HC Deb 11 May 1967 vol 746 cc1702-12
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Brown)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on South Arabia.

I have given the most careful thought to the situation in South Arabia and to what we need to do to bring about the transition to independence with the best practicable result, the least harm to our own interests and the greatest prospect of a stable and assured future for South Arabia.

In these discussions, I have had the advantage of the advice of my noble Friend the Minister without Portfolio, Lord Shackleton, who returned for consultation after two weeks in Aden, and also of my noble Friend Lord Caradon, the Minister of State at the United Nations, and of many of the officials who are actually stationed there and, therefore, have first-hand experience of the situation in Aden and South Arabia.

The final stages of the transition to independence will increasingly give rise to important questions of an international and diplomatic character, as well as those of colonial administration. I have concluded that it would greatly help the Government in dealing with these problems to have available someone with wide experience both in international affairs and in the affairs of the Arab world.

I am arranging forthwith for Sir Humphrey Trevelyan to take over the High Commissionership in South Arabia. Sir Humphrey has been our Ambassador in a number of important posts at very significant times and this has included key Embassies in Arab countries. In addition to being, as the House well knows, a man with an independent mind, I am confident that he possesses the ability, the experience and the energy to accomplish the very difficult task that he has agreed to undertake. He will take up his post in about 10 days' time.

In making this appointment it will be necessary for me to recall the present High Commissioner, Sir Richard Turn-bull. Since there have been leaks—which I must tell the House I deeply regret— and, in consequence, a lot of uninformed speculation on this change, I wish to make it clear that there is no truth in any suggestions that there have been differences between Sir Richard and myself, either personally or over policy.

What is possibly more important is that the change casts no adverse reflection on Sir Richard, to whom I should like to pay a special tribute. We should all be grateful to him for carrying out a task of the utmost difficulty with courage, resolution and high ability after he had already completed a distinguished career in the public service.

Sir Richard Turnbull and Sir Humphrey Trevelyan are both public servants of notable distinction. The change is being made because I think that Sir Humphrey's experience and background will bring new and valuable assets to bear on the problems at this stage. As a result of all the consultations I have had, I have become convinced that the situation which will develop over the remaining months will require a different kind of background and experience from that which Sir Richard has had, and it is for that reason alone that I am making this change.

The new High Commissioner must clearly now be given time to settle in. The House will understand, therefore, when I say that I believe that this is not the occasion to go into detail about the policy which I propose should be followed from here on. I realise, however, that the House will wish me to deploy, and will wish itself to be able to debate, a full statement of Government policy. Discussions therefore will, I hope, take place through the usual channels immediately to arrange for such a debate to take place as soon as the House wishes after the Recess.

I would like, however, today to assure the House that the policy I propose to pursue will be inspired by the aims already announced by the Government: first, the orderly withdrawal of our forces and the establishment of an independent South Arabia at the earliest possible date; secondly, to work in close consultation with all concerned and especially with the United Nations for the establishment of a broad-based Government by the time of independence; thirdly, on the basis of those principles to leave behind us a stable and secure Government in South Arabia.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I say at once that we will take advantage of the right hon. Gentleman's offer of a debate. The Government have the right, of course, to change their executive officers and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that there is no reflection on Sir Richard Turnbull's conduct of this most onerous task. Both Sir Richard and Sir Humphrey Trevelyan are most distinguished servants of the Crown. The right hon. Gentleman said that Sir Humphrey has an independent mind; if the Government's policy is not to be changed, what flexibility has Sir Humphrey been given?

In that context, I have three short questions. Can Sir Humphrey, for instance, introduce federal police, who could be entrusted with internal security well before independence day? Can he recommend retention of an air element in the base and the necessary troops to protect it? I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman used the words "orderly withdrawal at the earliest possible date" for independence; is that a change? I think that the right hon. Gentleman has not used those words before. Can Sir Humphrey therefore recommend that the date of independence and withdrawal should be changed?

Mr. Brown

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said at the beginning. Sir Humphrey has an independent mind and there is not the slightest doubt that he will tell us what he thinks, as well as telling other people what he thinks. And what we would like them to think—

As for changing over to the local police, I have made it clear very many times that I think that it would be a mistake for us to hand over the responsibility for internal security to those who could commit us while our forces were there. On the other hand, the phasing in of the local forces under our command is obviously a very important way of handling the whole arrangement.

The right hon. Gentleman's second question was about the air element. If he thinks about it, he will appreciate that the maintenance of an air element on the ground requires a very large number of troops for its protection. If we are talking about coming out, about conceding independence, then I suggest to right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who know as much about this as I do—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Yes, indeed. This is a bilateral problem, a bipartisan problem. I go a wee bit further than that and say that it is more a partisan problem which I am trying to clear up.

If we keep air forces on the ground, we need large numbers of troops to protect them; and if we keep large numbers of troops there, then we do not get out. That is a factor which I have to take into account. If Sir Humphrey were to recommend any change in our present thinking, we would, of course, be willing to listen to whatever he had to say.

Mr, Philip Noel-Baker

While, with many of my hon. Friends, I would wish to be associated with the tribute to Sir Richard Turnbull, who has done such courageous work during very difficult months and years, I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on having secured so able and so admirably qualified a High Commissioner as Sir Humphrey Trevelyan. On behalf of, I hope, all hon. Members, may I assure Sir Humphrey of our good wishes and our support?

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the House will be grateful to Sir Richard and will wish every success to Sir Humphrey? What is the position of the United Nations Mission? Is it likely to return? Secondly, what political initiatives will Sir Humphrey take? For example, will he make attempts to meet the leaders of the two nationalist parties? Can he make recommendations about changing the federal structure in Aden, with the possibility of the secession of Aden Colony? Finally, will he be able to examine the possibilities of external treaties, defence and guarantees?

Mr. Brown

He will obviously carry out his duty, his work, his responsibilities, in the way which he thinks right. I am not hampering him and nor am I directing him as to whom he should see and how he handles the problem. On the other hand, if we are to get out of Aden and out of South Arabia in good order at an early date, we need a broader-based Government. I am absolutely certain that Sir Humphrey Trevelyan knows about this very well and will address himself very much to that problem.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I asked the Foreign Secretary what was the significance of the phrase "earliest possible date", which I do not think he has used before.

Mr. Brown

I have used it before. When I make a full statement on policy when we have a full debate, I will say exactly what I mean by that. Our predecessors used the words, "in 1968". I will try to be a little more precise when the time comes.

Mr. Hooley

Will my right hon. Friend accept that we very much welcome his assurance that the United Nations will continue to be associated with the solution of this problem? Will he assure the House that the possibility of some United Nations presence in the difficult transitional period has not been ruled out?

Mr. Brown

Far from its being ruled out, I would be very willing for the United Nations to play a rôle. I am bound to say that that very long Sunday gave me some worries about how it should be done, but I am very much in favour of the United Nations having an important rôle here. This is one of the reasons why, before I finally made up my mind what to do, I called Lord Caradon back from New York, as well as Lord Shackleton back from Aden, to discuss it with them.

Mr. Donnelly

Is my right hon. Friend aware that while we all support the granting of freedom, freedom in itself is not a transitory gain? What assurance can he give that Her Majesty's Government will ensure that effective protection is given to the area until Egyptian troops are withdrawn from the Yemen?

Mr. Brown

May I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), with the honourable name which he has, that freedom has never been supported by troops from other countries standing there trying to guarantee it for one. This is the way that freedom is lost. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about N.A.T.O?"] Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to know the difference. N.A.T.O. is an association of equal sovereign Powers I am talking, as was my hon. Friend, about a colonial-dominated State, with a so-called imperialist Power.

The situation is totally different, and until hon. Gentlemen opposite understand this, they will not understand why the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) got us into the mess. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I believe, and I tell my hon. Friend, that I will arrange the withdrawal in an orderly way. I will seek to leave behind a stable Government and a viable situation. But I believe that I will put all those Arab nationalists who are fighting for that at grave risk if I make them look like British stooges.

Mr. Sandys

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that every day longer that he stays in his job he is making a bigger mess of this? He spoke in his statement of the orderly withdrawal of our forces, and the establishment of an independent South Arabia. Does that mean that we are not to withdraw until we have restored order? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that independence without protection against external aggression is a cynical farce?

Mr. Brown

I wish that the right hon. Gentleman had spoken just for a moment or two longer. I would like to read a letter which he wrote to me yesterday. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] His words today were that every day I spent in this office the greater the mess I am making of it. His letter of yesterday said:

"Dear George,

Splendid speech.

Well done.

Good luck.

Yours, Duncan."

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) wants to address me on a point of order.

Mr. Sandys

On a point of order. Is it not contrary to all the traditions of the House to raise in the House private and personal confidential exchanges between colleagues in the House of Commons?

Mr. Brown

Further to that point of order. Must it not also be understood that private messages of congratulations, which are to be denounced the following day by public messages of denunciation, ought also to be known?

Mr. Tinn rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Tinn) might allow Mr. Speaker to deal with the point of order. He is seized of the issue on which he has to give a Ruling.

It is unusual for private correspondence and private comment between Members outside the House to be used in the House.

Mr. Sandys

Further to that point of order. May I, to avoid any misunderstanding, make it clear that my letter to the right hon. Gentleman was not concerned with his gross mishandling of the South Arabian problems, but was to do with the Common Market?

Mr. Brown rose

Hon. Members

Resign. Disgraceful.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that it is clear to the House what the congratulations were about.

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We are elevating something to a greater degree than is necessary.

Mr. Grimond

May I ask the Foreign Secretary, as he has deplored the leakage about the replacement of Sir Richard Turnbull by Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, how this leakage arose, and whether an inquiry is being made into it? Will he confirm again that his statement indicates no change of policy on the part of the Government?

Mr. Brown

On the latter part of that question, I re-emphasise what I said in my statement. It does not indicate any change of policy. I repeat that I have had no differences with Sir Richard Turnbull—whom I much admire—about policy or any personal matters. I take the view that Sir Humphrey's background and experience would be more useful at this moment.

I deplore the leakage and I wish that I could find out where or how it happened. Like leakages from the other side, they are very difficult to trace. Inevitably, a lot of people had to be consulted about this. It was not a decision that I intended 10 take lightly. It was a decision involving a lot of people and it is, therefore, very hard to track down how it happened. That does not mean that I do not regret it, and if I could track down how it happened I would act.

Mr. Maxwell

Would my right hon. Friend tell the House, in view of the bloody mess left behind in South Arabia by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), and of the fact that the United Nations is not anxious to pick up this hot potato, who will?

Further, could my right hon. Friend tell the House, since Sir Humphrey is known to be a friend of Nasser, the only man who has kept his honour at Suez, whether he will allow him to talk to Nasser about what contribution Nasser is willing to make to help bring about peace in South Arabia?

Mr. Brown

I do not want to be drawn too much into the latter part of that question. Frankly, I feel that Sir Humphrey Trevelyan is right for the job at this moment, with all the qualities that he brings to it. I would not like to exaggerate his knowledge and association with President Nasser. All the qualities that he brings to this job may help us towards the kind of solution that we would like to have.

Mr. Tapsell

In view of the fact that during a period of only slightly more than two years the Government have parted company with two distinguished and experienced High Commissioners, and that almost all our friends in that part of the world are highly critical of the Government's policy in Southern Arabia, should not the Government give further reflection to the wisdom of their policy?

Mr. Brown

Maybe the Opposition will reflect upon the number of High Commissioners that they changed. May I make it quite plain that I have not, in that sense, parted with Sir Richard Turnbull. I have made a decision, in what I believe to be the interests of this country, that Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, at this point of time, given his background and experience, would be a better appointment for us, a better officer to carry out what we now need to do than would Sir Richard Turnbull. I stand by that, and if hon. Gentlemen opposite will consider what one will need in future, I would be very surprised if they do not come to the same conclusion.

Mr. Whitaker

While echoing what my right hon. Friend says in paying tribute to the courage of Sir Richard, may I say how warmly the appointment of Sir Humphrey is welcomed on these benches? Will the Foreign Secretary say that he will be treated with more confidence and co-operation by Her Majesty's Government and by Her Majesty's Foreign Secretary than he was on his last appointment in the Middle East, when he was Ambassador in Cairo, in October, 1956?

Mr. Brown

On a serious matter like this, I do not want to get involved in what went wrong there. My hon. Friend may be quite sure that my relations with Sir Humphrey will be quite different from the relations with my predecessor, which he had in mind.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) about the inconsistency between freedom and military support is completely vitiated by what has happened in Malaysia? Does he say that the independence of judgment which he attributes to Sir Humphrey will entitle him to recommend, and have taken seriously a recommendation, that a blood-bath would result if British troops go next year and that, therefore, they should stay?

Mr. Brown

I rather hope that the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question does not arise. But my understanding with Sir Humphrey is very clearly understood by him and by me, that, before he recommends, I hope that he will report exactly how he feels and what he finds.

On the question of independence and troops and all that, of course there are always exceptions to prove the rule. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Of course. Nevertheless, if one looks at the Middle East, and at Asia generally, I have a feeling that we can do more harm by insisting on keeping British troops on the ground—I mean more harm to the local Ministers who want to take responsibility—than we could do good by removing this very obvious presence.

Mr. Heath

The right hon. Gentleman has offered a debate. Is he aware that we shall want the debate at the earliest possible moment after the Recess and that we will then expect a full and clear statement of policy from the Government? We were denied that in the Adjournment debate, and the Foreign Secretary has constantly refused it at Question Time. I must impress on him now that the House will expect a full statement of policy when we debate this matter after the Recess.

Mr. Brown

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I understand that seriously and sincerely. There are reasons why I thought that that was the wrong moment. There are reasons why I think that this is the wrong moment—good reasons. I recognise that when we return from the Recess, and Sir Humphrey is then already in Aden, a full statement of the policy and the purposes which we intend to pursue from here on should be made, and that the House should be able to debate them and give its verdict on them. I tell the right hon. Gentleman that I shall not run away from deploying them.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are to debate this matter soon.