HC Deb 26 November 1956 vol 561 cc30-3
Mr. Robens

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what action he proposes to take as a result of the Egyptian decision to expel all British and French nationals from Egypt, and how many people are affected.

Commander Noble

Her Majesty's Government have been deeply shocked by the news received through the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs who had a report from their Minister in Cairo on 23rd November to the effect that all members of the British and French communities in Egypt were to be expelled within the next week or 10 days. Each person was to be allowed to take a maximum of £20 with him.

The task of the Swiss Legation m assisting the British and French subjects concerned was, at the same time, made almost impossible by the action of the Egyptian Government in removing the local staff formerly attached to the British and French Embassies. We have no information on the means by which the Egyptian Government propose to transport these people from Egypt to the United Kingdom and to other destinations.

The British subjects concerned number about 13,000 in all. These include those of United Kingdom origin as well as Maltese and Cypriots. It is not clear from our existing information whether the expulsion order covers those British subjects who had previously been interned by the Egyptians, including the employees of the Suez Canal Base Contractors. We have asked the Swiss Government to obtain clarification on this point.

Meanwhile, the British Red Cross have requested the International Red Cross to supply food and other necessities to the internees.

No restriction has been imposed on Egyptian citizens in the United Kingdom, nor have any deportation orders been issued against them.

The Swiss Minister has protested vigorously to the Egyptian Government against what he has described as a barbarous measure. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has made the strongest possible representations to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and to the Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs in New York.

A further statement will be made to the House when the outcome of these representations is known.

Mr. Robens

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, may I say, without any qualification, that this is an inhuman and cruel act by the Egyptian Government? But does it not indicate the indescribable folly of this military adventure, which was originally designed to protect British nationals and British property? May I assure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that we hope that Her Majesty's Government will not take retaliatory action—as they have indicated they will not—and ask him what arrangements are being made by our Government to find these people shelter and sustenance? Indeed, what are the Government prepared to do to make up for the wicked way in which they have caused these events to come about?

Commander Noble

The right hon. Gentleman agreed that we should not expel Egyptians. I am sure that the House and the country would not wish us to meet barbarism with barbarism. The right hon. Gentleman also asked what arrangements we were making. This is only an interim statement; we had the news only on Friday, but all the points which he raised are being considered.

Mr. Patrick Maitland

Does not this action underline the extreme importance of the very closest scrutiny of the competence of the United Nations Force which is going in there?

Mr. S. Silverman

Can the Minister confirm that this order applies not merely to British and French citizens—who will no doubt be warmly welcomed home when they arrive—but also to 40,000 or 50,000 Jews, who are Egyptian citizens and who, therefore, have no claim on any other country? If he can confirm that the order does so apply, can he say whether the Government will treat these Jews as humanely and generously as we are rightly doing in the case of the refugees from Hungary?

Commander Noble

That is a different question. We would not be informed of that by the Swiss Minister in Cairo.

Mr. Bellenger

Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell the House what is the status of these people under international law? If they had been in the armed forces they would be protected as prisoners of war. Have they no protection whatever under international law at the moment?

Commander Noble

It seems to Her Majesty's Government that the Egyptian Government are in breach of the Geneva Convention of 1949 relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war—[HON. MEMBERS: "We are not at war."] This Convention applies to: all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties …

Air Commodore Harvey

Does not my right hon. and gallant Friend agree that this inhuman action on the part of the Egyptian Government is in line with everything that they have done since we handed back the Suez Canal? Will my right hon. and gallant Friend consider referring this matter to the United Nations?

Commander Noble

As I have said, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary is raising this matter with the Secretary-General.

Mr. Paget

Is it not a fact that the really grim and humiliating answer is that we are impotent to do anything in face of this outrage? Since we are impotent, will the Government ask America and the United Nations to do something for us and for these people?

Commander Noble

I do not think that I have anything to add about our representation to the United Nations.

Mr. Dudley Williams

In view of the act of the Egyptian Government this morning, does not my right hon. and gallant Friend think that it would be most unwise for us to remove any of our forces outside the Port Said area until the United Nations is in a position to enforce upon Egypt a decent standard of behaviour?

Commander Noble

The question of our forces was dealt with at some length by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal last week. I do not think that anything that hon. Members can say can detract from the importance and tragedy of this question.

Mr. Daines

Arising out of the supplementary question of the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland), may I ask whether the Minister can confirm or deny the Press statement that the Government have given an undertaking to their supporters that the United Nations Force would remain in the Canal Zone for four years?

Commander Noble

That is another question.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Will my right hon. and gallant Friend keep especially in mind the plight of the 680 employees at the Suez Base—contractors and others—who are interned in that country? Does he realise that it would be widely understood if we had to take retaliatory action against Egyptians in this country? Will he also give the earliest possible information to the relatives of the 680 men, on whether they are to be returned to this country?

Commander Noble

Certainly. We have the position of these men and the question of information to their relatives very much in mind.

Mrs. L. Jeger

Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell the House how many of the British subjects are Cypriote, and whether the report that they are being offered the opportunity of Greek naturalisation is correct?

Commander Noble

There are about 4,600 Cypriots. I have no information about the second part of the question.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Heath.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Heath.]