreed, and still do, about Cyprus, but whose energy, whose activity and whose devotion in New York I very much admire.
In the last four weeks U Thant has been the victim of disgraceful attacks, many of them from countries like Britain whose recent record in the Middle East is nothing to be proud of. He has been attacked in a vile and scurrilous manner by a number of British publications. I weep when I think of the past of the Spectator under my and my father's old friend Mr. Wilson Harris. I hope that we shall soon have a debate about the Middle East in which we shall be able to discuss the withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Force from the Israel-Egypt border. If we do, I think that it can be shown quite conclusively that in this, as in all other respects, the Secretary-General acted with perfect correctness and with great courage and, indeed, that he took the only possible legal and practical course open to him. The idea that he precipitated the war is a monstrous distortion of the facts.
In Aden and in South Arabia, and in the future United Nations rôle there, the Secretary-General naturally takes a very close and a very well-informed interest. But it is the Special Mission on Aden, set up after careful negotiations with the British Government and discussions with the Committee of 24, that has the first initiative. I was very glad to see again my good friend, Ambassador Perez-Guerrero, the Chairman of that Mission, and, through him, to greet the other two members, Minister Shalizi of Afghanistan and Ambassador Keita of Mali.
As my right hon. Friend claimed to be, I am a very strong advocate of United Nations participation in the solution of the problem of Aden and the South Arabian Federation. I believe that the only hope—it may be a very slender one; perhaps it has become a more slender one this afternoon—of Britain withdrawing with dignity and leaving a peaceful and viable situation behind us is for the United Nations to preside over the political settlement and 1174 for a serious United Nations presence to be in the area when we leave and for it to remain there.
I do not think that I need now argue again the case for the British withdrawal itself. As my right hon. and hon. Friends know, my views on this are quite firm and have not changed. I will only say that in my opinion the new Israel-Arab war which we have just witnessed has conclusively confirmed the futility of maintaining British military bases outside Europe and has finally exposed the arrogant pretence that, in modern conditions, such British bases have any function, except to cripple our domestic economy and to ruin our international reputation.
I am very sorry to say that I think that I am the only hon. Member who has been to the United Nations since the Israel-Arab war began. I am unhappy to have to report how low our reputation has sunk with almost every country represented there. It is not only the Arabs who are disgusted with us. The Israelis feel let down by us. The Africans and the Asians despise us. But very many of our best friends in the West and in the non-aligned world are bitterly disappointed and bitterly puzzled by the United Kingdom's performance there.
On the question of the withdrawal, I want to add only three points. First, the extraordinarily high standing of General de Gaulle and of France, with the Arabs as well as with the Israelis and in the world at large, in spite of the fact that militarily France was the achitect of the astounding Israeli triumph we have just witnessed, is due, not only to the fact that, unlike us, he does not play the satellite of the United States, but also because he no longer attempts to play the imperial Power in areas and ways which are beyond the resources of his country.
Secondly, I should like to make it clear that, like many of my hon. Friends and like many, if not all, the delegations at the United Nations, except, perhaps, the United States and Saudi Arabia, I find it entirely incompatibile for us to be withdrawing from Aden and South Arabia while making a military build-up in the Persian Gulf. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East covered this point very well. I want to add only this. 1175 I understand that the V-bomber force is to be based in the Gulf area at Mazura. This seems to me to be absolutely crazy. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party made some predictions. I think that he will join me in making another very safe one, namely, that the next emergency, the next liberation struggle or the next terrorist campaign, whichever terminology is preferred, will of course be in our remaining imperial Colonies in the Persian Gulf.
Thirdly, the classic Conservative defence—we have heard it again in this debate—for our military presence in the Middle East and, indeed, the defence of our disastrous and shameful Suez campaign in 1956, was that this was the way to protect our oil interests. It may be that these interests are doomed anyway—not the supply of oil, but the pattern of British ownership of oil in the Middle East. But one thing is quite clear to me, that British oil interests will be safer in the Middle East when the last British soldier has left for home.
I come to the rôle of the United Nations in Aden and in South Arabia in solving for us a problem of decolonisation which previous British Governments have made it impossible for us to solve honourably and peacefully by ourselves. Ambassador Perez-Guerrero, Minister Shalizi, and Ambassador Keita, of the United Nations Special Mission to Aden, have been subjected to a great deal of ignorant and foolish criticism in the Press and in this House. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, unfortunately, got a little cross with them on one occasion, too. As he knows, I have seen a great deal of their Mission, when they were in Geneva, when they were in London, and now in New York, and I have heard their account as well as his of what happened. I have no hesitation in repeating that they are three sensible and sincere men who approach their task in a moderate and constructive way. They were given ridiculous treatment in Aden. I will not go into it now, because Turnbull has gone—and I am sure all my hon. Friends would like to wish Lord Shackleton and the new High Commissioner all possible success.
My wish has become a little less enthusiastic since I heard the proposals they apparently made which have been 1176 accepted by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I am bound to say that when I came back from New York I was already a little puzzled by some of the reported actions of my good friend Humphrey Trevelyan.
Some of the more reactionary Members of the House may not agree with my assessment of the purpose and policy of the United Nations Mission in Aden, but the fact remains that they are the men appointed after a lot of negotiation by the Secretary-General in consultation with the Special Committee of 24 on the authority of General Assembly Resolution 2183 (xxi), and if there is to be any further United Nations participation and involvement in Aden the Mission's success must be the overriding factor in everything the British Government do and say about Aden.
That is why I was so saddened by what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, and by the way in which he referred to the Mission's work, and I was astounded that he did not refer to the fast—and it is a fact—that representatives of F.L.O.S.Y. were expected in New York to have consultations not only with the United Nations people but with other people. I will not go into the details as the right hon. Gentleman asked me not to, but he knows well—if not, I will tell him—that since the Israeli/Arab war ended Egyptian representatives have given an assurance that the F.L.O.S.Y. mission is still expected.
My right hon. Friend derided this, and said they had heard many times that they were going here and there but did not turn up. I do not know whether he knew when they were in Algiers, that they then returned to Cairo, and that there was then no aircraft to take them to New York.
What he said illustrates my point that the British Government have been fiddling now for months. A settlement cannot be achieved except through the United Nations, and in fact, the F.L.O.S.Y. Mission was about to start negotiations with Ambassador Perez-Guerrero. The United Nations is the place where this can be done. It is also the place where the Aden problem can be settled. It cannot be done by private, backstairs diplomacy.
That is why I was so sad when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did 1177 not jump at the opportunity of making the General Assembly the principal centre to try to get a settlement of the problem of the Middle East. The fact is that there is nowhere else where the Jews or the Arabs, or the rest of the world can gather together to discuss this problem. There is no other way to solve it without dishonour to this country and without leaving chaos and bloodshed behind, except by using the United Nations.
I was glad to see in New York—this was before the speech of my right hon. Friend—that the Aden Mission was intending to continue its work. The Chairman told me—this was on Friday at lunch time—that relations with the British Government were satisfactory. I am not sure how far he will feel that now. It is the view of some that the Mission would be better working in Geneva, and I had the view that, at a certain stage—I still hold it—it might be still better in Cyprus. But for the present Dr. Perez-Guerrero and his colleagues are in New York and think that is the better place, and, of course, with the Special Assembly starting, it is the centre.
That is where, many people thought when I returned from New York, the Foreign Secretary ought to be, not just for a flying visit and to make one speech, and then flying back, but staying and discussing and negotiating for days, if necessary for weeks—using the United Nations, in fact, as it was intended to be used, in the way in which it was used when Ernie Bevin was Foreign Secretary, and not as the "fifth wheel of the diplomatic coach", to use the phrase of General Smuts; not a place where diplomats acting on instructions meet, but the place where principals meet who can take decisions, make concessions, commit their Governments and work fast.
The problem of Aden and South Arabia is precisely the kind of problem the United Nations was designed to settle, a problem involving not just Britain and peoples hitherto subject to us, but also vitally involving neighbouring countries—Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Yemen—and many other countries who are affected, because of oil, because of international communications and because of the threat to world peace which that area will be if it remains unsettled when we go out.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Sandys (Streatham)
After all the acrimonious arguments which we have had over the past year I was almost stunned by the Foreign Secretary's statement. Once or twice I thought I was listening to myself. In one major respect the package he announced does not go far enough, but in almost all other respects he has belatedly decided to do exactly what we have long been pressing him to do. At long last the Government have had second thoughts.
It seems that the right hon. Gentleman has now decided to stop running after our enemies, and is going to try, for a change, to work with our friends. He did not tell us today, as he did in our last debate, how proud he was to be able to claim Colonel Nasser as his friend. He must have been mighty proud of his friend during these last few weeks.
The right hon. Gentleman also appears to have abandoned his futile attempt to pass the buck to the United Nations. At last he is allowing the Federal Government to introduce their new Constitution which the right hon. Gentleman has been holding up for months for fear of displeasing the United Nations Mission. While efforts to broaden the Government will continue with the full co-operation of the Federal Ministers, the Foreign Secretary now evidently accepts that it is the Federal Government, and none other, to whom Britain will hand over on independence. Hitherto the right hon. Gentleman has assumed that the terrorists, because they labelled themselves nationalists, were the only true representatives of the people. Because the Federal Government have been loyal to Britain, he has treated them as stooges to be snubbed, ignored and, if necessary, discarded. I assume that he will now give the Federal Government his full support and help them to build up their authority, which he has done so much to undermine.
In one way or another, law and order must be restored in Aden, and very quickly. The present situation must not be allowed to drift on until the eve of independence. Britain cannot decently hand over to a successor Government a 1179 country in a state of anarchy. If the right hon. Gentleman intends to stick to his time-table for independence early next year—with which I am in general agreement—there is no time to be lost.
The first task is to gain the co-operation of the population of Aden. Most of them long for peace and security. Many are in a position to give the police vital information about terrorist activities. But they naturally hesitated to do so as long as they saw that the British Government were playing with both sides. How could we expect people to take the risk of exposing Egyptian agents, while the right hon. Gentleman was writing letters to Nasser? How could anyone believe that the British authorities meant business, when they failed to bring to trial men who had been caught red-handed committing murder, and when they allowed terrorist organisations to march through the streets of Aden carrying banners and firearms? I, therefore, warmly welcome the decision to suspend trial by jury, which I have been pressing the Government to do for a long time. Apart from bringing murderers to justice it will, I believe, have an excellent psychological effect. It will show that, at last, terrorism is being tackled seriously.
I assume that the introduction of the new Constitution and the consequent merger of Aden with the Federation will have the effect of transferring responsibility for law and order to the Federal authorities. I hope that in his reply the Minister of State will clarify that point. I asked the Foreign Secretary about it, but he did not seem to know. I cannot believe that in taking these important decisions the Government did not consider the effect upon the responsibility for internal security in Aden of merging Aden with the Federation. If I am correct in that assumption, then I am sure that the Federal Government will justify the confidence which the right hon. Gentleman is placing in them. If only he had acted sooner, the lives of many of our soldiers and their families might have been saved.
The Foreign Secretary now also seems to realise that, even if internal order were restored, it would be of little value, if the country were to be left without the means of defending itself against 1180 external attack. He sought to justify the Government's refusal to conclude a formal defence agreement on the ludicrous ground, which he has repeated on several occasions, that this would not be compatible with true independence. In our debate on 20th March the right hon. Gentleman said that the conclusion of a defence agreement, by casting doubt on South Arabia's genuine independence, would almost certainly preclude the international recognition of the new State. That is complete nonsense. Has the world refused to recognise the independence of Malaysia, with whom we have a defence agreement, or of Singapore, where we have a great military base? I know that the Foreign Secretary says that there is no parallel, but I cannot accept that. Did the United Nations deny membership to Malta, because she retained a British garrison? To come nearer to the Arab world, did Kuwait's defence agreement with Britain prevent her from being accepted by the Arab League? Why should South Arabia be embarrassed by a defence agreement any more than these other States?
The Foreign Secretary's statement today has, of course, completely exploded his own argument. While there is to be no bilateral contract, he has entered into a military commitment, which does not fall far short of a formal defence agreement. He has promised aid to South Arabia in the event of military aggression. I hope that the phrase will not be too strictly interpreted. In my view the most likely form of aggression would be of the guerrilla type. It would almost certainly start with the infiltration of forces from the so-called Liberation Army, numbering several thousand, which are being trained for this purpose by the Egyptians in the Yemen. I believe that Nasser's tactics against South Arabia would probably be much the same as Sukarno's tactics against Malaysia. If our agreement with Malaysia had been tightly restricted to defence against military aggression, our aid could not have been invoked, and the whole of Sarawak and Sabah would have been swallowed up by Indonesia. Now that the Government have come round to the view that British protection is necessary, they will, I hope, recognise that in practice this may involve ground as well as air operations.
1181 Incidentally, at a time when there are universal feelings of compassion for the Arab refugees, it would not be out of place to spare a little sympathy for the Arabs in the Yemen who are being attacked by their fellow Arabs with poison gas. I join my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in asking the Government to tell us what they are doing to stop this abomination. There is no doubt that they ought to raise this matter at once at the United Nations, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will take this up himself in New York.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has rejected the view, held by some, that the external threat has largely disappeared as a result of the defeat of Egypt in the war with Israel. Those who take that view are making a totally false assessment of Nasser's likely reactions. Having suffered a devastating humiliation, he will grasp at every opportunity to rebuild his shattered prestige. After the annihilation of most of his armed forces, he can no longer contemplate any large-scale military operations. He is therefore likely to concentrate on those prizes which may be won by subversion and propaganda. With Aden already reduced to near-anarchy by his terrorist agents and with an Egyptian-trained Liberation Army ready to invade from the Yemen, South Arabia is the obvious target. Others would do the fighting. If they won, he could claim the credit. If they failed, he could avoid the blame. I do not, therefore, believe that the need for British protection has in any way been reduced as a result of the recent war.
I said that there was one major aspect in which the Foreign Secretary's package does not go far enough. It concerns the closing of the Aden base. Quite apart from our duty to South Arabia, is this really the moment to abandon our position in Aden, just when the whole of the Middle East is in turmoil? Is it not clear that, once we have pulled out of Aden, our bases in the Gulf, which the Government are busy enlarging, will become militarily and politically untenable? Is this the time to reduce our influence in the Arabian Peninsula, just when Russia is openly endeavouring to turn the Arab world into a Soviet sphere of influence?
1182 The Russians have backed a loser. They now have to decide whether to double up their stakes and try again or whether to co-operate with the West in finding a lasting solution to the problems of the Middle East. The Governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait will also have to reappraise their position. They will have to decide whether to confirm their unholy alliance with Nasser who, as they well know, is out to destroy them, or whether to work patiently for the economic progress of their peoples, which requires a period of peace and stability.
At a moment when these vital decisions hang in the balance, it really makes no sense for Britain gratuitiously to throw in her hand and renounce any power she has to influence events in this area. I hope that on this wider issue the Government will also think again before it is too late. But I do not wish to press them now. I think that the concessions made by the Foreign Secretary are about as much as we can expect in one day.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lee (Reading)
I do not propose to follow the right hon. Member for Sreatham (Mr. Sandys), if for no other reason than that, between his views and mine, there is such a wide gulf that I do not suppose that any interchange between us would be of benefit either to one or the other. I am grateful to his career in many respects, however, because it was his activities as Minister of Defence years ago which turned me into a nuclear disarmer.
I found the speech of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary disappointing for many reasons. The first reason is that it will do much to undo the work he has been doing during the last fortnight. I have criticised his policy on many occasions but during the last fortnight I have felt in the happy position of being able to approach him and to say how much I have appreciated the work he has been doing. I am pleased to be able to say this again on the Floor of the House—as it were, in open court.
But I cannot help feeling that what my right hon. Friend has said today is going to make his task of reconciliation in the Near East that much more difficult. I think that he is bound to find the job more difficult because he is going to infuriate the nationalist element, possibly 1183 to a point whereby there will be no further chance of reconciliation with it.
Secondly, I thought, after the defence debate earlier this year, when so many of us found ourselves unable to support the Government in the Lobby, that we were beginning to see a bit of sense in relation to the burdens of defence expenditure. But now we have come to a situation in which a Minister concedes the need for extra expenditure. He puts it at £10 million but, of course, from the very nature of the undertakings that he has given South Arabia—they are openended—I have no doubt that, if the policy contained in his statement is pursued, the extra burden that will be borne by the taxpayers through defence expenditure will be a great deal more than £10 million.
Of course, hon. Members opposite will no doubt be pleased. They are no doubt mindful of the fact that the post-war Labour Government were brought down, if brought down by anything, by excessive expenditure which both enfeebled our economy and divided the Labour Party. Since the Opposition have no other means of getting back into office that they can think of, they are quite prepared to see the British economy enfeebled. That is understandable. It is their job to try to climb back to office, but it is not our job to help them. Yet my right hon. Friend's statement, with its subsidy to the Government of the so-called South Arabian Federation, is going to do just that.
Listening to my right hon. Friend and to others, I am also mindful that this is one of the last of our imperial responsibilities that we are winding up. I am mindful that this is one of those occasions when I feel rather divided because, as an ex-member of the Colonial Service—I was proud to serve for some years in West Africa—I could see at close quarters the useful service which British Colonial servants could give on the ground. There has always been a conflict between the useful work done day to day by the British authorities on the ground in the Colonies and the astonishing pattern of folly and stupidity pursued at high level by Governments of both parties and by the higher echelons of administration.
We should be laying Lord Lugard's ghost. I want to refer to him for a 1184 minute of two. He was one of the three most significant figures in our nineteenth century imperial rôle in Africa. The other two were David Livingstone, who was, I suppose, a saint, and the other was Cecil Rhodes, the precursor of the great train robbers.
Lord Lugard was a man of great distinction but one legacy he left behind was the system of indirect rule. It was adopted not only in Africa but in other colonial territories as well. It was adopted because the administration on the strength of the Colonial Office was so small compared with its responsibilities. Unfortunately, what was originally a policy born of necessity became a kind of obsession with the Colonial Office.
What we have done in the last stages of colonial administration has been to shore up traditional authority wherever it was, however undemocratic and however incompetent. This has almost always had the same results. We gave independence in Zanzibar to a Sultanate which collapsed in just over a month after independence was granted. We gave indepence to Nigeria, leaving the Emirate system in Northern Nigeria untouched. We know what is happenning there now.
We tried to do the same thing in Uganda and there was the rift between Buganda and the rest of the country. We attempted it to some extent in Rhodesia, with Barotseland, but this attempt was squashed. We are doing exactly the same thing with the High Commission Territories in South Africa. We have given independence to undemocratic Lesotho and we are going to give independence to equally undemocratic Swaziland in a few months' time.
In Aden, the pattern is exactly the same. We have married together, in a shotgun marriage, a conglomeration of undemocratic States, lumped them with the town of Aden; given them an elaborate written Constitution, and expected them to work together. So far as I can see, the effect of that will be merely to ensure that the Arab nationalists will speed up their campaign of terror, because they will consider themselves to have been cheated.
At the same time, there will be no protection provided for the sheikhs whom we will have left behind, unless the Government are to go on providing military and 1185 financial assistance to snore them up year after year, even though we cannot really afford it, and even though the only ultimate effect of our doing so will be to make it more and more apparent—to the nationalist movements in other territories, if that were necessary—that they are nothing more or less than our stooges.
They themselves can hardly be blamed for accepting assistance—for not looking a gift horse in the mouth—but we will do them no service. In the end, the sheikhs of the Federation will find themselves in the same pathetic situation as the Sultan of Zanzibar—probably exiled, if they are lucky enough to get away in time. I take no pleasure in that, I am not suggesting that we should be contemptuous of them. They are products of the historical situation that we have allowed to grow up there. The fact remains that, by putting them into this Federation and calling it an independent country, we will only make more certain their eventual destruction.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles (Winchester)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves this point, is he suggesting that the successors to the Sultan of Zanzibar have improved law and order, or improved the lot of the man in the street in Zanzibar?
§ Mr. Lee
I am not suggesting that at all. I am not suggesting that winding up imperial rule is easy. All that I am saying is that to shore up traditional authorities in this way is an absolutely certain prescription for humiliating failure, and that in the last analysis, the people who will suffer most are not only the people of the territories but the unfortunate rulers, whom we have saddled in this position.
British colonial rule has gone through about three different stages, if one looks at the history of the last hundred years. We started, I suppose it was understandable, working on the assumption that we had all the time in the world to prepare the way for independence. This was an idea which was largely extinguished at the end of the Second World War, and with the independence of India. However, as Lord Colyton reminded us when he said that Cyprus would never be inde- 1186 pendent, this was not entirely disbelieved by the Conservatives even then.
The second phase was when we realised that we had to think in terms of independence within at any rate a finite period of time. We still did not realise that the forces of nationalism were as strong as they were. People began to think in terms of 20 or 30 years before independence. Hon. Members will remember Dr. Azikiwe coming to this country in 1947 and asking for early independence. Although he was not to realise it, and neither was anyone else, Nigeria was indeed to get independence within 13 years.
Even at that time, British administrators all over the world were thinking in much longer terms. If this question of providing independence for a territory was a wholly technical matter, and could be considered outside the scope of the world power game, there is much for saying—and I want to choose my words carefully—that we have indeed given independence to a number of territories before they were ready for it, in the sense that there were large numbers of people who were illiterate, the Civil Service was small, the tasks they had to perform extensive, and the problems enormous. In many cases, it is most sadly true that the territories themselves were barely fused together. As we have seen in a number of instances, Nigeria being the latest, there has been a tragic tendency for them to fly apart, with the most violent consequences.
It may be that if there were no outside world, a steady and gentle progression to independence in Aden would be a reasonable policy to pursue, but I still do not think that this is compatible with propping up traditional authorities which have, for the most part, a vested interest in preventing the growth of democracy. There have been some very able traditional administrators in various parts of the world. One's mind goes back to Tschekedi Khama, who undoubtedly was a traditional leader of great standing, autocratic, but a man of considerable ability.
Such people are rare, and there is certainly nothing to suggest that there is anyone of that calibre among the sheikdoms of the South Arabian Federation. When the second stage, the leisurely granting of independence, was finally abandoned, 1187 what has followed in most cases—and both parties have pursued much the same policy—is that the upsurge of nationalism became so great that no one, except perhaps the Monday Club, could ignore it. Then there has been a crash programme to independence. The task of preparing the groundwork, and seeing that there was a viable economy, even at a low level, of seeing that there was an effective Civil Service and a constitution that would be workable and acceptable, has had to be telescoped into a very short period of time indeed.
That is exactly what has happened in Aden. No one was thinking of independence in terms of any foreseeable period before 1955. By 1959 we moved into the stage of this Federation, and by 1963 there came this incongruous association of the Colony of Aden with the Protectorate and the sheikhdoms. Here we are now facing independence within a few months, and yet not one sheikhdom has any form of franchise whatever. At the same time, within the Colony of Aden, the existing franchise is to be extended, quite laudably, so that one has a democracy in one part of the Federation, and no democracy in the other. Yet we are expecting these two parts to function harmoniously together. Even if there were no F.L.O.S.Y. and N.L.F., it is hardly to be expected that this could really function.
§ The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Thomson)
To prevent misunderstanding, the proposed new Constitution will provide universal franchise for men and women, both in Aden, and the States in the Protectorate.
§ Mr. Lee
I am very pleased to hear that, but when is this to take place? Is there any guarantee that this will be done after we leave? This is the crux of the matter. All over the ex-colonial territories there are paper constitutions, elaborately worked out and rapidly torn up, by all kinds of people, Right and Left alike. Is there any guarantee that, when we go, the sheikhdoms and traditional authorities of Aden will honour the pledge, bearing in mind that they have nothing to gain and everything to lose by conceding the democratic principle?
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
Can the hon. Gentleman name any country in the Middle East or Africa where democracy as we know it exists today?
§ Mr. Lee
That was answered by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme). I see no reason why we should not try it. What we are doing here is to hand over an unenfranchised body of people to a third party, who has an interest in preventing those people enjoying political rights, knowing perfectly well that once we are gone, although we give military assistance to prop up the States, we are in no position to insure that in time they will advance those peoples towards the democracy that we believe in.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I do not think that I will follow the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee) on the effect of the ghost of Lord Lugard on the present situation. I am sure that it will be well written in a magazine, and we look forward to reading at an appropriate moment. At this moment, the General Assembly of the United Nations is meeting and the Russians have launched a furious verbal attack on the State of Israel. It is therefore only appropriate that we should do something to try to elevate the debate a little above the level to which it has fallen.
There are welcome conversions to common sense by members of the Front Bench opposite. I concede that they have had difficulties. We remember what happened over Bahrain. They have had difficulties with the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew). They will have difficulties with their own Left-wing. But what they have proposed today falls way below the level of events. They are not taking a realistic view of the situation in the Middle East. [AN HON. MEMBER: "You want the earth."] We do want the earth when there is a world crisis. The important thing is that the Government should be clear about what they mean.
The trouble over the last few weeks has been the total lack of clarity by the 1189 Government in making various statements. There has been a lack of clarity over Israel and the Arabs. There has been a lack of clarity in the statement made today and the commitment of the people of this country in relation to the South Arabian Federation. Therefore, although I can welcome this conversion of the Government, who are almost morally extinct, if they are not on their physical deathbed, their statement arouses difficulties not merely among their disillusioned supporters, but among those of us who believe that it is necessary that there should be a policy in the Middle East and in that part of it where we have some influence.
This absence of clarity over the last few weeks can be pinpointed by reference to a few other matters. There was, first, the speech by the Prime Minister, made without any consultation, about the great force which he would send to the Straits of Tiran. Not only did it do damage, but it was impractical. There was the speech only the other night by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs about Israel's frontiers. That did damage. There was the totally ill-considered speech by the Prime Minister about oil. The trouble about hon. Members opposite is that they love to get into positions in which they appear dominant to the television audience, but obviously they have no effect. If they have any effect outside this country, it is against the national interest.
The effort to widen the base of local government in the area of the Middle East where we have some influence has failed again and again for the simple reason that the local politicians were not certain about whether we would support them after independence. They cannot yet be certain. Secondly, because of the extraordinary Government policy on defence, we have this impracticable concept of redeployment in the Gulf. Naturally, the sheikhdoms wanted to reinsure, and they have reinsured. Then there is our attitude to King Faisal and to the Royalists in the Yemen. There is our attitude to the desecration of human life by the use of poison gas by the Egyptians in the Yemen. Not a finger is raised against that by hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker) said that he has just returned from the United Nations. I 1190 hope that in one of the secret talks which he had with U Thant he pointed out the feeling of many hon. Members about this type of thing.
The policy in the Middle East has been the pin in the grenade. If one pulls out the pin of a hand grenade, one gets an explosion. If we fool about with the defence of an area, there is the danger of a premature explosion. We have had a premature explosion, in no small way caused by the vacillation of the British Government. It has had its effects in Sinai and in the mountains of Galilee. We have seen how disastrous this has been for the Nasserite cause. Perhaps it is now becoming more apparent to the Egyptian people.
We still have in the Middle East—and undoubtedly the United Nations will whip this up—a miasma of hysteria in which clearly the Great Powers have failed. The Prime Minister, who takes so graciously upon himself this rôle of world statesman, can have some influence on events by being firm and tough over Aden. This he has singularly failed to do—whether it be in Vietnam, whether it be between Israel and Egypt, whether it be almost anywhere in the world or perhaps even in Paris today. Apart from his great poses, his influence has become less and less.
I go as far as my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) and say that the Government, in view of their talks and new proposals to the Government of the South Arabian Federation, should negotiate a deal for remaining in the Aden base. What they have proposed today is a very strange hotchpotch of improbable arrangements. There is the arrangement concerning the eight Arab aeroplanes for which there are no pilots. There is no discussion of the ground environment necessary to make these aeroplanes effective. There is talk of Masirah and the V-bombers to be stationed there. This is in addition to the bases which we are building up in Bahrain. There is talk of this enormous quantity of arms which are to be given to troops who are not necessarily well enough trained to use them. There is talk of a great task force to lie off somewhere in the broiling sun, if it be summer, for six months—a commando carrier or a carrier with aircraft on it.
1191 All this, from the military point of view, is rather impracticable. It would have been much easier to reach a simple agreement for the retention of the base by which we could have the facilities and workshops available for keeping our troops and aircraft in active condition rather than spread and disperse military forces for a limited time.
The Government could and should today have gone much further. I believe that they should have made a much clearer statement of their intentions. They should have made the simple statement that they were prepared to enter into a defence agreement with the new Government when Aden becomes independent at the beginning of next year. That would get rid of all the absurd military arrangements which hon. Members on both sides know will add immensely to expense, will not impress our enemies very much, and certainly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham said, will not deal with much the most likely form of subversion, namely, the type of guerrilla activity which Sukarno launched against our positions in the Far East.
I say these things because I believe that we are at a critical juncture in our affairs. It is not a question of looking back to Lugard or what the United Nations did. We have seen a major reverse, not for the Arab cause, but for the Nasserite cause and the "philosophy of revolution" which Colonel Nasser has preached for so long.
We have seen a major reverse for the Soviet Union in its efforts to build up that Nasserite expansion. This surely is a moment when there is a chance that, if we are firm in the one small area where we have power, we may stop expansion of the type which Russia is evidently trying in the horn of Africa for control of the Red Sea and which Nasser set out quite clearly in his statement on the philosophy of revolution in Africa.
§ Mr. Fraser
No. The hon. Member talked far too long.
Aden is the one place where the Government, by a clearer and firmer indication that they will give a defence agreement, could do much more than they have 1192 done this afternoon in their vacillating statement, to make certain that those who want to disrupt the Middle East, to disrupt Africa and to disrupt our interests will be prevented from so doing.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I will come presently to some of the statements of the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser), but first I would like to revert to one of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) and to a matter which was referred to earlier by the Leader of the Opposition. That is, the question of what representations should be made about the use of poison gas by the Egyptian forces in the Yemen.
I am in full agreement with the right hon. Member for Streatham and others who have said that the British Government should make every representation that is open to them, either at the United Nations or elsewhere, to express the horror of the people of this country and of this House that that weapon should have been used in the Yemen. We denounce it unreservedly. I hope that the Government have already made representations along those lines since the report was made by the International Red Cross and I hope that they will continue to press the matter.
We regard, however, the representations of the right hon. Member for Streatham on the matter as being hypocrisy in the first degree. We have never heard any word from the right hon. Gentleman that I can recall protesting against the even more fiendish weapons which are used by our allies the United States in Vietnam. We have never had representations from members of the party opposite, as far as I can recall, protesting in the same terms as I am asking for protests to be made against the use of poison gas in the Yemen.
I hope, therefore, that not only the right hon. Member for Streatham, but all other hon. Members opposite who may feel urged to protest about Egyptian methods in the Yemen, will consider their own conduct and their own failure to denounce the methods used in Vietnam before they raise this matter afresh. Many more people have been killed by far more brutal and indiscriminate methods 1193 by our ally in Vietnam than by the Egyptians in the Yemen. I hope that this puts the matter in proper perspective.
I certainly do not justify not merely the use of poison gas but Egyptian operations in the Yemen. I hope, however, that it will also be understood by anyone who wishes to understand the situation in South Arabia that the origin of the fighting in the Yemen is not solely a question of invasion from Egypt. There was a revolution in the Yemen. There are republican forces in the Yemen. There are people—Arabs—in the Yemen who are seeking to carry out the same revolt against feudal or royalist authorities as is happening in many other parts of the Arabian peninsula. What Nasser and Egypt have done in the Yemen, whether we think rightly or wrongly, is to support forces of what they regard as Egyptian nationalism and republican revolt in the Yemen.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Is the hon. Member aware that of the original Cabinet of President Sallal in the Yemen, which was put into office after the revolution, every one except Sallal is either in prison in Egypt, has been killed, or is in prison in the Yemen?
§ Mr. Foot
Had the hon. Member listened more carefully, he would have heard me say that I did not justify the operations of Egypt in the Yemen. I was merely saying and underlining the fact, which it is necessary for this House to appreciate if we are to understand affairs in the Arabian peninsula at all, that the origin of the matter in the Yemen was a revolt. That the hon. Member cannot deny. What has happened subsequently is a different question.
I was saying that the origin of the war in the Yemen is not an invasion by Egypt of the Yemen. It is a revolution in the Yemen. That fact cannot be contested. It puts the fighting there in a somewhat different perspective from the views given by some hon. Members who have spoken on this matter.
I come now to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. During recent days, when the war was raging between Israel and the Arab countries and when my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made a series of statements on the subject in this House, I 1194 congratulated him because of the attitude that he took. I thought, and I still believe, that his sole intention was to stop the bloodshed and to seek a lasting and permanent settlement in the Middle East. I said that then and I repeat it now. I believe that that is the desire of the Government in their attitude towards the general negotiations for a settlement in the Middle East.
The Government, so far from deserving the strictures which were put upon them by the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone, deserve congratulations for the efforts which they made during the week of the fighting to stop the bloodshed, which was the most urgent task of all. Therefore, I do not withdraw one word of the congratulations, if the Government want any from me, which I gave them on that occasion.
I hope, however, that that adds force to the fact that certainly I, and, I believe, many of my hon. Friends, feel a great sense of shock at the statement made by the Government today. I would like to explain to the Government why I am of that opinion and why I cannot accept the view which is stated by hon. Members opposite. The right hon. Member for Streatham, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) have a right to rejoice. They have a right to say that the Government have conceded their demands in great degree. The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone is not quite satisfied, but most of the programme of right hon. and hon. Members opposite has been adopted. There are some emendations, but most of it has been accepted. Therefore, the Government cannot expect that those of us who supported them strongly in some of the previous Aden debates can be similarly enthusiastic about this policy.
We supported the previous policy. We do not support this one. Why should we? Right hon. and hon. Members opposite claim it as a great triumph that the Government have come to their view in these matters. If the policy of right hon. and hon. Members opposite about Aden or South Arabia had been so persistently successful in years gone by, had they been able to say that they left a harmonious situation in South Arabia and that they had left to the 1195 present Government a position in Aden in which everything was going successfully or pointing in the right direction, they would have some right to their triumph, beyond the fact that they are able to say that the Government have been converted.
We know, however, that that was not the situation. What the party opposite left as their legacy was a desperate situation. They left a constitutional arrangement which will never work, as the Leader of the Liberal Party rightly says, and from which I hoped that the Government were retreating. I hoped that the Government's policy was by reasonable and decent methods to seek to discharge our obligation to people with whom we had made agreements in South Arabia to the best of the nation's ability but still guiding them towards a different constitutional settlement.
As far as I can see, however, the Government have committed themselves to very much the same constitutional settlement as was accepted by hon. Members opposite. This is the core of our opposition to that policy. We never thought that that Constitution would work, for the very reasons which the Leader of the Liberal Party has given. It has not worked and it shows no sign of working. Right from the beginning until now it has not shown any signs of commanding the allegiance of the main nationalist forces in Aden. Why should we be converted into believing that it will have a chance now?
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite want to justify their past and say that they were right all along, but we are not convinced by their arguments and never will be, because we do not think that the idea of amalgamating these territories together in an artificial Federation is likely to survive. I agree with the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) that, in a few months or a few years, after the process has been gone through of departing from the area, if we ever go through with it, the Federation will fall apart or will be torn apart. I had hoped that the Government were seeking other methods to try and escape from the situation.
What were the other methods? The principal method by which the Government were seeking to escape from the 1196 hopeless dilemmas in which they had been left by their predecessors was through the agency of the United Nations. When right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, with their pathological hatred of the United Nations, seized upon this as another occasion on which to denounce that organisation after the visit of the delegation to Aden, many of us came to these debates specifically to support the Government in carrying through the United Nations policy on the matter. That was our aim. The Government had the fullest backing from us, and they were subjected to fierce attacks from the Opposition. Now that the Opposition are supporting the Government enthusiastically, they cannot expect support from us.
What is the part which the United Nations delegation now plays in this process and programme which the Government have outlined to us today? What opportunity has the United Nations for giving its view on these measures? Were these proposals accepted by the United Nations? Were they ever put forward to the Secretary-General in any form to obtain his views about them? I should like to know the exact terms in which the proposals were ever discussed with representatives at the United Nations, and what was the response. If we did not go through this process, what do we expect the United Nations to do? Do we expect them to come forward and give general support to the Government, and say that they think that the programme is right? That would be a very strange development, because we were still awaiting the conclusions of the United Nations delegation on its visit to the area. Yet, in the midst of that situation, when the Government said that they relied on the United Nations Charter for an escape from their dilemmas, they had taken action which removed the United Nations from the scene. I should like a detailed answer from the Government about what they expect.
Presumably, the delegation can give its views on this matter, though I am not sure of the constitutional position. But, supposing the matter is discussed at the General Assembly and those who set up the delegation say that they wish to recall the matter and have further discussion about it, and then a different verdict is reached? What is the Government's position?
1197 It would have been much wiser, particularly on the part of a Government who were placing some reliance on the use of United Nations forces in the matter, if they had concluded these questions knowing the views of the United Nations before producing the statement to the House, rather than afterwards. There seems to be some hoodoo on the Government's timing about Aden.
After 1964, the Government had the wise idea of seeking an accommodation with President Nasser and the Government of the United Arab Republic. I know that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are so obsessed with their memories of 1956 that they would not dream of discussing the matter, but that was the view of the Government and of many intelligent observers of the Middle East. The Government decided to make this approach but, unfortunately, on the very day that my right hon. Friend set foot in Cairo, someone in London suspended the Aden Constitution. It was not the fault of my right hon. Friend that the negotiations did not work. His position was made impossible. What happened was that the Government's action about the Constitution of Aden upset any prospect of general negotiations with President Nasser and the U.A.R. That is what happened then, and it is what will happen again.
What the Government have done is to take action about Aden which will now upset the possibility of more general negotiations, and that is my final reason for believing that the Government have been unwise in rushing forward with this step at this time. They would have been wiser to have waited, even for two or three weeks.
Everyone has gone through something like a politically traumatic experience in the last few weeks. As a result, everyone has to look at the Middle East and its effects on world affairs and readjust his ideas. It is unwise for people to say that the whole situation in the Middle East can be solidified in the next few days. It is more likely to be in weeks or months that people will come to take a wiser outlook on these matters, and that affects Aden as well as the general situation.
In the midst of general discussions about the future of the Middle East affect- 1198 ing frontiers, constitutions, South Arabia, and the rest, for the Government to say that they will settle the Aden Constitution roughly on the lines recommended a few years ago by the right hon. Member for Streatham and hope that the rest of the world will accept that as our contribution to the Middle Eastern settlement, for a start, seems a very strange way of going about the whole proceeding.
Right hon. Gentlemen opposite—and there are some others in this House—cannot speak in moderate terms about dealing with these matters, because they have something pathologically wrong with them whenever President Nasser's name is mentioned. We know the reason why they feel it. Many others feel it as well. However, it is unwise for this country not to recognise the status of President Nasser in the Arab World. If we want peace, and the stakes are so high that that must be the paramount aim, whether we like it or not we had better understand that President Nasser represents forces in the Arab world which are much more powerful than some of those people to whom we have been selling arms on such a prodigious scale.
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite who dislike the idea of President Nasser's name being mentioned without the paraphernalia of insult and innuendo which they attach to it perhaps will accept these words from someone who knows more about the Middle East than any of them. They were used in an interview at the weekend:I have great respect for Nasser. Nasser is a patriot who wants to do something for Egypt. We should make an effort to talk with him.That was a statement made by David Ben-Gurion in an interview with Bernard Ulmann, of Agence France Presse.
I do not suppose that anyone will jeer at Ben-Gurion for saying that. It was very courageous and, I think, very wise of him to say it. Certainly it was very much wiser than most of the comments which we have heard from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. Those are the thoughts of someone who lives in the area and who wishes to protect his country. He knows President Nasser, and he knows that it is unwise for people who wish to see a settlement in the 1199 Middle East to engage in this xenophobic rage about President Nasser—
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
In fairness to Ben-Gurion, was not the point that he was making—and one with which I think we all agree—that Nasser might be all right in Egypt, and he should be kept there?
§ Mr. Foot
What hon. Gentlemen opposite suggest—and what my hon. and learned Friend, I believe, on some occasions has suggested—is that Nasser is a Hitlerian force who wishes to sweep across the whole of the Middle East and garner it into his own corner. This is different from what a much greater expert than my hon. and learned Friend has said, and this is why I quoted him. What has been said by David Ben-Gurion about how we should negotiate with, and recognise, the force in the Middle East is much wiser advice than that which the Government have received during the afternoon from hon. Gentlemen opposite who have been so largely responsible for bedevilling the position in the Middle East, and in particular bedevilling the possibility of our establishing better relations with the most powerful force in the Arab world. The Government should not rejoice because they have had such loudmouthed support from some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. They should, instead, be warned by it, because they will have to come back again with a different policy on several matters.
In a few weeks they will have to come back and tell us the opinion of the United Nations on this matter, and whether they are going to abide by it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) rightly argued, they will, in a few months, have to change their policy about building up other bases in the same area. They will have to come back in a few months partly because of our own domestic problems, defence problems, and problems of our defence burden. The Government are deeply committed to cutting this country's defence burden to bring it into con- 1200 formity with our capacity to operate it, and we are in favour of doing that partly because we believe that it will relieve our economic position and make us truly independent, but also because we believe that it could make a real contribution to the Government's status and influence in the Middle East if it were done intelligently.
Instead of that, the Government have once again succumbed to the pressures of the old influences, the Foreign Office, and the Defence Services. It is no use their saying that they have not changed. Everybody in the House can see it, everybody in the country will be able to see it. It is not a change for the better. It is a change from a policy which had a chance of working to the adoption of a policy which has failed, not merely over months, but over years. What we are trying to do in the Middle East is to collect the pieces after the crash which these people engineered, and instead of the Government saying, "Let us try to have a new settlement in the Middle East", they are saying, "Let us go back to the old settlement". They will never be able to go back to the old settlement in the Middle East and the sooner they make up their minds to that fact the sooner they can liberate not merely themselves but this country from the bondage in which they were left by right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Dodds-Parker (Cheltenham)
One of the many charms of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) is that, in the 20 years during which I have listened to him, his polemics have often been directed to his own Front Bench. If there is a mess in this country, it stems from 1947 when he was a Member of the House, but as far as I know he did not vote against the Government on this issue at that time.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the record he will see that I voted against the Government on the Palestine Bill.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker
I am glad to have that correction, but the hon. Gentleman was one of the relatively few who did. If there is a source of the trouble in the Middle East during the last 20 years, it is the then Government's over-hurried 1201 withdrawal from Palestine in 1947. Most of the hon. Gentleman's speech reminded me of a middle nineteenth century Liberal, from which he has his origins, with the free-for-all in which he found something in common with the present leader of the Liberal Party.
I think that this afternoon the Secretary of State went a considerable way towards meeting the points which we have made for the past 18 months. I think that he meant in passing to pay a tribute to Sir Richard Turnbull, the last High Commissioner and all the members of the administration who have dedicated themselves to the welfare of the people in South Arabia. They have to live with these problems month after month, and do not only make speeches on the occasions when these matters are before the public. They are going through a very difficult time.
One point of principle which I believe the Attlee Government used to maintain—and I supported them—was that self-government within the Commonwealth meant help in defence against outside aggression and subversion, even if it was not in a formal treaty. Indeed, the fact that this was not covered by a formal treaty was what we felt the Commonwealth was all about, and I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate he will confirm that the Commonwealth still stands for this.
I raised this matter at Question Time not long ago, because this is of prime importance not only in South Arabia, but in the Commonwealth as a whole. In India in 1962, in Kuwait, and in Malaysia, in the Arabian world and in the Asian one, they expected that membership of the Commonwealth meant, ipso facto, defence against outside aggression and subversion. I hope that in the next policy change, which is bound to come, the Secretary of State will reaffirm that the policy towards the Commonwealth remains that adopted by the Tory Administration, namely, that we defend each other, because I believe that Australia and other countries in Asia are watching this most carefully.
I believe that there is an unwritten agreement on defence—and there are, of course, also written treaties—and this is why many Commonwealth countries are wondering whether Britain intends to try to defend these treaties, and whether she 1202 will have the bases and the weapons—and reference has been made today to aircraft carriers—without which she cannot carry out her commitments.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker
I do, and I think that she will ask to join the Commonwealth when the time comes. I cannot believe that this Administration will deny her the right to do so.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker
No different from the Defence Estimate which was presented by the last Tory Government. I think that within the alliance with the United Nations and with other members of the Commonwealth that was as far as we could go, provided that other people thought we had the intention of defending them, as they found in Malaysia.
This Government said, "Leave it to the United Nations". I have always given strong support to bringing in the United Nations as far as possible, but after what happened in the Gaza Strip can many hon. Members think that we can risk leaving this to the United Nations? There was a precipitate withdrawal, without reference to the General Assembly which, as far as I know, sponsored the United Nations Emergency Force. If there had been a demand to hang on even for a few days that might have made a great deal of difference to the situation in the Middle East at the moment.
Coming more narrowly to the Bill, I, too, welcome it. I welcome the transfer of power, and send my best wishes to Sir Humphrey Trevelyan who has taken over. His great experience in the United Nations, and with the Arabs, Asians, and Russians, will be of prime importance in future negotiations. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House, as well as 1203 many people overseas, admire his approach and what he has achieved.
Until today I had grave doubts about the circumstances and timing of the transfer of power. The circumstances have been improved by the defence statement—which is what it amounted to—of the Foreign Secretary this afternoon, but my doubts are not entirely removed. Within months our new policy may show a result, particularly in the Yemen. An all-out war against a backward people has been carried on there without sufficient protest in this House or elsewhere.
I was glad when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition mentioned the use of gas. Many Members have spent years trying to get certain types of weapons outlawed. Gas, for one, has been outlawed by the Geneva Convention, and we ought to make a particular point of protesting about its use in the Yemen. It is a factor which is helping to frighten the people in South Arabia. They are hearing horrific stories coming from the Yemen about the new types of gas being used. It is extraordinary that the entire Arab world, except for the Saudis, should be unconcerned about the use of gas. It is a hypocritical disregard of the true interests of the people there—it surely cannot be because it has been used by Arab against Arab?
I hope that the Minister of State will be able to tell us why the International Red Cross has been so long in telling us what has been going on in the Yemen. Information has been supplied for years by the Yemen Relief Committee on what had been going on particularly over gas, but only recently have we been able to get the International Red Cross and Her Majesty's Government to take an interest—and we hope that in due course we shall also be able to persuade the United Nations to do so. It is disgraceful that this delay should have taken place in trying to discover the truth and bring it to public attention.
As I said, the timing of the proposals has been improved by the Foreign Secretary's statement this afternoon. There must be an earlier rather than a later transfer of internal security, however, and if the arrangements are to go as smoothly as we would wish, there is bound to be a period of internecine violence, which we 1204 have had in virtually every transfer of power since that given to Ireland in 1922. Once the fact of transfer has been announced seekers of power will resort to some very unpleasant practices.
In my opinion the Middle East today is in a greater state of turmoil and resentment than it was in 1947 or 1956. Egypt will not accept Her Majesty's Government's action in South Arabia without doing her utmost to upset the situation once more. I hope that the Government will press on on the lines indicated this afternoon, although there are bound to be certain other detailed changes before we can achieve what the majority of Members wish.
I now turn briefly to the details of the Bill. Clause 1 provides for the relinquishment of the sovereignty of Perim and the Kuria Muria Islands. Could not one of them be left as a base for the United Nations? We have seen what happened in the Straits of Tiran. Would not one of these islands be an ideal base which we could at least deny to anybody else since it could be used to close the Straits? Perhaps this suggestion can be examined and further considered in Committee.
In connection with Clause 2, both my right hon. Friend and the Foreign Secretary paid tribute to those of all races who are carrying on until independence is achieved and afterwards. I should like to know whether enough is being done about these people, in terms of the safety of their families. A lot is being done for the troops, who can defend themselves in any case, but I should like to know whether we are doing enough in looking after the families of people who are carrying on in most difficult circumstances.
Clause 4 deals with pensions. I am sure that it is not meant to be cynical, but it refers largely to widows and orphans. That seems a little odd, prima facie. Will the Minister of State confirm that we will take care of the pension rights of those who have to leave—not only those who will come back to this country but those who will go to other parts of the world, many of them not having come from the United Kingdom originally? These individuals find the life work to which they set themselves being destroyed. It would ease their next few months during this extremely 1205 difficult period if they could be assured that not only widows' and orphans' pensions are being properly taken care of but also the pensions of all those who will have to give up Government service at the end of this year or early next year.
Those who recall the events of 1947 in Palestine and Kashmir will remember the legacy of bitterness that was left behind because of the mistiming of the transfer of power. I am glad that the Foreign Secretary has had the courage to change his policy to the extent he has and has kept his mind open with regard to future action if internal aggression and subversion should be delayed until the time when it is clear that we are going to leave.
I hope we shall make it clear that if the Federation remains a member of the Commonwealth she will retain our protection, at least until the United Nations makes it clear that it can do better than it did in the Gaza Strip. The present situation in the Middle East is a direct result of British action in 1947, with the hurried withdrawal from Palestine. It was not a question of denying the transfer of power, but the circumstances in which it was carried out. A major contributory cause of the present situation in the Middle East is British vacillation in South Arabia during the last 18 months.
We wish the Foreign Secretary well in his trip to the United Nations this afternoon. As for his speech—so far so good, but the next few weeks and months need the most careful and sympathetic continuing action on our part, as the situation develops. Our aim must be to keep at least one area of the Middle East stable, and to allow the people of South Arabia to develop in peace, and not to become another cockpit, as was the case in Palestine.
The whole House will welcome the Bill, and will wish good luck to all those who will carry on the future administration of South Arabia.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
Whatever may be one's view of the United Nations it cannot be denied that the corner of the world that we are now discussing is of immense importance to every country. The mere fact that it has been held for so long as a large and important military base demonstrates its 1206 strategic importance and indicates how vital it is in the concept of power relationships between countries in the area and throughout the world.
The world community has shown an interest in its future in the past three or four years. The United Nations has been involved in the situation from the time it first became clear that there was developing in South Arabia a classic case of colonial disengagement, beginning with local revolts against the ruling power and the instabilities that always develop from that situation. As this became apparent, representations were made to the General Assembly, culminating in the resolution of December, 1963, which asked Her Majesty's Government to grant opportunity for free political expression, leading eventually to full independence, and particularly to promote elections under United Nations supervision. The point was made that progress towards self-government in the area before and after should be supervised by the United Nations.
Such requests and interest by the international community were dismissed with contempt by the Government of the day, who never hesitated to show that they had no time for the opinion or good offices of the United Nations when it did not suit their policy over any particular problem. However, when a Labour Goverment came to power, I was glad to see a change of attitude, bringing cooperation and a desire to meet the world community and take into account the opinions and feelings of the General Assembly and try to use its good offices to extricate this country from a difficult and serious situation which had been aggravated by the political incompetence of the previous Government.
Thus, we declared that there would be independence and accepted the offer of a U.N. Mission to help ease the problems of transition from para-colonial status. No one here, I am sure, under-rates the problems in that part of the world, especially when we know that not only are there very serious political and social problems, but that that part of the world is of great and legitimate importance to the Arab States, the United Arab Republic, Saudi Arabia and the Yemen, who are entitled to have their views and interests recognised in the political settlement.
1207 Aden is as strategically important to the control of that part of the Red Sea as the Sharm el Sheikh is to the Gulf of Aqaba. It could be of just as much concern to them if it fell into hands hostile to the U.A.R. as the hostility of a power poised on the Sharm el Sheikh was to Israel's. It is reasonable, therefore, that these countries should take an interest and have a voice in the settlement in that part of the world and that the international community should have some say in the settlement of an area so strategically sensitive for the world's shipping.
I therefore welcome the Government's move to embrace United Nations' help and accept the U.N. Mission and I was particularly impressed when Lord Caradon said in the United Nations:It should be left to the Mission to decide whether and how to proceed with its task.On behalf of the British Government, he was saying that the Mission should do its job in its own way. Unfortunately, it was not allowed to do so. The approach to the various parties which it thought best was not permitted. It was interfered with by the local authorities—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."]—oh, yes. It was not allowed to make precisely the kind of appeal to local opinion which it judged was best for its mission.
Consequently, it decided—I think rightly—that it could not proceed with its mandate under those conditions and withdrew. To the great credit of the Foreign Secretary and the British Government, every attempt was made not to exacerbate the position or indulge in recrimination, but instead to continue to use the United Nations' good offices immediately after that episode.
There were far-reaching political changes in Aden, which were welcomed certainly on this side, and I am therefore the more bewildered and astonished by the Foreign Secretary's statement today, as it represents a radical break with what has happened before. He has not explained this sudden change of direction—why, suddenly, the United Nations, which was previously, and rightly, regarded as a valuable instrument to resolve a difficult and complex colonial problem has been set on one side and why the Government have suddenly decided to go ahead with a ready-made, cut-and-dried, constitutional and military settle- 1208 ment without reference to the United Nations, the U.A.R., Saudi Arabia, the very people and Powers most concerned with a peaceful and stable settlement.
I am the more disappointed because, unlike hon. Gentlemen opposite, I believe that the United Nations has possibilities which have not yet been realised, that it can grow in strength, stature and importance in solving these complex military and strategic problems. I had hoped that the Government would have seen this as a unique and special opportunity to convert an old imperial military base into a centre which might have formed a nucleus for genuine international peace keeping, and that the Aden base, with no great economic significance—it has been a military base, pure and simple, for a century and a half—might have been put at the disposal of the international community for that purpose. I do not underrate the difficulties, both financial and of agreement with the local peoples and the United Nations, but it might have been tried.
Instead, the Government have suddenly, abruptly and almost inexplicably turned their backs on the United Nations' good offices and gone ahead with their own cut-and-dried solution. A mistake has been made, a wrong direction taken, and a great opportunity of genuine and constructive international work missed. Apart from the strategic and military problems, the Government's policy leaves open several other problems which a United Nations presence might have done much to solve. There is still the social and political cleavage between the relatively modern sophisticated Aden State and the feudal sheikdoms. This description is no criticism of these people or their way of life but a statement of their present social situation, but the difference between their stage of development and Aden's modern and sophisticated society creates tremendous political complications. One simply cannot say. "This country will be independent in six months" and then imagine that one will have any sort of viable State.
I believe that had Her Majesty's Government sought to establish a United Nations temporary executive authority—for which there was an excellent precedent, in, for example, West Irian—it might have been possible to give these very different, disparate societies an 1209 opportunity to express the direction in which they wanted to grow. It is possible that the people of Aden would not have wished to have been bound for ever and indissolubly into a federation.
The third problem is that of the Yemeni immigrant population in Aden, which has received no attention in this debate. It was the problem of the franchise for these people which sparked off the original clash with the authorities in Aden and which caused the general strike and subsequently the political and social upheavals which led to terrorism. Nothing has been said about how these people are to be considered, what safeguards they are to have and what arrangements will be made to see that the problem which arose originally, when the franchise was considered in Aden State itself, will not be repeated when an indigenous government tries to come to grips with the situation. A United Nations presence of the type I have described might have made it possible for this problem to have been examined and a peaceful transition arrived at.
The fourth problem is that of elections. The Foreign Secretary used a curious phrase when he talked about "eventual elections". It was not clear whether he meant elections between now and 9th January, just after 9th January or some time way in the future—that is, a time in the future when it may please a Government of South Arabia to hold elections on its own terms and in its own manner.
It is clear from the resolution of the General Assembly that the United Nations and people of the world at large place great importance on the holding of elections and equal importance on the fact that they should be held under impartial supervision and conducted in a manner which leaves no doubt that they truly represent the feelings of the peoples of South Arabia. My right hon. Friend's phrase "eventual elections" does not satisfy me and is not likely to satisfy the United Nations that we are preparing for a genuine transfer of power to a Government with a genuine popular base.
If the proposals outlined today are followed through, literally as they stand, we will be assuming responsibility without power. We will be taking responsibility for the South Arabian Government. It will be our creature, but we will not 1210 have the effective power to interfere if things do not go as we wish. We will have the worst of both worlds. We will incur the odium of creating and setting up a government without a popular base. Rightly or wrongly, it will be regarded as a puppet Government and we will have no real power to influence what it does and what goes on in that country.
It is fundamentally wrong for Britain to give the kind of unilateral military guarantee which seems to be envisaged in my right hon. Friend's statement. It is not our business to guarantee the independence of any State. That can be guaranteed only through the provisions of the United Nations Charter and it is our business to act in concert with other members of the U.N. to uphold the provisions of that Charter. Only in that way will be able to bring stability to any part of the world.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
I am glad to see the Leader of the Socialist Opposition in his place because on one point made by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) I particularly wish to comment. He quoted some works spoken by Ben-Gurion about Abdel Gamal Nasser. I, too, admire President Nasser; his industrialisation of Egypt, his creation of a middle class in Egypt, the fact that he is a skilful politician and that he is a gambler who often wins.
At the same time, however, I believe him to be an enemy of my country and of many of the oil-producing States of the Middle East. I therefore treat him with grave suspicion. My admiration for President Nasser certainly does not make me a friend of his, for I believe him to be our enemy. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale will understand that point of view and it may explain to him some of the difficulties which he sees in following the policy of my hon. Friends and I.
Like the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee) I want to do some stocktaking. Later tonight, when we pass the Bill, we will be disposing of the last of our major Colonies. Only small countries like Swaziland and British Honduras will be left, together with a number of islands scattered in most of the oceans of the world. When the House rises tonight we shall have virtually completed 1211 the process which started with the independence of the Indian sub-continent. We have turned our Empire into a Commonwealth.
This being so, before passing the Bill on the nod, as I understand is the intention, we should take stock of the process of decolonisation. Have we succeeded in the dream which the idealists foresaw? Have we created a Commonwealth of independent countries, democratically governed and working together for the common good, or have we repeated the story of the Roman Empire? Having lost the will and power to govern, have we betrayed those whom we trained and have we abandoned the trust of the masses for whom we were responsible? The truth will, I believe, be shown by history to be somewhere between these two extremes, but I fear that history will find that it is closer to weakness and irresolution than to foresight and honour.
I say straight away that the principle that people should run their own affairs, even if we believe that they run them badly, is right. Our principles have been right, but because we have been thinking mainly of ourselves our timing has been wrong. "One man, one vote" has not resulted in democracy in Africa or in the Middle East. Rather, it has provided the means for the largest tribal grouping or political party to take over power and rule in the interests of that tribal grouping or party. Multi-racialism is not even referred to today in Africa, and even intertribalism has failed in many of our ex-Colonies.
What has happened in Africa and, to some extent, it is paralleled in the Middle East, is that the domination of one tribe or party has led to political autocracy, suppression of minorities, dictatorship and corruption such as to eventually cause such a degree of unrest that the only inter-tribal or non-party organisation—that is, the army—has taken over. Army rule is generally inefficient and, after several coups, political life restarts and back we go to the beginning of the whole vicious circle.
We have some responsibility for this state of affairs because, by subordinating the needs of the colonial peoples to our own party political considerations, we have speeded the tempo of decolonisation and have betrayed the trust which 1212 we held for the masses of these people in the ex-Colonies—in Africa and in the Middle East. These faults of timing have, of course, been compounded by the United Nations and by our American allies, who invariably change their earlier anti-British administration policies when it is too late. Had we been men of stature, we would have stood firm. But instead we made excuses. We weakened and others fell.
I am not asking for another century of British rule, or any nonsense such as that, but for another five or ten years. I believe that to have taken another five or ten years in the programme of decolonisation would have changed much of the history of Africa, and would certainly have immensely assisted the Nigerian Federation, the Central African Federation and the States of East Africa as we know them today. At least we can say that we have achieved decolonisation without bloodshed—without our bloodshed—but what about the million or more Indians and Pakistanis, the 8,000 to 10,000 Arabs in Zanzibar, the uncountable Southern Sudanese Christians? What of the future of Nigeria, of the Burundi, of the Barotse, of the Lumpas?
When the Roman legions left Britain we descended into the Dark Ages, but they left a flicker of light which later kindled into the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Let us hope that the justice of British administration and the integrity of British administrators will be remembered in Asia and Africa when those two continents have passed through their present turmoil.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House may wonder what all this has to do with Aden. I believe that it has a great deal to do with Aden. Up to today the Government had decided to take action which would have created a vacuum, and had often displayed a bias against the Federal Government which might have made it impossible for the British to hand over to any successor Arab Government, as Aden would have been in a state of turmoil. There might have been no authority to whom we could have handed over.
The key of the situation lay in the difference of approach between the Conservatives and the present Government. 1213 The last Conservative Government recognised the need for Aden's independence, but made arrangements to maintain a base with the dual purpose of protecting British interests and the country's independence against external aggression. To put it another way, because I think that these are the facts of the case, faced with the choice between the corrupt cowardly politicians of Aden and the feudal Federal rulers, they chose the latter, because they alone know how to rule and how to use power. This may not be democracy, but it makes common sense today in the continent of Africa and the continent of Asia. Up to today, the Socialists had made it clear that they would deal only with the politicians of Aden and would evacuate the base. Afterwards, when either their political friends had had their throats cut, or when Egyptian-led Yemenis started an invasion they would have raised their hands in pious horror.
I am glad for the sake of Aden and for the sake of British honour that today the position has been changed. The British Government have at last made it clear that they will back the Federal Government, will build up that Government's army and will protect the new State from external aggression at least during the first year or so of independence, which is always the most difficult period faced by any ex-colonial State assuming full nationhood.
By all means let them try to form a broadly based Government, but let us realise that this is unlikely. I say again—it is self-evident to those who want to see—that there are few places in Africa or in Asia, certainly in the Middle East today, where democracy, as we know it, exists, or where a Parliament based on the Westminster example exists. I defy any hon. Member opposite to mention more than three of our ex-Colonies in Africa which have democracy as we in this House understand it. If F.L.O.S.Y. and the South Arabian League want to play, well and good, but theirs will be a minority contribution. If not, there is no alternative—and it is quite clear from what has been said today—but to hand over by 9th January of next year to the Federal Government, which should now be able to succeed, with the support of their Saudi Arabian friends, in maintaining a cohesive State after independence.
1214 There are alternatives. One is that the political parties—those corrupt politicians to whom I have referred—may start a civil war but that they could win only with considerable Egyptian help. That would eventually lead to Egyptian intervention which would, as I understand, activate the new defence agreements that have been announced today. On the other hand, if the Federal rulers prove too feudal, I believe that at a later stage after independence the Arab Army may take over to impose Arab Socialism, as has happened in several States in the Middle East. That knowledge is perhaps the best safeguard for the future of democracy in South Arabia. I am delighted that having now come up against the realities of politics in the Middle East the British Government have had a change of mind which will now have a good chance of saving the situation in Aden and the South Arabian Federation.
I want to ask the Minister of State two questions. The first is: have there been any discussions with the South Arabian Federal Government about membership of the Commonwealth after independence? If not, why not? Surely, such membership is not incompatible with membership of the Arab League. I believe that Commonwealth membership would greatly strengthen the new State after independence from both the political and economic point of view.
Secondly, does not the Minister of State agree that an aircraft carrier is one of the most potent elements in diplomacy? Could he rely on a few F111s operating from airfields in Britain? Will he not press his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to revise his policy of phasing out the aircraft carriers in the seventies, as the Foreign Secretary has today told us he has revised his policy over Aden? Had we wished to intervene in the recent crisis in the Middle East we would have been unable to us our base in Libya. Cyprus refused to make that island available, and even Malta refused to allow us to use the base there. In other words, had we had to intervene—which, thank heavens we did not—these bases would have been useless.
The only answer for the future if we want to intervene, as sometimes we shall have to for the sake of our country and 1215 safety of the world, will be to rely on a mobile force—aircraft operating from aircraft carriers. Otherwise, we will be powerless over the whole vast area of the Indian Ocean.
There is now a good chance that the final period of our decolonisation may prove to be a success, and success in Aden would be even more likely if the Secretary of State were to translate his words into deeds and hand over the internal security of Aden to the Federal Government at the earlist possible moment. Then, for once, we would be seen to be backing our friends instead of appeasing our enemies.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
Many hon. Members, particularly on this side, were shocked when the Foreign Secretary announced the package deal with the South Arabian Federation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) has pointed out, many of us who have wholeheartedly supported the Government's past actions aimed at giving Aden its independence, and the Government's attempt to establish peace in the war that recently took place in the Middle East, feel that this change of policy at this stage can only harm the chance of a genuine peaceful settlement of the Middle East as a whole. Those of us who want to see a settlement satisfactory both to Israel and to the Arab States think that in the present state of Arab nationalism and the ferment in the Middle East, the Government's present action can only damage that long-term possibility there. The Federation as it now stands, created as it was out of the modern urbanised town of Aden, is considered by many of us as a bastard child. Nevertheless, it having been created, one hopes that some form of reconciliation with the forces of Arab nationalism could be found within the Federation.
When we went to the United Nations and asked for the Commission, in defiance of the traditional hostility of hon. Members opposite to the United Nations, we though that possibly some peaceful formula could be found so that independence could still be granted in January, 1968, as originally promised. We saw that the forces at work—some under the British Government—did not help the Mission when it went to Aden. When the 1216 British Government made changes when Sir Humphrey Trevelyan replaced the previous High Commissioner and Lord Shackleton was sent out to find a satisfactory basis of agreement, we thought that this, in connection with and in conjunction with the United Nations delegation, would mean that some settlement might be arrived at.
I challenge the statement made by the Foreign Secretary that F.L.O.S.Y. was not prepared to meet and negotiate with the United Nations delegation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker) said, F.L.O.S.Y. was prepared to meet the delegation. I spoke to Al-Asnag and most of the leaders of F.L.O.S.Y. only recently. We put to them very bluntly that it was in their interests and in the interests of peace for these negotiations to take place. We found obvious evidence that F.L.O.S.Y. was prepared to meet the United Nations delegation.
Despite what my right hon. Friend said about the members of F.L.O.S.Y. refusing to meet the British Government, I still believe that before the Middle East war—which I recognise has made it no easier for contacts to be made—there was the possibility of a meeting with both the nationalist organisations. If we do not come to terms with the nationalist organisations inside Aden and the Federation, can anyone in this House tell me how we can get a satisfactory stable Government? If we do not get such a Government, will not the situation lead to civil war in that country?
§ Mr. Orme
I am not talking about transposing the system of the British House of Commons into any other State, but we could still have democracy and the will of the people represented. If the rulers of the country do not basically represent all the people, we shall not get stability of government. When free 1217 elections were held in Aden, the nationalists won over 80 per cent. of the vote through free democratic processes. I do not think the Front Bench will deny that that proves F.L.O.S.Y. has much support among the Adenis themselves. Of course that has not been tested within the Federation and no one knows what the forces there are at present.
The British Government have accepted a Constitution and will allow it to be conferred on an undemocratic and non-elected Government, yet they talk about eventual complete adult franchise. I should like to know when that will come about. What precautions will be taken to protect the nationalist forces once the Federation Government is established? We have heard much about protecting Aden and the Federation from external forces. We have heard about aircraft carriers and V-bombers on the periphery to protect the Federation from external forces, but after the recent Middle East war one wonders what these forces will be. What about internal aggression and the possibility of the nationalist majority being abused by a Government which has modern sophisticated weapons that could be used internally?
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
From what the hon. Member is saying, one would think that it was the federalists who were carrying out atrocities and not the nationalists.
§ Mr. Orme
I do not subscribe to terrorism, but the situation can be reversed very sharply when independence is granted. What guarantee is there that the nationalists would not be persecuted?
We are taking steps which are distasteful to hon. Members. We are abandoning trial by jury and setting up a rule by which trials may be decided by judges alone. What sort of rôle will that serve apart from the external military support we give to the Federation? We have to try to see this through the eyes of Arab nationalists. We have to remember that Arab nationalism stretches from Algeria to the Gulf involving about 90 million people.
My right hon. Friend rightly said that he wanted to get rid of the idea that this was an imperialist base and that we needed to remove British influence, but 1218 does he not realise that this will be seen exactly in that way in the Middle Eastern area? That situation has to be viewed with the arms expenditure being increased by Britain to maintain the position and going up to £60 million. We know how these things can escalate and that, by the provision of aircraft carriers and so on, the amount may go to £80 million.
That is a very high price to pay when we should be telling the world that Britain's military role in the world has finished. When will this country come to the conclusion that we can no longer run other people's affairs for them throughout the world? When will Britain have sufficient confidence to try to arrange for a basic democracy and a majority Government inside the Federation? This is why those of us who place so much faith in the United Nations are very disheartened by this venture.
Has U Thant been consulted? What are his views? Are we to take this issue to the United Nations? Will it be debated in the Assembly? I hope that the British Government will not be playing a larger military rôle in the Middle East. Many of us on this side want to see the complete banning of the supply of arms to the Middle East. This goes for French, American, Soviet and British arms. We do not want to see arms being piled in there, as we and other world Powers seem to be doing.
How can we achieve success in getting peace in the Middle East when we talk about a settlement at the same time as we supply arms? This redirection of British arms, particularly as it is to be concentrated east of Suez, will destroy the image that we were trying to get rid of our past and military commitments. We are to spend more money building them up instead of getting rid of them.
I cannot see how the nationalists and F.L.O.S.Y. will be able to co-operate on these proposals. This is the main tragedy. What steps are to be taken to bring the nationalist forces into the arena? Are the Government saying, "You can come in in some minority capacity in the Government. Either you accept these proposals or you are completely out"? It would appear that the demands of British, foreign and military policy in the Middle East as well as the Far East are absolutely contradictory. On the one side, 1219 we make genuine efforts to make peace. The statements my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made during the Middle East crisis were admirable, courageous and correct. Then we run counter to that at a time when we should be using our influence to obtain the peace which is essential for the Middle East. These are the counter forces. We supply arms at the same time as we talk of peace and disarmament. Not only Britain, but all the major Powers are doing this. I am not criticising one power as against another. They are all equally guilty.
The Opposition on this issue tend to think in terms of the nineteenth century. They see things in the gunboat diplomacy period. They still talk longingly of British colonial power and all that that entails and Britain's world military rôle. That has now gone, but this does not mean that Britain's prestige is diminished in the eyes of the world and that she has no part to play. I believe that she has a major role to play, but she can play it only within the forum of the United Nations, playing the part of a Power which has the ability to lead. She will not be able to lead with this millstone round her neck and whilst pursuing a policy which is full of contradictions.
All the pressure by the Opposition to see the terms of the Foreign Secretary's speech and his rebuttal was not for their benefit but for ours. So far there has not been one speech from this side in favour of the Government's policy and the steps they have taken up to now. The debate has gone right across the party. It is a reflection of the interest hon. Members have in this highly combustible area. Instead of trying to dampen it down, we are likely to ignite it. These proposals will not work.
I believe that the whole structure will collapse and that this will lead possibly to internal dissention. Then where shall we go. The right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) wanted to go just a little further. Most hon. Members opposite had written outrageous speeches, but they came round with complete approval for the Government. The right hon. Member for Streatham asked what was meant by "external aggression" and talked about the internal problems which may be created. Would they 1220 warrant British intervention? Shall we get involved in a land war? Do we want a Vietnam in the Middle East? These are the questions we must consider, set alongside our difficult international rôle and the great economic problems which exist at home.
I believe that the Government have made a major error today in publishing these problems: on this issue they have made a basic mistake.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
If I agree with the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) about nothing else, I must agree that we are in a very ironical situation today, in that every single speech that I have heard from the other side of the House has deplored the Government's new policy, whereas every single speech that I have heard from this side has congratulated the Government upon it. What we are all agreed about is that it is a complete change of policy. Broadly speaking, it is the sort of policy that we on these benches have been advocating for some time.
I join in the general congratulations from this side of the House to the Foreign Secretary and his advisers. I wish only that the change had been made sooner. Many lives might have been saved in Aden. Incidentally, many words might have been saved in the House in successive debates on Aden. Now at last we are to have a constitution based on the Hone-Bell Report. All I ask is: why not sooner? Now at last we are to have a defence agreement, in fact, if not in name. All I ask is: why not sooner? We are even to have an aircraft carrier included in the defence arrangements. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence now recognises that carriers are quite useful and quite necessary to Great Britain and that he, too, will shortly announce a change of policy in this matter.
I come to the only point in the package which the Foreign Secretary announced with which I do not quite agree. I am not entirely happy about the internal security angle. I believe it might have been more effective to hand over responsibility for this to the Federal Government, but I will return to this point later.
Now that the Foreign Secretary has changed course, a fact which I greatly 1221 welcome, it is perhaps rather ungracious to continue to carp about past mistakes, but there are on the record some unjustified charges made against my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) which have never been withdrawn, and mistakes which I believe have been made by the Government which have never been admitted. I would like first to try from my point of view to put the record straight.
The background to most of the Government's difficulties in Aden and South Arabia has been their failure to acknowledge their continuing obligations under the treaty of friendship and protection of 1959 and their failure to honour the pledge given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham in Article 38 of the Report of the Constitutional Conference in 1964. That was a breach of faith for which the British Government have paid a fairly high moral price and for which the South Arabian Government might well have paid, but for the change of policy today, a very high physical price indeed in the future.
I do not want to spend long on the rather sterile argument about Article 38. The words were always perfectly clear. My right hon. Friend and I knew what they meant when we signed them, and so did the Arab delegates at the conference. No one was in any doubt at all in 1964. Later, Her Majesty's present advisers, who were not at the conference, changed the meaning of those words because, to save a little money, they had decided to change the policy and pull out of Aden. I do not know whether they are now even saving any money in doing so.
I would prefer that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues stated quite frankly and openly that we can no longer afford this commitment and that we are going back on an undertaking given by the previous Government. That, in a sense, would be a betrayal of our friends, but at least it would be an honest betrayal. As it is, the Government have tried to pretend that the words mean something other than their plain meaning. They said they were committed only to convening a conference to discuss independence and defence. That is not actually true, but they never had a conference because they could not agree an agenda for it; but defence was not even 1222 one of the items on the agenda they tried to agree. So the whole story really is a complete fabrication, and a very obvious one, and right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite know perfectly well in their hearts that what I have just said is absolutely true. Do any of them venture to deny it today? I do not think so, and silence gives consent.
I feel badly about this because the South Arabian delegates asked me, at the Federal Constitution Conference in 1962 and again at the subsequent Constitutional Conference in 1964, whether a Labour Government would keep Britain's word if there were a change of Government in this country, and on each occasion I said they certainly would. I remember telling them, and believing it, that in Britain a new Government would never break the word of a previous Administration on an international commitment. The Federal Ministers accepted that assurance. They were let down.
It was not a very honourable chapter in our story. We have often had to abandon our friends when we have had to decolonise; that is bad enough, but inevitable in some cases. In South Arabia it was different; it was far worse, because there we were proposing, certainly until today, to hand over not to majority rule by their own people but probably to domination by a foreign Power. Aden for the Adenis is one thing, but Aden for the Egyptians is quite another. We were simply creating a vacuum for President Nasser to fill even if there was no commitment at all. I would have thought that it was a quite extraordinary and a very cynical policy to pull out without providing for the external defence of a newly independent State. And surely no one pretends—and indeed the Government's policy today indicates that they do not pretend—that the Federation would have been able to provide its own defence six months from now without our help. The South Arabian tribes, of course, would certainly have defended themselves, but the only outcome of that would have been that we should have plunged their country into the same sort of civil war that the Yemen has endured for the last five years.
In the meantime Government policy has until today achieved nothing at all except the encouragement of terrorism 1223 in Aden. Hon. Members opposite who blame my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham for everything should bear in mind the figures the Foreign Secretary gave me in Answer to a Parliamentary Question on 28th March. In the two years 1963 and 1964 there were 40 terrorist incidents in Aden. That was when my right hon. Friend was in charge. Six people were killed and 86 were wounded. But in the next two years under the Labour Government there were 1,015 terrorist incidents with 117 deaths and 954 wounded.
In addition, in the last three months—I was told in Answer to another Question which I put on the Paper—the Government acknowledged that there had been a further 746 incidents, in three months, with 59 killed and 252 injured, a total of 1,761 terrorist incidents resulting in the deaths of 176 people, many of them British, and the wounding of 1,206 people. The Government have failed in their duty of maintaining law and order in a British Colony for which we are still responsible.
The trouble about the Government's past policy in Aden has been that it has been ambivalent, because it did not in fact back either the Federal rulers or the nationalists. My right hon. Friend, when he was Secretary of State, tried very hard for further reconcilation between the two, just as hard as the present Government have tried, but in the final analysis he supported the Federal Ministers and the legal Government of the Federation who have been and are the only friends we have in South Arabia. It is quite a good idea to support one's friends instead of trying to appease and placate one's enemies.
On that premise, I say perfectly frankly that I have always been against appeasing President Nasser and I have always preferred to align ourselves with King Faisal who is for the Royalists in the Yemen and against the Republicans who are dominated from Cairo. I appreciate absolutely that hon. Members opposite do not share that view. Many hon. Members are pro-Nasser and pro-Republican. I do not complain about that at all, for that is a perfectly tenable point of view; I do not hold it, but still, I can follow the reasoning behind it.
What I think is untenable is the attempt to ride both these horses at once, and 1224 that has been the uncomfortable position of the Foreign Secretary until today. Once, in order to save a little money, the Government decided to pull out of Aden, their former policy was foredoomed to failure. To say that their decision was untimely is, of course, a complete understatement. They chose to announce it just at the time when President Nasser was going to pull out of the Yemen because his prolonged presence there was proving an expensive failure. When Britain decided to go, Nasser Nasser naturally decided to stay. It was clear that if he stayed Aden must fall into his lap like a ripe plum the moment we left. He also decided to step up terrorism in Aden in order to hasten our departure.
Therefore, the Government were in a dilemma created by their own ineptitude. They had let down the Federal Government, yet they could not back the terrorists who were, and are, daily killing British soldiers and Arab civilians in a British Colony. They tried to duck this dilemma by passing the problem to the United Nations. This policy and the visit of the United Nations Mission to Aden was a predictable—and indeed predicted—ludicrous failure. We really cannot hand over our responsibilities in this matter to the United Nations, and we must on 9th January, because we have no alternative, hand over power to the Federal Government.
The Arab world has divided aims—those of the nationalists versus those of the traditionalists. They can unite only against Israel, and on that not very effectively. So in the end one has to support one side or the other. The weakness of the Government's position, at any rate until today, was that they had never been able to make a choice, and their policy has been ineffective, and has failed. Today, I believe, the right hon. Gentleman has made a choice. I hope he sticks to it. I believe it is the right one.
There remains only one major criticism which I would like to make, and that is with regard to internal security. Terrorism in Aden must be stopped. Either we should state clearly that we do not intend to withdraw till this has been accomplished, or if that is beyond our capacity, we should hand over responsibility for it to the Federal Government. It is our clear duty to stop these murders or, if we cannot do so, to give the job to 1225 someone who can. That is the only remaining criticism I have of the policy which the Government announced today. Apart from that, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman sincerely on the change of policy, and I wish him well in carrying it out.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Evan Luard (Oxford)
The Foreign Secretary made a statement of the greatest importance this afternoon—of the greatest importance both to the people of this country and to the people of South Arabia. I wish that I could feel sure that it was of equal long-term advantage to the stability of this area and to the welfare of the people of South Arabia.
His statement covered three main areas of policy. The part which has received the most attention during the debate was that devoted to greater defence assistance for South Arabia. To my mind this was the least important and perhaps the least controversial of the elements of his statement. I have always supported the Government in their attitude that it would not be right to enter into a formal defence agreement with the Government of South Arabia, though we should continue to give them the maximum possible defence support on an informal basis. I have always supported the Government in this policy, partly for one of the reasons which they themselves have given—that to enter into a formal defence agreement would not only not be in the interests of Britain but in the long term would not be in the interests of the South Arabian Government, because it would rapidly become a millstone around their necks and would quickly be seen to be a much greater political liability than it was a military asset. The South Arabian Government would become highly vulnerable to the charge that they were a stooge of Britain.
Proof of this fact, which I recommend hon. Members opposite to consider, can be seen in the example of Nigeria. We entered into a formal defence agreement with Nigeria in the early stages, but even in that country, which was then relatively stable and pro-Western in general attitude, this was too much of a political liability for Nigeria to be able to survive. The treaty was therefore abandoned, although defence assistance on an informal basis continued to be made 1226 available. I am sure that the British Government were entirely right to seek to adopt a similar policy for South Arabia.
I must add that the argument which the Government then offered—that to give defence assistance on too formal a basis might represent a political liability for the country concerned—can be levelled to some extent at the additional defence assistance which they have now undertaken to provide. It is true that the total amount of this aid is not all that substantial. It is only an additional £10 million, an additional 20 per cent., on what they had already agreed to provide. But in part, at least, it is in a form which is much more embarrassing for them. This applies particularly to the undertaking by Britain to maintain in the near vicinity of South Arabia both an aircraft carrier with attack aircraft and air support for a limited period. I believe that this will render South Arabia subject to the same criticism of being something of a puppet of Britain as that which they would have suffered if we had entered into a formal defence agreement.
Having said that, I regard this as being a continuation of a policy by Britain which is right—namely, to make sure that even without an agreement South Arabia was not over-vulnerable to external attack and was as well equipped as possible to overcome internal subversion within its own borders. In general, I approve of the broad lines of the Government's military policy in this respect.
The next area which the Foreign Secretary covered was that of internal security. Here my opinion is divided between the two elements which he mentioned. There can be no hon. Member who does not regret that is was necessary to make the decision to suspend trial by jury in South Arabia during the present period. It must be one of the most valuable of the heritages which we make available to our successor Governments that we instruct them in the virtues and merits of the rule of law and, above all, perhaps, of trial by jury. But since we in this country have recently decided to some extent to water down that principle by abandoning the need for a unanimous verdict of the jury, perhaps we should not be so churlish as to resent it over-much if, in the conditions which exist in South Arabia, it has been found necessary temporarily to 1227 suspend this very important right and principle. But I would regard it as of the very highest importance that the Government should make it clear that it is only a temporary suspension, lasting as long as the present emergency lasts, and that they will lay it down very firmly in any constitution which is finally adopted for independence for South Arabia that this right of trial by jury should be restored to the people of South Arabia as soon as conditions permit.
The other decision on internal security, on the other hand, is one which I firmly applaud. I refer to the Government's decision not to accede to the request of many hon. Members opposite, including the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) who has just spoken, to hand over internal security duties in Aden to the Federal Government. That is the right decision. We all know—it has been recognised ninny times in the House by hon. Members on both sides—that one of the crucial problems facing the Government in South Arabia is the very big difference which exists between the areas which were the Protectorates, the outlying areas, and the ex-Colony of Aden. These differences have been expressed in acute apprehension on the part of the people of Aden that they will become subject to direct rule by the sheikhs or federal rulers of South Arabia, and, above all, in their fears of the consequence if law and order and the maintenance of security in Aden is handed over directly to the federal rulers.
The Government were, therefore, right, for the moment at least, to withhold these powers from the Federal Government in Aden. The Government should aim at least to be able, at the time that independence is given, to establish some kind of local security force for Aden, a local police force, which in normal times should be able to make itself responsible for the maintenance of law and order in Aden. Those powers should be handed over to Federal forces only in a time of acute emergency. I do not deny that it may be necessary for a short, limited period to provide these powers for Federal forces in Aden. But I think that it should be the aim to make it possible for local Adeni forces normally to maintain law and order in that area.
1228 I want to move now to the third aspect which my right hon. Friend covered and which I believe is the most important—the constitutional development of South Arabia as a whole. One must have sympathy on this aspect with the position in which the Government have found themselves. No one would wish to deny that the Government have done all in their power to induce the nationalist forces and the two main nationalist parties to co-operate in the establishment of a new constitution and in a broadly based government of South Arabia as a whole. So far, of course, they have failed. But when that is said, one must acknowledge that at least one of the reasons for the failure—there are many factors—is that perhaps they have adopted the wrong methods of securing this co-operation.
I ask the Government to consider what they would expect to happen if they themselves, in 1970, were to announce that the next government of the country was not to be established as a result of free elections in 1971 but that instead they had invited the Conservative and Liberal Parties to join them in talks about what would represent a broadly based Government for the forthcoming five years. They would surely find that the reaction of the Conservative and Liberal Parties would be that this was not the best way to decide who was to run the Government for the next five years and that these two parties would suspect that the Government had it in mind to maintain for themselves a position of much greater authority than they felt they would be able to win at the polls.
It is not altogether surprising if the political parties in Aden take a somewhat similar attitude to the established Government there—a Government, I remind the House, which was never elected and which have no right to call itself democratic. It is not surprising if the two main nationalist parties in Aden have resisted such a suggestion. The difficulty is enormously accentuated by the fact that these two parties themselves are engaged in an internecine struggle with each other. This again makes the necessity of holding elections to determine which are the forces representative of the people of South Arabia that much more important.
The Government have said many times that it is their aim to establish a broadly 1229 based caretaker government of South Arabia. The stumbling block has arisen because of the difficulty in finding any sure means of establishing beyond dispute which are the forces in South Arabia representative of the people of the area as a whole. But it happens that there is a device, a very well-tried and very well-known device, for establishing which are the forces in an area which are representative of the people as a whole. This is the device of holding elections.
It has been said, and there is some truth in the fact, that it is not easy to hold an election in the kind of conditions which exist in South Arabia today. This is, of course, true. But once the proposal was made it might well be that much of the terrorist activity would discontinue because the main aim of this activity is to establish the right of participation in the coming Government of South Arabia. The reason the Government have given is in fact not this, but that there is no time—that an electoral register does not yet exist, for example. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would in all humility submit that this particular justification for not holding elections does not hold water.
A great deal of abuse has been heaped in this House over the past year or two on the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) for his conduct of the affairs of South Arabia and I think that many of the things that he has said during the last year on the subject have been misconceived and by no means in accord with his own policies when he was in office and responsible for these affairs. In fairness to him, however, it should be made clear that, when he was Commonwealth Secretary and the Conference was held in July, 1964, it was clearly laid down that there should be elections in South Arabia as a whole before independence. I will read two of the conclusions set out in the Conference Report. The ninth conclusion said:An independent Commission, to be appointed by the Federal Government with the approval of the National Assembly should, as soon as possible, carry out a census of the population of the Federation, showing in particular the number of persons in each State who possess the qualifications set out in paragraph 4.The tenth conclusion says:An independent Commission, to be appointed by the Federal Government with the approval of the National Assembly should, as 1230 soon as possible, report to the Legislature upon the practicability of introducing a system of direct elections in those States which have not already adopted it.Since then, as far as I know, we have heard no report of progress in these two tasks—the undertaking of a census of the population of the Federation as a whole and a report on the practicability of holding elections in States which have not already adopted them.
Just 18 months ago we received the Hone-Bell Report on constitutional development in South Arabia as a whole. Even since that time there should have been time to undertake a census to prepare the electoral registers for the Federation, to make all those necessary preparations which are required before undertaking elections in a territory of this kind. This is what we have done in every other colonial territory that we have had. It has always been regarded as a vital preparation in bringing colonial territories to independence—that we should have elections to establish a representative Government in the territory as a whole before granting independence.
I have yet to hear any reason why this principle is any the less applicable in the conditions of South Arabia, than it is for any other territory for which we have been responsible in the past. What this refusal to make the necessary preparations and to undertake elections in this territory before independence means is that we are, in fact, to hand over South Arabia lock, stock and barrel, to the existing Federal Government of South Arabia, or to something which is not very different.
It is true that there may be some slight changes made. But Members on both sides of the House who have suggested that it is very unlikely to be possible now, especially now, after what has been said today, to induce the nationalist forces in Aden to co-operate in any meaningful sense in any Government that may now be formed on this basis are correct.
In effect it will mean handing over to something very similar to the present Government, although there may be adjustments made: certain sheiks thrown out and certain sheiks brought in; there may be some others, let us hope there will be, who will be prepared to enter 1231 into the political life of the territory, but it will certainly be a Government dominated by existing Federal rulers.
Let us consider what has been said in the past by many Members on this side of the House, including many present members of the Government, about this existing Government in South Arabia. When we were the Opposition one of the changes made over and over again was that the people of Aden, that is to say, the people of the town of Aden, were being handed over, against their will, to a Government of sheikly rulers in the Federation. I would like to read what I think were the very wise words of my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Defence, in the debate on this subject, in 1962, because a great deal of what he said remains extremely apposite to the situation we have today. He said:… Outstanding among the reasons why local opinion opposes these proposals is that they mean tying Aden Colony,as it then waswhich is by far the most politically advanced territory in the whole of Arabia, to the reactionary sheikhdoms in the Federation. As Mr. Al-Asnag said in a good phrase, 'People blame us for saying that we do not want to go under the Yemen while there is an Imam there, but this Federation means going under eleven Imams at once.'And the present Secretary of State for Defence added:And so it does.Later on he said, talking about the Emirates of the Federation:… these Emirates are among the most backward States in the world.and later:One of the reasons why the inhabitants of Aden Colony object to this Federation is that they believe that their own political advance inevitably will be tied to the readiness of the backward Emirates in the Federation to accept them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1962; Vol. 667, c. 262.]These were very true words at that time and I am afraid that they remain equally true today.
If it is wished to have some slightly more up to date quotation—it cannot be up to date because it must be before October, 1964—then in April, 1964, the Secretary of State for Defence asked the then Prime Minister about Her Majesty's Government's policy in Southern Arabia. He asked, first, if the Prime Minister 1232 would consider revising the Constitution of the South Arabian Federation to make it acceptable to the people of Aden Colony, and he asked:… is it not the responsibility of the British Government, who are still in a controlling position, to ensure that the constitution does not continue against the will of the inhabitants of Aden Colony who are our direct responsibility as the protecting power?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd April, 1964; Vol. 693, c. 1500.]This again is a question which could be aptly raised with the Government today. "Is it not the responsibility of the British Government, who are still in a controlling position, to ensure that the Constitution does not continue against the will of the inhabitants of Aden Colony who are our direct responsibility as the protecting Power?" I believe that that is the most important point before us today.
We are responsible for the people of South Arabia as a whole, and this includes the people of Aden Colony. It is very well known that, in many respects, the people of Aden Colony do not see eye to eye with the people of the Aden protectorates, as they used to be. I continue to accept the Government's argument that it is probably in the long-term interests of all the people in the area to maintain a single political unit for South Arabia. It is true, as members of the Government have said, that there are very few people in South Arabia, including in the Colony of Aden, as it used to be, who demand a state for Aden which is separate from South Arabia as a whole.
We are, therefore, justified in establishing at least something like a Federation. But that does not mean that we are justified in placing the people of Aden town totally under the power and control of the Government of South Arabia as a whole. That is very different. What has often been suggested is that there should be some kind of genuinely federal solution which would enable the people of Aden to have a considerable degree of autonomy over their own affairs without being totally subjected by the people of the Federation.
The one slightly redeeming point, the one bright spot, in the Foreign Secretary's statement today was his suggestion that there should be established a new federal area including not only Aden, but 1233 A1 Ittihad, the Federal capital, which might be in some way distinct from the remaining parts of the Federation. I very much hope that the opportunity is used of establishing this new unit to give it a considerable degree of autonomy in controlling its own affairs so that the people of the town of Aden do not have the feeling that they are simply being handed over lock, stock and barrel to the protectorates.
I finish by making two specific recommendations to the Government. I have said a great deal about the failure to arrange for elections to be held before independence is given. We were committed to giving independence, not by the beginning of, but at the end of, 1968. It would not have been difficult for the Government to delay independence for a little longer to make it possible to hold elections if they had not made up their mind that it was preferable not to do so.
I am sure that the Government's policy is wrong, not only in principle because it hands over the people of this area to a Government which has never been elected and which very few people regard as fully representative of the area, but because it is not in the long-term interests of this country, since what is absolutely certain is that the new Government will be regarded as a puppet of Britain from the moment that it is created. This will not be in its interests, and it will be subject to a great deal of hostile criticism and probably to civil war. Not only is it not in its interests, but it is not in our interests either because, as has been pointed out, the Foreign Secretary's recent policy has rightly been directed to trying to secure the co-operation of Arab nationalists, of Arab nationalism and even of President Nasser.
It would not be possible to secure that co-operation if we were seen to be handing over power in an important part of the area to a Government which was in no way representative of its people—though it might be more acceptable to the Government of Saudi Arabia or of other Governments in that area. Therefore, my first point is that even if the Government persist in their policy of not holding elections before independence, they should ensure that the Government which comes into power is committed to holding elections very shortly after the attainment of independence.
1234 Secondly, in making this commitment, it should be laid down that such elections shall be held under the supervision of the United Nations. I am sure that those Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), who have pointed out the importance of retaining a United Nations interest in this part of the world, are entirely right, not only in the interests of the United Nations and of stability in the area, but in our own interests, because only this will give a guarantee to other nations, particularly the forces of Arab nationalism, that we are genuinely seeking to ensure the emergence to power of a representative Government in this area.
I very much hope, therefore, that in replying to the debate my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will give an assurance, first, that we shall make sure that elections are held as soon as possible after independence and, secondly, that they will be held, if at all possible, under United Nations supervision.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
I will not follow the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Luard) far into his speech except to say that as he interrupted a distinguished career in the Foreign Office to come into the House of Commons, I pay the hon. Member the tribute that I do not think that he is anything like as naïve as he pretends.
The hon. Member has talked about the problem of broadening the base of the Government in Aden. He knows perfectly well that broadening the base of the Government in Aden really means how many of the present Federal Ministers are prepared to sit round a table with how many of the F.L.O.S.Y. terrorists when the latter have been doing their best, in some cases successfully, to assassinate the Ministers or their wives. This puts the situation not only in brutal reality but also in brutal terms.
The House has been put in a difficult position by a speech from the Foreign Secretary which included an announcement and a statement of policy of immense importance, immense change and a conversion which would do credit to St. Paul on the road to Damascus. The Foreign Secretary's statement went into great detail, which makes it difficult 1235 for hon. Members on all sides to digest what the right hon. Gentleman has said when we do not have the text before us, although I suspect that I know the reason for this.
In my view, the Government's statement could have been made on Friday. It could even have been released as a White Paper this morning. I suspect, however, that the reason why the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues did not do anything of the kind but delayed the statement until half-past three, until the first speech of this afternoon's debate, was that they wanted to apply a kind of shock therapy to their supporters on their side of the House. One can see from the faces of right hon. and hon. Members opposite that the shock therapy has worked out all right.
What a lot of trouble would have been saved and, what is most important of all, what a lot of lives would have been saved had the statement been made six months ago. A lot of difficulties would have been avoided if the original statement announcing our withdrawal from Aden had never been made at all, because it was upon that original statement that the Foreign Secretary succeeded in rehabilitating Nasser.
As has been said before by hon. Members on this side of the House, Nasser was in trouble in the Yemen. The Yemen was an unproductive commitment and he wanted to get rid of it. Just when he was in the greatest difficulty, having signed the Jeddah agreement, along came the Foreign Secretary and helped him. The right hon. Gentleman must have heard from the monitored reports what was said on Radio Cairo. He knows how the statement about Aden was used. He knows with what dismay it was received by everybody—all our friends and allies—in Southern Arabia, let alone Aden. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman knows that and he knows what the reasons were.
Flushed with that bonus issue, Nasser then turned his attention elsewhere. He did what any would-be dictator in the Arab world would do, which was to have a go at the Israelis, because the anti-Israeli weapon is the only cement which can bind Arabs together about anything. No two Arabs will ever agree 1236 about anything except their dislike of Israel. When they are not fighting Israel, they are fighting each other. This has been their story since the First World War. I do not say that the Foreign Secretary sparked off the Arab-Israeli crisis further north a fortnight ago, but at least he probably precipitated it.
At long last the Government have decided, suddenly and very much at the eleventh hour—indeed, they have just about caught the last train—that independence is not something which can be bought across a shop counter. Like neutrality, independence is of no value unless the country in question has the means of preserving its independence if it is assailed, or unless it has allies who are prepared to help it preserve its independence. The Indians were great exponents of neutrality until they were attacked by the Chinese, and then they screamed to us and the Americans for help. Independence minus the means of preserving it is a charade, but it has taken the Government a long time to discover it.
It may be asked why the Government originally took this disastrous decision. It was principally to get the Defence Estimates below the target of, I think, £2,000 million. However, I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman can tell us about the cost, because in Aden itself the alleged saving on the Estimates was greeted with a great deal of cynicism. In Little Aden alone, the value of the installations which we are abandoning, such as the married quarters, accommodation for officers and other ranks, recreation facilities and so on, all of which are only three-quarters completed, is round about £16 million. I suppose that they are being written off. I saw a big generating plant which had been three-quarters built and which was worth about £750,000. Building had been stopped and it was being taken down bit by bit and sent by ship either to Sharjah or Bahrain. It is a curious way of saving money.
I agree with the hon. Member for Wool-wish, East (Mr. Mayhew) up to a point that, until the announcement today by the Foreign Secretary, I could not make out what was the advantage of going to Bahrain. However, my reasons are quite different, because I take the view that, if we do not uphold our promises and pledges in one area of Southern Arabia, 1237 no one expects us to do it in another. With everyone in Aden and in the hinterland in despair about the way that they have been treated by the Government, do not ask me to believe that, until this afternoon, the ruler of Bahrain or anyone in the Trucial States thought that the build-up of the base at Bahrain meant anything. They said, "We have seen all this before in Aden, but the moment that there is any threat, the British will be away." There is no credit to be gained from that.
It is different now, so long as the Government can convince those in Southern Arabia, both in Aden and outside, that when they say something, for once they mean to stick to it. That is the principle of this whole debate. The Government must convince the Adenis, those in the hinterland and those in the sheikdoms that they mean to stick to what they say today.
The threat to Aden is not removed by reason of the disastrous war in the Middle East. If anything, it is increased. There is nothing to stop Nasser trying to rehabilitate himself once again by "having a go" in the south. He has a lot of troops. However, I do not think that the threat will come that way. I have never thought that the Egyptians would march in column of fours down the Yemen and into Aden. But it could happen with the Egyptian terrorist movement by combined threats of assassination, bribery, and terrorism. I imagine that Nasser has not very much money these days, since his defeat. However, if the Russians gave him £1 million, he could buy the votes necessary to win over the Adeni electorate. The threat is not removed by a long chalk.
I am happy about the naval side of the guarantee, except that six months should not be regarded as the law of the Medes and Persians. There is nothing to stop Nasser or anyone else, so to speak by proxy, "having a go" at Aden in six months, plus a fortnight, or even a week. If it is to be by subversion, as opposed to directly from outside, I agree with what has been said by many hon. Members. I do not think that a naval carrier force is quite the method of dealing with that kind of subversion, because who will the aircraft shoot up? They cannot indiscriminately shoot up Aden in the hope of killing somebody who is a 1238 terrorist about to subvert the Government. It just does not make sense. Measures to deal with any immediate threat by subversion depend very much on the authority of the British military mission, on the advice it gives, and on how much the Government listen to it.
At the moment Aden exists on a balance of fear, with two rival terrorist organisations on either side and British troops in the middle, not for the first time, holding the balance. Our troops are behaving with unbelievable discipline, restraint, good temper, and efficiency, in a way that no other troops in the world could behave. British troops are accustomed to fighting with one hand tied behind their backs. At the moment they are fighting with one hand tied behind their backs, and both feet tied as well.
The "Amnesty" affair was a shocking performance, and the Minister of State knows it. The Government ought to have handled these monstrous allegations in a different way. The right hon. Gentleman knows that some time ago I was in favour of getting rid of trial by jury because members of the jury were under threat of assassination if they convicted, and it was not an idle threat. We cannot expect British soldiers, having had two hand grenades thrown at them, one of which has gone off, and one of which has not, to pursue terrorists down a dark alley and arrest them at considerable risk to themselves, only to find that when the terrorists are brought before the jury they are not convicted. The British soldier will not go on doing that. He will shoot in self-defence, and no one can blame him. I am sure that the Government were right to grasp the nettle and do away with trial by jury. There is no trial by jury in the hinterland, so there is the ridiculous position that there is one set of rules for troops in Aden, and another for the same troops when they move into the hinterland.
I should like to pay a tribute to Sir John Willoughby, who has just retired from being Commander-in-Chief, for the wonderful job that he did. I also pay tribute to Sir Richard Turnbull, the former High Commissioner, who bore the burden and heat of the day when the Government were not prepared to change their mind. I suspect that if Sir Richard Turnbull had been given as wide 1239 a discretion as his sucessor, Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, for whom we all have the highest regard, some of the statements made today might have been made a good deal sooner.
Some very unfair criticisms have been made of Sir Richard Turnbull for his handling of the U.N. Mission. believe that he did everything he could, and a good deal more than he need have done, to help it. The right hon. Gentleman knows this story, and so do I and many other hon. Members. The members of the U.N. Mission were anxious to see only the F.L.O.S.Y. detainees in the Mansour Gaol. When they got there the F.L.O.S.Y. detainees would not see them. There was a not outside, and a good deal of shooting. The U.N. members then went back to their hotel and would not budge from it until they left the country. They knew before they arrived that the Federal Minister were de facto, and not de jure, but they would not see them, even unofficially. Nor could the members of the Mission be persuaded to go round the town. They would have had to be escorted. The only person who could have gone round the town with impunity at that time was the Foreign Secretary. He would not be able to do it now, following his announcement today, but hitherto he could have gone around unescorted because F.L.O.S.Y. regarded him as the best asset it ever had.
The United Nations Mission had to have reasonable precautions taken for their safety. On their departure from Aden Airport they behaved in a manner which was not calculated to enhance the reputation of the United Nations or the dignity of the individual members of the Mission. It would have required a playwright of the calibre of Ben Travers, with an all-star cast of Ralph Lynn, Tom Walls and Robertson Hare, to have produced the equivalent of the farce and charade that the three men of the United Nations produced on the day they left Aden Airport.
The Government have changed their mind just in time to avert a major calamity. They have changed their mind just in time not to lose all respect in South Arabia, and just in time to avoid a vacuum, as long as they do not waver. But between now and independence day we must get on top of the terrorists, or 1240 we shall either lose the Federal Ministers or fortfeit the confidence of the sheikhs. Otherwise we shall be handing over independence to a complete bedlam of shooting and terrorism.
We have to underpin civilian morale. There was considerable danger that the banks and other institutions were beginning to cease to function. This is not a very good prelude to independence. We must help the Adenis physically and morally. If we do that, the Government can avoid another shameful episode. I support anything they can do to avoid that.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Kinross and West Perthshire)
I have been in this House, one way or another, for a long time now, but I have not listened to a debate in which all the speeches in support of the Foreign Secretary have come from the Opposition and not one—except possibly that of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Luard)—has come from his own side. All the absolute opposition has come from the right hon. Gentleman's own benches. At least I can mark something noticed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition today: nobody on either side contests the fact that South Arabia should be given independence in 1968. The Government have chosen the date of 9th January, and that is fully supported.
The purpose of hon. Members on both sides of the House is fairly clear. It is to create a new State of South Arabia, independent in its own right and—just as important—able to maintain that independence by its own efforts. It is also clear, from the discussion today and from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, that the Government now fully agree that the Constitution of the new State must be essentially federal, and must include what is now the Aden Colony. There are few—the Leader of the Liberal Party, judging from his speech, was one—who would contemplate a separate entity, or some kind of loose confederation for Aden. The Government have accepted—as the Opposition have all along—the paragraph in the Hone-Bell Report which I shall quote, and with which the House is fairly familiar, namely:No single person ever suggested that the correct solution for the present constitutional 1241 or political difficulties is to detach Aden from the Federation and restore it to its former position as a separate country.My hon. Friends and I have always accepted that it is desirable that the new Government of South Arabia should represent the broadest possible cross-section of the people of that territory. The process would have been very much easier if some Adenis had not become tools of an outside Power. Neither the Foreign Secretary nor anybody else in this country can insist that this or that organisation in Aden shall co-operate with the Federal Government. We cannot dictate who will co-operate and who will not on the day. Anyhow, it is therefore quite right, as the Foreign Secretary made clear, that the British Government's dealings will be with the Federal Government and that they will not delay the date of independence or the introduction of a new Constitution until the N.L.F. or F.L.O.S.Y. say they will join. Their obligation is to co-operate with the Federal Government, or, if they do not like it, to accept what comes.
The right hon. Gentleman and his Government, therefore, have now been forced to face the facts of life in this area, which have always been apparent to my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), and to our Conservative Government of the time, and to recognise that the constitutional form of the new State must be federal and must include the territory of Aden, although with specially weighted representation, perhaps as proposed by Hone and Bell.
One must not, in politics, say, "I told you so", but I will to this extent—the Foreign Secretary has been compelled by the facts of life to adopt essentially the same political solution as that proposed by the Conservative Government of the day and as that negotiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham. It is a pity that right hon. Members opposite have taken so long to do it and so long to come to terms with reality, but it is better late than never.
The second governing factor which emerged from the right hon. Gentleman's statement and the debate is that the Federal Government, the Federation, is in the very early stages of its constitutional formation and is, therefore, through no fault of its own, internally weak and externally very 1242 vulnerable. It is also incomplete, because the eastern States of the Protectorate have so far refused to join the Federation when its defence is not guaranteed. One can hardly blame them if they feel that the Federation would otherwise have a short, violent and very unhappy life.
Not only is the Federal Government incomplete, but it is also unprepared, in the sense that its armed forces are as yet largely untrained. Everything, therefore, every argument which I have heard used today, points to the need to provide security during the time—no longer, but during that time—that this young country is growing and until it can stand on its own feet. That has, at long last, been recognised by the Foreign Secretary and the Government.
The House has, of course, concentrated on the two essential aspects of security. The first is the internal security, particularly in the territory which is now Aden. The recent stories of terrorism and atrocities are shameful, and it is surprising that action has not been taken before to curb them. However desirable it may be in normal times to retain the normal and leisurely processes of the civil law, there are times, particularly when juries are intimidated, when the price in terms of the lives of law-abiding and innocent citizens, becomes too high. I believe that the Foreign Secretary is right to accept the recommendation of Sir Humphrey Trevelyan that trial by jury should for the time being be suspended. That decision is right and wise in the circumstances.
I should like to ask the Minister of State one question about arms. It has seemed to me for some time that there are far too many arms in the hands of irresponsible people at large in the streets of Aden. Why are they not being called in? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would tell us what Sir Humphrey Trevelyan's recommendation is in this respect. I should have thought that Aden should be cleaned of these arms, which are widespread within the territory.
The important decision to be taken about internal security is on the rôle of the Federal police and the timing of introduction of control by the federal police in Aden. The Federal Government will be faced with the most tough and ruthless gangs, who will try every device to unseat the Government in their early days. On 1243 this question of the timing of the entry of the Federal police into the control of security, I am not sure that I was satisfied with the Foreign Secretary's answer to a question asked by one of my hon. Friends in an intervention; and I hope that, on this important subject, the Minister will state the position.
Are we to take it that the federal police will take over simultaneously with the promulgation of the new Constitution? That would seem to be the logical and right thing to do. Or, if that is not so, will the federal police be introduced well before the handover of power by the British forces? Internal security is certainly half the battle for survival. The incoming security forces must be able to build up an intelligence service, must know the location of the terrorist organisation and network and must be advised, by the previous occupants, of the techniques with which this may be dealt with most successfully. I trust that the Minister will tell us more about the programme and timing of the introduction of the Federal police to control internal security, particularly in the Aden territory.
The other half of the security of this new country, as the Foreign Secretary has now realised, is the provision of cover against external aggression. Right or wrong, my hon. Friends and I have at least been consistent on this matter. We have always argued that independence must be accompanied by a defence treaty, not unlimited in time and not of unlimited commitment, but a defence treaty which should hold for the time necessary to ensure security for this territory in its early days.
I am bound to tell the Foreign Secretary that it would have been much better if Her Majesty's Government had stuck to the Conservative plan for the right to use this base. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) pointed out, it would have been much less wasteful because facilities are already there for the deployment of any kind of power, great or small, that might be necessary to deal with infiltration.
It may be that air cover is not enough for the situation that will arise, as it has arisen in other territories, should we want to deploy some power on the ground. 1244 There will be a military mission there and presumably, therefore, we will have the entrée—although I hope that it will be a friendly Government, and no doubt we will have access to the base. But that is a different thing from having a presence. We should, therefore, have retained it. It would have been much cheaper than the wasteful deployment of forces—aircraft carriers, bombers in relation to the island of Masirah—and the rest of it. When I ask myself whether the necessary security can be given to South Arabia under the Foreign Secretary's plan, even though his plan is more wasteful, I think that I come to the same conclusion as that arrived at earlier by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition; that the answer is "Yes"—more wasteful but, still, it could be done.
This being so, let us consider what it means. I understand that the Foreign Secretary proposes these items of help, among others; help to supply and pay for more modern arms, more aircraft—eight Hunters—assistance for transport and communications and that we will pay—and I think that I agree with this—for armed forces in the eastern Protectorates, at least for two years after 1968. We are to give six months' air cover with a carrier. Curious how these naval instruments turn up again and again in support of the Government's plans. They seem to be essential to the Government all over the world. Do the Government intend to rethink that side of their policy, too? I cannot help hoping that they will.
The most important announcement by the Foreign Secretary today concerned the V-bombers which are to be kept on the island of Masirah within each reach, and I marked down in particular his words "for such a time beyond the six months as Britain considers to be necessary". That is the commitment, the test being the security of South Arabia against attack from outside while South Arabia is building up her strength. It is true, as other hon. Members have marked, that this is not a defence treaty. It is true that there are not British combatant forces in the Aden base although, as I say, the situation might require them. But one cannot put any possible construction on the right hon. Gentleman's words other than that this is a pledge 1245 to stand by South Arabia until she puts herself on her own feet and until she is secure.
I say this now, and I deliberately use the word "pledge", in view of what the Foreign Secretary has said about my right hon. Friends in the past and the Conservative Government of those days. We made a pledge. The Foreign Secretary has always denied that we made a pledge. I am telling him, and the Minister of State, that he has made a most specific pledge, and it is one to which he will be held in future years.
It is clear from what the Foreign Secretary has said that he has no longer any illusions, which he once held, about Colonel Nasser's intentions in this area. He, at any rate, gives no countenance to the specious arguments advanced by those of whom I think the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) is the spearhead—but one, perhaps, getting a little blunter more recently. Never mind, he leads that particular form of attack.
The argument is, in effect, that Britain ought not to attempt in any area of the world to exercise power and influence, or to deploy power on any scale even where we have the opportunity and the status to do it, because those days are past and finished, and really it would be better from our point of view, and everyone else's, if we gave up the attempt to do any such thing. In these days the argument has become quite common that because we have not been able immediately to protect our oil interest in the Persian Gulf we had better scrap all our commitments and not exercise any more power. The argument is carried a little further: they say now that we should abandon our commitments to South Arabia and in the Gulf.
It is true that, in the longer term, Egypt's comparative impotence and the necessity, which I think will follow on her latest adventures, to limit her commitments in the Yemen will help Saudi Arabia to go unmolested, but the House will have read, as one of my hon. Friends has reminded us, of Colonel Nasser's intention, expressed in the last few days, to stay in the Yemen and that it is still his target. The fact is, and we had better face it, that through a mixture of applied subversion and infiltration by the Liberation Army now in Southern Yemen, Aden 1246 would be a push-over if British power were withdrawn. Could anyone conceive a greater boost to Colonel Nasser's tarnished image than a political victory in Aden to counter-balance his humiliations elsewhere? In our opinion, protection against such action in the shorter term and the medium term must be provided.
It seems that that argument has been accepted by the Foreign Secretary. After the fullest examination, a Socialist Government, which does not usually, and is not anxious in any way to, extend Britain's commitments in the world, has had to face the hard facts and come to the same conclusion as we have come to that unless Colonel Nasser's ambitions are met in this particular area there will be a strategic political victory of the first importance for Egypt in which, of course, the Soviet Union will share.
I remind the House of the passage with which the Foreign Secretary began his speech today and join it with a passage from the speech made to us about ten days ago when we debated the wider question of the Middle East and Egypt's action in expelling the United Nations force. The Foreign Secretary told us today how inextricably the question of the future of Aden and South Arabia was bound up with the power politics of the Middle East. Immediately my mind went back to the sentence he used ten days ago when he said that the House must remember that there were plans afoot in the world to change the balance of power in this area.
The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee), whom I do not see present now, said that all our colonial policies would have been very much easier if we had had a quiet world in which to operate. We can all echo that, but where have we ever found it? We certainly do not have it in this situation. We cannot forget what has happened, nor can we ignore what we have witnessed in recent weeks. We have seen Egypt, a member of the United Nations, using poison gas in the Yemen. We have seen Egypt eject a peace-keeping force of the United Nations from her territory. We have seen Egypt move her armies en masse up to the frontier of a neighbouring State. We have seen Egypt blockade an international waterway. We 1247 know—it is no use disguising the fact—that the Soviet Union has incited these Egyptian plans from start to finish.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) may say "Rubbish", but he knows that what I am saying is perfectly true. It is futile to say that such actions do not affect British interests and the interests of free men everywhere. It is right in New York and at four-Power meetings to seek peace, but if the users of such gas and the instigators of war were whitewashed in the United Nations or left in any doubt at all as to the infamy of their actions it would not be long before the free world faced a heavier bill in war. Therefore, it is essenital that these things should be said, and said plainly, now. Only thus do we get the foundation for a just peace.
I sum up in this way and I hope that I sum up the debate fairly. The objections to the Foreign Secretary's announcement have come from the hon. Member for Woolwich, East and the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) and others. They sincerely believe—I do not question their sincerity for a moment, why should I?—that we are over-stretching our power, that we should quit any rôle except as one member of 110 nations in the United Nations and should not, therefore, employ our power, certainly not east of Suez, in order even to contribute to what we conceive to be order and stability in the world.
§ Mr. Mayhew
Do we, then, understand that the right hon. Gentleman's view is the converse, that this country should be prepared to defend its interests in the Middle East by armed force outside the United Nations against Egypt backed by the Soviet Union?
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
I am just coming to this. The hon. Gentleman has not put it quite as I would have put it. If, with all the history of Aden behind us—130 years or so of it—we were to abandon the Aden territory now to Egyptian aggression, this would be the most shameful thing for this country to do; and we should not contemplate it.
I am trying to sum up fairly. The case can be argued that our power is over- 1248 stretched and that we should quit any rôle except as a member of the United Nations. I hope that hon. Members realise what will happen if we do this. The United States and the Soviet Union will be the only arbiters of peace or war in the world. Hon. Members may be prepared to accept that. I am not, as long as we have some power that we can contribute which will enable us to have some influence on these great issues of peace and war.
The differences are sincere. I disagree, therefore, with hon. Members for the reason that where Britain has a presence which gives us some authority and where the deployment of a modest amount of power can win an important political prize in terms of order and stability I think we should accept the obligation to use such power as we have on the side of law and order; not unlimited commitments, but to fulfil our obligations in a limited but nevertheless effective way. To my mind, South Arabia is such a situation; and therefore I believe that the action announced by the Foreign Secretary this afternoon is right.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Thomson)
As those who have taken part in the debate know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs conveyed his apologies at the beginning of the debate for the fact that he had to leave in the middle of the debate to go to the Special Session of the United Nations in New York. My right hon. Friend began the debate, as the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) has just said, with what amounted to a long, detailed, and very important statement of Government policy, announcing certain changes in the policies that we have so far had in relation to South Arabia.
I want to emphasise to hon. Members on both sides of the House right at the beginning of my speech that what the Foreign Secretary was putting forward was a package; it was a whole group of proposals that hang together. One cannot pick out from them what one likes, nor can one chuck out of them what one does not like, without the whole thing falling apart. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Luard) was absolutely right in saying that there was 1249 some danger of getting the military items of this total package somewhat out of perspective and concentrating the controversy on them. Inevitably, I suppose, these were the items in the Foreign Secretary's group of proposals that were bound to attract immense attention.
On the Opposition side, these proposals were met with something of the type of enthusiasm that the father showed the prodigal son when he returned to the fold. On my side, I am afraid that many of my hon. Friends picked on these particular proposals with very profound suspicion indeed.
I wish that we had had time to do what the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) suggested might have been done, which was to publish these very long and detailed proposals as a White Paper so that people could have had an opportunity to read them as a whole and therefore, perhaps, have taken a rather—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] The only reason why we could not do this was the time factor, as right hon. and hon. Members knew. It was that, and that alone, which prevented us from giving advance notice to the House of these proposals.
Amongst the notable critics of the plan was my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew). He used particularly strong and colourful language to describe the Foreign Secretary's package. He labelled it neo-colonialism. He thought it inconsistent with independence. He talked about our creating with these proposals a puppet regime in South Arabia. I would like to tell my hon. Friend in all sincerity that I think that that is a travesty of what is actually happening. We for our part have no interest in the colour of the Arab nationalism which will finally emerge as the Government of South Arabia.
I, in the years I have had some links with South Arabia, have had friends both among Federal Ministers and among the Aden trade union movement and what was formerly the Aden P.S.P. I regard both those groups of people as Arab nationalists, some of them more radical, some of them more extreme, some of them more traditional; but all of them are legitimately entitled to be called Arab nationalists. In this country our only interest is to ensure that the territory, 1250 with which we have close links, and which has included a Crown Colony, should have its opportunity to establish itself as an independent nation free from the threat of outside aggression.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East I think suffers, like Oscar Wilde, from the fact that he can never bear to sacrifice a brilliant paradox for rather dreary and dull truth. I hasten to say that, unlike Oscar Wilde, his own honesty of purpose means that he believes his own paradoxes, but that does not make them any more true, and the trouble with the kind of sparkling epigrams we had from him this afternoon—I say to him, hoping that he may take it to heart—is that they really are ideal Cairo Radio quotes, and long after Britain has departed from South Arabia, long after our debate in this House this afternoon is forgotten, propagandists on Cairo Radio will be putting out these rather splendid phrases of my hon. Friend who carries all the authority of a former Defence Minister of this country.
I should like, in addition, to repudiate in the strongest possible terms the contemptuous language he used about the Government's policy towards the Arab-Israel conflict. I preferred the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), who was not otherwise complimentary to the Government in what he said, who made it clear that in his view our policy in the Arab-Israel conflict was directed honourably first of all to preventing the war and then, when it had begun, to ending it with the minimum of bloodshed. This was what lay behind our assertion of the rights of free passage in the Gulf of Aqaba, and when we failed to prevent the conflict from taking place we diverted all our energies to bringing about the cease-fire. My noble friend, Lord Caradon, played a most notable part in helping with that at the United Nations.
I thought that, on our side of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale put fairly and squarely the main anxieties which exist on this side of the House. He said, with justification, that he had supported the Government over their South Arabian policies in the past. Why, he asked, should he support them now when, in his view, we appeared to have changed our policy? He said this because he argued that we appeared 1251 to have abandoned faith in the United Nations as the alternative policy for faith in what I think he regarded as a group of feudalists. I want to tell him why I believe he is wrong. I know his anxieties are shared widely on this side of the House.
Our policy has not in fact changed in principle at all in this matter, neither in South Arabia nor the United Nations, but what has happened is that the pressure of time before the date of independence is limiting our choice of methods of achieving that policy. The aims of our policy—I hope they command the support of both sides of the House—are, first of all, to bring about independence for South Arabia in January; secondly, to withdraw our military base at the same time, or within a few days of that; and thirdly, to leave behind an independent South Arabia with a good chance of a prosperous future and survival as an independent Arab nation.
We in this country, successive Governments, have a good record of de-colonisation since the war—
§ Mr. Thomson
I hope to develop it quite a bit. All I wanted to say was that we have a good record of de-colonisation and that it would be a tragically unfair black mark against this country if we were to leave chaos behind us in South Arabia. We are under an obligation to leave a decent independence behind us. We want this independence to be as broadly and representatively based as possible but, whatever happens, we cannot afford to leave a vacuum behind us. It is important to recollect that the Federal Government in South Arabia is the legal Government and contains Ministers who, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, have stuck it out in great difficulty and, indeed, with considerable personal danger.
What we had hoped to do by this time was to bring the organisations of F.L.O.S.Y. and N.L.F. round a table. The fact that this has not happened is not the fault of Her Majesty's Government We have tried and tried and tried again. We have tried in every possible way to persuade these organisations to 1252 discuss the future of their own country sensibly and constructively. We made many different efforts. When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to the Foreign Office was in Geneva, he made arrangements to see representatives of F.L.O.S.Y. but they failed to come. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), who sent me a note to say that he is unwell and sorry that he is unable to take part in the debate, went to the Yemen on our behalf and sought privately to persuade the leaders of F.L.O.S.Y. to meet either officials or members of the Government and to discuss the possibilities of a round table conference to establish a more broadly based and representative Government. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale that we have made every possible effort and that what we are having to do today is a result of the failure of other people to respond to the initiatives which we took.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker
Does my right hon. Friend intend, or does he not, to deal with the fact that F.L.O.S.Y. representatives would have been in New York on the day that the fighting broke out with Israel? Why does he treat the United Nations with contempt when they were in touch with F.L.O.S.Y., even if he was not?
§ Mr. Thomson
My hon. Friend makes that point for the fourth time. If he had been a little patient he would have seen that I was about to come to that point.
We had hoped by this time that the United Nations, and the United Nations Mission led by Mr. Perez-Guerrero, would have helped to provide some political elbow room and that we should have moved towards the achievement of a more broadly based Government. The fact that they have failed to do so is not the fault of the United Nations Mission or its members. They, too, tried repeatedly to bring this about. The United Nations Mission has been frustrated by exactly the same people and in the same way as we have been frustrated. From the time that it left New York in March to this day no member of either F.L.O.S.Y. or the N.L.F. has talked with the Mission, despite its appeals.
We warned the Mission that time was running out and that we should be forced to take and to announce decisions. Hon. 1253 Members must bear in mind that there is now less than seven months to go. It is true, as my hon. Friend said, that F.L.O.S.Y. indicated four weeks ago that they would come to New York to talk with the Mission there, but they have not yet turned up. Although it is now some days since the conflict in the Middle East ended, there is still no information that the members of F.L.O.S.Y. are yet taking off to consult the Mission in New York. In the meantime, time goes on—
§ Mr. Thomson
I wanted to go on to deal with the very important questions about the rôle of the United Nations asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale. He asked the degree to which the United Nations Mission has been consulted by us about the proposals which have been put before the House today. The important part of those proposals—that is, the proposal for the naval task force to provide protection for six months—was described to the United Nations Mission last March when it was originally being talked about.
When the United Nations Mission was met by my right hon. Friend on its return from Aden, it was told that we would have to introduce the Bill now before the House. From that time it has been kept fully informed of our thinking on these matters and the proposals put before the House by my right hon. Friend today were passed on to my noble Friend Lord Caradon in New York to convey to the Mission as soon as they were available for conveying to the South Arabian Government.
§ Mr. Thomson
That is true. The decision was only taken by Ministers on Thursday in London and the United Nations Mission was told at the earliest possible moment, at the same time as the South Arabian Ministers. This time factor is the reason why we have been unable to produce a White Paper setting out these proposals.
§ Mr. Thomson
I emphasise again to the House that what has happened to limit the choice of policies more narrowly than we would have wished is the fact that we have only about seven months before the date of independence. Continued uncertainty is in no one's interest. Everyone in South Arabia now has a right to know where they stand.
This applies equally to the British Servicemen and civilian officials and to the British businessmen who will be carrying on in South Arabia after independence. It applies above all to the people of South Arabia, both the leaders of the present Government and all the various political groups. They have a right to know how much time is left before Britain leaves and what we are prepared to do to make independence meaningful and worth while.
Setting the date of independence, as we have done, and accompanying it by a package of proposals will help to concentrate everyone's ideas and energies. We have delayed the final decision as long as we could. We have done so in order to consider, as conscientiously as possible, the best way in which to fulfil our obligations and also in order to give the U.N. Mission every possible opportunity to play its part. We still hold that the United Nations has a very important and constructive contribution to make.
We have had a senior Minister out in Aden and South Arabia for two lengthy visits. We have brought in as High Commissioner Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, who is generally recognised as one of Britain's most distinguished diplomats, who knows the Arabs well and who is—this is not least among his qualities in his present post—one of our toughest troubleshooters. He is a modern-minded man with a profound understanding and sympathy for the aspirations of Arab nationalism. But he is a practical idealist determined that progress shall come peacefully and not through violence. The right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire asked us what was being done about the Arabs inside Aden. This is one of the problems that Sir Humphrey is taking very 1255 actively under his consideration at the moment.
These ideas, I emphasise, are a package and go together and are dependent on each other. I want to make a comment on each and take up some of the points made on both sides in the debate.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
In the last debate, all the Labour Members who spoke and the Government spokesmen were agreed that the United Nations should have an important rôle to play in widening the base of Government before independence. Are the Government determined to pursue this policy in future?
§ Mr. Thomson
I had hoped that I had said enough to indicate that we believe that the United Nations still has a very important part to play. One of the problems is that, uniquely amongst colonial independence changes, we are bringing South Arabia to independence in advance of general elections throughout the whole territory being practicable. This was an important aspect of the United Nations Resolution and I hope that the United Nations is going to continue, both before and after independence, to play a very important rôle there.
Having said that, I hope that none of my hon. Friends, whose anxieties about independence I share, will go on to argue, as some of them came close to arguing, that we should therefore delay independence indefinitely. For the reasons I have given, this would be an unsatisfactory way to proceed.
I turn now to the proposals regarding military protection from external attack while the new State establishes itself. On the naval offer, we are committing a substantial part of British naval power for a period of six months, and adding to it by making land-based aircraft, with conventional weapons, available to deter aggression for as long as Her Majesty's Government consider it necessary. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire pressed me about this. If I may say, with respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he said a good deal on how he defined this as a pledge, and then went on to describe the pledge in his own terms.
The House is entitled to know exactly where the Government stand on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman is 1256 inclined to lecture us a little at times, and we on this side of the House are just as conscientious guardians of Britain's obligations in the world as any Government that this House has seen. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The offer that we are making, although the bombers are offered for so long as Her Majesty's Government consider necessary, is not an open-ended commitment. It is not an unlimited commitment. It is put forward for the crucial first months after independence.
We will need to consider very carefully, as time passes, exactly how long it is necessary for this offer to be continued. Equally, I want to emphasise to my hon. Friends who have expressed doubts about this commitment that what we are suggesting is something substantially different from what the Opposition put forward in the days when they were the Government, or from what they have put forward from the Opposition benches since.
There have been a number of suggestions from the benches opposite, from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) in particular, that we should commit British forces to the ground in South Arabia. We have deliberately put forward our proposals in the way that they are put forward to avoid the necessity of having British combat troops, operational troops, on the ground in South Arabia after the date of independence. To do so would carry an unacceptable risk of provoking internal disturbances and of then being sucked into purely internal security operations. The hallmark of an independent country is surely its ability to maintain law and order among its own population. I believe that proposals that we have put forward on the military side of the package strike just about the right balance between giving South Arabia protection from external aggression, and not leaving this country with an open-ended commitment, least of all a commitment on the ground.
§ Mr. Mayhew
On a point of information, is it the proposal that combat troops shall be kept off-shore—afloat?
§ Mr. Thomson
There are, of course, to be some combat troops in the carrier-borne force. But there is no intention that these troops should be deployed on the shore, for operational purposes.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser
What is the point of having combat troops off the coast if they can never be deployed? I really believe that the House should vote against this perfectly ludicrous proposal. It is ludicrous—a waste of money and time.
§ Mr. Thomson
This is a carrier force including a commando carrier, and these are the combat troops that I refer to. If the right hon. Gentleman, who has experience in these matters, thinks about this, he will realise that there is sense in it. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Thomson
I have not time to give way. I turn now to internal security. Here what we are proposing—
§ Mr. Sandys
Will the right hon. Gentleman be very careful in regard to this pledge of military assistance not to undo all the assurances which the Foreign Secretary gave earlier today?
§ Mr. Thomson
I have used words with great deliberation in order to clarify the minds of hon. Members, and I have no reason to withdraw anything that I have said.
I come to a point which the right hon. Member for Streatham made about innal security. We are trying to make some positive moves to permit political reconciliation and at the same time to take determined measures to curb those who are irreconcilable.
A number of people have asked about the rôle which the Federal forces will play in internal security inside Aden. The High Commissioner is at the moment actively discussing with the South Arabian Government the most practicable ways of phasing the Federal forces into the work of keeping the peace in Aden, subject to our overriding responsibility to this House for the maintenance of law and order in a British colony.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary explained, the N.L.F. is now politically put on the same basis as 1258 F.L.O.S.Y. by having its legal proscription lifted. This opens the way for both the national bodies to join in the search for a more broadly based caretaker Government if they are willing to do so. But for those who continue to prefer the bomb to the ballot box the due process of law will be tightened up.
For a long time trial by jury in Aden has been an obstacle and not an aid in safeguarding the liberties of the ordinary citizen. The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) indicated that he believed that the Foreign Secretary had put forward these proposals in a casual manner—a sort of throw-away suggestion, he said. I assure him that my right hon. Friend gave the most agonised consideration to this before he came down on the side of suspending trial by jury. On an earlier occasion, when this suggestion came up, he turned it down. But I think that in the circumstances as they have developed, this decision is right, although it was a difficult decision to take in view of our regard for civil liberties in this country. But there have recently been almost no trials by jury in South Arabia, and what has taken their place has been the much less liberal device of detention without any trial. Sir Humphrey Trevelyan is convinced that the institution of proper judicial proceedings before a panel of judges would contribute both to the rule of law and to the deterrence of violence as a political weapon.
Finally, there are the proposals for a new modern constitution to take South Arabia into independence. I should explain to the House, whose anxieties on this matter I recognise, that one of the difficulties which affects us is the kind of legacy which we received from the right hon. Member for Streatham in this case, because our responsibility under the Constitution which he sponsored is limited to approval of constitutional changes on behalf of Aden State. This is not our Constitution, it is their Constitution, and our part in it is very sharply limited.
The heart of the constitutional problem in South Arabia, as everybody admits, is how to marry the relatively advanced city of Aden, with its commercial community and trade union movement, with the much more traditional states of the hinterland. We are accepting in this Constitution a solution for dealing with this problem 1259 under which Aden, together with the neighbouring federal capital, shall be given a special status as a capital territory.
Given the constitutional paralysis of the past, it would be unrealistic to believe that this Constitution will command universal assent, any more than it has done in the House today. We still believe, as I keep repeating, that the United Nations will have an important and constructive rôle to play in the constitutional progress towards South Arabian independence, but we have to make constitutional progress now. We have, therefore, safeguarded the position by insisting that the new Constitution shall have built-in provisions in regard to the emergence of a more broadly based Government. This is something which we, the present South Arabian Ministers and the United Nations Mission have all, in our different ways, been seeking to bring about.
One of the fundamental objections to continuing any longer with the present constitution is that it makes it legally impossible to provide any such more broadly based Government. Those who are willing to tackle the task of creating a caretaker Government will find that the new Constitution pre-empts none of their ideas. There are simple provisions which will allow the wider Government to amend the Constitution in whatever ways it thinks wisest.
I should emphasise that, in my view, the present South Arabian Ministers have been often unfairly criticised for their unwillingness to accept democratic procedures. They have in this case tried hard to meet the demands of the United Nations resolution. This Constitution—it is theirs and not ours—lays down universal franchise for both men and women. This is still a goal at which they are aiming. It is a good deal more than exists in many of the military dictatorships which have attacked them so vociferously. Here again, with the Constitution we have, I think, achieved the best balance possible between the necessity to make swift progress and the need to retain political flexibility.
§ Mr. Thomson
I beg my hon. Friend's pardon, but it is getting close to 10 o'clock.
1260 Taken together, all these proposals form a basis for peaceful independence. They give the people of South Arabia, all of them—the sheiks and the trade union leaders, the Adeni merchants and the Radfan tribesmen—a chance to build together a new independent Arab nation. I do not underestimate in any way the immense difficulties that still lie in the way of achieving this. The prolonged period of internal terror and external threat has now added to it the incalculable consequences of the Arab-Israeli conflict at the other end of the Red Sea. Success in this case is certainly not something for any British Government to command.
The Government's proposals, the result of a searching and conscientious reappraisal, enable us to do everything in our power to contribute to the future of South Arabia within the framework of the policies which we have laid down. If we sought to do more in terms of a formal defence agreement, we would handicap, not help, those whom we seek to assist. If we did less, we would be failing in our obligations to people with whom we have been closely associated over a century and a half.
§ Mr. Thomson
I am sorry, I am just coming up to 10 o'clock. I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon.
I appeal to all those who feel deeply about these political issues and to those with strong feelings on both sides—and I know that they exist; I appeal to the political leaders inside South Arabia and to those in exile, to accept this plan as the working document for a free and self-respecting South Arabia that will take a proud place in the future among the independent Arab nations of the world.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I must decide who is to intervene before the right hon. Gentleman sits down. Mr. Thorpe.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Since the right hon. Gentleman still has three minutes in which, 1261 I am sure, he can help the House with further elucidation on the matter, may I ask him this question? Accepting that the viability of the intended Federation depends upon a coalition caretaker Government between the Arab nationalists, on the one hand, and, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly says, the rather more feudal people in the rest of the territory, what reason has he for supposing that there is likely to be more cooperation in the future between these two differing peoples than there has been in the past?
§ Mr. Thomson
I hope that I have made it clear that I cannot prophesy about the future. We have very little time left, however, and we must do our duty in the time that is left and do all that we can, in co-operation with those who are willing to co-operate with us, to give South Arabia decent independence.
§ Mr. Heath
May I put this important question to the Minister of State? The Foreign Secretary used these words, "Her Majesty's Government will have no treaty relationship with the new State but there will be available to it the extensive assistance which we have offered to give in 1262 the first few years of independence, including the powerful military support which I have outlined". Does the Minister of State repeat those words and adhere to them?
Does the right hon. Gentleman also confirm that the V-bombers will be there as long as the Government decide, taking into account the circumstances, including the view of the Federal Government, and that the troops on the commando carrier—[Interruption.]—the Foreign Secretary did not make this plain—can be used—
§ Mr. Thomson
The naval force is for six months because of the physical difficulties attaching to that. The bomber force is for as long as Her Majesty's Government consider necessary in the circumstances. The reference by my right hon. Friend to several years was related in that context to our programme of defence aid to South Arabia.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.