§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Sandys (Streatham)
This debate provides an opportunity to discuss the critical problem of Aden and South Arabia. The situation in Aden is getting more and more out of hand and is rapidly drifting into anarchy. The police and the British Army are doing their best to carry out a dangerous and distasteful job, and I am sure that all of us, in all parts of the House, are extremely grateful to them. But their task is made well-nigh impossible by the restrictions placed upon them by the Government here in London. As a result, our soldiers, their families and the citizens of Aden, both British and Arab, have been exposed to totally unnecessary risks and innocent lives have been needlessly lost.
In a grave emergency of this kind, we cannot afford always to allow our opponents to strike first. We must try to keep a move ahead. When we have good reason to believe that a man is plotting violence and murder, we must not hesitate to detain him. If we wait until we have cast-iron evidence, we usually have to wait until he kills.
In the recent defence debate, I drew attention to the case of Mohammed Bassendwa, who had boasted over the Egyptian Radio that he had sent the bomb which blew off the fingers of our Assistant High Commissioner in Aden, Mr. Thorne. This man returned secretly to Aden and was arrested by the authorities, but a few days later he was released on orders from London. On another occasion recently, the Federal Government told the British authorities of the whereabouts of four terrorists, but their instructions did not allow them to do anything about it. A few days later those four men were leading the riots in Aden. Then, of course, they were arrested, but meanwhile the damage had been done.
One thing I find hard to understand is that the Government have not had the courage to ban the leading terrorist organisation known as F.L.O.S.Y. and to make it illegal for anyone to have any contact with it. In a reply to a recent Question of mine, the Minister of State admitted that F.L.O.S.Y. was… responsible … for organising and carrying out acts of violence and terrorism …1063 —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 361.]
I ask the Foreign Secretary to tell us why this nefarious organisation has not been banned a long time ago.
The Government have now gone to the length of inviting the terrorist leaders to come back to Aden. Commenting on al Asneg's press conference in Taiz, in which he threatened to intensify terroism, a conference was shown on television here, a Foreign Office spokesman said last Tuesday that Her Majesty's Government would… welcome the return to Aden of all interested parties, in order to help in the constitutional processes during the next few months.It appears that al Asneg, Mackawee and other terrorist leaders are included among those to whom the Foreign Secretary extends this cordial welcome. It would seem that, provided they do not instigate fresh acts of murder and violence during their visit, they will be free to flaunt themselves around the streets of Aden without any fear of arrest for their past crimes. They will, no doubt, be asked to sit at the conference table side by side with members of the British High Commission and of the Federal Government whom they have been plotting to murder.
How low have we sunk? The Government could hardly have devised a better way to boost the morale of the terrorists and break the spirit of law-abiding citizens. I ask for an assurance that if this man and any of his fellow murderers set foot in the Federation they will at once be arrested.
Last week, in view of the threats of intensified violence, I asked that the United Nations Mission should be cancelled or postponed. The Prime Minister replied that it would be wrong "to capitulate to the instigators of terrorism." But that, of course, is precisely what the Government are doing. If they were really prepared to stand up to the terrorists, the Prime Minister's tough words would make some sence. But, in present circumstances, the visit by this Mission, which is nothing but an exercise in anti-colonial and anti-British propaganda, is likely to make a bad situation even worse. If as a result of this foolhardy decision innocent people are killed, their blood will be on the 1064 heads of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Ben Whitaker (Hampstead)
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the intelligent letter in today's Times from his colleague, Mr. William Yates, attributing the blame for the present tragedy to the policies of the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys)?
§ Mr. Sandys
It is not customary to be asked to comment upon newspaper reports, and I will not comment on the writer.
If the British authorities are not to be allowed to deal effectively with terrorism, then the responsibility for internal security should be transferred to the Federal Government, who are quite confident of their capacity to take on the job. In any case, it is essential that the Federal authorities should acquire as much experience as possible in this difficult sphere before independence. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us when it is proposed to transfer to the Federal Government full responsibility for law and order, including responsibility for deciding policy?
In another place, Lord Beswick made it clear that terrorism in Aden is not the action of a locally inspired nationalist movement for independence. In any case, independence is already conceded. In reply to a Question last week in this House, the Minister of State confirmed that these terrorist organisations… have received large scale financial and material support from the United Arab Republic whose forces in Egyptian occupied Yemen openly assist in such matters as training and equipping of terrorists. Egyptian-controlled radios in Cairo, Sana'a and Taiz not only incite violence in Aden every day but have recently taken part in directing strikes and disturbances there."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 361.]That is the official view of the British Government. Only a few days ago, Mr. Mackawee, leader of F.L.O.S.Y., confirmed in Cairo that Egypt is helping to build and train… a liberation army for action in South Arabia as soon as the British leave.A newspaper report indicates that this force is equipped with Russian-made tanks, armoured cars and artillery.
There can be no doubt about the purpose of all this. Nasser's objective is to break the nerve and destroy the resistance 1065 of all who are opposed to Egyptian domination in South Arabia. His aim is to bring about a total collapse of law and order so that when the British leave it will be easy for a group of Nasserite stooges to seize power in the name of so-called Arab unity and progress. As in the Yemen, Egyptian troops or Egyptian-paid volunteers would then be rushed to Aden to bolster up the puppet régime and help it to establish its authority.
A proportion, but by no means the majority, of the people of Aden might welcome Nasser, but the bulk of the population in the Federation would put up a fierce resistance. In next to no time, South Arabia would be plunged into a bitter and bloody civil war, accompanied by the same horrors and miseries which have afflicted the people of the Yemen.
It was these anxieties which led the delegates from South Arabia at the conference in 1964 to couple their request for independence with a request for continued British protection against external attack. It was these same considerations which led the then British Government to give a pledge to South Arabia that she would receive independence not later than 1968 and that Britain would conclude a defence agreement for the continued protection of the Federation for a period thereafter.
The Foreign Secretary continues to deny that any promise was given to conclude a defence agreement. He argues that, under paragraph 38 of the report of the 1964 Conference, which has been quoted many times, the Government were committeed only to convene a conference. I do not believe that any reasonable and fair-minded person could possibly put such a limited interpretation upon this promise. But if there was any doubt about this, it was removed by my statement to this House on 7th July, 1964, as Colonial Secretary. From that statement, it is crystal clear that the British Government gave a firm and unequivocal pledge both to grant independence and also to continue to give protection for a period thereafter.
Even if we were to accept the Government's torturous and unconvincing argument, the fact remains that they have never made any attempt to convene any conference for the purposes set out in 1066 paragraph 38 of the White Paper. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not need convincing that no conference was ever called to fix a date for independence and conclude a defence agreement.
Ministers have tried to confuse the issue by talking about the preparatory meeting which they called in August 1965 to draw up the agenda for a constitutional conference. Owing to the obstructive tactics of two of the delegations, one led by Mackawee and the other by al Asnag, it proved impossible to fix any agenda and the proposal to hold a conference was abandoned.
The Government now claim that, having tried and failed to convene this conference, they have fully discharged the pledge given in the White Paper of 1964. But they must not be allowed to get away with that.
Such is the disingenuousness of the right hon. Gentleman that he has concealed—and I must use that word—the fact that the conference which the Government tried unsuccesssfully to convene in 1965 was not for the purpose of concluding a defence agreement, as promised in 1964. It was for a totally different purpose. It was to be concerned exclusively with the future constitution of the Federation. In a public statement, the text of which is in the Library, the then Colonial Secretary emphasised that the problem of defence and the future of the British base were not constitutional issues. They were, therefore, not matters for the conference.
It will thus be seen that, even if we accept their own absurdly narrow and restrictive interpretation of their obligation, the Government have failed completely to carry out the undertaking given to South Arabia in 1964. They have not even tried to convene the conference which was promised. This is a shameful story of deceit and bad faith. The British Government have double-crossed the Government of the Federation; they have misled the House of Commons; and they have blackened the name of Britain throughout the Middle East—
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Brown)
You should know. You are the greatest authority of the lot.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If any right hon. or hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, there is a Parliamentary way of doing it.
§ Mr. Sandys
Attention has been focused on the pledge given at the 1964 conference, but it should not be forgotten that, quite apart from that, we have a firm obligation under the Treaty of 1959 to defend the Federation, and this provides that it cannot be amended except by mutual consent. The present Government have never questioned the validity of the 1959 Treaty, but they argue that it will become null and void automatically on independence.
The Federal Government, who have obtained the best possible legal advice, dispute that interpretation strongly. A week ago, before returning to Aden, the Federal Ministers made an unequivocal statement of their position to the Foreign Secretary, and they did not mince their words. They said that they regarded the British Government's repudiation of the pledge given in 1964 as a total breach of faith. They made it clear that, if the British Government insisted that independence involved the abrogation of the existing Treaty of 1959 and the withdrawal of British military protection, the Federal Government were not, in those circumstances, prepared to agree to independence. They explained that although they greatly desire it, it would be a cruel farce to receive independence without the means of defending it against external attack. They emphasised that the people of South Arabia have no wish merely to substitute Egyptian for British rule.
They left London without agreement being reached on the date of independence or on defence? That is no doubt why the Minister of State was sent off to Aden to continue the argument. I assume that the Foreign Secretary will be telling us what, if anything, was decided there.
I have dealt at some length with the pledges which have been given, because there has been so much argument about them and because Britain's honour is involved. But even had there been no pledge, even if no undertaking had been given, surely we could not just walk out 1068 and hand South Arabia to Nasser on a plate.
The other day, the Foreign Secretary refused to admit that Britain's premature withdrawal would create a dangerous vacuum. He should be ashamed to deny what is so obviously true. The whole world has warned him about it. The Government of the United States and those of many other countries have told him repeatedly of their anxiety. The Foreign Secretary should listen to the wise words of his own Minister of State, Lord Chalfont, who said in another place:If there is one way not to solve a problem it is by running away from it.There are several courses of action open to the Government. The easiest and the best is to honour Britain's word and give South Arabia independence in 1968 coupled with a defence agreement, as was promised. That would not involve the retention of a large garrison. All that is necessary is a sufficient British presence to convince Nasser that we mean business. What I have in mind is a small element of the R.A.F. at Khormaksar, one battalion of ground troops and arrangements for rapid reinforcement. Nor should it be an open-ended commitment. The agreement could be subject to termination when the Egyptian forces withdraw from the Arabian peninsula. I submit to the House that that is clearly the right policy. But up till now the Government have seemed determined not to adopt it.
In theory, it would be possible to postpone independence till the external threat is removed, but that undoubtedly would increase political tension and aggravate the security problem.
It seems that the Government may try to pass the buck to the United Nations by asking them to take over responsibility for the defence of South Arabia, or at any rate to assist in that task. If so, I submit that that is a very silly idea. It is more than doubtful whether the United Nations would take on that thankless job. If they did, they would probably expect Britain to provide the bulk of the military forces required and to pay a large part of the bill. Thus we would continue to bear most of the burden. At the same time, we would lose the right to decide how our troops should be used.
1069 If an Egyptian-sponsored coup were to be carried out in Aden, a United Nations force would feel probably that it had no option but to co-operate with the puppet régime. On the other hand, when the Federal army came in to push the Egyptians out, the U.N. force would quite likely try to keep the two sides apart. Thus, instead of helping to defend the freedom of the Federation, the only result of introducing a United Nations force might be to make it more difficult for the people of South Arabia to defend themselves.
Another suggestion is that, after our withdrawal, we should keep a special task force ready to be flown in at short notice, if trouble arose. First of all, we can forget the "if". There is going to be trouble as soon as we go. And where would we keep this force? There would be no room for it at Bahrain. It would be unwise to station it on this side of the Arab air barrier. It would therefore have to be kept in Singapore. Because of the greater distance from home, the cost of maintenance would be even heavier than in Aden, apart from the fact that the cost of a single limited rescue operation would much more than wipe out the whole of any saving which the Government are hoping to secure by scuttling from South Arabia.
The Government are trying to save money at the expense of honour. If they adopt any solution of this kind, they will find that they have lost money as well as honour.
Although I hesitate to mention it, there is, naturally, one other course of action which is open to the Government. It is to stick to their present disastrous policy. They can run away from their responsibilities, and tear up the Treaty of 1959, and repudiate the pledge of 1964, and thrust independence upon the Federation, while leaving it totally defenceless against Egyptian attack. That is the road to chaos and war. It is the path of folly and dishonour. I still cannot believe that, when it comes to the point, even this irresponsible and perfidious Government can bring itself to do anything quite so shameful.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. May I mention one correction? I announced that topic No. 17 had been withdrawn. Topic No. 1070 17, in the name of the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle), still stands. It is Topic No. 16, in the name of the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), which has been withdrawn.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
There is one matter on which all of us taking part in the debate can agree. All of us greatly deplore the acts of violence which are being committed in South Arabia, and the peril which it therefore involves for our own soldiers. All of us will join in hoping that whatever may be the outcome, the violence may be abated. We all agree about that. Indeed, it is one of the strongest claims, that some of us would make from this side of the House, that we have a better course for saving our troops from peril than that which was proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys).
The right hon. Gentleman used extremely strong language. He talked about blackening the reputation of this country. He talked about honour. He said, "How low have we sunk?" He must not therefore complain—I do not suppose that he will—if he is answered in equally strong language, and if we say to him, quite clearly, that we think that no person in the whole wide world bears greater guilt for the blood which is now being shed in Aden than himself. That is the proposition which I will seek to sustain with facts from his own record.
If, in fact, it were true that what the right hon. Gentleman said is correct, that the Government are guilty of betrayal, treachery, and dishonour, it is curious that the right hon. Gentleman has not been able to persuade his own Front Bench of that proposition. If it were true that his own Front Bench agreed with him on this proposition, surely these are matters for a Motion of censure against the Government. These are not matters to be left to a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, important though debates on the Bill are.
The right hon. Gentleman has had great experience in the House. I have never before heard it contented that when the Opposition believe the Government to be guilty of betrayal, deceit, and breach of their pledges on this scale it 1071 should be left to a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill for the matter to be pressed. Therefore, I drew the conclusion, which I think every Member in the House will draw, that the reason the Opposition Front Bench have not chosen to put down a Motion of censure on this matter is because they do not agree with the terms in which the right hon. Gentleman stated his case.
That is the convention of the House. If they thought that the Government had been guilty of betrayal, that is the course they should have taken. They should not have left it to be done by the right hon. Gentleman, however distinguished he may be, in a Consolidated Fund Bill debate. They may say, "We have other matters to debate", but what other matters can be more important than the question of the honour of the country? If the Opposition agree with the right hon. Gentleman, I would have thought that this was a matter to be dealt with by a Motion of censure and a vote. But that has not been the proposition. The right hon. Gentleman has, so far, not been able to persuade his own Front Bench on this matter. They have left it to him, or, in their usual courageous fashion, they said, "Let him go into battle first and see how he gets on".
Let us see how the right hon. Gentleman does get on. He is obsessed, like so many of his hon. Friends, by President Nasser. They cannot get Nasser out of their minds. They are obsessed with their guilty consciences about Suez—and, indeed, Suez is very relative to this debate. The origin of the modern nationalist movement in Aden derives from Suez. Prior to Suez, the policy of the British Government, declared in Aden by the Conservative Party at that time, was that as far as they could foresee, not merely for years, but for decades and centuries ahead, Britain would retain her position in Aden without any change. That was the position stated by the British Government in May, 1956, prior to Suez. That was said to the Aden Legislature.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Minister of Defence also said that in the foreseeable future we would be in Aden?
§ Mr. Foot
What I am seeking to prove, and what I am entitled to prove, 1072 is that the origin of the nationalist upsurge in Aden derives from Suez. That is why hon. Gentlemen opposite feel so strongly about it. That is the origin of the modern upsurge of the nationalist movement in Aden. Hon. Gentlemen opposite need not take it from me. They can take it from a great authority on South Arabia, Mr. David Holden, the distinguished correspondent of the Sunday Times, who has written what is perhaps the most authoritative book on this subject.
Mr. Holden wrote:Aden Colony crossed a political watershed during the months of the Suez crisis, from the firmly proclaimed imperial restrictions of Lord Lloyd in May"—he was the person who indicated that we were going to stay in Aden for ever—to a dawning realisation in December that the old bonds could be broken after all. In those six months Arab nationalism found its feet in the Colony.These are the facts of the matter.
The right hon. Gentleman has tried to pass himself off as a great authority on Arab affairs, and we were supposed to take great account of his opinion. He has been wrong about Aden and Southern Arabia almost every time he has tried to give advice to the House. The right hon. Gentleman has been wrong in almost all the advice he has tendered to the House over the past 10 or 12 years about Southern Arabian affairs—and why? Principally because he and his hon. Friends have been so concerned to secure their revenge on President Nasser that they have never been able to look at the problem accurately. They have always said to themselves, and tried to say to us, that the whole nationalist movement in Arab lands has been provoked by President Nasser.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
Is it wrong to regard President Nasser as an enemy of this country when he is having British Service men and their families and Arab civilians murdered in the streets of Aden, a Colony for which we are still responsible?
§ Mr. Foot
I shall come to deal with the immediate situation, as anyone engaging in this debate should.
What I am arguing is that the outlook of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and, in particular, that of the right hon. Member 1073 for Streatham, about Arab affairs has been totally distorted because of their own aggression against Egypt in 1956. It is because they failed so miserably and squalidly in that expedition that they have failed ever since to propose measures for seeking any accommodation with President Nasser.
It is also the fact that hon. Gentlemen opposite have had their view distorted on what Arab nationalism intended to achieve in the Yemen, in Aden, and indeed throughout the whole of the Middle East, and therefore they become almost maniacal when they talk on this subject. The right hon. Gentleman was doing it. One could hear the venom in his voice, not merely because hon. Gentlemen opposite claim that British soldiers are being murdered under the directions of President Nasser, but because of their desire to carry through the expedition which they failed to carry through in 1956.
Those are the facts known by all the authorities on Arabian and Middle Eastern affairs. Everyone knows what a disaster it was for the reputation of this country that that expedition was undertaken, and everybody knows that it greatly fortified the strength of President Nasser's position. Indeed, if hon. Gentlemen opposite claim that President Nasser is now in a position to be able to give orders for the murder of British troops in Aden, they are largely responsible for it, because nobody in the whole wide world has done more to fortify and strengthen President Nasser's position in the Middle East than the Conservative Party. So it is in this sense that I say some of the blood rests on the right hon. Gentleman's hands.
§ Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
While the hon. Gentleman is ranting in this House, and acting as an apologist for President Nasser, he is actively aiding and abetting the terrorist campaign which is resulting in the murder of our troops.
§ Mr. Foot
If anybody on the benches opposite wishes to think that I am an apologist for President Nasser, he is entitled to his opinion, but I am not really interested in arguing about it with him. I am trying to see how we can save our troops in Aden from being killed, and I will be able to show in a few moments that there are a large number of people, 1074 whom not even the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) could accuse of being apologists for Nasser, who hold the same views as I do, and as Her Majesty's Government do.
What we have to take into account is that the advice which has been given by hon. Gentlemen opposite over the past 12 years about affairs in the Middle East has been completely distorted by their feelings about President Nasser, and, therefore, they have never been able to look at the objective facts and decide on a reasonable policy. The right hon. Member for Streatham smiles. It was he who forced through the merger between the Federation and Aden against the will of the great mass of the people in Aden. He held a conference in London, and pretty well the only elected representatives from Arabia walked out of it. The only people who were elected representatives would not agree with his proposition.
§ Mr. Sandys
Is there any important section of opinion in Aden which would like to separate Aden from the Federation?
§ Mr. Foot
A large number of people would. The right hon. Gentleman is in no position to talk about what he thinks is the view of those who speak for people in Aden. At the time of his conference he was warned that if he proceeded with the policies he was pursuing he would play into the hands of the most extremist forces in Aden.
The Conservative Party has done this time without number throughout the history of our country. In Ireland, in Nyasaland, in Africa, and now in Aden hon. Gentlemen opposite have refused to make concessions to the moderates, and they have therefore found the extremists in control. They have converted those who were pressing for a reasonable settlement in Aden into extremists, into not merely apologists for President Nasser, but maybe agents acting for him.
The right hon. Gentleman is the greatest recruiting agent that President Nasser has ever had. His policies have ensured that more and more people have gone to President Nasser and said, "I will do your terrorist work for you". The right hon. Gentleman is a great asset. I do not accuse him of being paid by Nasser, but I think that he would be well 1075 worth the money. He has done an even greater service for President Nasser than Lord Avon. The right hon. Gentleman is in that same heavyweight class of those who have assisted President Nasser in his ambitions. He has done it because he has refused to recognise the strength and power of Arab nationalism, and this has been the fundamental weakness of all the advice which hon. Gentlemen opposite have given to the House and to the country throughout the whole of these proceedings.
Now let us look at the right hon. Gentleman's solutions and see what he would do. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West said a few moments ago that anybody who spoke in the sense that I was doing must be an apologist for President Nasser. There are many people in the country, not merely those who support the Government intermittently, like myself, who support the view which the Government take on this matter. A couple of week ago Mr. Frank Giles, the assistant editor of the Sunday Times, wrote an article about the Aden crisis, in which he said:To turn the clock back now, to stay on in Aden after the appointed date for withdrawal, on the grounds of ensuring law and order, to enter into an open-ended commitment to the Federal Government which would leave Britain politically and militarily enmeshed, perhaps for years, in Middle Eastern affairs, would be an act of incalculable madness.That is what the right hon. Gentleman is proposing. That is his solution, and he assures us, as if he has always been right in these matters, that if only we carry out his advice and decide to stay there and give an open-ended commitment, which we have never given, everything will be all right. Why should we take the right hon. Gentleman's advice? We have been following his advice for the last 10 years, and look at the mess now. The Foreign Secretary has to clear up the mess left by the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman is the chief architect of the chaotic situation in Aden today. He and his hon. Friends arranged it. This is what they planned. They were the people who decided that the way to deal with this most delicate situation was to say to the people in Aden, "You have to go in with a régime in which the sheikhs and the rest have the supreme 1076 power". They thought that that was wisdom. They said that it would bring peace, that it would decide things, that it would ensure that we would have a safe, steady future. Unfortunately, their advice was accepted, but it did not work out that way. There were many people who at that time made an alternative prophecy and said, "If you try to force the nationalist forces in Aden into this shotgun marriage with the Federal sheikhs and the rest you are breeding appalling trouble for the future". This is what has happened.
Who has been right—hon. Gentlemen opposite who said that they knew about Arabian affairs, or those who advised that we should pay much more recognition to the power and strength of Arab nationalism, which is partly directed from Cairo, nobody denies that, but not entirely? Anybody who thinks that the whole of the strength of Arab nationalism comes from Cairo is making a great mistake. Indeed, everyone who says it is of further assistance to Nasser. This is what he wants people to say. This is what he wants the Middle East to believe, that he is the only champion of Arab nationalism, and the Conservative Party, we are not sure whether unanimously, agrees with him.
The fact of the matter is that what has been happening in Southern Arabia, in the Yemen, and elsewhere, is a rising of Arab nationalism. We have to come to terms with it, just as we have had to in Africa, in Ireland, and in other parts of the world, and as always the advice of the Conservative Party in these matters is to resort again to repression. The right hon. Gentleman began his speech, as if it was something original, by saying that the way to solve this problem was to lock up all the terrorists and the people engaged in these plots.
That is what we did in Nyasaland. The person who was locked up by the right hon. Gentleman and his Government is now the Prime Minister of Nyasaland. That is what we did in Cyprus.
§ Mr. Foot
Yes—and it was quite wrong. Many of us opposed it at the time. That is not a very telling attack on me.
1077 Eventually, in Palestine—and this probably preserved the world from an explosion there—we needed the good offices of the United Nations. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members opposite jeer. If they do not believe that the existence of United Nations forces helped to improve the position in the Middle East I ask them whether they are in favour of a withdrawal of all United Nations investigators and observers from the frontier between Syria and Israel.
Would a single hon. Member opposite propose that? Do not hon. Members opposite recognise that, in spite of their jeers and sneers, in many cases the intervention of United Nations forces has helped to preserve the peace? That was the case in Cyprus. I am asking whether we can learn from past events. Even after Suez we eventually used United Nations mediation, or United Nations observers, which enabled the horror of a most intricate and difficult situation at least to be mitigated.
The right hon. Gentleman's advice to the Government is that they should have nothing to do with the United Nations Mission in Aden. In my opinion, it is a pity that that mission was not sent out there much earlier. The mission might then have arrived in circumstances in which it would have been able to prevent some of the horrors which have since occurred. Nobody knows. But the right hon. Gentleman's recommendation that we should have nothing to do with United Nations mediation in Aden is a recommendation of despair.
The right hon. Gentleman has proposed that we should persist with the same policies which have meant the murder of many British soldiers and a large number of Arabs in Aden. He is recommending that we should keep out of Aden and the surrounding area the one force which could possibly prevent disasters from continuing. Since the right hon. Gentleman's advice has been so disastrous in the past, I do not think that there is much likelihood that the Government will adopt his advice today. But it will be interesting to see whether or not the Opposition Front Bench agree with the right hon. Gentleman, or whether they have different proposals to make. It will be interesting to see whether they have learnt anything from the past 12 years. When the right hon. Member 1078 for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) speaks perhaps he will explain why, if he thinks that the Government are acting dishonourably, he has not thought fit to put down a Motion of censure.
In my opinion, if the Government were to retreat from their present policy they would merely invite large-scale terrorism, and increasing terrorism over many years; they would ensure that we could never reach a proper settlement in Arabia. They would become involved in the contest between Saudi Arabia and the Egyptians, with Britain ranged on one side. That quarrel could be a long one, during which time the good name of this country could be dragged through some very murky places.
The Government are right to stand back from that situation and to say that it is impossible for Britain to be successful by herself, and that the sooner we escape from the situation the better. They should show that Britain is eager to do everything in her power to assist the United Nations, which is the one force that can ensure that civilised standards of peace return to the whole area.
§ Mr. Douglas Dodds-Parker (Cheltenham)
On a point of order. As there is no Motion before the House, may we be told when the Foreign Secretary will tell us the result of the Minister of State's visit to the Middle East?
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I think that I speak for hon. Members on both sides of the House when I say that we have great admiration for the oratorical ability of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot); yet I can hardly remember an occasion when he has failed so dismally as in the ranting speech he has just made. He is the best destructive critic in the House and perhaps the least constructive. He believes in destroying his own party and in destroying past premises, but offers very little in return.
The hon. Member has said that hon. Members on this side of the House are obsessed by Suez. It has always seemed 1079 to me that since Suez hon. Members opposite have been upset by it. I cannot help thinking that the Foreign Secretary has a kind of inferiority complex for what he believes was our wrong policy, and that in his attempts to get some sort of settlement with Egypt at present he is exercising his judgment entirely from the point of view of a desire to make up for what he considers to be a great error in the past.
One of the great curiosities of the Middle East is the fact that during the last few years we have owed the retention of British interests not so much to what we have done as to what President Nasser has done. About 12 years ago a memorandum was drawn up by the Foreign Office which conveyed the belief that it was unlikely that Britain would be able to retain her oil interests for a long time. Yet at present we still have an extraordinary influence and an extraordinarily strong position. The simple explanation lies in the machinations of President Nasser.
Two years ago, at the Arab conference called in Algeria, President Bourguiba expressed the view that in practically every country in the Arab world the leadership at one time or the other had been disturbed, threatened or upset by President Nasser. Entirely because of this, countries in that area have looked to British influence and, on occasion, British arms to stabilise them and to safeguard them from the upsetting and disturbing influence of President Nasser.
If we consider his positive actions we can see that what has insistently disturbed him and worried him, and what has been the basis of his policies, is the fact that Egypt is not rich and that many Arab countries are overwhelmingly so. This has seemed to him unjust, and he has tried to build up an Arab empire. To begin with, we saw the emergence of the United Arab Republic, having a relationship with Syria. That fell down. We then saw a relationship with the Yemen. How hon. Members below the Gangway opposite, now continually hawking their consciences about Vietnam, can sit silent and approving when they see what President Nasser's policy in the Yemen has been, is totally inexplicable to me.
1080 Within the last two weeks I have been in the Yemen. I have seen how women and children in mud huts have been bombed and killed, but there has not been a single word of protest from hon. Members opposite. Four years ago some of those Egyptians went into the Yemen. They were welcomed by precisely the same type of minority as would welcome them in Aden now. But what has happened to those who welcombed them in the Yemen? All except one—Salal—have fled to Aden, are in opposition, or are in prison in Cairo. That is what will happen to those who welcome him in Aden, if they get their way.
Surely the whole point is that one should not allow aggrandisement at the expense of small nations if one wishes to preserve the peace. Surely, if the Middle East is to become stable, force and violence cannot be shown to pay. What we are doing now by retreating from Aden before the threat of violence is to illustrate that force does pay. If we give way in Aden now, we will also have to give way in the Yemen and will also make way in the Trucial Coast and make it possible for Nasser to get in there. There is not enough in Aden or the Yemen to keep him satisfied. What he is after is the gold of the area—the oil of the area.
Therefore, his aggrandisement is still going on. It goes on to the Yemen, it goes on in Aden, it will go on to the Trucial Coast and Bahrain and will attempt to swamp Saudi Arabia itself. We are as inevitably fixed on a course of war and aggression in the Middle East led by Nasser as we were upon such a course in Europe led by Hitler. Precisely the same motives can be traced to each leader. Precisely the same trends of history can be discovered. Inevitably, once again, everyone is making excuses on the other side of the House and putting forward the best point of view for Nasser and not looking honestly at the case, which is simply that there is aggression which will be shown to have paid if we withdraw from Aden at present.
Of course, the situation is fraught with difficulties, and one has the greatest sympathy for the Foreign Secretary. There is no easy solution. Even once Nasser is out of Aden, the Aden Federation will 1081 be a difficult child. It is full of anomalies; there are no natural democratic leaders in the State. But, surely, at least the State should be given a chance of developing internally and not be dominated externally. That is why I argue that it is necessary for the right hon. Gentleman to change our policy and honour the commitments which we have made in Aden.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Brown)
In the light of the tone which the opening speeches have taken, perhaps it would be convenient if I were to say something now about South Arabia and our policy there and the situation there as I see it, in the hope that the debate from now on might be addressed to them.
It is only too easy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) said, for hon. Gentlemen opposite to let off their bitterness, their guilt complex, in emotive terms about President Nasser, but it does not help in the situation in South Arabia as it now is and in which the British and Arabian people are there and in the problems with which we have to deal.
I must make a brief comment on what the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) said at the beginning, which was not worth more than the briefest of comments. To be charged by him with being disingenuous was like being an acolyte commended by the high priest. I heard everything else he said—phrases like "shameful", "double-crossing", "breaking faith", "ashamed". They all trotted off his lips as though he were a man who has used them all his life and lived up to every single one. There is nothing else I have to say about what he said.
We are all concerned—the rest of us—with the situation in South Arabia, because of the deplorable incidents, the terrorist outrages, of which details were given in answer to a Question early today, but also because the whole constitutional future of the Federal State depends upon it.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State has just visited Aden and the United Nations Mission is due to arrive in London later tonight. We are clearly at a very delicate stage, which is why 1082 I deplore some of the things which have just been said. The House will understand that this is not, therefore, an easy moment for me to give the House all the information which it might wish to have. Before answering on some of the specific points put to me, I should like to outline the situation in South Arabia as I see it at this time.
Although, understandably enough, it is the terrorism which hits the headlines, that is by no means the whole of the story of what is happening in South Arabia. We have been encouraging the Federal Government to prepare for independence by overhauling their constitutional structure. The aim is to modernise that State and to provide for normal democratic processes.
The Federal Government have had committees at work since Christmas on this subject and have sent proposals to us during the last few days. It will be discussing these proposals also with the United Nations Mission to South Arabia. We are now considering the proposals and after consultations with the U.N. Mission, we hope to reach agreement with the Federal Government and to present a White Paper to Parliament.
The re-equipment and expansion of the Federal forces is proceeding with the aid of the funds and also the training facilities which we have provided. Federal forces are already responsible for internal security in the Federation outside Aden and, as the training of their units is completed, they will be able to take over internal security duties in Aden as well.
Here perhaps I may turn to the right hon. Member for Streatham, who has given us once again his views on the undertaking, as he sees it, by the Government of which he was a member, to conclude a defence agreement with South Arabia on its independence—
§ Mr. Sandys
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of responsibility for internal security, perhaps he would say whether it is the Government's intention at an early date to give full responsibility for internal security in Aden to the Federal authorities, or merely internal security duties, which is quite a different thing.
§ Mr. Brown
May I make my own speech in my own way, as the right hon. 1083 Gentleman did and reach the points in the order in which I think it is better to reach them?
I am now dealing with the right hon. Gentleman's repeated view of what he regards as his undertaking, or the undertaking of the Government of which he said he was a member, to conclude a defence agreement with South Arabia on independence. We went over this ground in the defence debate on 28th February. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman perhaps now accepts, in the light of his speech this afternoon, that paragraph 38 of the 1964 Conference Report means what it says, namely, that the British Government's undertaking was to convene a conference at which the issues of independence and the security of the independent State would be discussed—[Interruption.] The Conference Report says—
§ Lord Balniel (Hertford)
May I assist both right hon. Gentlemen by reading the paragraph? It reads:The delegates asked that Britain should agree to independence for the Federation, while continuing thereafter to assist in its defence. They requested that as soon as practicable the British Government should convene a conference for the purposes of fixing a date for independence not later than 1968, and of concluding a Defence Agreement under which Britain would retain her military base in Aden for the defence of the Federation and the fulfilment of her world-wide responsibilities. The Secretary of State announced the agreement of the British Government to this request.
§ Mr. Brown
That is exactly what I read last time. [Interruption.] It is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman denied and it is, of course, exactly the only undertaking into which the Government entered. It was that they would convene a conference for the purposes of discussing those things; and when we came to office my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for the Colonies made determined and repeated attempts 1084 to reach agreement with the Federal and Aden Ministers on the agenda for such a conference. But we did not succeed. The conference was never convened.
§ Sir J. Eden rose—
§ Mr. Brown
Now the right hon. Member for Streatham refers not so much to that—and that is why he never carries the White Paper with him—but to what he said in this House on 7th July, 1964. This is what he repeated in the letter which he wrote to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 1st March.
I wish to make clear tonight what I said to him in the letter which I sent to the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of my right hon. Friend. In my view, his letter confirms my belief that there was considerable confusion at the time about the outcome of the Constitutional Conference over which he presided in June, 1964. The fact is that not for the first time—and, in view of what he has since said, not for the last time—could what the right hon. Gentleman say bear a very different interpretation from the paragraph in the White Paper to which he gave his name.
The point is that the White Paper recorded the agreement reached with the South Arabian delegates; and it was signed by them and by the British delegates. The obligations which Her Majesty's Government inherited were the obligations in the White Paper. We did not inherit any of the subsequent gloss which the right hon. Member for Streatham may have chosen to put on the White Paper or on the agreement.
§ Mr. Sandys
I have already made it clear that I could not in any way accept the very limited and restrictive interpretation which the right hon. Gentleman puts on the White Paper. What I have tried to say this afternoon is that even if we did accept it the Government have not convened or tried to convene a conference of any kind for the purposes set out in the White Paper—that is, to fix the date of independence and conclude a defence agreement.
The conference to which the right hon. Gentleman refers was for quite a different purpose and it is perfectly clear, from the statement made by the then Colonial Secretary, that defence was right outside the terms of reference of the conference 1085 which he was trying to convene. What does the right hon. Gentleman have to say about that?
§ Mr. Brown
This is yet another gloss on what was done. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is no good hon. Gentlemen opposite expressing dissent. It is absolutely true. What, in fact, was agreed in the White Paper is something distinct from what the right hon. Member for Streatham afterwards tried to suggest was agreed. We attempted to carry it out and there is, therefore, no basis for suggesting that we have gone back on the agreement which he made. On the other hand, his own colleagues went only as far as the White Paper. It is only the right hon. Member for Streatham who has since put these other glosses on it.
The right hon. Gentleman has also said on several occasions that our obligation to defend South Arabia does not end with independence. However, in the defence debate the right hon. Gentleman went so far as to say:There is no mention of independence in the treaty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 313.]I will read to the House the third paragraph of the preamble to the 1959 Treaty—which, of course, was not changed in this respect by either of the subsequent Amendments; by either the Amendment of 1963 or that of 1965. The operative paragraph—the right hon. Member for Streatham clearly forgot it—refers twice to independence and states:Considering that the Federation desires to develop ultimately into an economically and politically independent State in friendly relations with the United Kingdom and that the United Kingdom undertakes to assist the Federation to become ultimately an independent state …It is clear from this that the whole Treaty was based on the intention that the Federation would become independent; and it dealt with arrangements to help the Federation towards that goal. The Treaty related only to the period until independence. By its very nature, therefore, it must terminate upon independence. The Treaty, as it was written, is inconsistent with relations between independent States. Therefore, all the references to British defence arrangements with South Arabia—and I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to this—as, for example, in Section 1 of the 1086 Annexe, are clearly limited to the interim period before independence.
On the assumption—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman thinks that it is a big assumption—that the former Government meant what was set out in the Treaty, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite must accept, as this Government do, that the consistent aim of our policy has been, and is, to achieve a true independence with an independent South Arabia standing on its own feet. Only on that basis—of a true independence with an independent South Arabia standing on its own feet—could acceptance by neighbouring countries and by the United Nations be assured.
Many people may have hoped that President Nasser might have been persuaded to play a constructive part. I deprecate many of the things that have been said this afternoon on the ground that while they may let off internal steam they may not help the situation. Thus, how do I see the situation and how do I feel about it? Since I met Field Marshall Amer in Moscow, I have exchanged informal and personal messages with President Nasser. This is no secret. Nor is it a secret that one of the main topics of the correspondence has been South Arabia.
I have tried consistently to dispel President Nasser's suspicions that Britain's policies were not being directed to bringing about genuine independence for South Arabia. I have tried to persuade him to use his authority to stop terrorism and incitement to terrorism in that country. I have sought to show him that murder and other terrorist activities in this case are not only wicked, but are wholly pointless. Although the correspondence has been friendly—and I hope that it will continue so—I must tell the House frankly and with considerable regret that President Nasser has not so far given me the undertaking for which I have asked.
§ Mr. Brown
One of the most foolish things in the world is to believe that one can run foreign policy on the basis of picking those statesmen one likes and those one does not like. That way lie many of our greatest tragedies in the past.
1087 The undertaking for which I asked is that President Nasser should use his considerable influence to end terrorism in South Arabia. It is in his power to remove much suffering from the people of South Arabia. He can do much to stop the senseless killing and maiming of women and children that we are witnessing now. He can, by encouraging all parties to join with the Federation in creating peaceful conditions, help to create a situation in which elections can eventually be held so that the people may freely express their own wishes. This, in my view, should be the aim of all true Arab nationalists.
§ Viscount Lambton
Would the Foreign Secretary be good enough to ask President Nasser to withdraw his troops in the Yemen as a condition of a declaration giving independence?
§ Mr. Brown
I am at the moment discussing South Arabia, and I was, in fact, writing to President Nasser about things in which South Arabia plays a large part. If the hon. Member wants a debate about the Yemen, or about his wholly irrational views of President Nasser, I will willingly have it, but today the debate is on South Arabia, and it is South Arabia about which I am speaking.
I have already expressed in this House the wish that all Adeni and other South Arabian nationalists—and I was much attacked by the right hon. Gentleman for this, but I repeat it—should return to South Arabia to play their full part in the political life of their country. In my view, this is surely the time for all those whose exile is, after all, self-imposed, to return, and to join in the discussion with the United Nations Mission and with other political groupings which generally genuinely want them to come back to co-operate—
§ Mr. Brown
Yes—really; and to play their part in all that must be done to bring South Arabia to stable independence. The right hon. Gentleman speaking as he has done this afternoon is merely doing his best, as he has done so often in the past, to ensure that bloodshed goes on, instead of helping to bring about a reasonable stability in that area.
§ Mr. Sandys
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask that the right hon. Gentleman should withdraw that statement?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)
I think that perhaps the Foreign Secretary might want to rephrase the statement to avoid any suggestion of imputation against the right hon. Gentleman that would be unparliamentary.
§ Mr. Brown
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At the moment, I have no intention of doing that—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] As you were not in the Chair at the time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps I may draw your attention to what happened earlier.
I was charged by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham with having behaved shamefully, with having double crossed, with having broken faith, with conduct of which I should be ashamed and the right hon. Gentleman was not called to order or rebuked. I happen to feel as deeply about the right hon. Gentleman's behaviour as he said he felt about mine. May I ask why a rebuke should be addressed to me when the right hon. Gentleman was allowed to say that?
§ Lord Balniel
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is surely all the difference in the world between an accusation of shameful or mistaken foreign policy, and accusing my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) of deliberately encouraging bloodshed, which is what I understood the Foreign Secretary to say.
§ Viscount Lambton
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Did you not ask the Foreign Secretary to withdraw what he said?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is perfectly true that I was not here at an earlier stage of the proceedings. There is obviously some limit to accusations and counter-accusations which are perfectly legitimate across the Floor of the House. I asked the Foreign Secretary to rephrase 1089 his remarks in order to withdraw any imputation that the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys)—[Interruption.] Order. I asked the Foreign Secretary to rephrase his remarks in order to withdraw, as I understood it, any imputation that the right hon. Member for Streatham was deliberately inciting to bloodshed.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not the situation quite simply that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that he is perfectly entitled to make any charges he likes against us on this side, but that when anyone attacks him he squeals?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
That is not the case at all. The duty of the Chair is to see that the legitimate bounds of Parliamentary debate and accusation are not exceeded. If they are exceeded, they should be rephrased in accordance with our rules of order.
§ Mr. Sandys
Further to that point of order. I suggest that there is all the difference in the world between what I said and what the Foreign Secretary said. [Interruption.] I strongly criticised the Government's decision to allow the United Nations Mission to go to Aden because I considered, in view of the threats that had been made, that this would result in increased bloodshed. I said that if the Government took what I regarded as a foolhardy and foolish decision and it did result in bloodshed, the responsibility for the deaths that were caused would be that of the Government. That is quite a different thing from my being accused of deliberately inciting or causing bloodshed. I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, again to call on the Foreign Secretary to withdraw that accusation.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Kinross and West Perthshire)
I have heard all the speeches since the start of the debate. It seemed to me that there was a distinct difference, if I may say so, in the language which the Foreign Secretary used, which really accused my right hon. Friend of seeking to increase bloodshed. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to rephrase the sentence in the way suggested.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Further to that point 1090 of order. I did not hear the Foreign Secretary used the word "deliberately". Everyone is imputing that word to him. He implied, as I gathered, that the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman opposite might lead to this, and that he must accept responsibility for the statement. But my right hon. Friend did not use the word "deliberately", though everyone seems to be interpreting his remark in that sense.
§ Viscount Lambton
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You asked the Foreign Secretary to rephrase his phraseology. He has not done so. Will he please do so?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
May I try to help the House? Obviously, it is a very difficult matter. My view, as a result of 20 years' experience in this House, is that it is perfectly legitimate for one hon. or right hon. Member to say to another that his policy is calculated to produce bloodshed, but for one hon. or right hon. Gentleman to accuse another of deliberately inciting—[HON. MEMBERS: "He did not"] We shall come to what was actually said. If one hon. or right hon. Member deliberately accuses another of deliberately inciting to bloodshed that, in my opinion, is exceeding the bounds of Parliamentary debate, and should be rephrased.
§ Mr. Brown
I am pretty certain that HANSARD tomorrow will show that I did not use the words "deliberately incite", and I am equally certain that HANSARD tomorrow will show that the right hon. Gentleman did say that in certain events the responsibility for the blood would be on my head. Nobody thought that that remark should be withdrawn. I say that the consequences of the right hon. Gentleman's policies in the past, as his words now, have the same effect for him. He is responsible for bloodshed—[HON. MEMBERS: "That is all right."] I think, Mr. Deputy Speaker—
§ Sir J. Eden
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely the Foreign Secretary should make it quite clear that he withdraws his wholly offensive remarks against my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
We really cannot pursue it. The Foreign Secretary has, at my suggestion, rephrased what he said in a manner which is perfectly proper.
§ Mr. Brown
What I have really done is to restate what I said at the beginning, but we shall see in the morning. That is the situation. So far, the right hon. Gentleman and I are square, except that, like so many people who are willing to wound, the right hon. Gentleman is very loth to accept a riposte. May we now continue to debate the real issues here. First, I give way to the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher).
§ Mr. Fisher
I am much obliged to the right hon. Genlteman. The great increase in murder and terrorism has taken place since the Government's decision to withdraw from Aden, and not before—and, in my opinion, because of it. If the Foreign Secretary denies that statement, perhaps I may quote the Written Reply to a Question today, showing 36 incidents of violence in 1964, 279 in 1965, 480 in 1966, and no fewer than 256 in the first two months of this year.
§ Mr. Brown
I wish it could be recorded by the recording angels that so many other speeches are being made in the middle of my speech.
I think that the incidence of terrorism has grown as there has risen a doubt about whether we were to come out of Aden—or South Arabia. That is one of the reasons why I am so bothered about the policy being urged on us by those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have so far spoken.
I was dealing with the nationalists who are exiled and saying that we genuinely want them to go back to co-operate and play their part in all that must be done to bring South Arabia to stable independence. I know that the House will not press me to go into details tonight, but I can assure hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House that we are ensuring that this is known to all those concerned.
May I, at this point, say a word about the political consultations which have recently taken place and are continuing to take place? In the extremely serious situation with which we are now faced I and my colleagues recently held urgent consultations with the High Commissioner and with Federal Ministers. The purpose of these discussions was to see what further we could do to help the 1092 Federal Government to prepare for independence; in the first place, to take account of its worries about the possibility of external aggression when that came about; to stiffen the forces of law and order in the meantime, and generally to assist the successful accomplishment of our policies.
Two leading Federal Ministers, the Minister of External Affairs and his Adeni colleague, Mr. Girgirah, came to London recently for talks with us. After a number of meetings with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and me, it was arranged that we would let them have, as soon as possible, the answers to the various questions they had put to us. For this purpose, my right hon. Friend made a special journey to Aden last week to convey our views to the Federal Government and to carry the continuing process of political consultation one stage further.
The Minister of State submitted to the Federal Government a number of proposals affecting all these issues which relate to the attainment of independence by South Arabia. The Federal Government have told us that they now wish us to consider these further, particularly in the light of their discussions with the United Nations Special Mission. The Mission is due in London tonight and I look forward to meeting its members and discussing with them their very important task.
By discharging this with responsibility and impartiality, they have an outstandingly valuable part to play in helping to work out new constitutional arrangements with South Arabia, in assisting it to attain and then to preserve its unity and independence. The British authorities there will give the Mission all possible assistance in its task. We are now clearly approaching a crucial stage in these events.
§ Mr. Woodburn
In view of what my right hon. Friend has just said, would he disabuse the public mind of the idea that the Minister of State's visit has been, in the words of the Press, a failure?
§ Mr. Brown
It was not at all. The Minister of State has carried the discussions forward. The Federal Ministers now want to consider the position and have a chance to discuss it with their colleagues and the United Nations 1093 Mission. That is exactly what one would expect to happen.
I am sure that the House will understand why, at this crucial moment, I cannot go into greater detail and why I deprecate much of what has been said this afternoon. I have a strong feeling that the more we say today the greater risk there is that that would increase difficulties. Lives, Arabian and British, are at stake in Aden. I shall report to the House again as soon as the discussions have reached a further stage. That may well then be the right moment for a full-scale debate which the House is entitled to have. I undertake to keep in touch through the usual channels about the arrangements for such a report and such a debate.
Before I sit down there is one thing more I wish to say. There are in this complex situation certain elements which we must take into account. The Government of an independent South Arabia must be given a fair chance to settle in. They must be welcomed into the comity of nations and must be given an opportunity to be recognised by the United Nations and other international bodies. This means that not only have we to work out a way to achieve early independence, but, at the same time, to see how the new State can have a real chance to establish itself as an independent State, secure against external aggression.
In doing this, of course, we have also to consider our own interests. We must guard against being put into a position in which we are held responsible for what happens in Aden while, at the same time, not having the power to control events. We must never lose sight of our aim, which is to create a true independence for South Arabia which is seen to be genuine and not dependent on our support.
I am ready to accept that the concern shown by hon. Members opposite for the future of South Arabia is genuine. I accept, too, the sincerity with which hon. Members have pressed on us their feeling that we should make a defence agreement with that country. But I believe most strongly that those who urge us to stay in South Arabia are doing a disservice to those whose cause they wish to champion. An announcement that we were doing that, by casting doubt on the 1094 belief in genuine independence, would only stimulate further violence. In addition, it would almost certainly preclude the international recognition which the new State will be entitled to and the international recognition which in the end, like all other States, it must rely upon.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Kinross and West Perthshire)
I have it very much in mind that a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill is in private Members time. Therefore, I do not want to take up too much of it and I shall be brief and, I hope, to the point.
That it is necessary to have this debate about the future of Aden and the future of the South Arabian Federation, few would doubt. In terms of international politics I suppose it is perhaps the most important and inflammable of all the subjects which have been before us in this Parliament. How we debate it is a matter to be decided by the Opposition. Although the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) seems incapable of thinking in anything but terms of polemics and controversy, we on this side of the House do not seek unnecessary controversy in matters of international affairs. We want to find a solution to this problem which is consistent with the honour of this country and the freedom and independence of South Arabia.
That is our purpose, but the hon. Member need not worry. If, after Easter, there is not a solution which appeals and fulfils these conditions, then a Motion of censure, no doubt, could and will be put down—but not yet. We wish to give the Foreign Secretary a full opportunity to come to a peaceful settlement of this problem.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
In that case, it seems that the right hon. Gentleman has proved exactly what I said. I said that I did not understand that the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) had the support of his own Front Bench. If he were to make charges of betrayal in such terms as he did, I said that surely it should be put down as a Motion of censure if the Opposition supported it. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman who appears to agree with me 1095 instead of with the right hon. Member for Streatham.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
The hon. Member need not worry. We can have a Motion of censure in good time.
I shall not go over the ground covered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) as to the Government being guilty of a breach of faith. His charges are valid. The Foreign Secretary is unconvinced and therefore feels that he is not bound by these obligations.
I would tell him and the House this. If anybody is in a position to know, I think that I myself should be. The Conservative Government and the ministers of the Federation who were negotiating at that time were totally convinced that, if the Federation was to have independence by 1968, it must be accompanied by a defence agreement covering the future of the base and the security of South Arabia; otherwise the Federation—on this both the Federal Ministers and the Conservative Cabinet were agreed—could not survive, to use the Foreign Secretary's words, as a truly independent country. Therefore, we pledged ourselves to a defence agreement having very much in mind the precedent of Malaysia. Nobody, as far as I know, has ever said that Malaysia was not independent because we kept troops in Malaysia after its independence was granted.
The trouble has been, if I may seek to analyse it objectively, that the Socialist Opposition then and the Socialist Government now have never seen the political need for a defence agreement. The reason is very clear, namely, that they have never shared our strategic appreciation of the international politics of this area. When he took office the right hon. Gentleman persuaded himself that he could better relations with Colonel Nasser's Egypt. I do not blame him. No Foreign Secretary should blindly accept the policies laid down by his predecessor, however wise that predecessor may have been. I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman for that at all.
There are facts to be taken into account. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale should consider some of them. I want to look at them accurately, as the hon. Gentleman asked me to do.
1096 The right hon. Gentleman's approaches to Colonel Nasser have been, up till now, rebuffed or ignored. That is a fact. The right hon. Gentleman, too, has evidence of the Soviet activities in both Syria and Somaliland. I ask the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale to consider for a moment what will happen to Israel if Egypt is established in Aden and Somali in Djibouti. Let him consider that for one moment. Let him consider, too, that the Russians today are encouraging Colonel Nasser in his war in the Yemen. The Foreign Secretary knows, too, the precarious state of the Egyptian armies in the Yemen and the shaky economic situation in Egypt, which is worse than it has ever been.
Even so, although all these factors are present in the Foreign Secretary's mind, he and the Government are not willing to modify their policy in respect of a timetable for evacuation—that is really the substance of our charge—when it is quite clear that to gain time will mean everything to the new Government of the South Arabian Federation.
The interpretation of these facts and events is surely plain. It is that Colonel Nasser prefers to stay in the Yemen and to use it as a base. I would like the Foreign Secretary at some time to instruct his hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale about the school for subversion present in the Yemen and financed by Egypt, where hundreds of terrorists are being trained for the express purpose of inciting revolution in Aden—that is known—and from which Egypt could occupy Aden if and when Britain leaves it virtually undefended and from there in turn, and very much strengthened, turn the heat on Saudi Arabia.
If this Egyptian design was successful, there would be widespread political consequences right through the whole area of the Middle East. I would ask the House to consider some of them. The South Arabian Federation would be strangled at birth. Iran would begin to rearm. It is already doing so. The Foreign Secretary knows that it is now placing considerable orders for torpedo boats with us and for aircraft with the United States. It is doing this with a view to the day when, if we leave Aden and our influence is thereafter increasingly expelled from the Gulf, Iran will 1097 feel it has to pre-empt Egyptian entry into the Gulf because it is not prepared to be isolated between the Soviet Union and an Arabia dominated by Egypt.
Saudi Arabia is already attacked. Does the Foreign Secretary pay no attention to that and to the bombing of Saudi Arabia? It is already the target for subversion. Has he not read of the happenings of last week? Then Saudi Arabia would be most seriously weakened.
When we come to the question of the future of the oil-producing States, there is the point of view—we all hear it and know it—that the oil will continue to flow because oil has to be sold. Does anyone believe that with Russia and Egypt dominating the situation in the area, oil will flow in the same quantities or at the same price? Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman is calculating the cost of his policy in Aden—I am afraid it is a fact that he has again allowed the Treasury to dictate his foreign policy—let him consider some of these political factors and the cost that they will give to Britain should the Egyptians be successful in the policy which I suggest is theirs.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
The right hon. Gentleman envisages this powerful Egypt dominating Saudi Arabia and threatening Iran. How is it that Nasser has been unable to dominate much smaller countries much nearer home, such as Syria and Yemen, in spite of trying by armed force?
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Because there has been no vacuum of power into which he could walk. That is the short answer.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
In the Yemen there has been a very valiant and very stiff resistance from the Royalists which Nasser has failed to overcome. The hon. Gentleman should not delude himself about what will happen if there is a complete vacuum of power in Aden. As we know, it is already full of people trained by Nasser to subvert that area. We know that there are hundreds in this school in the Yemen ready to do the same thing. The hon. Gentleman is living in a quite unreal world if he thinks that Nasser would not be able to walk into Aden at will.
1098 All these consequences would, in our opinion, follow premature evacuation. What is more, they would be antagonistic to the free world's interests in the area. Surely the free world's interests in this area are that we should gain time for certain political objectives to mature. The first is that King Feisal and the Shah of Iran should develop the closest relations. Those are the two most stable countries in this area. The second is that they should both find a basis for cooperation with the Ruler of Kuwait and with the Sheikhs of the Gulf. The third is that there should be a peacefully developing Israel, relieved of concerted Arab pressure and secure with an outlet to the Red Sea. As far as I can judge from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, he prefers to rely on the United Nations Mission to assist South Arabia in her constitutional arrangements. I have no objection—nobody on this side of the House would have—to that.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
No; I do not think that my right hon. Friend would object to advice on the constitutional arrangements, nor would anyone object to membership of the United Nations for an independent South Arabia Federation if that would give such a Federation any protection. Our feeling on this side of the House is that if South Arabia is to have any chance, again to use the Foreign Secretary's words, of remaining truly independent, there must be a presence of British forces for, let me say, X years rather than X months.
I do not know why the Foreign Secretary was so concerned that if after independence we were to keep our forces there, independence would in some way be judged to be "phoney". I do not remember anybody saying that about Malaysia, and yet Malaysia is independent. We have a defence agreement with Malaysia, and it has paid very big political dividends. I therefore hope that the Foreign Secretary will be sufficiently robust to reject that argument on the ground that a military presence is necessary so that the Federation shall gain confidence in itself and be able to deter external aggression.
The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to ask, and so is the House, how long 1099 we consider that a presence should be there. Would we propose a commitment without end? My answer would be: certainly not. But, considering that the Federal political institutions are barely formed, that the 10 battalions of the Federal Army are still in a state of formation and that at the end of this year there will be only one trained South Arabian pilot to fly a military plane, we should realistically come to the conclusion that the South Arabian Federation must be reinforced by assistance from outside under a defence agreement; otherwise it is, I am afraid, bound to collapse and to be taken over.
In my opinion, therefore, we should realistically transfer responsibility for law and order to the Federal Government. We should establish a military mission on the lines advocated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham, and a military presence, not as large as we have had, not as large necessarily as we have now, but, nevertheless, a military mission and a military presence, with the essential point being immediate access for air support should the South Arabian Federation be threatened by aggression.
If, as rumour has it, the right hon. Gentleman has been proposing to the Federal Ministers that there should be a period after independence during which British Forces may stay, and if, as has been rumoured, he is thinking of three or six months, then, in my view, the term should be much more like three years because in that time we shall be able to judge exactly Egypt's intention and the Federal Government will have a chance to establish itself. Like my right hon. Friend, I believe that the eventual evacuation of British troops could be linked to the withdrawal of Egyptian forces in the Yemen.
Finally, let me take a proposition, perhaps arguable by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, perhaps in the mind of the Foreign Secretary, that Nasser might co-operate in a plan linking British withdrawal from Aden with his withdrawal from the Yemen—a pretty one-sided agreement when we are there by right and he is not. Nevertheless, if this proposition were made, I do not imagine that the right hon. Gentleman would take away British troops now. I imagine that he would say that the school for subversion must be 1100 disbanded. He would have to ensure that the Egyptian Air Force was removed from the Yemen. He would have to ensure that the Egyptian Army was withdrawn phase by phase and that this was supervised. This would take time. Even on the plan put forward by the hon. Gentleman, time is the essence of this matter, and during that time the Federal Government should be protected beyond all doubt against any external action.
I hope that we have established our case and that the Government will think again, because, as the right hon. Gentleman says, our purpose is to establish a South Arabian Federation independent in its own right with a chance of survival. The House will usually respond to an appeal by a Foreign Secretary for time and not press matters too hard because of a solution he hopes to find round the corner. I am bound to tell the right hon. Gentleman that time is running out fast, and that on all the evidence the British Government look like failing in a responsibility to the free world. We shall, therefore, accept the right hon. Gentleman's offer of a debate following the Easter Recess. I think that I can promise the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale that it will be in less lenient terms than those in which my hon. Friends and I have spoken today.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Evan Luard (Oxford)
The right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) made a powerful and, at times, intemperate attack on the Government's policies in relation to Aden and South Arabia. His attack was misdirected. It should have been directed not so much at the Government in their efforts to extricate this country from the entanglement in which it has found itself in South Arabia but at those who placed this country in the entanglement, namely, the right hon. Gentleman himself and his colleagues.
What are the main charges made by the right hon. Gentleman? I think there were three. The first was that the Government have let down the Federal rulers in South Arabia by being prepared to provide only for independence, without coupling it with a defence agreement or the retention of the base. I think that it is important to distinguish between three separate possibilities. One is the continuance of defence assistance to South Arabia. This is being 1101 provided by the Government. Over the last two or three years they have been paying £7 or £8 million a year. This was increased by the agreement last year by £2½ million a year for the training and equipment of forces. Now they have agreed to provide, so it is said, additional air assistance during a transitional period.
I should have thought that this was the maximum which a colonial Government could be expected to provide for a colonial territory in a period immediately after its independence. We have not provided any more for practically any other of our ex-colonial countries. Indeed, I think that it could well be argued, as the Foreign Secretary argued, that to attempt to maintain a closer responsibility through either the retention of the base or some formal defence agreement would be more likely to imperil the newly emerging state than to assist it, because there is no doubt that this would be taken by very many people throughout the region as proving that the Government were nothing but a puppet of the British Government and in no way worthy of independence, and it would only increase the terrorist activities against it.
Therefore, either of the two further possibilities—the retention of the base for a further period or the provision of assistance under a formal defence agreement—would have been much inferior to what the Government are doing in practice, which is providing the necessary assistance to enable that Government effectively to defend itself.
It may be said by the right hon. Gentleman that, whether or not this was the desirable course, the Government were in fact committed to providing a defence agreement as such, or, more accurately, that the Government were committed by the actions of the former Government to undertake this task. But there is no clear documentary evidence that any formal agreement to this effect was made. If the previous Government had a formal commitment that such assistance would be provided, surely it would have been recorded in some written form which would have been produced by the Federal Government.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
The hon. Gentleman will have heard a few minutes ago a former Prime Minister say quite clearly that in his 1102 mind and in the minds of all the members of the Cabinet this agreement stood. What documentary evidence does the hon. Gentleman want beyond that?
§ Mr. Luard
On the contrary, what the former Prime Minister assured us of was that it was the intention of that Government to provide such an agreement. That is entirely different. All the many words expressed on the subject over the last two years have provided nothing more than an indication that there was such an intention in the Government's mind. No successor Government can be committed simply because a previous Government had an intention of this kind.
The only kind of written record that exists is the record which has been quoted so many times, in paragraph 38 of the White Paper. The words have already been quoted this evening. All that this paragraph says is:The delegates asked that Britain should agree to independence for the Federation, while continuing thereafter to assist in its defence. They requested that as soon as practicable the British Government should convene a conference for the purposes of fixing a date for independence…and of concluding a Defence Agreement …The Government were committed to convening a conference. They attempted to do so and the conference failed. They have lived up to the commitment of their predecessor, which they were not necessarily bound to do. They have attempted to meet this condition. But it was not possible to reach agreement on a defence agreement, and indeed no Government could be sure in advance that the necessary terms would be met for reaching an agreement of that kind. It could, therefore, well be argued that the real responsibility lies not with the Government, who have made every effort to meet the legitimate defence needs of a newly emerging colony, but those who entered into that rash, inflated commitment to the South Arabian Government; that is the right hon. Member for Streatham and his colleagues.
The second charge is that by agreeing to withdraw troops and by not agreeing to enter into a defence agreement the British Government have worsened the security situation in the Colony and encouraged terrorist activity there. But can any reasonable person doubt that if the 1103 British Government had, in fact, determined to keep troops in the Colony for the foreseeable future, still more if they had determined, as many hon. Members opposite have insisted, to maintain a British base there, acts of terrorism would have continued on a far wider and more intensive scale than they have done? In fact, it is not altogether surprising that there has been a recrudescence of terrorism in the last year before independence. In a Colony in which there exist no effective democratic institutions, this is the natural effect of political forces in the colony jockeying each other for power during this vital period. Terrorism during this period, therefore, is a result not of the decision not to maintain the base or the decision to withdraw troops but the decision to grant independence in 1968; namely the decision of the right hon. Member for Streatham.
The right hon. Gentleman's third charge is that the Government have betrayed the Federal rules and the Federal Government to the forces of nationalism, to terrorists within the colony, perhaps—as they would say—to President Nasser and his cohorts, by refusing to grant a defence agreement. But here again who can doubt that the power of those people would have been increased rather than decreased, if the Government had sought to enter into a defence agreement and created a situation in which any Government in Aden would have been regarded as the creature of the British Government?
My own view is that, if anything, the Government are to blame for precisely the opposite reason. It would well be argued that it is the citizens of the Colony of Aden, the townsmen of Aden, many of whom are genuinely Arab nationalists, who have been betrayed into the hands of the Federal rulers of the Protectorate. I am sorry to say that this is one of the few occasions where it appears likely that we shall be bringing a Colony to independence in a situation in which full, free, democratic elections may still not have taken place throughout its territory. Nobody could say that the Federal Government as at present constituted represents a representative and democratically created government within the territory.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
Will the hon. Member then recommend 1104 that independence should be postponed for some time, until those elections could be held?
§ Mr. Luard
I would not recommend that independence should be postponed. But I would recommend that every effort should be made to ensure that elections have taken place by the time of independence.
In all its dealings the Government have treated with the Federal rulers and not with the townsmen or any other element that could be considered more representative of the people of Aden. It is to the Federal Government that it appears that the Government intend to hand over independence. It is with the Federal Government that the British Government have made their defence arrangements, to whom they have handed over arms, and for whom they are training troops. It is for the Federal Government that economic assistance will be given. It could thus be argued that the Government have bent over backwards to favour the Protectorate's Federal rulers and have, if anything, neglected the interests of the townsmen and many of the more educated sections of the population in other parts of the territory.
So much for the charges made by the right hon. Member for Streatham and other Members opposite. I now wish to turn to a more general consideration of the affairs of Aden and South Arabia, and particularly to deal now with the future and not with the past, as the right hon. Gentleman did. Anybody who considers the affairs of South Arabia and Aden objectively will recognise that the Government are faced with a very difficult problem. The main difficulty arises from the very differences which we have just considered, that between the people who live in the Protectorate, who are largely rural, uneducated Bedouin, and the highly sophisticated townsmen of Aden Colony. For any Government to create a viable political unit out of those two elements will always be very difficult. I suggest to the Government that they should not insist too vigorously on maintaining a purely unitary state in South Arabia, because it may be that in the final resort it is possible to hold together those elements only in a loose federal structure which will give a considerable element of independence for Aden Colony alone.
1105 It is even arguable that in the final resort it may be impossible to maintain that degree of unity, and that the Government should not altogether close their eyes to the possibility of ultimate partition, in which one had the Federal territories, the territories of the Protectorate, which would inevitably become largely under the domination of Saudi Arabia, and the Colony alone, which would almost certainly come more and more under the influence of the Yemen.
My next point concerns the frontiers. Almost all the frontiers of South Arabia are at present either not delimited or not demarcated, or are neither. That is a highly dangerous condition in which any territory could achieve independence, particularly one so bitterly disputed as South Arabia. I strongly recommend the Government to take urgent steps to try to get the frontiers accurately delimited and defined in the remaining period of less than a year before the country becomes independent. At least the first steps towards that should be taken, because there is no doubt that incidents concerning the frontier—perhaps concerning legitimate disputes about the position of the frontiers—could become the cause of very intense disputes and even large-scale war in the future by any party minded to make them an excuse for such an activity.
I am also concerned about the date of independence. I felt considerable misgivings on reading in the newspapers today that the Government have apparently urged on the Federal rulers that they should accept independence next November, before they are willing to receive it. I can understand the reason for this. I suspect that it is that the Government would like this to take place about the time when the General Assembly is meeting in New York because they believe that it will be easier to encourage the General Assembly to take active steps to safeguard the independence of the new territory and perhaps even send out a peace force or military force to preserve its independence if the transition takes place while the General Assembly is meeting.
But from other points of view this seems to me to be a somewhat dangerous proceeding. First of all, there is evidently so much that remains to be done before the State will be in a condition to be able to maintain its independence 1106 effectively. This applies to the training of troops, to which the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) was referring. Clearly, this is a matter to which we must give urgent attention over the coming months. I should have thought that it would be unwise to put forward the date of independence unnecessarily during that period.
Finally, I want to refer to the question of elections. I regard it as of fundamental importance that elections should have taken place before the territory acquires independence. I have already referred to the fact that there are many people who do not consider the existing Government to be representative of the people of Aden as a whole. It is certain that if the present Government receive independence in their present form they will be subject to very violent attack and to continuing terrorism on the part of many people in Aden who contest their legitimacy and right to represent them in the world.
After all, we in this country maintain that we stand for democratic institutions. We have in almost every other case ensured that our colonies have reached the stage of representative Government before they were given independence, and I regard it as of the greatest importance that this should be so in this case, where the right of certain groups to represent the country is so bitterly contested. The only way to bring to an end the present terrorist activities is to prove categorically to the world and to these people themselves who are the representatives of the people of Aden.
In general I am sure that the Government are following the right policy in pressing ahead with independence for South Arabia and in providing the necessary defence assistance to enable it to defend itself. Here I must take issue with the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire: it is not reasonable to suggest that the defence of the territory when it is independent must depend only and exclusively on Britain. It will have adequate forces of its own. Even if they were not adequate, it is open to the newly independent South Arabia to enter into alliances with Saudi Arabia or, as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, Iran, and this may well be the course that it will follow.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I hope that I did not give a different impression. What I want to make sure of is that there is a British presence there while the new State is building up and making progress, because it has made little progress so far.
§ Mr. Luard
I think it is a matter of opinion how much progress will have been made by the time independence is granted. I think it is known that, as the right hon. Gentleman commented, the Government may well be prepared to consider a brief extension of the time when British troops will remain after independence for that purpose. I doubt whether the period of three years that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned is necessary.
What is true, I agree—and this is a valid and important point—is that from the point of view of air defence it is almost certain that South Arabia will not be in a position to defend itself adequately within the near future. Therefore, it is very good news that the Government should now be considering making air assistance available and at least guaranteeing South Arabian air space.
But much more important, to my mind, than the issue of the immediate defence needs of the country, is the kind of political set-up that will be created when Aden attains independence, because it is on this that will depend the kind of stability that is attained in the territory, and the kind of international recognition that it will receive, including whether it is accepted and taken into the United Nations. The Government ought to think very seriously before allowing this important territory to attain independence without a Government that has been freely elected by all its people.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Sir Frederic Bennett (Torquay)
While I was listening to the remarks by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Luard) I was trying to think of a kindly but accurate adjective. I began with "dispassionate", went on to "detached" and finished up with "unreal". The hon. Gentleman remarked that, according to newspaper reports—and they have not been denied—we may be talking in terms now not even of January or February next year but of November this year for independence. Apparently the 1108 hon. Member feels that January or February would be almost equally unreal—
§ Mr. Luard rose—
§ Sir F. Bennett
Please let me finish my first sentence. The hon. Member will have plenty of time later.
The unfortunate British Government will find it very difficult to rearrange the frontiers of the Federation, bring in constitutional changes and have free elections between now and November this year or January next year.
§ Sir F. Bennett
I would pay tribute to the hon. Member. It is about the only tribute I shall pay to him. I do so because he seemed to have some doubts about November. But even if one accepts January or February, it is totally unreal to think of the Government rearranging the frontiers of the Federation and holding free elections and also altering the constitution between now and January or March next year, let alone November this year.
In his opening remarks the hon. Gentleman went back to the rather soiled interpretation of the pledge, and I shall come to that later. He also made an inaccurate statement that I should like to correct. He said that it was the first ex-colonial territory where we should be asked to make standing defence arrangements after the achievement of independence. I think that HANSARD will bear me out on this. In the case of Malaya we did that over a very considerable period of time when the threat was almost exactly similar—internal subversion stimulated from outside.
§ Mr. Luard
The hon. Gentleman should listen to the speeches by other persons if he wishes to quote them. I said that there was almost no other case of a territory that we had brought to independence which did not have a democratically elected Government. I was not then referring to the defence agreement at all. I am aware that there have been cases in which we have entered into defence agreements. We did so with Nigeria, but that was not a happy example.
§ Sir F. Bennett
I think the hon. Member will find that the record will reveal that he was talking in that case of defence arrangements after independence had been achieved. With regard to making sure of having a democratic Government before we hand over independence, all I can say is that the general situation today does not show that that aim has been successfully carried out.
Earlier my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) and the rest of us on this side of the House were accused by the Foreign Secretary of being obsessed with Nasser. The Foreign Secretary said that Nasser had got into our blood and brains. This would seem to indicate that only we on this side of the House are worried about President Nasser's ambitions. I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary consulted the Israelis before making his speech. I wonder whether the Jordanians have been consulted; they were on the other side at Suez. I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary has consulted Libya, and how Libya feels about President Nasser's ambitions; Libya was on the other side over the Suez affair. Has the Foreign Secretary discovered the feelings in Tunis about President Nasser's ambitions in North Africa? I wonder whether Saudi Arabia has been consulted to find out whether it is equally happy about President Nasser's ambitions?
It is not just a few reactionary Tories who are worried about President Nasser. Indeed, I might say that it is almost only hon. Gentlemen opposite who do not seem to be worried about his activities in that part of the world. Finally, what about the Yemenis and what is taking place in their country? They are not ranked among the imperialists and yet they have had to suffer blatant Egyptian aggression over a long period. The use of poison gas and bombing of the worst possible sort have repeatedly taken place in this part of the world. We are entitled to wonder what the reaction would have been on the Government benches if it had been someone else, other than Nasser, who had been dropping the gas bombs on an inoffensive people in a small State.
I remember a short time ago when the Americans dropped tear gas bombs which made people sick for a few hours. There were marches to the American Em- 1110 bassy and hon. Members below the Gangway opposite were frothing at the mouth about the evil of the Americans. But they have made no protests of any sort about the gas bombing by the Egyptians. We have been told that only the Conservative Party are worried about all this. What about those people in the mountains who are being bombed and gassed? I wonder whether they share the Foreign Secretary's view.
The Foreign Secretary told us, as naïvely as possible, in an unusually sober speech—if I may coin a phrase—that he had been exchanging notes with President Nasser, that they had been very friendly, amicable and amiable, but that unfortunately they had got nowhere, as with so many of the Government's policies. He was rather surprised that President Nasser had not given the Foreign Secretary an assurance that he would cease his ambitions in that part of the world. Have we now a Foreign Secretary who believes that President Nasser is of such mettle that a note from Whitehall will make him drop his ambitions? Do we think that Hitler would have responded to such a note asking him to change his aims? Yet both these gentlemen have the same policy—open aggression, subversion of neighbours and extending domination, in this case throughout the Middle East.
The only other information that we were given had already appeared in the newspapers. It was announced in Cairo at this, of all moments, by Hassan Zaki, the Egyptian Economics Minister, that Britain had granted Egypt unlimited credit, which apparently involved extending the repayment period on the existing debt. At the same time as the Foreign Secretary admits that the Egyptian Government are openly subverting the stability of the Government in Southern Arabia, are openly engaged in aggression in the Yemen and are openly undertaking acts of subversion throughout the Middle East, contrary to British interests, we choose to grant economic facilities to President Nasser which we deny to many other Governments which are much more friendly towards ourselves.
May I return to the question of the pledge—to the fact that we say that the Government have broken a pledge and that the Government say that there never 1111 was a pledge. It is not just the Conservative Members who claim that a pledge has been broken. No one on the Government benches seems to bother to ask the Federal Ministers, who represent the other party to the promise. They simply quote what is said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) or my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton). But it is not our interpretation alone which matters. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite may have their interpretation, but the interpretation which was not once mentioned by the Foreign Secretary is that of the Ministers of the Federal Government. He paid no attention to their interpretation of the pledge.
We can read the newspapers, and we know that almost without exception they say exactly what we say—that a deliberate breach of faith has taken place by the Labour Government. Only today in a newspaper Girgiroh, the Minister of Information in the Federal Government, is quoted as saying that not much was achieved by Mr. Thomson's visit. He said,We made it clear that we felt that the British Government owed us adequate protection after independence and that they are committed to the Defence Treaty which we discussed in 1959.That is not my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham speaking. That is a Federal Minister in Southern Arabia. He said—and this is scandalous in that it reveals a new line of defence by the British Government—The Labour Government say we made an agreement with a Conservative Government".Is this a new defence by the Government? Are they saying that the pledge was made with a Conservative Government and therefore need not be honoured or are they saying that there never was a pledge? The Government should bear in mind that the important people in this connection are those affected by the pledge, the people in Southern Arabia, and they are solid in their agreement with the views expressed from this side of the House.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South) rose—
§ Sir F. Bennett
I know that the hon. Member always has itchy feet, but no doubt he will get a chance to speak.
1112 If it is all clear sailing at present and if our interpretation is wrong and there never was a pledge, or an understanding or an obligation, why is the Minister of State flying over there in a "lollipop" plane, seeing people in a 48 hours' visit and rushing hither and thither in all these negotiations and consultations? If the Government are quite clear that they have never given a pledge and have never been committed, why all this running to and fro, with discussions and suggestions that there might be a change of mind? If there is no commitment, and if the Government have a clear conscience, let them act on that belief.
§ Viscount Lambton
Does not my hon. Friend agree that pledges were given by the Conservative Party in 1959 and 1964 but also by the Minister of Defence and by one of the Under-Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs?
§ Sir F. Bennett
I thought so, but right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite do not seem to give the same interpretation as that which is given by all reasonable people elsewhere. I repeat, it is Federal spokesmen who are saying that the Government are wriggling out of their responsibilities.
In these circumstances we have a right to persist again and again in trying to get the Government to appreciate their responsibilities before it is too late. For that reason I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire say that if after Easter the situation continued to deteriorate as at present, and if the Government do not take advantage of the breathing space which they have been offered to have a serious review of the situation, we shall press for another debate, this time of a much more serious and censorious nature.
We are entitled to ask, if it is said that we are wrong in our criticism, what is the Government's policy? I suspect that in their hearts and minds they know that they have got themselves into an awful muddle. They realise only too well that in seven or 10 months' time, or at most a year, they will not be able to abandon South Arabia to its fate. Various ideas are being put forward by which they can show that while they do not admit that they have changed their minds or their policies, in fact they have changed both. It would be much better if the Foreign 1113 Secretary, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister had the guts to come to the House and say, "We realise that we have made an appalling mistake in our policy in South Arabia. We realise that it will go on causing bloodshed every day until a change is made". The sooner they come to that conclusion the better it will be for the good name of this country and the sooner they will end the appalling, consequences which must continue to flow while the present situation of doubt remains in that part of the world—a situation which pleases President Nasser more than it pleases anyone else in the world.
At Question Time the other day we were told that the main reason why we cannot stay in Aden is the cost. We were told that it was beyond our means to keep even a small token force in that part of the world to act as a trip wire against aggression. We were told that we cannot afford that in our Defence Review and our economic policy. At the same time we were told that we are willing to contribute to a United Nations international force, with troops. I asked—and I did not realise that the question would be so relevant so soon—why it would be cheaper to contribute to a United Nations force than to keep our Army in South Arabia, and whether it was simply because they would be wearing blue tin hats instead of khaki.
We all know that that excuse is absolute nonsense. The Government are realising too late, and too little, that they have made an awful mistake. They are responsible for the bloodshed in that part of the world and will go on being responsible for it until they have the good sense to realise that they have made a mistake and change their policy drastically.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South)
There appears to be a great colonial divide separating the two sides of the House on this question. I take part in the debate, because like other hon. Members. I am very concerned about the situation and the possibility of further escalation with the result that we may find ourselves involved, if we are not careful, in a colonial type of war.
I must make it clear from the outset that I am firmly opposed to all forms of terrorist attacks. I have no desire to 1114 defend, condone or whitewash the terrorist attacks on civil and military personnel in Aden. But we must remember that terrorist attacks against us are not unknown in our colonial history.
Time and again in the past, we have been faced with a colonial situation like this because of blunders and mistakes in our policy, with terrorism the outcome—for instance, Ireland, Cyprus, Palestine and Egypt. We should, therefore, not be surprised by the terrorist attacks in Aden, though we certainly should not condone them. But the main responsibility for what is happening lies with the last Government, and, in particular, with the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys). The essential mistake was to force the Colony of Aden into Federation obviously against the wishes of its inhabitants.
§ Viscount Lambton
Is the hon. Gentleman saying also that my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) is in any way responsible for the Egyptian invasion of the Yemen?
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
The hon. Gentleman is, unfortunately, and, I am sure, unintentionally, misleading the House. This subject has a great deal to do with the Yemen, because the terrorist organisation has called for the liberation of South Yemen, as it calls South Arabia, which it is trying to make part of the Yemen.
§ Mr. Winnick
In the Yemeni situation one must recognise that the forces of counter-revolution are in many ways responsible for the present happenings, but I certainly have no desire to defend what Egypt is doing there. Certainly, if what hon. Members opposite claim is true, I would be the last to condone it. Nevertheless, I have not heard hon. Members opposite speak out about the atrocities in Vietnam. They have been very silent about those happenings.
When Aden was forced into the Federation, it was obvious that there was a good deal of opposition to it. A report in The Times on 19th January, 1963, when Federation took place, said:Black flags mourning the merger would have flown from many house-tops as a silent 1115 demonstration of opposition, but the police went round collecting the flags from houses and shops. …The anti-federation People's Socialist Party protested about the merger in a telegram to Sir Charles Johnston, the Governor, who now becomes the High Commissioner for the protectorate and Aden. The P.S.P., which has the support of the .. Aden Trade Union Congress, also sent similar telegrams to six Conservative and Labour M.P.s in London urging them to lodge a strong protest with the British Government.This is the essential point. The right hon. Member for Streatham is largely responsible for what is happening. His responsibility lies in the fact that he forced Aden to become part of the Federation when there was large-scale nationalist opposition to it. I have no desire to widen the debate, but in many ways this is the sort of sham federation that reminds one of what took place with the Central African Federation, for example. We should have learnt the lesson then. One cannot order the lives of others. One cannot decide on a federation and other such projects unless one has the support of the majority of the people concerned—and in Aden the support of the people was obviously lacking.
What is unfortunate about the whole situation is that we have lined ourselves up—and I put most of the blame for this on the last Government—with all the backward, reactionary elements in the Middle East, with all the sheikhs and sultans who have no desire for progress. I have no desire to act as the voice of Arab nationalism and certainly not as if I were spokesman for Nasser, but I agree that the way in which we have behaved in the Middle East since the war has made Nasser appear to be the champion of all the progressive, radical and nationalist movements.
The right hon. Member for Streatham was recently asked on television what he had regretted most during the time that the Conservatives were in office. His reply was, "That we left Suez". That was his one regret about the foreign policy of the Government of which he was a leading member.
When the constitutional talks took place in June, 1964, the present terrorist leader, Abdullah al Asnag, said in an interview in The Times that the constitutional proposals could not under any 1116 circumstances be accepted by him, adding:I solemnly warn and declare (and it is no idle threat) that our party may no longer be in a position to confine our people to a peaceful struggle.The report went on:Referring to President Nasser … he said it was ridiculous to blame the present troubles in South Arabia on him. They were 'the natural result of the chain of mistakes, maladministration and criminal neglect practised daily by the British administration in that territory'.It is not too late even now to recognise past mistakes and that in the Aden situation we have been dealing with the wrong people. I appeal to the Government seriously to consider negotiating and talking direct with people like al Asnag and other nationalist leaders.
I know that many people—obviously including hon. Members opposite—would say that this was out of the question and that we cannot negotiate with terrorists. The right hon. Member for Streatham believes that we should lock them all up but that would only make the situation worse. A few years ago, in the Cyprus troubles, we were told that it was impossible to negotiate with Archbishop Makarios and those who were doing the killings. But in the end we had to talk with the Archbishop just as we have had to negotiate with other colonial leaders. We had to do it because there was no alternative. How many lives would have been saved in Cyprus if we had been willing to negotiate earlier?
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Would the hon. Gentleman apply the same logic to the Rhodesian situation? Would he negotiate with the leader there.
§ Mr. Winnick
The hon. Gentleman is proving my point. In Rhodesia, we are dealing with a minority against a majority. Would anyone deny that the vast majority of Africans are against the Smith régime?
In Aden, on the other hand, we are refusing to deal with the representatives of the majority. Instead, we are dealing with a minority—the sultans, sheikhs, and others who in no way have any understanding of twentieth century life. These are the very elements who want to stop progress in the Middle East.
Last week, I was glad to see an article the Sun by Michael Leapman and I hope 1117 that hon. Members will see a copy of it later. Writing about al Asnag, Mr. Leapman said:The merger, to form the South Arabian Federation, was pushed through in 1963 by Mr. Duncan Sandys, then the Conservatives Colonial Secretary.Had he recognised the urgency and the realities of the situation in 1963, many of the recent killings might have been avoided.He thought that by giving power to the sheikhs and sultans he could effectively stifle budding nationalist sentiment and ensure that control of the Federation stayed with people likely to be friendly to Britain.I hope that the Government will listen to the following passage from the article:It is up to Britain—and specifically up to Foreign Secretary George Brown—to prove him wrong.It is unpleasant to have to deal with terrorist leaders, but we have done it before—in Cyprus, Kenya and elsewhere.Asnag is the one Adeni leader who has the confidence of the bulk of the people.Mr. Brown—perhaps through the United Nations mission who are to visit the colony—must try to come to terms with him if much further bloodshed is to be avoided.
§ Sir F. Bennett
The hon. Gentleman is quoting words of Mr. al Asnag. Does he realise that one of his own colleagues on the Government Front Bench, in a recent broadcast, referred to the man who, the hon. Gentleman is saying, is the sort of man with whom we should negotiate, in these words?That is the chap who is in the Yemen, sending hired assassins paid with Egyptian money into the Federation.At least his right hon. Friend does not share his attitude to Mr. al Asnag.
§ Mr. Winnick
Surely the House should realise that in all the previous colonial situations which we have faced, the people leading the movements have been described in terrible words and perhaps have committed terrible deeds, which I do not defend, but that in the end we have had to recognise that they are the people who have had the support of the majority in their countries.
I have quoted from the article in the Sun. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will have noticed the excellent editorial in The Guardian for today, which, among other things, says:The sheikhdoms are perhaps a little less oppressive to their people than they were, and a slow movement into the twentieth century may have begun. But civil rights are minimal, 1118 slavery still exists, and education is restricted. The sheiks will not readily yield their personal power. Britain is being asked to defend feudalism—often a brutal feudalism. And it is to feudalism that the more advanced society of Aden State is being subordinated through the Federation.It is not just a minority viewpoint. It seems that people are learning from previous situations, and that is why I make the plea tonight that we should begin to negotiate directly with people like al Asnag and other nationalist leaders.
Much has been said today about the United Nations Mission. It has been said, for example, that terrorism will increase as a way of showing the Mission that the British and Federation officials are not in charge. If that were to happen, I should regret it bitterly. People like al Asnag and the other leaders of F.L.O.S.Y. should recognise that there is a large section of public opinion in Britain and outside which is aware of the realities of the situation in Aden. There is no need for further killing to take place as a way of convincing the United Nations Mission that it has a large part to play in that Colony. I deplore all forms of killing and cannot see the necessity of further killing to convince the United Nations of something of which many of us on this side of the House are well aware at the moment.
I hope that, when the United Nations Mission goes to Aden, it will make a far-reaching report on the whole situation. Once it has made that report, I hope that all of the parties concerned will heed what it says.
We are coming to the end of our colonial era. Today, we have very few Colonies left. Much of our colonial history is not something about which many of us would be proud. Much of it has ended in bloodshed and squalor, and we have been forced out time and time again because we have found that we could not continue to rule those colonies. I hope that we shall end our colonial era in Aden in a graceful way. We must be willing to learn from the lessons of previous colonial situations and accept that we have to get out of Aden as promised. We must be willing to recognise that the future in Aden, as in other parts of the Middle East, does not lie with the old feudal forces of the sultans and sheikhs, but with the modern 1119 forces of Arab nationalism. Nothing in the world can change that.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)
As part of a phased withdrawal from east of Suez, my Liberal colleagues and I would be in favour of withdrawal from Aden and the eventual substitution of our present forces and expensive bases east of Suez by a highly mobile task force, preferably with bases and servicing facilities on Australian territory, which could fulfil our S.E.A.T.O. obligations and any others which we have in that area.
We believe that our future lies much more in Europe than in the Far East—
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us if his task force is to have aircraft carriers or not?
§ Mr. Davidson
That is a crucial point, and, like the former Secretary of State for Defence for the Navy, I should be in favour of retaining our aircraft carriers at least for another 10 or 15 years. However, when I talk of a task force, I mean a force based on the aircraft carrier, but also with commando carriers and so on.
The right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) raised the possibility of there being no room for increased forces at Bahrain. I spent over two years there as navigating officer in a frigate, and probably I know it as well as most people in the House. It would serve perfectly well as a base for a task force of the type which I envisage.
That raises the question whether or not we require a British presence in Aden if, after our evacuation, we should change our minds and come to some sort of defence agreement with the Federal Government. While forces actually in Aden are not necessary, we can have the advantages of a defence agreement with Aden by keeping this type of mobile task force in the area.
I am opposed to the continuation of the propping up of 19th century sheikhdoms which are now out of date, but we should give every form of technical and financial assistance to those sheikhdoms moving towards democracy, some of which are spreading wealth derived from oil and 1120 other resources through their local communities.
Just as we have put a date on our withdrawal from Aden, so, eventually, should we put a date on our withdrawal from the Persian Gulf area. Anyone looking back at the Treaty concerned can see that we have no real need or obligation under that Treaty to remain in the Persian Gulf area, and the function of the highly mobile task force which I suggest would take care of our obligations. However, when the time comes, we must not withdraw from the area in such a way as to leave political chaos behind us, which is precisely what I think will happen in Aden in 1968, or in November of this year if it takes place earlier.
It is rumoured that the right hon. Member for Streatham will be going out there as a sort of mediator—one might say as a sort of—possibly seeking the credit which he gained in Malta for resolving the situation in Aden. I wish him luck if he goes. But there are people who are of the opinion that it is he who was largely responsible for the Aden situation today. I do not exonerate the Government entirely from responsibility, but in support of what I say I wish to read from a letter in today's Times from the former hon. Member for The Wrekin—
§ Mr. Sandys
Is this a joke which the hon. Gentleman is making about me, because I have no knowledge of any visit of mine to Aden?
§ Mr. Davidson
I am delighted to have that assurance, and I apologise if I was wrong. I understood that he was to go.
In his letter, Mr. William Yates says:Your leading article on Aden foresees the extension of the Yemen civil war to both South-West Arabia and Aden. This appears to be inevitable because of the present political rivalry between President Nasser's Nationalists established in Aden and the Yemen Republic on the one hand, and some of the Federal rulers who are in sympathy with the Yemen Royalists and Saudi Arabia on the other. The proposed United Nations mission to Aden and South Arabia might find a compromise, but the restraining influence of the U.S.S.R. on Egypt, and that of the United States on Saudi Arabia, will be essential to the success of the mission.I agree entirely with the point of view expressed so far. Mr. Yates goes on:The crisis in Aden arises from the Conservative policy of Mr. Duncan Sandys, M.P., 1121 who deliberately forced the protesting colony of Aden into a federation, designed by Britain to give the federal tribal rulers autocratic power over Aden. The agreed objective was for Britain to smash the Aden Nationalists as a political force before granting independence to the Federation.Although Mr. William Yates may not be the last word on the matter, he is accepted as some sort of expert. He is an Arabic speaker and was out there for a number of years. It goes on:This policy is as vicious as it is strategically foolish because the paramount British interest in South-West Arabia is the security of Aden and the good will of the Adenis and Yemenis who work in the British oil refinery and in the greatest oil bunkering port in the world.I suggest that Britain could regain the good will of Aden by allowing a General Election and the formation of an Aden State Government. Britain could then sign a Treaty of Independence with Aden State which would permit Aden to become the free port of the Federation but responsible for its own internal security.With Britain's help the independent State of Aden would be able to come to terms as a confederate State with the federal rulers, and together they could later explore the possibilities of a greater Yemen free trade area.I will not say that I agree with everything expressed in that letter, but it is certainly a general point of view with which I agree.
I should like to turn to the suggestion of the formation of the Aden State Government. I believe it is essential that Aden itself should be given the opportunity to opt out of the Federation. This kind of Federation, dominated by certain autocratic elements, is very much out of date.
I myself saw the results of this type of Government set-up, if one can call it a Government, during my two years in the Persian Gulf and Arabian area. We used to call at many of the little Trucial States and shiekdoms, and we were always very welcome there mainly—I sometimes think only—because our doctor was willing to go ashore and to spend anything up to 48 hours working non-stop, dealing with every conceivable kind of disease, with the very poor and uncared-for element of the population. Sometimes they would hear by bush telegraph weeks ahead that we were coming, and there would be a tremendous queue in some of these sheikdoms for our doctor to perform his services.
1122 Events have moved a long way, and many of the sheikdoms are now working towards a more democratic form of government and spreading more of their wealth, but Aden will inevitably disaffiliate from the Federation sooner or later, whether we like it or not, and we should give them the opportunity to do this before we get out in 1968.
Cases have been quoted of similarities with other situations. Much the same happened in Federation of Malaysia when Singapore chose to disaffiliate. I feel certain that this will happen with the South Arabian Federation. Surely it would be better if we gave the opportunity to Aden before we actually got out ourselves?
I might add, as an illustration that on 11th February, when Federation was supposedly to be celebrated in Aden, it was far from celebrated. It was used as a day of protest in the Aden Colony.
As for the matter of the pledge and the possibility of a defence agreement, I say: why not, provided that it is not an open-ended agreement that goes on for ever? I believe that if we enter into a defence agreement with the Aden Protectorate, or with the South Arabian Federation, that it should have a definite time limit and the force should be sufficiently strong to fulfil its function. This does not mean leaving troops on the soil of Aden or the South Arabian Federation. I believe that such a function could be carried out by this highly mobile task force which I mentioned earlier.
We already have a tripartite agreement with France and Israel. We have also been called to Uganda and Kenya as a kind of armed referee. I see no reason why we should not have a defence agreement of this type with the South Arabian Federation. In the long run our policy in the area of the Arabian peninsula must be to encourage the Trucial Coast sheikhs to make a defence agreement with Saudi Arabia, and we should encourage, by means of technical aid and trade contacts, the spread of the wealth and the educational opportunities which the wealthier members of these Arab States now enjoy. We shall encourage the spread of these throughout the Arab community in the Arabian peninsular.
In Aden we must accept the fact that nationalist support is extremely widespread. If I may quote from an editorial 1123 in The Guardian of 15th February, it says:The strikes last month and the demonstrations this weekend have again shown that popular support for the nationalists is far more widespread than can be explained by intimidation or foreign instigation.We should accept this fact. It is not solely a matter of Nasser and his followers. It is to some extent an indigenous movement, and I believe that we would be wise to accept this. Only last month Nasser, in an interview with Robert Stephens of the Observer, called on the United Kingdom to have talks with the nationalists as a step towards peaceful settlement of the present conflict. Is Nasser really quite such an ogre as some people appear to imagine? Personally I do not believe that he is quite as bad as he is painted.
To summarise; before going we should lose no time in starting talks with the Aden nationalists, with a view to permitting Aden to opt out of the South Arabian Federation if she so wishes. We should be prepared to enter into a limited defence agreement with Aden and with the South Arabian Federation, but it should have a time limit. The alternative would be some form of general treaty. We should welcome the despatch of a United Nations Mission to the area as soon as possible, and we must wish them well in the very difficult task that lies ahead. We should encourage the Trucial Coast sheikhs to make a defence treaty arrangement with Saudi Arabia, and, by means of technical aid and trade, we should try to take every opportunity of spreading the wealth and educational opportunity throughout the whole Arab community in the Arabian peninsular.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Colin Jackson (Brighouse and Spenborough)
I do not wish to spend a great time in dealing with the remarks of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite in their discussion of the Aden and South Arabian situation. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) had a splendid mediaeval and feudal ring about it. He summed it up by saying that we should ban F.L.O.S.Y. He believes that by so doing Aden nationalism might go away. He also said that we should ban the United Nations, but 1124 that comes into any speech of the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) said that we should maintain troops in Aden for an X number of years rather than for an X number of months. Whether he was adopting the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham, that the troops should consist of one battalion, I am not quite sure, because if such advice were followed I know, from my own personal experience of British troops in Aden, with the total that are there now, that it would be an almost untenable position. If there were only one battalion, the soldiers would be in an impossible position.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire also said that he looked forward to the moment when security in Aden Colony was handed over to federal forces. He may look forward to the moment, but I can assure him that the people of Aden do not look forward to that moment. I recall that about 18 months ago I was in A1 Ittayed, the capital of the South Arabian Federation, and talking over lunch to some extremely pleasant and courteous gentlemen of the Federal régime. They said, "Why don't you hand it over to us? We would finish it off in half a day ", and the glint in the eyes of those gentlemen left me in no doubt about the character of what they had in mind.
The problem is that the people of Aden have been left without any defence at all. They are not allowed to have their own military force, and, as The Times said, the prospect for the people of Aden, of repression and bloodshed, is a grim one. I would deplore any early handover of security control to the federal forces in South Arabia, or any hand-over of security control in Aden, This is one of the last of the British Colonies which is coming up for independence. We have to admit that it is one of the most difficult to solve, especially when party politics are discussed.
We are trying to foresee the future of two territories—Aden, twentieth century, trade unions, high standard of living, sophisticated town dwellers, and the hinterland of sheikdoms, mediaeval at the best. It was once said of the Yemen that it was not a question that it was 1125 going forward slowly, but that it had gone back consistently ever since the marib dams were destroyed in the sixth century. It is rather like trying to join a modern Glasgow, with the Highlands of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and to think that one can do this in any closely organised and controlled State with the power of the Federal rulers being supreme in sophisticated Aden is ignoring completely the feelings of the people in the Colony of Aden, and ignoring the abilities of the Federal territories.
Reference has been made to the attitude of Egypt over the future of South Arabia. When I was in Cairo, in January, I spoke to President Nasser, and the comments that we exchanged were similar to those given by Robert Stephens in the Observer, to which reference has been made. Without going into any personal details, I think that it is fair to present this attitude of Egypt, without necessarily accepting it, as a contribution to a general debate, that the President would say, "What interests have I in a war which will embrace Aden?". He said, "I helped the nationalists in Algeria with arms and training, but once Algeria became independent I had to go particularly carefully".
It has been said that if Egypt did not help the nationalists in Aden the Syrians would, and this is rather a typical comment which one would hear around the Middle East. President Nasser's principal concern was that there should be a stable Government in Aden, because he said that the main problem of Aden being independent would be 15,000 people out of work and finding jobs for them.
To suggest, as some people do, that physically the forces of President Nasser will move from the Yemen into Aden—and I heard it described in a previous debate of the Army Estimates that they would go up the coast to Mukulla, Muscat and Sharjah and Dubai—is giving them credit for greater mobility than they are ever likely to achieve, but if they were to move from the Yemen to Aden—and I do not subscribe to some of the actions in the Yemen—it might well be disastrous, and if one goes to Cairo and talks to Egyptian people there one learns that they are not enamoured of an extensive war in Arabia or any other part of the 1126 Middle East. I do not, therefore, think that one should necessarily assume that the Egyptians are hell-bent on the production of force.
I turn now to deal with the question of the Aden nationalists, the F.L.O.S.Y. leaders. Many of us have been tragically disappointed in seeing the way in which F.L.O.S.Y. has been dragged into violence. I have known Abdullah el Asnag for many years. He is a man who would be a credit to any nation as a person in authority. There is no doubt that some injection of violence came from outside, so that some nationalists would say, "I dare not stand up against it, otherwise I or my relatives will be affected". Nevertheless, as has been said, as nations proceed towards independence, and where there are not clearly obvious satisfactory solutions showing themselves, as in Cyprus and in Kenya, there will be violence.
I was in touch with the Aden nationalists in Cairo, and I have subsequently heard from Abdullah el Asnag. They are prepared to take part in talks, but there is a difficulty of which Her Majesty's Government are fully appraised. It is their demand for the dissolution of the Federal Government. This is unacceptable in real politics at this stage of the Aden crisis, but I would not give up hope that there will be a meeting between the Aden nationalists and representatives of the British Government. The problem is to arrange a venue which will neither embarrass the nationalists, nor interfere with the British Government's general relations with the Federal Republic of South Arabia.
If we can get contact established—and it is not easy—then I foresee this kind of situation developing. The United Nations Mission will arrive in Aden at the end of this month. Coinciding with this there will be the release of political detainees—not military assassin detainees—the return of the nationalists, and—it will be a package deal; one has to be an optimist to see this happen, but the alternative is drifting chaos—an easing of terrorism. Once people start terrorist activities they cannot be switched off like a tap. We saw this in Cyprus.
The difficulty is that people like Mackawee will be in fear of their lives, and the question is whether he is sufficiently brave to go back. I think 1127 that the three factors need to come together, the release of the detainees, the arrival of the U.N. Mission, and the cessation of terrorism. This is the basic point from which any solution must flow.
Should we then get talks between the Federal Government and the nationalist representatives, I think that we must look much more to a coalition settlement in South Arabia than for a close, centrally organised Government. Reference has been made to the possibility of an independent city state for Aden. I do not think that this is realistic, but unless the people of Aden are allowed to have their own administration, and control over their own affairs, unless they are free from the fear of Federal guards and troops, there will be no peace in that part of the world. It is totally impossible to imagine a South Arabian Government in which there has been no opportunity for the people of Aden State to express their opinions.
I hope that alongside these talks which will be aimed at a loose Federal Government, inevitably the major territory is the protectorate area, and, therefore, must be controlled by the sheikhs, but within this framework, as the talks go on, I hope that the U.N. Mission will not pack up and go home once people come to sit round the table. I hope that it will remain right through to independence.
It is not impossible that we would get an arrangement at the moment of independence for a United Nations force to be there. It is easy to scoff at the United Nations, but it is fairly easy to point to its successes, such as the action of the Pakistan element in West Irian. In Aden, there are interests similar to those of the United Nations Cyprus situation and where it is a question of who are the Turks and who are the Greeks. The United Nations has done a good job there.
If the United Nations were not along the Gaza Strip, there would be enormous bloodshed in the area. I do not believe that King Faisal wants to fight President Nasser, or vice versa, because they do not know who will win, but they would like a good excuse not to fight because somebody is standing in the way.
The United Nations force could save South Arabia and the Arabian peninsula from itself and it would not be a bad 1128 thing if, in relinquishing one of the last British responsibilities in the world, we arrived at a solution which recognised the wishes of the people—federal in the mountains and modern in the town, with a United Nations force which might have a British element guaranteeing the peace of the area for the first few years.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
Apart from a notable speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), this has been—understandably—a thoroughly bad-tempered debate. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) was accused by one of my hon. Friends of being an apologist for Colonel Nasser. I have never thought that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was in any way an apologist for Colonel Nasser, or could ever be found permanently in his camp, because Colonel Nasser is far too moderate a middle-of-the-road figure to command the political allegiance of the hon. Member.
The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) and many other Members referred to our colonial record. Most hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that our record of decolonisation in the last twenty years, carried out by both the main parties, has generally been one of considerable success. But there have been some notable failures. For instance, there was the way in which we got out of the Central African Federation. That endangered the chance of peace in Southern Africa.
There was the way in which we dropped our responsibilities in Palestine, which has probably produced the major threat to peace in the world today. There was the way in which we withdrew from Kashmir and ran away from our responsibilities. That has watered the seeds of conflict between India and Pakistan and has produced untold misery in the Indian sub-Continent.
On the other hand, in Cyprus weeks and months of patient negotiation produced a situation in which, when the inevitable communal troubles between the Greeks and the Turks arose, the fact that British bases and our rights of access thereto were assured and our responsibilities under the treaty were well defined enabled us to move hi quickly and to bring about a situation in which our 1129 N.A.T.O. allies, the Greeks and the Turks, were not forced at each other's throats, and the United Nations could come in and work on the basis that we had established.
§ Mr. Winnick
Surely the mistake that we made in Cyprus, and that we are in danger of making in Aden, was that at the beginning we refused to negotiate with the people with whom we should have negotiated. Under the hon. Gentleman's Government Archbishop Makarios was exiled. Was not that wrong? Is not the danger in Aden that we shall repeat our mistake in Cyprus?
§ Mr. Goodhart
As was shown after independence was given to Cyprus, the main danger was that the two communities would go at each other's throats. There was a long record of communal violence between Greeks and Turks throughout that part of the Mediterranean. Because of our patient negotiations, that threat was averted.
This, unfortunately, is not likely to happen in Aden, where the legacy that we are leaving behind is as depressing as any in our colonial record. The first question concerning the legacy that we are leaving behind is that of the relationship between the town of Aden and the hinterland. The hon. Member for Brig-house and Spenborough (Mr. Colin Jackson) compared the two areas to the Glasgow of today and the Highlands of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the 'forty-fives. That is putting altogether too rosy a view on the position. I would suggest that the correct analogy is between Millwall on the one hand and the Scottish Highlands of the fifteenth century on the other.
Some hon. Members have talked as though the Port of Aden is a thriving centre of intellectual sophistication. Reference has been made to the intellectual sophisticates of Aden, but none of us who has been there would reckon this as one of the major intellectual centres, even of that part of the world. It is more applicable to the port and constituency of Millwall. It is applicable in size, because when we talk about giving independence to the city of Aden we are talking of something which is a great deal smaller than the Greater London Borough of Bromley, and is far more applicable in size to our constituencies.
1130 It is hardly surprising that in the past ten or twenty years, although there has been a mass of constitutional invention by this country, an attempt to work out a satisfactory relationship between Aden and the surrounding countryside has not worked. I cannot see any constitutional relationship that will be acceptable to the Port of Aden and to the hinterland which has a chance of being introduced within the next eight months.
The other factor is that the military establishment there will be far too large for the civil Government. There will be a federal army of 10 battalions. They exist today, although some are still being trained up. We are paying a sizable amount of the budget necessary for that force. By itself, the federal army is taking the equivalent of the entire budget of the city of Aden. What happens in the years ahead? Suppose there is a clash of interests between the armed forces and the civil Government. In the Middle East it is not the case of a defence review followed by a demobilisation of the armed forces; it is the civil Government which is demobilised and the Federal army and armed forces taking over. We are faced with a situation in which the armed forces of the Federation are bound to take over responsibility for the government in a very short time.
The chances of democracy ever being born in the Southern Arabia that we plan to leave are absolutely nil. Despite the burden of the swollen military establishment that we are leaving behind, we are also leaving behind a Southern Arabia which is effectively defenceless. I agree that Nasser's army will not move swiftly down from the Southern Yemen to Aden, but his hand will be forced. Many in Aden who look to Nasser for protection will call for help under pressure and Nasser will have to do something.
I do not believe that the Egyptian army has the will or the skill to fight its way south to Aden through the mountains. He will probably follow the same policy as in the Yemen, using his air force to dominate those parts of the Federal army and the tribes which stand against him. His air force has had great practice in this. Many hon. Members on this side have referred to the many bombing attacks on defenceless villages by the Egyptian air force in the Yemen and in 1131 Saudi Arabia. In the past, they have invaded the air space of South Arabia itself.
What are we leaving to defend South Arabia against this main threat? On the one hand, there is the Egyptian air force with MIG 17s and MIG 21s, and much combat experience. We are leaving a force of which the backbone will be eight jet provost trainers, which can be used in a fighter-ground attack role, with half a dozen helicopters, half a dozen Dakotas and some communication planes. To fly them there will be a number of outsiders from Air Work and one trained Adeni pilot. Therefore, in effect, the Federation will be undefended in the air. Yet it is from there that the main threat from Nasser, if he wants to make a military move, will come.
In the hope of avoiding bloodshed, we are pinning our hope on the United Nations Mission. Many people have rightly cited the success of the United Nations force in Cyprus, but the position in Aden is much more complicated. In Cyprus, there are two distinct ethnic groups and the only real directive which that force had to be given was to stop them shooting each other.
In the Federation, it is extremely difficult to know who is on whose side, even for some of the people directly concerned. How a United Nations force will be able to maintain law and order, and whose law and order it will maintain, is a matter of considerable doubt. Having seen the composition of the mission, I am sure that any instructions it gives to any military force will be both imprecise and anti-Federalist. One must assume that its findings will be almost entirely unhelpful.
There is one Afghan, a Venezuelan and one diplomat from Mali. At no time in recent years has the Afghan delegation in the U.N. budged from the view of the more extreme wing of the African Group. Our United Nations relations with Venezuela have been badly soured by the Gibraltar dispute, in which they consistently deployed the Spanish case and have had their arguments consistently torn to shreds by the British delegation. It is unlikely that, at the moment, they are feeling particularly friendly to us.
Then, there is Mr. Keita from Mali, which, of all African nations at the U.N., 1132 has been the most consistently hostile to this country. Mr. Keita has played a prominent part in seeing that Mali has followed this extreme rôle. The Foreign Office tried to mollify themselves and some of those in South Arabia by pointing out that Mr. Keita cannot speak English or Arabic and therefore will not be able to communicate with the local population very much and therefore cannot influence the delegation's report. This is a vain hope. I fear that Mr. Keita will be handed a draft of the delegation's report when he visits Cairo and that this report, far from helping the situation, will make it even worse.
What should we do? We should complete the process, which I am glad that the Government have begun, of handing over responsibility for law and order in Aden to the Federal forces. I do not see why the lives of British soldiers should be unnecessarily jeopardised on internal security patrols and duties in stopping the bomb throwing. We should also leave a squadron or two of fighters at Khormaksar airfield to protect the air space. Few soldiers would be needed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) mentioned a battalion, which would certainly be ample. We should attempt to dismantle the powerful radar installations at Khormaksar.
I find it difficult to understand this Government's overall motivation. They say that they are getting out of Aden primarily on economic grounds, yet the increased subsidies and the new building and redeployment in the Persian Gulf means that it is unlikely that the overall saving will be much more than £6 million a year. Yet we know that there will be conflict and bloodshed in this area. At the same time, we are spending more than £600 million on heavy weapons like the F111, the Chieftain tank and the hunter-killer submarines which have a function only in the sort of war which the Government say will never take place.
I do not understand the point of spending vast sums on heavy weapons for a war which never will be fought, when, on economic grounds, the Government are leaving South Arabia, on which we are dependent for our oil supplies. Therefore, even in the context of the Government's Defence Review, their policy in Aden is absolutely mad.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
I am one of those who argued the proposition in the debate on defence about a week ago that any sudden withdrawal from any area could cause an increase in tension which, in the long run, could cause more trouble and expense than the withdrawal itself. One must, therefore, look at any withdrawal and consider its overall strategic influence. However, I do not believe that one can apply this argument to Aden and South Arabia.
We must face the fact that there is, as a result of Britain's withdrawal from this territory, likely to be a battle for the vacuum that is created. In this case the test of Her Majesty's Government's statesmanship is timing, although this is bound to be a matter of opinion. I believe that their timing is right.
If one tried to argue that a British presence in South Arabia could be indefinitely sustained, then the troubles which our forces are experiencing in the form of terrorism would be likely to increase. It is, therefore, a question of timing, and I support the Government in having laid down a date which, I understand, is broadly accepted by most people. They are also right not to offer to give military assistance beyond the date of independence. If such an offer were made the arguments for withdrawal would be weakened, for if we were to continue to have a military presence after withdrawal the commitment would still be there and it would be a more difficult one to defend. Again, therefore, the Government are right in accepting the need to lay down clearly to the Adenese leaders and South Arabia the fact that Her Majesty's Government intend militarily to withdraw.
This raises the question of what guarantees we could offer to the new State. We all have in mind the situation created in the Belgian Congo, and nobody wants a recreation of that. It is to this question, therefore, that we must direct our attention. I am prepared to argue—as is my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Luard)—that either the new State makes arrangements locally with States which share the same sort of view in terms of policy, or the international community gives some guarantee.
The present United Nations body which has arrived here and will shortly be going to that part of the world may be able to 1134 come back with some recommendations which will enable the U.N. to be involved. I admit that I am not too hopeful of this, partly because the Commission, on behalf of the U.N., is a body which will report to the Committee of 24—and that is the weakness of it—and partly because the Committee of 24 is one of the least moderate bodies of the U.N. There is a great deal of pressure from Egypt and other countries to ensure that the Committee will not allow the Commission to go forward with any constructive proposals. It seems, therefore, that what is, in effect, a Committee of 24 presence is not the best U.N. presence we could wish for.
If U Thant had been intervening in the situation we would be talking in terms of a U.N. operation very much like that of Cyprus and previous U.N. peacekeeping operations, but in this case one must be concerned about the atmosphere in the Committee of 24. That being so, we must not be too disappointed if the Commission does not come up with constructive proposals.
This does not mean that the U.N. cannot be involved, and I believe that it will become increasingly involved because the situation in this part of the world is deteriorating. There is no doubt that when the Commission arrives in Aden the terrorists will step up their pressure. Once that happens, they are likely to keep pressure up for some time. Increasingly the international community will become involved, and I hope that when it does the matter will then be out of the hands of the Committee of 24 and into the hands of the U.N. proper.
We must realise, however, that it is on Colonel Nassser that events will largely depend. I share the view of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that it is useful to keep in contact with Colonel Nasser, even if it means at present that there can be nothing further than an exchange of letters. We should not fall into the error of believing that if one attacks or keeps up the pressure on Colonel Nasser one will necessarily improve the climate.
We must face the fact that a balance of power will be disturbed in this area. Indeed, as it has been disturbed for the last 10 years or so. We must also accept that it is an extremely dangerous area and that Colonel Nasser is naturally making 1135 a bid for that balance of power and will go on doing so. Nevertheless, I support the decision of my right hon. Friend to make it clear to the Adenese leaders and South Arabia that Britain cannot go on underpinning the balance of power in the Middle East and that either local arrangements must be made or, better still, arrangements made through the U.N. so that the new State, when it is born, can exist and go on running its own independence very much like the other nations which we have seen being born in the last 20 years.
In spite of the bad news that there are grounds for believing that there may be trouble if we persist with our policy, are not deterred by the difficulties and try to encourage the United Nations, I still believe that the future is brighter than some hon. Members have tended to paint it.