HC Deb 17 July 1958 vol 591 cc1438-46
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on the situation in Jordan.

Within a matter of minutes after the end of the debate yesterday I was given a telegram from Her Majesty's Representative in Jordan. This contained the first news that we had had that King Hussein and the Prime Minister of Jordan had made a request for the immediate despatch of British forces to Jordan.

In making this request, the King and the Prime Minister said that Jordan was faced with an imminent attempt by the United Arab Republic to create internal disorder and to overthrow the present régime, on the pattern of recent events in Iraq.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Are we expected to believe that?

The Prime Minister

They went on to say that Jordan's territorial integrity was threatened by the movement of Syrian forces towards her northern frontier and by the infiltration of arms across it. They had information that a coup organised by the United Arab Republic would be attempted today.

I asked the Cabinet to meet late last night to consider this request.

From our own sources we had received up to date intelligence which clearly showed that the apprehensions of the Jordan Government were well founded, and that an attempt was indeed being organised for today.

The Government accordingly decided to accede to the request, and British forces are, in fact, being sent by air to Jordan from Cyprus.

The purpose of this military assistance is to stabilise the situation in Jordan by helping the Jordanian Government to resist aggression and threats to the integrity and independence of their country.

Our troops will be under the orders of the local British commander who will act with the agreement of the King and Government of Jordan.

The Jordan Government have made a similar request for help to the United States Government, who are considering it urgently in the light of their other commitments in the area. Her Majesty's Government's decision was taken after full consultation with the United States Government, and our action has the full support and approval of the United States Government.

The decision of Her Majesty's Government is being reported to the United Nations, and we are making it clear to the United Nations that if arrangements can be made by the Security Council to protect the lawful Government of Jordan from the external threat, and so maintain international peace and security, the action which we have taken will be brought to an end.

We have informed the other Commonwealth countries, and also the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Council, of the action we have taken and the reasons which have led to the Government's decision.

I have deliberately limited my statement to an objective account of the facts. I appreciated that there would be a desire for a debate and arrangements have been made through the usual channels to bring the debate on the British Transport Commission to an end at 7 o'clock tonight, when the Government will move the Adjournment of the House and a debate can take place.

In view of this, I hope that hon. Members will reserve matters of argument until the debate.

Mr. Gaitskell

The Prime Minister has made an exceedingly serious statement touching on matters on which we expressed certain fears and gave certain warnings yesterday evening. I would have been disposed, in any event, to have moved the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, but the arrangement proposed by the Prime Minister is perfectly satisfactory to us, that is, that there should be a debate at 7 o'clock this evening. I agree with him that in those circumstances it would be wiser not to have too many ragged supplementary questions. I think that the argument can take place far better in the course of a debate than it can at the course of exchanges now.

However, there are one or two factual questions which, nevertheless, I wish to put to the Prime Minister now. The first is whether the Government of Jordan has itself appealed to the United Nations. The second is whether King Hussein made his appeal to us, and, for that matter, if it was made, to the United Nations, as King of Jordan or as King of Jordan and Iraq, the Federation. The third question is whether the Prime Minister can say whether we have given King Hussein any assurance that we will assist him should he try to reassert his authority over Jordan and Iraq.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman's first question related to the United Nations and the Security Council. Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the timing is a little different, but I understand that both the statements and the appeal of the King of Jordan and the statement of the British Government will be put before the Security Council this afternoon.

Mr. Gaitskell

May we take it that King Hussein has appealed to the United Nations?

The Prime Minister

Yes, and I think that it will be taken this afternoon.

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's second question, as far as I know it will be in his title as King of Jordan.

As to the right hon. Gentleman's third question, we have, of course, made it perfectly clear that the sole purpose of the military forces that we have sent is to secure the stability of the Government against external aggression or against a coup so created, and we have made it perfectly clear that that is the sole rôle that such a force would either be allowed to undertake or would be capable of undertaking.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order. In view of the fact that the Prime Minister has quoted from a telegram, may I take it that now, under the rules of the House, the telegram will be tabled?

Mr. Speaker

I did not hear the right hon. Gentleman quote from a telegram. I think that he paraphrased its contents—which is quite a different thing.

Mr. Silverman

Further to that point of order. There are various matters which are relevant here, and the Prime Minister quite clearly told the House the contents of the telegram as, indeed, he was right and bound to do. I think that that is fairly covered by the word "quotation." We need the document so that we can satisfy ourselves about the very important question of the timing of the telegram.

Mr. Speaker

That is quite a different matter. The rule does not apply to a statement which merely paraphrases the contents of a document received. The purpose of the rule is that when only part of a document is quoted verbatim the House should have the whole document, so that it can read that part which was quoted within the context of the original script. That does not arise in this case.

Mr. Shinwell

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question in relation to his statement that a reference has been made to the United Nations on behalf of the British Government and—according to the right hon. Gentleman's statement—simultaneously by the Jordan Government? Can he say when those submissions are likely to be decided upon by the United Nations? Will it be soon? Is it likely to take place within the next 24 hours? Further, assuming that the United Nations rejects the submission of the British and Jordan Governments, what would be the attitude of our Government?

The Prime Minister

The Security Council is sitting this afternoon and therefore, together with the other subjects, this appeal by the Government of Jordan and the statements and appeal by the British Government will, I hope, be part of its agenda. They will certainly be published in the ordinary way as part of the agenda of the Security Council. As for the attitude that the Security Council may take in this matter, that is a hypothetical question. We must wait and see.

Mr. Bevan

Is it intended that the telegram from King Hussein will be placed before the Security Council?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. King Hussein's appeal will be couched in his own language. I have merely said that I have received this information and that we will go through all this in the debate. But I felt that the matter was so urgent that I had to make an answer, yes or no. I had to judge—and I must ultimately rely, with my colleagues who have already had a long meeting with me, on the wisdom or otherwise of our judgment—whether we could afford to wait for a long discussion with our American Allies, and so forth, or ought to carry the responsibility ourselves of not having placed upon us the burden of some terrible action taken today which might thus have been prevented.

Mr. W. Yates

Have the Prime Minister, Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government taken due note of the movement of Russian troops up to the border of Persia and Turkey, or do Her Majesty's Government consider that the Soviet Union is bluffing?

The Prime Minister

I think that in this case the wisest course is to take note of the facts, and not try to interpret them.

Mr. A. Henderson

Are we to take it that the intervention of the Government is not taking place under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, but as a result of an appeal from the Government of Jordan to help them to resist a coup sponsored from the outside?

The Prime Minister

To avert a coup sponsored from the outside, and to avert the movement into their territory of organised forces from outside their territory.

Sir F. Medlicott

Bearing in mind the stresses and strains of eighteen months ago, which are all too familiar to most of the House, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that throughout most of the House and most of the country there will be an awareness of the almost intolerable burden which rests upon him personally, and of the fact that he is activated at this moment by the sole desire to preserve the peace of the world?

Mr. Mayhew

Do we take it from the Prime Minister's replies that not only will British troops not enter Iraq—the other part of the Federation—but will not be stationed in Jordan while Jordan troops enter Iraq?

The Prime Minister

Apart from the logistic difficulties, I have made it perfectly clear that the sole purpose of this rapid decision which we had to take is to try to secure stability in the area for the present, in the hope that better things may follow. That is its sole purpose.

Mr. Gaitskell

Can the Prime Minister give us a little more information about the alleged external threat to Jordan? This is a very important point, and I think that it would help the House a good deal if we could have some more information on it.

The Prime Minister

I am very glad that that question has been asked. There are three forms of aggression of which the Jordan authorities have knowledge and which are confirmed by sources available to us. There are revolutionary movements within the territory both from the west bank and in the capital itself; there are also movements of forces at present stationed in Syria which would, if the plot developed, move into the territory. Both are forms of aggression. One is physical aggression from outside and the other is aggression by the organisation of revolution from the inside.

Mr. Crossman

Will the Prime Minister tell us whether, in view of King Hussein's broadcast this morning that it was his intention to suppress the uprising in Bagdad, it will be the function of our troops to keep order in Jordan while the Arab Legion proceeds to Bagdad?

The Prime Minister

That will not be its function. Moreover, as I said, although these statements are made, if the hon. Member studied the logistics of the situation, he would find that movements from Jordan to Bagdad are quite difficult on either side.

Mr. J. Hynd

The Prime Minister has said that troops have been sent to the support of the Jordan Government at the request of the King of Jordan, as King of Jordan, and not as head of the Arab Federation. Is he not aware that under the Constitution of this Federation King Hussein is now the acting head of the Federation, and if our troops are to prevent aggression, from over the frontiers coming inwards, are they also to prevent, or will they tolerate, aggression from inside Jordan into Iraq, the other part of the Federation under King Hussein's orders?

The Prime Minister

The position is this. We do not know for certain whether the King of Iraq is alive or dead. The Union was one of the two branches of the Hashemite dynasty. The Union has been formally abrogated and declared non-existent by the revolutionary Government in Iraq. That is the whole situation as it now exists. As I say, our sole purpose, and, indeed, our only purpose, is to try to stabilise the position and to prevent a repetition in Jordan of the events which took place last Monday in Iraq.

Major Legge-Bourke

May I ask the Prime Minister whether he has any news of the well-being of British subjects, either in Iraq or in Jordan?

The Prime Minister

We have some news of a rather limited and partial kind which, I am happy to say, shows that things seem reasonably stable.

Mr. Paget

Do we recognise the action of the revolutionary Government in breaking the Union, or do we recognise the Arab Federation, as we did at the time of its formation, as being one and a single country, and not two separate countries?

The Prime Minister

I think that I merely stated the facts. What the juridical position is now is a rather complicated matter which I shall be happy to refer to in the debate.

Mr. Gaitskell

I said earlier that I thought a lot of these things could be discussed more suitably in debate, but I think that it would help the House a great deal if the Prime Minister would agree to open the debate himself with a rather fuller statement. I realise that that is different from the understanding we reached earlier, but we did not know then exactly what the right hon. Gentleman was going to say this afternoon. If he would do that I think it would be a real help to us all.

The Prime Minister

I am very ready to accede to the right hon. Gentleman's request, all the more so because it was at my suggestion, which he accepted very courteously, that we should proceed by debate at 7 o'clock, and that that would be the best method. Certainly, if it is the wish of the House, I will open the debate with a longer statement, and perhaps, if it is necessary, and by leave of the House, I may be allowed to say a few words at the end of the debate.

Mr. Paget

On a point of order. May I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether this debate will end at 10 o'clock, or whether the rule can be suspended for some time? From a back-bench point of view three hours is rather a short time for such an important debate.

Mr. Speaker

The Motion for the Adjournment must lapse at 10 o'clock and the debate on this particular issue must come to an end at 10 o'clock. Notice has not been given that would enable any Standing Order to be suspended.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. While making it quite clear that I desire to preserve Standing Order No. 9 for the right of the House, may I ask this question? I understand that today is a Supply Day and I should, therefore, like to ask whether I am correct in my understanding of how the business is now to proceed. Why cannot we go on to the question forthwith? Seeing that the lives of our sons are to be at stake in this issue, why cannot we do our duty to our constituents by debating this serious situation right now?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a question for me. There is an Order of the Day for Supply which I am bound to proceed with, and it seems to be the agreement of both sides of the House that we should follow this course. It is not for me to alter it.

Mr. Ellis Smith

May I make it quite clear, Sir, that I respect the difficulties of the Chair. I have sufficient knowledge of the Standing Orders to know that they provide for a serious and urgent situation such as this. I hope that you will be generous and magnanimous enough, Sir, to bear in mind that we are also in a difficulty; and we are desirous, especially after we have been through two world wars, of doing our duty today. Therefore, if we cannot have an undertaking now that we are to proceed forthwith to discuss this most urgent matter, I desire the opportunity to take advantage of our Parliamentary rights and assert them under Standing Order No. 9. Will you be good enough to advise me on that, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will realise that even if he got the leave of the House, in these circumstances, to move the Adjournment of the House, the effect would be precisely the same. The Motion would come on at 7 o'clock and finish at 10 o'clock, like any other Motion for the Adjournment. I do not think that anything would be gained by that, and in view of the promise of an early debate I might find it my duty not to accept the Motion under the Standing Order.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I thank you, Mr. Speaker. I want to absolve you of any difficulty at all, because it is quite obvious where the difficulty lies.