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Wednesday, 31 October 1956

Mr MENZIES (KOOYONG, VICTORIA) (Prime Minister) - This problem in the Middle East has, as honorable members know, arisen somewhat suddenly, and the reports are even now somewhat confusing. We are not yet in a position, on the basis of official reports, to say anything definitive to the House. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom made a statement in the House of Commons within the last few hours, the text of which I am prepared to read to the House, which exhibits the approach of the United Kingdom Government. As to the other aspects of the matter referred to by the Leader of the Opposition, I may say that we have been in constant communication, not only with the United Kingdom Government, but with our own posts and representatives, and have so far exhibited a very keen desire to know what the facts are, because there are always keen arguments about the facts when border incidents occur and when operations of some kind are conducted in some one else's territory. As soon as we have the facts reasonably clearly available on the matter, I shall naturally- take the first opportunity of making a statement to the House about it. I have said that 1 propose to put the House in possession of the statement made by the British Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, in the House of Commons, because I think it is, at any rate, something definite and recent which, honorable members will want to hear. His statement was as follows: -

As the House will know, for some time past the tension on the frontiers of Israel has been increasing. The growing: military strength of. Egypt has given rise to renewed apprehension which the. statements and actions of the Egyptian Government have further aggravated. The establishment of a joint military command between Egypt, Jordan and Syria, the renewed raids by guerillas, culminating in the incursion of Egyptian commandos on Sunday night, had all produced a very dangerous situation.

Five days ago news was received that the Israel' Government were taking certain measures of mobilization. Her Majesty's Government at once instructed Her Majesty's Ambassador at Tei Aviv to make inquiries of the Israel Minister for Foreign Affairs and to urge restraint.

Meanwhile, President Eisenhower called for an immediate tripartite discussion between representatives of the United Kingdom, France and the United States. A meeting was held on the 28th of October in Washington and a second meeting took place on the 29th of October.

While these discussions were proceeding news was received last night that . Israel forces had crossed the frontier and had penetrated deep into Egyptian territory. Later, further reports were received indicating that paratroops had been dropped. It appeared that the Israel spearhead was not far from the banks of the Suez Canal. From recent reports it also appears that air forces are in action in the neighbourhood of the canal.

During the last few weeks Her Majesty's Government have- thought it their duty, having regard to their obligations under the Anglo-Jordan Treaty, to give assurances both public and private of their intention to honour these obligations. Her Majesty's Ambassador in Tel Aviv late last night received an assurance, that Israel would not attack Jordan.

My right honorable and learned friend, the Foreign Secretary, discussed the situation with the United States Ambassador early this morning. The French Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have come over to London at short notice at the invitation of Her Majesty's Government to deliberate with us on these events.

I must tell the House that very grave issues are at stake and unless hostilities can quickly be slopped free passage through the canal will be jeopardized. Moreover, any fighting on the banks of tile canal would endanger the ships actually on passage. The number of crews and passengers involved totals many hundreds and the value of the ships which are likely to be on passage to-day is about £50 million, excluding the value of the cargoes. Her Majesty's Government and the French Government have accordingly agreed that everything possible should be done to bring hostilities to an end as soon as possible. Their representatives in New York have, therefore, been instructed to join the United States representative in seeking an immediate meeting of the Security Council. This began at 4 p.m.

In the meantime, as a result of the consultations held in London to-day the United Kingdom and French Governments have now addressed argent communications to the Governments of Egypt and Israel. In these we have called upon both sides to stop all warlike action by land, sea and air forthwith and to withdraw their military forces to a distance of 10 miles from the canal. Further, in order to separate the belligerents and to guarantee freedom of transit through the canal by the shins of all nations we have asked the Egyptian Government to agree that Anglo-French forces should move temporarily, I repeat, temporarily, into key positions at Port Said, Ismailia and Suez. The Governments of Egypt and Israel have been asked to answer this communication within 12 hours. Tt has been made clear to them that if at the expiration of that time one or both have not undertaken to comply with these requirements British and French forces will intervene in whatever strength mav be necessary to secure compliance. T will continue to keep the House informed of the situation.

It is quite clear that this is a very fluid position. My colleague the Minister for Defence, who is acting for the Minister for External Affairs, and I. hope to receive further official information during the after noon. I propose, if it becomes available in time, and with the approval of the House, to say something more about the matter later to-day.

D*. EVATT. - I desire to ask the Prime Minister a supplementary question arising out of his answer to my previous question. Was the Australian Government consulted in any way before this ultimatum contain ing an intimation of the use of force was issued bv the French and British governments? Further, did the Australian Government give instructions to Australia's representative on the United Nations Security Council? Since our representative abstained from voting, will the right honorable gentleman tell the House what instructions were given to him?

Mr MENZIES - The United Kingdom Government has been in communication with us, and we with it, since the matter arose, and we have exchanged ideas. We have been in communication with our posts, and our posts have been in communication with us. We have been in communication also with the Australian representative at the United Nations. I think that it would be completely unwise, in respect of a matter which is at present at a very critical stage, to take any one of these matters out of its context. That is why I propose to make a comprehensive statement at the earliest possible moment. Bui I do not propose to make it except on <> clear official basis of fact.

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