HL Deb 11 May 1967 vol 282 cc1601-11

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to repeat a Statement on South Arabia which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary: The Statement is as follows:

"During the last week I have been giving the most careful thought to the situation in South Arabia and what we need to do in order to bring about the transition to independence with the best practicable results, 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 my noble friend Lord Caradon, the Minister of State at the United Nations.

"The final stages of the transition to independence will increasingly give rise to important problems 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 propose to arrange forthwith for Sir Humphrey Trevelyan to take over the High Commissionership in South Arabia. Sir Humphrey has been our Ambassador in a number of posts, including two posts in Arab countries. In addition to being—as the House well knows—a man with an independent mind, I am confident he possesses the ability, experience and energy to accomplish the very difficult task, which he has agreed to undertake. He will take up his post in about ten days' time.

"In making this appointment it will be necessary for me to recall the present High Commissioner, Sir Richard Turnbull. 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 Turnbull and myself, either personally or over policy. What is more, the change casts no adverse reflection on Sir Richard, to whom I should like to pay a special tribute. He had long passed his normal retirement date and 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.

"He 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 somewhat 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 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 for me to deploy and for it to be able to discuss a full statement of Government policy. I undertake that discussions will take place through the usual channels to arrange for such a debate as soon as it is desired when we return after the Recess.

"I can, however, assure the House now that the action I propose to take will be inspired by the twin aims announced by the Government, which will continue to be the orderly withdrawal of our military forces and the establishment of an independent South Arabia at the earliest possible date. We shall continue to work in close consultation with the United Nations for the establishment of a broad based Government by the time of independence."

My Lords, that is the end of the Statement.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for his courtesy in repeating the Statement which, as he has said, does not come as much of a surprise to anybody in your Lordships' House. I really feel that the Government ought to look at the security on these matters. This is not by any means the first time that this has happened in the last few weeks: in fact, I cannot think of any Statement which the Government have made since Christmas which has not "leaked" to the Press before it has "leaked" to your Lordships' House. I should have thought that in a case of this kind it gives rise to all sorts of undesirable speculations, and indeed it certainly has done so in this case. I see, for example, that in the Evening News we are told that there is to be a Statement in the Commons to-morrow that the Government have decided on Stansted as the third London airport. I really do think it was a good system that Parliament should be informed of these things first.

There are two questions that I should like to ask the noble Lord, and they arise as much from the speculation in the Press as they do from the Statement he has made. The first is this. Will he confirm that Sir Richard Turnbull was not dismissed as a result of the United Nations Mission incident, or that his dismissal shows in any way a weakening in the Government's determination to maintain law and order in, and responsibility for, Aden? Secondly, can he confirm that the Government still intend to keep to the rigid timetable of withdrawal and no military commitment to the Federal Government, which has been their policy hitherto, or does this mean that there is a likelihood of a change of policy? If there is not, though, of course, we naturally wish Sir Humphrey Trevelyan well, I must say that I do not feel hopeful about his chances of success. I should, however, like to associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has said about Sir Richard Turnbull.


My Lords, we on these Benches should like to associate ourselves with what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has said. It is difficult to comment on the merits of this change, but we indeed wish Sir Humphrey Trevelyan the best in a very difficult political and diplomatic situation. We should like to have some statement from the Government, as the noble Lord the Leader of the Conservative Party asked, about the implications of this Statement on the Government's intentions with regard to dates of withdrawal and independence.


My Lords, before my noble friend replies, may I ask whether it is still the view of Her Majesty's Government that the United Nations can play a useful role in the solution of this complicated problem; and, secondly, whether they desire that the United Nations Mission should return to Aden as soon as possible and make their contribution to ending the present deadlock, possibly by organising a round table conference to be attended by all parties concerned in this problem?


My Lords, so far as the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on leaks are concerned, I repeat, as my right honourable friend has said in another place, that we much regret that a leak took place in this instance. As I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will recall from his own days in Government, it is difficult to keep confidential matters of this sort from a questing, unshackled and free Press. But having said that I regret this leak, I think I should also say that I regret any embarrassment that it has caused to the people most immediately concerned, and particularly to Sir Richard Turnbull. I hope the noble Lord will agree that, apart from this unfortunate aspect of the case, no lasting damage has been done, and I hope that we can now forget it and go on to the problems of the future.

Following on from that, I can certainly confirm, and do confirm here and now, that Sir Richard Turnbull was not dismissed as a result of the experience which he and all of us had when the United Nations Mission went to, and subsequently left, South Arabia. Nor indeed does the change in the High Commissionership indicate any weakening in our determination to maintain law and order for as long as we remain responsible for the Colony of Aden.

So far as change of policy is concerned, I think I made it clear, or at least my right honourable friend made it clear in his Statement, that this change does not mean any change of British policy. Perhaps I might use this, also, as my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Byers. We shall continue to make every effort to bring together the various political groupings in South Arabia.

In reply to the question of my noble friend Lord Rowley, we believe that the United Nations has a valuable part to play in South Arabia, and we hope that it will be possible to reach a solution with the participation of the United Nations. The Mission is now in New York. My noble friend Lord Caradon is in close and constant touch with them, and we hope they will find it possible to go back and make contact with those who boycotted them in the first instance. I think I should end by saying that, so far from indicating any change in policy, we shall withdraw our forces from South Arabia on independence, which is to take place by 1968; but in the meantime we shall do our utmost to conquer terrorism in the area.


My Lords, while refraining from any comment on policy at this moment, could I ask my noble friend whether in this House, as well as in another place, an opportunity will be given after the Recess to discuss this matter?


My Lords, I shall, of course, consult with the noble Earl the Leader of the House about this, but I am sure that a debate of this sort can be arranged through the usual channels.


My Lords, does the noble Lord recollect what was said in your Lordships' House only four short weeks ago in exchanges, in which, on the eve of his departure, the noble Lord. Lord Shackleton, said: … 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, col. 1170, 11/5/67.] In view of that statement only four short weeks ago, and while I am very glad of the tribute which the noble Lord has repeated, it seems strange that in such a short time it is found that this change is necessary. One hopes (and perhaps the noble Lord can comment on this) that The Times in its leading article to-day has not put its finger on the nub of the problem when it says: Put in the simple terms in which Arabia and other parts of the Middle East will see it, is Britain preparing to sell more of its friends down the river?


My Lords, before my noble friend replies, may I ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is not a fact that Sir Richard Turnbull has served his country well?


My Lords, in line with the question which has just been asked—a question which I have put to the Government once before—if it becomes clear that the fulfilment of their policy will entail a lamentable bloodbath in Aden and the Federated Government, will the Government still rigidly adhere to their policy, or will they be willing to modify it?


My Lords, so far as the question about Sir Richard Turnbull and the remarks made about him a few short weeks ago are concerned, I see nothing inconsistent in this and in the Government's latest decision. We still have the highest regard for Sir Richard Turnbull. I can confirm, of course, that he has served his country well, and has continued to do so beyond the age when he might normally have expected to retire. As my right honourable friend explained in another place, the change is due to the need for a change in background and what has been called the style, modalities and methods of dealing with this problem. This is no reflection at all upon Sir Richard Turnbull, and I cannot see that there is anything inconsistent in this policy.

As to future policy in the area, I have said, and I say again, that we contemplate no change in this policy; but of course it will be our aim—it has been all along and will continue to be—to keep the bloodshed down to an absolute minimum in this very difficult period that will face us between now and independence. This is a classic example of the struggle for power that goes on when a withdrawal is contemplated. I should like in this context to pay tribute again, as I have before, to the way our Armed Forces are playing their part in these terrible conditions in South Arabia.


My Lords, may I revert for one moment to a point raised at the beginning of his observations by my noble Leader about the unfortunate leaks which have taken place? What I am going to say is certainly no possible reflection on the Minister who is answering here, and who always treats this House with complete frankness and courtesy. But, having been responsible for public relations in Sir Winston Churchill's Government, I would ask this question. Is it not really impossible to suppose that the large number of leaks which have taken place on this subject—and this is not a unique occasion—could have arisen without the knowledge, if not the approval, of some of the Ministers concerned? I am not making a Party point upon this matter, but it is really quite intolerable that Parliament—either House—should be treated in this way. I honestly should have thought that for the Ministers closely concerned with the negotiations it was almost equally embarrassing.


My Lords, what the noble Earl said in his last few words is of course the key to the whole thing. The Government can have no possible interest in allowing or encouraging these leaks. They are as embarrassing and unwelcome to us as to this House and to the other place. This is not a new development in public life. I hope that no one will suggest that the business of leaks to the Press, and of the Press revealing confidential matter, has suddenly become a problem. This is a problem about which my noble friends on this side, I recall, had occasion to complain when noble Lords opposite were in office. There is nothing new about it. It is a natural risk of public life and of Government. We regret these leaks and we will do all we can to prevent a recurrence of them. But I think it wrong and misleading to suggest that we are faced with a completely new problem.


My Lords, the noble Lord says that there is nothing new about this. I am not wishing to disagree with that comment, but is it not the case that these leaks are taking place far more frequently than ever in the past, and cannot the noble Lord say that steps really will be taken—and the utmost possible steps—to try to trace the source of this leak, whoever it may be, and to prevent such leaks from occurring in future? Also, if this leak was through the indiscretion of a Minister, and not through something improper happening, should that not be told to Parliament?


My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that these matters have occurred so much more within the term of office of the present Government that he should look most carefully at the source from which these leaks may arise, having regard particularly to what has been said, with a view to making an example of any person found guilty of it? This matter has now got beyond the stage when we can just gloss these things over. We must do something serious about them, and whatever the cause or reason behind them we should make an example of any person, whatever his office, who may be found guilty of leaking matters of this kind.


My Lords, without commenting on any of the observations made, I think I should say that we have passed a long way from Question Time. A number of noble Lords have offered views, and I would, with great respect, suggest that if there are any more points to be raised they should be raised strictly in interrogatory form.


My Lords, may we have an answer to the point I raised?


My Lords, the direct answer to the noble and learned Viscount's question is that I have no statistical evidence that there has been greater frequency of leaks under this Government than under any previous one, and I should doubt whether that is so. However, this does not affect the fact that we regard this leak, as all other leaks of confidential and secret information, as of great seriousness. This is no disposition on the part of the Government to gloss these things over. There is now a well established procedure for investigating leaks. This one will be investigated, and if there is anything that transpires that is worth saying in this House or in another place, I am sure the Government will arrange to say it.


My Lords, the noble Lord says that there is a well-established procedure for investigation when these leaks are noticed. Can he tells us, regarding any of the other leaks we have had in this last three months, whether the source has been discovered and, if so, who was responsible and what happened to him?


My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will realise that I could not disclose information of that kind at this time, even if I had it by me. But I can assure him that when a leak has taken place it has been fully investigated, although not always successfully.


My Lords, in view of the importance of this matter, can it be agreed through the usual channels that after the Recess a debate on it may be held in order that it is fully discussed and properly explored?


My Lords, if the noble Lord is asking whether this House could profitably hold a debate about leaks, I am afraid I would not commit myself to that view. I think it would be a very strange kind of debate. But I never like to turn down a suggestion from any noble Lord, certainly not one from Lord Wakefield of Kendal, and the usual channels can discuss any subject. But, as I say, I think it would be a curious kind of debate.


My Lords, if such a debate were held, would it not have to be on the integrity of the British Press, which is wholly antagonistic to the present Labour Government?


My Lords, before this matter goes too far, may I say that if the Government investigate this matter and find any culpable person, I would not of course ask them to hold their hand. But so many leaks may occur. I could cite one that occurred in Sir William Harcourt's time, which is rather amusing. But so many leaks occur through things for which people can hardly be held responsible, that I should not wish the House to take a very fierce view while it was still in ignorance.


My Lords, I will take note of and, of course, pass on all that has been said on this subject. I should like to say, with the greatest respect to my noble friend, that I think that in the vast majority of cases the British Press behave with notable integrity and restraint, and I personally am not surprised if, when they come into possession of a piece of information, they publish it.


My Lords, I think the House may feel that they have explored this matter sufficiently for the moment.


My Lords, may I revert to the original subject and ask this question? Is it not very unfortunate, from the point of view of timing, that this Statement should be made on the third day of the Royal Saudi Arabian State Visit to London? Is it not well known that Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, however distinguished he may be an an ex-Ambassador, is well known to be a friend of Colonel Nasser, in contra-distinction to his predecessor, who has taken exactly the opposite view?




My Lords, this is a most unfortunate element to have crept into the debate, and I think the noble Lord may, on reflection, regret that he said it. I also do not believe that there is anything particularly relevant or dangerous in the fact that this Statement was made at this time. The most far-reaching and friendly discussions are going on with King Feisal at the moment, and I do not think—indeed, I can assure the noble Lord—that this announcement has caused any deterioration in those discussions.


My Lords, contrary to many of the views expressed by noble Lords opposite, is my noble friend aware that, while paying the highest tribute to Sir Richard Turnbull for the work he has done as High Commissioner in South Arabia, many noble Lords on this side of the House feel that the replacement of a High Commissioner with experience in East Africa by a High Commissioner with wide experience in the Middle East will enormously strengthen the hands of the Government in the very difficult negotiations that lie ahead?


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that remark and I am sure it reflects the view and the hope of Her Majesty's Government in this matter.