§ 4.59 p.m.
§ LORD MERRIVALE rose to draw attention to operational, recreational and accommodation problems affecting British forces in the Arabian Peninsula, and in particular the Royal Air Force at Aden; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is exactly three months since Members of both Houses congregated in front of your Lordships' House, as a delegation, under the, able leadership of The Member for Wycombe, Mr. John Hall, to visit the R.A.F. stations at Lyneham and Aden. Before passing on to Aden, which is the subject of this Motion, I should like to mention the courtesy and kindness with which we were received at Lyneham, and also to say—and I am sure I speak for all Members of the delegation—how pleased I was to meet the A.O.C.-in-C. Transport Command. Sir Denis Barnett, who flew down specially in the evening to welcome the delegation.
§ Our visit to Lyneham was also an instructive one, for we had explained to us Transport Command's capabilities and rôle in the future. We also had explained to us some of their operational problems. I should like to mention that towards the end of the last war I was stationed for a short while at Lyneham, and I was struck by the improvements that have taken place since then. On the question of accommodation, for instance, the airmen's mess is now an attractive building, where varied and appetising food is served.
§ The next day, on a beautiful English September morning, we took off for El Adem and Aden, and I feel confident that not all of us were aware of the very different conditions that we were to find out there, as well as the very great change in climatic conditions. At this point, I should like to mention how comfortable our trip in the Comet was, and also to stress the fine air-conditioning equipment, when one considers that at a certain point during the trip the ambient air temperature was minus 62 degrees Centigrade. On arrival at R.A.F. Station Khormaksar, which is about five miles out of Aden, my first impression (and I think this is also the impression my noble friend Lord Haddington will have 50 received) was one of stifling heat, abundant humidity, and a complete stillness of the air. I must confess that on arrival I had no idea that 24 hours later I should be suffering from what is known out there as"prickly heat," and 48 hours later from a minor form of dehydration. We were staying at the Crescent Hotel, where the rooms have individual air-conditioning units and large fans. When one left one's room early in the morning or late at night to go to the bathroom, which communicated outside through a system of lattice work, the hot air hit one as a wall.
While we were there—that is, from the Tuesday evening to the Friday morning—we were briefed on the Command's structure, shown a number of buildings, depôts, headquarters, centres. R.A.F. units, and so forth. We also had explained to us a number of the problems with which the R.A.F. had to contend. For instance, as rightly stressed by the member for Wycombe in another place, R.A.F. Station, Khormaksar, handles every year more air traffic than R.A.F., Lyneham, which is Transport Command's main transit station in this country. From the operational aspect, I think the importance of Khormaksar is stressed or high-lighted by two statements, one in the 1957 White Paper, and the other in the 1959 White Paper. I should like to quote them briefly. The first said:
In the Arabian Peninsula Britain must at all times be ready to defend Aden Colony and Protectorates and the territories on the Persian Gulf for whose defence she is responsible.
The second White Paper said:
In theatres overseas, there are clear operational advantages in placing the forces of all three Services under a unified command. This system was introduced recently in the Aden Command, where it is working smoothly and has proved its worth".
I think that is the impression which all members of the delegation had when speaking to senior R.A.F. and Army officers out there. That is why I can only regret an article which came out in the Daily Express on September 4, an extract from which reads as follows:
If ever troops and air power must be used in earnest in the Arabian Peninsula, then the bloated Aden staff must stop inter-Service bickering.
The general tone of this article was neither very encouraging nor useful, and
it was rather badly received by members of the Services out there. I must say that it was a poor tribute to the fine morale and loyalty of our officers and men out there.
§ There are one or two matters which have an operational bearing to which I should now like to refer briefly, because I want to come on to the question of recreational facilities and accommodation problems. The most important scourge in Aden is the problem of corrosion, for at Khormaksar the combination of Khormaksar soil, humidity and salt air rapidly deteriorates any equipment. Apart from that, we were told that the"Beverley" aircraft has a spares list of 27,000 parts, and that there was a great shortage of spares. Perhaps when the noble Earl comes to reply he can amplify a statement which was made in another place by the Secretary of State for Air on November 23 on this question of"Beverley" spares, and state whether the situation out there is now satisfactory. We also saw some"Sycamore" helicopters, which are used for rescue purposes. But they were grounded, and had been so for several months. Would the noble Earl, when he comes to reply, please say what action has been taken by the Air Ministry on that subject, and also what action the manufacturers have taken?
§ Here I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to a remark which was made to us out there, because I think it has a bearing on this matter from the point of view of rescue operations. We were told that the medical authorities considered that eight hours was the maximum time a pilot could survive if he had to bale out over that very rugged area. He would be suffering from acute exposure and shortage of water. We were told that an aircraft was always standing by in case of that emergency, and that it would immediately take off, with a view to dropping a rifle and water to the pilot who had the misfortune to bale out.
May I draw your Lordships' attention to an article in the Daily Telegraph on November 21 last, which stated:
Within the Aden Protectorate, forces reinforced by British armoured cars are pacifying the Upper Aula[...]i sheikhdom"—
that is on the East/West Aden Protectorate border—
where supporters of a rival claimant are endeavouring to overthrow the ruler Emir Abdullah.
I mention this fact to show that there is fairly constant activity out there, and that patrols are a common occurrence. In fact, as mentioned in the Air Memorandum this year, 12,000 operational sorties were flown in six months.
§ We also met members of the Royal Air Force who considered that the twin-engine"Pioneer" aircraft was underpowered, and that the single-engine version was more suitable, especially considering the altitude of some of the alternative airfields and also the question of thin air at that altitude. Then we were told that there was a definite need for technical buildings. I would stress one very definite need, and that is for an air-conditioned building for the servicing of the delicate, costly instruments that one finds in modern aircraft. It is highly important that such a building should be provided for the servicing of these very delicate instruments.
§ On the question of recreational facilities I will say only a few words, as I believe that that matter will be touched on by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder. However, I should like to ask the noble Earl who will be replying for Her Majesty's Government whether the studies that have taken place into the possibilities of introducing television into Aden and the present consideration of results include plans for television broadcasts to Her Majesty's Forces out there. I have in mind the British Council White Paper of March, 1959 (Command 685), and also the statement that was made in another place on November 16 last. At the moment there are two radio broadcasts on medium waves from Aden, one in Arabic and one for Her Majesty's Forces. That station is operated on a purely voluntary basis by the Royal Air Force. As stressed by the honorable Member for Wycombe in another place on October 27, there is very little feminine companionship for our forces out there; there is just a handful of W.A.A.Fs; and that is why I think Her Majesty's Government should do everything in their power to provide varied recreational and sporting facilities.53
§ I would also strongly urge Her Majesty's Government to approve the setting up of any facilities that will in any way widen the range and decrease the present shortage—and I must say that the Malcolm Clubs and television services come first to my mind. Here I should like to mention that the British Sailors' Society, conscious of this need, propose to set up shortly a residential club at Aden where members of Her Majesty's Forces will be welcome, provided that they are accompanied by a seaman. I must say that the impression I got out there was that the N.A.A.F.I. canteen facilities were quite inadequate. Even when the long-term plans which they have come about, there will still be no variety whatsoever. I would say, however, that it is only at the airmen's canteen at Steamer Point that I saw any form of activity being carried out on existing buildings. It was only a simple process of a coat of paint being applied, but it made a difference. As I say, that was the only activity I saw during our stay there with regard to the improvement of existing buildings.
§ My Lords, that brings me to the question of accommodation. So far as one could gather during our stay, most of the barrack blocks at Khormaksar date back to pre-1900, although we were shown one modern building—by that I mean recently built—for senior N.C.Os. and also some air-conditioned accommodation for airmen. I am sorry to say that, on the whole, accommodation was deplorable. That is equally true whether it was at Khormaksar or at Steamer Point, the headquarters. At Steamer Point we did see the framework (or should I say the brickwork?) of some barrack blocks that were in the process of erection, but there was not much evidence of any great activity; in fact I would say that building activity was at a very low ebb. At Khormaksar there was very definite overcrowding, yet there is still a great shortage of technical personnel; in other words, while postings are taking place constantly, we were informed, there is still a shortage of technical personnel.
§ Here I should like to mention to your Lordships that a number of airmen permanently sleep out on verandahs—and I should not like your Lordships to conjure up in your minds a delightful verandah overlooking some attractive 54 bay. When there is a dust storm the bedding and belongings of these airmen have to be brought inside, and certainly add very considerably to the congestion of the barrack rooms themselves. I do not wish to weary your Lordships with figures; they were given in another place on October 27 and may be found in columns 194 and 195 of Hansard for that day.
§ I think it is abundantly clear, however, that, even with the present plans of accommodation, bearing in mind the constant flow of airmen, in view of the numerous postings, there will be a shortfall in accommodation for the future. We were told in fact that this programme should be effective in about eighteen months' to two years' time. I wonder whether this in fact will be so, when one considers such delays as the following—and I should like just to quote one example. Drawings for buildings to be erected at Khormaksar were produced by the Air Ministry in July, 1958. In August, 1959, the contractors in Aden required non-standard windows as specified by Air Ministry. Agents in this country immediately contacted Air Ministry and drawings of the windows were received in September. Tenders were called for and received in Aden in October. The order was placed in November, and in December—that is, this month—the manufacturers still cannot start work on these windows because they are still awaiting the exact dimensions from Air Ministry. It is now over sixteen months since the drawings of these buildings were first produced.
§ I should now like to say a few words on the question of official hirings, of which about 280 are occupied by the Royal Air Force. We saw one which was situated in what is known as the Crater. This set of hirings was absolutely adjacent to Arab dwellings, consisting of ramshackle hutments and much sacking. Here, I would stress that my remarks are in no way intended as a criticism of the W.A.A.F. officer who was responsible for the welfare of the families under her care. She was doing her best in what I would term extremely unfavourable conditions.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
Would the noble Lord permit me to interrupt him? Was this officer responsible for the R.A.F. personnel, or for all the personnel—that 55 is, the Army and the civilians who, I believe, are now the responsibility of the R.A.F. in Aden?
§ LORD MERRIVALE
Yes. The R.A.F. are responsible for providing this accommodation. This is not private accommodation; these are hirings which are approved by the R.A.F. I should like your Lordships to imagine the environment, and to visualise Service families living under conditions akin to those under which their flea-ridden neighbours were living. I am sorry to stress this, but here in England one does not have any idea of the conditions out there. The question of private accommodation I will not go into because we did not see any. I believe that is an aspect which will be touched on by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder. Before leaving the problem of accommodation, I should like to mention the question of air-conditioning. We were informed that no further air-conditioning units can be provided at Khormaksar base as the Aden electricity undertaking could not stand the extra load. It is purely a question of extra capital being required for the additional generating capacity. I sincerely hope that the Colonial Office will not turn a deaf ear to this request for additional capital.
Finally, there are one or two points that I should like to mention with regard to the visit we made to Riyan and Mukeiras. It was at Riyan that we first came in contact with the few members of the Hadhramant Bedouin Legion. At Mukeiras we were charmingly entertained (I say"charmingly" because the charm was provided by the wives of the officers there) to tea by officers of the Aden Protectorate Levies. We did not visit any Army units as such. We did, however, meet one or two political officers, who, I must say, have a very responsible and exacting task; and I, for one, would certainly praise them unreservedly. I was interested, too, to learn that they have no fixed tour of duty, and also that they do not have the benefit of Service rations. In fact, Her Majesty's representative at Mukalla has to obtain his fresh food from local sources. At Riyan the tour of duty is one year, compared with two years at Aden. It is a small unit on an isolated station, and as such has had to improvise its recrea- 56 tional facilities. They had there a small open-air cinema, a library and a club, and there were such facilities as shooting, boating and bathing; but it all seemed due to local R.A.F. initiative or inventiveness. One does not expect to see at a headquarters like Khormaksar or Steamer Point, the same need for improvisation.
I would also urge Her Majesty's Government to give serious consideration at least to enabling single men to return to the United Kingdom on leave after one year's service out there, though I do not suggest (for I appreciate the difficulties) that Aden should be a one-year station. I suggest that the question of reduced fares should also be given consideration, for it is certainly not the same thing for single airmen, and married airmen and their families, to go on leave at their own expense to Kenya. If Her Majesty's Government cannot view this question from a human angle, it may be that it could be considered from the aspect of operational efficiency. The words of a senior staff officer from Transport Command, which still ring in my ears, are that, due to climatic conditions out there, the output per man fell by 50 per cent. after one year's service at Aden. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I have not the up-to-date knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, as to Aden. Indeed, it is twenty-seven years since, on my way back from Central Borneo, I called in at Aden and decided that I would rather be in Borneo. I appreciate that it is possible now to live satisfactorily in any part of the world—if people can live on top of the Antarctic Plateau, they can live equally well in Aden. We have had some extremely damning evidence about conditions under which the men of our three Services, but particularly the Army and the Air Force, and their families, are living in Aden. I am not concerned, in the few remarks I have to make, to find out from the Government why this has come about. The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, made plain in his speech the sort of conditions which would inevitably produce difficulties—operational conditions, the difficulty in an area where the population has grown of providing, 57 overnight, satisfactory conditions. What we hope to learn from the Government to-day is what they are going to do about it.
I should like to concentrate my remarks not on the operational side, because I have not been out there recently and I have no exact knowledge of the particular problems, but on the living conditions. I take, first of all, very briefly, the question of recreational facilities and the really desperate need to get a move on with the alleviation of this problem. If, in fact, the shortage of electricity in Aden is such that there are liable to be power cuts, then the case for some drastic expansion in capital investment in that field, the expansion of electricity supplies, generation and so on, seems to me to be the No. 1 priority, and I would ask Her Majesty's Government to look at this problem in the whole. I should like to know how they are to tackle it and whether they are looking at it as a whole and establishing what it is that needs to be done first.
Then we hear about the recreational facilities. We find that they are very little and that what facilities exist are overcrowded: that there are no air-conditioned recreational halls at all. Indeed, I would ask the Government whether N.A.A.F.I. include in their long-term plans for Aden or anywhere else the provision of air-conditioned buildings, for this seems to me to be an elementary requirement in these days. I hope we shall be told that some pretty drastic steps are being taken to provide, through Malcolm Clubs or N.A.A.F.I., the kind of facilities that it is reasonable for serving men to have in a country of that kind; and the operational arguments in favour, advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, are very great.
I feel, however, that there is something very much more serious than that. On the whole, most men are able to adjust to conditions and to live—and on the whole to live tolerably happy—providing that their one vulnerable spot is not affected. Their vulnerable spot is their families. The stories that we have heard, not only from the recent Parliamentary delegation but from other visitors, about conditions for families in Aden are such that I can only say again that I believe it to be a national scandal that they can be allowed to continue. We have heard 58 that, due to shortage of accommodation, families are having to live sometimes not only in inadequate hirings but in private accommodation. We have heard of one family, a man with his wife and three children, living in a room without any ventilation at all and paying £22 per week for it. That is not good enough; and there are other examples. This particular hotel, whose name I will mention—the Metropole Hotel—is officially off the list of private accommodation, but there is nowhere else for these families to go, and therefore as recently as the end of November there were 37 families living under bad conditions, of which I have mentioned some particularly bad examples.
I do not know who is to blame, and I do not really care very much at the moment, but I want to know what Her Majesty's Government are going to do about it. I quite agree that they cannot do something overnight, but another hot season is coming along and something must be done before then; and something should be done in an imaginative way. In the shipping slump which exists at the moment why cannot the Government hire a liner and put it out there and let at least some of the families live in better conditions? Secondly, would the Government take steps to ensure that families of men serving out there are prevented from going out while these conditions exist? The Government may say that that is a very illiberal thing for me to suggest and that in a sense it is up to the men themselves to decide; but there is a very subtle kind of blackmail—the 61-day rule which requires families to vacate quarters in this country; and under those conditions, what is the man to do? How can he decide? I believe it is obvious that he will say,"If we are to live in difficulty and squalor I would rather have my family here in the hope that something pretty drastic will be done to sort this out."
I would only say, in conclusion, that we have the evidence. I do not think the Government will dispute it. I am not seeking to-day to blame them for it although I think it would be possible to do so; but we shall do so if they do not tell us what they are going to do about it. I would hope that some senior officer, civil servant, or committee of inquiry might go out there to look into 59 conditions. Obviously, the people in command out there are doing their best, but after a time, if one is living in impossible conditions about which one can do nothing, one inevitably becomes defeatist; and if these conditions go on there will be defeatism out there, if it is not there already. Why should not the Inspector-General (if the R.A.F. still have one) go out to Aden and come back here with clear recommendations? I hope we shall hear definitely to-day that Her Majesty's Government mean business.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ LORD TEDDER
My Lords, just over a week ago two ladies who have had many years' experience of working overseas with troops during the war and afterwards returned from a visit to Bahrein and Aden. They had gone out following reports that in neither place were there anything like adequate amenities for the troops, and their object was to explore the possibilities of helping to meet the situation with the Malcolm Clubs (of which your Lordships have heard) if those reports proved to be true. I will return later to the question of Malcolm Clubs because, in fact, in their report, which I have, the question of accommodation stood out above all others.
The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, has referred to the impressions which he and his delegation got when they went out there about two months ago. I can assure him of one thing: there has since been some further improvement. One other barrack room has been painted—and that was specially pointed out as having been done since the delegation were there; so that they had some effect. To be serious, the main problem remains, and this later investigation shows that the conditions were far, far worse even than the delegation appreciated, because the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, has said that they did not see what was called"private accommodation" which, if it is not the lowest of the low—well, at any rate, the delegation did not see that.
If I may, I will quote from the report on the case to which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has referred, that of a corporal, his wife and two children:This family was living in one room without a window or any form of ventilation, the room being so small that it only took three single beds with just a small chair and a tiny table to hold the oil stove for cooking".60 They had to do their own cooking because the food was uneatable.The state of the beds and chair was below slum standard.For this the airman was charged £22 per week, in addition to which 21s. per week had to be spent on special milk as the milk provided was not safe to drink. The allowances for Aden are good, but they are not good enough for that scale.
I will quote a second example, that of a corporal and his wife and children of 12 years, 9 years and 6 weeks, all living in one room for which the charge was £22 10s. per week, with 31s. for milk. The report says:The whole hotel was dirty, dark and utterly degradingand the smell in the whole place was bad largely due to the state of the lavatories. I can confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said: that that hotel was taken off the list at the end of the September and one of the families removed from it. But on November 24 there were still 37 families living in that hotel, and many other families are accommodated in similar sordid conditions. I should like to make clear that in speaking of troops I am speaking of both the Army and the Royal Air Force, because we are all involved in this.
I realise only too well the way in which changing strategic and political considerations have led to this sudden influx of troops to a figure far beyond the maximum that any existing accommodation in Aden could stand, and I do understand that large funds have been set aside and plans prepared for the provision of additional accommodation. But, my Lords, we can be quite sure, even apart from the grisly example quoted by Lord Merrivale, that, with the best will in the world, two years is probably grossly optimistic. It may well be three; and even then that may not be adequate, because the numbers will have gone up.
This is an intensely difficult problem because it has been for many years foremost in the policy of all three Services to try to minimise the handicaps of separation, and so on, from which the wives and families of Servicemen suffer. Therefore, endeavour has been made, and is being made, to arrange for families to join their husbands overseas as 61 soon as and wherever possible. In the execution of this policy the utterly laudable democratic procedure is adopted of allowing a man himself to make the decision as to whether his wife and family should be brought out to join him. It is his choice.
The first stage of the families' odyssey lands them in what is called private accommodation. To get this accommodation, the man on arrival out there has to go to the local agent—there is only one—and, having paid £15 key money, he has to take the best he can get. I have quoted two examples which I think are fairly typical of what he gets. That is what a newly arrived family from home meet, probably never having been outside this country before. Of course, it is true that in nine months or twelve months or so a lucky family may move up a stage into"hirings". That may be better; and if they are extremely lucky they may within two or three months from the end of the two years' tour move into official quarters.
I said just now that the man himself has freedom of choice. That conveys with it responsibility. I ask your Lordships to imagine the position of a man knowing that his family at home will have to vacate Service quarters in the United Kingdom within 61 days of his posting to Aden—that is the 61-days rule—worried as to their ability to find other accommodation in the United Kingdom; anxious, therefore, on that account, if for no other, to get them out to join him as soon as possible: and as a result feeling himself compelled to accept initially conditions of living which are really comparable only with those of displaced persons in Germany after the end of the war. Is that a fair responsibility to put on the shoulders of any soldier or airman? I submit that it is not.
There is another point. In these days I suppose it is unfashionable to talk about British prestige, but even in these days I submit that it is utterly wrong to house British Servicemen and their wives and families in what even in the East would be classed as only slums. In view of my own Service experience I can probably appreciate as well as anybody the appallingly difficult problem which has faced the Departments at home and the commanders out there; and the last thing I would suggest is a witch-hunt for 62 a scapegoat, I understand that long-range plans, and so on, are in hand. I suppose it would be unfair for me, without knowing all the facts to point out that it is at least two years since this problem first presented itself, and one cannot escape the fact, as I said just now, that it is going to be two to three years before it can ever be remedied by proper accommodation.
I suggest that the present conditions cannot be tolerated for that time, and that some immediate action is essential in the interests of the men and their families and for the very good name of the Services themselves. I suggest for the consideration of Her Majesty's Government that no further married families be called out unless and until decent quarters or"hirings" are available; and that the practice of requiring a man to take up so-called private accommodation be stopped. That, I realise, will entail securing additional"hirings" in the United Kingdom for the time being.
As regards the families at present living in the shocking conditions which we know of now, there seem to be two alternatives: either to return them to the United Kingdom or to improvise hygienic accommodation locally. As regards returning families to the United Kingdom, my own feeling was that that drastic step could be taken fairly only in cases where the individuals concerned expressed the wish that that should be done, and of course only if there were accommodation for them at home. So that might mean that not many would go out of Aden. As regards improvisation, I would take up the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that steps be taken to explore the possibility of chartering suitable shipping, with at least a proportion of air conditioning, to lie in the harbour. Even in the hot weather, such accommodation could not be more oppressive than, or as oppressive as, that sun-baked oven Aden Crater. It would be hygienic and it would get British families out of the local Arab slums. I can say that preliminary inquiries have suggested to me that there should not be any great difficulty in securing the chartering of suitable shipping.
The information on which I have based my remarks is necessarily secondhand. I intend to remedy that at the 63 earliest possible moment. I could not go before, but I now have the tickets on my desk and I shall leave for Aden in nine days' time. On the other hand, I have no reason whatever to doubt the accuracy of the reports that I have received, and it is probable, I think, that my visit will serve only to corroborate previous reports. That does not mean that I am starting off with a closed mind. If I find that things are better than I think they are now, I shall say so. In any case, on my return I will gladly pass on to noble Lords who may be interested, either individually or collectively, my own first-hand impressions of the situation. I hope that no one will suggest that action be deferred until further and further reports are available. I suggest that there is surely enough information for Her Majesty's Government to realise that immediate action is what is essential, and if action has to be taken it has to be taken soon, because there is not so much time before the next hot season again turns Aden into a super-heated Turkish bath.
As I said, my Lords, the two ladies whose report I have quoted went out with the object of exploring the possibilities of helping to relieve the shortage of amenities for the troops by establishing Malcolm Clubs there. Their report shows that the need for amenities such as those provided by those clubs was amply proven, and that at both stations the facilities afforded by the N.A.A.F.I. were utterly inadequate and sordid, to say the least. We know about the extensive plans for fresh accommodation, but it is going to be years before they can be implemented. I will not burden your Lordships with details regarding the specific proposals which have now been submitted to the Secretary of State for Air. I think all I need say is that at Aden arrangements have been made, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for Air and of the Air Officer Commanding, to erect air-conditioned hutments which should be able to provide full club facilities within three months from the word"Go"—and that is a conservative estimate.
At Bahrein there is available accommodation, recommended by both the Army and the Royal Air Force Commanders, which could be taken over and operated as a married families' club for 64 all three Services. I understand that this proposition was offered to the N.A.A.F.I. but was rejected on the grounds that the restrictions by the Ruler on the sale of beer would, in their opinion, make it impossible to make an adequate profit. That is a risk which the Malcolm Clubs would be quite prepared to accept. Investigation and consultation on the spot led to the conclusion that the Malcolm Clubs could undertake that service, and are willing to undertake it, within a matter of weeks. It is perhaps interesting to note that the cost of that particular undertaking can, and will, subject to the approval of the trustees of the Malcolm Clubs Trust Fund, be met by a subscription to that fund by airmen and ex-airmen.
I trust that consideration and approval for these proposals will not be unduly drawn out. But, my Lords, I was rather shocked to note that, in a signal to the Air Ministry at Aden on this subject, it was stated:Co-ordination with existing comprehensive plans for N.A.A.F.I. development will need delicate handling here.What does"delicate handling" mean? I can but interpret it as meaning that the establishment of a Malcolm Club requires the approval of the N.A.A.F.I. My Lords, time is the essence of this matter. We cannot, I suggest, have on our conscience men, women, and children living under those conditions in Arab slums in the tropics; and I suggest that the best Christmas present—not New Year present, but Christmas present—that the Government could give the troops is clear evidence now of their determination and intention to put things right. For example, the acceptance of the Malcolm Clubs' offer would be a pretty clear one. That would at least help to tide over the inevitable interim period, and, I hope, would do something to restore hope and faith amongst the troops.
§ 5.54 p.m.
THE EARL OF HADDINGTON
My Lords, other noble Lords have dealt so exhaustively with the conditions at Aden that I feel there is not a great deal for me to add. At the same time, as the only other Member of your Lordships' House, along with the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, on this delegation, I should like to say one or two words in support 65 of his Motion. First of all, I want to add my tribute to those who planned this visit and who helped to organise it and carry out the programme—because the organisation was quite superb. The hospitality at Riyan, El Adem and at Aden was unbounded: and one of the strongest impressions I came away with was of the magnificent type of officer, non-commissioned officer, and aircraftsman which is being enlisted in the R.A.F. to-day. It impressed me more than I can say—and all doing such a splendid job of work guarding our vital interests in this outpost of the Arabian Peninsula. I thought they were magnificent.
That is one side, the rosy side, of the picture; but there is a rather darker side, which has been stressed by all noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon—in particular, by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, with all his experience of the Service. I think we have all been delighted to hear that he is shortly going to visit Aden, and I am sure that his visit will have a very pronounced effect. I hope he will see better conditions before long—Malcolm Clubs, and all the rest of it—because the conditions at the moment are anything but easy and comfortable. I do not think that we ought to exaggerate it too much, because I believe that people who go into the Services must be prepared to go to any sort of station, anywhere, and at any time. I believe that a certain amount of hardship and discomfort in youth builds up character. It helps to strengthen moral and physical fibre. Further, of course, if you go from a bad station to a better station, how very much better the next station seems than it really is! But, of course, when it comes to a point where adverse conditions begin to affect efficiency, that is the time that something should be done; and I am quite sure, as the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, has said, that all the members of our delegation were quite convinced that at Steamer Point and at Khormaksar that situation had been reached.
There has been talk of lack of recreational facilities. Well, my Lords, the bed-bug is not a very congenial companion; but one of the only recreations I think we saw in Aden was counting the bed-bugs on the verandah 66 of a barracks at Steamer Point. I remember the total quite well—it was 35. We swept them all away for inspection, but by nightfall they were all back again. That is the sort of thing that must get even the most hardened airman down, my Lords. But it struck me that what is wanted, above all, is more air-conditioning: air-conditioning of barrack blocks, of N.A.A.F.I's, and of the workshops and offices. Because, in this oppressive heat, if a man cannot sleep at night, he is not going to do his work properly in the daytime. I believe that the authorities are doing a lot to relieve the situation. I believe, too (the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, will be able to put me right on this) that the difficulties are largely due to what they call the air barrier, and to the fact that the troops cannot be reinforced rapidly now from the Mediterranean. That is one reason why the population in Aden, both the Service population and the native population, has grown so quickly. Will the building keep up with the demands? That is the great question.
The pressing problem of married quarters has been stressed by noble Lords, and I do not think I need do more than corroborate what has been said on that. I feel that single men can stand a good deal, but it is quite a different matter when it comes to the married men and their families. The system out there is very good. A man must wait for six months until he decides to bring his family out—six months in which to judge whether they would be able to stand the climate and the conditions. I think also that if a man's family does not come out, or cannot come out for any of these reasons, the man should have more frequent home leave—if possible, every six months. It must be home leave to his family, and not leave to a rest camp in Kenya. It seemed to us an extraordinary short distance in a Comet. It was a stimulating experience to have breakfast in Aden, with a one-and-a-half hour stop for re-fuelling at El Adem, and to be back at London airport for tea. I do not want to detain your Lordships, and do not think I have much more to say, except to tell your Lordships that in spite of all these drawbacks, the morale of the men out there was magnificent. That was one of my main impressions, the wonderful morale of all ranks in spite 67 of these depressing conditions. I left Aden with a feeling of intense pride in the Royal Air Force, who are carrying out their duties in the best traditions of the Service. I think that they deserve better treatment, and I would urge the Government to give this problem their closest attention.
§ 6.2 p.m.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I have not visited Aden for many years, and what I want to say this afternoon is on the principles underlying what we have heard this afternoon. What has been said about the human problem of housing sounded to me deplorable. I should like to stress the importance of this and of the other side of the question—efficiency. I speak about the Army, but I think that what I say applies equally to all Servicemen out there. Our soldiers are carrying out operational duties, and during the time they are not on these duties, they must have reasonable accommodation to rest and to train for their next operation. If their conditions are so terrible, they are not ready for the next operation and there is a loss of efficiency.
Those two points have already been brought out to-day, and I think they are very obvious. I cannot believe that Her Majesty's Government do not already know of this situation. I am sure they do, and that steps are being taken. But what we all want to impress on the Government is that this is a matter of real urgency. It is not a question of making up splendid new plans but of getting on with them. The use of liners for the accommodation of Servicemen and their families has been mentioned. I was interested in this idea because some years ago, when the Suez canal station was being used, I suggested that this should be done. I think that it is a good idea. I do not see any great difficulties in it.
These bad conditions of service have a bearing on recruiting. We have had many debates in your Lordships' House on the difficulties of getting the right sort of men, both as officers and as other ranks, to join the Services, and your Lordships have said many times that the provision of accommodation for families, the education of the children and other family requirements are 68 most important. Having listened to noble Lords who have spoken to-day, I can only say that it is painfully obvious that in the area we are discussing these conditions are bad. Surely once more it will have the effect of discouraging recruits. Young men thinking of joining the Forces may say,"We have heard of what goes on at Aden. We don't want to go to places like that." Surely this is something that the Government must realise. We have all tried to think of ways of recruiting. Recruitment has not been too bad, but it can still be improved—certainly the recruiting of officers. Anything which is going to deter men from joining or staying in the Services must be put right. I think that it is lack of attention to such normal human questions as housing which harms efficiency and deters men from joining or staying in the Services.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, for introducing this debate this evening. I hope that he will not feel that your Lordships did not take note of the wide range of his speech simply because we focus our attention on the conditions under which Service personnel are serving in the Arabian area. I have seen a report prepared by two well-known ladies on their recent visit to Aden. Perhaps I should have been surprised, but I am not, because, as your Lordships know, I have spent some time in the Far East, and I have seen with my own eyes the conditions under which some of our Service families live in Singapore and in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, families are quartered in accommodation which, though it may not itself be in the slum category, is in an area not of the kind in which your Lordships' children would be brought up, some of which is little better than a brothel area.
The Government and Service chiefs may ask why soldiers and airmen take their families overseas. I think that is quite understandable that a Serviceman wishes to have his family with him, just as a civilian does. And I believe that that is a good thing. I can remember, in the early part of the war, that in my unit, which had been serving only two years, we had at least 25 per cent. of our soldiers with family troubles. In 69 my view, we should encourage the soldier and airman to take his family to his overseas station. We know that in Aden and in other stations there is a shortage of suitable accommodation, but I believe that if we used twentieth century methods in building we could go a long way in providing accommodation of the kind required for the families of our soldiers and airmen.
There was a debate in the other place on October 27 when, unfortunately, the Secretary of State for Air had only six minutes in which to reply. I hope that the noble Earl who is to reply to this debate, and upon whom there is no time limit, will give us a frank statement of how the Government view the situation and of their immediate and long-term programme. The Secretary of State for Air stated that there was a building programme of private enterprise flats in Aden, but he did not give any idea of the numbers. I should like to ask the noble Earl whether he can give us that information, and also tell us who is building these flats and what rents will be charged to the Service personnel. This matter is important, because my experience of Service personnel having flats and houses is that they all pay extortionate rents, and I am suspicious of the word"private enterprise flats". I hope that we shall hear some good news from the noble Earl.
I hope the Government will send out, as my noble friend Lord Shackleton suggested, the Inspector General, who of course can investigate the situation. I hope, however, that he will take with him, if the Government agree to send him, the Chief Engineers of the Army and the Air Force, because it is not only an investigation we want but also immediate plans for short-term building to get over this difficulty. This debate has largely concentrated on the Air Force, but we know that the Army also is involved. I believe that the bulk of the Army in Aden to-day is serving under canvas. This is all right for a short time and in an emergency, but it is quite intolerable that we should regard Aden as a long-term defence base and yet not support it with the amenities for our troops. Canvas will never give the right type of accommodation. Therefore I earnestly hope that, if the Government do accept the suggestion made, and send out the Inspector General of the Royal 70 Air Force, he will take with him the Chief Engineers of the Army and the Air Force so that no time will be lost in rectifying the position.
§ 6.15 p.m.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Merrivale for moving this Motion. I think it is always more interesting and probably more constructive when noble Lords move Motions on things they have actually seen and heard for themselves rather than on things based on reports in newspapers and second-hand conversations. As your Lordships are aware, since the time of the Suez operation the Aden Colony has become the key point for the protection of British interests and the fulfilment of British obligations in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere south of the"air barrier". Whereas it was previously possible to reinforce Aden rapidly from the Mediterranean, it is now necessary to station large numbers of Royal Air Force and Army personnel in Aden itself. As a result, the Service population in Aden has been increased in the past two years—we entirely agree with what noble Lords have said about the sudden overcrowding—and a shortage of all kinds of accommodation has inevitably developed. The same considerations apply broadly to other stations in the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf.
A further difficulty in the case of Aden is the extreme shortage of suitable building land. I gather that where in an ordinary part of the world, so to speak, you could say,"Right; we will build a new block of married quarters there", and then move the people from where they were and pull down the old buildings, this is more or less impossible in Aden because of the acute shortage of ground to take the foundations.
The three Services in the Arabian Peninsula, and the Persian Gulf, as your Lordships know, have recently been brought together under a unified command, and responsibility for dealing with operational problems affecting the area has been vested in the Commander-in-Chief of that Command.
With your Lordships' permission, I will take the three main problems in the order in which they are set out in the Motion. The principal operational problem affecting units in the area is 71 movement. I understand that the distances between the Unified Headquarters in Aden and the localities in the Persian Gulf where our Forces are deployed are so vast that the only ready means of transportation is by air. The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, raised the question of Beverleys. It is true that the principal aircraft at the disposal of the Command for general movement of stores and personnel is the Beverley. At the time of the visit to Aden last September some difficulties were experienced in the supply of spare parts for this aircraft, with consequent unserviceability. The initial provisioning of Beverley spares was based on the assumption that all Beverleys would be based in this country. It was later decided, for strategic reasons, that some squadrons should be deployed overseas. This change of base increased the spares need, and since there was not enough time for increased provisioning to take immediate effect there was a temporary shortage. This was aggravated by the climatic conditions in the Arabian Peninsula which have caused a high incidence of corrosion. Increased orders were placed as soon as the need for them became apparent, and difficulties are now much relieved.
The noble Lord asked me about the Sycamore helicopters. I have looked into that question, and I understand, as he stated, that during his visit there they were temporarily withdrawn owing to difficulties which were found to affect the rotor blades in tropical conditions, and Whirlwinds were attached to Aden to cover the commitment. Following successful trials in the Far East by the Royal Air Force new rotor blades have been manufactured for the Sycamore and these are being delivered to Aden. The noble Lord also asked about the twin-engine Pioneers. I understand that they have proved particularly useful for the job of landing at and taking off, with a useful load on board, from the small airstrips of the Aden Protectorate, but it is true that in the very hot conditions in which the aircraft have to operate the total load which can be carried has had to be slightly reduced. This is a precaution to ensure that the Pioneer's performance is still safe, even if one engine fails during the take off, and it is considered a small penalty to pay. We are looking into ways and means of overcoming even this. 72 Large-scale improvements to Khormaksar airfield are nearing completion. These include extension of the runway necessitated by the increased use of the airfield in recent years.
The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, and other noble Lords dealt extensively with recreational and welfare problems. I think that that was really the main theme of the debate. There is, I admit on behalf of my right honourable friend, still a shortage of recreational facilities in Aden, although these have been recently extended. A Forces broadcasting station will be installed next year to replace the existing facilities. The existing United Services Club is being extended and improved. A swimming pool and Lido is being built, open air cinemas are I understand available, and more are being provided. Other facilities, such as boating and riding, are also available.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
Not being familiar with the spot I could not tell the noble Lord the exact name off-hand, but I will let him know. The noble Lord dealt with television, but I understand that at present there are no plans for a television station. As has been stated already, the present tour of duty is for two years, except for operational units of the Army, who do only one year of their three-year overseas tour in Aden. All Servicemen may take up to fourteen days of their leave each year outside Aden in the Nyali leave camp, near Mombassa in Kenya, which has accommodation for 270. This is run by N.A.A.F.I., and I am informed that the facilities include an excellent beach, a sports ground and cinema. This is most popular, and we are considering the possibility of extending and improving that camp.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, are those facilities open for Service families? May they be taken at Service expense?
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
I will inquire for the noble Lord and let him know. There is an additional supplementary scheme for Servicemen who may travel to Nairobi at public expense and make their own arrangements for 73 accommodation. This serves to reduce the pressure on Nyali. Married unaccompanied Servicemen may take a minimum of 28 days' leave in the United Kingdom with free travel during their tour. Alternatively, Servicemen may accumulate up to one-quarter of their annual leave and take it on return to the United Kingdom.
The shortages of accommodation and poor housing conditions for families have led to the suggestion that the tour of duty should be for one year unaccompanied by families, or that frequent home leave should be given to those whose families cannot join them. The Air Ministry has, I am glad to tell noble Lords, sent out a team of officers to look into conditions on the spot. This team, I was informed to-day, has now returned and reported, and the report is now being studied by the Minister and those responsible.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, could the noble Earl say who these officers are and what are their ranks? It is very important, if these officers have gone, that they should be men of responsibility and influence.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
I will certainly let the noble Lord know the names of the officers, but I should imagine that the Ministry would not have sent anybody who was a mere boy with about two years' service.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl—who is very patient—at the risk of denuding the Front Bench again, but may I ask whether the contents of this report will be made available to us?
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
I will certainly look into that question, but I do not think I can give the noble Lord the answer. They have only this moment come back. If the noble Lord puts down a Question at a later date I may be able to give him further information on that subject. The noble Lord asked me the name of the swimming pool and it is Seedaseer lines.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
At Aden. I understand that it would be extremely difficult to grant free leave travel to the United Kingdom to all who required it, 74 one of the obvious difficulties being shortage of aircraft. Clearly there are objections to a twelve-month tour. It would reduce efficiency by increasing the turnover of staff, and involve additional postings elsewhere. There would also be problems of housing in the United Kingdom the families of those Servicemen in Aden. I noted the remarks of two or three noble Lords in regard to liners, and I will certainly draw the attention of my right honourable friend to that suggestion.
The shortage of facilities in Aden and elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula is well understood by all Service Departments, but the best solution is clearly to press on with the construction of all types of permanent accommodation, including married quarters, in order to meet the most important needs of the Serviceman first, and to provide recreational facilities in step with the provision of permanent accommodation.
The noble Lord, Lord Tedder, raised the question of a Malcolm Club. I understand that certain suggestions have recently been made by the Malcolm Clubs to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Air. They are now being most carefully examined, and I can assure your Lordships that this examination will be pressed ahead with all speed. I think the representatives met only last Friday.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, do I understand that the noble Earl is advised that the conditions of accommodation are as bad as have been described to your Lordships to-day? The noble Earl made no reference to that type of accommodation. If so, why has it been allowed to get into this condition when you have been planning to step up your establishments for over two years?
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
If the noble Viscount and others would not keep interrupting me so much I would come to that part of my speech.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
I am coming to that, and if I could have a chance to make my speech perhaps I should be able to tell the House something.
The most important of the accommodation problems concern the provision 75 of barracks and married quarters for Service units and personnel. There are also difficulties in making available the necessary accommodation for the Command Headquarters in Aden. The R.A.F. are primarily concentrated at Aden, and their most severe deficiency is in airmen's single quarters at Steamer Point. To meet this, air-conditioned barrack blocks are at present being built to provide some 600 quarters. These are due for completion by the autumn of next year. An airmen's mess and club is also being provided. A new school at Khormaksar is now under construction and due for completion in 1961. Nine classrooms are, however, expected to be ready for use in about mid-1960. To relieve the immediate classroom shortage, three prefabricated huts have been erected in time for the present school term.
A building programme for married-quarter flats at Steamer Point includes 66 to be started in 1960, and a proposal is now being examined to erect some 200 prefabricated married quarters at an estimated cost of £1 million. The R.A.F. already have over 400 married quarters in Aden—some of which are used by the other Services—and there should there-fore be nearly 700 by the time the present programme is completed in early 1961. We plan to erect five air-conditioned barrack blocks, each of 150 capacity, at Khormaksar. An airmen's mess and club will be built. The first two barrack blocks should be completed by September, 1960, and the rest in 1961.
The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, and, I think, another noble Lord, raised the question of power supply. The plans for development in Aden will create an increased demand for electricity. We are taking this into account, however, and there should be sufficient capacity to meet all the needs we can foresee, including demands for air-conditioning plants. This is an inter-Service programme and the Air Ministry are coordinating schemes with the Admiralty and the War Office. That is being discussed at the moment. Air-conditioning is being incorporated in all new buildings for the R.A.F. in Aden. All the buildings w ill be air-conditioned gradually, but this is bound to take some time. Only a limited amount of money and effort can be diverted to air-conditioning old build- 76 ings, and the work is not always easy, since many of the older structures were built with high ceilings and large verandahs, in an attempt to make them airy.
Accommodation for the Army in Aden is also very short, as noble Lords said; and I agree. Troops have been moved in at relatively short notice in the last two years, and there has been virtually no accommodation for them. Interim improvements have been made and plans agreed for reasonable long-term accommodation. For example, a contract has recently been placed for 240 married quarters for the Army and for air-conditioned barracks for an infantry battalion. The first block should be ready by next autumn and the rest by the summer of 1961. Sixteen new barrack huts, giving air-conditioned sleeping accommodation for 640 men, are nearly complete. Another contract, worth about £850,000, for messes and offices will be let in the spring. Camps with air-conditioned sleeping quarters are being built for troops who would otherwise be under canvas (700 troops are at present living in tented accommodation in Aden) or in overcrowded huts. Any further building for Army personnel will depend on the size of the permanent garrison in Aden.
Servicemen may also make private arrangements to rent accommodation and obtain repayment, within certain limits. This accommodation is medically inspected by the Service authorities, and every effort is made to ensure that it is suitable. If the accommodation is not suitable, the Commanding Officer withholds his consent. I will certainly bring to the notice of my right honourable friend the various instances that noble Lords have raised, and if they have any further cases I shall be only too pleased to put them before him. I can say here and now that they will be investigated to see how these things went wrong. The Army, like the R.A.F., also has stations elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula. It is planned to build three air-conditioned barrack blocks for the Army, at a cost of £90,000, at Bahrein. Additional accommodation will be constructed at Sharjah when the strength of the long-term garrison there has been determined. There are few accommodation problems for naval personnel in the Arabian Peninsula. They are shore-based staff 77 only at Bahrein and Aden. There are long-term plans for adding to the existing permanent accommodation in Bahrein and for providing additional accommodation in Aden.
We must frankly admit, my Lords, that there have been serious operational and accommodation problems to be faced in the Arabian Peninsula. These were due, first, to the need to reinforce our garrisons in many parts of the area, both at the time of Suez and subsequently; and, secondly, to the need to retain there forces of a size adequate to meet our future commitments in the area. The operational problems have been faced with the determination and ingenuity which one expects from the British Serviceman, and I should like to add my praises, as the noble Earl, Lord Haddington did. I am glad to say the most serious of the problems are well on the way to being solved.
As regards accommodation, we have had to face the inevitable consequences of having to pour, one might say, a quart into a pint jug. We have been pressing on, as rapidly as our resources and local capacity have permitted, with building permanent accommodation for our men and for their families, and I can assure noble Lords that our present plans, when fully implemented, will pro-vide a satisfactory standard of living for all who happen to be stationed in this Command. We hope within the next twelve months to have taken the greater part of our troops out of tents. We should not, I think, overlook the fact that this is one of the few areas of the world where at the present time our forces are still engaged in operations and where peace-time standards and conditions will, I fear, have to give way to operational requirements.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, it is usual for the mover of the Motion, after the Minister has spoken, to ask leave to withdraw it, but I beg leave to ask the House for its attention for a few moments on two grounds. First of all, the noble Earl said that he did not like to be interrupted, so he brought this upon himself. Secondly, I think he spoke under that very difficulty which he enunciated at the beginning, when he said that it is very much easier when you do not s leak secondhand. I fully sympathise 78 with the noble Earl, who we all know is speaking on behalf of a Department for which he has not ministerial responsibility. Nevertheless, if I may say so, I have rarely heard a more inadequate reply given to your Lordships on a serious matter. Nothing was said about whether the policy of continuing to call forward wives and families to Aden is or is not to continue; I do not know at the end of the debate what is Her Majesty's Government policy, whether it is to continue as at present or not. All too little was said about the Government's acceptance, or non-acceptance, of responsibility for what is called private accommodation. The Minister said nothing at all about whether or not the 36 families still living in disgusting conditions in the Hotel Metropole, condemned last September, are to remain there indefinitely—we do not know.
As regards the private accommodation, I have here in my hand a little, very admirable booklet which is given to men arriving at Aden. It is called, Families' Information Booklet. I will read this extract:Accommodation, Private. If you have moved into private accommodation it has already been passed as fit for occupation by the medical officer and cleared for security purposes by the R.A.F. Police. The private dwellings and their surroundings in Aden are much below the standard you are used to at home, but your house or flat has been vetted with this in mind.Like other noble Lords, I also have read the impartial report of those two ladies who have just come back from Aden. If the report is wrong in stating that there are thirty-six families still living in disgusting conditions in a hotel condemned last September, we should be told so in this House: we ought not to have a reply which has ignored most of the major questions that have been put to the Minister during the debate. We have heard that a team of officers has been sent out. We are entitled, I think, to ask whether the inquiry was made by the Inspector-General—who, after all, is the impartial senior officer on the flank of the Royal Air Force, and is not concerned with the ladder of administration in the Royal Air Force—or those who (though I do not say it is their fault in any way) are intimately concerned with the creation of the existing state of affairs.
79 I do not belittle the difficulties. Nevertheless, if they are officers who have been in the chain of administration itself, it is much harder for them to have to report on the failures of the chain, due to the circumstances which have overwhelmed them, than for an Inspector-General on the flank. I should have liked to hear the Minister say on behalf of his right honourable friend that either the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary of State would be going out, if the Inspector-General could not go. I am appalled at the idea that we in this House, who are fortunate in that we are going home to warmth and comfort and to decent food, should pass over tonight, without severe criticism, this Motion and accept a situation which complacently allows the continuance of the state of affairs of which we have heard. Although I do not blame the Department—and let me stress that again; they have contended well, I believe, within the limits of Treasury sanction and within the limits of administration within the Department—they do not appear to have shown any sense of urgency with regard to this problem. I suggest that we should not leave the matter there, but should come back to it in a most forceful and definite manner.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, before withdrawing my Motion I should like to make one or two brief comments—
§ LORD MERRIVALE
—because I spoke at some length when I opened this debate. I would agree with my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye when he says that this problem really has not been tackled by Her Majesty's Government as if Aden was—I use the words 80 of the noble Earl—a key point of British interests in the Middle East. We have heard that a team of officers has returned from there, and I am hoping that their report will be available to Members of Parliament. We have also heard that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, will shortly be leaving for Aden. When he returns, and if by then the report has been studied by noble Lords, it may be appropriate again to raise this matter. It has also been suggested that the R.A.F. Inspector-General should go out there, accompanied by the Chief Engineers of the R.A.F. and the Army. That seems to be a very sound suggestion indeed. I should like to add that members of the Royal Air Force there would greatly like to see a member of Her Majesty's Treasury. As I say, I think the reply from Her Majesty's Government has been inadequate, but I am sure noble Lords interested in this subject will study with interest and in detail the remarks made by the noble Earl.
My Lords, it seems to me that the noble Lord has made such a good case that the Government might feel inclined to accept this Motion. If I might tender some advice to the noble Lord, it would be that he should ask the Government to do that.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
Well, my Lords, I do not know how I stand on this question. I feel that the Government do not wish to accept my Motion. I gather that impression from looking at the Government Front Bench. With those few remarks, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: No.
§ On Question, resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes before seven o'clock.