HL Deb 05 November 1956 vol 199 cc1371-6

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, with the further indulgence of the House, I should now like to make a statement on the Israel-Egypt situation, prefacing it with an apology to noble Lords who lead both the Parties opposite for the fact that great pressure of time has made it impossible for me to give them a copy in advance, which is something that we always desire to do.

Since the House met on Thursday, the General Assembly of the United Nations, meeting in Emergency Special Session, has passed three resolutions. The first was sponsored by a number of Asian and African States. This called for a ceasefire, the halting of the movement of military forces and arms into the area and the withdrawal of all forces in the area behind the armistice lines. It authorised the Secretary-General to obtain compliance. The second resolution was sponsored by Canada. It requested the Secretary-General to submit within forty-eight hours a plan for the setting up, with the consent of the nations concerned, of an emergency International United Nations Force to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities in accordance with the terms of the cease-fire resolution of November 2.

Yesterday morning, the Secretary-General of the United Nations drew the attention of Her Majesty's Government to these resolutions and requested all parties to bring a halt to all hostile military actions in the area by 8 o'clock, Greenwich Mean Time, yesterday. Her Majesty's Government had already invited the French Ministers to come to London for consultations. They informed Mr. Hammarskjoeld of this fact and explained that it was not possible to give him a definite answer to his message within the time limit which he had stipulated. As a result of their consultations with the French Government they sent a telegram to the Secretary-General very early this morning. This read as follows:

"The Governments of the United Kingdom and France have studied carefully the resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly passed on 3rd and 4th November.

"They warmly welcome the idea which seems to underly the request to the Secretary-General contained in the resolution sponsored by Canada, and adopted by the Assembly at its 563rd meeting, that an international force should be interpolated as a shield between Israel and Egypt pending a Palestine settlement and a settlement of the question of the Suez Canal. But according to their information neither the Israeli nor the Egyptian Government has accepted such a proposal. Nor has any plan for an international force been accepted by the General Assembly or endorsed by the Security Council.

"The composition of the staff and contingents of the international force would be a matter for discussion.

"The two Governments continue to believe that it is necessary to interpose an international force to prevent the continuance of hostilities between Egypt and Israel, to secure the speedy withdrawal of Israeli forces, to take the necessary measures to remove obstructions and restore traffic through the Suez Canal, and to promote a settlement of the problems of the area.

"Certain Anglo-French operations, with strictly limited objectives, are continuing. But as soon as the Israeli and Egyptian Governments signify acceptance of, and the United Nations endorses, a plan for an international force with the above functions the two Governments will cease all military action.

"In thus stating their views, the United Kingdom and French Governments would like to express their firm conviction that their action is justified. To return deliberately to the system which has produced continuing deadlock and chaos in the Middle East is now not only undesirable but impossible. A new constructive solution is required. To this end they suggest that an early Security Council Meeting at the Ministerial level should be called in order to work out an international settlement which would be likely to endure, together with the means to enforce it."

This message to the Secretary-General crossed a telegram from him informing Her Majesty's Government of the passing of a third resolution. This referred to the Canadian resolution, which I have already described, and to a preliminary report from the Secretary-General on the plan to set up an emergency International United Nations Force. It called for the establishment of United Nations command to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities in accordance with all the terms of the earlier cease-fire resolution. It appointed General Burns. Chief of Staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation, Chief of Command on an emergency basis. It authorised General Burns immediately to recruit from the Observer Corps of the Truce Supervision Organisation a limited number of officers who shall be nationals of countries other than those having permanent membership in the Security Council and, further, in consultation with the Secretary-General, to undertake the recruitment directly from various Member States other than the permanent Member States of the Security Council the additional number of officers needed. Finally, it invited the Secretary-General to take such administrative measures as may he necessary for the prompt execution of the actions envisaged in this Resolution.

Her Majesty's Government abstained from voting on this resolution. They fully approved the principle of an International United Nations Force. But although the steps called for in this latest resolution might be considered to be a beginning, they are not in themselves likely to achieve the purposes set out in our message to the Secretary-General. We do not know that hostilities between Israel and Egypt have ceased or that they will not be restyled. The measures to he taken under the latest resolution will not be sufficient to ensure this.

We cannot ensure that the Israelis withdraw from Egyptian territory until we are physically in the area to keep the peace, give the necessary guarantees and prevent a repetition of the events of the past few years. It is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to "ensure that the Israel forces withdraw from Egyptian territory". We have also told the United Nations that we believe it is necessary to secure the speedy withdrawal of Israel forces. There must also be immediate means on the spot to take the necessary measures to remove obstructions and restore navigation through the Suez Canal, and to promote a settlement of the problems of the area.

It will, of course, be a matter for the Security Council, if our proposal for an early meeting at Ministerial level is accepted, to consider what part the United Kingdom and France should play in achieving all the objectives to which I have referred. Meanwhile Her Majesty's Government believe that the Anglo-French forces, once they are established in the area, will be the best guarantee that these purposes will be effectively and speedily achieved.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, may I intervene just for one moment? I have news of such importance that I think the House should know it at once. The Prime Minister has just announced in another place that a signal has been received, which is subject to confirmation, the terms of which are: Governor and Military Commander Port Said now discussing surrender terms with Brigadier Butler and cease-fire has been ordered.


"Cease-fire" has been ordered where?


In Port Said.


I thought the House should have that news.


My Lords, with regard to the statement made by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, it is very long, involved and difficult to appreciate at first hearing, therefore I will not make any comments at the moment. I gather, however, that it continues to be a rejection of the General Assembly's demands for an immediate cease-fire.




My Lords, may I just put one question, following the statement which was made by the noble Earl? Does it mean that there w ill be a discontinuation of the sending of any troops to Egypt?


My Lords, I do not think I can carry this matter further at present. It is a message which the Prime Minister has just received. I have only just been given it in this form and thought that I would give it immediately to your Lordships. Of course the House will be informed as developments take place.


My Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, says. It is not a matter for debate at the moment. This matter will come up later in the week.


My Lords, I realise that it was a long, involved and complex statement, but I thought it right to make it at the earliest moment. No doubt, later days of this week will give us an opportunity to discuss the situation in more detail.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I have a short statement to make, although the telegram which your Lordships have just heard has rather overtaken the event. As this statement is being made in another place, I thought your Lordships would like to hear it. It is on the military situation in Egypt and based on the most recent information available. The statement is as follows:

At 05.15 hours, G.M.T., British and French paratroops were dropped in the Port Said area. Landings were made on the airfield to the west of Port Said and around the two bridges to the south of the town. Resistance was encountered, but operations appear to be proceeding as planned, although no very detailed report of their progress is yet available. Repeated warnings have been given to the civilian population of Port Said to keep away from defined areas of danger. During Sunday air attacks continued. They were, as before, entirely restricted to military targets.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.