§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Thomson)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have it in Command from the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place Her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the hon. Gentleman, may I say that I understood that the Second Reading was to be taken formally.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. William Rodgers)
The House has just finished a very full debate on the present problems and future development of South Arabia. By contrast, this Bill is a relatively simple and straightforward Measure. I should warn the House that I intend to move it in what will turn out to be a pretty dull speech.
The Bill's purpose is central to our discussion today. Though this may sometimes have been lost sight of, we have, after all, been discussing Aden on the eve of independence.
1264 The Bill makes the necessary provision in our law so that—[Interruption.]—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We cannot proceed with the business of the House against a background of conversation.
§ Mr. Rodgers
Its purpose is to make the necessary provision in our law so that the three territories of Aden, Perim and the Kuria Muria Islands will cease to be colonial territories in order that South Arabia can become independent. Her Majesty's Government do not consider that it would be right to retain responsibility for any of the islands of the area after we relinquish sovereignty over Aden. It would be contrary to the principles of independence for South Arabia for us to try to do so.
Some special interest has been shown in Perim. Perim is administratively and economically dependent on the mainland and has no viability as a separate strategic unit. It has a population of some 400 persons only, mostly fishermen. I am sure that the United Nations, which is not geared to the administration of territories indefinitely, would agree that we should not continue to have any responsibility for Perim after the independence of South Arabia and, equally, that they themselves should not accept any responsibility for the island.
The Bill does not cover the Protectorate of South Arabia or Kamaran, which is also a Protectorate, because they are not colonies. Although they are to take their place as part of an independent South Arabia, statutory provision is not necessary to bring them to independence. In due course, my right hon. Friend will advise Her Majesty to proclaim the termination of her protection over these territories. The question of statutory provision for the citizenship of people living in the territories does not arise, as they are British Protected Persons regulated by Order in Council.
Aden was acquired in 1839, and Perim in 1857. Both were administered as part of the Indian Empire until 1937, when they became colonies, and they were then administered together with Aden until 1963, when separate administrations were set up for the three territories. The Kuria Muria Islands were ceded to Queen Victoria by the Sultan of Muscat and Oman in 1854, whereafter their history 1265 was much the same. A date for the relinquishment of sovereignty over these territories is not specified in the Bill, but my right hon. Friend informed the House today of our intention to grant independence to South Arabia on 9th January, 1968, and an Order in Council will be made at the appropriate time.
It may help the House, although this may take a little time, if I now deal briefly with the Bill, Clause by Clause, and mention its principal provisions.
§ Mr. Sandys (Streatham)
When South Arabia achieves independence, is it intended that she shall acquire sovereignty over all these islands, including Kamaran, which is a disputed territory, miles away off the coast of the Yemen, and which she will be incapable of defending? Is that the intention?
§ Mr. Rodgers
As the right hon. Gentleman rightly says, there are certain problems about the precise future of these territories after independence, and Kamaran is a long way from the mainland of South Arabia. We have not yet undertaken any formal consultations with the inhabitants, which we will obviously have to do before deciding their precise destination.
§ Mr. Sandys
Can the hon. Gentleman make this quite clear? Have the Government taken a decision, or have they not, that these three islands, or groups of islands, Perim, Kuria Muria, and Kamaran, shall or shall not be transferred to the Federation of South Arabia on independence? Or is that still being considered?
§ Mr. Rodgers
This is still being considered, for the reason that I mentioned, that we must consult the population.
§ Mr. Rodgers
Yes, in all three cases. I turn now to the Clauses of the Bill. As the House will see, Clause 1 contains the central provisions of the Bill. It provides for the relinquishment of Her Majesty's sovereignty over Aden, Perim, and the Kuria Muria Islands. This is done by providing that on the appointed 1266 day to be fixed, as I have said, by Order in Council, these three territories will cease to form part of Her Majesty's Dominions, and that Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom shall thereafter have no responsibility for the government of those territories.
Clause 2 and the Schedule make modifications to the British Nationality Acts. These modifications follow the pattern of the modifications which are made when colonial territories achieve independence. Subsection 1 of Clause 2 gives effect to the Schedule. The Schedule of the Bill provides for the loss of United Kingdom citizenship in certain cases.
Two conditions must be satisfied before a person can lose his United Kingdom citizenship. The first is that he must possess another citizenship by virtue of a connection with one of the three territories, or with a territory of which one of the three territories forms part at independence. This is covered by paragraph 1(1) of the Schedule. The second is that he does not fall within one of the exempted classes of persons set out in paragraph 3. These persons are those who possess United Kingdom citizenship by virtue of a close connection with the United Kingdom or a remaining British dependent territory.
I should explain that the independent State of South Arabia, of which Aden will form part, will adopt a formal citizenship law. The House may like to know that the present Federal Government intend that it shall be of a liberal kind. It will stand up to comparison with citizenship arrangements in emergent Commonwealth countries. It will make no discrimination against non-Arabs, and will automatically provide South Arabian citizenship for every person who is a British Protected Person by virtue of his connection with the Federation, and every person born in the Federation, or whose father was born in the Federation, and who is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies when the law comes into force.
I want to give some examples of the way in which citizenship will work under the Federal Government's proposed citizenship law. A person who was born in Aden and is therefore a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies will acquire South Arabian citizenship by virtue of his birth, that is, by virtue of his 1267 connection with Aden. A person born in the Federation outside Aden will equally acquire South Arabian citizenship by virtue of his birth in that territory. So far as Aden will be part of the Federation on the appointed day, such a person will also satisfy the first condition of acquiring that citizenship by virtue of his connection with the territory of which Aden forms part.
The first condition of loss of United Kingdom citizenship is positive. A person must have another citizenship before he can lose United Kingdom citizenship. The House will regard it as important that no one will become stateless by virtue of the Bill.
The second condition, as I have said, excludes certain classes of person from the effect of the Schedule. A person will not lose his United Kingdom citizenship even though he acquires South Arabian citizenship, if he or his father or his grandfather were born in the United Kingdom or in a United Kingdom dependency outside South Arabia. People in this category are covered by paragraph 3(1,a).
Other persons who have United Kingdom citizenship by virtue of their or their father's or their grandfather's connection with the United Kingdom or other dependency, will similarly not lose their United Kingdom citizenship even though they acquire South Arabian citizenship. I am setting this on record because the citizenship provisions are of the greatest importance, although I concede that they are of considerable complexity, which the House may choose to look into more closely in Committee.
Paragraph 2 of the Schedule provides that a woman cannot acquire citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies by virtue of her marriage to a person who has ceased to be a United Kingdom citizen, or would have ceased to be one had he lived, by virtue of paragraph 1. This paragraph does not deprive anyone of United Kingdom citizenship. Paragraph 3(4) provides that a wife shall not lose her United Kingdom citizenship unless her husband loses his.
The effect of these two provisions is to put husbands and wives on a similar footing. It would be anomalous if a woman could obtain United Kingdom 1268 citizenship by virtue of marriage to a man who has lost his citizenship by virtue of the Bill. Nevertheless, if she has already acquired United Kingdom citizenship she will not lose her citizenship unless she herself acquires new citizenship and comes within paragraph 1, which I have already mentioned. The point here is that all she loses under paragraph 2 is the right to acquire citizenship and not United Kingdom citizenship itself if it has already been acquired.
Sub-paragraph (3) contains a further exception. A person who is ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom or a remaining British dependency would retain his British status. We have thought it right to include this provison, so that persons who have settled, for example, in the United Kingdom should not lose their United Kingdom citizenship even though they will by that point possess a specified citizenship in South Arabia.
I have been dealing with the Schedule, which contains complicated but most important provision for those affected, and I now return to the Bill. Clause 2(2) deals with a matter which is incidental to the main purpose of the Bill, and its inclusion might be regarded as a tidying-up operation. When the title of Governor was changed to that of High Commissioner in 1963 some doubt arose as to whether the High Commissioner was covered by the British Nationality Act of 1948 in relation to the Protectorate of South Arabia. The purpose of subsection (2) is therefore to put beyond doubt the validity of certain registrations and naturalisations made by the High Commissioner since 1963. Subsection (3) extends the nationality provisions as part of the law of the associated States in the West Indies, in accordance with the general arrangements governing our relations with the West Indies.
Clause 3 gives power to modify by Order in Council provisions of the British Parliament affecting matters other than nationality in consequence of the relinquishment of sovereignty over the three territories. A provision of this kind is usual where colonial territories cease to be such, and any Orders under the Clause will, by virtue of Clause 6(2), be subject to annulment by Resolution of either House.
Clause 4 gives the Minister of Overseas Development power to make Regulations 1269 to give effect to arrangements made in connection with the winding-up of the Aden Widows and Orphans Pensions Fund. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Dodds-Parker) drew attention to this in the debate. Under these arrangements, the United Kingdom will have an obligation to pay certain persons now paid from the Fund and a sum will be transferred from the Fund to the United Kingdom Government to meet the cost.
On another important matter with which the House will be properly concerned, the interests of British and other civil servants in South Arabia will be safeguarded. When it becomes independent, the designated expatriate officers, who are mostly British civil servants, will be eligible to retire with compensation. The non-designated officers, who are mainly non-British, are entitled to draw pensions and gratuity earned in respect of their service with, in certain cases, enhanced benefits. Thus, public service in South Arabia will follow the normal pattern of emergent territories and no designated or non-designated expatriate officer will be required to serve after independence unless he so desires.
Clause 5 deals with pending appeals to Her Majesty in Council. At present, appeals lie from the Aden Supreme Court to the Court of Appeal for Eastern Africa and thence to the Privy Council. In certain cases, they may also lie from the Federal High Court to the Privy Council. The Clause gives power to make Orders in Council providing for the continuance and disposal of pending appeals after independence by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and for their abatement and expedition.
Clause 6 contains the supplementary provisions as to Orders in Council to which I have already referred. Clause 7 contains certain provisions for interpretation which are straightforward. Clause 8 covers Northern Ireland. Clause 9 gives the short title.
Despite some of the complications of nationality which I mentioned, this is essentially a simple and straightforward Bill and I hope that I have given the House a sufficient description of its contents without too much detail. The Leader of the Opposition made it clear that the Opposition do not intend to divide on the Bill. No doubt there will 1270 be a good deal of discussion in Committee. I hope, therefore, that I may commend the Bill to the House, with the wish that it will go forward with the blessing of both sides.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
What about Kamaran? The hon. Gentleman said that no decision had been taken about this island. Does this mean that the inhabitants will be able to choose one of three courses—to join the Yemen, to remain part of the Federation, or to remain under the British Crown? What choice will they have?
§ Mr. Rodgers
I think I said that we had not yet consulted the inhabitants and it is therefore too soon now to discuss possible options.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I apologise to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) whom I seemed to be cutting out of a debate in which he is entitled to take part. I had wrongly thought that the Second Reading of this Bill was to be taken formally. Having said that, perhaps I should warn the House that this should not be a repetition of the previous debate. This is the Second Reading debate on a specific Bill.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ Lord Balniel (Hertford)
The whole House will be indebted to the Under-Secretary for his careful and thorough explanation of the Bill and, in particular, the citizens of the various States of the South Arabian Federation will be grateful to him for his explanation of the complex nationality problems which arise. On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the Bill, which makes provision for the independence of Aden, Perim and Kuria Muria Islands, but while I welcome the intrinsic merits of the Bill, I must express my sense of regret about its Parliamentary handling.
For many months—indeed, ever since the Government suspended the Constitution of Aden and reverted to direct colonial rule—my hon. Friends and I have pressed for a statement of policy. It seemed to us that constitutional policy over a period of many months had been allowed to drift on events. If one takes only recent weeks, it was in the emergency debate of 10th April—when you, Mr. Speaker, agreed to interrupt the 1271 normal proceedings of the House—that we asked the Foreign Secretary for an explanation of his policy. At that time the right hon. Gentleman said that he required more time before he could give such an explanation.
When Sir Humphrey Trevelyan was appointed High Commissioner on 11th May, we asked for a statement of policy, but again the Foreign Secretary asked for more time. In the debate on the Middle East on 30th May—indeed, at almost every Question Time and in our many foreign affairs debates—we asked for a statement of policy from the Foreign Secretary. Now, after this long delay—in which drift appears to have been the sole consistent policy—in which there has been a dramatic increase in the casualty rate and death roll, the Government make their statement of policy. And on the very same day they ask us to pass this Measure which makes provision for the independence of Aden, Perim and Kuria Muria Islands.
Only last week we asked that there should be a pause of, perhaps, two days in which we could consider the implications of the very far-ranging statement of policy. Yet for some petty, inexplicable and unexplained reason, this has not been acceptable to the Government. It is all the more inexplicable when one considers how complex is the advance of this Colony towards independence. For example, the island of Perim, which is being granted its independence under the Bill, is situated in an area of immense strategic significance, right at the entrance to the Red Sea. If I understand the situation aright, the island of Perim is not inside the Federation of South Arabia.
There is the additional complication that Aden is the headquarters of the Commander in Chief, Middle East, who has under his control something like 20,000 troops situated in Aden and throughout the Persian Gulf. Other complexities arise because of the treaties we have with the Federation of South Arabia, the additional treaties we have with those States in South Arabia which are not Members of the Federation and the treaties we have with the territories of the Persian Gulf. Added to the complexity of the situation is the fact that, unlike most Colonies at this stage in their ad- 1272 vance towards independence, in these final months before independence the Colony of Aden is not under a constitution of democratic rule.
When hon. Members came into office the Constitution was in operation, but in September, 1966—and I hasten to say that I make no criticism of this at all—because of mounting terrorism, the Constitution was suspended by the Government of the day. During this period of about two years there has been almost complete stagnation in the political and constitutional spheres. For instance, the constitutional conference that was called for in March, 1965, by the then Colonial Secretary, the present Minister of Housing and Local Government, never took place. The Commission that he appointed in May, 1965, to consider constitutional advance never met, and never undertook its task. There have been other conferences. A conference was summoned for December, 1965, and another conference was summoned for August, 1966, to which the United Nations was invited to send observers. Neither of those conferences for constitutional advance ever took place.
It was during this time that the Hone-Bell constitutional proposals were published—in January, 1966—and remained unimplemented. It is only today, for the first time, that we hear that the Government are proposing to lead Aden forward to independence on the Hone-Bell proposals. All these matters—the basis of election, the future arrangements for the treaties with the States which are not inside the Federation, the future relationship of Aden with the new independent South Arabian Federation—have remained untested until today.
In all seriousness, I cannot see that the interests of the House or of the people living in that area are well served by the Government insisting on having this debate on the very day on which they have made a major statement of policy which, I must frankly say, involves a total reversal in many respects of the previous policy. We are not well served by having this debate on the same day as the statement of policy is announced. None the less, we welcome the decision announced today to grant independence to Aden on 9th January, 1968.
But to grant independence and freedom to the territory without at the same time 1273 being sure of its security would have been a most cynical farce. We therefore also welcome today's announcement that this move towards independence will be accompanied by a complete reversal of defence policy there—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that the noble Lord will help me. This is becoming suspiciously like a continuation of the previous debate. I hope that he will refer to the Bill.
§ Lord Balniel
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I shall most certainly try to comply with your Ruling, but we would have found it extremely difficult to lend our support to a Bill on constitutional independence had it not been for the policy announced today on the subject of defence. It is surely with great difficulty that one can debate the issue of freedom if the issue of freedom is not backed up by defence policies that make it a reality. I think that we will find ourselves in great difficulty if we cannot refer to the two aspects of independence—constitutional independence and independence from external aggression.
§ Mr. Speaker
The noble Lord is quite right, and I am in as great a difficulty as he is. I notice that hon. and right hon. Members who have already spoken are seeking to catch my eye in this debate, but I think it would not be in order for them to make the same speeches as they made in the last debate.
§ Lord Balniel
I shall try to comply with your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. Had it not been for this dramatic reversal of policy, we of the Opposition would have found it extremely difficult to support this Bill. Without referring in any detail to the question of defence, so far as I understand the position the decision of the Government is to implement an agreement which was reached as long ago as 1964 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys). That agreement was to advance towards independence in 1968 and to couple independence with a defence agreement. It is this which has been the source of controversy between us in the past and on which so much scorn has been poured by hon. Members in the past. With this Bill and the statement of policy today, they are implementing the substance, if not the formality, of the agreement of 1964.
1274 I wish to ask some questions about the Bill. The first is concerned with internal security and the situation in Aden during the period leading up to independence. Some time ago my right hon. Friend urged as a preparatory step that the internal security of Aden should be handed over to the Federal Government. The Secretary of State, on 11th May, rejected this proposal, saying that it would be a mistake to hand over responsibility for internal security to those who would commit us while our forces are there. I read in the newspapers today that four Aden Ministers of the Federal Supreme Council have specifically requested of Sir Humphrey Trevelyan that the internal security of Aden Colony should be handed over to the Federal security troops. Can the Government announce their decision on this request? Is it actually necessary for British troops during this intermediate period to continue to maintain internal security in those areas where no Europeans live?
I also refer to the question which was asked by an hon. Friend concerning Kamaran. This has been a British territory since 1915 and it has been ruled from Aden. May we have an indication whether it is the intention of the Government that it should become part of the South Arabian Federation? Geographically it does not lend itself to be an integral part of an independent South Arabian Federation. Information about the future of this island would be of interest.
Could the Government give some information about the future of Perim? It has a situation of immense strategic significance which is fully as important as Sharm el Sheikh. It lies right at the entrance of the Red Sea. One might consider whether there is not a strong argument for internationalising this island which has a strategic significance not only to the immediate area but to all countries to the north of the Red Sea. The possibility of internationalising the island should be considered very carefully by the Government.
My final question concerns the treaties with those States which are not members of the Federation. The House will know that in the eastern provinces there are three States, Kathairi, Namra and Qu'Aiti, which are not members of the 1275 Federation, and the Upper Yafa Sultanate on the borders of Yemen. I understand that in the past when there has been no defence backing of the Federation, there have been reasons which have led these States to remain outside. We hope that they will join the Federation. I ask the Government, what is the future of the treaties which we have with these States? In the past they have stated that they will abrogate the treaties. Does that remain the situation?
This is a great step forward in the life of those living in the South Arabian Federation. We wish them well under the new Constitution. We hope that it will contribute to peace and stability in the area. I do not think it would be right to allow this occasion to pass without paying tribute to those who have supported the Federal Government in the very difficult years and months which have preceded the introduction of this Bill. It is right that we should pay tribute to the men of great courage who have served with the Federal Government in various capacities. Certainly, in the British House of Commons it would not he right if we did not pay a most sincere tribute to the British people who have served in the civil administration and among our troops in South Arabia. They have indeed served this country very well, and I think that on this occasion we should pay full and sincere tribute to what they have done.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
I cordially agreed with the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) in what he said about the timing of this Bill. It is most unfortunate that we should not have had an opportunity of considering Government policy before the Bill itself was rushed into the House. It is a very grave misfortune that the debate should have taken place today, the very day when the Foreign Secretary is going to New York. I hope he will have an opportunity not only of discussing the war in the Middle East but also of meeting the Secretary-General and the Special Mission on Aden and other United Nations officials and delegates concerned with the future of Aden.
The noble Lord said that he was prepared to vote for this Bill—or, rather, that he would not vote against it—only because he agreed so cordially with the 1276 statement which the Foreign Secretary made. I am in exactly the same position in reverse. I am not prepared to support this Bill because I violently disagree with almost everything that the Secretary of State said. I take the view that his statement is probably a fatal blow to the hope of a United Nations involvement in the future of Aden. Indeed, if my right hon. Friend who wound up the earlier debate had not been a close personal friend I would have said that he treated not only the House but myself with contempt in not dealing with, and in refusing to deal with, but skating round the position of the Special Mission on Aden.
I pressed him to say whether it was not a fact that whereas we had failed the United Nations had succeeded in making contact with F.L.O.S.Y., and that a meeting was about to take place when the war in the Middle East broke out, and that the only reason why the F.L.O.S.Y. representatives did not go to New York was that after their meeting in Algiers—surely the Foreign Secretary must have known this: I heard about it within 24 hours in New York—they went back to Cairo, war broke out, and there were no aeroplanes travelling between Cairo and New York. It was not unreasonable, in view of that situation in Egypt, that should be some delay, logistical delay rather political delay, in getting those delegates to the United Nations. The fact is that we failed to make contact with F.L.O.S.Y., and the United Nations had succeeded.
I am against this Bill because it appears to me to shut the door on United Nations participation, and makes it impossible for the Special Mission on Aden to do its work; and it leaves us handling a situation which, I believe, it is impossible for the British Government to handle honourably on their own. Unlike the noble Lord, I see this Bill opening the door, not to a peaceful, prosperous, free Federation of South Arabia, but to bloody chaos, violence and terrorism on an ever-increasing scale, following the pattern of measures the Government have followed to try to deal with emergencies in Kenya, Cyprus, and so many other British Colonies, which the British Government have plunged unnecessarily into violence and bloodshed ending in a humiliating British withdrawal.
1277 I think the premises on which this Bill is based are all entirely wrong. We have heard the Foreign Secretary and the Minister and, by implication, the Under-Secretary of State making a resounding case for our withdrawing our British military presence and base in Aden and South Arabia, when we are building up in the Persian Gulf, and when the war in the Middle East has proved conclusively the futility of persisting in 1967 in maintaining Imperial postures on other continents. I think that attempts to maintain a British military presence in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the Far East are incompatible with the giving of true independence to South Arabia and Aden.
I started by saying that I deeply regretted the timetable of the debate and the Bill. I regret it not only because it treats the United Nations with contempt but because it gives us no time to know what the reactions of the United Nations will be to the Foreign Secretary's speech. He has now gone to New York. His talks with the Secretary-General and with the leaders of other delegations, including Arab delegations, may cause him to want to reconsider some of the ill-judged, ill-considered and hasty things he said in his speech today. But he will have no opportunity to do anything about it because this Bill will have been passed. Surely we could have had two or three days to see what the reaction of the United Nations and people in South Arabia would be.
The provisions my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State was talking about in relation to internal security make it certain that this Colony will follow the pattern of Cyprus and so many others, where a liberation struggle deteriorated into greater and greater violence until finally we had to withdraw. It has said goodbye to any possible hope of contact with F.L.O.S.Y. and the nationalist organisations. How can the Government expect, after these measures, any Arab nationalist to wish to speak to the British Government again?
There is only one statement by the hon. Member for Hertford with which I agreed, and that is the possibility that the island of Perim might be internationalised on the ground that it occupies a similar position in the Red Sea to that of Sharm el Sheik on the 1278 approaches to the Gulf of Aqaba. I fear that, in the atmosphere and conditions which will have been created by the debate earlier and by this Bill, it is unlikely that the United Nations will wish to accept a responsbility of this kind.
It had always been my hope that, whatever the difficulties of the Special Mission on Aden, whatever inadequacies some hon. Members opposite might have seen in its efforts and in the personalities chosen for it by the United Nations, it would be the first stage of growing United Nations involvment in the future of Aden and the South Arabian Federation. It might have been that the next stage would have been the appointment of a personal representative of the Secretary-General and the possibility of a United Nations military presence. There might have been a large United Nations involvment during the time of our withdrawal. In these conditions, the suggestion of internationalising Perim might have been reasonable. The United Nations might have been able to take the island over. But I think that that possibility has now utterly disappeared.
It is not my practice and never has been during my 20 years' membership of this House to filibuster and keep the House up at night with unnecessary speeches, but this is a matter of very great importance which involves not only the future of British troops and civilians in Aden, who are now to be faced with the prospect of a long and dishonourable period of bloodshed and violence. It also destroys our position at the United Nations. Like my right hon. Friend, I have always believed that British foreign policy in modern conditions must be based on loyal membership of the United Nations.
Clause 6 of the Bill has a provision for Orders in Council under Clauses 3 and 5 to be revoked by subsequent Orders in Council. Does this mean that if the Government, on the return of the Foreign Secretary from New York or for other reasons, relent and decide to change their policy, the timetable can be altered and the arrangements which my hon. Friend has announced can be radically changed?
If that were so, I should feel a little less unhappy about the Bill. Nevertheless, it is my hope that some of my hon. Friends or perhaps the Liberal Party, whose 1279 leader made a powerful attack earlier on the Foreign Secretary's statement, will provide the House with an opportunity to divide against the Bill. If they do so, I shall certainly vote against it.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
I will not detain the House for very long because I accept much of what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker) said. I hope that prior to the closure of the debate we will find out whether there is sufficient support to take the line which he has indicated.
I should like to refer only to Clause 1 in which we are being asked to give power to Her Majesty in Council in effect to give up sovereignty in regard to three territories of rather different categories. Upon the passage of that Order in Council we will cease to have any responsibility for the government of those territories.
The reason that such a Bill is necessary is, of course, because at the moment we exercise complete sovereignty over these territories. Although at the moment Aden is part of the South Arabian Federation, and I speak subject to correction, it has the legal status of a Crown Colony.
The Under-Secretary of State was careful to say that there would be consultation with those people who were involved as to the future status they wished to have and the future political arrangement they would wish to enter into. What I want to know is what sort of consultation will take place. The hon. Gentleman is right if he follows the precedents. In those territories in respect of which we have exercised sovereignty we have always been careful to consult them. It is that reason which prompted Mr. Macmillan, when he was Prime Minister, to appoint the Monckton Commission to find out the views of the people living in those territories about the future of the Federation. It was for that reason that we had a referendum in Nigeria before independence to see whether the territory which was formerly the British Cameroons wished to remain with the future Nigerian Federation or to federate with what was then the French Cameroons. The territory decided in favour of the latter. The Ashanti were consulted as to whether they wished to join the Gold Coast prior 1280 to that country becoming Ghana, and likewise, when there was criticism of the Caribbean Federation the constituent territories were again consulted upon whether they wished the Federation to be continued or dissolved.
It is true to say that in that case elections took place after independence, but none the less the principle obtains that in territories for which we have responbility, or had responsibility recently, every effort was made to consult the people living in them.
What we have not had from the Under-Secretary of State, and it is a staggering omission, is what form of consultation there will be. We know what particular value was attached to the views of one constituent territory, namely, Aden, when after they had had elections, the Chief Minister, because he was opposed to the federal commitment of Aden to being part of South Arabia, was sacked from office, as a result of which he is now living in exile. I am not certain whether this is going to constitute the full extent of the consultation which this territory will enjoy after we cease to hold sovereignty over it.
We are told that there will be an Order in Council against which, presumably, we cannot put down any Prayer in this House. I speak subject to correction on that and perhaps we can hear from the Government. It will be on the appointed day—On such day as Her Majesty may by Order in Council appoint (in this Act referred to as "the Appointed day") …that these matters will take place. Has the Under-Secretary of State any idea what particular date is in mind?
Might it, for example, be 9th January, 1968? To me the staggering thing is that during this debate the Under-Secretary has told us that the people in Aden will be most carefully consulted as to what future status they want, whereas the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State earlier today, in another debate, told us that they will become part of an independent Southern Arabian Federation on 9th January 1968.
§ Mr. William Rodgers
The right hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. When I referred to consultation, it was in answer to Questions about the islands. It is in the case of the islands that we 1281 intend to have some form of consultation before a final decision is made.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman since that makes the position worse, very much worse. He will correct me if I do him an injustice, but he is saying that there will be no further consultation with Aden. Is that correct? The moment will come when Her Majesty will, by Order in Council, relinquish sovereignty over this territory, and we shall have no further responsibility for the government of it.
We are being asked to give the Government a blank cheque to give up sovereignty when they want, and there is to be no further consultation with the people who are in a Crown Colony, in respect of whom we have, therefore, a particular fiduciary relationship. Without entering upon the merits of the previous debate, it is only fair to say that there are many people in Aden with views as to what they want to do upon independence, and there are many who take the view that they do not want to join the Southern Arabian Federation. Will they be given any opportunity to express that view, or are they to be dragooned into that Federation, in the same way as the Government hope to dragoon us into voting for this Bill, without giving people in the Colony any further opportunity of debating their future, without giving this House any further opportunity of debating their future?
If so it must be the first time in a long and honourable history of liquidating a colonial empire in which we deliberately give independence to a territory which is a Crown Colony in order that we may force them into a federal structure to which many of its constituent inhabitants are violently opposed. It would be interesting to know the doctrine which applied in the case of the Ashanti, the Cameroons, the Caribbean, Central Africa, the Protectorates of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and to know whether it is to apply to Aden, or whether it is in a particular category, as the Government believe that they know what is best, and do not think it necessary to consult local opinion.
Accepting, as we do, that the expressed opinion of the Chief Minister, elected on a constitutional basis of universal suffrage 1282 in Aden in 1959, was opposed to joining the Federation, and that therefore, for that and other reasons, he was dismissed from office, and is now in exile, I do not believe that the Government are giving adequate consultation—I do them an injustice, I paid them too great a tribute, because the Under-Secretary has said that there will be no consultation.
To ask us to relinquish sovereignty over a territory which is a Crown Colony in order that it may be pushed into a federal structure to which many people in the Colony are opposed, and to which many Members of this House are opposed, because we think that it is unworkable as at least three of the other federations which have broken up in the last five years, seems to be an unwarrantable assertion of power by this House, and therefore I think that this is a very bad Bill indeed.
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
We are all grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the detailed information which he has given about the contents of the Bill. His preoccupation with detail should not remove from our minds that in the long history of decolonisation this must be one of the most extraordinary independence Bills ever introduced into the House of Commons, not so much because of the contents of the Bill, but because of the time at which it has been introduced. I agree with the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker) and my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) in their strictures on the Government for introducing the Bill at this moment in time.
Ministers have said in the preceding debate, and the Under-Secretary said in introducing the Bill, that we have very little time left. The fact that we have very little time left is entirely a matter of the Government's choosing. There is no reason why the independence date has to be set at 9th January. It could equally well be 9th June next year. There is no reason why the Bill has to be introduced tonight. It could well have been introduced in two, three or four weeks' time and still receive Royal Assent before the House rises for the Summer Recess.
The timing of the Bill seems to me to be peculiarly odd, because as a result 1283 of the Israeli-Arab war and the concussion that the whole Arab world, of which Aden is a part, has suffered, we have no idea what threat is posed to Aden by its neighbours. Indeed, we have no real idea what our lasting interest in Aden will be.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) expressed the belief earlier today that, as a result of the Israeli conflict and the debacle that Egypt has suffered, Nasser would be more intent on prosecuting his assault on Aden and that he would redouble his efforts to subvert the Government which we support and to which, in the Bill, we are giving independence. My right hon. Friend is probably right.
On the other hand, another possibility is that within the next week or two President Nasser will disappear completely from the scene. We have had this afternoon's debate and the introduction of the Bill at the one moment in time when we have no idea whatever what the future threat to Aden will be.
We have made a very generous offer to Aden, but we have no idea whether it will be sufficient to meet the threat or whether it will be immensely excessive. It will cost us £60 million over the next three years. It may be that if the United Arab Republic withdraws, none of this money, or only very little of it, will be needed in the regular maintenance of the Adeni Government. At this moment, we do not know. At the same time, we do not know what our lasting interests in Aden will be.
If President Nasser continues to pursue the subversion of Aden, so long as the southern shores of the Persian Gulf remain in friendly hands and the oil continues to flow, which have obviously an important interest in seeing that the Government in Aden is not subverted and that there are peace, stability and prosperity in that land. If, in fact, our Arab relationships are so shaken, and the whole structure of the relationships becomes such that we have no longer any friends in the Persian Gulf, then our interest in maintaining law and order is necessarily different. Oil is already cut off, and if this loss to our companies becomes permanent, then our interest in the stability of the Federal Government is, to put it mildly, reduced.
1284 This is the one moment in time when we have no idea of what the situation is going to be. We may have, in three, or four or five weeks' time, but to use this day as the occasion when Her Majesty's Government announce their intentions for the next three years is something which strikes me as very odd indeed. My noble Friend the Member for Hertford referred to the use of the Federal troops in Aden for the maintenance of law and order during the interim period before independence and I would most certainly agree that there is every reason, whatever may be the situation in the Arab world, that we should withdraw all British troops as quickly as possible from the entirely Arab areas of Crater and Sheikh Othman. In the normal course of security duties they are subject to attack by terrorists, but I perfectly well understand the reluctance of the Government to hand over the responsibility for internal security in those areas of Aden to the Federal forces.
On the one hand, there are doubts about the efficiency of those forces and the loyalty of the soldiers and yet, technically, they should have received sufficient training in a few weeks' time to enable them efficiently to undertake their work. It is an extremely important decision to hand over responsibility for any area unless one is completely sure of what the troops to whom one is handing over that responsibility are likely to do; but here, we have a different situation.
I would suggest that the immense sums which we intend to lavish—yes, lavish—on Aden in the next three years are such that we have a right to see that the Federal forces do a proper job in maintaining law and order in the Crater and Sheikh Othman districts. If, in the event, the situation gets out of hand and those forces allow these areas to become a hotbed for saboteurs and allow them to become nests of terrorism with attacks on any British personnel, then Her Majesty's Government should reduce the subsidies to which the Government have committed us in the next three years. We intend to put immense sums in their pockets. We think that they will be efficient. Then let us see that they are efficient in the next few months. If they are not, the amount of money which we intend to give them can be reduced.
1285 I turn now to two very small groups which have been associated with Aden. One is the Jewish community there, which will have to leave before independence is granted. The Jews number less than 200, and they are not a particularly wealthy community. In the last couple of weeks, we have seen that the Aden mobs, in their jolly fashion, have hacked to death one elderly Jew and set on fire a number of Jewish-owned shops. Clearly, the entire Jewish community will have to be removed from Aden, or not a single one will survive independence. They will have to be resettled in Israel, and I do not see why the members of the community should have to bear the entire cost themselves. As we are leaving them in an impossible position, I do not see why we or the Aden population as a whole should not make some contribution to their resettlement in Israel. To take their places, perhaps a couple of hundred Arab refugees might be brought from Israel to Aden.
I referred just now to one small group, but the second should be described more correctly as an individual. He is the late High Commissioner in Aden, Sir Richard Turnbull. In the course of this afternoon's debate, unfortunately, there was not a single reference by Ministers to the distinguished service which he performed while he was High Commissioner. On a day in which the Government have accepted virtually all the views which he put forward over the last few months, and when his stewardship has been vindicated completely, a word of thanks for his service might perhaps have been forthcoming from Ministers. However, that would he too much to expect, and one can only be grateful that they have accepted his views and assured Aden of a rather better future than seemed probable yesterday.
§ 11.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I am quite sure that the principle of the Bill is right, and that independence should come to Aden. The Conservative Government pledged themselves to independence for Aden, but they did it in a context of a defence guarantee to ensure that, when independence came, it was secure. Until this afternoon, there was no evidence that that defence context would be provided for the independence 1286 of Aden, and I suppose that we should be grateful for small mercies that it has come.
While agreeing with the principle of the Bill, however, I am bound to say that the timing of it is most unfortunate. First of all, one can rightly protest about the timing of the Bill in the House of Commons. As was said earlier by one of my hon. Friends, it is treating the House with contempt to make a statement on Government policy and, within a matter of minutes, ask the House to pass the Bill which arises from that policy. The House of Commons could have been vouchsafed at least a few more days in which to consider the matter.
What was the rush? The policy has been under consideration for a very long time now. It could have been considered a little longer, and the House could have been given another 48 hours, which was perhaps all that was necessary, instead of having to talk off the cuff this evening.
I should also like to advert to the point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party. He asked about consultations, and I understood from the Minister of State that there are to be consultations of some still undefined character with the people of the smaller territories—specifically Perim and the Kuria Muria Islands.
I doubt if there are very many people to be consulted, but certainly there are some, and I should like the Minister to say whether, in the event of the people who live on the island of Perim deciding that they would prefer to retain the British connection, he is then prepared to come to the House of Commons and say, "I am sorry—we shall not need to give independence, after all, to Perim because they prefer to stay the way they are". Will he say what consultations he has had with the people who live there, what consultations he is going to have, and what notice he will take of their wishes when he has heard them, if he does?
I turn now to the appointed day referred to in Clause 1. We are still a little in the dark as to what precisely that appointed day is to be. Is it to be 9th January of next year? If so, I think one is entitled to ask why that particular date? The only information given to the House this afternoon was that it 1287 would have to be 9th January because until 9th January it was the Feast of Ramadan, but I am sure the Minister can give us a better explanation than that.
I should like the date to be not defined in such precise language, and for this Bill not to come into operation until the independence of South Arabia has been internationally secured, and until public order has been secured within the Aden territory. But we are given no evidence that these two things are to be achieved at all. On the contrary, there will be independence—or at least relinquishment of sovereignty—on some arbitrary date irrespective of whether Aden is under attack, whether it is threatened, or whether there is public order or no public order.
I really think the Government should indicate that they intend not to relinquish power until there is clearly public order and clearly a diminution of the external threat to the independence of the Federation which they wish to make independent.
I turn now to one particular exception within the Bill which, when it comes to the Committee stage, I hope it will be possible for us to amend. Specifically, I refer to Perim. There are many reasons why Perim is entitled to separate treatment, and the first is that it is not an essential part of the Federation at all. There is no reason, political, historic or even geographical why it should be wrapped up in the same package deal as Aden and the Kuria Muria Islands.
This small island is, by any measure, of major strategic importance. If the Minister doubts it, let him recall that the Soviet Union is reported, at least, to have been establishing submarine pens not so many miles from the island, and if the Soviet Union feels that to be apropriate in the territory of Yemen, is it not evident that this southern part of the Red Sea is of major strategic significance? This island lies right in the jaws of the Red Sea. At that point the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb are barely 30 miles wide—the width of the English Channel. Can we imagine, if there were to be a small island five miles square in the middle of the English Channel on an international waterway, that it would be considered to have no strategic significance?
1288 I think the Minister must recognise, on the facts of geography alone, that this is potentially a point of major strategic significance in the Middle East, commanding the Straits. That is precisely why our ancestors, perhaps a little more far-sighted than we are, took over command of Perim in the first place. I quote here from Mr. C. Johnston's history of the area, which is the most authoritative one the House of Commons' Library was able to lay its hands on. In describing the annexation Of Perim by Britain in 1856 he says:The initiative was taken, not, as picturesque tradition has it, in order to forestall by a few hours a French occupation, but on a cool assessment of its strategic value, and by a clear perception in Whitehall of how this would be increased if the current plans for the Suez Canal were realised, as they came to be some years later.There was no doubt then in the mind of the British Government that this was of major strategic significance.
The Minister may say that Perim is a small place, and is not really viable. I have looked up some of the details of Perim, and it is not such a light and disposable matter. It is a small but considerable place—so is Gibraltar—5½ square miles in size. It has a considerable harbour, described in most of the texts that I have found as an excellent one, with an entrance 868 yards wide, and with deep water for most ships of heavy tonnage. It contains two lighthouses, of some importance, surely, for those who wish to navigate through these difficult waters. It contains a small airfield. I should have thought that this was of some significance at the southern extremity of the Red Sea.
It has a condensing plant to provide water for the British and Adeni Administration who have occasionally lived there over recent years, and I would like the Minister to confirm that at some stage the B.B.C. had in Perim a radio broadcasting system in the Arabic language. I am glad to see from the Minister's nod that he confirms this. With the Middle East inflamed as it has been, this seems an extraordinary time to throw away the Arabic language broadcasting station which the B.B.C. operated in Perim.
Those are some of the reasons why the Government might think it wise to think again about Perim, but I do not 1289 wish to see, and I do not think anyone does, the island retained as one more of the long chain of British bastions. I accept the Government's case that the time has come when, in areas of this kind, it is far better if we operate within the context of international organisations, and in particular the United Nations. I am sure that I shall carry the Minister and most of his hon. Friends with me when I suggest that the best solution for Perim is for the Government to remove it from the Bill, as we shall seek to do in Committee, and offer it to the United Nations as a trust territory.
I believe that the United Nations could establish there a small peace-keeping force, and if there is a peace-keeping force it must have a physical territory over which the United Nations has sovereign control. If the evidence of Sinai showed anything, it was that the United Nations should not find itself in the position that it could be ordered to leave because it was on somebody else's territory. There should, therefore, be a new beginning for the United Nations to establish a presence on the island of Perim at the southern extremity of the Red Sea.
Let us consider the advantages. First, there would be a United Nations presence guaranteeing freedom of navigation through the narrow entrance to the Red Sea. I am sure that after seeing what has happened in Suez, and in Aqaba, the Minister would wish to see free navigation established at that point under international control.
Secondly, we do not know what the future holds for Somalia or for the Aden Federation. It is difficult to see into the distant future. No man can be certain that the next generation will not be controlled by elements which wish to prevent free passage through the straits of Bab-le-Mandeb. Here again, a United Nations presence could guarantee that freedom of navigation which we all seek to achieve.
Is the Minister not in danger of throwing away a unique opportunity to establish here, at the southern end of the Red Sea, a United Nations presence? It is not sufficient for him to say, as the Minister admitted at the beginning, that the United Nations might not want it; 1290 let us ask and find out. Here is an alternative for the island of Perim. The Bill as a whole will have the support of the House, but the Minister would be wise to think again about this island in the general context.
§ 11.20 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomson
I will try to answer the many interesting points that have been raised during this brief debate. First, the noble Lord the hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) has chided the Government for having greatly delayed the constitutional progress of South Arabia and Aden—and now he complains that we are rushing the House unduly. He complained in particular that the Hone-Bell Report was now 18 months old and that it was only now that Her Majesty's Government had got round to doing anything about constitutional reform in South Arabia. The facts are that ever since the conference in the summer of 1964—presided over by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys)—we have been trying to carry the constitutional progress of South Arabia forward.
As the Foreign Secretary said this afternoon, we met again and again with frustration in this process because of the unwillingness of various political groups to come round the table and co-operate in constitutional progress. Then the situation gradually deteriorated—I do not want to go into the reasons at this stage—and Aden in particular and to some extent some of the other parts of the Federation were overtaken by very violent terrorism. This is the reason for the lack of constitutional agreement and progress, and what we are now engaged in is admittedly second-best. I give this freely to the Leader of the Liberal Party.
We are engaged in carrying through the best constitutional reforms we can at this stage with those who are willing to co-operate, in the hope that we can still get, through the United Nations or in other ways, a wider involvement and, in the end, the basis of a more representative Government. Responsibility for the delays in implementing the Hone-Bell Report cannot fairly be laid at the door of the British Government.
As I explained earlier, our participation in this constitution-making for South Arabia is narrowly confined to saying "Yea" or "Nay" on behalf of the Aden 1291 State which, as the Leader of the Liberal Party pointed out, is a Crown Colony. The Constitution is a federal Constitution. We did not participate in its drafting or making, and the Hone-Bell constitutional advisers were advisers to the Federal Government. They were hired and employed by them, and reported to them. The first sight I had of the present Constitution was when I travelled to Aden in March of this year. It is only in the last month or two that we have had from the Federal Government in South Arabia their draft Constitution, which we described to the House this afternoon.
The noble Lord also asked about internal security, and this point was also raised by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart). I said in the earlier debate that the High Commissioner is actively discussing now with the South Arabia Government exactly how the Federal forces can be phased into internal security operations in Aden so as to get experience on the ground before independence. Clearly, the areas inhabited mainly by Arabs rather than by Europeans will lend themselves to this.
There are some practical difficulties about command structure, because it is certainly our view that we have to preserve the final responsibility of Her Majesty's Government to the House so long as Aden remains a Crown Colony. There are also some practical problems about training the Federal forces and it will be a month or two before they are ready to do this. Discussions are going on now and we certainly have it much in mind—
§ Mr. Thorpe
Accepting the right hon. Gentleman's hope that the House will be finally consulted, why will an Order in Council under Clause 3 or 5 be subject to some Parliamentary control—either annulment or delay; that is, Clause 6—whereas Clause 1, which deals with the major power of relinquishing sovereignty, is not stated to be in the same category? Is it suggested that that will not therefore be subject to Parliamentary control?
§ Mr. Thomson
I must check that, so that I do not mislead the right hon. Gentleman. I understand that all these Orders are subject to the scrutiny of the House, but, if I am wrong, I will inform him.
1292 The noble Lord asked me about the treaties. On 31st December, last year, we gave notice to all the States with whom we are in treaty relation—both in the Federation and in the other States which he mentioned—of our intention to terminate those treaties by 1st January next year.
There is some misunderstanding of the problem. De-colonisation in Southern Arabia is not the process to which we are accustomed in Africa and other continents. The States of South Arabia, being in treaty relationship, are much more similar to the independent Gulf Sheikdoms which have treaty relationships with the British Government than to the kind of protectorates with which we were more familiar during the processes of independence in Africa. That is why these States do not come into the Bill, which deals only with the Crown Colonies over which we have direct sovereignty.
I want to take up the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker) and to try to persuade him that he should not feel so strongly against the Bill. I am sorry that he and I are at cross-purposes about the relationship of my right hon. Friend's announcement today with the work of the United Nations Mission, as there is nothing of substance to be at cross-purposes about. I said that we hope that the Mission will carry on and that the United Nations will be able to play a crucial and constructive rôle both before and after independence.
Certainly, with regard to the approaches to F.L.O.S.Y., the Mission and we are entirely at one. We both wish to see the contacts established and it was our understanding that F.L.O.S.Y. had undertaken to travel to New York to meet the Mission. Lord Caradon, our representative at the U.N., also expected to have the opportunity of contacting the F.L.O.S.Y. leaders at that time, but, as the House knows, F.L.O.S.Y. did not arrive in New York because of the outbreak of war in the Middle East.
I am told that there was a delay of 10 days before the war broke out, during which the Mission waited for F.L.O.S.Y. to contact them, but, as we have found in the past, waiting for F.L.O.S.Y. is one of the experiences which one has to undergo in trying to produce progress on South Arabia.
1293 I should, perhaps, mention another idea we had, and this demonstrates our desire to see the Mission in contact with F.L.O.S.Y. and the N.L.F. The idea was that the U.N. Mission should go to Baghdad at the end of this month. We thought that, since the Committee of 24 had planned meetings there, F.L.O.S.Y. might meet the Committee there. While we were not participating in that tour of the Committee of 24, we wanted to try to establish these contacts. However, the war overtook events. Nevertheless, I should mention that, despite the efforts which we made, there was no indication from F.L.O.S.Y. that it was willing to accept this invitation. One should not underestimate the difficulties involved in persuading the leaders of this organisation to come into consultation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon complained about there not being sufficient time to consider this matter fully and urged that time be allowed to take account of U.N. reactions to the announcement made today. There will be a Committee stage and subsequent proceedings in the House on the Bill. I have no doubt that there will be opportunities to discuss the problems of South Arabia a good deal in the days immediately ahead.
My hon. Friend also asked whether my right hon. Friend would be open to persuasion, as a result of U.N. reactions, in regard to our timetable for independence. I am bound to tell the House that that is not the case. We feel that there is great advantage in firmly setting now, seven months ahead, the date for independence. There is a great deal to be done. The public servants and others should know where they are in this matter and people should concentrate their thoughts and efforts on making a success of independence when it comes.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) asked why 9th January had been chosen and wondered whether the whole thing could have been postponed till a later date, when a more ideal situation existed in South Arabia—when the internal security situation could be guaranteed and so on. In expressing that view the hon. Gentleman was not expressing the same view as I understood had been expressed by the Opposition Front Bench earlier today. There does not seem to be any dispute about the inevitability of fixing a firm 1294 independence date at this stage. The reason for fixing this date in January is because it coincides almost exactly with the date of the final military evacuation of the base. It is, therefore, for very practical reasons, a sensible date to have chosen for independence.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that, irrespective of the circumstances, the Government will stick to that date regardless of what is going on in Aden at the time?
§ Mr. Thomson
One never says in this House that something will be done "irrespective of any circumstances". However, it is our firm determination to work to this timetable, and there should not be any doubt about that.
The Leader of the Liberal Party and others raised the question of the islands. Three groups of islands are involved; the Kuria Muria Islands off the coast of Muscat, the Perim Island and Kamaran. I will deal with the Kuria Muria Islands first. They have a population of about 100 in an area of about 28 square miles. They are right off the map of South Arabia, literally off the coast of Muscat. They come under the the administrative responsibility of Aden only because the Sultan of Muscat and Oman presented the islands to Queen Victoria in 1854 as a present. In fact, the people belong ethnically not to South Arabia but to Muscat and Oman, and it is for consideration, in deciding their future, whether they might not wish to return there. There must, of course, be consultation with the population of these islands.
Kamaran, again, is right off the map at the other end, literally up the Red Sea and off the Yemen coast. It has a population of about 2,500, of very mixed blood. It used to have a prosperous existence as a quarantine station for Mecca, but with changes in the transportation of pilgrims that lucrative trade has suffered a considerable slump. Here, again, one has to find out what the wishes of the population would be.
The island that attracts most interest is Perim, lying, as it does, at the southern mouth of the Red Sea. The hon. Gentleman put the proposition that one might seek some kind of international status for the island, and at this stage I would certainly not wish to rule that out 1295 —we on this side of the House are always attracted by the possibility of some kind of international United Nations status for territories that are of importance, as Perim could be—but I must warn him and the House that there is no indication that the United Nations would jump at the opportunity of establishing Perim as a bit of United Nations territory.
The United Nations is not itself very well equipped in present circumstances to take over the task of administration, and there is more than one view about Perim's strategic possibilities. It is true that it is well placed in the mouth of the Red Sea, but there is a Yemeni headland a couple of miles away on top of which, I understand, are guns, so that the island would be very vulnerable, though the character of the problem might change if there was a genuine international presence there. That is why I should like a further opportunity to look at that suggestion.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party made a point about the position of Aden. This is the political heart of this Bill. I would only say that the question of consultation with the people of Aden is of a different character from the question of consultation with these small populations on these islands, if only because Aden is physically part of the South Arabian Federation.
We are very much aware that in this Bill we are having to create independence in conditions of unique difficulty; in conditions in which the elections will take place after the point of independence and not before the point of independence. I make no bones about it that this is not as we would have wished it. The reason for it is, first of all, that one is dealing with a whole series of States that are in treaty relationship with us, and not with British colonies. Secondly, there has over the last year or so been this persistent terrorism which has made the holding of elections inside Aden quite impossible.
The right hon. Member is quite wrong in believing that Mr. Mackawee was removed from being Chief Minister of Aden because he wanted Aden to be separate from the Federation. There is no evidence that anyone in South Arabia of any significance, no group that matters, 1296 wishes Aden to be separate from the Federation. The struggle there is the real political struggle of who is to control the Federation, and not whether one bit should be separate from another. Mr. Mackawee is certainly in exile, but it is a voluntary, self-exile, and we have repeatedly made it clear to him that he and other F.L.O.S.Y. leaders are welcome to make a contribution to the constitutional process which will begin, and that we only ask that they should not publicly advocate and foment violence.
I have taken up more time than I had intended, but I think that I have dealt with all the points that have been made. I have no doubt that in Committee we shall have ample opportunity to deal with all these matters in greater detail.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Armstrong.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.