HC Deb 13 March 1967 vol 743 cc50-2
Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the arrangements for the reception of children of British Servicemen flown out to Aden for the Easter holidays.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)

These children will be joining Service families who are already covered by security arrangements on the spot. There are about 3,000 children in Aden at the moment and the temporary addition of about 400 to that number will not add significantly to the security problem.

While the decision whether or not to bring out their children must be for individual parents in the light of their individual circumstances, I think that they would be wise to take account of the High Commissioner's advice when reaching their decision.

Sir G. de Freitas

Is the Secretary of State aware that although the children of British civilian families and those of Service families may live in very different conditions it is very bad indeed for the morale of the British community if the military authorities appear to be in public conflict with the advice given by the civil authorities? Surely he should do more than merely ask them to take the advice—but heed the advice—of the High Commissioner.

Mr. Healey

With respect to my right hon. Friend, the High Commissioner was giving advice to civilian families, often living in insecure areas, but his advice was not that they should not have their children out, but to take the background of not and terrorism into account in considering whether they should have their children out there for Easter.

Mr. Powell

Are we to take it, from the right hon. Gentleman's reference to the advice of the High Commissioner, that he is dissociating himself from the advice alleged to have been given by the Army commander, that so far as he is concerned there is no reason for Service families to alter any plans they may have made?

Mr. Healey

No. The advice of the High Commissioner is absolutely clear to the children of civilian families. These families are living in very different circumstances, some of them in very insecure areas, some in secure areas; for some it would not be easy to make alternative arrangements for their children in the United Kingdom at short notice; and some will have an early opportunity of seeing their children again, while others will not. I think that in the circumstances it is right to give the individual some right to decide what to do.

Mr. Winnick

Is it not downright foolish to send the children, in the first place, to such a danger area? Is my right hon. Friend aware that very deep concern is felt in this country over this matter?

Mr. Healey

Yes, I am very well aware of the concern which is felt. It is always a difficult question, particularly when one is considering the morale of our forces, which, I am sure, we all have at heart, for the Government to decide that it is right that families should be interfered with, but we will, of course, keep the situation permanently under the most careful watch, and if it seems right to change the decisions we have taken so far we will change them.

Mr. Goodhart

When the Secretary of State talks about secure and insecure areas would be consider telling the Service families what a secure area is? Would he say, for example, that Ma'alla, where so many Service families live, is secure?

Mr. Healey

I am not prepared to say what is a secure area and what is not. It differs very much from one part of Aden to another, and even from one street to another.

Mr. Powell

Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there is a difference of advice here? The High Commissioner's advice to the staff was against bringing out the children of civilian families, I take it; whereas the Army commander considers that so far as he is concerned no advice was needed. The Secretary of State has associated himself with the former. In that case, he is dissociating himself from the latter.

Mr. Healey

No. With respect, that is a pedantic and totally unjustified remark.

Mr. Paget

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Army has accepted responsibility for the security of those who are its children, that it is highly important that we should not break up Service families when the parents are abroad, and that he should not allow himself to be "bounced" by these questions, or by the newspapers, into inter-ferring with this decision?

Mr. Healey

I have no intention of allowing myself to be "bounced" by anybody. At the same time, the House must recognise that this is an extremely difficult and often a dangerous situation. The Government have a duty, as well as as a right, to keep it permanently under review, and at any time when it is right to do so to change the existing plans

Lord Balniel

I accept this is a most difficult matter, but in view of the apparent divergence of advice from the civilian and the military authorities is [...] not really urgent for the Government [...] themselves to give as clear advice [...] possible to the soldiers?

Mr. Healey

With respect, there is: conflict of advice at all. The High Commissioner does not regularly get in touch with the British civilian residents there, to tell them what it is right that they should take into consideration. The G.O.C. often has, and does repeatedly. There is no conflict between their statements. I think that it is unjustifiable pedantry to assume that there is.

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