HC Deb 20 October 1953 vol 518 cc1809-17
Mr. Attlee

May I ask the Foreign Secretary, whose return in health to this House we all welcome so much, a Question of which I have given him Private Notice; namely, whether he has any statement to make on foreign affairs?

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Eden)

Yes, Sir. I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind words.

The House will not expect me, in the compass of an answer to this Question, to try to deal with the whole range of developments in foreign affairs since the end of July. I will, therefore, concentrate on certain major problems which are now exercising our attention.

As the House is aware, I have just held a full conference with the Foreign Ministers of the United States and France, at which we discussed such topics of first importance as Four-Power talks, Trieste, the projected political conference on Korea, Indo-China and the Israel-Jordan frontier situation.

On the question of Four-Power talks, I have nothing to add to the terms of the Note delivered to the Soviet Government on Sunday, except to say that Her Majesty's Government sincerely hope that the Soviet Government will accept the invitation to a meeting of Foreign Ministers at Lugano on 9th November. Should they do so, I have no doubt that it would be possible to make progress towards a settlement of the German and Austrian questions, and so contribute to a significant reduction in world tension.

Now I come to Trieste, and I should like to start by saying something of the wider background of the decision announced on 8th October by the United Kingdom and United States Governments. It was in 1945 that Allied troops entered Trieste. The Italian Peace Treaty was signed in February, 1947. Under that Treaty a Free Territory of Trieste was constituted. It was to be governed under a provisional régime until the permanent Statute could be brought into force. It was intended that this permanent Statute would be introduced at an early date and would shortly be followed by the withdrawal of British, American and Yugoslav troops. Unfortunately, the permanent Statute has never been introduced, through no fault of ours. I use the word "ours" to cover successive Governments. I need not remind the House of the protracted debates in the Security Council in which all efforts to secure the appointment of a Governor were frustrated.

In March, 1948, the three Governments, France, the United Kingdom and the United States, issued the Tripartite Declaration. That Declaration advocated the award of the whole territory, both Zone A and Zone B, to Italy. This has been a dominant factor in the situation ever since.

In the years which followed, the United Kingdom and the United States Governments, in conjunction with the French Government, have persistently endeavoured to promote a settlement by conciliation between Italy and Yugoslavia. But nationalist feeling in both countries proved too powerful to permit of a mutually acceptable solution.

This was the position when the trouble flared up again in August. Statements and speeches on both sides became more and more violent and the atmosphere dangerously inflamed. Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government consulted together as to how they should deal with this rapidly deteriorating situation. We sought a means to lance this abscess which was poisoning relations between Italy and Yugoslavia.

The solution announced on 8th October was admittedly drastic, but it was designed to meet a situation which would have grown more dangerous had we done nothing. It was imperfect in so far as it would leave some Slovenes under Italian administration and some Italians under Yugoslav administration. But the House must recall that repeated attempts to promote agreement on an ethnic basis had failed. The division of the territory along the zonal boundary seemed to be the only practicable course.

As we made clear in the announcement of 8th October, our action was expected to lead to a final solution. It was not a solution which we had hopes of inducing either side to accept in advance by negotiation. We knew, too, that it would meet with protest and criticism. But from the discussions and contacts which we had had with both parties over many months, we did feel justified in believing that it was a solution each side could acquiesce in, if under protest.

I do not wish today to make any comment on the reaction in Rome and Belgrade. Still less do I want to exacerbate the situation. But I do wish to say that Her Majesty's Government strongly deprecate the movement of troops by either party, which can only increase tension and incite public opinion. Meanwhile, we continue in touch with the United States and French Governments, and also with the Governments of Italy and Yugoslavia, and I shall do my best to keep the House informed. If all concerned will recall the overriding need for unity between nations who should be good neighbours, I believe that we can yet find means of bringing both parties to agree to a settlement.

Now Egypt. Talks with the Egyptian Government about the defence of the Canal Zone were resumed on 28th July. I hope to be able to make an announcement within the next few days about the progress of these discussions. They have reached an advanced stage, and I trust that the House will not press me to say any more about them today.

I hope that a new chapter has opened in Persia. There is a new Government there, and to them, and to the Persian people, Her Majesty's Government wish sincerely to extend once more the hand of friendship. The Persian Government are aware that we are ready to resume diplomatic relations; if this can be done it will then be easier for us to discuss together the complex problem of Persian oil. I should like to say that the United States Government are working very closely with us in these matters.

In Korea, the truce has been maintained for nearly three months. Progress in consolidating the armistice has been slow and difficult. The political conference has still to meet. The United States Government, acting on behalf of the nations with forces in Korea, have pro-posed a meeting of emissaries on 26th October to discuss arrangements for this conference. I am happy to learn that the Chinese and North Koreans have now agreed to this.

We have also achieved substantial progress in dealing with the exchange of those prisoners of war who desired repatriation. We have all been glad to welcome home our own prisoners of war after their ordeal. A beginning has been made in settling the future of the remaining prisoners. In this connection I must pay a tribute to the part played by the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission and in particular by the Indian Chairman, General Thimáyya, and by the Indian troops under the command of General Thórat. With exemplary tact and patience they have controlled the turbulent prisoners and are carrying through the first stages of the difficult process of explanations as provided for in the Armistice Agreement.

Finally, the problem of Arab-Israel relations, which was only settled provisionally in the General Armistice Agreements of 1949, is again causing grave concern. The immediate reason for this is the attack by Israel forces on three villages in Jordan on the night of 14th October, which inflicted heavy casualties. This attack was strongly condemned by the United Nations Mixed Armistice Commission and appears to have been an organised operation by heavily-armed forces in response to a frontier incident which was already being investigated by Jordan and Israel police working in cooperation.

The House will recall our special responsibilities under the 1950 Tripartite Declaration, and Her Majesty's Government, in concert with the United States and French Governments, have therefore asked the Security Council to consider the situation urgently. I earnestly hope that both the Israel and Jordan Governments will meanwhile refrain from any action which might aggravate the present dangerous situation.

Mr. Attlee

The House will be obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that statement. No doubt we shall have a general discussion of these topics in the next Session. I should like to ask two questions on Trieste. First, does not the right hon. Gentleman now realise that it was a mistake to take this action without any prior notice to Yugoslavia? I do not know whether any notice was given to Italy. It is all very well to prick an abscess, but it is not exactly a sedative operation if one does it suddenly and gives no notice. Secondly, what is the attitude of Her Majesty's Government to proposals for four- or five-Power talks on Trieste now?

Mr. Eden

With regard to the first question, let me say that no advance notice was given to either Government; that is to say, one Government was not treated more favourably than the other. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not know whether advance information had been given to Italy, and, so that there should be no misunderstanding, I say that no advance information was given to Italy. Naturally, careful consideration was given to the question whether advance information should be given, but we thought that the only chance of this method succeeding was by both Governments being made aware of the matter in the way in which we did it. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) looks very indignant. This is exactly the procedure that was followed in 1948 by the then Government, who gave no advance notice of what they were doing to either Government in that case.

We are certainly considering the question of a conference, and Her Majesty's Government are in no sense averse to a meeting or a conference, but our first task, which is exactly the same as that which has confronted us all through this dispute, is to see whether there are arrangements and terms of reference for the conference which we can ensure shall be acceptable to both sides.

Mr. Attlee

I take it that if there were such a conference, conditions would not be laid down. I understand that there is some difficulty about demands by either side that certain conditions should be laid down. Surely if the matter is to be at all fruitful, there should be a full and free discussion?

Mr. Eden

The right hon. Gentleman is right when he says that conditions are being laid down by either side. What we have to see is whether we can get a meeting with terms acceptable to both sides. It is a difficult task, but it is not one of which I by any means despair. If I may say so without any risk of misunderstanding, our chances will be better if we keep in mind the difficulties of the situation we are trying to handle.

Mr. H. Morrison

Having regard to his reference to my feelings—which are not of indignation but very, very sincere regret at the course taken—is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in 1948 this was not put forward as an operative decision, but as a suggestion which was to be subject, in the end, to discussion by the United Nations, whereas the present Government have taken an operative decision without consultation with anybody, and without even informing the parties concerned beforehand? Does he not think that the result has been very bad and that the danger of war has arisen? Surely it was a most unwise and foolish action to make this unilateral operative decision, not only without consultation but without prior notice to the parties immediately concerned?

Mr. Eden

The point I was making was that the Yugoslav Government were not consulted about the decision in 1948, and they were not consulted on this occasion. We—that is, the two Governments concerned—had to face a deteriorating situation, and had to decide whether, in the face of that, we did nothing, or whether we should produce this proposal as our own, in the hope that both sides would accept it or acquiesce in it, as we had some reason to believe they might. I think that the situation, if handled quietly now, will yet achieve a peaceful solution.

Mr. C. Davies

Is it not true that we were there in occupation with the authority of the Security Council and, as the situation was deteriorating and the risks of any independent action taken by this Government and that of the United States might have very serious consequences, would not the right thing have been to have consulted with the Security Council before this step was actually taken?

Mr. Eden

That question was considered, but the difficulty was that the Security Council had ceased to deal with the matter since 1949. In that year they ceased to handle it. If we had discussed this at length in the Security Council, with all the Powers there, there would not have been the remotest hope of securing agreement on it between the two Powers concerned.

Sir R. Boothby

On the Israeli-Jordan question, would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that this latest shocking episode is the culmination of a long series of thefts, raids and murders up and down this frontier over a period of years, not by any means confined to one side? Will he bring all his great influence to bear to see whether it would not be possible to initiate negotiations for a treaty of peace between the State of Israel and the State of Jordan?

Mr. Eden

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that this is the culmination of a series of incidents. That is really the chief reason which motivated us to take this incident to the Security Council. We thought that that was the best way it should be handled by the three Powers who assumed these particular responsibilities in 1950. It was not in favour or against any particular party to the dispute. I must add that the casualties of this last affair are infinitely heavier than anything which occurred in the earlier raids, which naturally makes it all the more desirable to try to produce a settlement if we can. As a first step, I should like to see some strengthening of the United Nations Commission on the spot.

Mr. Bellenger

On the question of Trieste, in view of the provocative situation in Zone A and Zone B, what is the intention of Her Majesty's Government, and also of the United States Government, regarding the maintenance of the forces of British and American troops in that area?

Mr. Eden

At the moment I do not think I can go beyond what I have said on that situation.

Major Legge-Bourke

With regard to the Israeli matter, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many of the incidents that have taken place in the past have been brought about as a result of the unsatisfactory demarcation line between the two sides? In some parts, this line passes between a garden and the house to which that garden belongs. When the United Nations consider this matter, will he therefore see whether they can review the whole situation, including the demarcation line? Until that is settled, we shall continue to have incidents.

Mr. Eden

That is true. It is also true that the United Nations must have notice of this actual incident if their influence is to be great enough to be able to deal with the matter mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend.

Mr. S. Silverman

I have two questions. First, with regard to the Israeli-Jordan frontier incident, when the right hon. Gentleman says that the incident has been referred to the Security Council does he mean that this incident alone has been referred to it, or the whole question of maintaining peace on the frontier? Secondly, with regard to Trieste, has all hope been abandoned of being able to implement the original arrangements to which everybody consented in the Peace Treaty of 1947?

Mr. Eden

The answer to the second question is, I am afraid, "Yes, Sir." It was really abandoned by the declaration of 1948. With regard to Israel, I should be obliged if the hon. Member would put down a Question about terms of reference. My recollection is that the terms of reference are wider than this incident itself. I only meant that this incident cannot be ignored in dealing with the situation.

Sir W. Fletcher

Has my right hon. Friend anything to tell the House on the question of Indo-China?

Mr. Eden

I have nothing to add beyond the terms of our communiqué following our discussion. If my hon. Friend puts down a Question, I will consider whether I can make a fuller statement.

Mr. Attlee

In view of the gravity of the situation, may I ask the Lord Privy Seal whether he would arrange for us to have a debate during this Session on the question of Trieste?

Mr. Crookshank

Yes, Sir. I will discuss that through the usual channels, if I may.

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