Middle East

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th June 1967.

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Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire 12:00 am, 8th June 1967

Sir Alec Douglas-Home (by Private Notice)asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement about the situation in the Middle East.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I have endeavoured to keep the House very fully informed about developments in the Middle East, but there is, frankly, little I can add today. The situation is very fluid and it is simply not possible at this moment to amplify the general picture I gave yesterday.

The immediate necessity is to obtain an effective cease-fire. The position on this is that the Israel Foreign Minister said in the Security Council yesterday that his Government were ready to accept the Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire at 8 p.m. G.M.T. provided that the Arab Governments did the same.

So far, the Arab Governments have refused to do the same, with the exception of Jordan, who have announced their Government's acceptance. But I must tell the House frankly that there are very conflicting and disturbing stories about what is actually happening on the Israeli/Jordan front.

Even though the United Arab Republic Government have not yet accepted the cease-fire, the Israel Government have announced that they are halting the advance of their forces in the Sinai Desert short of the Suez Canal. But I also have reports of resumed fighting on this front.

We still have no positive response from the Soviet Government about arms supplies and it is clear that for the time being there is no immediate prospect of a general embargo. We are, therefore, reverting to our normal practice of scrutinising applications for arms in each particular case, and we are, naturally, doing so particularly carefully in the present situation.

The only material change in the oil situation since yesterday is that the Libyan Government have suspended all oil exports. It is not entirely clear whether this is a temporary suspension due to strikes by oil workers. And here let me say that I understand the pressures that are operating on these Governments in this highly charged atmosphere.

The Arab Foreign Ministers were due to meet today in Kuwait to discuss the implementation of the resolution on oil supplies recently passed at the Baghdad conference. But I have heard in the last hour that the meeting has been postponed. Now that it has become so patently clear to everybody that we were not involved in the conflict, I trust that these Governments will decide to withdraw the actions which they were misled into taking against us.

We have examined the dangers in each of the territories where the safety of British subjects arises. We have made plans, some of which are already being operated, to ensure the safe evacuation of British subjects from these areas. In a situation where airfields have been closed and others have been damaged this is clearly not an easy operation, but it is proceeding.

My greatest concern is with the British subjects in Jordan. Evacuation by road would be too dangerous; and evacuation by air involves the danger I have first mentioned. However, by various means, these problems will be overcome.

I will, of course, continue to report developments to the House when anything of significance occurs. Meanwhile, we are in close contact with all the parties concerned.

Our immediate objective must be, of course, to make the cease-fire effective. The House should I suggest, be under no illusions that this may still take some little time. But once this has been achieved we must move on to consider how a more permanent settlement in the Middle East, on an equitable basis, can be reached.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

We on this side fully share the Foreign Secretary's hopes that the Arab Governments, at their meeting, will lift the oil embargo in face of the very convincing evidence that neither the United States nor Britain intervened in any way. We would support, too, the right hon. Gentleman's decision on arms as long as the Russians do not co-operate. There are rumours that arms are going into Alexandria. The Government's decision is right.

Would the right hon. Gentleman say a word about the Suez Canal? By what resolution of the United Nations is this now governed, and is the United Nations taking notice of the situation?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

It has taken notice of it. But for the moment there is not a lot that anybody can do until we get the cease-fire and can start discussing all the complementary things which will form part of the settlement. Clearly, this will be one of them. But the right hon. Gentleman may have it firmly in his mind that I am addressing myself, and ensuring that our friends address themselves, to this as much as to anything else.

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth West

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Israel, even during the most critical recent days of the brilliant campaign, there has been a marked degree of moderation on the part of the Israeli leaders about the objectives in the political reality of the situation and that this is in marked contrast to some unfortunately exaggerated statements elsewhere? Would he agree that our major efforts, and the efforts of all true friends of Israel at this juncture, must be to encourage her in the long-term future to reach meaningful political and economic relations with the area of which she is essentially a part?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I agree very much with the latter part of that question. Israel must live as a Middle Eastern Power in a Middle Eastern context, and the more she can be encouraged to think that way, the better it will be.

As to the first part of the question, I dislike, as I said yesterday, these partisan comparisons with what is supposed to be moderation on one side and exaggeration on the other side. I do not think that that kind of presentation does us any good at all.

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet

I do not think that there has been any information about the Trucial States, particularly the oil-producing areas like Abu Dhabi. Has the Foreign Secretary any information about developments in that area, either political or economic?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

No, Sir. As I am informed, none of those States is at the moment, joining in the boycott or is heavily involved. Qatar, I am told, has recently made a decision to stop supplies, but I am hoping, and obviously trying very hard, to get these things lifted fairly soon. I made the point in my original statement that I understand the pressures which are upon those Governments. We have political pressures on us in this House. It is much more easy to understand the pressures which are on Governments in those States.

Photo of Mr Desmond Donnelly Mr Desmond Donnelly , Pembrokeshire

In view of my right hon. Friend's rightly expressed desire to secure pacification in the area, what instructions have been given to the British delegation at the United Nations to facilitate the withdrawal of Egyptian troops from the Yemen and abiding by the rules of international law regarding poison gas?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I have been so busy with the immediate problem that I do not think that I have given any instructions recently to my right hon. and noble Friend, Lord Caradon, on that subject. Our position is, however, clear. The Egyptians ought not to be in the Yemen. Many problems would be easier of solution if they were not. No civilised Government could possibly support the use of poison gas in any conflict anywhere in the world.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

The Foreign Secretary will be aware that only today a Bill has been published which enables Her Majesty's Government to relinquish their sovereignty in Aden. Would not the right hon. Gentleman accept that this is an extremely ill-timed Measure and that it might be wise to take back that Bill and think again?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

Not for the first time, I totally disagree with the hon. Member. But there will be an occasion for us to debate the matter.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

Would my right hon. Friend agree that it is not a question of persuading Israel to settle down as a Middle Eastern Power: it is a question of persuading the Arab nations to accept her as a Middle East Power? Is it not true that for 20 years Israel has wanted nothing but peace, and is she not now entitled to demand peace before she retires from the territory?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

My hon. and learned Friend and I had this one out yesterday and we had it out on Monday. The position remains the same. I believe that both parties—all parties is a better way of saying it—have to accept the same thing. Israel and the Arabs have to accept that Israel exists and that Israel exists as a Middle Eastern Power.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

So long as we say "both", we may help the situation. It is when we say only one of the two things that we do not help the situation very much. My hon. and learned Friend continues to start history from a point of his own choosing. This has been the mistake of many would-be historians over the years.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

We recognise the preoccupations of the Foreign Secretary during the past few days, but ought not the Government to take an initiative in the Security Council to bring about the condemnation of the use of poison gas in the Yemen by the U.A.R? Should not everything possible be done to prevent the extension of use of this foul weapon by a desperate Power in the present circumstances elsewhere?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

It is a matter for consideration. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Seriously, this is a matter for consideration. I did not take the view that in this situation it was for us to take the initiative on that. The Arab countries, on whose territory it has been used and who made a great show of coming to the support of Egypt in the last few days, might themselves have taken the initiative. I thought that it was better for us to concentrate on the main issue.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

As the Security Council has unanimously called upon both sides to stop fighting, but also in view of the fact that there appears to be a continuation of the sale of arms, I understand both from the Soviet Union and from the United States of America, could we not follow up this initiative in the Security Council with a call for the complete embargo on all arms to the Middle East, so that no side will think that it can continue the fighting because it has a supply of arms ready to hand?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. As I said yesterday, I am absolutely certain that one of the elements in the solution must be a limitation and control of the supply of armaments to this area of the world. The competitive exercise that has been going on while we have been exercising a very great deal of restraint is of no use to anybody and must be put right in the solution.

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

Can the Foreign Secretary tell us anything about the whereabouts or position at this moment of King Hussein of Jordan?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

King Hussein is in Jordan He held a Press conference this morning and made his own position clear. I am not asked to comment on that. but that is where he is. He is, clearly, still operating as the Head of State of Jordan.

Photo of Mr William Baxter Mr William Baxter , West Stirlingshire

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the most disturbing part of his original statement this afternoon is that he has made it abundantly clear that we will raise our arms embargo, which has been in operation for the last day or two? I think that most people of this country will be very disturbed about that. I would like my right hon. Friend to reconsider that aspect of his statement.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I have a very great deal of doubt about my hon. Friend's judgment about what most of the people will feel. My own guess is that most of the people of the country will feel that if others are putting in replacements it would be very difficult for us to defend a situation in which we were not ready to honour contracts already entered into.

May I make it absolutely plain, however, that every request for arms or ammunition, whatever it is, will be very carefully considered by us in relation to the situation. I would like to think that the same careful consideration will be given in Moscow and other capitals of the world.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

The right hon. Gentleman has very rightly stressed the importance of making the cease-fire effective when it takes place. Does he realise that the cease-fire will not last for very long unless it is very quickly policed by some kind of international force along the cease-fire line pending the conclusion of a settlement? Will the right hon. Gentleman begin to take steps now to bring about the creation of such a force, so that it could be ready to go in very quickly when the fighting ends?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

One of the reasons why [did not volunteer a statement today was that I thought that we were almost certain to go back over the discussion yesterday and the day before and the day before that. I dealt with this matter yesterday. The position remains the same. Of course, I am taking every step open to me to ensure that arrangements are made for supervising the cease-fire and for considering what United Nations presence thereafter can be helpful in the situation. I cannot say any more about it. There is literally nothing more that I can tell the House than I told hon. Members yesterday. But, like the right hon. Gentleman, I know only too well that both these are critically important factors.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

Would my right hon. Friend think it appropriate at this stage to express a word of regret at the death of two officers of the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organisation, and think it true to say of these men that they gave their lives in the cause of peace?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

Yes, Sir. I said this yesterday, and I feel it strongly. If I may go from there, those who have been striving in their United Nations capacity to hold this area are very deserving of a special word of sympathy from us in a situation where their own faith and belief must have been shattered by the events which have occurred.

While on this point, I might say that, to the best of my knowledge, no British citizens have been killed or severely wounded during the recent troubles.

Photo of Mr Nigel Birch Mr Nigel Birch , Flintshire West

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that, at the moment, the fewer comments made in this House on the situation the better?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I wholly agree with that, and did my best to avoid any being made today.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

Since Jordan and Israel have now both accepted the call for a cease-fire, could the Foreign Secretary use his initiative to get U.N.T.S.O. working on this frontier, in view of the fact that its headquarters is in Jerusalem? Secondly, since the call for a cease-fire is the united voice of the Security Council, are those who refuse to accept it technically to be considered aggressors?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

Those who refuse to accept it are in conflict with the other members of the United Nations, although whether it does us much good to draw attention to that I do not know. That is one of the reasons why I did not want to be drawn too far on these matters today, because I do not want things on the record today which will make it that much more difficult tomorrow or the day after to bring about what I want to do.

As for U.N.T.S.O. and the cease-fire, I said in my original statement—and I was not referring to the newspapers only, or particularly—that I was getting conflicting and disturbing reports about what is happening on the Jordanian and Israeli frontier. I chose my words carefully, and in that statement I was not identifying one country more than another.

The situation is confused. I am not sure what is happening. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, U.N.T.S.O. was removed by force from Jerusalem to Israel. At the moment, it is not really in a position to operate, although it exists. I still think that the best use of any initiatives of mine is to try to bring about a genuine cease-fire. Then we can discuss how the area can be policed and by whom.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

Quite rightly, the Foreign Secretary has addressed himself to the immediate problems and particularly to the implementation of the cease-fire. He has also spoken of his desire not to have just another truce, but a permanent settlement. However, it is difficult to see how a permanent settlement can be brought about by a United Nations resolution and discussions behind the scenes. Obviously, it will require, I suggest, a major conference of the Powers involved, with the United Nations Secretariat present and such other assistance from other Powers as is required. Can he assure the House that urgent thought is being given to how it can be brought about at the earliest opportunity?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

Very much thought is being given to that, and I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. As he knows, I feel that, in the end, it must be done formally, at any rate, within a United Nations context. A lot of thought is being given to how we can do it, whether we should start from there, whether we should start elsewhere, whether the four Powers would be the best way of starting, or whether we could do it by direct contact with the parties in the area. We are thinking very hard, and we rule out none of the possibilities. However, in the end, I am sure that any settlement ought to be enshrined in treaties which are registered and endorsed by the United Nations.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. Mr. Heath. Business question.