HC Deb 18 January 1949 vol 460 cc35-7
Mr. Churchill (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any statement of policy or fact to make upon the recent events in the Middle East concerning Palestine.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ernest Bevin)

His Majesty's Government fully realise the interest. of the House in the recent events in the Middle East and particularly in Palestine and naturally in view of the attacks made on them they desire to make a full statement to the House and to do so as soon as possible. But at this very moment delicate negotiations are being carried on at Rhodes between Jewish and Egyptian representatives. There are also other discussions going on with other contestants. We have been using all our influence in conjunction with the United States in the hope of arriving at a complete armistice between the Jews and the Arabs. The reports we are receiving indicate that good progress is being made and we are all particularly eager to contribute to the success of these talks by every possible means.

I am sure the House will agree with me that any discussion of these problems regarding Palestine and the Middle East might have a disturbing effect. The main objective of all concerned must be to secure a peaceful settlement of the whole Palestine question as soon as possible, in the interests both of the contestants and of the stability of the Middle East. We believe that we can best contribute to this at the present stage by postponing discussion of these matters. Fighting has ceased on all fronts and we sincerely trust that this overall truce will be maintained.

In the light of these negotiations there is one matter upon which we desire to make an announcement. It is well known that certain Jewish immigrants of military age were detained in Cyprus. We had been discussing the position of these immigrants with the parties concerned and the more favourable situation that has now arisen has permitted us to send a message to the Acting Mediator announcing that we are prepared to allow these men of military age to leave as soon as the Jews provide transport for them.

As the negotiations to which I have referred make progress, His Majesty's Government will carefully watch them, and we shall take such further steps as may be necessary in the hope of facilitating peace and understanding and I hope to be in a position to make a further and fuller statement next week.

Mr. Churchill

I fear that we shall have to ask for a Debate next week and no doubt it would be very satisfactory if that were prefaced by a further statement by the right hon. Gentleman. I venture to put to you, Sir, that the House must not be prevented from discussing matters of real and burning interest by vague statements of great improvements that are on the way and important delicate discussions which are going on. Nor do I think this last statement which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman—the announcement which he has just made of the release of large, or considerable numbers, of Jewish immigrants of fighting age from Cyprus in order that they should join the Jewish Forces in Palestine—fits in very well with the drastic military action which he has taken in other directions. Is he not in fact reinforcing both sides at once?

I wish to ask the Leader of the House whether we can take it for granted that there will be a Debate on this subject offered to the House early next week? Should he see his way to grant such a request, which we are prepared to press, that in no ways stands in the path of any Motion for the Adjournment which may be made on some precise topic such as the actual orders given to the British airplanes which were cast away the other day. I hope he will answer that question with the clear understanding that we should certainly support a Motion for the precise discussion of this particular topic of the orders given to the airplanes and what actually happened, should it be raised from another quarter.

Mr. Bevin

There is another question which I think ought to be answered in the first instance. With regard to the release of the men in Cyprus, I have been endeavouring to deal with this problem for some time. I should like to explain, without going into details, that in nearly all this business I have been handicapped by arrangements with other people. I have no desire to preserve my reputation: I am more interested in doing things to get peace.