HC Deb 01 March 1967 vol 742 cc510-6
Lord Balniel (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on Aden.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Brown)

Since I reported to the House on Monday, terrorist attacks in Aden have caused yet more casualties. In one particularly deplorable act of violence a bomb was planted in the flat of one of our officers, as a result of which the wives of two British officers have been killed and others are seriously ill. In addition to this senseless and cowardly outrage, a good deal of strife has taken place between the rival terrorist groups.

I equally deplore the senseless act of violence which killed the sons of Abdul Qawee Mackawee. As the House knows, there were further acts of violence at the funeral of these Arab victims which led to two further brutal deaths. I assure the House, in the most solemn terms, that the Government will take all necessary measures to discharge our obligations to maintain law and order in Aden.

Meanwhile, the House will, I know wish to join me in deploring this pointless violence and send understanding and sympathy to the relations of the victims.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Lord Balniel

May I express the sympathy which we all feel for the relatives, be they Arab or European, of all those who were killed or wounded during these last two days of bloodshed, and also express support for the way in which the British troops are handling an increasingly difficult situation in Aden.

But do the Government now realise that the consequences of their policy in Aden are becoming more serious every day? Is the Foreign Secretary aware that these troubles flow, in some measure at least, from the fact that the steps taken so far to provide the Federation with a proper sense of security against external aggression or internal subversion until such times as the Federation is able to do the job itself are, in our opinion, quite inadequate?

Mr. Brown

I agree with what the noble Lord said in the first place. But I do not accept what he said after that, and I must say to the House that if he thinks that an announcement by us that we were to stay on longer would lead to less terrorism, he is very far from the mark.

Mr. Shinwell

In view of this succession of terrorist attacks, which have been going on for quite a long time and to which hon. Members and myself have frequently referred, is it not obvious that the sooner we get out of Aden the better? As it is the avowed intention of the Government to provide independence for Aden at a certain date, must not the responsibility for protecting the lives of the people in Aden after our forces have left—in addition to any security we can provide either unilaterally or through the United Nations—be left for the new Government that is formed in that country?

Mr. Brown

I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend. I agree with what he has said. As a matter of fact, a very great deal of this trouble, I am pretty sure, stems from the ambiguous way in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) left it when he signed the White Paper.

Mr. Goodhart

Does the Foreign Secretary appreciate that the last remaining hope of stability in South Arabia lies in an early and orderly hand-over of responsibility for internal security in Aden to the Federal forces?

Mr. Brown

Yes. That is exactly what we are ourselves trying to arrange.

Mr. Lipton

Is there any likelihood of law and order being maintained by whatever Government succeed after the British troops evacuate Aden?

Mr. Brown

As I said yesterday, and as has been said by my right hon. Friend before me, we are arranging for assistance, monetary and other, to ensure that when the Federal Government take over they shall have forces at their disposal to look after their own security and internal and external relations. I am sure that this is the right thing to do, and I am certain that any suggestion that a continued British presence there would help is absolutely wrong.

Mr. Powell

Is the Foreign Secretary aware—and I ask him this question particularly in view of the remark he has just made about my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) —that this sequence of terrorism took a marked and unmistakably upward swing in February of last year, and that there is here a connection of cause and effect?

Mr. Brown

That was exactly what I said.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Is it not the fact that the origins of the present tragic situation in Aden lie in a series of blunders by Conservative Governments over many years, and that, in particular, the use of force by Nasser was following the precedent set at Suez in 1956?

Mr. Brown

A long chain of blunders in this and other parts of the Arab world was made by our predecessors, for which we are now paying. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] When I said that it was cause and effect, the cause rests with right hon. Gentlemen opposite—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and the effect we are now trying to cope with.

Mr. Peyton

Did the right hon. Gentleman really mean what he said a moment ago, that he agreed with his right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who was counselling our immediate evacuation from Aden in the face of terrorism?

Mr. Brownindicated dissent.

Mr. Peyton

That is what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Brown


Mr. Peyton

Does not the right hon. Gentleman really think that his last contribution, in sharp contrast to the way in which he started this exchange, was something of which he should be thoroughly ashamed?

Mr. Brown

I will always respond to the way in which I am treated. I believe that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have a good deal themselves, if not to be ashamed of, then at least to be quiet about.

Sir A. V. Harvey

The right hon. Gentleman is passing the buck.

Mr. Brown

My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) did not say what was imputed to him. It is our view that we should go through with our plans for an orderly withdrawal from this area; and despite the imperialist ambitions of hon. Gentlemen opposite we believe that this is the right thing for us to do.

Mr. Bellenger

Does my right hon. Friend really believe that the task of our forces out there in trying to cope with the difficulties facing them is helped by hypothetical remarks made by hon. Gentlemen opposite about the way in which we leave Aden in future?

Mr. Brown

On the contrary. I am fairly sure that the difficulties of our troops there are made much worse by the kind of remarks and comments being addressed to me from the other side of the House.

Mr. Maudling

As the Foreign Secretary agreed with my right hon. Friend that the present wave of increased terrorism started with the Government's announcement of withdrawing from Aden, how can he possibly blame this on us?

Mr. Brown

I did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend.

Mr. Maudling

The right hon. Gentleman did.

Mr. Brown

I did not, and if I were thought to have agreed with him may I now make it quite plain that I did not agree? I agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that there was a sequence of cause and effect. I said that the cause was the right hon. Gentleman's the Member for Streatham and that the effect is what we are having to cope with now.

Mr. Ogden

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the British forces and their families who live in the civilian areas are particularly vulnerable? If so, would he ask the Minister of Defence to consider withdrawing them into more secure areas?

Mr. Brown

We have a job to do there. We must do it, our forces understand this job and they are doing it. They are facing up to the consequences of it in a manner which we would expect of our forces. What we have to do now is to assure them of our support and understanding, and we must maintain the policies that would seem to be right in the circumstances.

Mr. Lubbock

While it is reasonable to expect the Service men to face these appalling risks as a result of terrorism in Aden, is the right hon. Gentleman really saying that, in this situation, the families of our Service men must put up with this sort of thing for at least another year? Would it not be better to bring the wives and families home while these terrorist attacks are continuing?

Mr. Brown

I wish to make the position absolutely plain. We are bringing the families out now. They will all be home by the end of July.

Mr. C. Pannell

Reverting to yesterday's HANSARD and my right hon. Friend's reply concerning paragraph 38 of the White Paper, can we now know what the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) promised the Federation during his term of office? Did he promise a defence agreement after independence? If so, did he have his Cabinet's agreement to take that decision, since the wording of paragraph 38 is so ambiguous that we do not know about the decisions which were taken by the then Conservative Administration?

Mr. Brown

Obviously, I cannot answer for a previous Conservative Government, although I agree with my right hon. Friend that the wording of paragraph 38 is exceedingly ambiguous. I have no doubt that it is part of the trouble at the moment.

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

I ask the right hon. Gentleman this question in all seriousness: when will he stop playing party politics over this issue? When will he rise to the high level of the responsible office which he holds and realise that the lives of innocent people are at stake?

Mr. Brown

I not only realise that, but I am doing my utmost to see that we protect those lives. One of the tragedies is that the Opposition, which created this mess, are playing party politics with it.

Mr. Colin Jackson

When does my right hon. Friend expect the United Nations mission to arrive in Aden? Would not he agree that there would be more sympathy in this House for the Opposition if they showed as much concern for the trade unionists and people of Aden as they did for the Sheikhs and Royalists?

Mr. Brown

I am glad to tell my hon. Friend and the House that the mission, after a lot of delay, has now been appointed. I believe that, given good will, it can play a very considerable rôle in changing this present unhappy situation. I understand that it will arrive in the Colony by the middle of March. As I said yesterday, we will give it every facility we can to enable it to fulfil its terms of reference. I only hope that those others who are playing around in this scene will do the same.

Mr. Heath

The right hon. Gentleman must realise that he and the Government bear a tremendous responsibility in this situation and that, far from the withdrawal from Aden being orderly, as he just said is his desire, there is every indication at the moment that this deteriorating situation will end in chaos.

The right hon. Gentleman himself said that our forces will do everything possible to maintain law and order, but what further measures will Her Majesty's Government take? Why are we not able to maintain law and order at the moment? Is not the answer because of the general belief that the Government will withdraw without leaving effective means for law and order, internally and externally, to be maintained in Aden?

That being so, will not the right hon. Gentleman reconsider this matter from the point of view that it must be made clear to those who are causing the trouble in Aden, both from inside and outside, that Her Majesty's Government will ensure that our withdrawal does not take place until there are effective means of maintaining law and order, both internally and externally?

Mr. Brown

The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues were responsible for announcing 1968 as the date for independence. [HON. MEMBERS: "With law and order."] Paragraph 38 of the White Paper says nothing of the sort. It left the matter totally open. I have little doubt that the Federal Ministers were told one thing while others were told another. This is a very large part of the problem. We intend to adhere to 1968 as the date for our withdrawal.

I am fairly sure that I said at the beginning that any announcement about our intending to stay beyond then would worsen the situation and would not improve it. I invite the Opposition to help us in this business of getting out of this area in an orderly way and in making it clear to the Federal Government, who will then take over, that, with all the aid we can give them, it will then be their business to look after security from then on.

Mr. Heath

We do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation of either the White Paper or the treaty. We have made that plain. However, in this situation, about which he has extended an invitation to my hon. and right hon. Friends, I put a similar request to him: will he make it plain to the Federal Government that they will be given what is necessary to maintain law and order, internally and externally, since that is what is required from Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Brown

What is the use of the right hon. Gentleman making speeches attacking us for spending more than—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I am answering it—more than we have, when he is now asking us to give an open-handed commitment in this area? The two things do not go together. We have, in fact, made available to the Federal Government large sums of money and resources, which will give them a force at least as large as they can sustain—some might think even larger than they can sustain.

The right hon. Gentleman's present proposition is not only totally contrary to what the Opposition has said on other occasions, but it would place so strong a strain on the resources of the Federal Government that it would destroy them from the start.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Victor Yates. Private Notice Question.