South Arabia

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th November 1967.

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The following Written Question stood upon the Order Paper:

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Kingston upon Hull West

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on South Arabia.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to reply to Question No. 89 on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson).

I informed the House on 14th November that Her Majesty's Government had decided that South Arabia should become independent and that the withdrawal of our forces would be completed by 30th November—

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

On a point of order. Question No. 89 is to the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

The right hon. Gentleman should have said that he was answering Written Question No. 89.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

As I carefully said, Mr. Speaker, I am answering Question No. 89 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson). If I had not made this statement orally today, the House and my hon. Friend would have thought that they had a quarrel with me. Therefore, I deliberately chose to do what I thought was the desire of the House, to make the statement orally and not simply by means of Written Answer.

I informed the House on 14th November that Her Majesty's Government had decided that South Arabia should become independent and that the withdrawal of our forces would be completed by 30th November.

I am now glad to tell the House that the withdrawal of British forces was successfully completed at noon today and that South Arabia will become independent at midnight local time, that is, 9 p.m. our time, tonight. An Order-in-Council providing for the relinquishment of Her Majesty's sovereignty in South Arabia was made yesterday.

The House will be aware that negotiations began in Geneva on 21st November between a British delegation led by my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Shackleton and a delegation from the National Liberation Front led by Mr. Qahtan al Shaabi. I am glad to say that agreement on many of the points which have been discussed was reached this morning. A joint communiqué has been issued and I am arranging for a copy to be placed in the Library.

The talks were adjourned to allow the National Liberation Front delegates to return to Aden for Independence Day, and they will be resumed shortly.

As the communiqué indicates, the discussions in Geneva have covered a wide range of subjects, including the transfer of power and the questions of civil and military aid. On the latter point, as the communiqué says, we have agreed to continue aid at the existing levels for the next six months, while negotiations continue.

As regards the islands, the wishes of the inhabitants have been ascertained and decisions as to their future have been taken by us. These decisions entail further discussions with the South Arabian authorities and in that situation I hope that the House will agree that the best course would be to defer an announcement on this subject for a few days.

The representatives of the National Liberation Front naturally regard the formation of a Government as one of the first tasks to be undertaken on their return to Aden. I am not, however, at this stage in a position to give the House any indication of the form which these representatives think the new Government will take.

I am sure that the House will join me, on the eve of the new State's independence, in wishing it every success, and will be glad to note that it has been agreed to establish diplomatic relations between us and to exchange ambassadors. The talks in Geneva have been conducted in a good atmosphere, and I have every hope that we will have the best possible relationship with the independent State, which is to take the name of the People's Republic of Southern Yemen.

I am sure the House would wish me to pay tribute to the devotion and courage of all those officials and civilians who, over many years and in the face of increasing difficulties, have sought to prepare South Arabia for independence. The Armed Forces, under the distinguished leadership of Admiral Sir Michael Le Fanu, deserve special recognition for the skill and forebearance with which they have carried out their exceedingly difficult task. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

Finally, I am sure that the House will acknowledge the special contribution of Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, who is returning to London this afternoon on relinquishing his post as High Commissioner. He willingly put his experience and his special skills at the disposal of Her Majesty's Government at a critical time in the Middle East and in South Arabia particularly. The safe and peaceful withdrawal of the last of our forces in recent weeks is due in large part to the confidence between Briton and Arab, which has been built up so patiently out of suspicion and strife.

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Kingston upon Hull West

We note that discussion on some subjects, particularly financial aid, will be resumed after independence, but is my right hon. Friend aware of the keen satisfaction of hon. Members on these benches that we have now completed the disciplined withdrawal of our forces, and about the establishment of good relations with the people who are now to form the future Government of the People's Republic of Southern Yemen? Will the financial aid, whatever it may be in future, phase out over a period to ensure at least some stability in the new State?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for the preamble to his question. As I have said, we realise that the new Government must be allowed and enabled to get themselves into the saddle. That is why we will continue aid at, I repeat, the existing levels for the next six months. During that period, while negotiations are being resumed, we will consider what the situation ought to be after that.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the whole House will be glad that the evacuation process has been completed without loss? Sir Humphrey Trevelyan has carried out, with his usual distinction, a most disagreeable task, as have the Command and the troops. Questions inevitably arise on these matters which would be better debated later.

Of course, the new State is not entitled to a continuance of aid, but it is difficult to contest the right hon. Gentleman's desire to avoid chaos in the next few weeks. However, will he keep this aid under strict review and see that there is some return for the aid in respect of the treatment, in particular, of British nationals?

My last question is about the Federal rulers, about whom I think that the right hon. Gentleman will have something to say.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I am obliged. On aid, I am clear that it must be carried over for a period, and I thought that six months was a reasonable period during which negotiations could take place. The right hon. Gentleman will know at least as well as I do that we have considerable commercial interests there which earn us a good deal of foreign exchange. It could not possibly be in our interests—quite apart from anyone else's—that chaos should ensue if it can be avoided.

We have received assurances from the N.L.F. delegates about British nationals and we shall, of course, watch how they are carried out. We are leaving behind an embassy under a chargé d' affaires and we shall also keep part at any rate of the naval task force in the area for a time. Of course, these things will all be carefully watched. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, only a few of the Federalis are detained. We have raised this matter repeatedly and I have grounds for hoping that even they will shortly be released, though the right hon. Gentleman may be assured that we will keep this in the negotiations which will be resumed shortly.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

Is my right hon. Friend aware, first, that the payment of protection money rarely buys protection? Secondly, which of the six principles which are necessary to our recognition of Rhodesia have been applied to Aden?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I do not understand the relevance of the latter point, but I will tell my hon. and learned Friend and his hon. Friends on the other side of the House that one straight principle that we bear in mind is the right of self-determination—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—and the ending of colonial rule, and we have applied this in Aden.

As to the first part of the question, there is no question of protection money here. I repeat that no more is being paid than we were already committed to pay, and I am continuing it for six months while we see how the negotiations go.

Photo of Sir John Langford-Holt Sir John Langford-Holt , Shrewsbury

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the outgoing Government had undertaken certain international agreements, notably the freedom of passage through the Straits of Perim. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the new Government have accepted those international obligations and will observe them?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

There is as yet no new Government, but the delegation from the N.L.F., in the course of discussions in Geneva, as the communiqué shows, had agreed to accept the international obligations which we have extended to Aden, and one of those is the Geneva Convention which seeks to ensure free passage through international waterways. One of these is the waterway of the Straits of Perim.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Smethwick

Will my right hon. Friend accept that we on this side of the House, with one or two ludicrous exceptions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—have great admiration for the skill and incisiveness with which he has managed the transfer of power in South Arabia—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—a very skilful job extremely well managed?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. May I say to the House, and to those who find this a matter of humour and frivolity, that some of us, not only on this side of the House—

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

—but also on the Front Bench opposite, know the great anxiety that we have been through during the last few days, and I would beg the House to conduct itself in accordance with our traditions.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

What arrangements have been made to offer evacuation to those Aden nationals who fear for their safety because of their service to the British régime—for example, in the police and the Civil Service?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

We cannot undertake unlimited commitments to other people, but we have certainly ensured that all the British civilians and all the expatriates from other countries knew that evacution was available for them if they wanted to take advantage of it, and that the decision to stay was theirs and theirs alone.

I am very happy to say that the atmosphere in Aden now is far better than any of us could have expected a short while ago. The morale of everybody there is pretty high, and I beg the House to keep it that way and not try to spoil it.

Mr. Colin Jackson:

Bearing in mind the limited task force which is to remain behind, can my right hon. Friend say what he considers the position to be now in the Yemen? Does he think that the Egyptian troops, for example, are continuing to withdraw?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I have no doubt at all that the Egyptian withdrawal from the Yemen has not only gone so far, but will very shortly be completed.

Photo of Mr James Davidson Mr James Davidson , Aberdeenshire West

May I add a tribute from the Liberal bench to those already paid by the Foreign Secretary? May I also ask to whom and in what manner was responsibility for control actually transferred? What safeguards are there for the future of the political and racial minorities in the area?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

Until there is a new Government there is no Government to whom control can be passed. This is one of the complications of this moment. But we have had these discussions with the N.L.F. delegates. We have got the agreement with the N.L.F. delegates and they have now returned to Aden. As I said in my statement, they will, no doubt, shortly form a Government to whom control will pass and with whom our relations will then be assumed.

The question of the minorities in Aden and in South Arabia has been discussed with the N.L.F. delegates and we have received assurances from them about their intentions to honour our approach to the question.

Photo of Mr Francis Noel-Baker Mr Francis Noel-Baker , Swindon

My right hon. Friend has repeatedly stressed the desire of the British Government to associate the United Nations with the settlement in South Arabia. Can he say what has been done in that respect?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

In the end and in the ultimate the solution of this problem has been worked out between us and the N.L.F. delegates, but we have kept the United Nations fully informed at every stage. The United Nations Mission has not in the ultimate played the part that some people hoped it would have done earlier, but this has very much changed in the last few months. We have, as I said, kept the U.N. fully in touch with the situation.

Photo of Sir Spencer Summers Sir Spencer Summers , Aylesbury

If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that this House is in need of a lecture on decorum, will he arrange for another Minister to give it?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

Yes, Sir, but I could not possibly arrange for a member of the Opposition to give it, could I?

Photo of Mr Benjamin Whitaker Mr Benjamin Whitaker , Hampstead

While accepting the sincere congratulations of us on this side of the House for his historic extrication of this country from an untenable position, will my right hon. Friend make absolutely sure in the future that we never face such a predicament in the Persian Gulf?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I suggest that we do not link too many things together here. There is a situation in Aden. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a very great relief to have been able to extricate ourselves in this w ay from that situation.

On the question of the Gulf and our commitments there, our intentions are a very different matter altogether, but we shall do our duty there as, of course, we are committed to do.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Stephen Maydon Lieut-Colonel Stephen Maydon , Wells

In defining the principles of self-determination, how much weight do Her Majesty's Government give to the incidence of terrorism in a case like this? Furthermore, could the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how much in total the civil and military aid is likely to amount to over the next six months?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

May I remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that Government after Government—Conservative, Liberal and Labour—have found it necessary to come to terms with people who were previously called terrorists—like, for example, Cyprus, Ireland and many places? it does not do any good when one has come to terms with it to hark back to the past and use these phrases. I would remind the hon and gallant Gentleman that the distinguished President of Kenya, for example, was referred to in very different terms some time ago from the terms which are applied to him now. One must deal with the situation as it now is, and with the Government that can come to power.

I repeat that aid is continuing at present levels, and at present levels it may total over that period something like £9 million, plus, I think, the £3 million to which we are already committed anyway.

Several Hon. Members:

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