HL Deb 14 November 1967 vol 286 cc621-8

4.9 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to repeat a Statement made by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in another place, on South Arabia. The Statement is as follows:

"Since my statement to the House on the 7th November the situation in South Arabia has become more clear.

"In the course of talks between the 7th and 10th November the officers of the South Arabian forces told the High Commissioner that they fully supported the National Liberation Front which they said was in effective control. These officers also said that in areas from which British forces had withdrawn the National Liberation Front was working to maintain a cease-fire. The National Liberation Front themselves claimed at Press conferences on the 8th and 10th November that they were exercising effective control and said that they wanted to enter into negotiations. They also demanded an end to violence against the civil community and called on the population to respect the persons and institutions of the foreign community.

"On the 11th November the National Liberation Front sent me a telegram which they later published. In this telegram they asserted their claim to be a popular authority in control and said they had formed a delegation to negotiate with Her Majesty's Government on the transfer of political power. They asked for our agreement to open negotiations within a week.

"I replied immediately agreeing to open negotiations. They have now asked that these begin on or about the 20th November, and I have agreed they will be held in Geneva. My right honourable and noble friend Lord Shackleton, who has a close knowledge of the problems of South Arabia, will lead our delegation.

"On the 2nd November I told the House that by the middle of this month we should fix and announce a precise date for independence and withdrawal. I also said that it might be useful to vary the date a few days one way or the other if this would help us over starting negotiations with an emerging Government. The High Commissioner, through his talks with the South Arabian forces, is at this moment working out arrangements for the negotiations, and Her Majesty's Government have therefore decided, in order to help this process, that South Arabia should become independent and the withdrawal of our forces be completed by the 30th November.

"There are important matters to be settled, and preferably before independence. But if negotiations cannot be completed before independence there is nothing to stop them continuing as between independent countries.

"Her Majesty's Government have not had an easy road to follow in bringing South Arabia to independence. I must here pay tribute"— as I have done myself in your Lordship? House—

"to the many Britons, both civilians and military, who have devoted their labours and in many cases, to our great sorrow, given their lives for this cause. I also grieve for the large numbers of South Arabians who have suffered death or injury. The whole House will surely join with me in hoping that South Arabia will enjoy a peaceful future."

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, I must thank the noble Lord for the Statement which he has just repeated, but I do so with a somewhat heavy heart. Because, my Lords, this Statement marks the start of the closing chapter in one of the sorriest episodes in the long history of the relations between this country and the Arab world. It is far removed, if I may remind the noble Lord, from the fair hopes which he held out to us in this House only a few months ago. I do not, of course, impute any blame to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. We know that he did his best, his level best in the circumstances in which he was placed; and I am sure that your Lordships will wish him well in the negotiations upon which he is about to embark in Geneva. Nevertheless, what we have witnessed these last few weeks—rival Arab gangs shooting it out in the streets of Aden, with our troops standing impotently by and often being shot at by both sides—has presented a sorry spectacle. Nevertheless, I think we must agree that, things having got to this sad pass, there is really very little alternative to the humiliating abdication of our responsibilities on which the Government are now embarking.

I should like to put just two questions to the noble Lord. In the first place, can he tell us whether the States of the East Aden Protectorate are embraced in the Statement which he has repeated to us? Secondly, what assurance can he give us regarding the security of British property in Aden, including the very important oil installations, after independence? Above all, what assurance can he give us regarding the security of those United Kingdom citizens who elect to stay in Aden after independence?

That said, my Lords, I should like to associate myself with what is said in the Statement about the British Forces in Aden. I myself am not particularly proud of the part which we have played these last few months, but I think all of us can be proud of the way in which all our people there, both our civilians and our military Forces, have discharged their often distasteful duties.


My Lords, I do not intend to comment at any length on the Statement. In fact, I should like to do very little more than express to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, the best wishes one can in the difficult and complicated task he has in front of him. At the same time, I should like to associate noble Lords on these Benches with the tribute which has been paid to our Forces by the Foreign Secretary in another place, and by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe; and to say that I hope very much that we shall now see a satisfactory conclusion to this extremely tragic and sad episode in the history of Aden.


My Lords, may I first answer the noble Earl's particular points? He asked me about the States of the East Aden Protectorate. It is my understanding, and to the best of our information, that they are now under the control of the National Liberation Front. As has always been the general wish of everybody concerned with South Arabia, they will be part of South Arabia, and they are at the moment being so incorporated.

On the particular point of security, we have discussed this matter before. There clearly will always remain a certain risk—and it is very difficult to see how great that risk will be—to foreign citizens in another country, particularly a country emerging to independence. It is a fact that in the areas controlled by the National Liberation Front—and I have particularly in mind Little Aden, where the oil refinery is—there has been no molestation or attack of any kind. There is a large British element working the refinery to which the noble Earl referred, and those people have gone about their tasks under the protection of both the South Arabian Army and the National Liberation Front. We have also discussed what would happen if chaos were to develop. Obviously, in such a situation Her Majesty's Government would do their utmost to bring about rescue operations: but I must say that I look with rather more optimism on the situation than I have done on previous occasions.

The noble Earl contrasted the present situation with what he called "the fair hopes" I expressed on a previous occasion. We have always been immensely conscious of the risk of a collapse of the Federal Government. What I think has surprised some people is the speed at which that Government collapsed in the face of a threat which did not come, as had at one time been mainly thought, from infiltration from across the frontier. Since the noble Earl has chosen to attack the policy of Her Majesty's Government and to talk about "a sorry tale" during the last few months, I must say quite seriously that a policy which created a structure which depended upon the continuous presence of the force of British arms was, as it was shown to be, doomed from the beginning. I do not want to go back over past history—we have done it before—but the noble Earl has chosen to criticise the Government. Indeed, for that reason I will not even discuss the way the Federation came into being. But I am glad that we can all agree on the part played by Her Majesty's Forces. Noble Lords will be aware that I have paid my tribute particularly to the Army, which has always been one of the most impressive examples (and indeed I think I used the phrase "shining example") of quality in a difficult situation; and that I have also paid tribute to the civilians.

In wishing South Arabia well, I should draw attention to the fact that the National Liberation Front has issued and has generally broadcast very firm instructions to the citizens saying that there should be no attacks on foreign property or on foreign persons. I have always thought that, provided we made clear that we were going, there would be a chance that a Government would emerge before independence. Of course, it will be my task to try to help arrive at a satisfactory arrangement. We are all agreed in wishing the people of South Arabia well. On a previous occasion, one noble Lady gave a very moving account of her affections for South Arabia. We wish the people of South Arabia well. I am sure that they are all sick at the killing that has gone on. We hope that it has now ceased for ever.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord this question? If I am right, at the end of the month we recognise the N.L.F. as the legal Government of the country. Can he say whether that legal recognition has been given by all the other Powers?


My Lords, I would ask the noble Lord not to press me too far on this. I am about to enter into negotiations. No recognition of the Government has yet come about; the legal processes are still being completed. If as I hope, we make good progress—arid Her Majesty's Government expect and hope that the other side are anxious to come to agreement—then there will be a Treaty of Secession and such like matters, and I expect there will be recognition from other Powers also.


My Lords, may I take this opportunity of bringing to the attention of Her Majesty's Government the plight of British citizens in South Arabia who have lost their property, and some of them their livelihood? However one looks at this question, the British Government are really responsible because they have—and we cannot disguise the fact—abdicated our responsibility in South Arabia. When I asked my Question earlier this afternoon, I understood the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to say that the Government might bring to the attention of the new South Arabian Government the plight of these British citizens. My Lords, is that really good enough?

We had to fight in this House for quite a few years to get support for the plight of the Anglo-Egyptians. Have we to go through this whole procedure again? I understood that Her Majesty's Government were going to give a large sum of money—and quite rightly—to the South Arabian Government. I think the sum of £50 million was mentioned. It was to go to the former Government that we were hoping were to become the South Arabian Government. Surely we are not now going to give this sum of money to the N.L.F. Government who only a few days ago were regarded as terrorists. It would be far better, I feel, to use some—


My Lords, I really must suggest to the noble Viscount that he put his question now.


My Lords, would it not be far better to give some of these moneys to British citizens who have lost their property through no fault of their own?


My Lords, I suggested that it might be helpful for the noble Viscount to ask his supplementary question after the Statement was made, when he would have up-to-date facts. The number of British citizens in South Arabia is comparatively small—about 300 at the moment. If the noble Viscount has any particular examples in mind I should be interested to hear of them. He referred to the Egyptian precedent. I think he might have referred to almost any precedent. I know of no case—other than one or two isolated instances for particular rulers—when Her Majesty's Government in recent years have paid compensation under these conditions.

Nor am I as alarmed as the noble Viscount about the extent of the possible damage to property. I think it is very probable that far greater damage to British property and lives has recently been caused in other parts of the world. I also said that Her Majesty's Government would bring full pressure on the successor Government to accept responsibility; and the signs in this respect are encouraging. I do not wish to be drawn into a discussion on the question of virtue, but the fact remains that if a successful Government emerges, this will be very much in the interests both of British lives and British property.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he is aware that we on this side of the House would also wish to express our hopes for the negotiations into which he is entering in Geneva. In view of what was said, moderately in this House and more provocatively in another place, is it not the case that the tragic situation in Aden has largely arisen from the recognition given to the South Arabia Government of sheikhs which proved so unrepresentative? Is my noble friend aware of the appreciation we have of the courage of the Government and of the Foreign Secretary in recognising that the people of Aden and South Arabia must have the opportunity of governing themselves according to the organisation which represents them?


My Lords, I am much obliged to my noble friend for the first remarks he made. I am naturally interested in the further remarks—which stimulated a characteristic reaction from the other side—but beyond saying that there is a great deal of truth in much of what he has said, I think I shall leave him to speak for himself.

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