HC Deb 21 November 1956 vol 560 cc1742-6
41. Dr. Summerskill

asked the Minister of Defence what is his approximate estimate of the number of Egyptian service casualties and civilian casualties, men, women and children resulting from the recent operations in Egypt; and what steps he took to assure himself that Egyptian hospitals had water, light and equipment to deal adequately with the wounded.

52. Mr. G. M. Thomson

asked the Minister of Defence if he will make a further statement on the amount of damage to civilian life and property in Port Said during the recent military operations there.

53. Mr. K. Robinson

asked the Minister of Defence if it is now possible to estimate accurately the number of Egyptian casualties, civilian and service, in the Port Said area, and elsewhere in Egypt, resulting from Anglo-French operations.

The Minister of Defence (Mr. Antony Head)

As regards Egyptian casualties and military casualties in Port Said, I have received no information which leads; me to modify the estimate of 100 killed and 540 wounded which I gave to the House last Wednesday. I have no information about casualties in other parts of Egypt.

Throughout the operations every care was taken to keep danger to life and property to the minimum. In Port Said the damage to the town as a whole is not severe, but during the seaborne landings, which were made necessary by the Egyptian repudiation of the cease-fire which had been agreed on the previous evening, some damage was caused to buildings along the sea front. After the landings there was some house-to-house fighting in which a number of buildings used as strong points were damaged and the Arab quarter was partially destroyed.

Thanks to the efforts of the allied engineers public services in the town were quickly restarted.

Both main hospitals in Port Said remained open. A generator was supplied to the civil hospital to ensure continuity of lighting during blackouts. Essential drugs and food were supplied by the Army Medical Service.

Dr. Summerskill

Will the right hon. Gentleman reply categorically: is it a fact that the intensive bombing cut off the water and light to the General Hospital, Cairo, as a consequence of which the surgeons were unable to operate efficiently on the injured? Furthermore, is it a fact that the mortality rate in this hospital was very high and the corpses had to be piled in sheds and even on the ground outside the hospital?

Mr. Head

I must tell the right hon. Lady that I have no information on this concerning inside Egypt, but I can also tell her that the most lurid stories have come out of Egypt which have been proved, so far as we have been able to check them in Port Said, to be gross exaggerations. It was stated by the Egyptians that there were 12,000 casualties in Port Said, of which a large proportion had been caused by machine-gun fire from helicopters. That was pure invention and entirely at variance with any of the facts which we know in Port Said. Concerning elsewhere in Egypt, I can only say that, judging by the propaganda put out about Port Said, it is highly likely that such allegations were untrue.

Dr. Summerskill

I asked the Minister to reply categorically. Can he say that he has no information about the General Hospital, to which a large number of wounded were taken?

Mr. Head

We have no official representative in Cairo who could go and examine, but there are United Nations observers there. As far as I know, no report or representation to the United Nations to that effect has been made by an observer.

Mr. Thomson

Is the Minister aware that this is a matter which is doing harm to Britain's name abroad and that we are anxious to clear it up? Is he aware that the Prime Minister of India has talked about several thousand casualties in Port Said, that a B.B.C. correspondent has broadcast that he has seen more than 100 dead in Port Said and that several reputable American correspondents, who have great influence throughout America, have talked about seeing a very large number of casualties in Port Said? Can the right hon. Gentleman say categorically that these stories are untrue?

Mr. Head

As far as Port Said is concerned, I reaffirm what I have stated. The report to me of these casualties has been strictly in accordance with the facts, and the information at my disposal is that they are limited to 100 dead and 540 wounded. The British have a great reputation for truth in these matters. [Interruption.] I would say that throughout the last war the B.B.C. had an immense reputation for stating facts.

Mr. Wigg

That was before the right hon. Gentleman and his friends came to office.

Mr. Head

The allegations of these heavy casualties in Port Said I can categorically deny.

Mr. Robinson

What is the source of the right hon. Gentleman's information? [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the hon. Member's? "] Can he explain why there is this great discrepancy between his estimate and the estimate of many responsible neutral observers? Will he tell us where he gets his figures from?

Mr. Head

My figures are entirely from the administration of Port Said, which is in the hands of our forces. It is their job to deal with all matters military and civilian in the town. They send to us accurate reports of casualties, both of our own forces and of the Egyptians, so far as they know them. I rely on their facts, and I am absolutely certain that there has been a calculated dissemination of distorted facts and propaganda in this matter.

Sir J. Hutchison

Can my right hon. Friend confirm or deny the report that Nasser breached the Sweet Water Canal, which supplies Port Said with water? If it is true, does it not show—

Mr. Speaker

That is another question. We are dealing now with the hospital.

Mr. Stokes

Arising out of the question by my right hon. Friend concerning the Cairo Hospital, cannot the Minister assure us that there was no bombing anywhere near the water supply of that hospital which would disconnect it? Is not that really the question?

Mr. Head

We have a very careful analysis of our bombing and where the bombs fell. As the water supply—I am no expert in this—goes along the whole of the route from its source to the hospital, I cannot give any categorical assurance. Naturally, we have no official observers in Egypt. There are United Nations observers, and I have noticed that very little has been forwarded to the United Nations which substantiates the very wild claims which have been made of atrocities.

Mr. P. Williams

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that any British casualties that occurred in this incident were taken to hospital, where there was, in fact, water, light and necessary equipment? Will be express some concern from this side of the House for the survival and good treatment of British casualties?

Mr. Head

I am satisfied that the medical arrangements which were made at Port Said were adequate and functioned well during the time. Not only that, but in addition to looking after British casualties, which were, I am glad to say, light, there were sufficient facilities to deal promptly and effectively under difficult circumstances with the Egyptian casualties as well.


Mr. Lewis

On a point of order. I tried to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, while Private Members' Bills were being presented, and hoped that my voice might have reached you. I rise to ask your advice and guidance.

As you know, on several occasions the Government have stated that there have not been many casualties in Egypt. Even as recently as this afternoon the Minister of Defence said that the casualties and destruction in Port Said were negligible. In view of that, is it in order for my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) to use the facilities of the House to circulate Press photographs showing terrible death and destruction in Port Said?

Mr. Speaker

I have not seen the photographs of which the hon. Member complains, and I would not like to say anything about them until I have seen them. There are photographs and photographs but, prima facie, I see nothing whatsoever wrong in it or anything in which I could interfere.

Mr. Robens

I am obliged to you for that, Mr. Speaker, because it absolves me from unparliamentary conduct in circulating these photographs. But as these photographs are of more than passing interest to Members of Parliament, would you give permission for them to be exhibited in the Library?

Mr. Speaker

I am willing always to comply with what is desired if I can, but would the right hon. Gentleman allow me an opportunity to consider the matter? I know nothing about the photographs. I should like to arrive at an informed opinion on the matter without making a snap decision which might be wrong.