HC Deb 14 May 1964 vol 695 cc599-603
Q1. Mr. Healey

asked the Prime Minister what representations he has received for the publication of a full account of the events leading up to the Suez campaign in 1956.

Q2. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether he will now authorise the publication of an official history of the Anglo-French Suez campaign.

Q3 Mr. Shinwell

asked the Prime Minister (1) if he will now authorise the publication of an official history of the Suez campaign; and if, to that end, he will collate all available information on the circumstances in which the Egyptian Government took possession of the Suez canal and on the related military agreements and manoeuvres;

(2) if he will publish all the documents in the possession of Her Majesty's Government about the facts which caused them to refuse financial assistance to Egypt for the construction of the Aswan Dam, the negotiations with the United States Government which led to this decision, and the representations made by the Egyptian Government to Her Majesty's Government on the matter.

Q6. Mr. D. Foot

asked the Prime Minister whether Her Majesty's Government will set up a commission of inquiry with terms of reference similar to those of the Dardanelles Commission in 1916, namely, to inquire into the origin, inception and conduct of the operation by British forces directed at Suez and elsewhere in Egypt in 1956.

The Prime Minister (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

From time to time requests are made for the publication of documents on particular questions or the commissioning of official histories on particular campaigns or incidents when British troops have been in action. These requests have to be considered in the light of the Public Records Act, 1958, which prescribes the rules and practice about the disclosure of documents.

I see no grounds for preparing an official history or establishing a commission of inquiry.

Mr. Healey

But is the Prime Minister aware that there is deep concern about the statement of Monsieur Pineau that he met the British Foreign Secretary and the Israeli Prime Minister a week before military operations began in Sinai and agreed with him the terms of joint intervention? Would not the Prime Minister agree that he owes it to the House, to his colleagues, and to the country, to deny this report if it is untrue? In view of the fact that the Prime Minister prides himself on talking straight, will he give a straight answer to the Question, did such a meeting take place or not?

The Prime Minister

I have no intention of commenting on statements or rumours. There have been plenty of them over these years. As for the suggestion that my right hon. and learned Friend has in any way done anything dishonourable or misled the House, the Government of the day took certain action, that action was debated in Parliament I do not know how many times, and decided by Parliament, and it was followed by a General Election. I see nothing about which to have an inquiry.

Mr. A. Henderson

Is not there a strong case for putting on historical record all the facts, not only with regard to the military operations which took place, but also with regard to the political events which led up to the opening of the campaign? Is not this essential in view of the doubts and suspicions which undoubtedly exist on this question?

Hon. Members


The Prime Minister

I think that I have answered the right hon. Gentleman's question. I do not think that there is a case for an inquiry.

Mr. Shinwell

Would not it be of some value to expose all the facts associated with the Suez affair, and to dispose at the same time of some allegations, in particular the allegation of collusion between the Eden Government and the Israeli Government, which seemed to lay the foundation?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are in the possession of the Israeli Government detailed plans which where prepared by the Egyptian Government before the Israeli Government took the initiative, and which ought to be exposed? Is the Prime Minister aware that I am concerned only with exposing the facts, and that I am not seeking to make an attack on the Eden Government or on anybody else? I leave that to others. I am concerned only with exposing facts.

May I now ask the Prime Minister about my second Question, the one about the Aswan Dam? Is it the case that the British Government were prepared to provide some measure of financial assistance to the Egyptian Government in the construction of the Aswan Dam, but that due to the intervention of Mr. Foster Dulles that assistance was withdrawn, and is not that action largely responsible for the bellicose attitude of the Egyptian Government towards the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister

I have always known the right hon. Gentleman's views about the Suez incident, and I dare say that I agree with a good many of them. What I am saying is that there is no occasion for an official history of these incidents.

Mr. D. Foot

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in 1916, when the conduct of Ministers was sought to be impugned over the Dardanelles, the Ministers themselves welcomed an inquiry, and the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) actually proposed an enlargement of the terms of reference, although he himself was closely involved? Can the Prime Minister explain the difference between standards of Ministerial conduct then and now?

The Prime Minister

It is not a question of standards of Ministerial conduct; it is a question of certain action taken by the Government of the day, which was debated time and again in Parliament, and in respect of which Parliament took its decision.

Mr. Renton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these allegations of collusion with the Israelis were made several times in the last Parliament and were denied by the then Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary? Is it not right that we should accept their word, rather than the word of an obscure commentator who is in no way concerned in these matters?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. and learned Friend is right. Statement after statement was made by the then Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, and Secretary of State for Defence. These were debated, and Parliament took its decision, knowing the facts given to it by the Prime Minister of the day.

Mr. H. Wilson

Without going further into these debates, which took a lot of time, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that the French Foreign Minister of those days can hardly be described as an obscure commentator? Would it not do a great deal to reassure the House if the right hon. Gentleman would just state flatly whether that meeting did or did not take place?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, I do not think so. As I said earlier, I do not intend to comment upon rumour or statement. The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt notice that Mr. Pineau has refused to comment on the statement which the American commentator, to whom my right hon. and learned Friend was referring, made on television.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Has my right hon. Friend studied the conclusions of sources at least at intimately informed as Professor Finer, such as Colonel Meinertzhagen's diary, which state that there could have been no collusion, as has been alleged. Is it not deplorable that the defence spokesman opposite, at a time when our troops are fighting in Aden, should act as a chorus to the Khrushchev-Nasser duet, thus giving countenance to what the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said on one occasion to the Daily Sketch, namely, that there are several people in the Labour Party who are pro-asser?

The Prime Minister

This just illustrates how wise I am to say that I will not comment on any statements that come from any quarter. My hon. Friend has just quoted another statement. I could comment on that, but I shall not do so. Really, we ought to realise that at the time before Suez there was a danger that the whole of the Middle East would go up in war, and that this war could easily have spread far further afield. Hon. Members will remember the remarks made by the Russian leaders at the time. If we do not realise that the Middle East and everything to do with Israel and the Arab world is inflammable at the moment, and may still spring into flames, we ought to take a little more time to think.

Mr. Grimond

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that, contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman said earlier—in reply to a supplementary question from behind him—the then Prime Minister told us that certain discussions and conversations took place? [Interruption.] This is on the record. [HON. MEMBERS: "Then why refer to it?"] Because it has been denied. Is it not now time that we should be told—[Interruption.] I hope that hon. Members opposite will allow me to finish what I want to say. I am only trying to do justice to what their own former Prime Minister once said. Will the Prime Minister now tell us a little more about the nature of these conversations, and what conclusion they reached?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman can read the statements made by Sir Anthony Eden—as he then was—when he was Prime Minister. They are in HANSARD. He said that meetings took place, and I have said that I am not commenting on exactly what meetings took place, or who was at them.