HC Deb 23 November 1943 vol 393 cc1449-52
63. Mr. Astor

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can make a statement on the situation in the Lebanon?

64. Mr. Hogg

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any statement to make on the situation in Syria and Lebanon?

Mr. Law

His Majesty's Government have been gravely concerned at the development of the recent dispute between the French Committee of National Liberation and the Lebanese Government, in the course of which the French Delegate General in Beirut ordered the arrest and imprisonment of the newly elected President and member:, of the Lebanese Government. Great public excitement was aroused both in Lebanon itself and in other Middle East countries, where the arrests were regarded as unjustified by the circumstances.

The interest of His Majesty's Government in this dispute is two-fold. First of all, we have endorsed the promises of independence given to the Lebanese people by General Catroux in 1941. His Majesty's Government have followed with sympathy and interest the subsequent development of constitutional government in the Lebanon. Secondly, the Lebanon is of vital importance to the war effort both as as operational base and from the point of view of communications. Any threat of a breakdown of law and order is therefore of direct concern to His Majesty's Government.

Our overriding desire, which we have made clear to both parties, has been to secure a solution of the dispute which would enable calm to be restored and constitutional development to be resumed in an orderly and agreed manner as soon as possible. General Catroux, who has gone specially to Beirut and has taken the situation in hand on behalf of French Committee, is in close touch with Mr. Casey, the Minister of State Resident in Cairo, and with His Majesty's Minister in Beirut who have explained our views to him. We have also explained our views direct to the French Committee in Algiers.

I am glad to say that the Lebanese President and Ministers have been released, that the President has been reinstated and that the French Delegate General has been recalled. His Majesty's Government welcome these developments. At the same time they hope that they will lead to further progress and to the re-establishment of constitutional government. The American and Soviet Governments have been kept fully informed throughout.

Mr. Astor

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the deep satisfaction at the part played by the Minister of State, by our Minister and by General Catroux in clearing up the situation; and is he aware that, if His Majesty's Government took any similar action in Iraq or Egypt, they would get exactly the same opposition as has been displayed in this matter in this House?

Mr. Hogg

While expressing my satisfaction at the reply, may I ask my right hon. Friend to make it clear that, in view of the fact that the Lebanese people are among the most gifted of the Arabs, no undue pressure will be brought upon them to enter into any treaty with any particular Power as a prerequisite to their complete freedom?

Mr. Law

I think that our views on this matter have been made quite clear to both parties in the dispute. As I say, we are most anxious that the constitutional development of the Lebanon should proceed in as orderly a manner and as rapidly as possible.

Mr. Shinwell

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it abundantly clear that, apart from purely military or strategic reasons in this theatre of war, there is no intention on the part of the British Government and those associated with the British Government, to restrict the purely political operations of the French Committee of National Liberation?

Mr. Law

I think that is abundantly clear in my statement. I explained fully what the position is. It is that we wish to see the pledges that we have endorsed implemented, and we wish to see our military position fully safeguarded. Obviously we have no desire to get any kind of political advantage for ourselves whatever.

Mr. A. Bevan

Is it intended that we should extend our enthusiasm for self-government to the British Empire, or will it be only at the expense of the French Empire?

Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward

Has my right hon. Friend any information as to the number of Lebanese citizens who lost their lives as a result of these disturbances?

Mr. Law

I think that is another question altogether.