§ Again considered in Committee.
§ Lord Balniel
The Foreign Secretary said absolutely categorically that the Island of Perim was, when British sovereignty lad been relinquished, to be transferred to the Federation of South Arabia. This was a clear statement. It was not the statement made on Second Reading by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who clearly said:We have not yet undertaken any formal consultations with the inhabitants, which we will obviously have to do before deciding their precise destination."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th June, 1967; Vol. 748, c. 1265.]The ultimate destiny of the Island of Perim is not certainly with the Federation. It is not a member of the Federation at the moment. There is little in its history which leads one to believe that it will automatically wish of its own volition to become a member of the Federation.
There is another argument to which the Foreign Secretary did not address himself but which was raised earlier in the debate. It is that for the past 100 years the sovereignty of the Island of Perim has rested in British hands. But in the present year the Yemen Republican Government have claimed the sovereignty of the island. They have claimed to extend—of course we reject the claim—their territorial waters from the previous three-mile limit to a 12-mile limit. This would bring the Island of Perim within the sovereignty of Yemen.
Therefore, were the Island of Perim to enter into the Federation, on the very day on which the Federation was to achieve independence she would be involved in a territorial dispute with the Yemen. Anyone can see how dangerous such a situation could be for the independent Federation.
On Second Reading we raised this question of transferring the lease of the Island of Perim to the United Nations. The Minister of State gave a firm undertaking that he would give consideration to this proposal. I am disappointed if the Foreign Secretary's speech tonight is the serious consideration which he has given to our very worthwhile suggestion. It seems that absolutely no consideration 650 has been given to the proposal. The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken in believing that this matter can be decided in the indefinite future. Once British sovereignty has been transferred, be it to the independent Federation or to any other nation, it does not lie within our gift to transfer this property to the United Nations.
I should like the right hon. Gentleman also to give the House an assurance that he will be able to secure the passage of Israeli ships through the Straits of Bab el Mandeb. As my noble Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) pointed out, with the Suez Canal closed to Israeli shipping, were these straits also to be closed to them, Israeli shipping would be completely bottled up. There would be no access to Israel, either through the Suez Canal or through the Red Sea and the Straits of Aqaba. Bearing in mind that it was the closing of Sharm el Sheikh which led to the recent war, it is clear that our proposal is a serious one worthy of consideration by the Foreign Secretary.
In spite of the tone of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, I shall take him at his word. Like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), I shall trust him, and, if he will give a firm assurance that he will raise the matter at the United Nations along the lines of our new Clause, I shall advise my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), though it is entirely a matter for him, that we should accept the Foreign Secretary's word and ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Stanley Henig (Lancaster)
When my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) announced revealingly that, until this debate, he had not heard of Perim, I had a sneaking suspicion that he might not be the only one, and I had another suspicion that the sudden love of the Opposition for this little island might have more to do with embarrassing my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary than anything else.
Oddly enough, I had heard of Perim in one connection, when one of the leaders of a nationalist group in Aden, a leader of F.L.O.S.Y., announced some months ago that, if and when Aden became independent, he intended that, 651 through control of Perim, Israel should be throttled. Given the likely naval and military strength of the South Arabian Federation immediately after independence, one does not regard that as an immediate threat, but perhaps there is something in it.
A lot of this debate has centred round the United Nations, but I suspect that we have all been kidding ourselves. No one will say in Committee that we do not want Perim to be internationalised. We would love Perim to be internationalised. We would love everything to be internationalised. But I doubt that any such talk is very practical at the moment, when the real task is to save the United Nations from an extinction which the events of the last few weeks has made seem ever nearer.
I doubt that the United Nations is at the moment in any shape to be able to take over this responsibility, even assuming that one could, by some magic, create the political will on the part of the great Powers, let alone the smaller ones and some of the Arab States in the area. Let us face facts. If we imagine that, all of a sudden, the United Nations will achieve the necessary unanimity to undertake this task, we are living in cloud-cuckoo-land.
Nevertheless, we have a legitimate right to concern ourselves for the future of this area. My right hon. Friend put his finger on the spot when he suggested that some hon. Members opposite foresaw that British sovereignty would continue, perhaps, as a result of failure by the United Nations to act along the lines proposed in the new Clause, in which case, were the House to accept all that has been proposed by the Opposition, we should, in six or seven months, no doubt, find British sovereignty over Perim still continuing. I do not regard that as too terrible a prospect. In my view, British sovereignty need not necessarily be a dirty idea, although exactly what the cost of such an operation would be I do not know.
I conclude by putting an important question to my right hon. Friend. I am sure that no one here or the country particularly wants Britain to control Perim. Indeed, I do not suppose that many people are much bothered about what happens to it. But a great many 652 people, after the events of the last few weeks, are bothered about the possible threat of another flare-up in the Middle East. It happened at Sharm el Sheikh and perhaps it could happen again at Perim, though the straits there are much wider.
What does my right hon. Friend consider to be the likelihood that through control of Perim the South Arabian Federation would be able physically to do what is suggested, if it wished, within the reasonably foreseeable future—let us say within the next four or five years? One sincerely hopes that after that the Middle East will move towards a more peaceful state. What does he think about the possibilities and dangers?
If that may be done in the next four or five years when we might be able to prevent it by a continuing presence for that period at not too great a cost, it might be reason to think again. I ask my right hon. Friend to comment on his assessment of the danger of the straits being used in the kind of way indicated.
§ Mr. Sandys
I should be prepared to follow the advice of my noble Friend and not press the new Clause, but I think that it would be helpful to the House, in view of the perhaps slightly lighthearted tone of the Foreign Secretary's speech, if he would say a few more words about his intention to raise the matter at the United Nations.
The Clause refers to a "lease". The lease is in accordance with the Charter, but I do not imagine—I wonder whether I could have the right hon. Gentleman's attention—that any of my hon. Friends attach all that much importance to a lease or in what exact form Perim is internationalised. What we consider very important, and I felt that perhaps the Foreign Secretary did not attach sufficient importance to this, was that we should take the opportunity which an accident of history has given us to keep this vital waterway open for a long time ahead.
We have this opportunity and once we have given up sovereignty the opportunity is gone. In my view, the certainty will follow that this territory on both sides of the straits will come into some form of Arab hands. I have nothing against the Arabs, but there are situations in which they may very well decide to do exactly as they did in the Gulf of Aqaba. 653 Many of us would not have pressed the point so much if it had not been for the events of the past few weeks, which have pointed the lesson and drawn our attention to the extreme importance of Perim.
As I told the Committee, I have taken an interest in this problem for a number of years, and I wrote to the Foreign Secretary about it the other day. I think that it is in everybody's mind at the moment. The opportunity we have to safeguard the rights of shipping through these important straits is so important that I do not believe that in solving the problem our actions should be dictated entirely by a date which happens to have been fixed for the independence of South Arabia.
It may well be that between now and January it is not possible to get the United Nations, which we know moves very slowly, to take on this responsibility. It may be necessary to find another international agency to assume this responsibility, perhaps as an interim measure while the United Nations considers the matter.
I urge the Foreign Secretary not to be fixed too hard and fast by this date. I am not talking about Aden, but the possibility of safeguarding this vital waterway, and I do not think that it is necessary that the two things should be linked. If we decide to retain sovereignty over Perim for a little longer I cannot see that anybody will attack the decision. What matters is not its defence but the legal status of Perim, which makes it impossible for any country afterwards to argue that it has a right to close the straits.
That is the point that I am trying to make. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will help us and allow us, with a lighter heart, not to press the Clause, and to feel that he is really serious in his intention to take up the matter at the United Nations.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I wish to intervene for only two or three moments. Unlike the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), I have heard of Perim nearly all my life. One of my earliest recollections is seeing it in 1909, when I was six years old. A liner had piled up on it.
654 Anyone who has seen Perim—and I hope that other hon. Members have—will appreciate what an important island it is, not only strategically but from the point of view of navigational hazard. I hope that a satisfactory arrangement about it can be made which will not allow it to pass into the hands of any ill-disposed Government, because it could cause a great deal of trouble in these straits if it were in the wrong hands.
Perhaps it would be convenient for me to reply now to what the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) has just said. If my tone earlier was too lighthearted, I am sad about that. On the other hand, I thought that it fitted in with what I was hearing at the time.
There is a problem between us and I would rather not fluff it or hide it. Whether it helps or does not help the right hon. Gentleman, we had better be clear about it. I am absolutely serious that I will make every endeavour to get Perim under some form of international United Nations administration, control, organisation, or whatever it might be, between now and the date when we surrender sovereignty over South Arabia. I will try very hard. I take this to be the desire of the Committee and I will certainly try hard to bring it about.
I think that the issue which divides us is that I cannot undertake, and will not undertake, to maintain British ownership of the island thereafter, for the reasons which I tried to give earlier and which my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) followed up. On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman said that there may be other arrangements that one could make which would not involve that.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman quite sincerely that I will discuss this with the South Arabian authorities and with the United Nations to see whether there is some other arrangement that we could make. If that is acceptable to right hon. and hon. Members opposite, I will operate on this basis and this little debate, which I tried to give earlier and which my been very useful all round.
§ Mr. Sandys
I ask the Foreign Secretary to clarify one point. He has made a very helpful intervention and I think that he has impressed the Committee 655 that he means seriously to try to bring about a solution such as we have in mind.
§ Mr. Brown indicated assent.
§ Mr. Sandys
The right hon. Gentleman said that he could not undertake to allow British sovereignty to continue after the date of independence for South Arabia, even for this purpose. I do not think that we would expect him to give an undertaking of that kind at this moment, but can we take it that he is not doing the converse—taking the view that in no circumstances would he consider allowing sovereignty over Perim to continue after the independence of South Arabia?
It may well be that, at that time, he will be making progress in securing some internationalisation of Perim. I think that he will find it difficult to do it in the time available but, if he is making progress and sees such possibilities, I hope that he would not feel himself rigidly bound on this issue. I do not ask him for an undertaking, but that he should not bind himself in such circumstances.
Quite frankly, I cannot think of any circumstances in which I would want to recommend the House to retain sovereignty of that island after the date of independence. The right hon. Gentleman asks whether I am binding my successor's hands for all time. The answer is that no one can do that. I do not want the House to think I am misleading it. I literally cannot at this moment think of circumstances in which I would want to recommend that we gave up independence to South Arabia and yet retained sovereignty over that island. Subject to having said that openly and honestly, no one binds one's hands totally six months ahead.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
The Foreign Secretary has made an important and very helpful statement. I understand now that it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to achieve the internationalisation, under the United Nations, of the Island of Perim. He has said that he expects to achieve this, if it can be achieved, by the date of independence of the Arabian Federation, but—[An HON. MEMBER: "He did not say that."] I beg pardon—that he did not seek to achieve this by the date of independence of the Arabian Federation. I accept gladly the sincerity of what he has told the House. I could quite easily comment on the levity with which he opened his remarks, but this is too important a matter to seek to score party capital either way.
We have argued, and I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to accept, whatever they may say about conversions, that we are interested in maintaining freedom of passage for international shipping. We are seeking to deny this strategic territory to anyone who would abuse it. We are seeking beyond that to give some physical reality on the ground to the United Nations which, lacking that physical reality, has often been less able to operate effectively than some of us would have liked.
On the understanding that it is now the policy of Her Majesty's Government to achieve internationalisation of Perim, if it can be done, and that the Foreign Secretary is not binding himself to say that if negotiations are under way at the crucial date he will not then say that they must fail because there is a deadline, I would offer thanks to him for what he has said.
In the belief that a good step has been taken tonight, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.657
§ Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker
It has never been my view that debates after 10 o'clock are better than debates before that hour and it is not my intention to detain the Committee for very long.
In discussing the first group of Amendments we addressed ourselves principally to the security situation in Aden and in the Federation and to the defence commitments that the British Government had undertaken. I cannot say that my right hon. Friend's reply satisfied me as much as I had hoped. I repeat—I think it is the third time he has heard it today—that I am in a very distressing state. I fear that I will have to oppose the Government before we conclude our business on this Bill unless he can satisfy me that he and his right hon. Friend are prepared to reconsider the change of policy announced 10 days ago in the hope of ensuring United Nations help in reaching a political settlement and participation in South Arabia before we pull out.
It has always been my belief—and I understood it was the belief of the Government until 12 days ago—that the Federation with which we have been saddled by the arrangement made by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) was unworkable and that the present Government of the Federation was unrepresentative, undemocratic and unacceptable to the people of Aden and probably to many of the people in the sheikdoms as well on the ground that, as soon as British power is removed from the sheiks, many of the political arrangements in other parts of the Federation will collapse, as will the arrangement in Aden.
At one time I thought that the British Government accepted the need for the replacement of the Federal Government by an entirely new Government in which the nationalists would be represented in proportion to their real political strength and in which members of the existing Federal Government might be represented, but in proportion to their real strength, which is very different from the situation today. I thought that it was the intention of the British Government to seek the complete overhaul of the present arrangements and to have negotiations with the nationalists.
658 There is a great dilemma here and we saw it very clearly during the six years of the Cyprus emergency. It is very difficult—I would say that it was impossible—for a Government to seek to fight terrorism by the use of troops and security forces and simultaneously to conduct negotiations with the leaders of the terrorists themselves. This dilemma was clearly illustrated by the farcical treatment meted out to the United Nations Mission which went to Aden some weeks ago.
It may be that that Mission did not prepare the ground very well and did not appreciate the conditions in which it would find itself, but the fact of the matter is that the British Government treated it in a farcical manner. Having heard both the Mission and the Foreign Secretary describe what happened to the Mission in London and at Dorneywood, I do not think that it was very well handled in this country, and that appears to be recognised by the fact that Sir Richard Turnbull was removed and Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, who happens to be an old and fairly close friend of mine, was sent to be High Commissioner instead.
I repeat that it is impossible for the Government effectively to suppress what they describe as a terrorist campaign and simultaneously to negotiate with the political leaders of the terrorists themselves. That is why I believed from the beginning of this situation, and still believe, that the only way out of the dilemma for the British Government is to use the United Nations, which could conduct negotiations with the political leaders of the nationalist elements in a way we could never hope to do while fighting a campaign for what we describe as the restoration of law and order. I had thought that the Government's attitude was the same as mine and that, whatever criticisms they might have levelled at the Committee of 24, or the members of the United Nations Mission, they believed that the use of the Mission was the first stage in getting United Nations help in negotiating a new political settlement.
The Foreign Secretary said that he had seen Dr. Perez-Guerrero in New York last week, and either he or my right hon. Friend the Minister of State made a slightly offhand reference to my 659 "fleeting" visit to New York. My right hon. Friend knows very well that it was fleeting because I wanted to be back for the Aden debate on Monday. If I may reply in kind, very often the visits of Foreign Ministers and Prime Ministers from this country to the United Nations are very much too fleeting. To fly over, deliver a speech, have a couple of conversations with the Secretary-General and the Chairman of the Mission and come back again is not the way in which the the United Nations ought to be worked.
I remember in the early days, when Ernie Bevin was Foreign Secretary and Clem Attlee was Prime Minister, they would spend days, sometimes weeks on end, at the United Nations, negotiating and settling international problems of these kinds. In any case, after my fleeting visit, and after the Foreign Secretary had talked to Dr. Perez-Guerrero, I spoke to him yesterday, and all that I can say is that my impression is that the statement of policy made a few days ago came as great a shock to the United Nations and the United Nations Mission as it did to my hon. Friends and other hon. Members of this House.
I should like my right hon. Friend to give an assurance that we will give absolute priority to the United Nations in these negotiations. There have been many complaints about the difficulties in negotiating with F.L.O.S.Y., about messages that a F.L.O.S.Y. emissary is to come to meet some emissary of the British Government somewhere, and does not turn up, and similar difficulties with the N.L.F. As I have tried to explain, this is inevitable in the situation in which the British Government find themselves.
This is why I think that the United Nations is the only hope of getting sensible negotiations started which might lead to a political settlement. The emergency with which we are now coping started when the Federation was set up by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham, who spoke earlier in the debate, and the only way in which we can have effective negotiations with the nationalists, the only way in which we can get a more representative Government set up, the only way in which we can have a Government in power in 660 Aden and South Arabia at the time that we pull out, which will stand a chance of maintaining law and order and allowing us to extricate our troops and such civilians as come out, in a decent and sensible and peaceful way, is by using the United Nations to help us to set up that Government. That process has to start with the report of the United Nations Special Mission on Aden, headed by Ambassador Perez-Guerrero.
The Government should be much more serious about their intention to use the U.N. and should allow Lord Shackleton and Sir Humphrey Trevelyan to go to the U.N. to meet the Secretary-General, to talk to delegations there and to the Aden Special Mission, and I am very sorry that this has not yet been arranged. The U.N. should have played a most important rôle—it is doubtful if this is possible now—in ensuring that we can have effective political negotiations for getting a new representative government in Aden. These could have led to a physical United Nations presence in the area, and this is of some relevance to the previous debate. It could have played a crucial rôle in getting acceptance for an independent Southern Arabia on a common basis by the neighbouring countries and skated round the problem of what relations South Arabia and Aden are to have after independence with the Yemen, Aden., Saudi Arabia and other countries.
I am very apprehensive about the course of this debate. But I make one last appeal to my right hon. Friend to make it clear that the Government are prepared to reconsider the policy which the Foreign Secretary announced 10 days ago, in the interests of using the United Nations to settle this problem. If he is not able to do that, I have to repeat what I have told him earlier, that I shall find myself voting against the Government on this Clause.
§ Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)
I have listened to virtually the whole of this debate with great interest. No doubt the Minister will have noticed that some of my hon. Friends and myself tabled Amendment No. 11, which was not called, but he will know from this Amendment what the theme of my remarks will be.
On this Liberal bench we have not proposed that the election date should 661 be postponed. We are only too well aware that this leaves us just six months to stabilise the situation and, in spite of what the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker) has said, I do not see any immediate prospect of our getting very much help from the United Nations in doing this, although I have not given up hope for the future of the United Nations.
We on this bench are utterly convinced that this Bill, which hands British control to Aden after forcing the former Colony into a shot-gun marriage with the sheikdoms of South Arabia, will prove disastrous. It is for this reason that we ask the Government to consider organising a referendum to allow the people of Aden—the Arabs, the Yemenis, the Somalis, and the Indians—to decide their own political future and whether or not they wish to remain part of the South Arabian Federation. There is still time to do it before the appointed day, which quite clearly is to be 9th January. However difficult it might seem at the moment in the present hostile climate, I believe that it is possible to conduct such a referendum, and it is essential if any form of representative Government is to exist. The worst that could happen is a boycott of such a referendum by F.L.O.S.Y. and the N.L.F., and this would certainly be no worse than their present obvious reluctance to negotiate with ourselves, the United Nations Mission or, for that matter, with the Federal Government:
On 4th August, 1966, when I asked for a referendum on Gibraltar, the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies replied:I do not believe that any form of referendum would be helpful at present. Adequate arrangements exist for the people of Gibraltar to make their views known through their elected representatives."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th August, 1966; Vol. 733, c. 157.]What, then, has caused the Government to change their mind? Surely the case for a referendum in Aden is even stronger, because in Aden there are not adequate arrangements—
§ The Chairman (Sir Eric Fletcher)
Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that, in a debate on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," he cannot argue the merits of an Amendment which has not been selected.
§ Mr. Davidson
Sir Eric, this Clause is a very wide one covering the whole sphere of withdrawal from Aden. With respect, I think that I am well within the meaning of the Clause in the argument which I am pursuing.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. He can make an incidental reference to a referendum, which he has done already, but in a debate on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," he cannot argue the case for a referendum.
§ Mr. Davidson
I am arguing the case for a delayed withdrawal from Aden, or a withdrawal under certain conditions, which is the purpose of the Clause. In Aden, there is no channel at the moment for the people to make known through their elected representatives how they want to be governed. The alternative also will be a bloodbath. It would be very much easier for the British to organise a referendum during the six months which remain before the appointed day—
§ Mr. Goodhart rose—
§ Mr. Davidson
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish this part of my argument, and then I will give way to him. It would be better for us to organise such a referendum to stabilise the position in Aden before we get out, under Clause 1, rather than leaving a caretaker Government to sort out the mess later with British V-bombers.
§ Mr. Goodhart
Given that there are six months left, what questions would be asked in the hon. Gentleman's proposed referendum?
§ Mr. Davidson
I said in a speech in the House on 20th March—and the theme has been followed since by certain of my right hon. and hon. Friends—that we believe that the present Federation is not viable, that to move out in its present state is asking for trouble, that sooner or later it will break up and Aden itself will wish to opt out, and that we should, therefore, give her the opportunity to do so now, rather than getting out and expecting it to happen later on.
It could be argued that there is no indigenous movement towards the 663 separation of Aden from the Federation, but my information is to the contrary, and its source is exceptionally good, though I am not at liberty to disclose it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] In any case, was not Abdul Mackawee, the former Chief Minister of Aden and now leader of F.L.O.S.Y., dismissed for the reason, amongst others, that he could not agree to the federation of Aden with the South Arabian sheikdoms? Does the Minister not recall—
§ Mr. Davidson
That is the information which I have. If I am wrong, I beg leave to withdraw the remark. But I understood that one of the reasons why Abdul Mackawee was dismissed was because he refused to agree with the federation of Aden with the South Arabian sheikdoms. If there is disagreement on this point, hon. Members are entitled to disagree, but I would remind the Minister that on 11th February, when Federation Day was supposed to be celebrated, it was used as a day of protest in Aden, which is evidence of their unwillingness to be swallowed up by this Federation. Have the Government forgotten the events of 1950 leading up to the Central African Federation? This Federation was doomed before it ever got under way, because it was opposed unremittingly by African nationalist leaders who were not even consulted before it was set up.
If the basis of wisdom is to some extent an ability to profit by past mistakes, then I suggest that the Government are faced with an unparalleled opportunity. I am not suggesting that any particular party has a monopoly of all the mistakes which have been made in the past in our attempts as a nation to control the rapid disintegration of the former British Empire. Possibly the first was made by a Liberal Government in 1909 by passing an Act which gave independence to South Africa on far too narrow a franchise. Nevertheless, the world is littered with the fragments of ill-founded federations, many of them built on the shifting "sandys" to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) referred in a speech in this House on the 19th of 664 this month. We believe that this Bill is the foundation-stone of another jerrybuilt Federation which will also crumble and collapse very soon after the builders depart, and we ask the Government to pause and to think again very carefully before it is too late.
There is another even more obvious lesson to be learned from recent events in the Middle East. I cannot agree with the Secretary of State for Defence who said in this House on 31st May:I fail to see how what is happening in May this year 1,000 miles to the north of Aden need affect our plans about what we do in Aden next year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st May, 1967; Vol. 747, c. 67.)I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's argument has been disproved by what has been said from the Front Bench opposite during the debate today.
Obviously the events are very intimately linked. Not only is Egypt closely involved in both situations, but the oil refinery in Aden is mainly dependent on sources which have been severed as a direct result of the Israeli-Arab war. The lesson is so obvious that I am a little reluctant to cite it, but perhaps in the circumstances repetition is justified.
At the time of the outbreak of hostilities in the Sinai Desert, there were British Armed Forces in the Mediterranean, in Aden, in the Persian Gulf, and in the Indian Ocean. Presumably they were there with the splendid intention of keeping the peace and safeguarding British interests, for example, oil. I have often argued with people about "safeguarding our oil interests". Having spent a little over two years, from 1947 to 1949, in a frigate in the Middle East, largely in the Persian Gulf, ostensibly doing just that, I have been convinced ever since that the only way to defend such interests is by building up good relations with the countries concerned and doing everything possible to improve local standards of living and education, not by scattering sub-strength Navy, Army, and Air Force units around the areas and talking big to cover the gaps.
The near presence of British Forces had no effect whatsoever, neither in keeping the peace, nor in maintaining our oil supplies. War broke out, if anything a little quicker because of the presence of British Forces in neighbouring countries. 665 I believe, that the Israelis wanted to get going before we felt inclined to join in.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles (Winchester)
Does not the hon. Gentleman consider that he is casting a grave reflection on the work of British Forces in the Persian Gulf, and does not he understand that many of these countries who are not in a position to defend themselves value very much the presence of strong friends at hand to give them help when they need it?
§ Mr. Davidson
I resent strongly the implication that I am casting any aspersions en the functions performed by British Forces. What I am arguing about is the strategy of placing them where they find themselves.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Davidson
On the Bill, and if I am given the chance to continue hon. Members will see how the argument is connected with it.
Our oil supplies were turned off and we were helpless to do anything about it. If we had not been involved in the area it is most unlikely that the Arabs would have done that for old time's sake. More than that, we presented the Egyptians with an opportunity to slander us with accusations—
§ Mr. Davidson
I am just about to come back to my main theme. I was going to add that we were wearing knuckledusters, but of course—
§ The Chairman
Order. The hon. Member must not add anything to what he has said that I have ruled out of order.
§ Mr. Davidson
In view of your Ruling, Sir Eric, I will omit the next part of what I intended to say.
The Foreign Secretary said that after independence the V-bombers will be stationed on the Island of Masireh, and that these will be available for the six-month period of the naval force, and for as long thereafter as the Government may determine. This in fact implies that they 666 may be there for a considerable length of time after the date mentioned in Clause 1 of the Bill I am discussing. This is a form of open-ended commitment, whatever the Minister may say, to which we are most strongly opposed. In any case, what could the V-bombers do? Whom are they going to deter? What targets will they hit?
If, after the withdrawal of British ground forces, there is any infringement of the Federation's or Aden's frontier it will not be by smartly dressed troops marching four abreast headed by a percussion band. They will infiltrate by night in small groups dressed in uniforms of the same colour as the barren rocks of Aden, and they will be indistinguishable from the inhabitants of Aden itself. I certainly hope that those bombers will never be used for some sort of strategic function as the Americans are using their bombers against North Vietnam.
As for the presence of naval forces with carrier support for the first critical six months after independence, this is an idea of an entirely different nature. The idea is similar to one I proposed in the debate here on Aden on 20th March this year. In that same speech I stressed the point I made again today, that Aden should be given an opportunity to opt out of the Federation if she so wishes. The carrier idea is an acceptable one, in our view, because it is not an open-ended commitment, because carriers are capable of providing close support, but V-bombers are not, if called upon to do so—and obviously, only if called upon to do so—by the future Government of those territories.
There is another very good reason for the presence of a carrier in the area. They could, if nothing else, serve as a lifeline to any British citizens who might remain behind after the evacuation of our ground forces. I am thinking particularly of carrier-borne helicopters.
In conclusion, I want to ask the Minister one or two questions. Several have been asked already, and I will not repeat them, because many answers have been given during the debate. Would the right hon. Gentleman please give deep and serious consideration to the holding of a referendum in Aden? This is a practical proposal with the aim of alleviating tension and to avoid—
§ Mr. Davidson
I am not attempting to debate a referendum. I am attempting to put forward conditions which, in my view, should be carried out before we leave Aden under the Clause on which I am speaking. I cannot distinguish the difference.
§ The Chairman
If the hon. Member cannot distinguish the difference he must resume his seat. On this Question, he can talk only on whether or not the Clause should stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Davidson
I think that I have made my point, Sir Eric. I ask the Foreign Secretary to reconsider his plan to station V-bombers on the Island of Masirah. I sympathise greatly with the Secretary of State for Defence, because I realise that he has to try to find some use and justification for them.
We have had a considerable discussion on the future destination of the islands referred to in the Clause. I am delighted to hear from the Foreign Secretary tonight that Perim is to be internationalised. But what is to be the destination of the Kuria Muria Islands? Geographically, they appear to belong to the State of Muscat and Oman. It would be interesting to know what the Government's ultimate intentions for them are.
Unless the Minister can reassure us regarding the future of Aden itself, that the inhabitants of the former Crown Colony will be given an opportunity to decide their own political future, either within or without the South Arabian Federation, we on this bench will feel bound to oppose the Government on the Clause.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
I know that the hour is late and hon. Members, for understandable reasons, are reluctant to continue the debate at such a time, but this is an extremely important matter and we must debate the issues involved at the moment when they are presented to us by the Government. I quite understand that the Government feel that the debate might have been abbreviated earlier, but we must none the less recognise that we have to discuss these matters now, and, therefore, I make no apology for intervening.
668 The spokesman for the Liberal Party, the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) takes up a peculiar position when he says that he and his right hon. and hon. Friends intend to vote against the Clause at the end of the debate. I do not intend to vote against it. I shall support the Clause, and I had thought that, whatever may be the variations of opinion among hon. Members, it was now agreed by everyone that we wish at some point to get out of Aden. The Clause provides for just that. It gives the Government power, at a certain time, by Order in Council, to relinquish sovereignty over Aden. I had thought that that was agreed by everyone, whatever disputes we may have about the rest.
If the Liberal Party follows the suggestion which the hon. Gentleman has just made, it will put itself in a peculiar position, because it will be denying to the Government the power to relinquish sovereignty over Aden.
§ Mr. James Davidson
I said at the beginning of my speech that we are in favour of our vacating Aden. We are not suggesting that the date of evacuation should be postponed. At the end of my speech, I said that, unless we could be given an assurance that the people of Aden itself would be given a chance to decide their own future and opt out of the Federation if they wished, we should feel bound in those circumstances to vote against the Clause.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman has now repeated a part of his speech. All I am saying is that, if that is what Liberal Members want to say, they should not do it by voting against the Clause. If they say that about the Bill, they could have put down Amendments to say it. [HON. MEMBERS: "We did."] All right. That is perfectly proper. But to vote against the Clause is to vote against the Government's being given power to relinquish sovereignty over Aden, and that, I gather, is not what they wish to achieve.
There are other criticisms I wish to make against the Government, but they could do lead me to wish to vote against the Clause. I hope that the Liberal Party will not vote against it either. It will be most unwise if it does, because it will misrepresent its own position. However, it is not my business to interpret 669 what hon. and right hon. Members of the Liberal Party have in mind. It is difficult enough for me to try to interpret what is going on in the Government's mind, without taking on that as well.
The hon. Gentleman referred—I shall not pursue it because it would be out of order—to the idea of a referendum. I do not believe that a referendum is a practical propostion, even if we were to debate it. But it should be understood that, although most of us agree in saying that we favour independence being granted to, or being secured by, Aden as soon as possible, the Bill provides, or the Government's policy provides, that that independence shall be granted in circumstances which are, if not unique, at least such as previous Governments, and particularly this Government, have regarded as objectionable. That is, the Bill proposes that independence should be granted to Aden when there have been no free elections there. The Government have properly insisted that independence should never be granted in Rhodesia until majority rule has been established, but the Bill provides that independence shall be granted in certain circumstances to Aden before majority rule has been established.
That is one reason why we are entitled to look all the more carefully at the way in which independence is being granted, and it is why some of us are very critical of the measures the Government put forward in their so-called package proposal a week or so ago. Many of us wish that the Government would take steps, even as this eleventh or twelfth hour or whatever it may be, to try to repair the situation which we believe was created by their action then.
§ Lord Balniel
Has the hon. Gentleman also noted that under the Bill the Order in Council which relinquishes sovereignty over the territories is not subject to Parliamentary debate? We therefore hope that he will support us later when we request that the Order in Council should be subject to Parliamentary debate, because that is all the more important when there is no democratic constitution in the Colony of Aden.
§ Mr. Foot
I shall certainly be prepared to examine the proposals about the terms under which it would be proposed that the Order in Council should be debated 670 in the House, but what I am concerned about at the moment is to try to deal with matters that will arise before that situation occurs. If the damage which has been done partly by the statement of Monday of last week and partly by previous actions—not particularly of this Government but more particularly by their predecessors—is to be repaired in time for independence to go through in terms that we would regard as satisfactory, a series of steps must be taken. These are the matters to which I wish to refer before I agree to the Clause being voted upon.
None of us can genuinely take exception to the general terms of the Clause. I believe that it is essential for the Government to ask, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker) rightly stressed, that the United Nations delegation and the Union Nations itself shall be brought back into this operation.
I listened very carefully to everything that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers said. I listened very carefully to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State at the end of our earlier debate when he sought to reassure us on this point. But I have not heard whether the United Nations delegation will return to Aden. I have not heard what arrangements have been made for the delegation to meet the representatives of the Arab nationalist parties. I have not heard in detail what arrangements are to be made.
We had some contradictory assurances or descriptions about the reaction to the proposals made last Monday, and I shall not quarrel about whose testimony may be right. But it appears to me that when they made the statement last Monday the Government were subordinating the United Nations position in a way that they should not have done. We wish to see whether they will now take steps to reassert the position they previously held that the United Nations and its delegation had an essential part to play in trying to secure a new kind of government in Aden. That is what we all want. The main reason for bringing in the United Nations in the first place was that it should be able to mediate between the Government of this country, the Arab nationalist parties and perhaps the other parties concerned, to try to see whether 671 we could get a different kind of Government there, and to see whether that new kind of Government could provide for a more peaceful transfer than we could otherwise get. This is a matter which is greatly worrying hon. Members on all sides of the House.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Evelyn King (Dorset, South)
The hon. Member referred to negotiating with the independence parties. I am sure that that is honourable. Will he accept that F.L.O.S.Y. has said—and never withdrawn the statement—that in no circumstances will it negotiate with Great Britain unless we first acknowledge it as the sole and only representative of Aden politically? If the hon. Member is prepared to accept that there can be negotiations, but if he is not prepared to accept that, we should drop negotiations as they are not practicable.
§ Mr. Foot
I have heard Tories tell the House and the country that some representatives of nationalist organisations have laid down terms and that it is only on these terms that negotiations can take place. I have heard it time and again, and time and again their claims have been disproved by the facts. There were Cyprus and Ireland. We have known nationalist parties take up strong positions and get into entrenched positions. They have to have regard to their political considerations as well. But, despite these claims, negotiations have subsequently taken place. Despite what the hon. Member said, I am sure that it is not the position of the Government that they do not believe that negotiations cannot take place. It is still the Government's case that they wish to start negotiations despite the claims made by the leaders of F.L.O.S.Y. in certain circumstances. The Government still wish to reopen negotiations and to get a different form of Government in Aden.
We think that we have a proper warning to give to the Government. They have to retreat from some of the things they have said. I do not say that they should do this in a flamboyant manner. I know the methods by which Governments make retreats. I have seen it with previous Governments and with this one. They do not have to announce tonight that they are going to change their policy. 672 Of course not. But they have to try to take steps to repair the situation.
It would be a good start if the Government were to make it clear, or the Minister of State were to make clear in response to what I am saying and what my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon said earlier, that the Government were working night and day to try to ensure that the United Nations Mission was re-activated.
I come to the second thing the Government should do. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) is not here to participate in this extremely important matter, as this was the division between the parties as I understood it to be up to Monday of last week. The right hon. Gentleman and the party opposite were arguing in favour of the maintenance of a defence arrangement with the South Arabian Federation after the date of independence. At one point they claimed that the Government were committed by their negotiations to some form of defence arrangement. But we had an indication from the right hon. Gentleman earlier today that he was retreating from that claim, because he made it clear that the negotiations had never taken place.
It was always the claim of the Government that there was never any commitment. Our feeling on Monday last, and the feeling among many hon. Members on that side, was that the Government had entered into some kind of longer commitment than they previously had. although not an open-ended commitment. But it was still a stronger commitment to the Federation after independence than they had previously made. It was because hon. Members opposite thought that the Government were making a military commitment that they approved the statement, and it was because we thought that they were that we disapproved of it.
This matter should be cleared up, and one of the reasons why it should be cleared up is that, by making a statement so readily approved on that side, the Government have injured their negotiating position. Any proposition about extended support for the Federation which wins the approval of the right hon. Member for Streatham is not likely to win the support of any of the leaders 673 or representatives of the nationalist parties in Aden.
Therefore, I cannot understand—and I am eager to see the Government extricate themselves from this difficult position with as little bloodshed and disturbance as possible—why the Government found it advisable for their own purposes to make a statement which won the approval of right hon. Members opposite, not merely because the Opposition are so deeply responsible for the troubles we have to overcome but also because the purpose of the Government's policy, as admitted by my right hon. Friend, is to secure a new Government in South Arabia who could carry out the transfer of power in a peaceful manner.
Most of us on this side of the Committee believe that the present Government in South Arabia will not be able to do that because they are not a representative Government. Her Majesty's Government should take steps to limit as much as they can the extra commitment they entered into on Monday last week and make it as clear as possible that that commitment is certainly no commitment by Britain to send back any troops into Aden once they have been withdrawn.
In the interests of British troops, of our reputation in the Arab world, of peace and of our defence budget, I want to see Britain getting out of Aden as soon as possible, but I willingly acknowledge that we should try to get out in circumstances which cause the least bloodshed and in the most peaceful manner.
But what will happen when we get to 9th January if we have our military forces nearby? It will not be so easy for the Government to make a distinction and say, "We can only use our forces if there is an invasion from outside", because there will be subversion and the pressures then from the Opposition to send back British forces to Aden will be very strong.
That is why I want to get this thing clear now. That is why I fear last week's statement. I believe that it made it much more probable that, when the moment comes for independence, this country will find it more and not less difficult to extricate herself. I hope very much that the Government will take these series of measures to try to make it clear, first, that 674 we want to create a new Government in South Arabia—we have had an underlining of this position already—and, secondly, will try to get the United Nations to assist them in getting that new Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon indicated that we should not be bound by the present constitutional arrangements we inherited from the Opposition, even in this six-month period. It may be that, if we negotiated, concessions would have to be made in order to make those negotiations successful. But we must seek in Aden a Government which can carry through the transfer intelligibly. That is what I ask the Government to seek by every means.
This is not a reason for voting against the Clause but it is a reason for criticising strongly the measures that were proposed by the Government, or at the least the manner in which they were proposed, in last week's statement. I hope the Government will realise not merely how their proposals were received in the House but how they could be received elsewhere—which is perhaps more important in many respects in the sense that we have to negotiate with other people. I hope that the Government will seek to put the whole matter again in the perspective in which they were striving to put it before the statement, return to the policy they have themselves declared and repudiate utterly the interpretation put on the statement by right hon. and hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
It is no pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) in the knowledge that he has put forward good radical arguments and intends at the end of the day to vote like a Tory. He has compromised his own arguments by his voting intention at the end of the day. He has been firing blank cartridges in the air, and I will tell him why. He has said that we want independence for Aden in January, 1968. Indeed, after he had been corrected by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson), he conceded that that was the general view of the Committee. Therefore, whether we have independence for Aden in January, 1968, is not the question. The question 675 is what the political future of Aden will be after 9th January, 1968. Will it be in the Southern Arabian Federation or will it be in some other form? That is the question which we are discussing.
The hon. Gentleman rightly referred to the difficulty of getting a caretaker government going. I should have thought that, to put it at its lowest, it was difficult to get a caretaker Government going between the feudal sheikdoms and the nationalist parties who, the hon. Gentleman has admitted, will not even talk to the British Government. But the whole basis on which the Government are basing their plans for independence is to get a caretaker administration going composed of the Arab nationalists and the sheiks. Many hon. Members seriously believe that this is a practical and realistic possibility. Yet it is on that basis that this country will go into independence and it is on that basis that there is to be a federation.
It is not as though we will have a second chance before independence to see whether this form of coalition will succeed. There will be no consultation with the people of Aden Colony. We know that from the Minister of State. He corrected me. Last week he said that there will be consultation with the people of Perim and Kuria Muria, but there will be no consultation with the people of Aden. So we know that they are not to be asked whether they wish to remain in the Southern Arabian Federation or whether they wish to secede and become part of a Confederation or even become independent as Singapore has in the Malaysian Federation.
It is not even as though Parliament is to have a second say. As the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), who rightly took up the point which I raised last week, has pointed out, and the Minister of State has confirmed, the way in which the Order in Council under Clause 1 is drafted is such that we are asked to agree tonight to transfer sovereignty or to relinquish sovereignty without any further Parliamentary control and discussion.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale is saying that we are interested in getting out on 9th January, 1968. It will be very difficult to get this caretaker administra- 676 tion going. We know that there will be no further consultation, we know that Parliament will not have another opportunity of discussing it, but that is of no concern. It is apparently so important that we get out on 9th January, 1968, that we must all vote for this Clause.
It is very much following the precedent set up by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) and the Minister without Portfolio when they visited what is now the Central African Federation in September, 1950. So intent were they on the Central African Federation that when in September, 1950, the conference was held in Southern Rhodesia to discuss federation there was not a single African present; but day after day after day from Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia there was overwhelming evidence of the massive opposition of the African population to the idea of federation.
It is true that it was a Tory Government that brought in federation. It is true that it was a Tory Government that pulled the trigger, but it was the Labour Government that loaded the gun. That is what the hon. Gentleman is about to give a blank cheque to this Government to do—to push forward with the Federation in the full knowledge, first, that there will be no consultation with the people of Aden; secondly, that there will be no further Parliamentary discussion; and, thirdly, that not only are the African nationalists, or rather the Arabian nationalists—it is all part of the same picture—unwilling to negotiatae and talk with this Government, but that this Government have even sacked, for reasons which remain a matter of controversy, the Chief Minister, Mr. Mackawee, who was chosen to succeed the elected Chief Minister of Aden. It is no good saying that the United Nations may have a part to play. Of course they may. However, this country not only has an obligation to grant independence to people, but it has an obligation to consult their wishes. This is something which a Minister of the Crown has said will not be done, which a Minister of the Crown has confirmed cannot be challenged in the House of Commons. Therefore, merely for the sake of pushing a territory into independence, we are being asked to get rid of it, to wash our hands of it.
677 11.15 p.m.
I agree that many of the difficulties have been caused by the disastrous policies of the right hon. Member for Streatharn (Mr. Sandys). The world is strewn with broken federations of which he can rightly claim paternity. We are being asked, simply and solely so that we can wash our hands, to say that, whatever the results, without local consultation, without Parliamentary control, we agree to independence on a certain date.
I say that without question within 18 months and probably within six months Aden will secede from the South Arabian Federation in just the same way that Nyasaland and Malawi seceded from the Central African Federation, in just the same way that Singapore seceded from the Malaysian Federation, in just the same way that the Caribbean Federation broke up. I am not saying that the Government should break up the Federation. All I am saying is that they should consult the people who live in the area and not force them into a Federation against their will, because if they do, that Federation will break up not, because of the conscious political act of this country as the protecting Power in a Crown Colony, but after bloodshed and after civil war.
I therefore say to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale that his arguments were unexceptionable, but his intentions in the Division Lobby tonight are inconsistent with his arguments. Because I believe passionately in the right of the people who live in Aden Colony to be consulted when they have not known democratic processes for many months, because they have lived under martial law, because I believe passionately that it is in their interests to reach a political settlement which will be durable and which will not need to be backed up by V-bombers and British troops with increasing bloodshed, I say that if we give a blank cheque to allow this federation to come into being and simply wash our hands of Aden, not only shall we be stirring up trouble for ourselves in the immediate future, but this will be a disgraceful episode in the history of the imperial administration of this country.
§ Rear Admiral Morgan Giles (Winchester)
I will not comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw 678 Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) except to refer to his remark when he purported to speak for every hon. Member and said that everybody wished to withdraw from Aden. There are at least some of us who would wish to qualify that intention with the proviso that we ought not to withdraw from Aden until Egyptian troops are withdrawn from the Yemen.
A great deal has been said about Aden and about Perim, but I want to refer to the inhabitants of Kuria and Muria some of whom are my friends. The prudent mariner always approaches the Kuria Muria Islands with caution, because the waters around them are completely uncharted and it is a matter of going in with a hand lead line at dead slow speed.
The first action of the inhabitants on the approach of any ship is to round up their women and lock them up—at least, that was what they did when I approached in my ship. Then they come to the beach and wave the Union Jack, as a result of which a whaler goes in from the visiting ship with several bags of sugar and rice, which are very well received by the headmen.
In an earlier debate, it was explained to hon. Members that there are about 80 inhabitants and their wishes should be considered before we pass this Clause. Some may wish to have a United Nations mission visit them to see whether they are prepared to live under some international agency, as the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker) suggested. Some might reveal that they had close associations with F.L.O.S.Y. and would wish to have their views taken into consideration, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, no doubt, would wish. Or it may be that they would all—or a number of them—wish to follow the Liberal idea and have a formal referendum in these islands to decide how their future should go.
There might be other—and probably more sensible—ones who would wish to surrender the blessings of British protection at all. I hope that the Minister of State will explain exactly what the Government's views are about formal consultations with the inhabitants of these islands.
§ Mr. Evelyn King
I had not intended to intervene in the debate, and I do so 679 largely in compassion for the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) who asked some questions which I really think I can answer.
His first question was why did the Government adopt what seemed to almost the whole House to be a policy very similar to that advocated by us for a long time? That is a reasonable question and it deserves a reasonable answer. The answer is very simple. By the time they reached Monday last they had absolutely no alternative; there was, in fact, nothing else they could do, as I shall shortly try to show.
I was in Aden two months ago, or thereabouts, and I think I report what any hon. Member can verify. Whether one talks to civil servants in South Arabia, Federal Ministers, military people—whoever one talks to—one gets almost exactly the same answer. "We were prepared to carry out," they said, "any policy whatsoever, a policy which was firm, a policy to stay, a policy to go, any policy, but for 18 solid months we have been given by the Government no directive of any sort or kind." That is the reason, or at least a contributory reason, why the choice which existed exists no longer. That was the answer one had from everyone working in that place.
The second point is this. The factor that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale will not understand is this. Any Government had two choices. They could, if they wished, commit all their support to the Federation. Indeed, those of us who have seen Federal Ministers and who have talked to employees of that Government understand just what an impossible position they have been in over a long period of time.
Members of that Government for many months, and indeed for years, have been conscious that at any moment the British Government may change their mind and disown them, and in that event they would be handed over to their enemies and some of them would suffer imprisonment, or even death.
It is not easy, in such circumstances, to command loyalty. It is not surprising that inside the civil service and indeed the whole administration there has been doubt and frustration because the Federal 680 Government never knew whether they were going to be supported by those on the benches opposite or handed over to their enemies.
This was where the trouble began. Almost any policy was possible provided that it was followed through with determination, and that is exactly what the Government Front Bench has not done for many months. That is why lives have been lost; that is why loyalties have been shaken; that is why any Government or any party in Aden found ordered government impossible.
The choices left to the Government were two. They could, as they have done, commit themselves finally to the Federation and say, "We will at least defend you from any external aggression from Egypt or the Yemen." That was essential if the Federal Government is to be maintained.
I fully concede to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale that there was an alternative policy. One could have said, "We will start again; we will desert the Federal Government; we will throw over all the plans we have discussed and enter into serious discussions with F.L.O.S.Y. and the N.L.F. and start again." Does the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale understand that if that policy had been adopted by the Government, we would not have been clear of Aden for five years?
If the hon. Member is prepared to accept that, the argument may change but it is not the slightest good his thinking that the Government can adopt the sort of policy which he proposes—to have prolonged discussions with independence groups, hold referendums and elections, enter into discussions with sheikhs and set up a new Constitution—and do it in six months. To anybody, that is nonsense, and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale must know in his heart that it is nonsense. If that is his view, he must vote against the Clause.
The Government have chosen probably wisely, granted that they made a new start on Monday of last week. In the light of the situation as it is, they have made the only decision which they could have made, and made it perilously late.
Hon. Members opposite, men of great knowledge and sincerity, have perpetually urged Her Majesty's Government to enter negotiations with F.L.O.S.Y. and with 681 N.L.F. I had the advantage, in company with an hon. Member on the benches opposite, who would, I think, bear me out, of seeing the leaders of these nationalist movements, as I also saw the Federal Ministers. I will take first the leader of F.L.O.S.Y., Mr. Mackawee. Mr. Mackawee's mind—indeed, the mind of the whole of the party he leads—is such that he will not negotiate with the British Government. No matter how great the eloquence of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, he will not do so. If the hon. Member advocates that kind of negotiation with him, he advocates something which is impossible on any basis of coalition.
The leaders of the terrorist movement, of F.L.O.S.Y., have been adamant that unless and until Her Majesty's Government acknowledge this independent terrorist movement as the sole and only representative of the Aden people, they will not enter into any kind of negotiation. Anyone who seeks that kind of negotiation must dismantle utterly the whole federal administration, disband the Federal Army and throw the whole of the Aden problem into the melting pot again.
I hope that hon. Members opposite understand what I say when I say that on Monday last, if the Government seemed to adopt policies which originated on this side, they did so because they had no other choice. They had to nail that flag to the mast of support for federalism or face even greater chaos than already exists.
§ Mr. George Thomson
It is sufficient for me to say to the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) that earlier in the debate, when he was not present, I listed the items in the Governments package which were different from the policies which have been put forward by the party opposite. I am confident to rest on that.
§ Mr. Evelyn King rose—
§ Mr. Thomson
Two main issues have been raised in this useful debate on the Clause: one about Aden, raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) and by the Leader 682 of the Liberal Party, and the other, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), about the Governments attitude, especially to the rôle of the United Nations in the months ahead. I should like to concentrate on these two issues.
First, Aden. I think that the Leader of the Liberal Party is mistaken in the analogy that he draws between the Central African Federation and the South Arabian Federation, in the sense that although there is much that is uncertain about the state of the South Arabian Federation, as of other Federations of Colonial Territories in other parts of the world, there is this basic difference. In the case of Aden, there is no evidence that any of the political groups in Aden want to separate Aden from the rest of the Federation. That was why I dissented from what the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West said right at the beginning.
I have with me, for example, one of many quotations which could be produced from Mr. Mackawee—this one when he was giving evidence in Cairo to the Committee of 24 about a year ago. He said that:The United Kingdom wished to keep Aden apart from the rest of the Federation. It might be forced to give independence to Aden"—presumably he means forced by the Leader of the Liberal Party—… thus splitting the territory into three, whereas the Front"—that is F.L.O.S.Y.—considered that South Arabia should be unified".I assure the Leader of the Liberal Party that whatever else is in doubt, it is not in doubt that all the political groupings in Aden want to see a unified South Arabia, and the issue is not whether Aden should be separate from the rest of the territory; it is how to control the territory as a whole. That is a separate issue.
I am bound to tell the Leader of the Liberal Party that it would be extremely difficult, in the kind circumstances which we have seen particularly vividly in Aden over the last few days, to hold any sort 683 of referendum during the period immediately ahead, within Aden. I fully concede to my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale that this act of decolonisation is unique in ways that are unpalatable to all of us, in the sense that it takes place in circumstances when it is not possible to have the full consultation with the peoples of the territories concerned that we would have wished. I ask the Committee to face up to what is the alternative to the policies that we are putting forward.
Here I should like to turn to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon. He speaks as the Chairman of the Parliamentary Group of the United Nations Association, and we know his deep attachment to the United Nations. I know that he feels very deeply on this matter. I believe that he is wrong in the criticism that he makes of the policy of Her Majesty's Government. He drew an analogy as false as that drawn by the Leader of the Liberal Party with Central Africa. My hon. Friend drew an analogy with Cyprus and he said that his experience of Cyprus was that there was this basic dilemma, this basic impossibility of, on the one hand, trying to maintain law and order, and on the other simultaneously trying to obtain political reconciliation.
I would merely remind him of two things that are different between Cyprus and South Arabia. The first is that the Cyprus policy, which was finally put back on the rails, owed a great deal to the work of the then Governor of Cyprus, Sir Hugh Foot, who is now the distinguished Minister of State leading the British delegation at the United Nations. The second difference in the case of Cyprus, because many mistakes were made at that time, was the exile of the leader of the Cypriot nation.
Any exile that is taking place in South Arabia is purely voluntary. There is no reason why Mr. Mackawee or Mr. Al-Asnag, or any other leader of the nationalist groups who are at present outside South Arabia should not return tomorrow. There is no legal bar on them, they are not exiled by the British Government, and we have urged them again and again to come back to their own country and join in the work of political reconciliation.
684 I want to bring to the attention of the Committee, and particularly that of my hon. Friends, the view that Her Majesty's Government continues to take about the rôle of the United Nations. I say at once to my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale that I can give the three assurances for which he asked. He asked for an assurance that we would continue to work for a more broadly-based, more representative Government. I give him that assurance. Indeed, I tell him that Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, the High Commissioner, only today sent us messages about fresh steps that he is taking to bring this about. My hon. Friend asked whether we continued to seek the help of the United Nations, both the Mission and the Organisation, in reaching that goal. I give him that assurance straight away.
He asked whether we felt bound to the existing Constitution. We feel bound to make progress because of the time factor, but as I sought to explain to the House last week, we are insisting on having put into the present new Constitution proposals for amendment that will make it easy and simply straightforward for any more broadly-based, more representative caretaker Government which emerges, to alter the Constitution to suit what it believes are the needs of the South Arabian people. I hope that I can carry my hon. Friend with me on those three points.
On the general rôle of the United Nations, those who feel deeply, as the Government do, about the contribution which the United Nations can make must face the difficulty in which we find ourselves. It is now almost exactly one year since the British Government took what was the historic decision to accept United Nations co-operation in dealing with the problems of achieving independence. It is nearly six months since the United Nations, with British agreement, decided to set up a visiting Mission. It is now three months since that Mission was set up. Time is passing very quickly, and progress has not been made.
The delays have not been of the British Government's seeking, nor have they been the seeking of the United Nations Mission. Britain has not turned her back on the United Nations at any point. The difficulty has been that F.L.O.S.Y. and the N.L.F. have turned 685 their backs on the United Nations and refused to deal with it. The United Nations Mission's point of view at the moment—and it is understandable—is that it can do nothing but continue to wait in New York for F.L.O.S.Y. to come to see it At this stage, however, Her Majesty's Government cannot be content to go on waiting. British and Arab lives are being lost in South Arabia, and the defence economies, which are one of the aims of our policy in South Arabia and which command general support from hon. Members on the Government side of the House, are at stake in making progress.
I know that my hon. Friend feels deeply about the situation. I ask him to understand the implications, as I understand his point of view, when he asks us to accept the timetable of the United Nations Mission rather than the timetable which we put forward on behalf of the Government last Monday. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary says that we must aim for independence on 9th January. The United Nations Mission is saying, in effect, that we must wait indefinitely for these nationalist groups to consult with it. It means, in effect, the indefinite postponement of independence, and, whatever the problems of keeping the United Nations participating in this, I am sure that it is not right to pay the price of a postponement of British departure from South Arabia and of independence for South Arabia.
If one follows through the logic of my hon. Friend's position, it means that
§ we shall have to continue to have a British military presence on some scale in South Arabia for an indefinite period into the future. It means that British soldiers will go on being killed there. That is not an acceptable position.
§ There is nothing in the proposals which Her Majesty's Government put forward last week which in any way provides an obstacle to continued United Nations co-operation and participation in finding a suitable solution for independence for South Arabia, in helping to create a caretaker Government and, after independence, in helping to supervise the elections which will follow upon independence. There is nothing in these proposals which presents United Nations participation.
§ I know that my hon. Friend will decide his own course in this matter. I recognise the sincerity of his views. However, I am bound to tell him that I cannot see that the differences between us are of such a fundamental character as to justify him going into the Lobby against the Government tonight. I ask him to consider the assurance which I have sought to give him and others of my hon. Friends. With those words, I hope that the Committee will be able to allow the Clause to stand part of the Bill without a Division.
§ Question put, That the Clause stand part of the Bill:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 125: Noes, 8.687
|Division No. 401.]||AYES||[11.39 p.m.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Concannon, J, D.||Galpern, Sir Myer|
|Allen, Scholefield||Conlan, Bernard||Garrett, W. E.|
|Anderson, Donald||Crawshaw, Richard||Gregory, Arnold|
|Archer, Peter||Dalyell, Tam||Grey, Charles (Durham)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Bagler, Gordon A. T.||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Hannan, William|
|Beaney, Alan||Dewar, Donald||Harper, Joseph|
|Bishop, E. S.||Dobson, Ray||Haseldine, Norman|
|Blackburn, F.||Doig, Peter||Henig, Stanley|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Dunnett, Jack||Horner, John|
|Booth, Albert||Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Howie, W.|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Ensor, David||Hoy, James|
|Brooks, Edwin||Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)||Huckfield, L.|
|Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)||Faulds, Andrew||Hunter, Adam|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Fernyhough, E.||Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)|
|Brown, Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Finch, Harold||Janner, Sir Barnett|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)|
|Buchan, Norman||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Lawson, George|
|Cant, R. B.||Forrester, John||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Carmichael, Neil||Fowler Gerry||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Coe, Denis||Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton)||Lomat, Kenneth|
|Coleman, Donald||Freeson, Reginald||Loughlin, Charles|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Thomson, Rt. Hn. George|
|McCann, John||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Tinn, James|
|MacColl, James||Moyle, Roland||Urwin, T. W.|
|Macdonald, A. H.||Newens, Stan||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)||Norwood, Christopher||Wallace, George|
|Mackie, John||Ogden, Eric||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Mackintosh, John P.||O'Malley, Brian||Watkins, Tuder (Brecon & Radnor)|
|Maclennan, Robert||Oram, Albert E.||Wellbeloved, James|
|McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Oswald, Thomas||Whitlock, William|
|McNamara, J. Kevin||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|MacPherson, Malcolm||Park, Trevor||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)|
|Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Price, William (Rugby)||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Rhodes, Geoffrey||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Mallalieu, J.P.W.(Huddersfield,E.)||Richard, Ivor||Woof, Robert|
|Manuel, Archie||Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)|
|Millan, Bruce||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Miller, Dr. M. S.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Mr. Neil McBride and|
|Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)||Spriggs, Leslie||Mr. Harold Walker.|
|Bessell, Peter||Pardoe, John|
|Davidson, James(Aberdeenshire,W.)||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)||Mr. Eric Lubbock and|
|Noel-Baker, Francs (Swindon)||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.||Mr. David Steel.|
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.