§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Anthony Greenwood)
With the permission of the House, I should like to make a statement on my visit to South Arabia.
I am glad to have this opportunity of fulfilling my promise to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) that I would report to the House on my visit to South Arabia.
I spent 11 days there. Through the kindness of the Acting High Commissioner, the Commander-in-Chief and the various Governments, whose help and hospitality I wish to acknowledge, I was able to see a great deal of Aden itself and our base there, and to travel extensively in the other States of the Federation of South Arabia and the Eastern Aden Protectorate. I had talks with a wide section of public opinion, including the Rulers, Ministers, political parties and opposition groups. I also spoke with political detainees.
I visited the Radfan, Mukeiras and Beihan, and saw the conditions under which Federal and British Forces were operating. I should like to pay the highest tribute to them for their courage and devotion. In view of aggression and subversive activities from across the border, I took the opportunity to reaffirm that Her Majesty's Government are determined to carry out to the full its treaty obligations in the area.
I know that the whole House will agree with me in condemning the brutal, senseless, and cowardly terrorism for which my visit was made the occasion. I satisfied myself that everything is being done for the protection of Service men and their families. I made clear that the questions of independence and constitutional advance were essentially matters 1968 for free discussion and that Her Majesty's Government would not be deterred from such free discussion by the use of violence, originating either within or outside the Federation.
I also made clear that it remained the policy of Her Majesty's Government that there should be, not later than 1968, an independent Arab State in South Arabia and that the steps towards this end should be worked out in a way which would command the widest measure of support obtainable. I emphasised that Her Majesty's Government would do everything in their power to help in this.
I was encouraged by the fact that on the last day of my visit a joint statement on constitutional objectives was issued by the Federal Supreme Council and the Aden Council of Ministers. This statement, which had my full approval, called for the creation of a unitary state on a sound democratic basis, and for the recognition of human rights. A joint Committee of Ministers of the Federal and Aden State Governments will continue to study the means of giving practical effect to these objectives in preparation for the next conference which we agreed should begin in early March.
§ Mr. J. Amery
May I, first, congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his safe return from the mines, bombs, armed incursions and other attentions with which his visit was attended by hostile forces. We join with him in wholeheartedly condemning this senseless terrorism.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two specific questions? The statement of constitutional objectives seems to mark a certain departure of policy from a federal to a unitary concept. First, can he tell us whether this was something initiated from the British side, or whether it was a spontaneous initiative from the Supreme Council and the Council of Ministers taken together?
Secondly, looking to the talks in March, can the right hon. Gentleman reaffirm that it remains the Government's policy to maintain a British base in Aden for the defence of the area and for the discharge of our wider responsibilities?
§ Mr. Greenwood
May I answer the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question first, and, at the same time, thank him for his kind remarks? The 1969 attitude of the Government on the retention of the base was set out by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on 30th November, and that, of course, remains the policy of Her Majesty's Government.
On the right hon. Gentleman's first question about the initiative for this change, from a federal form of government to a unitary government, it is true to say that the minds of a number of responsible people in the Federation had been moving in that direction over the last few weeks, and shortly before my visit joint meetings between the Ministers had begun. They were continued during the course of my visit. I emphasised that a switch towards a unitary system of government would be acceptable to us in this country and I was encouraged that they came down quite firmly on that side during the last day of my visit.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Whom did the right hon. Gentleman invite to participate in this conference next March?
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that experience has shown us in many different parts of the world that bases can be maintained only with the consent of the inhabitants of the country concerned?
§ Mr. Greenwood
I have the hon. Member's last point very much in mind. It was for that reason that during my discussions I was careful not to press a point of view too strongly on those with whom I was discussing these matters. But I insisted that it was important to obtain the widest possible agreement about the form of government which was to be instituted in the new independent State.
The exact representation at the constitutional conference is still something which has to be decided, but I made clear, during my visit, my own view that if the new State was to be on a lasting basis it was important to get the widest form of agreement on the constitutional pattern and that that meant inviting not only official bodies, but political parties as well.
§ Mr. Greenwood
It was a matter which arose in a number of the discussions which I had. This is a matter which I 1970 have left with the Joint Ministerial Committee that is sitting, and I have stressed the importance of reaching agreement on matters of the franchise and other issues of that kind. As the hon. Member knows, it is not an easy problem to settle, but I think that there was generally a readiness to reach agreement, which perhaps has been absent from some of the discussions in the past.
§ Mr. Wall
On the question of a unitary State, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether States are likely to be represented in accordance with population? Will he study the advantages of a sovereign base agreement with the independent State and point out to that State the advantages which would accrue to it on joining the Commonwealth, which would be in no way incompatible with membership of the Arab League?
§ Mr. Greenwood
The hon. Member's last point is something which ought to come a little later. The membership is one of the things which will have to be discussed at the constitutional conference. I have made certain suggestions to the two Governments about the matters to which they should be directing their attention and I have also been in communication with the Acting High Commissioner on matters of this kind.
The hon. Member's question on the sovereign base is a point which perhaps we might discuss later and not seem to be rushing at this stage.
§ Mr. Fisher
Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be very difficult, particularly in the tribal areas of the Federation, to have straight away a ballot-box type of election, which, in connection with a unitary State, would appear to be necessary? Could the right hon. Gentleman comment on that?
To come back to the bomb incidents, can the right hon. Gentleman give the House some information as to the responsibility for these outrages, which killed two British Service men and wounded many more? Have the assailants been apprehended and, if so, will they now be brought to trial?
§ Mr. Greenwood
There is no doubt in the minds of the authorities in Aden and the Federation that the terrorist activities were inspired from outside. There are a number of detainees at present in prison 1971 in Aden. I understand that the prosecution of some of them is now under consideration.
The first part of the hon. Member's question raises one of the difficulties which must be resolved. One of the great problems is the different background and different degree of political experience in the different parts of the Protectorates. I do not want to commit any of the people to whom I have talked about this, but I think that among many people there is a realisation that it may be necessary for the form of representative government during the interim period to vary from one part of the independent State to another, and perhaps for a little period some form of franchise on a tribal basis will be necessary in part of the State.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
Is Radio Cairo continuing to exacerbate the situation by its very hostile broadcasts which are aimed in that direction? If so, will the Foreign Secretary continue to make representations on that account?
§ Mr. Greenwood
Radio Cairo is certainly being far from helpful. This matter is very much in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.