§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Commander Agnew.]
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Major-General Sir Edward Spears (Carlisle)
very regret if as the result of short notice I have inconvenienced my right hon. Friend, but I make no apology for raising this question now, owing to the very great gravity of the news that is reaching us from the Levant. I do not know whether the House is in possession of the most recent information. The situation in Syria has greatly worsened. It is very serious indeed. A French airplane has bombed Damascus, the capital, where there is heavy fighting. Other airplanes have bombed Ham a, and Syrian gendarmes shot down one airplane. Syria's President, Shukri Kuwaitly, has appealed to the British Minister now in Damascus and to the United States Minister, for Britain and the United States to intercede immediately in the crisis. The French are using mortars and 75 mm. guns against the Syrians. This is now confirmed in both British and United States quarters in Beirut. Earlier messages said there was great tension everywhere, with the possibility always of a violent explosion. French troops to-day blasted their way into the Syrian Parliament House after blowing up the front gate with a shell from a 75. Later reports said that the Syrian Parliament has now been occupied. Shelling continued until 10 p.m. last night, and then a French airplane strafed the city. Many people have been killed and wounded.
The one satisfactory fact that I know of is that we have a most excellent Minister on the spot, and I am certain that all that can be done locally is being done by him. I feel absolutely certain that 315 public opinion in this country, and indeed all over the world, will be horrified that these things are being done in the name of the French people, who have so recently been suffering from this sort of thing themselves. I am not willing to believe that the French people would endorse this action if they knew that it had taken place. I beg my right hon. Friend to inform the House what the Government propose to do in these tragic circumstances. It is obviously no use now talking of hoping for negotiations between French, Syrians and Lebanese. What is going to be done to stop this bloodshed amongst people whose independence we have guaranteed? The only action that we have taken that we have been told of is the withdrawal of British troops. I venture to suggest that the events of the last few days show that the announcement of the withdrawal of British troops, far from reducing the tension, has actually increased it.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
May I correct my hon. and gallant Friend? Some troops have gone into training and are going out at the end of their training, that is all.
§ Sir E. Spears
I am glad to be told that, but an official announcement was put out that British troops were being withdrawn to reduce the tension.
§ Sir E. Spears
There was a pronouncement to that effect on the B.B.C. If the information was incorrect, so much the better. What was made quite clear by my right hon. Friend yesterday is that French troops were sent to the Levant against his most urgent advice. The advice of His Majesty's Government and the Government of the United States to the French to take no action that would make things worse has not been heeded either. It seems to me that we cannot possibly escape our responsibility in this matter. It is not only a question of our guarantee of the independence of Syria and the Lebanon. It is not only a question of our pledged word. We have actual responsibilities in the area. The harbour of Beirut, where these French troops landed, is under British Naval Command, and the British Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East is responsible for all troops in the area. We have the means 316 to make those powers effective. I am certain that the Government will have the full support of the whole House, and of opinion everywhere, in taking very strong steps to bring home to the French our insistence that this bloodshed must cease and that they must respect the independence of the two Republics, which they and we have guaranteed.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Astor (Fulham, East)
It is indeed tragic that within the space of one Parliament we should be discussing on the Adjournment two of our Allies, two members of the United Nations, engaged in this very tragic war. All of us who speak must take great care, remembering that both sides are our friends, and that both sides have the most acute susceptibilities in the matter. We know the romantic and historical trend of the French character and how much it is associated with Syria. When the previous crisis arose people tried, not in the House but elsewhere, to cast aspersions on my hon. and gallant Frined the Member for Carlisle (Sir E. Spears), who was then British Minister on the spot, saying that the trouble was due to his conduct. The fact that this far worse incident has come after he has been back for many months, shows how ill founded were those accusations. We cannot divest ourselves of interest in this. Our interest in the Arab world is predominant and vital. There is a danger that this trouble may spread to Transjordania and Palestine and the safety of these regions is vital for our interests and for the prosecution of the Far Eastern war, so that our troops and ships may pass unimpeded.
France equally in the last analysis must rely on the friendship of the Arab world in view of her communications with the Far East, and must have good relations with England and Egypt. The oil which comes through Tripoli depends not on. the mere holding of Tripoli, but on its sources in Iraq, in the neighbouring Arab country. Therefore we must try to get both sides to a settlement, because we cannot fail to intervene if this thing goes on further. I suggest that the way to do it is to try to get a settlement between England and France. This is more than a local affair. We want to get an Anglo-French alliance absolutely close, firm and watertight, which looks after the strategic interests of both, with France not confined in the tiny little port of Beirut. She ought to share 317 with us the possibilities of Alexandria, Gibraltar and Malta, we sharing with her Toulon and Dakar. That is the scale on which we must go, as in 1906, when English and French interests in the Mediterranean were disentangled, the French taking the Western end and England the Eastern, when we were able to form that entente cordiale which took us through the stress and strain of the German crisis. That is the object to aim at. France being very susceptible, and some elements incurably suspicious of us, I hope we shall try to get the new American President to take a prominent part in the alleviation of this trouble, because what does San Francisco mean, and what does the Atlantic Charter mean, if this dispute is to continue in this way?
I should like to say a word of sympathy towards the people in this region. I spent a very happy year there, and I can testify to the friendship of the Syrians and Lebanese to the cause of the United Nations. They have helped us and have been very good friends to us, and we know how Moslems all over the world must feel when one of their most sacred cities, Damascus, is subjected to bombardment twice within 25 years. We can assure the Foreign Secretary that anything that he may do will have the support of all Members of the House.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
I could not possibly endorse the views expressed by the last speaker in his dissertation on power politics, in which he talked about the division of power between ourselves and the French. I want, however, to say some words in support of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Carlisle (Sir E. Spears), who brought up this subject. It is a most deplorable story that he has had to tell us, though I agree that it is without complete substantiation. We have only had it ever the wireless and in the Press. I would like to endorse what the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor) has said about the work that the hon. and gallant Member has done in that area. I am not a political friend of his—God forbid that I should be—but it is perfectly true that, if you take the ordinary inhabitant, the ordinary man ill that part of the world, he will tell you that the job of work done by the hon. and gallant Gentleman has been greatly to the benefit of the peoples living in those parts.
318 The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary protested a moment ago when the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that British troops had been withdrawn from the area just recently. I quite appreciate the Foreign Secretary's point that they were there for training purposes and were taken away. It is important that people should realise that, but it has not been made clear to the local inhabitants. When they see troop movements, they think it is for political reasons, and when they see training movements taking place at the same time as political movements, they can easily take them in the wrong light. I am only too glad to emphasise that that movement of troops was purely a training movement and nothing else, and that it does not mean to convey to the French Government that we are in any way relinquishing our views as to what is proper to be done in the Lebanon and Syria.
I do not think that people in this House really understand the history and background of what has been going on in the Lebanon and Syria, and I would like to put on record again what the declarations have been in the past few years. I have turned up what are familiar to the Foreign Secretary, namely, two important declarations by General Catroux. The first was given on 8th June, 1941, when, speaking on behalf of General de Gaulle, he said:I come to put an end to the mandatory régime and to proclaim you free and independent. You will be henceforward sovereign and independent peoples able either to' form yourselves into separate states or to unite into a single state. Your independent and sovereign status will be guaranteed by a treaty in which our mutual relations will be defined…Not many months later, on 26th November, 1941, at Beirut, in the name of Free France, General Catroux read a declaration declaring the Lebanon an independent sovereign State with power to appoint diplomatic representatives and to form her own military forces. That was admirably elucidated and endorsed by His Majesty's Government in Command Paper 6600, published recently, in which they referred to a statement by His Majesty's Ambassador in Cairo, made on behalf of His Majesty's Government, on 8th June, 1941:General Catroux, on behalf of General de Gaulle, Chief of the Free French, has issued a declaration to the inhabitants of Syria and the Lebanon before advancing with the object of expelling the Germans. In this he declares 319 the liberty and independence of Syria and the Lebanon. He undertakes to negotiate a treaty to ensure these objects.With that background, what is puzzling everybody in the Middle East and in this House who knows anything about the subject, is why these countries are not being treated in the way that was guaranteed to them at a time when it was convenient to us to seek their particular and immediate aid and co-operation.
What is the first duty of a mandatory Power? It is to clear out as soon as possible. The mandatory Power is not expected to take political, military or economic advantage to itself. I know that the history of events has shown that it does, but the views of the victims of mandatory Powers do not agree with the views which are held by so many of the people who exercise mandates. The first object should be to train the people to look after themselves. Nobody denies that these countries are capable of administering their own affairs. There is no doubt that they can. You can talk to persons experienced in the Middle East, and nobody will raise a voice and say that these people are not capable of controlling themselves. The position becomes particularly exacerbated when one considers that the French people were the people who invited the Germans in at the worst possible moment, and every Arab knows that. There is no use pretending that it did not happen. His Majesty's Government always seem to me, on these subjects, to be living in a fool's paradise, as if the people in those countries do not know what has happened and the people of this country do not care. The people do not care in this country because they are never properly told by the Press.
By the way in which the French are behaving one would almost think- that they had won the war, and they should be told straight "where they get off." Let us reflect back to what happened in November, 1943. The hon. and gallant Member for Carlisle was at Beirut at the time when the French troops swept down and swooped up the whole Government and even invaded the bedroom of the Prime Minister and pulled him out of bed when he was in bed with his wife. That is a thing these people will never forget; it offends everything they stand for and all that is most sacred to them. Then there were tanks killing people right 320 and left. The French will never live down the evil reputation they have got there, and the sooner that is realised by everybody, the better for all of us. I well appreciate what the French are seeking, or say they are; it is some strategic advantage. Let us recognise that if it is to be a strategic advantage, it shall not be one that goes further than anything that is allowed to us in a stategic capacity in Iraq. It is possible that we might persuade these people to agree that the French should have some aerodrome out on the desert, but that is the utmost, and I do not believe it is impossible of achievement. In the present state of affairs it would not be agreed to by anybody. They will never agree to the military occupation of their country.
The fear of these people in the Middle East is that the small countries are going to be betrayed again. They are afraid that they are to be used as pawns in the game, the old, old game of power politics as envisaged by the hon. Member for East Fulham. I say to His Majesty's Government that there will be serious trouble all over the Middle East if what is happening can in any way be taken to be regarded as a likely betrayal of the small nations. Let me remind the Foreign Secretary that there has never been a satisfactory explanation of what I call the Paris negotiations. There is deep suspicion in the mind and heart of every politician in the Middle East about those discussions which took place in Paris between the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister, General de Gaulle and the British Ambassador in October or November last year. There has been no clear declaration of what took place. I would aver that the disasters that are now taking place are a direct result of the complete indecision as to policy following on that meeting.
§ 7.55 P.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
I am grateful to the House for letting me intervene now, because the Cabinet was discussing this matter when it was raised in the House. I have left the discussion and I am anxious to get back. I must take the strongest issue with the last sentence uttered by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). He seems to imply that all that has happened in Syria is due to some discussions 321 which took place between the Prime Minister and myself and General de Gaulle in Paris. There is not a vestige of justification for that. On the contrary, our policy in this matter has been made plain publicly over and over again, and we stand by those public declarations. We have not swerved one inch or one iota from them, nor shall we do so. I am really sorry that the hon. Gentleman impaired his speech with that final insinuation. Our effort in this business, particularly in these last months, and, let me add, the effort of our Minister out there, has been entirely concentrated, as all those who were in the War Cabinet will know very well, to try to reduce the temperature and get conversations opened up that would lead to a final settlement. Before these last events the omens looked better than they had been for a long time past. Although I am ready to take responsibility for anything that I have done, I utterly repudiate the view that anything we have said to the French is responsible for what is going on now. The task of the peacemaker is often a thankless one, and it is so in this case. But, in spite of the hon. Gentleman's charges, we shall persevere.
Let me deal with one or two of the points that have been raised. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir E. Spears) referred to the movement of troops, and I think that there has been a little confusion here. What has happened is this. There are certain British troops who have been stationed in Syria for some time, but, in addition to them, a certain number of troops have been in the habit, a small number at a time, of going into Syria for training purposes and coming out again. That has been a routine movement. That is what has happened in this case, and I am glad that it has been emphasised that it was nothing more than that, a routine movement. Where confusion has arisen, perhaps, is because we made it quite plain, and I thought it desirable that we should make it plain, to our French Allies and others, because of rumours that got about, that we were perfectly prepared to withdraw all our troops from Syria and the Lebanon as soon as an agreement was reached between the French and the States, and as soon as the French movement of troops had in consequence taken place. I wish to make that plain, because I do not want anybody to think that 322 in any circumstances we want to supplant what has hitherto been the French position in the Lebanon, and to make that clear beyond peradventure, I emphasise this about our troops going.
Now a few words about the situation as we see it. Unhappily the news which has reached us in the last few hours on the situation in Syria shows that the position has greatly deteriorated. Reports indicate that there has been considerable shelling of Damascus by French artillery with serious loss of life and destruction of property. Serious disorders have also occurred for some days past at Aleppo, Homs and Hama, so I know I speak for all the House when I say that His Majesty's Government deplore these incidents. I told the House yesterday that for months past we have been trying to promote a final settlement of the situation, the dangers of which were apparent to us all. As a result of these efforts there had been a certain improvement and, as I said just now, the chances of a negotiation between the French and the Levant States were by no means unhopeful, but in the last few days, for the reasons which I explained to the House yesterday, all this improvement has been entirely swept away and, as a result, when this last news reached us, we were engaged in taking a fresh diplomatic initiative to meet the grave events. Now the position has deteriorated still further, and the Cabinet is now considering the new situation created by these events and the action which may as a consequence be required. I know the House will understand that I cannot in these conditions say more at the present time, but I will keep the House fully informed as early as I can of the decisions taken. I would add that, as I know the House would wish, we are now in constant communication with the United States Government on the situation.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ M. Tinker (Leigh)
I am sure all hon. Members on this side of the House at any rate are in agreement with what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. It is a terrible state of affairs. We have just concluded one great war and now there are signs of trouble again from a country whom we have saved in effect. I hope the French people will have some regard for what we have done on their behalf and 323 will listen to an appeal from this country to try to settle this matter wisely and firmly.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I would like to associate myself with what has been said by my hon. Friend. We all agree that the situation which has arisen in Syria is tragic, and everyone is anxious that nothing should be said here which would be likely to make the situation more tragic. I hope that any action which will be taken in this matter will not be taken by this country alone. Just now we are trying to create at San Francisco a means by which international difficulties may be solved not by action by any one Power alone but by united action, and I hope so far as is possible we shall try to ensure, even if the San Francisco proposals are not yet implemented so far as its constitution is concerned, that we do follow the line along which we hope San Francisco will lead us. For that reason I would deprecate that there should be any action by this country alone calculated to tell France "where she gets off" or to try to suggest that she has played an unworthy part in this war or to insist that France should do this or that. We have to bear in mind that our best interest now is to ensure the future peace of the world, and if we are to do that we want a friendly France as well as a friendly Syria and other countries.
We must make full allowance for France. She has passed through extremely difficult times during the war and it may be that, having contributed to her own liberation and having just recovered some of her strength after a period of German domination, she may be throwing her weight about a bit. Let us have regard for her sensitiveness at this juncture and not do anything that is likely to add fuel to an already troubled fire; and in whatever action we take let it not be action taken by ourselves alone, but in combination with the other united Powers, with whom we have fought this war.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
In view of the very grave news imparted to the House by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, it behoves every hon. Member who speaks in this Debate to be very careful in what he says.
§ Major McCallum
I intervene only because I believe I am the Member in this House who has served longest in Syria it self. While I was serving in Syria I had the privilege of serving with the French Army and I speak with some slight knowledge of the circumstances. I would like to follow a little on what my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) developed in his speech—this question of background. He did not, however, go far enough back in studying the background. The troubles to-day have not started in this war. They started in the last war, and those who care to study the history of that part of the world will realise that the French nation has a special position in those countries known as the Levant. It does not date back to the last war, or to the beginning of this century. It dates back two centuries. Even when Syria and the Levant were part of the Turkish Empire, French culture was the culture which was developed throughout those countries. After the last war when Syria and Lebanon were placed under the mandate of France as a result of the Peace Conference, the desire of the peoples of those countries for French culture continued. There was no question of their not wishing to retain their connection with France.
§ Sir E. Spears
My hon. and gallant Friend is perhaps doing the United States an injustice. The university in Beirut has perhaps played a greater part in the educational life and public enlightenment in the Levant than any other institution, and when my hon. and gallant Friend says the country was in favour of the French mandate, he is mistaken because the Levant wanted the United States mandate to be No. 1, ourselves No. 2, and the French were absolutely nowhere.
§ Major McCallum
It is not quite as simple as that. French culture and influence go back long before there was any American university in Beirut. I know the university very well, and I have had the greatest admiration for the work done by it but let me ask my hon. and gallant Friend one question. Where did the professional classes, the engineers and the lawyers of Syria and the Lebanon go for their education? Not to the American university in Beirut. They went to Paris. French culture is 325 engrained in those people. The tragic events which have happened since the last war are part and parcel of the settlement—unsettlement it was—arrived at after the last war.
§ Mr. Stokes
Is the hon. and gallant Member suggesting that because these people have had the advantage of a certain French educational background, they have surrendered their sovereignty? Does he mean to suggest that the mandate given to France after the last war is abrogated by the fact that French influence was there before the mandate was granted?
§ Major McCallum
I mean to say that when we are judging the terrible events which we are discussing to-night, we have to do what my hon. Friend suggested earlier on, look at the background of all this. Let me take my hon. Friend back a little, to the period between the wars. I can remember the time when General Gouraud and General Weygand were High Commissioners in Syria and an attempt was made to murder General Gouraud. The assassins murdered the people in his car and they escaped over the Transjordan frontier, into country which is still under British mandate. The French authorities, through Paris and London, asked us for the extradition of those assassins so as to bring them to trial. What did we reply? We replied through our High Commissioner in Jerusalem that the assassins were political offenders, and not offenders against the criminal law. That stuck in the French mind and has stuck there ever since.
There was a development of that situation later on when we had our own troubles in Palestine, even after the beginning of this war. Where was the murder campaign in Palestine started? Where were the headquarters of the murderers who were operating in Palestine? In Damascus, sheltered there by the French. Tit-for-tat; because we would not help them with the murderers of their High Commissioner, they were not going to. help us to put a stop to the assassinations which were going on in Palestine. The result was that the quarrel between our, two nations caused such a state of friction at the frontiers between Palestine and the Transjordan, that it goes on to this day between French and British junior officers. 326 I am convinced that if the same friction did not exist at the higher levels, and if the working together at those levels were more cordial, in the instructions issued from both sides, we should not have this feeling between the French people and ourselves. They feel frustrated by us. There is no doubt about that.
§ Sir E. Spears
I apologise for interrupting my hon. and gallant Friend again, but is he saying that because those who attempted to assassinate General Gouraud escaped over the borders in Palestine that justifies the bombardment of Damascus to-day?
§ Major McCallum
No, I do not, but I say that we must look at the background of the events of to-day. I can see that the French have a special position in Syria and the Lebanon. I should be the first to say that the greatest mistake in the world has been made by the French in introducing Senegalese troops into Syria. We advised them against it. They were so advised by the British Government in years gone by. We asked them not to bring in these Senegalese black troops to Syria for the purposes of occupation. That was a very great mistake. I am not seeking to condone the action that has taken place when I ask hon. Members to cast their minds back and to realise the background which shows how all these troubles originally started.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)
Perhaps I might bring the House back now to the very serious statement which we have just heard from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. It is so serious that I think one should concentrate on it rather than endeavour at the present time to go into the details of the pros and cons of how the situation has arisen. When I heard the Foreign Secretary's statement, I am bound to say I realised that it might not be the only serious statement we shall hear from him about a situation outside these islands in the next six months. One consoling feature was the reception the House gave to the statement, and the unanimity exhibited in regard to the policy of His Majesty's Government at this moment in doing everything within their power to bring about an amelioration in the really shocking, terrible and scandalous state of affairs out there in the Levant.
327 I have one practical suggestion to make which may be of some value to the Government. On the two or three occasions recently when I have been in France I have been immensely interested in the enormous prestige enjoyed by this House of Commons on the Continent, in Western Europe generally and in France in particular. Perhaps we are sometimes inclined to forget that we are the only Parliament that has continued in active operation throughout these five years, and has stood erect, remaining a full Parliament. Our prestige is so great that I cannot help thinking that if the Government took pains—and it would require special attention—to see that public opinion in France is made aware of the unanimity that exists in this House in support of the Government at this time, on this matter, that information might be of service in the attempts which the Government are making. I have said that the matter will need a little special attention. With the minute size of the papers in France at the present time and the difficulties on the technical side, everything that happens in this House of Commons is not automatically reported in the French Press, but I believe that, the French public will be very interested to know what this House thinks and how we reflect opinion. The fact that we are unanimous in all parts of the House should be made known to the French Government and the French people through the various information services that are in operation.
§ 8.18 p.m.
Captain, Longhurst (Acton)
I have some acquaintance with conditions in the ring of Arab States, of which Syria is one, and perhaps it might be of service to the House if I conveyed one or two impressions which I recently gained. One was that there never was a time when there was greater potential good will among the Arab States towards ourselves. The second is that although we read a great deal about Arab unity, the Arab League and so on, the cynics, including many Arabs, will tell you that they will believe in Arab unity when they see it. Yet, on two points all are agreed and all Arab countries are unanimous. One is on Palestine, which does not concern us to-day, and the other is on Syria and the Lebanon. The Arabs feel, rightly or wrongly—and it is no business of mine to say which—that we 328 let them down in that area after the last war. I do not know whether that is right, but that is what they feel. They are looking with the greatest caution for parallels in the present situation—another great war, the same countries involved.
What are we going to do this time? I think it is fair and proper to say that the question of Syria is the second of the only two points upon which the whole Arab world is in fact united. When I was in Syria I put one standard question to everybody to whom I talked there. I said "Do you think the Arab peoples here and in the Lebanon are really in earnest? Otherwise do you think that if they are not given satisfaction in the matter of their independence, etc., they will sulk for a while, perhaps create a few disturbances, and then settle down and say 'We did our best; now we go on as we were before'?" The answer was unanimous. Everybody said "Yes, they are indeed earnest and they really mean it." Again, I do not presume to say whether they are right or wrong. I merely report that that is, for better or worse, their attitude. That is in contradistinction to what the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) has suggested in saying that the professional classes in Syria and the Lebanon habitually went to Paris for their education, and that therefore it was their cultural background That may be so, but I am only acting as a faithful reporter when I say that they will not stand for their independence being menaced.
I am not for the moment suggesting that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs should come out with 100 per cent. Arab, 100 per cent. anti-French, policy. Of course I am not suggesting that. My mother-in-law was French, and I nearly won a golf championship in France, and I must be acquitted of any such ridiculous intention. But I ask him to make some sort of statement which will convey the impression to any reasonable Arab that there is no chance of our going back on out guarantee of the independence of Syria and the Lebanon—some statement which will convince the Arab world.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Sir Geoffrey Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
I am sorry that I was not in the House when the Secretary of State made 329 his statement, but I understand the gravity of the nature of what he said. I rise merely to associate myself with what has been said by other Members in support of the Government in this very grave issue. It would be easy to make an inflammatory speech and say things which would cause excitement, but I do not think that would be in the least helpful. It is much better for us to place our confidence in the Foreign Secretary, knowing the admirable way in which he has been conducting the foreign affairs of this country, as I think, and doing his best in that area. It seems to me that the French have behaved in a lamentable manner. Indeed their conduct all through these last few years in the Near East has been rather strange and unsatisfactory, to put it in a most mild way. I feel that we cannot possibly get away from our responsibility which we took at the time when with General Catroux we guaranteed the independence of the Arab States—Syria and the Lebanon. How that can be carried out in the most satisfactory manner we must leave in the hands of the Foreign Secretary and the Government. I only intervene to say that I have confidence in the way that they will approach this matter. I believe that the whole House is behind them. I hope they will be able by reason, persuasion, and good will to arrive at a settlement which will give satisfaction to our Arab friends out there, and keep the French our good Allies and friends too.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
On one point I did not quite follow the logic of my hon. and gallant Friend and constituent below me: he seemed to be using mothers-in-law with a very unusual sense of values. I would wish to begin by assuring the House that I am the most Francophil man in it. Indeed I hope I am, because I think I am as Francophil as any Englishman could be, without disloyalty: to his own country. I do regret one or two suggestions that have been made about the necessity of reminding France that France has not perhaps behaved quite so well as we have in some years, or in some parts of the globe. I do not really think that what happened in1940, or what has happened in other years, is a matter of which we need remind anyone: our glories are certain enough. As for whatever small regrets other nations may have, I think we may be sure they are keenly enough 330 conscious on their own, and to make that consciousness keener or more public, can only make negotiations more difficult.
I think there is—I hope I am right in thinking so but I am not at all sure, because on this sort of subject it is very easy to talk nonsense or harmful sense—one other thing which may fairly and properly be said. It is this. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) said that the first duty of a mandatory was to clear out. I do not think that can really be right in logic. We all owe God a death, but it is not the first of our duties to pay that debt, otherwise there would not be time to do anything else. It cannot be the first duty of a mandatory to clear out: I think the first duty must be to protect and I think that we must get it into our heads that whereas there were mandatory Powers set up by the League of Nations, about which it is very dubious whether they owed their authority to the conquest which preceded the Treaty of Versailles, or to that Treaty, there are also mandatories in a higher and, I think, more real sense, that is to say, that where a State has avowed and obvious power, there it has a duty to protect.
No one doubts, in any of the Arab States, no one doubts in Russia, I suppose that no one in any part of the world who looks at the Eastern Mediterranean doubts, that we have the power there. When first a very small French ship comes everybody says, "It must be by permission of the British, otherwise how did it get here?" just as much as we should say, if a Belgian steamer came down the Volga, "It must have been by permission of the Russians." When a bigger ship comes everybody assumes it must be by permission of the British. When a third and still bigger ship comes, everybody says, "It must be by permission of the British." I ask the House to remember that this places upon us a duty which we cannot escape. It is no use talking about power politics as if that were an accusation. It is a mere tautology: politics are the application of power in the relations between men and societies, and where we are seen to have the power, the responsibility will be put upon us for what ensues. Profoundly as we may feel, as I certainly feel, affection for France and the French people, keenly as we may be aware—and by heaven none of us can 331 now doubt—that we cannot ever again sleep in our beds unless a strong France is on our side, in these days of V1, V2 and all the rest—keenly as we may be aware of these things, anxious as we must be to have the fullest agreement with France, in my judgment we cannot shuffle off responsibility in the eyes of the world for the preservation of peace and order for the Arab States, including these States.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Lord Dunglass)
I have often made speeches and said nothing very much in them, but I have never felt so confident as I am now that hon. Members on every side of the House will wish me to add nothing to the very carefully-considered statement of my right hon. Friend. That seems to me certainly, in these circumstances, to be the path of wisdom. I share the hope of the hon. and 332 gallant Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) and the sentiments expressed by the Senior Burgess the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pick-thorn) that the unanimity of this House in this short Debate will impress upon the French people the gravity of this situation as we see it. My right hon. Friend gave two assurances. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) raised one of them. He said, "Do not let us proceed alone." My right hon. Friend made it clear that we are in this matter in contact with the United States, and my right hon. Friend also promised that he would come back to this House and make a statement as soon as he could. With the permission of hon. Members, I will, therefore, leave it at that.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-Eight Minutes to Nine o'Clock.