HC Deb 01 March 1967 vol 742 cc486-9
14. Mr. Marten

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will give the date by which British forces will be withdrawn from Aden.

20. Mr. Powell

asked the Secretary of State for Defence on what date in 1968 he now anticipates the evacuation of Aden and Southern Arabia will be complete.

34. Mr. Kershaw

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will now give a firm date for the British withdrawal from Aden.

37. Mr. Colin Jackson

asked the Secretary of State for Defence on what date the last British Service man is due to leave the Aden base.

47. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects that all British troops will have left South Arabia and Aden.

56. Mr. Stratton Mills

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will give the date by which British forces will be withdrawn from Aden and the South Arabian Federation.

58. Mr. Dickens

asked the Secretary of State for Defence by what date he expects to complete the evacuation of Aden and Southern Arabia.

Mr. Healey

The withdrawal of our forces in Aden will be completed in 1968, by when South Arabia will have achieved independence; the precise date for the latter has still to be negotiated.

Mr. Marten

In view of the Foreign Secretary's remark yesterday that Britain cannot let others exploit the power vacuum created by the withdrawal of British forces, does not the Aden policy mean that the Government's defence and foreign policy are at variance? Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman recall the statement by the Foreign Secretary that the United Nations and the Arab League would not regard Aden as independent if we had a defence agreement? Would they regard it as independent if Nasser occupied Aden?

Mr. Healey

The answer to the first question is "No, Sir". The second question is not for me.

Mr. Powell

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that "we cannot just clear out of Aden automatically and leave the situation in the kind of mess which could arise"? If he agrees with that, how can he possibly now give a firm date regardless of the circumstances?

Mr. Healey

I have not given a firm date for withdrawal from Aden. What I have said is that we plan to withdraw in 1968, and we are still negotiating about the precise date of independence which will precede our withdrawal.

Mr. Kershaw

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall writing in the 1965 White Paper that it was politically irresponsible and economically wasteful to withdraw from bases while they were still able to promote peace? Is he entirely satisfied with the situation in Aden today?

Mr. Healey

I do not think that any of us is entirely satisfied with the situation in Aden today, but it is clear that one of the basic conditions which the Government have set for the maintenance of a base on foreign territory is not met in Aden, namely, to have the full support of the local population.

Mr. Colin Jackson

What would be the attitude of the Ministry of Defence if it were suggested on the withdrawal of the British troops that a United Nations presence might be established there?

Mr. Healey

Speaking for myself, I would be absolutely delighted.

Mr. Blaker

On whom is South Arabia to rely for its defence after we have withdrawn, bearing in mind that the Secretary of State said about a year ago that the United Nations is not capable of taking over our peace-keeping rôle in Asia?

Mr. Healey

I did not say that it was not capable of undertaking any rôle. It is performing some very valuable rôles in the Middle East.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, with the acts of terrorism having doubled since this announcement was made in February last year, our officers and men in Aden feel absolutely let down by Her Majesty's Government? Does he realise that there would be no loss of face if the Government looked at this again, particularly the question of a defence agreement?

Mr. Healey

I cannot agree that the officers and men in Aden feel let down. On the contrary, every Member of Parliament I have talked to who has been there recently has found, as I found when I was there, that morale was never higher.

Mr. Heffer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a recognition on this side of the House that the objections of the Opposition to this policy indicate that the Tories would increase defence expenditure and that on this matter the Government have the fullest support of everyone on these benches?

Mr. Healey

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. I hope that it will be expressed in practice on future occasions.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does the right hon. Gentleman's reply mean that we shall leave Aden next year regardless of circumstances, and even though it means leaving to their fate the many people in Aden who have worked with us and served us?

Mr. Healey

The statement means precisely what it says.

Mr. Sandys

Does the right hon. Gentleman still maintain that no pledge was given to retain some British forces at Aden for the continued protection of the Federation after independence?

Mr. Healey

Yes. This was dealt with at great length by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary yesterday, and that is what I maintain.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider seriously reversing the procedure he now proposes and giving Aden independence before the British troops withdraw? I believe that this would make a great difference to the situation. I am sure that the Federal Ministers now discussing this matter with the Government would give support to this idea.

Mr. Healey

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, this is precisely what I said we should do, namely, withdraw our troops after Aden had received independence.

Sir T. Beamish

When the right hon. Gentleman says that he would be delighted to see a United Nations presence in the Federation, is he saying that he recognises that there is a serious threat to the Federation from Egypt?

Mr. Healey

I am recognising that this is an area of instability where I believe the United Nations could properly play a rôle.