HC Deb 22 October 1953 vol 518 cc2156-8
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Eden)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a short statement.

My attention has been drawn to the point raised in the House yesterday by the hon. Member for Bristol, South East (Mr. Benn) regarding a reply on the Trieste situation given by my noble Friend the Lord President of the Council in another place in answer to a supplementary question on 20th October. I hope the House will acquit me of any discourtesy for not having been here to answer the hon. Gentleman, but I had not any notice of his intention to raise the matter. As the House is no doubt aware, my noble Friend took immediate steps within an hour or two to issue a correction of his original reply. This was published in the Press yesterday morning. He followed this up by a statement in another place yesterday regretting the inaccuracy. I have no doubt that the House will also have noticed the courteous recognition expressed by Her Majesty's Opposition in another place for the prompt and full explanation given by my noble Friend.

Mr. Attlee

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether we can have a little further explanation? I think that both Houses are rightly fully indulgent to Ministers who make a slip, but in this matter the right hon. Gentleman himself explained to this House that this matter has been one of long and anxious consideration, and upon the publication of this statement this was one of the principal matters that were taken up by the Yugoslav authorities. It was, in fact, one of the main matters for consideration as to the timing of this and the giving or not giving of notification. It seems to denote extraordinary confusion in the minds of those who have been running the Foreign Office for the last few months that such a thing should be a slip and should not have been in the mind of the noble Lord.

Mr. Eden

The right hon. Gentleman has had, as I have, a very full experience of answering supplementary questions. I certainly have never claimed that I would not make mistakes in answering supplementary questions; nothing in the world is easier, and from the manner in which leaders of the right hon. Gentleman's own party in the House of Lords accepted this explanation, it is perfectly clear that in their minds it was an understandable one. At any rate, so far as the facts were concerned, with which, I agree, the House has every reason to be concerned, they are as I stated them to this House.

Mr. Benn

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Lord Salisbury, in making his statement yesterday in another place, did not withdraw the supplementary answer which he gave the previous day in which he had said that the gist of these proposals was conveyed to both Governments in advance, whereas the right hon. Gentleman said on that day that no advance notice was given. Would he please clear up that contradiction, which still remains?

Mr. Eden

There is absolutely no contradiction. The position was exactly as I have given it to this House. With all respect having said what I said to this House here, I do not think that we can very well try to set against that some interpretation of what was said elsewhere, when the correction made there was accepted by the whole of that House.

Mr. T. Reid

Would the right hon. Gentleman try to clear up this matter, which is of great importance? He told this House on 20th October that in view of the discussions and contacts we had had with both parties over many months we felt justified in thinking that this was a solution which each side should acquiesce in, if under protest. Surely if that means anything it means that Tito and the Italians were fully aware of what the British and American Governments might do.

Mr. Eden

I think those words were an exact explanation of the methods we have used. I do not think it would be proper for me to debate whether they were right or wrong methods; it is legitimate for the House to have various views upon that, but on the face of it the argument was applied to the methods which we have used.

Mr. Bing rose——

Mr. Speaker

This was a matter which was raised in another place. An explanation has been offered in the other place and accepted there. The right hon. Gentleman has just said that what he said to this House was correct. I do not think it is really in the interests of this House to carry the matter further.

Mr. Bing

On a point of order. I was endeavouring to address a question to the right hon. Gentleman on the desirability of making statements of this sort in another place. I hope that in these circumstances you will give me permission, Mr. Speaker, to put my question.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and learned Gentleman has very cleverly managed to convey the gist of his question to the House.