§ Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
This Debate arises because of the challenge presented to the Government by the official Opposition and consequently in our view the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary is not unjustified in quoting the record of events which have passed between his predecessor and Lord Lloyd. At the same time, most of us must regard it as unfortunate that it should have been necessary to detail in the presence of all the world these differences of opinion which have taken place between the British Cabinet and one of its principal representatives abroad. The situation in Egypt has for many years past been almost continuously difficult and delicate, and I much fear that the proceedings in this House to-day will have tended to add to our future difficulties. All these facts must have been known to the Opposition; they must have had very prominently in their minds the many successive instances of friction and disagreement which have occurred, and if any untoward results may follow, somewhat damaging to Imperial interests, from such disclosure, I think in fairness the House will feel that the responsibility must rest with those who have issued this challenge.
The question was asked whether Lord Lloyd has been kept fully informed of the negotiations that have taken place. Consultation between a Government and one of its representatives is, of course, necessary in almost all circumstances, but it does presuppose that there should be a measure of mutual confidence, and that the Government should feel that there is an essential unity of purpose between themselves and the agent in question. In all ordinary cases a change of Government here ought not to involve a change of representatives abroad That is a matter of fundamental importance in the conduct of our vast and multifarious affairs throughout the various countries of the world. But a Government has the right to feel that its policy is sympathetically presented to those to whom the 1649 agent is accredited, and since it has to bear itself the brunt of any failure of its policy it must have the right to feel that when it adopts a policy it will be offered and pressed in a manner which is consonant with its own intentions. So far as this Debate has proceeded most of us who are wholly impartial in this matter must feel that the Government could not have had that assurance in this particular case, and unless what has been said is controverted in the later course of the Debate I think that is the general conclusion to which the House and the country will come.
The personal question is not really the most important question at issue to-day. This House is far more concerned to know whether there has been, or is contemplated, any serious change of policy in our relations with Egypt. I do not say at the outset that a change of procedure or method would necessarily be wrong. After all, negotiations have been proceeding for many years and have not hitherto been carried to success. There remain questions of great gravity and importance still unsettled, and any Government would be rendering a great service to the Empire if it succeeded in arriving at a friendly understanding with the Government and people of Egypt. The House is unanimous with respect to the four points which were reserved in 1922, and I understand that the Government maintains the position which the same right hon. Gentlemen took up when they were in office in 1924. The Foreign Secretary on behalf of the Prime Minister has reaffirmed the attitude which he adopted then, and in that course and in their negotiations they will be generally supported by the House of Commons. Before anything definite is done the House ought to know whether the Government also adheres in all points of substance to the provisions of the draft Treaty of 1927; the treaty which was entered into by the right hon. Gentleman the late Foreign Secretary and Sarwat Pasha, who was Prime Minister of Egypt.
If there is to be any change of a substantial character I feel, and feel strongly, that Parliament should be informed before it finds itself committed. There I am entirely in agreement with the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) who said that the whole House should bear a common responsibility for 1650 any change that is made, for these matters are of vital importance to the whole Empire and a mistake once made would be exceedingly difficult to rectify. The Prime Minister has asked that this House should regard itself as a Council of State in dealing with great matters of policy and I, speaking on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends, said we would very readily respond to that appeal. This House ought to be informed and consulted before any definite commitment is made if it is a departure in any substantial degree from the policy hitherto adopted by this country. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the Egyptian people are to be consulted; that he would endeavour to secure that they should be consulted before any agreement is reached. It is difficult to know what form that consultation should take; but I will not press the right hon. Gentleman to-day on that matter. I know how difficult these negotiations are, and a question of that character could only be embarrassing. But if the Egyptian people are to be consulted before any decisive step is taken, the British people should also be consulted, as well as the Dominion Governments. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he would present any Measure to this House for ratification. I hardly think that is adequate to the circumstances of the case, but without detaining the House longer I want to make an earnest appeal that the Government should be slow to take any definite course without carrying with them the general body of opinion in this country as represented in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
After the speech which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) has delivered, and after the very clear and emphatic manner in which he expressed what I believe is the opinion of the majority of this House as to full Parliamentary discussion before final commitments are made, I can abridge what I was about to have said, and, indeed, I should not have risen at all were it not for the fact that I feel that the position in which matters have been left after the speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and also after the speech of the right hon. Member for Darwen, is in many respects unfair to Lord Lloyd. There are, of course, two questions at issue, the personal question 1651 of Lord Lloyd and his dismissal or resignation, and the general question of the future of Egypt.
I do not dispute the right of the executive Government to choose and change its agents when it requires to do so, but the fullest justification must be offered to Parliament for such changes. In attempting to give that justification to Parliament the Foreign Secretary has gone back over the last four years, and has disclosed the internal discussions which have taken place between the late Foreign Secretary and Lord Lloyd, between the Cabinet and the late Foreign Secretary, and generally has laid these matters, some of them touching extremely delicate points of policy, before the House, the public and the world. I think that the statement that he has made and read out, from the papers so assiduously and eagerly collected and placed at his disposal by those on whom he relies—[Interruption]. The right hon. Gentleman must begin by learning that he is not going to intimidate me. I say that the reading of those papers undoubtedly produced a wrong picture, a wrong impression of the actual relationship which no doubt existed between the parties concerned Lord Lloyd as the man on the spot, facing these difficulties, facing risks in Cairo, naturally had his point of view. The Government here, seeking their general policy of appeasement in these Egyptian and foreign affairs, had their point of view. Why should there not be a free interchange of views? What is there in the whole of this narration to show anything but a healthy, active and closely reasoned discussion proceeding between parties who in the end were unitedly agreed on every grave executive decision?
Does anyone quarrel with the explanation that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) gave of the duties of representatives of the Crown? They have the fullest freedom for putting forward their views. They put them forward fearlessly. They ought to put them forward fearlessly. Do you want to have puppets, people who sing the tunes that you are habituated to and that you think are popular? You want to know what they really think. You also want to know that when the Executive has reached its decision, the policy on which it has decided will be accepted and 1652 loyally carried out. Certainly nothing in the relationship of His Majesty's late Government with Lord Lloyd gave us the slightest ground to complain of the loyalty and fidelity with which he carried out his duties. Again and again he took the view, in the Egyptian atmosphere, which was not the same as the one taken here, but when a decision had been taken, sometimes in one sense or another, he instantly accepted the view which we took. So I say that, while I do not dispute at all that another Government may require a different agent, it is not necessary to reflect upon the official discharge of his duties by Lord Lloyd under the late Administration, nor to represent him in any unfavourable light in that respect.
But I think that the Foreign Secretary, having made this statement to the House, has probably made it extremely difficult for our representatives in every part of the world to express their views with candour and with courage upon these matters, because they will never know that the mere fact that, however well they have done their duty, they have at some stage of discussion expressed a view which is not popular with a new Government which may come in—they will never know that that will not be brought up against them. But, as I say, the late Government had placed their confidence in Lord Lloyd. They knew perfectly well his qualities, and that he had a strong view in certain matters of Egyptian policy, in some cases a stronger view than that which the Government themselves were ready to carry out But, after all, let us pay some tribute to his work. What were the conditions under which Lord Lloyd went to Egypt The murder of the British Sirdar of the Egyptian Army had but recently taken place; a very grave state of disorder and anxiety prevailed throughout Egypt, and especially in Cairo; the foreign communities were in the deepest anxiety and looked to us for protection.
Lord Lloyd has been there for four years. It is true that there are many things in the present condition of Egyptian politics which no one would say are desirable in all respects, but those are not matters for which Lord Lloyd had responsibility; they are matters which arise out of that very independence and freedom to manage their own affairs 1653 which we have conceded again to the Egyptian people. As far as peace and order are concerned, as far as public confidence and security and tranquility throughout Egypt are concerned, Lord Lloyd's four years' tenure of office, in conditions so difficult and so varied, is a monument which no aspersions will diminish. I must say another word or two about Lord Lloyd. I have spoken of his relations with the late Government. I must say that I think there has been a certain streak of prejudice in the Foreign Office against Lord Lloyd—I can speak after four years of intimate knowledge of this matter—partly natural, some of it, very easy to understand. [HON. MEM-BERS: "Is that an attack on the Civil Service?"] I will say in this House whatever is in Order. [HON. MEMBERS: "Civil servants cannot reply."] But they have their Ministers to reply for them. I do say that there is a prejudice against one who is not a member of the Civil Service being placed in that position. A man of independent position who has been a Member of Parliament, a man who has access to the Ministers of the day in the Government of the day—such a man, I venture to affirm, is not entirely in accordance with the traditions and feelings of some of the great and powerful departments in this country; and I am bound to say that I noticed more than one instance of it during the last four years.
Now, I come to the question to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred—Was Lord Lloyd treated with the courtesy which he deserved? The right hon. Gentleman read the telegram which was sent in regard to which he has stated that it was difficult for anyone not to have terminated his appointment after receiving such a telegram; or words to that effect. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that it was a very courteous interview. The right hon. Gentleman is always very courteous in his manner, and Lord Lloyd has a very agreeable manner, and I have no doubt that it was a courteous interview, although it dealt with a grave and sad business. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he wishes the House to believe that that is all that has passed between Lord Lloyd and the representatives of the Department over which he presides. Does he really suggest that there was nothing between this telegram, asking Lord Lloyd to come home, and the 1654 letter which was presented to the right hon. Gentleman in his room at the Foreign Office? Does he suggest that that is so? Has he any knowledge of any other communications which have been made? I ask the right hon. Gentleman. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer!"] The House will note the silence of the right hon. Gentleman.
I have asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he has any knowledge that any other communications have taken place. Even to that question he remains silent. Is he aware—[Interruption.]—I am choosing my words—with what sternness the demand was made upon Lord Lloyd to send in his resignation, and how clearly it was intimated to him that, unless he did so, he would be dismissed? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of that? Is he aware of that? [HON. MEMBERS: "Are you?"] I have Lord Lloyd's statement to me. Lord Lloyd is my friend. He has served under the Government of which I was a Member. I have been, like the right hon. Gentleman, his colleague in the House of Commons for many years before the War, and during the War. So long as Lord Lloyd was a servant of the Government opposite, he made no communication of any sort or kind to me, or to anyone else. He kept himself entirely a servant of the Administration, but when he had resigned his appointment, when he had vacated his appointment, it is perfectly true that he did on that day come to see me. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had knowledge of that. He told Lord Lloyd that he had knowledge of it, and that he took steps to find out who it was that he went to see on that day. Is that really the proper way to treat a high official of the Crown who had just resigned?
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
On a point of Order. I never made any such statement. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"]
§ Mr. HENDERSON
If the right hon. Gentleman has got himself into a difficulty, I am not going to get him out.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am in no difficulty at all. The right hon. Gentleman himself brought this point out. He chose to bring up, in his great position as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, an interview 1655 which had taken place between two private persons, and he used that for the purpose of influencing the debate. Therefore, in view of that, may I not ask him on what he based that statement? It was quite true, but on what did he base that statement?
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I based it on the statement of Lord Lloyd, who told me that he had "seen Mr. Churchill."
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Yes, but after he had heard from the right hon. Gentleman that he was in possession of that information. That is rather a clever shuffle. The point is not of importance, but it illustrates the manner in which this matter has been treated, and the sort of thing that is going on. The right hon. Gentleman says that he based himself on Lord Lloyd's statement to him, but it now appears that he had previously informed Lord Lloyd that he had the information. Let us apply that to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that no negotiations were going on behind the back of Lord Lloyd. Is it true to say that? Discussions and negotiations were taking place. I am not allowed to mention names, but in another place a Minister of the Crown, yesterday, used the word "negotiations" repeatedly. He said that negotiations were in progress but, "We cannot communicate the progress of these negotiations until they have reached a further point." That was a public, official statement of a Minister of the Crown. Now, the right hon. Gentleman says that no negotiations were taking place; that there had been only two conversations, and the Cabinet committee had only just assembled. It is quite clear that something in the nature of negotiations were going on, and the High Commissioner was not, in fact, informed. It is usual in these matters of importance that when Governments at home begin discussions, they should, in the first place, tell their officer on the spot, while he remains their officer, that they are having discussions and proceeding with the business.
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has in any way disposed of the criticism which was made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, when he said that there had been negotiations behind the back of the High Com- 1656 missioner during the short period since the new Government came in. I say, taking together these negotiations, the telegram which was sent, with the deliberate intention to secure the resignation, the pressure which was put upon Lord Lloyd, apart from what we have been told by the right hon. Gentleman; taking all these three things together, I cannot think that Lord Lloyd has had from His Majesty's Government the treatment which his own perfectly frank and straightforward character and his conduct as High Commissioner in Egypt entitled him to expect. Governments may change their agents, and may choose their agents. Why have the present Government been so very anxious to change Lord Lloyd? It is because, undoubtedly, Lord Lloyd has stood for firmness in defence of British rights in Egypt. That is why he has been singled out and selected for early change.
The fact that a man who, undoubtedly, was identified with the successful assertion of lawful British rights in Egypt, has had to resign, will not he confined in effect only to Egypt, It will raise great difficulties and embarrassments there and elsewhere. This quick and sudden change will cause difficulties all over the British Empire. Administrators, great and small, will have an example before their eyes of the fate which overtakes, under the present Government, public officials and public servants if they stand up with some firmness and stiffness for British rights and interest, and refuse to lend themselves to sloppy surrender and retreat. That is why he was obnoxious, and that is why he has been removed, and I say that it is a very curious action for a minority Government to have taken, at the very time when the Prime Minister has been appealing for national cooperation and goodwill in the treatment of external affairs. It would have been much more prudent and wise to have continued to discuss these matters with Lord Lloyd, and when you had some fault to find with him yourselves, and when you had some grievance with him or some difference had arisen with him in your administration, then you would have had a perfectly good ground for choosing whatever agent you thought would carry out your policy, and it would not have been necessary to go back into the past and to put a completely wrong gloss upon 1657 the inevitable discussions, sometimes very keen, which take place behind the closed doors of Cabinets and Administrations.
I have said that much about Lord Lloyd, but I must ask a few questions on the infinitely graver matter of the policy in Egypt. The right hon. Gentleman did not give, I thought, a very precise answer to the questions which were put by the Leader of the Opposition. After all, this is not a matter which can be settled only by general phrases; it can only be settled by precise answers. In the Draft Treaty of 1927 which was discussed with Sarwat Pasha we made certain military proposals, and those proposals were the extreme limit to which we were prepared to go. They were the extreme limit, and only in return for a full acceptance with good will by the Egyptian Government. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether his expression "no change of policy" means that he will not go further in the direction of removing the British troops from Cairo than was prescribed in the Articles of the Treaty discussed with Sarwat Pasha. I think we are entitled to an answer. I trust the Prime Minister will be speaking later in the Debate, and after all he has our interests in his hands in the next few months, and no doubt he will have the largest measure of national support behind him in negotiations in other spheres which he will be undertaking. I appeal to him to give us the maximum reassurance in his power, to let the House separate with the greatest sense of security, in matters about which we are so gravely concerned, and I ask him to answer the specific questions which were asked by my right hon. Friend: Was there any modification of the military provisions; had the Government consulted their military and expert authorities upon them; had they their agreement upon them, and other questions of that kind? May we have the answer to them?
Lastly, will the right hon. Gentleman respond directly to the appeal made to him by my right hon. Friend below the Gangway, and will he give the House an assurance, an absolute assurance, that the future relations of Britain and Egypt will not be compromised in any irrevocable sense by any decision or action which is taken by the Government before Parliament has reassembled? I think it is a fair request to make. I never wish 1658 to see the Executive unduly crippled, but considering that the right hon. Gentleman does not possess a Parliamentary majority—it is quite possible that on this Egyptian question he will be in possession of a majority; I do not prejudge it—I do say that, as he is not possessed of a normal Parliamentary majority, he ought to be doubly careful to make sure that he has a majority of the House behind him before, on a matter so controversial and grave as this, he takes irrevocable decisions. Therefore, I ask him to reassure the House that nothing will be settled which will have the effect of altering the present position in Egypt, altering the position adopted in the Sarwat Treaty, without our having had the fullest opportunity of discussing the whole of the proposals before any final decision is taken or signature appended.
The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. J. Ramsay MacDonald)
I regretted it very much when notice was given to us that this subject was to be debated to-day. I did not regret that because I am less jealous of the rights of this House than are any hon. or right hon. Members opposite; I did not regret it because I wished more liberty for my colleagues in the Government and myself than other Governments which have gone before us had claimed and had received; I did not regret it because the subject of the resignation of a representative of His Majesty abroad was regarded by me at all as a subject that was not fit for discussion in this House; but I did regret it from the point of view of Egypt itself. Two speeches have been delivered to-day, one by the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition, the other by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), to which no possible exception could be taken, but we have just listened to a speech the mischievous character of which it is impossible to exaggerate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), himself a Minister of the Crown, or a late Minister of the Crown, himself a Member of the Cabinet, himself the head of an important Department of State, has made one of the most unjustifiable attacks upon the Civil Service, and he has based that attack, not upon his own personal experience, but upon the most contemptible tittle tattle, which every man who is a Member 1659 of this House and who frequents clubs and such places could pick up by the armful. Not only that, but as this incident has happened—a very regrettable incident—if hon. Members opposite would confine their remarks to expressions of regret, they would find that there is no division in this House; but the right hon. Gentleman has used this most regrettable incident to proclaim to the representatives of the Crown in other parts of the world that it means that not a single one of them is going to be allowed to express their independent opinions in confidence, and, as it is their duty to do, to the Government in office. He knows very well that that suggestion is absolutely baseless.
I say that the right hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that when we came into office we did not merely inherit the unsolved four points of reservation; he knew perfectly well that when his Government was investigating this problem, when it drafted proposals for dealing with it, his Government did not regard the observations of the High Commissioner in Egypt as the due and proper critical observations which every foreign representative is bound to make to his Government; he knew perfectly well that within two or three days of our coming into office, and when my right hon. Friend on my right had got, so to speak, into the saddle in the Foreign Office, it was not the Sarwat Treaty that he had to consider, it was not the situation of Mahmoud Pasha that he had to consider, it was not the relation between this country and Egypt that he had to consider; he knew perfectly well that one of the first points that my right hon. Friend would have placed in front of him, and upon which he would have to come to a decision, would be the continuance in office of the High Commissioner of Egypt. There is no bench in this House which is less surprised that action had to be taken in the matter than the Front Bench opposite.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I had no knowledge of any kind that there was any question of removal of Lord Lloyd when the late Administration left office.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is a very convenient paraphrase of what I said. I said that there is no bench in this House that ought to be less surprised 1660 that action had to be taken in this matter. By that I do not say that the Front Opposition Bench is associated with us in any way whatever in the action that we did take I am not going to say anything about private or public conversations in that respect, but I do say that everyone on that Front Bench, those at least who were Members of the Cabinet, knew that that was a question which we should have before us, whatever the decision was that we came to. I prefer to leave it, so far as Lord Lloyd is concerned, there. The late High Commissioner went to Egypt in most difficult circumstances. He had a task imposed upon him when Sir Lee Stack met his death at the post of duty that was one of the most difficult that an administrator of the British Empire who was devoted enough to the public service to accept it could have undertaken. He did what he considered to be his best, but I do claim this—I believe that every responsible man in the three parties in this House will agree with me—that a Government administering the affairs of a colony, or dependency, or whatever you like to call it, must enjoy the comfort of full confidence in their representative, and my right hon. Friend is within his rights—that is all that this House is concerned with—in following precedent after precedent, not in view of his own personal experience of the High Commissioner. I dare say the right hon. Gentleman opposite, in pursuit of the extraordinary tactics he has been showing in the last three or four weeks, would have liked, if it had been possible for him, to have said that it was not on account of the past but on account of some friction with my right hon. Friend. That is mere pettifogging tactics. My right hon. Friend, not because the High Commissioner had come up against him, but on his perusal of the records, said "I cannot feel the confidence in the High Commissioner that I should like in anyone representing the Government."
On the matter of policy the right hon. Gentleman comes up and says "I want an assurance that the Government activities are going to be suspended until I am in my place." The Government activities, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, will not be suspended. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Government are going to pursue an 1661 examination into this question of Egypt, and the considerations put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen will be fully borne in mind; that nothing final can be done until this House has agreed to the ratification. The Government are going to make their suggestions. They are going to try this, that, and the other thing. In other words, I happen to know something about the Sarwat negotiations. I will follow exactly on the same lines. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition knows that the Sarwat Treaty was sent away to Egypt without the events taking place which the right, hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping desired to impose on us. We know our responsibility. We know our position here. We will do what we think the interests of this nation and the interests of Egypt require us to do, remembering all the time our responsibility to this House.
I have nothing to hide so far as the circumstances of the present moment are concerned. We are exploring the situation. The right hon. Gentleman says: Will I give him a pledge that we shall not go beyond the extreme of limit which he and his friends embodied in the Sarwat Treaty? Will he in his kindness give me an extra inch? Is a document accepted by the right hon. Gentleman going to be regarded as the very last word which any Government can ever say? Really, the right hon. Gentleman must open his eyes and see the absurdity of his suggestion.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I made that request, because the Foreign Secretary said that there would be no change in the policy, and I wanted to know whether that "no change" covered the definite military clauses which were embodied in the Sarwat Treaty?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The right hon. Gentleman must remember that the Sarwat Treaty was defended in certain quarters, because it was an adequate expression of the policy of 1924. Is my right hon. Friend not to be allowed to consider the Sarwat Draft Treaty in relation to the policy of 1924, which he himself has said to-day is still our policy? The right hon. Gentleman has not improved his position.
I will tell the House exactly what is going on. There are four reserved points. 1662 In connection with each one of those points, there have been many proposals as to how they should be handled. The question of the military occupation of Cairo in the Sarwat Treaty may be revised at the end of ten years, and then every five years afterwards, and they actually weaken this by saying that, if there is no agreement, it may be referred to an outside body. Is that the last word in securing our communications through Egypt? Really, if it is, we have come to a very sad impasse. Are there no other suggestions approved by the authorities, for securing our communications through Egypt except that? If the right hon. Gentleman or any of his colleagues have any doubt about that, I will tell them this: the whole matter, while I am talking and while he is listening, is being considered, because it has been referred to them already; it is being considered by the three heads of the Service Departments. Does that satisfy the right hon. Gentleman? Will the right hon. Gentleman take this from me, however unwilling he may be to do it, and however damaging it is going to be to the peculiar campaign which he is conducting? Will he take it from me that all other points of the same difficulty, and the same variety of possible solutions, are being treated in the same cautious, and the same careful way? Not until everything has been explored, and until the best proposal that can be made has been devised, will the instrument which is vital, which is living, and to which the Government will commit itself, make its appearance. May I appeal to the House not to do any further damage to Egypt, and to allow us to go on with other business.
Nobody can doubt that we have had this morning a Debate of the first importance, and I do not propose to add more than one or two words to what has already been said. Matters of such importance to the whole parliamentary and governmental system of our country should not be allowed to pass by those who are interested in the conduct of Governments without a word or two from the back benches on this side of the House. I am going to say one or two things which are not in complete agreement with certain words which have fallen from the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I want to state what, in 1663 my view, is the true cause of the anxiety which all who are interested in the proper conduct of public affairs have a right to feel in the action which the Foreign Secretary has taken. There can be no question that we are dealing in this matter of the dismissal of an important public servant with a topic of grave import to the conduct of government. Nobody can doubt that the whole question of the dismissal, or the enforced retirement, of agents in foreign countries is a matter of grave importance to the whole relationship between the Government at the centre and its representatives abroad. I have one serious criticism, above all others, to make of the action that has been taken. I cannot believe that it is right for a Cabinet, newly installed in office, to dismiss or to cause the resignation of a High Commissioner of Egypt, not upon their own experience, but upon the supposed experience of their predecessors.
I am not competent to enter into—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] It is a pity that one cannot admit the limits of one's own knowledge without those comic "hear, hears!" from the other side. I am not competent to enter into the discussion which went on between Lord Lloyd and other administrations, but I am satisfied that here a large principle of the behaviour and the conduct of Cabinets is involved, namely, that if they, are going to dismiss their servants abroad, it must be upon their own experience and not upon the experience of others. So far as the Foreign Secretary has described his relations with Lord Lloyd, it appears that there was no direct discussion between the present Foreign Secretary—perhaps I may have the right hon. Gentleman's attention. [Laughter]. When the hon. Gentleman who laughs is an older Member, he will know that that is a courtesy which is freely given; at all events, it is a thing which all of us are agreed should be given, especially when a matter of grave public importance is being debated. This question is important, not only on its merits, but in relation to the whole conduct of public affairs. As far as I understand from the Foreign Secretary's account, he, as the new Foreign Secretary, had not discussed Egyptian policy, Egyptian conditions, and the facts of the 1664 Government of Egypt, with Lord Lloyd before he sent a telegram to Lord Lloyd clearly indicating his disapproval of his continuance in office.
I believe that it was highly improper to take any opinion but the opinion of his own experience, in coming to a decision of such importance, and one cannot in the face of such an incident as that but ask the Foreign Secretary why he did not wait until he knew from his own judgment that Lord Lloyd was not in such consonance with his policy as would enable the Government to have full confidence in him? Why should he not have waited until he had seen for himself the nature of Lord Lloyd's views upon topics which would have to be administered. This is a matter of real importance for future Governments, and the action which has been taken is a retrospective condemnation of Lord Lloyd upon facts which were not directly before the right hon. Gentleman while responsible for foreign affairs. The dismissal of an important public servant should not be undertaken by a Cabinet until they know, after they have had the responsibility of office, that he is not in consonance with their views. Out of the whole circumstances of this retirement, this is the large public issue which is involved. Is it not the duty of a new Cabinet not to rely upon past discussions between a previous Cabinet and their servants but to test for themselves and to judge for themselves the capacities of the public servants whom they find in office when they themselves come into power? If I may say so, I think this is a very unsuitable subject for public controversy. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then sit down!"] No, I do not propose to sit down. I think this is a matter which might well have been left without public controversy at all.
But the subject having been raised I do not think we can safely leave undiscussed and unanalysed what I regard as the grave impropriety of a new Cabinet, a new Foreign Secretary, accepting the evidence of a previous Cabinet and not judging from his own experience the fitness of their servants abroad. I am sure that such a thing is unsuitable and improper, and for this reason, that every public 1665 servant such as the late High Commissioner has a right, before he is dismissed by the responsible Government, to have an opportunity of showing his capacity and his power in the conduct of the business with which he has been charged. Lord Lloyd has been given no such opportunity by the Foreign Secretary. Lord Lloyd has not been dismissed because his relations with the present Cabinet have been unsatisfactory. The Foreign Minister has taken action upon the experiences of the past Cabinet, and has decided that the past Cabinet ought to have dismissed Lord Lloyd, and has dismissed him in their place. That is the criticism I venture to make. I would like to make it quite clear that that does not seem to me—I may be wrong, and if so I shall be corrected—to be the way to induce confidence in our agents abroad, that a Cabinet may dismiss them not upon their dealings with that Cabinet but on their dealings with another Cabinet.
May I, as a new Member, ask whether a speaker is entitled to say the same thing more than six times?
When the hon. Member is more familiar with this House he will know that my interventions in Debate, though fairly frequent, are nearly always very moderate in length. Nor do I think that on a matter of such grave public importance, and raising a point which has not yet been fully discussed in this House, I ought to be subject to the discourtesy of that kind of interruption. It is an interruption such as I should never have made myself, although I have had experience in three Parliaments. Will the House permit me to develop the line of thought which I am putting before hon. Members and regard the incident which has just occurred from the point of view of the agent abroad? He has been the confidential servant of the late Cabinet. That Cabinet has never hinted at the possibility of dismissing him on account of the representations he has made. That Cabinet falls, and a new Cabinet comes into power. Is that agent abroad to be under the fear that when a new Cabinet comes into power he may be dismissed for the representations he made to the previous Cabinet? Believe me, that is a 1666 totally unsound and untenable principle of relations between a Cabinet and their servants; and I believe that when this matter is fully thrashed out, when we have the time to regard this affair as a whole, when tempers have cooled and the whole matter has passed into the realm of history, this will be the criticism which is a matter of real seriousness—that the present Foreign Secretary accepted the advice given to his predecessor by Lord Lloyd as a case for dismissing him. Surely the Foreign Secretary would have been wiser to wait until he himself had had some personal discussion of Egyptian policies with the public servant whom he has dismissed.
I leave that point, no doubt to the intense gratification of the hon. Member opposite. There is only one other observation which I wish to make, and it is one which I would willingly leave unsaid. For my part, I wish here and now to dissociate myself entirely from the introduction into this House of any expression of the supposed views of the Civil Service as opposed to the supposed views of the Cabinet. I have never held office, and I do not suppose I ever shall hold office, but I am sufficiently conversant with the conduct of the public life of this country to know that the Civil Service deserves and the proper conduct of Parliament demands that the views of the Civil Service as opposed to the views of their political heads should never be brought into public discussion in this House. Speaking from these back benches, I say that, in my judgment, that is a rule which under no circumstances, under no provocation, under no excuse, should ever be contravened.
I have attempted to show to the House what, in my view, are two important points which have emerged from this debate. I think a grave mistake in method has been made, the effects of which will resound amongst the agencies and other offices which are held abroad by our representatives, and I should not have been doing justice to myself if I had not pointed it out. But, for my part, I propose to let what I regard as an error of method in this Government not interfere with what I ventured to to say during the Debate on the Address was the line which, as a humble back bencher, I proposed to follow. The line I propose to follow in this Parliament 1667 is to give honest, disinterested consideration to the proposals of the Government. The burden of public life in this country is not becoming lighter, it is becoming heavier. I have no doubt that this Government, like other Governments, will make mistakes of gigantic scope. [Interruption.] If so, then no question will arise as to the necessity of extreme criticism. Till that moment comes, I am prepared, speaking as an Opposition Member, to give the proposals of the Government such careful consideration as their high station requires, and only to oppose them when I think their proposals are definitely against the public interest.