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Tunisia

Volume 645: debated on Monday 24 July 1961

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The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

60.

To ask the Lord Privy Seal what action has been taken by the representative of Her Majesty's Government in the Security Council in response to the Tunisian Government's request to that body for assistance against French aggression

62.

To ask the Lord Privy Seal how the United Kingdom delegate voted in the Security Council of the United Nations on the charge by Tunisia of aggression by France.

63.

To ask the Lord Privy Seal what steps have been taken by Her Majesty's Government's representative in the Security Council to offer mediation, under Article 33 of the Charter, in the Franco-Tunisian dispute; and if he will make a statement.

63.

To ask the Lord Privy Seal, in view of injury and damage to property in the Bizerta area owing to hostilities between the French garrison and the Tunisian National Guard, what steps have been taken by Her Majesty's Government to protect British subjects and property.

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now answer Questions Nos. 60, 62, 63 and 64.

On 22nd July the Security Council considered three resolutions about events in Bizerta. It adopted by 10 votes to none a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire and the return of all forces to their original positions. The United Kingdom voted in favour. The two following resolutions contained the same appeal.

In addition, a resolution sponsored by Liberia and the United Arab Republic called for immediate negotiations between France and Tunisia aimed at the speedy evacuation of the French forces from Tunisia. This received four votes in favour, with seven abstentions, including the United Kingdom, and thus failed.

The third resolution, submitted by the United Kingdom and the United States, urged the two parties to negotiate promptly a peaceful settlement and asked the Council to keep the situation under urgent review in the interest of peace and security. This resolution received six positive votes with five abstentions and, therefore, failed. It was, nevertheless, agreed that the Council should remain seized of the question.

Firing ceased on the night of Saturday, 22nd July. The House will share the earnest hope of Her Majesty's Government that negotiations will now follow and lead to a settlement of the difficulties which have arisen between Tunisia and France.

Her Majesty's Ambassador in Tunis was informed by telephone yesterday afternoon by the Governor of Bizerta that there were no reports of any casualties among the small British community. Her Majesty's Consul arrived in Bizerta this morning to make direct contact with them.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the appalling loss of life in Tunisia, involving hundreds of civilians as well as troops, must inevitably embitter Franco-Tunisian relations for some time to come? Will Her Majesty's Government at least press in the Security Council that France shall enter into early negotiations for a speedy withdrawal from Bizerta?

We all deeply regret the loss of life at Bizerta. The resolution put forward by the United Kingdom with the United States urged both sides to find a peaceful settlement of their dispute.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Tunisia, among North African countries, was probably the most sympathetic to the West? To prevent growing between Tunisia and France, will he exercise the utmost influence on France to withdraw from her military bases in Tunisia—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—to withdraw from her military bases in Tunisia, according to the will of the Tunisian people?

In our view, there should now be discussions between the two countries concerned in order to find a peaceful settlement. I understand that Mr. Hammarskjold is on his way to Tunisia to offer his services for that purpose.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Her Majesty's Government's foreign policy is to attempt to found a federation favourable to the West of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria? Will he, therefore, do all he can now to offer his services as a mediator, in order to make certain that these three countries remain favourably disposed to N.A.T.O. and to our allies?

This matter is now in the hands of the Security Council. It is for the Security Council to deal with it. The question of a federation goes much wider altogether.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all Members on both sides of the House will welcome the news of the cease-fire, as much as we deplore the violence—excessive, I think, at least in the case of the French—which preceded it? In view of the fact that the French Government have claimed that the facilities which they now hold in Bizerta are necessary for the N.A.T.O. alliance, will the future of the base be discussed at the next meeting of the N.A.T.O. Council?

I understand that the French Government have pointed out the importance of the base to the defence of the West. I do not think that anyone would question that. I am not aware at the moment that this matter is to be debated by the N.A.T.O. Council.