HL Deb 19 December 1966 vol 278 cc1850-4

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I should like to repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in another place. His words were:

"The House will recall that towards the end of October I appointed Mr. Roderic Bowen, Q.C., a distinguished former Member and Deputy Speaker of this House, to go to Aden as my personal representative to examine the procedures for the arrest, interrogation and detention of persons suspected of terrorist activities there. Mr. Bowen was in Aden from October 27 to November 8 and submitted his report to me on November 14. I have arranged for the report to be published in full as a White Paper and for copies to be placed to-day in the Library of the House.

"Honourable Members will see that I have included in the White Paper an Introduction describing the sombre background of the security situation in Aden. It was against this background that I decided I should reassure myself directly that the necessary special procedures in Aden were being carried out in the best way and that those responsible for them would be protected as well as is possible from uninformed or malicious criticism. I have also added a note on the action already taken to carry out Mr. Bowen's recommendations.

"As I have already told the House, Mr. Bowen has submitted a most valuable report and I take this occasion to thank him publicly for having carried out his task so expeditiously and so thoroughly. I am happy to say that, after receiving the High Commissioner's comments on Mr. Bowen's recommendations, I have been able to accept them almost in their entirety and the High Commissioner is now putting them into effect.

"Among Mr. Bowen's recommendations are a number for dealing with complaints by detainees in the future and these recommendations have generally been accepted. Mr. Bowen did not investigate specific allegations of cruelty to prisoners but he has criticised the handling by the Aden Administration of some such allegations in the past. I must emphasise here that his criticism relates to a short period in the past and centres on the activities of three interrogators at that time employed in the Interrogation Centre and the control exercised over their activities. Investigations into these allegations will now be pursued to a conclusion. While these investigations take place I think it right that nothing should be said publicly to prejudice the position of any persons who may be implicated, before they have had an opportunity of giving their own account of what took place to the appropriate authorities.

"We must remember that in Aden to-day, as Mr. Bowen says in his report, 'the life and limb of the population as a whole are in constant danger from the indiscriminate throwing of hand-grenades and other activities.' "I was therefore glad to see that Mr. Bowen gained the general impression that the military personnel and the police, upon whom falls the main strain of protecting the population and dealing with the terrorists, were discharging their onerous duties with great restraint. I well understand the difficulties to which they are subjected in doing this, and I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my admiration for the way in which all those concerned in the preservation of order in Aden, both civil and military, are carrying out their duties."


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for repeating that Statement of the Foreign Secretary in another place. I should like straight away to associate all those on these Benches with the remarks in which he paid a tribute to the way in which the civil and military authorities in Aden are carrying out the task of trying to preserve law and order in extremely difficult circumstances. This is, I imagine, quite a long report and we have not yet had an opportunity of studying it. The noble Lord said that Mr. Bowen's recommendations were generally acceptable: is it indicated in the White Paper which of the recommendations are not acceptable to the High Commissioner and to the Government? Finally, I think it is very important that the further investigation should take place as speedily as possible. May we take it that every effort will be made to get out a report on the past allegations? Because until that report is out I fear that there will be a certain amount of uninformed and malicious criticism of the authorities in Aden.


My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Lord has said about the men who are carrying out a very difficult task in Aden. It is made clear in the report which of the recommendations the Foreign Secretary felt he could not accept, and why. As for the latter part of the noble Lord's remarks, I would say that the investigation has already been started, and naturally it will be to the advantage of everyone that a conclusion should be reached as quickly as possible. I ought to add, however, that it cannot be expected that the report of this further investigation will be out in the very near future, simply because of the difficulty of contacting some of the individuals concerned.

There is one other point I would add with regard to the work being done out there by the British Servicemen and some of the civilians. I say it all the more feelingly because I have seen what is being done. I refer to the way in which some British Servicemen and civilians out in the desert have voluntarily been helping the Arabs in such work as boring for water. That work is something, I regret to say, which has not received the publicity it deserves.


My Lords, I should like to express the confidence of my noble friends and myself in the civil and military authorities in Aden, who, as we all know, have been carrying out and are carrying out a most disagreeable task. With the noble Lord and his right honourable friend I would say how glad I am that Mr. Bowen found that the military personnel and the police have discharged their onerous duties with great restraint. I should not have expected them to do anything else. But there is one point which has been made by Mr. Bowen, and this possibly was the cause of the whole trouble, or much of the trouble. He found, I gather, that there was failure to deal expeditiously and adequately with the allegations of cruelty at the interrogation centre. I would ask the noble Lord Whether Her Majesty's Government will see that if there is any future allegation of cruelty it will be dealt with at once, so that no doubt will be left in anyone's mind that there is no foundation for the allegation if that is the case.


My Lords, there are two matters here which are really separate. One is the point made by Mr. Bowen that where attention had been called to certain complaints in the past, action had not been taken upon them at the time and the Foreign Secretary has invited the High Commissioner to inquire into this. There is also another aspect, investigations into alleged cruelty, which are being carried out by other authorities. That will of necessity take a long time.


My Lords, may I ask whether copies of this report and the further report will be sent to the United Nations mission which is to visit Aden and Southern Arabia?


I am not sure whether they will be sent to them, but certainly the reports will be freely available.


My Lords, I did not quite understand the noble Lord's reply to my question. Is it the fact that these matters to which Mr. Bowen referred will be dealt with in the future without delay? He said that there was considerable delay in dealing with them.


Yes. I am sorry if I did not quite understand what the noble Lord said. There were some criticisms of delay in dealing with allegations in the past, and the Foreign Secretary has invited the High Commis- sioner to explain or inquire into the reason for that delay. As to the future, the changes that have been made will ensure that if there were criticisms or any complaint by individuals about alleged ill-treatment, they would come to light at once and there would be an immediate inquiry.