HC Deb 19 November 1956 vol 560 cc1372-4
35. Mr. Benn

asked the Minister Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement about the safety of those British civilians who were in Egypt during the recent Anglo-French military operations in that country; what provisions were made for their safety by the Government of Egypt; and what efforts were made by the Supreme Allied Commander to rescue these people during the operations.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. A. D. Dodds-Parker) rose

Mr. Robens

On a point of order. May I ask, Sir, whether the discussion that took place on the previous points of order ruled out supplementary questions on the previous Question? We were interested in listening to the Minister of State on the Bagdad Pact, and there were a number of questions we should have liked to have pursued.

Mr. Speaker

We have passed from that Question now. I hope that the House will excuse me if, with the number of points of order that were raised on Question No. 34, I omitted to call the supplementary questions on it, but some of the points of order were, I think, in themselves in the nature of supplementary questions.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Her Majesty's Government have received no reports that any of the British subjects residing in Egypt have suffered injury as a result of the military operations. We are given to understand that the British community are, in general, safe and well. The prime purpose of the Franco-British action was not to rescue but to protect the British community. This was achieved by stopping the war. British subjects in Port Said are, of course, now under the protection of the allied forces there.

Mr. Benn

In view of the fact that the Government, at the very beginning, did state the safety of British civilians as one of the objects of the act of aggression against Egypt, may I ask the Minister whether he has made any efforts at all to find out how these civilians are; whether there have been any efforts made by the Supreme Command to rescue them; whether he will say to what he attributes the fact that these civilians are safe, and whether he will kindly make a statement about the future safety of these civilians in Egypt?

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Yes. I attribute the safety of these British civilians to the intervention of the Anglo-French forces.

Mr. Nicholson

Whilst wishing to dissociate myself from everything that has been said, is said, or will be said by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), may I ask a question about these civilians? There are two aspects to it. First, there is the anxiety felt by relations in this country about their safety. Secondly, there is the fact that these people in Egypt are being held incommunicado and do not get any news of their relations in England. Can my hon. Friend assure me that efforts are being made to get messages through to these civilians, as well as to get them back to this country?

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Certainly, Sir. We are in touch with the Swiss Government, who are the protecting Power in this case.

Mr. J. Hynd

Has not the Minister's attention been drawn to the evidence from both Egypt and the Sudan that there was no risk to these British civilians until our invasion, and that the only reason for the respect that has been shown to these people, in spite of our Government's action, is the recognition by the Egyptian and Sudanese people that not all British people are equally guilty with Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Dodds-Parker

On the contrary, if hostilities had continued without our intervention there would, without any doubt, have been risk to these individuals.

Mr. Crossman

May I ask about the 400 British civilians in the Canal Zone today who are looking after the equipment in what was once the British base? Would the hon. Gentleman agree that, before we intervened, these people were perfectly happy looking after the equipment, but that after we intervened they were all arrested? Could he please bother to tell the House what has happened to these 400 people, who were arrested entirely as a result of our intervention?

Mr. Dodds-Parker

The Swiss Government have informed us that employees of the contractors, numbering 450, have been interned.

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