§ 6.50 p.m.
The Deputy Chairman
The first Amendment selected is Amendment No. 1, with which we may discuss the following Amendments: No. 2, in page 1, line 5, after 'day', insert 'or days'.
No. 3, in page 1, line 5, after 'may', insert 'severally'.
No. 4, in page 1, line 6, after 'day")', Insert:'but not before the independence of the Federation has been secured against external attack'.No. 5, in page 1, line 6, after 'day")', Insert:'but not before public order is secured'.No. 6, in page 1, line 8, after 'day' insert 'or those days'.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 5, to leave out from 'On' to the second 'the' in line 6 and insert '3rd November 1968'.
I hope that no one in the Foreign Office has done much research into the political, religious or social significance of the date, 3rd November, because I do not not believe that there is any. It merely happens to be my birthday. I consider myself to be a friend of the people of South Arabia and so it seemed to me appropriate that as a birthday present we should offer them independence on that date.
The purpose of the Amendment is plain. It is to delay independence, the date of which has already been announced as 9th January. I do this because it seems to me that the Government's timing is dangerous. Aden is part of the Arab world and it must be plain that the whole Arab world is still suffering from concussion after the short, sharp blow of the Israeli war.
Before the Israeli war broke out, the British interest in Aden was clear. We 589 had substantial investments in the Persian Gulf area. They seemed to be threatened by President Nasser, and he also seemed to be threatening the Federal Government of South Arabia, which was the Government with which we had chosen to work. Under those circumstances, we obviously could not let down our friends without the danger of doing damage to our own interests.
But the events of the past few weeks have thrown doubt on exactly who our friends are in the area and what the position is likely to be in a matter of months. Everything is now in question. Will the South Arabian Federal Government be threatened by outside pressures at the beginning of 1968? We do not know at the moment. Shall we have a national rather than just a humanitarian interest in the maintenance of law and order in Aden after 1968? I expect that we shall, but at the moment everything is open to doubt, and this is the precise moment the Government choose to make a definite date for withdrawal, and to offer precise means of help to meet a threat which is at present uncertain.
Since the Foreign Secretary made his speech last week, new and tragic factors have intervened. We still do not know very much about the events that led to the mutiny and the breakdown of law and order in Aden. I very much hope that there will be a full inquiry at the earliest possible opportunity, and that there will be the fullest statements. But on the evidence that has already been produced it seems that the Foreign Secretary's speech on Monday of last week did not have much to do with sparking off the explosion. South Arabia is quite capable of blowing itself up without any assistance from the Foreign Secretary.
Only a small part of the Federal forces seems to have been involved in the mutiny and disturbance. But it would be idle to deny that there is considerable doubt about the loyalty of substantial sections of the Federal forces. There are responsible people who believe that in the recent past one of the main sources of the supply of arms for the terrorists in Aden has been the Federal Army. There is a danger, as we have seen, that rapidly expanding Federal forces will tend to come apart in a welter of tribal jealousies. There are known to be many supporters of the National Liberation Front in the 590 Army, and it is possible that they too will turn on their Government. There is a possibility that some of the States now in the Federation will secede, whether de factor or de jure, from the Federation.
Before Monday and Tuesday last week it was possible to hope that these problems would not come home to roost before independence if we got out quickly enough. It could be argued that a swift evacuation and hand-over would bring everyone to his senses and make the many different and hostile elements in Aden and South Arabia work together. But the evidence of last week's uprising suggests that this is no longer a valid argument. I believe that the Federal Government now need more time before independence to re-establish their influence.
There is also the question of ascertaining public opinion in Aden which arises with the introduction of the Hone-Bell Constitution that the Foreign Secretary announced. Some of my Liberal colleagues tabled an Amendment, which has not been selected, arguing in favour of a referendum to ascertain public opinion in Aden. I am not against referendums as such in certain circumstances. But just look at what is happening in Aden at the moment! In the crowded district of Crater we are watching a referendum now—a referendum of terror. What is being counted is not ballots and people's opinions but bombs and bullets. We stand aside while the acting mayor of Crater is kidnapped and rival gangs fight together in the streets.
During our withdrawal from the British Empire, and particularly in parts of India and Palestine, local law and order broke down just before independence and the withdrawal of British forces, but I do not know of any other occasion when we have stood aside and tolerated a breakdown of law and order months before independence came into effect. I do not want to see British troops go back into the alleyways of Crater to be shot at and perhaps not allowed to use sufficient force to fight back. What I want to see is law and order restored and I want to see that done by the Federal forces if they can, because this, at least, offers them an opportunity to restore their own morale, to restore their prestige and to prove themselves in the eyes of their own countrymen and 591 the world at large. If they should fail to restore law and order in Crater, that would be the time for everyone to think again and try to reach a new solution.
It was plain even before last week's events that the Government's timing in this matter was, to put it mildly, unusual. Events since then have proved that their timing is dangerous. I hope that, even this evening, they will accept at least the spirit of the Amendments.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Lord Balniel (Hertford)
In your wisdom, Mr. Irving, you have suggested that a wide range of Amendments be taken together, six in all, covering a variety of different aspects of the problem. I shall, in referring to them, compress my remarks so far as I can. First, I take the series of Amendments which tie the relinquishment of British sovereignty over Aden, Perim and the Kuria Muria Islands not so much to a date as to the conditions prevailing in the Colony, in particular, the Amendment which would lay down that independence should not be granted until such time as there is security against external aggression and the Amendment which would lay down that independence should not be granted until such time as law and order have been established in the Colony.
We understand from the Foreign Secretary's speech 10 days ago that the Colony is to be granted independence on 9th January, 1968. Constitutional freedom is meaningless unless there is freedom against external aggression and freedom for the ordinary individual to live in conditions of normal law and order. Constitutional freedom has no meaning unless it is accompanied by freedom from fear, from external aggression and from the destruction of normal life in the community.
In the past 10 days, there has been a dramatic reversal of policy by the Government. They have, in practice, accepted the agreement which was reached by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) as long ago as 1964. At that time, he reached agreement with the Federal Government that the Colony should move forward to independence in 1968 but, at the same time, its independence would be accompanied by an agreement to secure the independent Federation against external aggression. The Government's decision 592 in the last 10 days has been to accept the substance, if not entirely the formality, of what my right hon. Friend agreed in 1964. I heard the Foreign Secretary on television yesterday describe the agreement which he had reached with the Federal Government as a guarantee for the independent Federation against external aggression.
What has happened since 1964, and what necessitates these Amendments, is that there have been a number of changes, all for the worse. There has been a great deal of blood spilt. The Constitution in operation when my right hon. Friend reached that agreement has been suspended, and there is now no democratic Constitution in effect in Aden Colony. The normal processes of law and order have been suspended, and jury trial is no longer possible. On a number of occasions, various national groups, F.L.O.S.Y. and the N.L.F., have, apparently, gained the upper hand over the responsible authorities, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) reminded us, in the past few days the area of Crater has been no longer under the control of the established authority.
In these circumstances, in considering the move towards independence, the House would be mistaken to imagine that, as a result of the debacle which has overcome President Nasser's armies in Sinai, we can reasonably expect to see a reduction in the amount of armed subversion from the Yemen. This is not the likely course of events during the coming months. Indeed, the opposite is more likely. President Nasser is more likely to try to recoup his prestige and recover from the disaster which has overtaken his armies by achieving some compensating triumph in the south.
We are not likely to see a withdrawal of the 30,000 or 40,000 Egyptian troops present in the Yemen. Moreover, Presirent Nasser's prestige in the Middle East has not primarily depended upon the military might which he wielded. It has, perhaps, to a larger degree depended upon his control of the broadcasting media, his control of Radio San'a and Radio Cairo. It is worth noting that General Talat Hassan, the Egyptian commander-in-chief in the Yemen, announced over San'a Radio, on 11th June, after the events in Sinai, that the Egyptians would continue to carry out their sacred 593 mission to defend the Yemen revolution. During the next few months, the final stages as Aden moves towards independence, we can reasonably expect a redoubling of the subversion which has taken place in the past.
Yesterday, I heard the Foreign Secretary say also—I quote his words as best I can—that "our rôle in the Middle East is not a rôle which should be played with ships, guns and battalions". This is a surprising statement when one bears in mind the actions which he has taken in the past 10 days. I read in the evening papers today that a further 250 British troops are being dispatched to Aden. The defence backing which the Foreign Secretary has decided to place behind the independent Federation of South Arabia is massive indeed. He has decided to supply the Federal Army with modern arms. It is to be supplied with the recoilless rifle in place of the old Lee Enfield rifle. A British military mission is to be established to assist the Federal Army, and not only is it to give guidance but it is to man the system of communications and base maintenance. The right hon. Gentleman has announced that eight Hunter fighters are to be provided for the independent Federation and that we are to finance, over the next two years, the two battalions of Hadhrami Bedouin Legion.
In addition to these provisions for the defence of the Federation, the Foreign Secretary has announced—as the Government always do when they reach a moment of crisis—that an aircraft carrier is to be provided, and that it will cruise in the locality for six months following independence with its aircraft deployed ready to defend the Federation if necessary. Then, most dramatic of all, there has been the statement by the Foreign Secretary that a force of V-bombers is to be based for an indefinite period of time on the Island of Masirah.
I recount these steps which the Foreign Secretary has taken only because, in the turmoil in which the Middle East is involved at present, the situation is so uncertain that it is impossible, not only for the Opposition, but also for the Government, ro make any firm judgment as to whether these military steps are an over-insurance or whether they will prove to be inadequate. It is for these reasons that my hon. Friends have tabled these 594 Amendments, which would tie the date of independence more to the conditions in the Colony of Aden at the time of independence than to any specific date, because the Government's plans, as they stand at the moment, are to grant independence on 9th January, irrespective of the conditions which apply, irrespective of whether Aden is subjected to attack, and irrespective of the internal security situation.
I turn now to the Amendment dealing with internal security. One day following the debate on Second Reading there was the appalling disaster of the mutiny of the Federal Army and the tragic consequences for British troops which flowed from that mutiny, and which flowed, I think, from a misunderstanding by the police of the situation.
Could the Minister of State give some information about the internal security situation? We read in the paper today that in the last 24 hours seven people have been kidnapped, including the Chairman of the Aden Municipal Council. We understand—this is no more than rumour—that they have been interrogated, a word which is all to often used as a rather terrible euphemism. The rumour continues to the effect that they have been put to death. I should like to ask whether this is true and whether the report that 30,000 rounds of ammunition have been stolen by the terrorist organisation is true.
The major question I want to put to the Minister of State is whether it is the intention to re-enter the Crater area. On a number of occasions in the past my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself have urged the Government to consider whether it would not be desirable that internal security for those areas where non-Europeans live should be handled by the Federal forces. We have urged that the internal security of the Crater area and of the Sheik Othman area should be undertaken by the Federal forces. I should like to ask whether this, which has also been requested by the Federal Ministers, is the present intention of the Government; or is it the intention that British troops should re-enter the Crater area and try to restore law and order themselves?
My second question concerns the use of the weapons which lie in the hands of British troops. My hon. Friend the 595 Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) tried to move the Adjournment of the House today on this issue. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) has also asked questions about this. Can we have an assurance that the troops will be allowed to use the weapons which are necessary to ensure that they are not subjected to excessive risks? We recognise that we ask any troops involved in an internal security situation of this kind to undergo certain risks, but it is right that we should seek an assurance from the Government that our troops are not being asked to take excessive risks.
I did nearly all my military service in a situation somewhat similar to that which exists in Aden at the moment. My military service was during the last days of the Palestine Mandate. I do not deny that I have been rather concerned to read in The Times today the following report concerning the steps which were taken to enter a building in the Crater area:No British troops went into Crater. No shots were fired. Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders guarding Marine Drive, used by Mr. Owen to enter Crater, had orders not to shoot even if fired upon.Is this the correct position? We certainly do not wish British troops to use any excessive force, but we insist that British troops are not subjected to excessive risks in implementing internal security in the area.
The purpose of the other series of Amendments is to ensure that separate Orders in Council are required when we are relinquishing the sovereignty of the three separate territories covered by the Bill—Aden, Perim and the Kuria Muria Islands. Under the Bill, as drafted, all these three territories have to be covered by one Order in Council. All have to move forward to independence at the same time, irrespective of the outcome of consultation with the local people, and irrespective of the ultimate destiny of these three territories.
The Government have indicated that they cannot foresee how events are likely to work out during the next seven months. It is right to emphasise that the Government are taking these territories forward to independence in almost unique circum- 596 stances. Indeed, I can think of no similar circumstances, except when I refer back to the final days of the Palestine Mandate.
It has always been one of the prides of the British Commonwealth that democratic constitutions should be established in our Colonies before they are brought forward to independence. It has also been one of our prides that these territories are granted independence with viable economies. It has also been one of our prides that, on achieving independence, our territories are strong enough to resist external aggression.
In all these respects a question mark certainly hangs over the Government's policy. The Government have themselves indicated that each territory is liable to have a different destiny. On Second Reading the Under-Secretary, when asked about the future of the islands, said this:… there are certain problems about the precise future of these territories after independence … 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]I should like the Minister of State to give some indication as to the form of consultations which are to take place in the Island of Perim and in the Kuria Muria Islands; and also perhaps, although I fully understand—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is out of order in raising this matter on these Amendments.
§ Lord Balniel
With respect, Mr. Irving, I fully appreciate that we are to refer to the Island of Perim in a subsequent debate, but the point I am trying to make now is that the ultimate destiny of the island is not necessarily in the Federation, and this is my argument for three separate Orders in Council. If you will allow me to develop my theme, I think that you will find that I shall remain in order.
I was asking the Minister of State to indicate what form of consultation has taken place and also to explain why it is so obviously necessary to have consultation in the islands while not equally necessary to have consultation in the Colony of Aden itself. I fully understand the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart)—that it is not possible because of the 597 internal security situation to consult with the local population in Aden—but I should like an explanation from the Government.
It is worth pointing out that two of the territories to which we are giving independence are not at the moment members of the Federation and that there is nothing in their history which would lead us to believe that they would wish to become members of the Federation. The Kuria Muria Islands lie not off the coast of the Federation but off the coast of the Sultanat of Muscat. Indeed, in 1854, the Sultan of Muscat ceded the sovereignty to Britain. So far remote are these islands from Aden Colony that, although they are technically members of the Colony, their administration in the past has always been undertaken by the British Resident in the Persian Gulf and not by the Aden Colony Administration.
It is also worth pointing out that, ethnically, the people do not belong to the same tribes which will come to form the Federation, so it is at least possible, after consultation with the local population, that they will wish to be associated more with the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman than with the Federation.
The same situation arises for the Island of Perim. It is in a position of immense strategic significance. As you yourself have pointed out, Mr. Irving, subsequently in this Committee we shall suggest that the future of the island might lie not with the Federation but in placing it under an international organisation—for instance, the United Nations. For a hundred years, British sovereignty over Perim has resulted in access to the Red Sea being open to the entire international maritime community. Are the Government absolutely sure that, on our ceding sovereignty to the Federation, this access to the Red Sea will continue? Is it not at least possible that the tradition of access to the Red Sea might be interrupted?
There is a further reason which I must mention as to why it is possible and, indeed, desirable for Perim to have a different destiny from that of the Federation. On 3rd March this year, the Yemeni Republic Government, in a broadcast on San'a Radio, declared unilaterally that they were extending their territorial sovereignty from three miles to twelve. This alleged extension of 598 sovereignty—which, of course, we cannot accept—takes within the Yemeni sovereignty the Island of Kamaran and Perim itself. Were the island of Perim to have its ultimate destiny with the Federation, it would mean that, on the very day that the Federation received independence, it would find itself in a territorial dispute with the Yemen, and I think that we can all at least consider how serious could be the consequences of a territorial dispute between the Yemen and the independent Federation.
I have advanced arguments as to why it is desirable that the Government should at least seriously consider the desirability of introducing not just one Order in Council covering all three territories—all of which might take different courses in future—but to introduce the relinquishment of sovereignty by three separate Orders in Council. I hope that the Minister of State will be prepared to give serious consideration to the Amendments.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
In the debate 10 days ago, and on Second Reading, I explained my general attitude to the Bill. Indeed, a few minutes ago, at a private meeting, I repeated my explanation. I therefore do not propose now to go over the ground again. I have warned my right hon. Friend that unless he is able to make it clear that the Government are prepared to reconsider the change in policy announced by the Foreign Secretary 10 days ago, in the interests of using the United Nations to settle the future of this territory, I shall have to vote against the Government, whatever the consequences may be.
These Amendments deal with two points to which I want to refer—the security situation in the Colony and the defence arrangements which the Government have made. All of us must be aware that there is a very serious danger that the history of the end of the Mandate in Palestine will be repeated. The hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) referred to this, as he himself was present in Palestine at the time. British troops simply withdrew, leaving behind contending parties to fight it out, and this situation may well be repeated in Aden and in the South Arabian Federation.
My belief is that unless, even at this late hour, we are able to introduce the 599 United Nations not only to preside over a political settlement very different from the one foreshadowed in the Foreign Secretary's speech 10 days ago, but also to introduce a physical presence into the territory, it is very likely that we shall have a Palestine-type withdrawal, or, if one likes to describe it as such, a Congo-type situation in this territory.
We in this Committee must all be conscious of the abominable position in which the British troops have been placed, with the British Government, on the one hand, endeavouring to suppress what we describe officially as terrorism with an unreliable local Arab army and police force—their unreliability has been vividly illustrated in the last few days—mainly dependent on the use of British troops, and, on the other, trying to negotiate with the terrorists.
This has always been a terrible dilemma. It was so in Kenya and more so in Cyprus. In Cyprus, we were trying to fight what we called terrorism while trying to negotiate with the terrorists, although for part of the emergency we gave up the attempt to negotiate. In this present situation, as the Foreign Secretary has repeated, it is still our intention to try to talk to F.L.O.S.Y. and the N.L.F. while, at the same time, requiring our troops to maintain law and order. It is putting them in an impossible position.
The Minister of State would help the Committee if he told us something about the doctrine of the use of minimum force and the restrictions which have been placed on British troops, to which the hon. Member for Hertford referred. All of us must be very anxious about the rôle our troops can play, given the difficulties that have been imposed on them. My view is that, unless we can get a United Nations presence in this territory quickly, we are imposing a strain on the British soldiers and civilian population in Aden which they will be unable to bear.
Before I turn to the defence arrangements, I want to ask my right hon. Friend again whether he still maintains that the escalation in the internal security situation, reflected in the very grave events of the last 10 days—the fact that Crater is still held by those we describe as terrorists and that we have not yet decided 600 to go back and reimpose law and order—has no connection with the new policy announced 10 days ago. I find this very difficult to believe.
The Committee will have noted with interest the way in which the noble Lord repeated that that policy had struck the Opposition as being a complete reversal of the policy of the previous two years. This is not only the impression of the Opposition and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), the former Secretary of State for the Colonies, who said that he thought he heard himself speaking when listening to the Foreign Secretary, but it is my impression. I believe that the security situation will continue to get more and more difficult, and that more and more British and Arab lives will be lost unnecessarily, until the policy announced 10 days ago is reversed.
Turning to the defence arrangements, I am bound to say that I cannot understand them. The right hon. Gentleman announced that when we left the territory its integrity from external attack would be guaranteed by a carrier force, by a commando on that carrier force, and by a V-bomber force in the Persian Gulf. I cannot believe that the Government seriously thinks that President Nasser or other foreign forces wishing to cause a disturbance in Aden and South Arabia will solemnly parade their troops on the frontier of the territory and announce that they are about to commit a formal act of aggression in order to permit the aircraft from the carrier and the V-bombers from Masirah and the commando to move in.
Those hostile forces, based outside the territory, will surely continue to do precisely what they have been doing during the last few months, which is to use the technique of infiltration and subversion. I am using the terminology of the British occupying Power. Some people do not accept it and I am not sure that I do, but I am using it for convenience. It is quite obvious that these outside forces will continue to use the techniques of infiltration and subversion which they have been using in the last two years. How can one use a commando and aircraft carrier force and V-bombers based on the Persian Gulf to deal with that kind of situation?
601 If my right hon. Friend says that that is not the situation with which outside forces are designed to deal, what situation does he envisage? These arrangements may be a kind of bluff to placate the existing Federal Government, about which I shall have something to say later, but it is a bluff which is likely to be totally ineffective. Either the troops and the aircraft and the commando will be used in a manner totally inappropriate, or they will not be used.
I am very concerned about the subjects covered by this group of Amendments. I hope that my right hon. Friend will make a different kind of speech from that which he made on Second Reading. If he does not, I shall find myself in a very difficult position when the Clause is voted upon.
§ Mr. Dennis Walters (Westbury)
I agree with the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker) that the Foreign Secretary's speech on 19th June was fairly broadly welcomed by the Opposition indicating, as it did, partial acceptance of some of the arguments which had repeatedly been put forward by the Opposition during the past year in various debates on the Middle East and Aden, namely, that the granting of independence to the South Arabian Federation in 1968, without this being accompanied by a realistic guarantee, was a dangerous and truncated programme.
It can, of course, still be asked whether the guarantee, as set out in the Foreign Secretary's speech, goes far enough to make it a realistic one. We argued consistently and repeatedly that the overthrow of the Federation by violence would provide a serious and damaging setback to the chances of preserving British interests in the area and in the Gulf and that a commitment to the Federation was a matter of good faith as well as good sense. I believe that this remains our position today.
The proposals outlined on 19th June by the Foreign Secretary go some way towards meeting the case which has been frequently argued by this side of the House. Whether they go far enough is debatable. Whether they meet the position of internal subversion is also debatable. These points have already been made in the course of the debate.
602 It has been said that the recent war between Israel and the Arab States has totally and permanently altered the position in the Middle East. I do not believe this to be true. I hope that it will be possible for Britain soon to re-establish friendly relations with the Arab world. In order to do so, we must make a positive effort to understand the present genuine feeling of shock and bitterness that prevails in Arab countries.
I also believe that in due course many problems which have been temporarily set aside will return to the fore and it will then be both necessary and right for Britain to continue to play a limited but nevertheless important and constructive rôle in the area. One of the most important aspects of this rôle is to help those countries which are friendly to us and which expect to receive some support from us—support which is to the mutual interest of our country and theirs.
Almost at the conclusion of the Foreign Secretary's speech on 19th June he made a very interesting remark. He said:At the same time, we have decided greatly to increase the very considerable support which we have already promised to the South Arabian Government to enable them to defend their independence by additions to the strength of the South Arabian Armed Forces and by the provision of a powerful deterrent against external aggression for as long as we judge necessary for South Arabia to establish itself as a free and independent nation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th June, 1967; Vol. 748, c. 1144.]I concur entirely with that remark by the Foreign Secretary. It is because of this that we feel there should be something in the Bill explicitly linking independence with a guarantee to the Federation protecting it against external attack and not allowing ourselves, as my noble Friend has pointed out very effectively, to be tied down to a specific date irrespective of any circumstance which might be prevailing at the time.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I want to put some questions about public order in Aden when independence is achieved and I ask the Minister straight out whether the Government intend to stick to this date even if, as seems highly possible, there is no public order in Aden at the time. If, on 8th January, men and women are being killed and there is chaos in the area, are the Government still determined that our 603 troops should come out and that we should wash our hands of the slaughter and the bloodshed?
My second question arises from the Amendment on external security. With my hon. Friends, I was very glad to welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement. I do not wish to make any party capital out of it. I have some doubts whether the policy which the right hon. Gentleman put forward will, in fact, be effective, but my question is quite simple. If, on the date when independence is due, external security is not secured, and there is a threat either of overt aggression, or large-scale subversion, which is likely to bring down the new Government, are the Government still determined to wash their hands and to walk out and allow an independent nation, which we have largely brought into existence, to be snuffed out?
My third question concerns British troops. I have a constituency interest, because one of the battalions of the Anglian Brigade recently returned home from service in Aden. I am sure that the Committee will agree with me that our troops, the Anglians, the Northumberlands and other units, have handled themselves in Aden in the most trying circumstances in a fashion which compels admiration. Is it a fact, as reported, that there have been delays of up to three hours between the making of a request for permission to use large calibre weapons and that permission being given?
Secondly, is it a fact that on occasion our troops have found themselves unable to use armoured vehicles, thereby perhaps saving themselves, because the majority of tanks and armoured cars have already been sent home?
Thirdly, is it a fact that British troops have been ordered not to fire back, even though fired upon themselves?
Fourthly, is it a fact that the Government intend that British support for the new Federation after independence shall be confined entirely to air and sea action? Is it true as reported, that the Government intend that no British units or commandos shall go ashore if called?
Finally, it is at present envisaged that the Orders in Council will cover all territories. I have a special interest in Perim and I support the view that the House should be given an opportunity separately to consider its future.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Edwards (Bilston)
I had not intended to participate in the debate, although the subject interests me greatly, but a few words in support of the Government from these benches might be useful, as all the speeches so far have been hostile to the Government. The issue which we are discussing is whether we should leave Aden and the South Arabian Federation next January, or continue to maintain our position there for some years. I do not see how we can possibly justify extending our stay longer than January of next year in the light of the present situation.
The French were faced with precisely the same problem which we now face in Aden, South Arabia and the Arab world. The French decided to wind up the war in Algeria, which had cost them 40,000 French lives, to make their peace with the Arabs and to withdraw their massive bases in North Africa, which were much larger and which cost considerably more than our bases in the Persian Gulf.
The result has been that the French are now on friendly terms with the Arab world. They have signed 50–50 agreements with Algeria to exploit Algerian natural gas and oil. Although in the recent conflict between Israel and Egypt the French supplied the Mirage fighter bombers which did all the damage to the Egyptian Army and which went right under the Egyptian radar early warning system, although the Israeli's massive arms came from France, nevertheless it was Britain and America who were accused of supporting Israel, and that accusation was the basis of all propaganda from the defeated Arab countries.
There is a simple lesson to be learned: the French no longer have bases in the lands of the Arabs and we have. While we have bases and while we try to maintain ourselves as a colonial Power, we will have this resistance, this violence against our presence.
It has been my considered view for many years that we live in a world where peoples will not accept the presence of foreign armies any longer. While foreign armies are in their territories, they feel that they are denied the right to advance in their own way towards complete independence. The sooner we get out of Aden and South Arabia, the better. It is a dreadful death 605 trap for British soldiers. It is unfair to ask them to maintain this area.
I do not know why we should want to maintain it. The aircraft carrier, the Hunter planes and the V-bombers will be sent to South Arabian and Aden waters not to protect South Arabia or Aden, but just to maintain a considerable presence in the whole of the Persian Gulf. Basically, that is the Government's thinking. But we cannot stay in these Arab lands. To suggest that unless we stay there will be civil war and turmoil and murder is to put the situation the wrong way. The murder and the bomb throwing and the terror exist because we are there, because a foreign Power is in their land and there are no normal methods of development.
I have never accepted the view that the agreement which was signed by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) was legitimate. The only people who signed it with him were about four sheiks and sultans who had no visible means of support and who represented nobody. I remember that conference very well. Every elected representative at that conference walked out. The representatives of the People's Socialist Party walked out; the representatives of the Aden T.U.C. walked out; every member of the Legislative Council walked out and even the President, even the Sultan who was the Chairman of the Supreme Council of the South Arabian Federation, walked out and went into exile in Cairo. There was no backing for this agreement and to suggest that there was is a myth with no reality. The people who signed it represented only their own tribal vested interests.
I do not see why we should waste British lives maintaining a position in this area. I would not waste a single British life for all the sultans, rulers and sheiks of South Arabia. I know some of them, I have talked with them. They are some of the worst despots in the world. I do not know why we are worrying about them. I would withdraw, and let their own army deal with them, because they would not be there for five minutes. We talk about this marvellous South Arabian Federal Army which we armed and trained. It revolted against us, and the 22 British soldiers who were killed were shot by the Army of South Arabia. Do not forget that.
606 I do not know how one can expect to rebuild this Army and get some kind of stability in this country. These British soldiers were not killed by F.L.O.S.Y. or the Liberation Front, but by our alleged friends, people who were supposed to be capable of being relied upon to maintain some kind of stable economy.
The longer we stay the worse the situation will develop. Anyone who has been to Aden—and I have been there a few times—knows perfectly well that this is so. Here we have a British base, surrounded by 180,000 hostile Arabs. In the Crater area 100,000 Arabs live under appalling conditions, in the worst slums in the world, I should imagine. There are little, narrow roads with hovels in them. One cannot possibly maintain any kind of law and order there if the people are hostile. They are hostile to as, because we are living, for good or evil, in an era that is being swept by nationalism.
This is the outstanding revolution of our time, the nationalist revolution, the demand for independence. There is this great sweep of Arab nationalism that maintains Nasser in power, even in spite of these terrific military defeats. That is why I hope the House will not support any suggestion that we should stay in this area for any longer than is suggested in the Bill.
§ Mr. Douglas Dodds-Parker (Cheltenham)
The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards) will forgive me if I do not follow him during the few minutes that I intend to detain the House, because his argument had little to do with the two Amendments to which I have put my name, Amendments Nos. 4 and 5. Many of us, not only on this side of the Committee, believe that we must not cast South Arabia off without it having a chance of remaining both independent and free, as my hon. Friends have already pointed out in some detail.
The first point I want to stress relates to Amendment No. 4, where we talk about being… secured against external attack.Secondly, I want to refer to the point raised in Amendment No. 5, which refers to…'but not before public order is secured'.Somewhere in the Press during the last week or so I saw a reference to Tory 607 romantics. I do not know whether this is meant to refer to those of us who believe that by a little more patience and perseverance we can secure a reasonable future for South Arabia.
The point has already been made by my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), that we should have learned our lesson from Palestine and not once again transferred power under the conditions which have resulted from the Government's decision to transfer power without any sort of defence agreement.
It is a policy which the Government inverted 10 days ago and they are now in the chaos resulting from their two years of indecision. In those conditions of chaos we are trying to pull something together. The key question is that of internal security. We should strengthen our local forces. The reason for the latest difficulty, in the last ten days or so, was because the expansion of the local forces went too fast. Anyone who has had anything to do with recruiting and training of tribal forces knows that one cannot go beyond a certain speed without risking difficulties in getting various tribal groups out of balance.
It is that which went astray on this occasion and nothing as fundamental as the hon. Member for Bilston has tried to make out. We have to get the United Kingdom forces and administration out from responsibility as soon as reasonably possible and to do that, as we have constantly pressed from this side of the Committee, by transferring internal security at the earliest reasonable time to the federal authorities. I hope that when the Minister of State answers this part of the debate he will tell us when it is proposed internal security should be transferred to the federal authorities. That is the first and most important step to be taken.
One has to look at external aggression. The type of aggression such as we have seen in the Yemen during the last four years is what I have in mind. One of the difficulties that has arisen for the original Government of the Yemen, the Royalists, is that they have been cut off by sea from the outside world. It is there that, unlike some of my hon. Friends, I believe that the presence of a naval force and V-bombers on Masirah may be able to contribute to saving or protecting South 608 Arabia from the sort of seaborne and airborne attacks which have been made on the Yemen in the last four years.
If the sea routes between Al Hudaydah and Egypt had been cut, there would have been the greatest difficulty in supplying the war in the Yemen. That is where I believe the sort of forces which the Foreign Secretary talked about early last week will be effective in protecting the new Arabian Federation from outside attack. I believe that the sort of period that we ought to think about for protecting it after independence is about three years. Within that time, given support from outside, it could have built up its internal forces to maintain internal security and also have trained sufficient forces to defend itself, with our assistance in the form of equipment, against the type of attack made on the Yemen.
If the Minister of State could tell us what his thinking is on those lines, under Amendment No. 4, it would be of great assistance to the whole Committee.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
We all very much miss the Foreign Secretary today, because he adds very greatly to the gaiety of any occasion. It is a pity, considering the extraordinary changing of policy, that he is not present with us to discuss this matter. We understand that he is busy elsewhere.
It is impossible for any of us on this side of the Committee not to point out the extraordinary somersaults which there have been in the policy put forward from the Front Bench opposite. It is no exaggeration to say that had this policy been put forward a year ago, and had there been a definition of purpose by the British Government towards Aden, many of the casualties of the last few weeks would perhaps have been avoided. We have put the British Army in Aden, and especially the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, some of whom are constituents of mine, in an almost intolerable position in the last few weeks. One cannot fight a war half-heartedly and one cannot keep order half-heartedly. One has either to keep it properly, or not do it at all. I do not think that it is satisfactory bottling in nearly 100,000 people in a very confined area. The bottling in of such a large population in very bad housing conditions can surely result only in further outbreaks of disorder and consequently perhaps further loss of life.
609 8.0 p.m.
Some of my hon. Friends have suggested that the internal security should be put in the hands of the Federal Goverr ment as soon as possible. I cannot help thinking that this is the only sensible course remaining open to us. If we are to put the government in the hands of the Federal authorities, we must trust them. It is a negation of any purpose which we have to say that we do not trust them enough to put internal security in their hands, but we trust them to govern the country in a comparatively short time. Therefore, the step of giving internal security to the Federal authorities should be taken as soon as possible.
The next point which I hope the Minister will deal with is dates. There is a most terrible fatality in giving dates. If one looks back to our history of the last 10 years, one sees that if ever we have given a date it becomes a sort of D-day for insurrection. In announcing any date we are merely causing almost inevitably outbreaks around and about it, and giving those who are stepping up the trouble in South Arabia a special time on which to concentrate.
We shall came later to the problem of Perim, so I will not go into that now. Nevertheless, we must stress the very great external pressures which will be against the Federation. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) made some very wise comments about the likelihood of the Egyptian-inspired terrorism being stepped up as a result of the Sinai war. Regrettably, that is only too probable. The probability is that Nasser has reduced his troops to about 23,000 in the Yemen. Therefore, the likelihood of external aggresison has perhaps been reduced. At the same time, the likelihood of further internal insurrection has been very greatly increased. This is another strong argument for putting the internal security in the hands of the Federation as soon as possible.
My last point which I hope the Minister will answer was raised by my noble Friend the Member for Hertford. There should be different Orders in Council for the three territories. I strongly support what my noble Friend said. As he pointed out, the fate of these three territories may be totally different. It may be possible very advantageously to turn the situation in Perim into an international outpost. That 610 is something which we shall discuss later. I hope that the Minister will say a word or two on this matter.
§ Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
The Minister of State will have realised by now that this debate is not being conducted in any partisan manner. Those of us who are worried about the independence date are worried for the simple and sincere reason that we know perfectly well that unless independence is accompanied by a capacity to preserve it and to maintain law and order, it will be completely and absolutely meaningless. Therefore, it is not the date which matters.
I do not think that there is any law of the Medes and the Persians or any magic about the date of 1st January. What matters is that independence should be given to the South Arabian Federation when circumstances make it possible for independence to be not meaningless, but meaningful and to create not greater dangers but greater security. We on this side, and I think that some hon. Members opposite, are moved by considerations as to what is best for the Federation in order to give it a reasonable chance to stand on its feet as well as what is best for British interests.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) that the events of the last fortnight have not lessened substantially the threat to Aden from Nasser. They have probably increased the chances of subversion. It is against the possibility of a stepping up of terrorism and of an increase in the threats of covert aggression by Nasser that one has to consider what is the right date for independence. I am sure that unless we get on top of terrorism from the inside, and unless we can give effective security against aggression from outside, we shall lose the loyalty and respect of the Federal Ministers and the whole of the Federation will collapse.
Of the two threats, I am sure that it is the threat from inside, the subversion, which is the serious one. What worries is the serious danger of a coup, inspired by Nasser, by the terrorist movements with the usual weapons of bribery and assassination. One day we may wake up to find that there has been a coup, with the Federal Government arrested or the Government upside down.
611 I agree with my hon. Friend who said that airborne and seaborne forces are not the forces which can deal with such a threat. That was the point that the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker) made. One cannot shoot up the city of Aden indiscriminately with aircraft flying from aircraft carriers in the hope of hitting a few of the terrorists who are about to get control. It is the internal security element which is vital, and it is that element which should govern the date of independence.
The revolt in the Federal Army was largely brought about by reason of the independence date of 1st January, minus, as it was originally, any effective guarantee of defence from the outside. We started going too quickly. This may well have been misunderstood, and very likely it sparked off the revolt.
I ask the Minister of State to deal with the points made from this side about the orders to British troops who are asked day in and day out, month in and month out to conduct the most difficult of all military operations—troops in aid of civil power. As long as we are in control in Aden—and until independence, whenever it may be, the Government are responsible for law and order there—it is absolutely wrong and quite irresponsible to ask British troops to maintain law and order and then so to circumscribe them with regulations about what kind of weapons they are supposed to use as to increase the liability to casualties, thereby causing unnecessary loss of life, and in the process delaying the effective reimposition of internal security and law and order. The Minister must take this matter very seriously, because it is worrying a lot of people.
I should like him to indulge in a little flight of fancy and imagine what independence day celebrations would be like if there was not proper internal security inside Aden on that date. We have already had an astonishing situation in Crater, where the mayor and other civic dignitaries appear to have been simply abducted. Does he look forward to the great day of independence, when Aden is handed over formally from British control to a self-governing status, unless there is complete security? Is he quite certain that it will not be an absolute farce?
612 Could he conceive of a situation where he represented the British Government on behalf of the Foreign Secretary, there in the garden of Government House, watching the Union Jack lowered for the last time and wearing a top hat and morning coat borrowed from the Foreign Secretary, with all the notables in Aden and the Federal Ministers, by then de jure whereas they are now de facto, and suddenly, within 48 hours, half of them are abducted? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not be among them. We would be upset to lose him.
Is he certain that simply giving the date of independence, completely oblivious to what the circumstances might be at that time and without any guarantee of internal security and effective law and order, is really in the best interests of those in Aden or in the best interests of stability in the Persian Gulf? Of course, it is not the date which matters. There is no magic about 9th January. There is not even any magic about 6th November. The date should be governed by circumstances in which the South Arabian Federation can stand on its own feet and look after its own internal security with a guarantee from outside which it has always asked for and which at long last Her Majesty's Government have given it.
§ The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Thomson)
The Committee has had a very wide-ranging debate on these groups of Amendments, and I shall do my best to answer as many as possible of the points which have been raised.
A number of Amendments are being taken at once and, with one exception, what they all have in common is that they seek to delay the date of independence which we have stated to be the intention of Her Majesty's Government. The Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) states a specific calendar delay. If it is any satisfaction to him, there were considerable researches in the Foreign Office as to the magic meaning attached to 3rd November. Perhaps I might tell him afterwards some of the theories which were adduced to account for this date. Now that he has so disarmingly given the Committee the reason for choosing it, I regret that, in due course, I shall have to spoil his birthday in 1968 613 by saying that it is not an acceptable Amendment.
In ranging over the various Amendments, some seeking a calendar delay, some seeking to link independence with freedom from external attack, one seeking to link it with full internal security and another seeking to have different appointed days for the different Colonial Territories, the general ground which has been deployed for arguing in favour of delay is the disturbing events of the last few days or, rather, they have been taken as a particularly disturbing example of the kind of background to South Arabia, making the hon. Gentlemen who have tabled the Amendment feel that our intended date for independence is likely to be too soon.
In answer to their questions, I want to give the Committee what information I can about the present situation in Aden, and perhaps I might begin by appealing to hon. Gentlemen not to jump to too hasty generalisations and conclusions from the events of the past few days until we have had a chance to see them in rather longer-term perspective. I would remind hon. Gentleman that we are still in the middle of these events and the risks which go with them, and I am sure that we would not wish to say anything which made it more difficult for those who have the very hard task of looking after our affairs and carrying out our responsibilities for law and order in Aden and in South Arabia.
When I made my statement to the House on 21st June, I used words which I should like to repeat now, since they offer a general reassurance about Her Majesty's Government's attitude to the events now taking place. I assured the House then that we are determined to maintain law and order in Aden, we are determined to ensure the safe withdrawal of our troops, and the Government will not hesitate to take any necessary action to secure this basic aim. That is the background to the announcement which was made today about troops being sent out to Aden as reinforcements, and that is presently taking place.
I want now to give the Committee information about the background to the disturbances themselves. I say as plainly as I can to the hon. Member for Windsor 614 (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) that there is no evidence at all that it was the announcement of January as the intended date for independence which sparked off the mutinies in the South Arabian Forces.
Here I address myself to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon. The background to these disturbances is not related to the date which we have proposed for independence, nor is it related to the general package proposals which my right hon. Friend put before the House last Monday. The origins of the disturbances are quite different. First of all, there is a general background. There is the fact that the repercussions of the Arab-Israel conflict at the northern end of the Red Sea have begun to make themselves felt acutely in South Africa and in Aden and have led to a very sensitive situation between British forces and the Federal forces.
Against that over-shadowing general background there was the problem which I described to the House last week of the quick expansion and reorganisation of the Federal forces. having produced certain tribal and personal jealousies and conflicts of interests which were the origin of the troubles.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman has missed my point, which was that, in my view, the expansion had to happen too quickly.
§ Mr. Thomson
We are attacked in the House for doing things too quickly. At other times, we are attacked for not doing things nearly quickly enough. In the Second Reading debate, I was attacked from the Opposition Front Bench for being too dilatory about doing these things.
This was one of the accidents which happen in the building up of new forces in a developing country. It is not the only country in which it has happened, as the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) pointed out on another occasion.
However, that is the background. That is not to say—and here I meet the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon—that, when there was a chain reaction following the disturbances, and when that chain reaction reached Crater, with its ferment of nationalistic groups, the normal conditions of conflict between 615 the N.L.F. and F.L.O.S.Y. of internecine dispute between them did not become involved. I cannot state too plainly that the origins of the disturbances lay in other events than the policy statement by Her Majesty's Government last Monday.
§ Mr. Sandys (Streatham)
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the N.L.F. and F.L.O.S.Y. In view of what has happened during the last week, is it still the Government's intention to lift the ban on the N.L.F.?
§ Mr. Thomson
I shall come to that in a moment if I may in connection with some other comments which were made about our policies. Perhaps I could complete my report to the House on the situation inside Aden itself.
There were no clashes between British troops and the South Arabian Army as such. British troops became involved with the newly-formed South Arabian Police, and I am glad to be able to tell the Committee that the armed police who became involved in these disturbances in the Crater district have handed in their arms. I think that all the arms except one rifle have been handed in and recovered, and there is no question of their having been taken for other purposes.
The Crater area is now virtually sealed off. Neither the High Commissioner nor the Commander-in-Chief wish to provoke further bloodshed by putting British troops in immediately. They are trying to ensure the restoration of normal conditions progressively in other ways. As I have said, the situation has been made more difficult by the blow-back from the Arab-Israeli conflict. South Arabian soldiers and civilians have been affected by the lies put out by Cairo Radio about British military involvement on the side of the Israelis in the conflict, and this is a very serious additional complication which our authorities in Aden have to handle at the moment.
The hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) asked about the kind of conditions in which our forces were having to operate in the present situation. He referred to a report in The Times of today in which the correspondent, reporting the action by Mr. Owen of the British High Commission and representatives of the Federal Ministry of Defence in going 616 in to recover money from the Crater district, said:Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders guarding Marine Drive … had orders not to shoot even if fired upon.I would like to tell the hon. Gentleman and the Committee that the report is not accurate. The orders given to the troops were that they were to fire only to protect themselves if they were under attack. I hope that this helps to clear up that point.
Many questions have been asked by hon. Members who are anxious about the difficulties which our troops are facing with such courage and restraint in this difficult situation. Detailed questions ought to be referred to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I do not have either the authority or the knowledge to answer them, but I would like to tell the Committee that there is no ban on the use of particular weapons. The test is what kind of operation should be conducted, and what weapons are appropriate to it.
I think that the hon. Member for Hertford raised the question of the kind of rifles being used. All soldiers have the self-loading rifle, and patrols have automatic weapons as well, and on this difficult question I commend to the Committee an editorial in the Daily Telegraph at the beginning of this week, which pointed out that, in the event, the decision on what are the appropriate weapons to use in a situation like this has to be taken by the civil power carrying out these very heavy responsibilities in Aden. Therefore, anxious though I am to help the Committee as much as I can, I think I am entitled at this stage, when we are in the middle of dealing with the aftermath of a mutiny, to ask the Committee to trust the men on the spot with this difficult decision.
Yesterday I saw the Commander-in-Chief in London. The High Commissioner, Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, and the Commander-in-Chief are wholly agreed on the recommendations which have been made to deal with this difficult situation. Their one concern remains to fulfil the twin aims of the Government's policy, that is to bring about a safe withdrawal of our Forces from South Arabia, and to leave behind a decent independence, but the immediate problem, which I know the Committee will appreciate, is to balance 617 the need to minimise bloodshed against the need to restore normal life inside Aden, and I repeat that the High Commissioner and the Commander-in-Chief are at one on what is the wisest course to pursue in these very difficult circumstances.
The hon. Member for Hertford, dealing with the wider issues behind these Amendments, repeated what was said in the debate last week and gave us the Conservatives' view of the package unveiled to the House by my right hon. Friend. He said that this constituted a dramatic reversal of Government policy, and that we had accepted in practice the defence agreement advocated, and indeed negotiated, by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) while he was Commonwealth Secretary. This proposition was rather vigorously echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon, who took the right hon. Member for Streatham at his word in last week's debate and believed him when he said that he could have made my right hon. Friend's speech.
I think it is time the facts of the matter were put quite plainly, and in proper perspective. The right hon. Member for Streatham knows that in the light of all that he has said he could not have made my right hon. Friend's speech last Monday. That package put forward by my right hon. Friend was basically at odds, not merely on one idea, but on a number, with what the right hon. Gentleman has urged on the Government for a long time.
§ Mr. Sandys
I did not say that. I said that once or twice I thought I was listening to myself, but in the course of my speech I made a number of reservations about the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
§ Mr. Thomson
The right hon. Gentleman had an unusually persuasive effect on my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon, and I wanted to put the record right. It is not true to say that we are carrying out the kind of defence agreement, under another sort of title, which the right hon. Gentleman put forward when he was proposing a defence treaty between an independent Government and ourselves, and a defence treaty which, as we understand it, was an open-ended commitment. We have never had any indication that it was limited in time, 618 and certainly any time limit was to be extensive.
§ Mr. Sandys
This point has been repeated so often, that we were envisaging what is called an open-ended commitment. I do not quite know what this means. If it means a treaty for an indefinite period of time, this was not so. The right hon. Gentleman said that we had negotiated a defence agreement. We never did. All we did was to commit ourselves in principle. It was a firm commitment in principle to negotiate a defence agreement. The period and terms of the agreement would have been matters for negotiation.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomson
This is certainly not the impression which was created, and which the right hon. Gentleman's powerful interventions in many of our debates over many months have created in the House. There is a very considerable difference of principle between the kind of defence agreement which the right hon. Gentleman was proposing and the kind of offer of protection against external aggression which we have put forward in our package, in which the use of the V-bomber force is to be for as long as Her Majesty's Government consider necessary. This is not an open-ended commitment. It is a limited commitment. It is very different from the kind of thing which has been advocated from the benches opposite. Whether we are right or whether the right hon. Gentleman opposite is right, it is different, and it is quite wrong to pretend that they are the same thing.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman himself, I think, asked me a few moments ago questions on internal security inside the independent South Arabia when it becomes independent. I was also asked about this by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths). Here, again, is a second example where our proposals are basically different from those put forward from the benches opposite. I want to make it quite clear that our offer is an offer of protection against external aggression, and we have made it very clear—I did myself in my winding up speech—that we regard it as a distinctive hallmark of independence that a country has its own ability to control its own internal security, and we are not 619 committing British forces to internal security operations. Again, we are not committing British troops to a combat rôle on the ground in South Arabia which I understand was strongly advocated from the benches opposite.
Finally, on the question raised about the N.L.F. and F.L.O.S.Y., there is nothing so far in the recent events which has made the High Commissioner change his original recommendation to us that as long as there is determination to ensure law and order, there should be no political objection to lifting the ban on N.L.F. It would be very wrong of us that we should put F.L.O.S.Y. in the same position as N.L.F. by putting a ban on F.L.O.S.Y.
I have spelt this out at some length in order to convince my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon that he is quite wrong in believing that we have had a dramatic conversion to Conservative policy in the package put forward.
§ Viscount Lambton
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, would he just say a word or two about giving internal security into the hands of the Federal Government? His last words seemed to be suggesting that when independence is granted all internal security must depend upon the strength of the Federal Government. Is that not an argument for now putting internal security in the hands of the Federal Government?
§ Mr. Thomson
I must tell the noble Lord that I was not sitting down, but out of courtesy giving way to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon, and I was about to come on to this point.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. He has referred to me. Of course, I listen with respect but usually with disagreement to the right hon. Member the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), the former Colonial Secretary, but on this occasion I was quite capable of making my own assessment of my right hon. Friend's speech. It was the general impression on those benches, and on these benches, as evidenced by the fact that every one of the back bench speakers speaking from this side took the same view as I did, that my right hon. Friend's speech represented a dramatic change of British Government 620 policy in South Arabia. I can only add to that that this was the impression at the United Nations. If my right hon. Friend says that he has been there since, let me tell him that since he has been there I have spoken to the head of the United Nations Mission to Aden. I say again that the impression at the United Nations, as in the House of Commons and as throughout the world, is that there was a dramatic reversal of policy. I am against it.
§ Mr. Thomson
It is a sad experience in the House and in this Committee that people can have entirely opposite impressions of exactly the same set of events, and I can only tell my hon. Friend that whereas he, I understand, paid a necessarily rather fleeting visit to the United Nations before my right hon. Friend had declared his policy in the House, my right hon. Friend had the advantage of spending a week at the United Nations immediately after announcing his policy and of speaking with Mr. Perez Guerrero, the Chairman of the United Nations Mission. I can tell the Committee and my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend's impression of the reaction at the United Nations is utterly different from that of my hon. Friend and there is no suggestion that the Chairman of the United Nations Mission, Ambassador Perez Guerrero, has described my right hon. Friend's policy statement as a dramatic reversal.
But I wish to pass from that to the point raised by the noble Lord and a number of other hon. Members, and that is about the degree to which and the speed with which the Federal forces can be brought into internal security operations inside Aden. First, we must recognise, as the hon. Member for Windsor said, that the final responsibility for law and order in Aden remains that of Her Majesty's Government so long as there is not independence there. This responsibility cannot be devolved on anyone else. It had been our desire to phase the Federal forces into the work of internal security in Aden as quickly as their experience and training equipped them, and this remains our policy, but we must face the fact that, in the immediate aftermath of last week's events, it may take a little longer than originally hoped.
I now come to the Amendments—
§ Mr. Walters
Would the right hon. Gentleman answer my point about what the Foreign Secretary actually meant by his almost concluding phrase:… the provision of a powerful deterrent … for as long as we judge necessary for South Arabia to establish itself as a free and independent nation."?—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th June, 1967; Vol. 748, c. 1144.]
§ Mr. Thomson
My right hon. Friend meant exactly what he said and what those words mean. I do not understand the hon. Member's question—
§ Mr. Thomson
Yes, as long as is necessary—[HON. MEMBERS: "No limit?"]not at all, because "as long as is necessary" means that it is entirely in the Government's control. This is exactly the reverse of the kind of open-ended defence agreement with which we were so familiar from the right hon. Member for Streatham—
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
Surely it is not entirely within the control of Her Majesty's Government, because the Government do not control the degree of threats from different quarters at any given moment.
§ Mr. Thomson
I would never claim that the Government controlled the international situation, but they do control the commitment of Government Forces, which is very different from the kind of commitment involved in a defence agreement between two sovereign states.
I now come to the Amendments and am grateful for the Committee's patience. First of all, that of the hon. Member for Beckenham proposes that we should insert in the Bill a specific date for independence, 3rd November, 1968. We have announced our intention on the timetable for independence after very lengthy consideration of all the factors involved, and the Government are certainly convinced that nothing is to be gained, either by us or by the South Arabian Government, from postponing the date in the way he suggests.
We are, of course, aware of the threats which affect South Arabia both from inside and from outside, but it is our considered view that the continued presence of British forces tends to make the internal security situation sometimes 622 more difficult rather than easier, as we have had ample reason, I am afraid, to find out during the last few days. For these reasons, therefore, I must recommend the Committee to resist that Amendment.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Dodds-Parker) and the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Dennis Walters) both supported the Amendment, saying that the date of independence should be postponed until we had guaranteed freedom from threat of external attack for South Arabia. I can only say that that seems to be singularly unrealistic. I do not think that there is a nation on our troubled earth which could say, at any given moment, that it was entirely secure against external attack. Therefore, if we were to accept the Amendment, it would mean staying indefinitely in South Arabia and a complete reversal of our policy.
The other Amendment relates to the state of internal order in South Arabia, and here again I must recommend the Committee to reject it. It is very much in the interests of South Arabia, as well as in the interests of Britain, that there should be a firm date for independence towards which people can start working now. There is nothing that more concentrates the energies and ideas of people facing these very difficult problems than to know that they have a very firm target date to aim at. It would solve nothing to postpone the date of independence in the way mentioned by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds and other hon. Members.
As I have said, the South Arabians must deal with their own internal security problems. We will give them, and are giving them, every help we can to enable them to do this for themselves, but in the end, perhaps especially in the Middle East with its present conflicting trends of Arab nationalism, it is a vital essential of sovereignty that the independent South Arabian Government should be able to look after their own internal security for themselves without outside help; and the best way to bring that about is to set a firm date for independence and to work towards it.
The noble Lord the Member for Hertford suggested that we ought to have separate appointed days attached to the 623 different islands. I believe that on another group of Amendments we shall discuss the reasoning that lies behind the noble Lord's proposal, which is that there ought to be a special approach to particular islands. I would merely say now that it does not seem to us at this point that it is at all practicable for Her Majesty's Government to retain responsibility for Perim or the Kuria Muria Islands after we have relinquished sovereignty over Aden and withdrawn our forces from South Arabia, and it is very difficult, I must confess, to see any advantage in being able to relinquish sovereignty over Perim and the Kuria Muria Islands before we relinquish sovereignty over Aden.
Here, again, there is a great advantage in having a single date to work for: it is tidier, and it helps to concentrate the ideas of the Government in the same way as I have been arguing in regard to the South Arabian Government over the date for independence. For these reasons we must also resist the suggestion that there should be provision for different appointed days for different territories.
§ Lord Balniel
The purpose of the Amendment I moved, and of the Amendments that were taken with it, is not so much to achieve separate appointed days as to have separate Orders in Council for each of the territories. I believe that the three Amendments to which I spoke achieve this purpose. The reason is the possibility that these three separate territories will not have the same ultimate destiny, and it seemed to us desirable that there should be three separate Orders in Council. Would the right hon. Gentleman be so kind as to address himself to that argument?
§ Mr. Thomson
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that clarification. If that is his motive in putting forward the Amendments, I must say that the Amendments are unnecessary. The point is whether there should be different appointed days for relinquishment. If it is merely a question of different destinations for these territories—different decisions as to where sovereignty should be transferred—that can all be done on the same appointed day in a single Order in Council. I am ready to study more closely what the noble Lord has said, in case there is 624 need to reconsider the point in another place, but I am advised that it is not necessary to accept these Amendments to meet his point.
§ Mr. Sandys
Before the right hon. Gentleman concludes, it seems to me that this is a point on which the Government might be helpful to the House. We are not asking for a change of policy, but we understand that the Government have not themselves yet decided what is to be the future of Perim and the Kuria Muria Islands. It seems to me conceivable that in the process of deciding what should be their future, the Government may find that it is not convenient or appropriate to relinquish sovereignty on the same date. I can see no possible difficulty in safeguarding the Kuria Muria Islands after relinquishing Aden, but in view of the situation would it not be a wise precaution for the Government to have that amount of flexibility in their Bill?
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomson
I am prepared to study that a little further in view of what has been said. We are prudently bringing this legislation forward six months ahead of the date we are putting forward as the date for independence. This gives a good deal of time for coming to a conclusion on these matters. For the practical reasons I have given the House it is difficult to see how we could retain responsibility for these islands after we have left South Arabia, but I am prepared to look at that again.
§ Lord Balniel
My hon. Friends and I have been rather disappointed that the Government have not found it possible to accept any of the Amendments we have put forward, but, in view of the undertaking by the Minister of State that he will specifically study most closely our request for separate Orders in Council for these separate territories, I advise my hon. Friends, if they feel so inclined, to withdraw their Amendments.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Deputy Chairman
The next Amendment is No. 7, in page 1, line 12, leave out 'Perim' with which we can discuss Amendment No. 9, in Clause 9, page 5, line 10, leave out 'Perim', new 625 Clause No. 1—Lease of Perim to United Nations—and Amendment No. 10, in the Title, line 3, leave out 'Perim'.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker
On a point of order. May I seek your guidance, Mr. Irving? I understand that you are proposing to call a group of Amendments one of which relates to Clause 1 and the others to other Clauses. I think that it was the understanding that certain points would be covered in discussion of the group of Amendments we have discussed, particularly security and defence arrangements, but there are specified points I wish to raise on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill". When will it be possible to do that?
The Deputy Chairman
The Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" will be put after Amendment No. 7 and the associated Amendments have been discussed.
§ Lord Balniel
On a point of order. May I seek your guidance, Mr. Irving? Would it be in order if we wished to divide the Committee, not on the Amendment about to be moved, but on subsequent Amendments which are to be discussed at the same time? Would it he possible to have a Division on any of those should we so desire?
The Deputy Chairman
It would he possible. I could not give a blanket assurance about all the Amendments, but it would be possible on new Clause No. 1.
§ Lord Balniel
Our greatest interest lies in new Clause No. 1. If we asked for the right to have a Division on that, would you grant it?
The Deputy Chairman
The Amendment we are discussing is Amendment No. 7 and with it we are discussing Amendment No. 9 and new Clause No. l and Amendment No. 10, but the hon. Member will be proposing Amendment No. 7.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 1, line 12, to leave out 'Perim'.
626 The purpose of these Amendments and the new Clause linked with them is stated quite clearly in the language of new Clause No. 1. It can be summarised under three short headings. First, by excluding Perim from the Bill, we seek to prevent this strategic island from falling into hostile or unstable hands which might at some point use Perim to restrict or threaten freedom of navigation through the Straits of Bab el Mandeb. This might be described as the strategic denial ground of this new Clause. We are seeking to deny Perim to those who would misuse it against an international community.
Secondly, by empowering the Secretary of State, to offer Perim to the United Nations, we seek to ensure positively rather than negatively that free passage through the straits is guaranteed not merely by international law and practice but by the physical presence in the straits of a body representing not one nation but all nations and not one continent but all the continents. That is the positive ground, for Perim could well become a potential dagger pointing at the throat of the Red Sea. We prefer to see it as an international guard post assuring to the world's ships, and perhaps to its aircraft at some stage in the future, uninhibited and lawful passage through this vital waterway.
Our third purpose is that the Amendment could pave the way towards a new beginning for the United Nations in the Middle East. Sooner or later if there is to be peace in this area an international presence will have to be re-established in it. It may be that Sinai or Jerusalem would be the best places to make a start, but from Parliament's point of view both of them suffer from one irredeemable disadvantage: neither is under Britain's control.
But Perim is under British control. It lies at the strategic junction, not only of the Red Sea and of the Indian Ocean, but at a point where South Arabia and the Horn of Africa come most closely together. I predict that this area could become one of the world's future trouble spots. Our own difficulties in Aden are one clear sign of this. Another sign is the presence in Yemen of many thousands of Egyptian troops. Not far away from Perim is the Red Sea port of Hodeida where Soviet submarines are reported 627 regularly to refuel and in whose construction I understand that Chinese engineers at one time at least lent a hand. The Soviets at least have no doubts at all about this area's strategic significance.
Then there are the troubles on the other side of the Red Sea in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. There is the prospect that a French withdrawal from Djibouti, which cannot be delayed much longer, could leave another very delicate and difficult situation on the western shores of the Red Sea, just as our withdrawal from Aden may leave something of a vacuum in South Arabia.
The third ground on which we put forward the Amendments is to head off, if it is possible to head off, at least some of the frictions and antagonisms which may, and which I believe will, be generated by these expected changes. If, as I believe possible, Perim were to be internationalised, the world community would be injecting a restraining influence, perhaps even a growth point of peace, into an area which otherwise could well become a new cockpit of war.
I summarise our reasons for putting forward these Amendments in this way: first, denial to potential enemies; secondly, protection of a vital international waterway; and, thirdly, tangible British support for the United Nations.
I want to say a few words about Perim itself. I have not visited the island, though I have seen it from afar. From all I can learn about it, it is small, flat, poor, and extremely dry. It is not much bigger than Gibraltar; but where Gibraltar is a towering block, easily defensible, Perim's highest point is very little taller than Big Ben.
On the Arabian side of the Island the straits of Bab el Mandeb are barely two miles wide and not very big. Very few ships pass this side. The western or African channel is one of the world's great shipping lanes. Except when Suez is closed, as regrettably it now is closed, this channel is used by a teeming procession of oil tankers, cargo vessels and great liners, carrying most of the wheat that goes to India, almost all the people who travel from Britain to Australia, and the bulk of the Middle East oil that is shipped to Western Europe.
There is one conspicuous feature of this traffic. So far, thanks to Britain's 628 command of Perim, there has been no attempt to stop it. Suez has been blocked. The Dardenelles have been blocked. The Copenhagen Sound, the Tushima Straits, the Sunda Channel—all these strategic waterways at one time or another have been blocked or threatened to be blocked. But the Straits of Bab el Mandeb have never once been blocked. That is precisely the motive which led our ancestors, perhaps more far-sighted than we are, originally to take hold of Perim. They did so precisely because they wanted to prevent any attempt to stop traffic going through the Straits.
First on the scene was the Honourable East India Company, which landed a British contingent there because it feared that Napoleon might strike down the Red Sea towards India. Then, in the 1850s, the Royal Navy took over because, in the minds of British Ministers then—it is all in the historical record—there was no doubt that Perim in unfriendly hands could be the stopper in the Red Sea bottle. Neither can it be gainsaid that, by itself occupying Perim, Britain has ensured, just as surely as we did when we controlled the Suez Canal, that there should be no interference with the free passage of the ships of all nations.
Notice what happens when Britain loses control of these strategic locations. As soon as we lost command of Suez, the canal became an instrument of Egyptian national policy. For years, it has been closed against Israel, and today its closure, for the second time, is costing the world in general and Britain in particular millions of pounds a week. So far, this has not happened in the case of Perim, but who dare say that it will not?
Which right hon. Gentleman would be so bold as to say, against the background of the recent war, that the Straits of Bab el Mandeb will not be used, as Aqaba and Suez have been used, to further the national interests of those who may one day control it? Which Minister will tell the international shipping lines, at a time when the Suez Canal is closed, that they need have no anxiety about the Straits of Bab el Mandeb, that they will never be the object of some arbitrary, if yet unforeseeable, action by one or other of the riparian Powers?
At present, the South Arabian Federation, the only logical territory to which 629 Perim might be handed if the Bill goes through, is heavily dependent on Britain. Its present rulers are as unlikely as they are at the moment unable to turn Perim into a gun emplacement. But, once Britain finally withdraws from its commitments to Aden, it will be open to question whether a future Government of the Federation, dependent on Egypt, perhaps, influenced by the Soviet Union, perhaps, will not seek to use Perim to stop Israeli if not other ships from using the southern Red Sea.
In the face of such a danger, some hon. Members may propose that Britain should hold on to Perim, perhaps, as a base. This is not our proposal. We are emphatically not proposing a new British base. In my view, bases are on the way out. What we propose is that the Government should make an approach to the United Nations to see whether it would be prepared to accept Perim's becoming something entirely new, the first United Nations strategic trusteeship territory.
I have said that this is something new, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not think that that in itself is a reason for opposing it. Perim has advantages for a United Nations presence. It has a small but excellent harbour which is capable of receiving sizeable ships, ships which, incidentally, could carry short or medium-range missiles capable of controlling the Straits. Secondly, it has a small airstrip. Although I do not know if the airstrip is used today, I am advised that the island could accommodate without too much difficulty a fairly large-scale runway, able to handle many types of modern aircraft, including military aircraft.
It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman said the other night, that the cliffs on the Yemeni or South Arabian shore are high enough to enable guns placed on top of them to sweep over Perim. But far from militating against the suggestion of an international presence, the fact that cannon have already been placed on the heights is yet another piece of tangible evidence that the dangers of the straits being blockaded are very real for if those guns have been placed on the Yemeni cliffs, as the Minister told us, no one can imagine that they were put there to bombard Perim. There is very little in Perim that is intrinsically worth bombard- 630 ing. The sole object of artillery placed on those cliffs is to command the straits and the international waterway through them.
The best way to neutralise that threat is to establish on Perim an international presence standing physically between any would-be attacker and the ships that pass in the channel. It will be argued that the United Nations might not agree to take over Perim. I do not know, and the right hon. Gentleman does not know, whether the United Nations would accept such an offer. Some of its members may not want it; others may be indifferent. Perhaps, on the basis of recent experience, the likeliest event is that the United Nations would not be able to agree whether to accept it or not, and in those circumstances it might defer a decision until another day.
Yet there can be no doubt that the United Nations is entitled under its Charter to accept Perim as a U.N. trust territory. The Charter not only permits but actually invites those nations which administer strategic territories to hand them over to the U.N. I shall not weary the House by dealing with all the Articles in the Charter that refer to this possibility. Article 77 states specifically thatThe trusteeship system shall apply to … territories voluntarily placed under the system by States responsible for their administration.Article 81 says:The trusteeship agreement shall in each case include the terms under which the trust territory wil he administered and designate the authority which will exercise the administraton … such authority … may be one or more States or the Organisation"—that is, the United Nations itself.
There are more Articles that deal with trusteeship. It is underlined again and again that strategic territories may be placed under the trusteeship system and administered either by the U.N. directly or by a consortium of the Powers under the authority of the Security Council. These Articles are tailor-made for Perim. They allow us—indeed, they invite us—to transform the island into an international trust territory administered under the authority of the Security Council by a number of nations, which should include one or more representatives of the Arab nations, one or more of the great shipping nations and, perhaps, if it seemed appropriate, a representative of the Secretary-General.
631 The first responsibility of such a trusteeship over this strategic island would, of course, be to the people of Perim. To give just one example: there is no reason why, under trusteeship, the people of Perim should not be freed from the scourge of drought that has plagued them for many centuries. But the main purpose would be to save Perim from becoming, as one day it may well become, a block to free navigation through the waterway.
I therefore conclude as I began. What we on this side ask in the new clause is not delay in the independence of Aden or Perim. Those matters have been dealt with in previous Amendments. We welcome the independence that the Bill will give to these territories, although we may differ from the Government over the timing and manner in which it is achieved. Nor are we seeking the creation of any new British base or, for that matter, the retention of an existing base. What we are asking is simply that, at a moment of particular difficulty in the Middle East, when more than anything else an element of international stability needs to be injected into the area, the Government should at the least keep open the option of an international presence being established in this strategic spot.
At the very least, we ask the Government, at a time when Suez is closed, to avoid giving Perim as yet another hostage to fortune and to ensure that the Red Sea shall not be bottled up at this southern end against the interests not only of Britain, but of the whole international maritime community.
Finally, we are asking that the Government, who have rightly placed so much emphasis on their commitment to the United Nations, should seize this opportunity, which may never recur, to establish a positive and physical United Nations presence in the world's first United Nations trust territory.
This is an action that lies uniquely within the power of Britain. We may not any longer be prime movers in large parts of the world. Here is one place where we could and should take the lead. We can do it for the good of Britain, for the good of both the Arabs and the Israelis, for the good of the maritime 632 community and, in my submission, for the peace of the world.
§ Mr. Robert Edwards
I listened with very great pleasure to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) and it seems to me that we can very well have an interesting discussion on the issues he raised. The principles he enunciated are of very vital importance, not just for the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Middle East but for other strategic waterways all over the world. There is an urgent need for international control of many strategic waterways under the United Nations.
I am also convinced, as I am sure we all are, that, by some means or other, we have to get a United Nations presence in the Middle Eastern lands. The last two Governments we have had had glorious opportunities of doing this but completely failed. The Conservatives refused to allow a United Nations mission to visit Aden and South Arabia and the present Government were rather reluctant to allow the U.N. to interfere in any of our Colonies and the decision to let it come in only came later.
I hope that this Amendment means what it says and that, as advocated, it represents the beginning of a new attitude by the Opposition towards the United Nations. They have not been so forthcoming in the past. But this small island of Perim is not viable and would have to be sustained by considerable financial support from the great Powers. It has no kind of economy. It is only a base. It has no agriculture or water. It is sustained by us as a base. One could not expect the United Nations to sustain this island as a base on behalf of the United Nations. One could only invite the United Nations to sustain and maintain the small population of this island, as we have done, as a kind of control over a strategic waterway.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
The hon. Member will be aware that there are no British installations on Perim. None of the fishermen there works for the British. The economy is not dependent on us. It is a fairly desert island with some 300 people.
§ Mr. Edwards
The whole of the harbour installations were built by us. It has a great harbour which has been 633 sustained by us. It is there for our purposes in crisis, as my hon. Friend knows very well.
We are discussing the very noble principle that in certain parts of the world there are strategic waterways which should come under international control so that they may remain free for world shipping. If acceptance of this Amendment carries this great principle one hesitant step forward then I think there can be no reply to the points made.
I am certain that the great strategic waterways of the Suez Canal, the Dardanelles and the Panama Canal, which are constantly a source of tension, would best be controlled by the United Nations, and I believe that the United Nations should have the revenue that goes with the control of these waterways. This would give the United Nations, for the first time, a base from which they could develop an international police force with the revenue to sustain and maintain it to keep the peace of the world.
We have to make a start in this direction. If this modest Amendment leads towards this then it is worthy of thought and serious discussion. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs will treat this Amendment as raising a serious issue which both sides of the Committee would like to see debated, as it has been by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds.
§ Mr. Sandys
I intervene very briefly to support the proposal contained in the new Clause. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards) seems to be in sympathy with this idea.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) expressed very lucidly my thoughts in general on this topic, but I have one or two reservations about certain points, particularly regarding the possibility of the military equipment on Perim. However, I feel very much in sympathy with the proposal made in this Clause. It is both novel and imaginative.
For a number of years I have felt that the ownership of this small island was a matter of very special political and strategic importance. As has been said, the Straits of Bab el Mandeb which separate Perim from the coast of Africa 634 are less than 20 miles wide. In modern conditions that is a significant figure. Now that so many countries regularly claim territorial waters up to the 12-mile limit, it is clear that if Perim and the territory of Somaliland opposite were to fall into unfriendly hands, exactly the same situation could arise as recently arose in the Straits of Tiran, although, of course, on a much larger and more serious scale. As happened over the Gulf of Aqaba, the Government concerned could claim that the Straits were territorial waters and that, in consequence, the whole of the Red Sea was an internal lake, as was done in the case of the Gulf of Aqaba.
When I was Minister of Defence, 10 years ago, I was much concerned about this possibility and it was at my request that the then Government decided by Order in Council in 1959 for this reason to withdraw responsibility for Perim from the Legislative Council in Aden, and when Aden acceded to the Federation in 1963, then in my capacity as Colonial Secretary I took care to see that Perim was not included in the Federation and therefore remained a separate Colonial Territory outside the Federation of South Arabia. Again in 1964, at the South Arabian Constitutional Conference, I discussed this matter with the representatives of Aden Colony and the other States of the Federation, all of whom agreed that Perim should be left out of the Federation and its future considered separately.
In the last few weeks, we have seen a bitter and bloody war result from the closing of an international waterway by a country which claimed that the entrance to it was territorial waters. If at some future date any country should claim a similar right to close the entrance to the Red Sea, the consequences would be incomparably more serious. By the accident of history, Britain happens to be in a position to make this legally impossible.
I stress the word "legally". This is where I differ slightly from my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds, because I believe that if the United Nations or some other international agency were prepared to take a lease on Perim, it would not be necessary to make a base on this small island.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I am glad that my right hon. Friend has raised this issue. I ought to make it absolutely clear that I had no thought of Perim becoming an armed base. On the contrary, I made it specifically clear that that was exactly what I did not want to happen. I mentioned weapons only because of the fear that others would introduce weapons to Perim if there was not an international presence established there to prevent it.
§ Mr. Sandys
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am glad that he has corrected me on that. I was under that impression because he had referred at some length to the air strip and the possibility of basing missiles there.
The important thing is the legal status of Perim, because in these international controversies and conflicts the legal status, the international status, of a territory plays an important part. It played a very big part in the issue which arose over the Gulf of Aqaba the other day. The fact that no country could claim that the entrance to the Red Sea was territorial waters is an important factor to which we should pay attention.
We should, therefore, in my view, retain control over the island until some satisfactory international guarantee can be provided for the free passage of shipping into and out of the Red Sea. The suggestion that Perim might in some way or other be internationalised is extremely attractive. It is not an airy-fairy idea, which can be dismissed as impracticable. It ought to be seriously studied by the Government, and I hope that they will do so. In any case, I am sure that we should think twice before hurriedly divesting ourselves of control of this small island which, because of its unique geographical position, might turn out to be of very exceptional importance.
§ Viscount Lambton
I would like to support this new Clause. In doing so I can only stress even more some of the arguments submitted to the Committee by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), who moved the new Clause so ably.
We have just seen what happened when the war was fought against Israel in Sinai. There has been the most over- 636 whelming defeat conceivable. I am quite sure that whatever else has resulted from this war there has resulted a determination by Egypt not to repeat the same exercise on a battlefield, where she has twice been overwhelmingly defeated within a week.
At the same time, we know that there is now a greater bitterness in the Arab world towards Israel than there has ever been before. Until the six days' war, the Arab countries detested Israel, but now they doubly detest her because she has defeated them, and it would be absurd to think in any sense that Arabia is still not desirous of destroying Israel, as she tried to do the other day. We can be quite certain, looking pragmatically as we are told to do now, at the situation, that an attempt will be made at a future date to try to destroy Israel.
If one looks at the situation of Perim, one sees that this offers precisely the type of opportunity that the Arab world wants for bottling in Israel without, at the same time, coming within the orbit of Israel. If Perim, Somalia and Aden decided to close these waters, there is very little that Israel could do about it. She could not conceivably send land forces there. If she sent air forces, these forces could do nothing particularly effective, and she has no sea forces.
This is a place which Israel could not control by force from within her own frontiers. It is, therefore, an ideal place for containing Israel. This being the case can we be sure that this will not happen in the future, and ought we not to do everything that we can to ensure that it will not? Earlier, the Minister of State made a slight reference to this, but I am sure that we are to have an explanation from him later as to the attitude of the Government to this new Clause.
It is possible that it will be said that, even if independence is granted on the same basis as that of Aden, this does not preclude, at some future date, the Island of Perim becoming an international unity on its own. What I would argue, with all respect, is that once we give up the sovereignty of the Island of Perim, then we give up the golden opportunity of ensuring that without, international or territorial arguments, it is internationalised. We should not give up our sovereignty over this island other than to an international unit.
637 Not enough has been said tonight about the troubled position over the coast in Somalia. There we have a really frightening build-up. Somalia is being armed by the Chinese, and has territorial ambitions in Abyssinia, armed by the United States, and Kenya armed by the United Kingdom. We have, therefore, the nucleus of the outbreak of a future local war. In the past, great support has been given by Nasser to the Government of Somalia in their territorial ambitions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) stressed that Nasser would try at some future date to recall the great prestige which he has lost. That is so. There could well be, therefore, at a not too distant date, an association of Somalia and the Aden Federation, if, as some hon. Members fear, it breaks up, in which the two of them decide that it is in the interests of Arabia and of the suppression of Israel that this territory should be used to close the Red Sea to Israeli shipping.
I can only repeat the very simple argument that Her Majesty's Government should make it plain that they are prepared to look at this matter again, and will not merely ask the Opposition to believe that if the Bill goes through Perim can be internationalised later. We do not want to lose the opportunity of having it internationalised without arguments. I hope that we shall have a clear-cut answer from the Minister on this point.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker
In view of what has been said by my right hon. and hon. Friends, I will make only two brief supporting points. What I say will in no way contradict my welcome for the independence envisaged in the Bill. But why is it necessary at this moment to divest ourselves of ownership before proper consultation is carried out, not only with the population of these islands, but with future users, which the new Clause suggests might be the United Nations?
There are two instances which may be parallel. St. Kilda, off the North-West Coast of Scotland, was cleared of the population in the 1930s, but we did not divest ourselves of ownership. When Tristan da Cunha blew up four or five years ago, and all the population came off the island, we did not divest ourselves of ownership. Since there is very little 638 ethnic connection between Perim and the Federation, why is it necessary at this moment to divest ourselves of ownership before we see what can be done with the United Nations?
Secondly, Kamaran has been mentioned in the debate. I went there once. It was a quarantine station run by the Sudan Government with doctors from India and the co-operation of what is now Saudi Arabia. It worked very well for the benefit of all concerned. I know that today, in the conditions of the modern pilgrimage, it is not necessary to have a sea base of that sort. But here is another instance of a territory which is within the prerogative and, therefore, cannot come within the Bill. Perhaps the Minister would say whether international status for Kamaran might be envisaged, if not on this occasion, then at some time in future.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have welcomed this as a practical suggestion and one way in which we might co-operate with the United Nations. I hope that all of them who have stayed to listen to this discussion will be able to support us on this occasion.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)
This is a somewhat sad evening for me, because I think that I am the only hon. Member of the House who was in the Aden Government, and I served there for five years. In my view, all the troubles have arisen because we have not had the courage to govern the place and to make our will known. The villain of the piece behind it all, of course, is Nasser. However, if I continue in that vein I shall be out of order.
As for the future of Perim, it is not really a place of any importance. It is an old coaling station, and, if Aden goes, Perim might as well go, too. I do not believe that there is any point in putting it under the United Nations.
One matter which concerns me is the future of the Red Sea lighthouses which protect shipping. I have raised the matter with the Foreign Office once before, and I have not had an answer. I should be grateful if I could have one this evening.
§ Mr. Walters
I intervene very briefly to support the Amendment. A number of powerful arguments have been put forward in favour of excluding Perim from 639 the Bill, but I wish to make one further point, which is really to put the United Nations to the test.
Time and time again, the United Nations has failed in its real operations. We have had to many moralising resolutions and not enough substantive action when its peace-keeping function could have been effective or when its war preventive function would have been desirable.
The United Nations could perform an extremely important rôle by taking over a place which has a great effect on an international waterway, and it would be highly desirable that the United Nations should have to face this reality and respond positively.
§ Lord Balniel
I intervene briefly in this debate from the Opposition Front Bench to support the arguments which have been advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) in moving the new Clause and putting forward a novel and worthwhile suggestion for the consideration of the Government. This would be the first step in the history of the United Nations to establish an international trusteeship over an area of immense strategic significance.
That strategic significance lies in the fact that the Island of Perim commands the Straits of Bab el Mandeb. It is here that the Red Sea is funnelled to a breadth of something short of 20 miles, and it is here that the continents of Africa and Asia come together.
It was as long ago as 1857, before the Suez Canal was built but while it was being discussed, that the British statesmen of the time saw the immense strategic importance of the area. As a result, it was annexed by the British Government. Since the building of the Suez Canal, it has become clear that the island lies alongside the most important of all the international maritime channels. The Straits of Bab el Mandeb have a strategic significance which is far greater than that of Sharm el Sheik and, as we all know, in recent weeks, Sharm el Sheik has been the trigger from which the whole of the Middle East has been involved in war. These straits, if held in unfavourable hands, could have a significance fully 640 comparable with that of the Suez Canal itself.
The Bill as drafted provides for relinquishing sovereignty over the Island of Perim. The Government have said that sovereignty is to be relinquished within a matter of seven months, but during the Second Reading debate the Government spokesman said that they did not even know to whom the sovereignty of the island was to be relinquished. In these circumstances I think we are entitled to ask whether they are certain that freedom of access will be maintained for international shipping, and, equally important, whether overflying rights will be maintained.
This area is obviously unstable, and one can visualise it falling under Soviet influence, or into the hands of her client state Egypt. Even if it is held by a strong Federal Government, are the Government certain that an Arab Government will not close the Straits of Bab el Mandeb to Israeli shipping? If they do, they will implement the fears which my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-on-weed (Viscount Lambton) has advanced. It will be easy for them to close the Straits of Bab el Mandeb, and at the same time keep the Suez Canal closed to Israeli shipping. This will be outwith the reach of the State of Israel, and they will have achieved the bottling up of the Israeli shipping, a fear which led to the recent war.
Articles 77 and 82 of the United Nations Charter specifically make provision for the United Nations to accept and administer territories of strategic significance. I believe that if this area was maintained by an international presence many of the fears of the international maritime community would be allayed. The purpose of the Clause is not to establish a military base, but to see that a military base is not established here by other persons, that guns are not sighted on the Island of Perim, which would sweep the straits which open into the Red Sea.
This seems to us pre-eminently a task for the United Nations, and the Clause is designed to give the Government the opportunity, should they so wish, of giving the sovereignty of this territory to the United Nations, and so ensuring for all time that international shipping is allowed 641 access through the straits, and international overflying rights are maintained.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Brown)
I have seldom heard a debate which I have enjoyed and agreed with more. From the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) to the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), the noble Lord the Member for Berwick-onTweed (Viscount Lambton) and the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), we have heard nothing but praise and commendation for the United Nations. There has not been a conversion like this since Saul went up to Tarsus.
I am very impressed. I wholly welcome it. I wholly agree with it and I hope that I shall have the support of all these right hon. and hon. Gentleman when we bring it about. All I say to them is that the Amendments are misconceived. They are not required. The Bill allows us to internationalise the Island of Perim. We do not need any Amendments for that purpose. That we can do.
I shall have the very greatest pleasure in conveying to the responsible authorities that we have absolute, unanimous approval from those who have hitherto rather been withholding their approval. For internationalising this island we do not need any Amendment to the Bill—so long as there in not here any arriere-pensee; and the only hon. Gentleman who let the cat out of the bag was the noble Lord the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, who talked a little less carefully than others about the retention of a British possession in this area; and I suspect that this is what is really in the minds of hon. and right hon. Members opposite, for I cannot believe in a conversion as complete and as sudden as this. It does not normally happen.
§ Viscount Lambton
Would the right hon. Gentleman say what he means by that? On no occasion whatever have I ever suggested that. This territory should go under the United Nations. The only reason we should hold on to it was to ensure that it went to the United Nations and did not enter the field of argument so that others could put a claim to it first.
§ Lord Balniel rose—
§ Mr. Brown
May I go on, one sentence at a time, and deal with the noble Lord—one noble Lord at a time, if they do not mind?
The Bill leaves us totally free to negotiate an internationalised arrangement for the Island of Perim and we do not need any Amendment to enable us to do that. The only purpose for which we would need an Amendment—this is what I am making quite clear—the noble Lord the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed alone was honest enough to say so—would be if we wanted to keep British possession of the island after South Arabia becomes independent.
§ Lord Balniel
It must be patently obvious to the House that the Foreign Secretary has not read the new Clause, because the Clause is so designed thatHer Majesty may, on the advice of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, lease the island of Perim to the United Nations".
§ Lord Balniel rose—
§ Mr. Brown
No. Wait one second. The noble Lord, unlike me, has much experience of owning things and leasing them to other people—[HON. MEMBERS: "Really."]—but one cannot lease something unless one retains ownership. By definition one cannot. I understand the new Clause very clearly. The noble Lord the Member for Hertford tried to hide it. The noble Lord the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was very honest with the House. What the Amendment seeks to do is to call upon us to retain the ownership of the island and lease it on some terms to somebody else.
§ Mr. Brown
I will in a moment, most certainly. Anyhow, we are in Committee, and the noble Lord has plenty of time, and I am not in a hurry, but I want to get the argument clear.
We have all heard this about the United Nations, and about this wonderful conversion, which I accepted. On the 643 other hand, I wondered why; I was a bit surprised; so I read the new Clause. Of course, I listened to the noble Lord the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, who gave it away.
The argument is for internationalisation which the Bill as it stands allows us to do. The desire is to retain the ownership and then have the power to lease it to somebody else. But if nobody takes up the lease, the ownership remains with us. With respect, I think that this is what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are after. They want to ensure that the Island of Perim remains owned by Britain after South Arabia has become independent—
§ Viscount Lambton rose—
§ Lord Balniel rose—
§ Lord Balniel
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I can explain to him why the new Clause is drafted in this way. It is drafted to conform as closely as we can with Article 77(1,c) of the United Nations Charter.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell) rose—
§ Viscount Lambton rose—
§ Mr. Brown
One at a time. I am answering this noble Lord at the moment.
The United Nations resolution—if one noble Lord will stop winking at the other noble Lord, we can deal with the matter—was absolutely clear about this. It was that the islands, of which this is one, should go with South Arabia—
§ Mr. Brown
Yes, it was. The resolution said that the islands and South Arabia should go together. Hon. Gentlemen opposite who know about these things know as well as I do that we should 644 be in conflict with the resolution which they are pretending to be supporting if we were to divorce one from the other. At the moment of independence we could not possibly retain British alleged ownership of that island and present ourselves at the United Nations as being in accord with the United Nations resolution about independence.
If, between now and then, we can negotiate for the internationalisation of the island of Perim, I am wholly in favour of it—
§ Viscount Lambton rose—
§ Mr. Brown
Wait a minute.
I will use everything I can to bring it about. If the United Nations, at that stage, has not been willing to take it, I am not willing to retain it in British ownership after that date, because on that date independence comes to South Arabia, and on that date the Island of Perim goes with the mainland and South Arabia, I think that I would be in total conflict with everything if I were to try to keep the one thing which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen said they do not want, and I would then have to keep—
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths rose—
§ Mr. Brown
May I ask the House, if we are taking this argument seriously—if it was intended seriously, and I do not know if it was—how would we present ourselves to the world, having allegedly given independence to South Arabia and then create a base with all the installations required and all the ancillary requirements—[Interruption.] Let us examine the 645 argument that we do not create a base on it but retain it in our possession and ownership so that, as has been said from the other side, we deny it to someone else. We would have to create something on it. We could not just leave it as a fishing harbour. We would need to have some people there. It could not be done. The whole argument is a nonsense, except as a way of trying to frustrate our intention of conceding independence to South Arabia.
Having said that much, and having made it quite clear that, in my view, on the date on which independence comes to South Arabia independence must also come to Perim, nevertheless I will certainly go to the United Nations and tell them of the touching devotion of hon. and right hon. Members to them, and do what I can to ensure the island's internationalisation under United Nations auspices in the meantime.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I would say, if I may, with respect to my right hon. Friend, that he is absolutely right in his argument. He may have thought when, at the beginning of his speech, he indicated that he accepted some of the arguments of hon. Members opposite that it might deter me from expressing my approval, but that is not the case. I believe that what he said is perfectly right, and it should have been accepted in a quite different sense by hon. Members opposite, if, indeed, they were serious in their proposition.
I must confess that before the debate tonight I had never heard of Perim, and others may share my ignorance—or rather, the only thing I can recall of it is the famous song:East West, North South,'Frisco to Perim,Wherever Capt. John Macpherson wentThe girls were after him.They chased him, pursued him,They would not let him free,'Till Captain John Macpherson cursed the day he went to sea.646 It may be that if we were to retain Perim on the terms recommended by some hon. Members opposite we would curse it, too—
§ Viscount Lambton
I must interrupt the hon. Member. I think that both he and the Foreign Secretary have done a considerable disservice to the House of Commons tonight.
§ Mr. Foot
I will deal with the noble Lord's argument. I have said, and I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, that if the proposal of hon. and right hon. Members opposite was intended seriously it is reasonable that it should be accepted in that sense, but it is quite clear from what has been said by some of them—and, in particular, by the noble Lord—that their proposal is different from that of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), who made the original proposal. I will come to the actual proposal in a minute and argue how best it can be put into operation, because I think that it contains considerable validity. I have never heard it before, but I listened to the hon. Gentleman and if it is a serious argument I entirely agree with the Foreign Secretary, but if the argument is coupled with a proposal for British ownership it will destroy the whole idea.
Hon. Members opposite must not complain if the Foreign Secretary and the rest of us are, at any rate, suspicious of the auspices under which this proposal is put forward. I am not talking so much about the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, although I do not wish to acquit him altogether, but look at the others. A proposal to assist the United Nations, coming from the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison), does not sound very convincing. Indeed, his fame here is in considerable part associated with his persistent attacks on the United Nations. He has made several converts, as the Foreign Secretary has underlined. The noble Lord the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) is never a great supporter of the United Nations, nor is the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys). So we are entitled to some original suspicions when they come forward with a proposal for putting this island into the hands of the United Nations.
§ Mr. Walters
Is it not perfectly legitimate to criticise the United Nations for double standards and moralising platitudes and yet to ask the United Nations to do something effective?
§ Viscount Lambton
May I do away with the hon. Member's suspicions by saying that I think I speak for all hon. Members on this side of the Committee in saying that, had the Foreign Secretary generously welcomed our offer as genuine and taken it in the spirit in which it was made, there would have been unanimous support for this suggestion?
§ Mr. Foot
The Foreign Secretary pointed out the defects in the proposition which has been put forward. He went on to show how the matter could be better advanced. If hon. Members opposite are serious in putting forward this proposal and in desiring that the outcome of this debate should be that Perim should be an island owned by the United Nations under some kind of original charter—
§ Viscount Lambton indicated assent.
§ Mr. Foot
If that is the serious proposal, and the noble Lord nods his head, I suggest in all seriousness that the only way to achieve that end is to follow what the Foreign Secretary has put to the Committee and not what has been said by hon. Members opposite. Whatever may be their intentions, if the Committee accepted Amendment No. 7 and later passed the new Clause, the position, as the Foreign Secretary rightly said, would be that this country would retain ownership of this island after the date of independence for the other territories. If that were so, most people in that part of the world—at any rate many people in the Arab countries; I do not want to state the argument too strongly—would say that so far from the purpose being to assist the international organisation it was for the purpose of retaining British sovereignty for a period in that area despite all protestations to the contrary.
648 If any hon. Member does not think that would be the suspicion of many in the Arab countries and does not think that would be the propaganda spread from Cairo Radio, he is underrating the capacity of President Nasser to spread propaganda on these matters. If hon. Members opposite want to achieve the end which they say they want, they should withdraw these Amendments. That would be proof of their sincerity in the matter. The Foreign Secretary has made a very good proposal, that in the interim between the passage of this Bill and independence being carried through he will present, in whatever form may be most appropriate at the United Nations, a proposal that this island should be put under some form of international trusteeship.
It would be much better to do that and then there would be no question of Britain seeking to retain sovereignty over the island. If the Committee supports what we are told is the intention of the Amendment it will unanimously agree with the course of procedure the Foreign Secretary has suggested, but if a different course were taken and hon. Members opposite insisted on voting for the new Clause that would be a revelation that their purpose is not to secure the strengthening of the United Nations or the transfer of this territory to the United Nations but an entirely different purpose. Therefore, to prove their good faith they should not vote for the Amendment.
§ Lord Balniel
Perhaps I may be allowed to refer to various remarks the Foreign Secretary made in a debate on a serious contribution put forward as a novel and worth while attempt to create in a highly strategic area a trusteeship territory which would command the confidence of the international community.
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.