HL Deb 11 April 1967 vol 281 cc1164-70

2.39 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement concerning the departure of the United Nations Mission from Aden.]


My Lords, the noble Lord will undoubtedly have seen a long Statement made by my right honourable friend in another place yesterday; but perhaps I might say briefly that Her Majesty's Government deeply regret that the United Mission should have broken off their work after only five days in Aden. This is a grave setback to the widespread hopes that the United Nations might be able to make a constructive contribution to the achievement of peaceful independence for South Arabia.

The position was this. The Mission have made two main complaints, one general and one particular. The first was that there was a failure on the part of the British authorities in South Arabia to co-operate with them. The second related to the suppression of a radio and television appeal for co-operation which they wished to make on Thursday evening.

After making the fullest inquiries of those who were on the spot it appeared to my right honourable friend that our authorities in Aden did everything possible to facilitate the Mission's work despite the appalling dislocation caused by the worst floods in living memory, followed by a general strike and severe outbreaks of violence and terrorism. I might perhaps add that in the new circumstances my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has agreed that my noble friend the Minister without Portfolio should go to Aden, and I am sure that your Lordships will join with me in wishing my noble friend Lord Shackleton every success in the difficult and important task on which he is now engaged.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for that reply. Although he did not speak for the Government when this matter was raised previously in this House does he recollect that on two occasions here quite recently Her Majesty's Government were warned that the composition of this particular Mission rendered it thoroughly prejudiced; and now, of course, that has become plain rather more quickly than any of us expected that it would? That being the case, what now is the object of having any further dealings with this Mission, particularly having regard to the very well-deserved tributes which the Foreign Secretary paid to the High Commissioner, his staff and the troops in Aden in another place yesterday which the noble Lord has now repeated? Also, bearing in mind the fact that since they have been in Geneva this United Nations Mission have been attempting to cast aspersions upon the behaviour of the Commissioner and our troops, would be say what really is the object of trying to have any further dealings with them?


My Lords, of course we knew that there would be difficulties when the United Nations Mission went to Aden. It would be foolish to deny that, although we did not think that the Mission would feel themselves obliged to depart before they had discussed with the High Commissioner all the ways and means of overcoming their difficulties. So far as future relationships with this Commission are concerned, the noble Lord will know that my right honourable friend has invited the Mission to come to London and explain to him personally exactly what their point of view is. We have had the report from the High Commission in Aden and, of course, as my right honourable friend has said, we are satisfied that the High Commission and all the British authorities in Aden, and the Federal Government in Aden, did all that they could—they leaned over backwards—to make things easy for this Mission. We should now like to hear the point of view of the Mission at first hand. To that end my right honourable friend invited them here, and I think it would be wrong to prejudge any further relations or any further conversations with this Mission until they have replied to that invitation.


My Lords, would not the Minister agree that any criticism from noble Lords opposite is really not very relevant because they simply have not a leg to stand on, seeing that they had more than a hand in setting up the Federation; that they had one foot in the flat-footed Suez operation, and that they have forfeited all trust towards Britain from any Middle Eastern country by those two acts?


My Lords, I have a good deal of sympathy with what the noble Lady says. I think, however, that at this particular time what we must be concerned about is the future of Aden and the Federation of South Arabia. I have taken note, as I say, with sympathy, of all that the noble Lady has said, but I believe that our main task now is to look to the future and see whether we can rescue something from what is at the moment an extremely unfortunate situation.


My Lords, is it not a fact that since the Labour Government came into power two and a half years ago they have recognised the Federal Government of South Arabia and have been prepared to have dealings with it? Is it not therefore rather unfortunate that slurs should be cast upon it in this House or anywhere else? Is it not also the fact that the United Nations Mission gave assurances, both to Lord Caradon in New York and to the British Government in London, that they would talk to and deal with the Federal Government in South Arabia?


My Lords, of course it is true that Her Majesty's Government recognise the Federal Government as being the legal Government in South Arabia. So far as the relations between the Mission and the Federal Government are concerned, it is true that the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, made it clear to the Mission, and to the United Nations in general, that this was the case and that the Federal Government was the legally established Government. It is also true that when the Mission passed through London the position was made clear to them. We hoped that as a result they would make contact with the Federal Government. Unfortunately, although the Federal Government offered to meet them, and although the Federal Government offered to meet them socially, and individual members of the Federal Government made attempts to get in touch with the Mission, the Mission did not see their way to do so.


My Lords, despite the fact that there has been a serious setback to United Nations co-operation as suggested by my noble friend, may I ask whether it is still considered by Her Majesty's Government that the United Nations itself has a vital role to play in the ultimate solution of this very difficult political problem?


My Lords, of course Her Majesty's Government are, and always have been, full and vigorous supporters of the principles of the United Nations, and we have by no means accepted the idea that because of this unfortunate setback the United Nations has not a role to play in deciding how the future of Aden and the South Arabian Federation is to emerge.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he will supplement his original answer in one respect? He mentioned a particular cause of diffi culty, namely, the matter of the proposed broadcast. Am I right in understanding from the statement of his right honourable friend yesterday in another place that Her Majesty's Government fully appreciate the reason why the Federal Government did not consent to this broadcast—a broadcast on their own radio—in which the United Nations Mission wanted to explain that they would have nothing whatever to do with what we believed to be the legal authority? May I ask the noble Lord, secondly, what effect he thinks it would have had on law and order in Aden if this broadcast had been made in the terms proposed?


My Lords, of course I shall not attempt to answer the second part of the noble Lord's question. So far as the first part is concerned, the position is that in the transcript of the broadcast as it was pre-recorded there were words that caused offence to the Federal Government, and I think I can say caused understandable offence. On the other hand, we believe that if the matter had been given a few more hours for consideration we might possibly have arrived at some accommodation which would have allowed a broadcast to go out from the Mission, asking for co-operation.


My Lords, may I, on behalf of my colleagues on the Liberal Benches, ask the Government whether they are aware that we, at any rate, greatly appreciate the efforts which they are now making to extricate our troops with honour from Aden? May I also take this opportunity, on behalf of them all, warmly to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on his appointment? We are quite certain that nobody is better qualified for this appallingly difficult and dangerous job.


My Lords, may I express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for what he has said on behalf of the noble Lords on the Liberal Benches? May I also say that if an appalling and agonising task of this sort had to be carried out, I can think of no one better equipped to carry it out than the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton.


My Lords, I think it would be proper if I rose to associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, said about the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I think that all who sit in this House and know of his courage and moderation and good judgment feel that he can make a considerable contribution in Aden, and he goes with our best good wishes.


My Lords, in view of the fact that the key to this problem appears to be the non-recognition by the Mission of the Federal Government, may I ask whether it is the impression of the Government of the United Kingdom that the Mission are acting on their own account in this matter, or whether they are acting in accordance with established United Nations policy? If it is the latter, what representations have been made to the United Nations in New York with regard to the decision of the Mission not to recognise the Federal Government?


My Lords, it would be wrong to say that it was the impression of Her Majesty's Government that this Mission have been acting in some way on their own, quite separately from the Secretary General, the United Nations and the Committee of 24. Beyond that, I can only ask the noble Lord to exercise patience a little longer. As I have said, until we have had an opportunity of getting an answer to my right honourable friend's invitation to the Mission to visit this country, I think that we should be reluctant to pre-judge the issue. We should, if we possibly can, hear their side of the story first.


My Lords, as the original "putter down of the Question, may I associate myself with the remarks made about the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton? But may I ask this question? Is the Minister aware that attempts have already been made to construe the appointment of the noble Lord as a criticism of our people on the spot? In view of the tributes that the noble Lord has paid to the excellent behaviour of everybody on the spot, I hope that he will not allow that propaganda to succeed and that he will stick to what he has said about the behaviour of our Commission, our troops and our people on the spot.


My Lords, of course I am aware that comments of this sort have been made, and if it will reassure your Lordships I can say that the Government give every support to the High Commissioner and the authorities at Aden. May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the skill, the restraint, the patience and the good humour with which our soldiers in Aden are dealing with a very difficult situation.


My Lords, would the Minister say how long his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is going to wait for a reply from these three who constitute the delegation and who are now living in Geneva? Has any date been put as to when we should like to hear an answer from them?


My Lords, my right honourable friend is a man of infinite patience. He has issued this invitation. We know that the Mission are at present in Geneva and that they are considering replying to this invitation. We understand that they may want a few days to think it over and I hope that we shall get a reply from them within a matter of days.


My Lords, may I thank noble Lords very much for their kind remarks and again repeat what my noble friend Lord Chalfont said about the administration, both as regards the High Commissioner and the troops. Everything that I have learned in a fairly intensive study in the last two days confirms the high opinion that has always been expressed about them. I have no doubts at all—and indeed great confidence—that we shall get on very well together.