HC Deb 20 November 1956 vol 560 cc1550-3

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

50. Mr. ROBENS

To ask the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the present position in the Middle East, with particular reference to the transfer of responsibilities of the Anglo-French forces to the United Nations forces in Egypt.

Mr. R. A. Butler

May I then answer, with the permission of yourself, Mr. Speaker, and of the House, Question No. 50?

Hon. Members will recall that last Thursday my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that in the earlier part of this week he hoped to be able to make a statement on the present position in the Middle East. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary is still engaged in discussions in New York. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has only just returned to New York from Egypt. My right hon. and learned Friend will no doubt be in early consultation with the Secretary-General over the arrangements for replacing British and French troops by an international force and upon developments in the situation generally.

My right hon. and learned Friend is expected back in London the day after tomorrow, and I hope he may then be in a position to report to this House the latest information upon the situation. I would suggest that it would be better to await this information.

Mr. Robens

We accept the situation as described by the Lord Privy Seal and that it may not be convenient before Thursday to make the full statement for which we asked last week. I would, however, like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will make perfectly clear in the statement the exact terms and conditions upon which the Government are prepared to withdraw their troops from Egypt.

Mr. Butler

I would naturally wish the Government first to be in full possession of the results of the visit of the Secretary-General to Egypt, which we are only just receiving; and secondly, I would wish either myself or the Foreign Secretary to give a full account to the House of the situation as we then see it. I hope that it may be possible by Thursday afternoon, because I realise that Thursday afternoon is more suitable than Friday, but I certainly think that we ought to do it on the first occasion we can.

Mr. P. Williams

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in earlier statements there has always been reference to an "effective" United Nations Police Force? Today, that word was missing. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the United Nations Force to which he is willing to hand over shall, in fact, be an effective force?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir. In answer to Question No. 46, I repeated the Prime Minister's words, as soon as the force is in a position effectively to discharge its tasks. I said that purposely because I thought it was important.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the question of collusion, to which I referred earlier?

Mr. Butler

I have no statement to make on that matter today, but I will note what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Henderson

Arising from the reply of the Lord Privy Seal to the question put from his own benches, may we have an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will leave it to the General Assembly of the United Nations to decide when the United Nations Police Force is effective and will not defy the decision of the United Nations on that basis?

Mr. Hirst

Hon. Members opposite would leave it to Nasser and have done with it.

Mr. Butler

In answering these questions, it is important to be quite clear what one is answering. When a degree of withdrawal is necessitated on behalf of the British and French forces, a degree of volition on behalf of the French and British Governments is at least reasonable. It is most important that I should make clear what I said before: that a decision as to the effectiveness of the Force must be made by Her Majesty's Government and the French Government, in consultation with the United Nations.

Captain Waterhouse

Is it not a fact that, under the Charter of the United Nations, the Assembly has power only to recommend and no power to enforce a decision?

Mr. Butler

That thought did cross my mind just now in answering the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It is important to realise the various powers of the Assembly and of the Security Council on this matter.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have not had the statement yet. We are not getting it until Thursday.