HC Deb 12 February 1958 vol 582 cc395-8
67 Mr. Benn

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) whether he will make an additional grant in aid to the International Red Cross Committee in respect of the expenses incurred by the Red Cross mission now in Tunisia;

  1. (2) what action he proposes to take at the Security Council regarding the Tunisian complaint about the bombing of Sakiet by French aircraft;
  2. (3) what action Her Majesty's Government are taking to bring the dispute between France and Tunisia to the attention of the North Atlantic Council.

Commander Noble

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will answer these Questions together. I thought that the House would wish that I should answer them.

Her Majesty's Government were gravely concerned by the recent French raid on a Tunisian village. They deplore the loss of civilian lives involved. We are actively discussing the situation with the French and Tunisian Governments, with both of whom we are in close and friendly relations. Our Ambassadors in Paris and Tunis were instructed to urge on the French and Tunisian Governments the need for moderation and restraint. It is true that the relations between France and Tunisia have recently deteriorated; but, fortunately, not yet so far that wise statesmanship cannot restore that collaboration which is so much in the interest of both countries and of all the West.

The Tunisian representative at the United Nations has addressed a note to the Secretary-General which has been circulated to all members. It describes the incident and the measures subsequently taken by the Tunisian Government, and then reserves the right to have recourse in conformity with the United Nations Charter to the machinery provided by the Charter. I have no confirmation that the Tunisian representative has, in fact, requested a meeting of the Security Council. The matter was being discussed this morning in the North Atlantic Council. I have not yet received a full report of the meeting, but I understand that the French representative conveyed certain information to his colleagues.

Her Majesty's Government's support of the International Red Cross is by means of regular gifts which are taken into the general fund of the Red Cross and used as it thinks best. An International Red Cross team was active in the area at the time and, in spite of damage, is continuing its services. A special contribution does not appear to be required on this occasion. If the Red Cross were to make a request we would certainly be prepared to consider it further.

The House will be aware that various private bodies in this country, such as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief and the Save the Children Fund, have been active in helping Algerian refugees in Tunisia and Morocco. Indeed, the Tunisian Government have recently expressed to us their gratitude for the work being done by British societies in this way.

Mr. Benn

May I thank the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for his courtesy in answering these very important Questions, and put certain supplementary questions to him? First, would he not confirm that an International Red Cross Mission in Sakiet, at the time of the bombing, consisted of four lorries, three of which were destroyed by French aircraft, and that the Swedish colonel in command of the convoy has reported the incident in an eye-witness account which leaves no doubt that further supplies are necessary?

Secondly, what instructions have been given to the British delegate at N.A.T.O. to take up the question of the use of American bombers, supplied under N.A.T.O., for this attack upon a third country, which is not only a breach of the Charter but of Articles 1 and 7 of the N.A.T.O. Agreement itself? Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman also say whether the British Government are content to leave the Security Council matter entirely to the initiative of the Tunisian or French members?

Is it not the case that if Russian aircraft had bombed an Austrian village, on the ground that the Austrians were helping Hungarian refugees, a very different result would have followed from the initiative of this country? Would the Minister now offer some initiative from London towards bringing to an end the Algerian war, which is the cause of all this tragic business?

Commander Noble

As I said in my original statement, there was some damage during the raid and I have seen reports along the lines of what the hon. Member has just said, but the International Red Cross operates over a very wide field and I think that the organisation and the Tunisians are able to deal with this incident.

This is, of course, a matter for N.A.T.O. and in that respect the problem will have been under consideration this morning. Our representative was instructed to emphasise the importance of a constructive effort to restore the situation. We do not yet know whether the Tunisians have asked for a meeting of the Security Council, but I think that we should wait until we have further news from New York.

Mr. Bevan

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that we on this side of the House share the deep shock that this incident has caused to public opinion throughout the country? Is he aware that this has also been shared by responsible public opinion in France itself and that very many Frenchmen of distinction have expressed their horror at what has happened? Is he also aware that we hope that he will co-operate further to see that, the incident is fully investigated and reparations properly made?

Commander Noble

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I think that in the United Nations, and in our consultations—as in those of other friendly Powers—with the French and Tunisian Governments, the aim of Her Majesty's Government will be to help in restoring friendly relations between France and Tunisia.