§ 11.8 a.m.
§ Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)
I think that the Foreign Secretary will agree that, in the last 10 months since the accession of the present Government to Office, we, on this side of the House, have certainly not sought to promote controversy on foreign affairs. On the contrary, we have done what we could, not only in public speech but in private action, to help the right hon. Gentleman in his task, the difficulty of which none of us would seek to deny. In stating that, I would like to make it plain that we are not, of course, asking for thanks or, still less, for favours for the course which we have pursued. We have simply pursued it because we considered it to be in the broad national interest. It is my conviction that, if a Foreign Secretary of this country, speaking in the councils of the nations, can speak with the knowledge that he has the support of all the principal parties in the State, his hand will, correspondingly, be strengthened. Of course, there will be occasions when differences arise, but, broadly, that is true, and, therefore, broadly, we conceive it our duty, so far as we can, to keep foreign affairs out of political controversy.
In passing, in that connection, I would like to refer to what is, as the Committee may have observed, an interesting development in relation to the conduct of foreign affairs in the United States. In doing so, I would like to assure the Government that I am not making suggestions that they should necessarily follow the same course. It is interesting to notice that, ever since the San Francisco Conference, the American Administration have always taken with them leading figures of the Opposition to the big international conferences. I have noted in the last few days, since the return of the American delegation from Paris, that a very powerful speech has been made in support of the Administration's foreign policy, by no less a person than Senator Vandenbergh, who is a leading Republican figure in the United States. I am not suggesting that the Government should follow exactly that precedent, least of all am I angling to attend any more international conferences of any sort; I have had enough. But it "is, I think, broadly speaking, in a democratic State an advantage that, wherever we can, we should 702 seek to find agreement on international policy. In that spirit I turn to this Egyptian situation.
I begin by referring to the matters in respect of which, as I understand the position, there is agreement between us. There is no dispute between us as to the importance of the Canal zone as an artery of our Imperial life. Therefore, I am not going to take up the time of the Committee by explaining why I believe that Canal zone to be of vital significance. I use the word " vital "In its correct sense. In reply to some observations, which I have seen in the Press, I would say to the Committee that it is not merely, or even principally—if I might have the right hon. Gentleman's attention for a moment—
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Bevin)
I am listening.
§ Mr. Eden
—a question of the use of the Canal in war. It is that the Canal Zone lies in a unique strategic position, being, for all practical purposes, the junction of three continents. It is that which. creates its significance, from the strategic point of view. As I read the recent Egyptian demand, and some of the statements made in this country, I have regarded as entirely unjustified suggestions that the 1936 Treaty in some way inflicted humiliation upon Egypt, or was in some way derogatory to Egyptian sovereign status. That was certainly not thought by any one at the time. It was not thought by anyone in this House, and it was not thought by any Egyptian citizen. In fact, they all said the contrary Not only did they say it then, but I shall show in a moment that they have said it many times since. So far as this House is concerned, the Treaty received unanimous assent, and the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor, in following me at the time, used words about the Treaty which I must say expressed my view then as they expressed his, and express my view now. He said:We hope that this Treaty will close for ever an old chapter in Anglo-Egyptian relations which was marked by misunderstandings, on both sides from time to time and by certain apparent conflicts of purpose. We hope that that chapter is closed and that this Treaty is going to open a new chapter based on mutual respect, sincere co-operation and abiding friendship, not merely between governments, but between the British and Egyptian peoples themselves."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1936; Vol. 318, c. 268.]703 That is what the present Chancellor of the Exchequer said then. It was certainly my view of the Treaty at the time and the view of the Egyptian signatories who represented all parties in the Egyptian State. Therefore, I cannot accept the language which is now quite suddenly being used that this Treaty, which was then regarded by everyone as being made between two equal States without derogation of sovereignity, suddenly becomes something which, in some fashion or another, places Egypt in an inferior position.
Let me add this on that subject. Throughout the time that I was Foreign Secretary, on many occasions during the war when I went to Egypt I naturally discussed Anglo-Egyptian relations with Egyptian statesmen of all parties. It is quite true that, once or twice, references were made in those conversations to the fact that, in due course, a revision of this Treaty would have to come about, and I have never disputed that. Indeed, it is provided for in the terms of the Treaty itself. But never was language used to me to indicate that the existing Treaty was in any way derogatory to Egyptian sovereignty. On the contrary, all the expressions on the point were warmly in another sense. In fact, this sentiment that the 1936 Treaty is in some way derogatory to Egypt, is quite a recent one. I have no doubt that it arises, in large part, owing to the continued presence of British troops in the great Egyptian cities after the end of hostilities.
Since the speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer from which I have quoted, at a time when I was in Egypt in 1940, a Wafdist paper—and I mention the Wafd because it is, of course, very important in connection with these negotiations and the future of Egypt—has used words which I would like to quote to the Committee. I apologise for referring to myself, but I cannot help it because it is a quotation from the paper. It says that I wasone of the most important factors which helped to clear the situation and adjust the account in the interest of Egypt and the restoration of her complete sovereignty.That, again, is a reference to the 1936 Treaty showing that, at that time, the Wafd did not consider it injured their sovereignty at all. Another paper, " El 704 Ahram,"The paper with, perhaps, the widest circulation in Egypt—although it is not for me to show how a wide circulation and influence do not necessarily go hand in hand—said:The war has rather provided many links which emphasise the benefits of this alliance which tend to strengthen it in the interest of both parties. This is what is said and believed by every one of the delegates of both States who signed the Treaty of 1936.I will not weary the Committee with more quotations, but that shows that at that time, at any rate, no one in Egypt, as did no one here, thought that the 1936 Treaty was derogatory to Egyptian sovereignty at all. It is no doubt true that Egyptian public opinion, like public opinion here, perhaps, has changed in a measure since 1940, but both Egypt and ourselves should beware of transient emotions if they run counter to fundamental truths which are really in the interests of the two countries. I cannot resist the conviction that, if the Government, after the conclusion of hostilities with Japan, had taken early steps to remove our troops from the great cities to the Canal zone, and had made it plain, at the same time, that they were prepared to negotiate a revision of the Treaty with a united front in Egypt, as we negotiated in 1936—I can only express an opinion— we should have been spared these extreme demands which have now been made, the realisation of which, I am convinced, is neither in the interest of Egypt nor of ourselves.
Let me now say—because one must be fair about these difficulties where one knows they exist—that I know something of the technical difficulties in realising the programme which I have suggested. I know something of the extent to which staffs have been built up in Cairo, and the amount of accumulated headquarters of various kinds which have been built up there, and I have no doubt that it was extremely difficult, immediately after the Japanese war, to make those arrangements. Still, I repeat that had those difficulties been overcome, and had the troops been removed, we would not have been faced with the demands with which we are now confronted. Let me say this about the 1936 Treaty. I feel strongly about this, because I maintain that the Treaty embodied a fundamental truth both for Egypt and for the British Empire. The security of the Canal zone is, at one and the same time, an Egyptian 705 interest and a British Imperial interest. Therefore, I cannot accept the argument that British troops or Air Forces in the area of the Canal zone, remote from the large centres of Egyptian population, can really be regarded as a derogation of Egyptian sovereignty. There are parallels in other parts of the world. The United States continue to use bases in British territory, in the West Indies, at this time. None of us regards that as derogatory to our national status.
§ Mr. Eden
The hon. Gentleman says that if they occupied London, we would regard it as derogatory to our national status. That mentality shows a wrong approach to this question. First, it is not a question of occupation. If the hon. Gentleman had read the first Article of the 1936 Treaty, he would see that by agreement between the Egyptians and ourselves that was not the purpose for which our troops were in Egypt. With regard to occupying London, I have just said that, in my view, the great capital cities should be evacuated, and that is exactly what the 1936 Treaty did.
Let me give another example. The Soviet Union has sought and obtained the use of bases in Finland. In both cases, the American bases in the West Indies and the Soviet bases in Finland have been secured on account of vital strategic interests of the Powers concerned and for the freedom of their communications. The Panama Canal is in an entirely different position because the Canal zone is United States territory, but nobody doubts that the continuation of this state of affairs is not only an American interest, but a world interest. Nor, so far as I know, has anybody suggested that, on account of modern strategic developments or the discovery of the atomic bomb or anything else, the area is any less important than it was before. I come back to what I maintain is a fundamental truth enshrined in the 1936 Treaty, namely, that the defence of the Canal is an Anglo-Egyptian interest, using the word " Anglo "In the broadest Imperial sense. Neither of our great Allies has ever denied that to me or to my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), nor has anybody else denied it, so far as I know.
706 Can that broad Imperial interest—the Anglo-Egyptian interest in the Canal zone—be secured except by the presence of an Anglo-Egyptian Force in the Canal zone? That is a strategic question to which a strategic answer is required. I am no expert to give an answer to that. All I can say is that I know of no such plan. If there be such a plan, I think we should know it. I do not mean that the Government should divulge details of the plan publicly if that would be against the Imperial interest, but, at any rate, everything possible should be told us of the plan, and, at least, we should be told that there is a plan, if there is one. So far we do not even know that there is one. Here, perhaps I may be allowed to utter a warning, which it is easier for me to give without the responsibilities of Ministerial Office than it might be for the right hon. Gentleman on the opposite Bench. It may be thought that if the necessary preparations can only be made in advance, the actual movement of Forces can await the sounding of the hour of menace. That may be strategically sound—I am not qualified to pronounce, although I have doubts about it—but I am quite sure that it is politically unsound and even politically very dangerous. What happens? When tension grows and peril menaces, it is not fair to put too much strain on a small country by saying at that very hour, " You must agree that danger threatens and you must let us come, publicly before the world, into your country in order to share with you the averting of that danger."
It is difficult for any country to agree to that, and if anybody doubts it they have only to look at the experience before this war, not as far away as the Middle East, but here in Western Europe. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well how impossible it was to get even the necessary staff conversations ready which might have enabled us and our French Allies to afford protection to their smaller neighbours. There is always the hope when danger draws nigh—and the less the power of a State perhaps the greater the hope— that the scythe of war will pass them by. That makes the temptation to find some excuse to say " No," when the hour of danger comes. It was thus, in fact, that Hitler was able to take so many nations one by one. I am conscious of the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties, and I will say what I believe to be one of his prin- 707 cipal difficulties. I know that many times successive Governments in this country have expressed their intention of withdrawing their Forces from the great cities of Egypt and even, indeed, from Egypt itself, under certain conditions, and that for one reason or another, there have been delays. Of course, that is so, but Egypt cannot say that it is our fault that there has been delay in the fulfilment of the 1936 Treaty so far as evacuation from the great cities is concerned; it was certainly not our fault up to the time of the defeat of Japan. I cannot tell how the negotiations will go, and we shall be glad of any information that the right hon. Gentleman can give us today about the situation at the present time.
It would be wrong if I were to conclude what I have to say without stating what I would be inclined to do if I were in the right hon. Gentleman's place. I would advise the Government to complete the withdrawal from the great cities to the Canal zone at the earliest possible moment. I believe by doing that they will reduce the temperature. I cannot believe the anxiety of the average Egyptian is about troops and establishments he does not see in the Canal zone. It is about the troops he does see, and the staff cars he sees driving about the capital city, with all that it means. Secondly, I would make it plain to the Egyptian Government that, if a revision of this Treaty is to be agreed upon, it is in the interests of both countries that it should be negotiated, accepted and signed, as was the Treaty of 1936, by all parties in Egypt. I think that is important. Otherwise, we shall be in danger of making some arrangement which has no finality. I say that, not in any criticism of the authority of the present Egyptian Government. I say it because, if I remember aright—no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will check it—in 1935, before we began our negotiations, it was Sidky Pasha himself, who was not then in the Government, who first made the statement that the Treaty should be negotiated by a united Egypt and that all the parties in Egypt should come in. Therefore, I do not think he should be one to complain of that suggestion now. I believe it would immeasureably enhance the conclusion, if it is reached, if all the parties, including, of course, the Wafd, are in agreement about it.
708 Thirdly, I would make it plain—as I think it has already been made plain, if I understood the Prime Minister aright the other day—that any new agreement must, in the terms of the 1936 Treaty itself, provide for the continuation of the Anglo-Egyptian Alliance. Above all, if I may make this appeal, I think the Government should do everything in their power to get this discussion back into its true perspective. This is not an issue of the British Empire against Egypt, nor is it an issue of rival national interests. It is a question of how these two countries, whose friendship has been tried and tested in war, can give expression in the revision of a Treaty to the reality, namely, that each has need of the other. We live in a troubled world. No one can pretend that international conditions are settled. In that troubled world we have need of Egypt's friendship, and Egypt also has need of the friendship of the British Empire. The task of the right hon. Gentleman is to find a new expression for that, an expression which will enable him, at the same time, to carry out the purpose of the 1936 arrangement; that is to say, to enable us together to ensure the security of a zone upon which the life of both our peoples depends.
§ 11.33 a.m.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Crawley (Buckingham)
There have been many speeches, both in this Committee and in another place, and many articles on this subject. Almost all of them, when they have been delivered by hon. Gentlemen of the Opposition—
§ Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
On a point of Order. May I ask whether we are to have any statement or reply from His Majesty's Government? Or is the Debate to proceed on its course in total ignorance of their policy on this matter? I do not wish to interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but it would be of great assistance.
§ The Chairman
That is not a question which I can answer. I can only call upon hon. Members who endeavour to catch my eye.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
Is it not contrary to all tradition, when the Foreign Secretary is present and when the Prime Minister is present, for a Member of the Government not to rise in response to a speech made by a Member on the Opposition Front Bench? Is there 709 any precedent for such an extraordinary state of affairs?
§ The Chairman
I am sorry, but neither the right hon. Gentleman, nor any other hon. Member, can move a Motion and interrupt a speech. The hon. and gallant Member should be allowed to continue.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Crawley
The point I wanted to make was, that in the very many speeches and letters which have appeared recently from the Party opposite on this subject—and I think this is true also of the speech just delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) —they have taken their stand on the fact that all the negotiations between this country and Egypt in the last 15 or 20 years have been on a basis of what they describe as " absolute equality." We had it emphasised to us today that the 1936 Treaty was in no way derogatory to Egyptian sovereignty, and that the statesmen of the time in Egypt were careful to make that plain. We know very well, particularly when a country has been in an inferior position, how careful the statesmen of that country have to be in what they say on a subject like this. I suggest to hon. Members opposite that anyone who has been in Egypt, who has worked there in peacetime or fought there in wartime, knows perfectly well that in actual fact the British were dominating Egypt throughout these years by force, on Egyptian territory. Nothing that is said, or that has been said by statesmen, or is said here to try to gloss that fact can possibly disguise it from anybody who lived, fought and worked in the Near East in the inter-war and war years. In my opinion, for hon. Members of the Opposition to try to base their case on that stand is pure cant.
Surely, the issue is not whether there is or is not absolute equality. Everybody knows there has not been and there will not be so long as British Forces remain in any substantial quantity on Egyptian territory, whether in the middle of Egypt or in the Canal zone. Nobody can sug- 710 gest that by being in force in the Canal zone we do not dominate them by force: of course we do. The question is: Is it now in British interests to continue to dominate Egypt by force? That is the issue which we are deciding. The short answer which has been given by this Government, and which I support both politically and strategically, is that it is no longer in British interests to dominate Egypt by force on Egyptian territory. The reasons for that are, of course, very complex and very many. First there is the very broad political question: what are British interests? We cannot go into that, but perhaps we can sum it up today by saying that the long term British interest in the world is to keep as many countries in the world free to exchange both goods and ideas as we possibly can. I cannot go into that further at the moment. Secondly, there is the shorter term question, which I suggest hon. Members of the Opposition are very often shirking in these days, namely, the actual extent to which we can support our political aims in the world by force, at the same time trying to raise the standard of living in this country and supporting reconstruction. How are we to dispose our forces and use our manpower, and how much of that force can we maintain in the face of local opposition in various parts of the world? There is also the wider question of our position in defence of, say, the democratic way of life throughout the world. That always depends on the delicate balance between the use of force and the respect and good will with which one is held in the world. At any one time we have to decide which is the most important consideration in a particular part of the world.
The last point I want to make, and the only one upon which I want to go into any detail, is in regard to the strategical question. We have had many speeches —some of them, I think, more in the nature of lectures—from hon. Members on the other side of the Committee on the question of strategy. I would not for a moment pretend to have had the same experience as many hon. Members opposite. I have served in various capacities in the Middle East, and worked there in peacetime as well. What I suggest is the true strategical question is this. When we talk of the importance of the Canal zone—as the right hon. Gentleman made plain just now—we think of two things. 711 First, the passage through the Canal, thinking of the Canal as an artery of Imperial defence and, second, as the right hon. Gentleman said, as the junction of three Continents; in other words, the gateway to Africa. If we think of the first use of the Canal, as an artery of Imperial communication, we must recognise the fact that during the last war that artery was, for the greater part of the time, closed. The Mediterranean as an inland sea for the movement of troops and for a backdoor attack on enemy countries in Europe was another matter, but as a passage it was closed.
Without going into any great speculation on modern weapons, remembering simply the type of weapon that destroyed the Moehne Dam or the great improvement that has since been made in rockets—and one knows what the German expectations of their V/'s were, when they were going to produce two or three thousand a day and launch them from Germany—let us just think of comparable distances in the Mediterranean, and surely no one can have any doubt whatever in their mind that in the next war the Canal zone, from the point of view of being a passage or an artery of Imperial communications, will disappear. It will not be an artery of Imperial communications if any foreign power has any foothold on any considerable part of the Eastern Mediterranean; it will be closed, as a passage, to us. Equally, provided we can keep any foothold on any substantial part of the Eastern Mediterranean, we can close it as a passage to other people. So the answer strategically, and I suggest that this has far wider implications than I can go into today, is that the Canal zone in any future war is important as the gateway to Africa.
Obviously, one cannot think of Africa as a united country, but I do suggest that it is becoming more of an entity, and that the defence of Africa, as perhaps a seed ground of European or classical ideas of democracy, is of importance. Obviously, as has been said by a Minister for War who sat on these benches, the defence of the Canal zone as the gateway to Africa is a regional question. As hon. Members opposite and in all parts of the Committee know, the gateway to Egypt through all history, from the days of Abraham and the Assyrians onwards, has not been the Canal zone, it has been Palestine. The corridor 712 through Palestine has been the road through which every invading army has come into Egypt from 4,000 years ago until today. Equally today, many strategists of comparable rank to hon. Members opposite are concerned about this: If you are defending North Africa it is not the coast line any more with which you are solely concerned, it is the line across central Africa which has great importance.
The whole question is a regional question, depending not on British forces alone, as Lord Altrincham said in another place. It could not be undertaken by any single Power; it is a regional question and depends essentially on alliances. Therefore, in the very first instance, it depends essentially on the good will of the countries where it is hoped to have useful bases spread out in such a way that this vast region can be adequately defended, and not upon the Canal or the Canal zone. What I suggest, therefore, is absolutely essential, is such a regional agreement. Turkey, I suggest, is of importance equal to that of Egypt in such a regional agreement. The first essential is to gain the real co-operation of the countries concerned, and the absolute prerequisite to such alliances and arrangements was the step which His Majesty's Government have just taken.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Mr. Churchill
I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
I must apologise for having used the expression earlier " move the Adjournment."I feel bound to raise this matter now, because we really should be in possession of some responsible statement from His Majesty's Government. The Prime Minister is there, and there also is the Foreign Secretary, whose return from Paris was awaited on this question. He undoubtedly has a statement, no doubt of some importance, to make. Why should the whole of this Debate take place without any knowledge of what the position of the Government is? After all, the Government must have something to tell the House on these matters, so why should we not debate with that knowledge? The right hon. Gentleman has really no need to be alarmed; he has no need to be apprehensive of the fact that, having spoken, he will have exposed him- 713 self in a manner which will place him at a disadvantage. We are in Committee of Supply, he has full power to carry on the argument and rejoin if he chooses, and I, therefore, cannot see why this attitude of tactical reserve should be maintained."If it is insisted upon, I can only say—while I have not looked up all the precedents— that it seems to me to be a most unusual course for a Government to pursue. I cannot myself recollect a comparable case in which the whole Front Bench has sat silent during the whole day, not giving the House the information which they have in their possession, and which they will give before we rise at 4 o'clock. If that is to be the decision, I can only say that we must protest against it by moving to report Progress, and I accordingly do so.
§ 11.46 a.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
I am rather surprised at the line the right hon. Gentleman takes on this matter. A statement was made with regard to Government policy. There was a Debate, in which I took part and in which the Lord President took part. The right hon. Gentleman then asked for further time for discussion, and accordingly it was arranged that we should have this Debate. It occurs on a Friday, which is a Supply Day. I have been present at a great many Debates on Supply Days, and I am certainly not prepared to say that it is without precedent for a Minister not to rise immediately after the first speaker. Over and over again there have been full Debates with a winding-up speech from the Minister when he has heard the whole of what the House has to say. When it is a question of a Supply Day on which a Minister deals with a range of supply, it is quite natural that he should open, but when a Supply Day is specifically asked for by the Opposition in order that they may put their point of view and give the Committee an opportunity of putting its point of view, it is a perfectly reasonable thing—there is plenty of precedent for it—for the Minister who is under criticism to wait until he has heard the criticisms before he replies. Therefore, I say that there is nothing whatever unusual in this, and I think my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is fully entitled to hear what is to be said in order that he can reply to the whole Debate.
§ 11.48 a.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
It may well be that the Prime Minister is right and, as he said, there may have been precedents for this procedure, but surely the circumstances of this case are rather exceptional. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If the Committee will permit me, I will try to explain what I mean. When the Leader of the Opposition sought, with great difficulty, to get this Debate, was it not the answer of the Leader of the House that the Debate could not take place until the Foreign Secretary returned home? Therefore, it seems that the Government —the Prime Minister, I think it was— attached the greatest importance; to the fact that the Foreign Secretary should be here. [HON. MEMBERS: " He is here."] Let me finish. The Foreign Secretary— [Interruption.] Surely the understanding of the House, as a result of the Prime Minister's statement, was that the Foreign Secretary would take the earliest opportunity to answer the well-known doubts various people have expressed? I do suggest, therefore, that the deputy Leader of the Opposition having spoken, and having spoken not only as deputy Leader but as one with unique knowledge and experience of this matter, it would have been no more than courteous to the Committee if the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Minister had replied at once.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I think that the only extraordinary thing about our proceedings this morning is the Motion we are discussing. There was certainly nothing unusual in the procedure adopted up to the time it was moved. A Supply Day is. an opportunity for the Committee to discuss grievances before we vote Supply. That is the whole purpose of having Supply Days, and of having Supply in Committee, so that hon. Members may state their grievances. No doubt they will get a reply at the end of the day. It is a most extraordinary thing that someone should move the Adjournment before the winding-up speech of the Government, on the ground that it should have come earlier.
§ Mr. Silverman
I can understand two lands of Debate. I can understand a Debate initiated by a Member of the Government making a statement and that statement being debated. I can under stand the reverse process of having a Debate to which a response is made by the Government. But I see no reason in the world why the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) should be the only Member of the House entitled to be heard before the Government is called upon to make a reply. I heard somebody talk about the deputy Leader of the Opposition. There is no such person in this House. The House does recognise, and passed an Act of Parliament in order to recognise, the Leader of the Opposition; and, no doubt, the Leader of the Opposition, when he is not here, may select one of his colleagues to act as Leader of the Opposition in his absence—
§ Earl Winterton
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to ask him a question? I Know this will appeal to his erudite mind; [...] I just ask this question?
§ The Chairman
The noble Lord was in possession of the Committee. The hon. Gentleman gave way. Did he intend to give way or not? If the hon. Gentleman intended to give way, and did, in fact, give way, the noble Lord is entitled to speak.
§ Mr. Silverman
I did not give way. I had every intention of giving way, as an act.of courtesy; but courtesy must be repaid with courtesy.
§ Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
On a point of Order. It must surely be within the recollection of all of us that the hon. Member did give way. I appeal to you. Major Milner, for your Ruling.
§ Mr. Silverman
I say again, that courtesy should be repaid with courtesy. If the noble Lord wishes to intervene now, in order to ask a question to which he 716 desires an answer, I shall be glad to give way to him, but I shall not give way to him to give him the opportunity to be rude—
§ Mr. Churchill
Having made my protest, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion to report Progress.
§ Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and negatived.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ 11.55 a.m.
§ Captain Marsden (Chertsey)
There has been so much unnecessary talk on both sides that I am glad to come back to the main point which is under discussion. Our troops are in Egypt under the existing Treaty. I repeat, under the existing Treaty. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), said, the Treaty, which was made in 1936, allowed for revision in 1946. We are revising it. I know that many hon. Members would excuse the Government from replying to the previous speech, but that is not the course which appeals to me. I believe that this House is a place for debate. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Buckingham (Flight-Lieutenant Crawley) talked about Britain dominating Egypt in the years before the war. That is not so. Our troops were there quite legitimately, and they carried out the purpose for which they were there Before the war, we had no base in Alexandria—no permanent base We were established along the Canal for purposes which justified our being there. There were other troops elsewhere. If it is true that we dominated Egypt, why did not the Socialist Party after the war was over take our soldiers away from Cairo and send them into the Canal zone? But our soldiers are still in Cairo. They made no effort to get them out.
As a naval officer, I never can quite understand the Army's movements, or, indeed, the Army itself, in many ways. Those things which seem to the Army to be great difficulties, present no difficulties to us. If we had been told to get out of Alexandria or Cairo, we should have got out. If it is true that Egypt is dominated by British soldiers, it is also true that the Socialist Party have made no effort to get 717 them out, until last week; and now the Socialist Party are tumbling over themselves, not only to get out of Cairo and Alexandria, but to get out of the whole of Egypt. I will not bore the Committee by reading all the original Treaties. I have looked them up. There was one made originally by Lord Curzon many years ago. The present Treaty subsequent to that was an equal and honourable Treaty between Egypt and this country with obligations on both sides. Who has gained from the Treaty? During the 1914–18 war—without going back farther—and during the last war, who benefited most? In the last war, had it not been for us, Egypt would have been overrun, first, by the Italians, and, finally, by the Germans. On their part the Egyptians gave us the facilities of their ports and their country; they gave us the assistance of their army. They gave us all the help they could, with the result that, in the main, we kept our main artery with the East open.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Buckingham made much of the point that there was nothing derogatory in our carrying out our obligations. I disagree with some of the strategy mentioned by him, but, in the main, we must keep the Canal route open. There is only one navy in the world that could have done or that can do that, and that is the British Navy. I say that with knowledge of the facts There is no other Navy that can do it. Not even the Americans can do it, because they have not the experience. Imagine those miles of Canal. Imagine the work that is necessary. Every mine that was dropped had to be observed and watched. There were observers on the spot where the danger was. There used to be a salvage crew lined up on each side of the Canal, so that if a ship blew up on a mine, she could be salved quickly or taken into the bank so as not to obstruct the fairway. Imagine the type of mines. Some were magnetic, some phonetic, over which a ship might sail safely seven times, but the eighth time she would be blown up. There is only one nation that could have competed with these dangers. There is nothing derogatory to anyone in saying that. There is nothing derogatory to the Egyptians.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Crawley
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman not agree that the Canal was, in fact, closed to traffic during the last war for at least two years?
§ Captain Marsden
Certainly it was closed, until mines, dropped overnight, which would not allow the ships to pass through, were swept up and the passage was again made clear.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Crawley
Does not the hon. and gallant Member agree that the Canal was not used for a time as an Imperial artery?
§ Dr. Segal (Preston)
As a point of accuracy, I would point out that the hon. and gallant Member is quite wrong in saying that the mines were swept up. They were not swept up, but were dealt with by a special squadron of " Wimpeys," which flew over the.Canal, and exploded the mines as they passed over, at great danger to the aircraft.
§ Captain Marsden
I think that the words I used or meant to use were " dealt with."There are many ways of dealing with phonetic and magnetic mines, and the Navy knows them all—none better. Let us make it clear that there is nothing derogatory about this. I have many Egyptian friends, and they are men of the highest honour who always honour their obligations. But that does not make them competent and efficient, and it does not give them the equipment and technical knowledge to deal with the protection of the Canal route. This is the only country which has the equipment and the technical knowledge, and if Egypt could give us a free and independent opinion, I am sure that they would be glad to have us there. Remember that we were not responsible for making the Canal. We are not the largest shareholders in the Canal Company, but we are the best customers. The first thing that had to be done before the Canal was made, was to build a fresh-water canal. The most important canal from Cairo to the Canal zone is what the Egyptians call the " Sweet Water Canal."If that canal were not there, the Canal as we know would not exist. The harbours of Sues and Port Said would be little more than small commercial harbours
§ Mr. Follick (Loughborough)
Is the hon. and gallant Member aware that a good many of us have been in Egypt and know all about it?
§ Captain Marsden
I am pointing out these matters to those who do not know. 719 One Member stopped me in the corridor the other day and said, " Surely they would blow up the locks in the Canal? That shows that all have not carefully studied this question. These things are not political party matters, but Imperial matters. The hon. and gallant Member laughs; he was not in the House when his party voted against having any Navy at all.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Crawley
Is the hon. and gallant Member seriously suggesting that an Imperial matter is not a political matter?
§ Captain Marsden
We put it above party, as we have always done. It is a naval obligation to keep open the route through the Canal, and no other nation can do it but us. The hon. and gallant Member is surprised. He may know all about the Army, but he knows nothing about the Navy. In many parts of the world, naval officers and many others are wondering what all this is about. A perfectly honourable Treaty was carried through, with credit to both sides, then suddenly we have to scuttle and evacuate. What is this policy? Yesterday, apparently, we added something more to our vast Empire—little Sarawak—against the wishes of the natives, but in every other respect we seem to be clearing out in every direction. There will be consternation and surprise, and they will want to know what is going on. Many of our people will be asking, not what the Socialist Government are doing, but what the British Government are doing. [HON. MEMBERS: " We are the British Government."] The Prime Minister has told us that he consulted the Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff. Probably he did consult them, but he does not tell us what questions he put to them. We know very well our attitude as technical officers regarding the political side. I think it was Sir Frederick Richards, First Sea Lord, who said:It is for the Government to tell me what to defend, but I am the one to say what is necessary to defend it, and I want no instructions from the Government on that point.If the Prime Minister asked the Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff questions on the political side, he had no right to do so, and they had no right to answer. If on the other hand he said, " Here is this 720 Canal and Egypt; you can rely on friends on the North, South, East and West. Under these conditions, would this Force be adequate"? They could answer that. As far as the Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff are concerned, the Prime Minister has either said too much or too little. He should tell us more about it. The same thing applies to the Dominions. The Dominions were consulted. The Prime Minister might go to anyone—he is not likely to come to me, but he might— and ask " What do you think about it?"I would say, " Rotten." He might have asked South Africa, " You sent your men up to the North because of the Canal, and to fight for the freedom of the Canal zone. Do you think we should clear out? " " No,"They would reply. But we do not know what the conversations were. The Prime Minister merely says that they were consulted. I ask him to bear in mind the interpretations put on the consultations by other countries—let us say by American commentators. Once more the Prime Minister has either said too little or too much, and we want to know more about it. People are getting very bothered about all this scuttle and run. They cannot understand it. Are we going to surrender all these things which many generations of our people have held so dear and sacred?
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Combined English Universities)
When the hon. and gallant Member says '-' scuttle and run," will he say precisely to which countries he is referring? I have just come back from the East and I find that we are liberating many countries, such as Syria.
§ Captain Marsden
Those who followed closely the events of last week will realise that there is something more than education, and that is keeping up the British flag. Many people will ponder and worry about what is going on. They look at the Government Front Bench and see some gentlemen there whom we hold in the highest respect and regard. They have shown their strength and value to this country, and they have fought in the past. Others have not fought. Others have refused to fight when called upon, and yet they are the people who now largely decide our destiny. I suppose I shall not be able to quote Kipling without derisive laughter from the other side— from that fine cross-section of the community who were so particularly cross with their Leaders last night. I would 721 say in the words of Kipling to those on the From Bench for whom I have respect: Look to these things, youwho are neither children nor gods, but men in a world of men.But, act like men, Mr. Foreign Secretary, please.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Colonel Wigg (Dudley)
If mention must be made of the corps in which I served in the later days of my service, hon. Gentlemen opposite at least ought to remember that I served in a combatant corps when I was very much younger. If the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden) is really wondering what hit his Party last July, I would commend him to read his own speech tomorrow morning. In laying undisputed claim to still being a member of the stupid party, standing for a stupid doctrine, even from the point of view of 19th century Imperialism, he ignores every fact that does not suit his argument, and puts forward a case which can only embitter our relations, not only with Egypt, but with every one of our subject peoples.
I am sure that my hon. Friends deprecate the use of the word " scuttle," and I would remind him that the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate was asking for a policy of " scuttle." What he said was that on the day we had beaten Japan we should willy nilly, lock-stock-and-barrel have announced to the world that we were withdrawing from Egypt to the Canal zone. I give credit to the intelligence and integrity of the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) when I say that I do not think that he really believes what he said. He must know very clearly that we could not have got out of Egypt and withdrawn to the Canal zone under something like two years as a minimum. He was good enough to say that he was " venturing an opinion "That it could be done. I am speaking from the recollections which I got as a young soldier serving in Constantinople in 1923, of a somewhat comparable situation. We were occupying Constantinople as the result of our victory in the last war. Relations were extremely strained. Kemal had sent 20,000 troops into the city, mostly in civilian clothes. It was clear that we were going to get out as soon as we could. After the Chanak crisis of 1922 722 an attempt was made to negotiate the Treaty of Lausanne which would enable us to withdraw. Finally, in July, 1933, that Treaty was signed, and we undertook to withdraw our troops and our Navy from Constantinople. Note that the battle fleet in the Bosphorus at the time was not based on the harbour installations in Constantinople; it was based upon Malta. So far as the Navy was concerned all that it had to do was "To weigh anchor and scuttle off to Malta."
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
How does the hon. and gallant Gentleman make out that the position in Constantinople after the last war, when we were occupying a country which we had conquered, is comparable with the position in Egypt, from the Treaty up to the present, when we have been Allies?
§ Colonel Wigg
The whole point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington was that, in his opinion, on the day we beat the Japanese, we should have announced our withdrawal from the capital city of Egypt, and, if the English language means anything, he meant that, by this time, we should have been out of Cairo, out of Alexandria and back on the Canal. That argument is disingenuous. I am arguing from the fact that in Constantinople in 1923, when we knew all the time that we were going to get out, and our battle squadron was based, not on Alexandria, but on Malta, it took us several months to get out. We signed the Lausanne Agreement on 24th July. The headquarters staff did not get back to this country until October, nearly three months later. With the situation in which we found ourselves last August, with a very considerable military force and installations, not only in Egypt, but also in the Sudan, with a battle fleet based on permanent installations in Alexandria —is not if clearly sheer nonsense to say that we could have even hoped to withdraw under a period of two years? To reinforce my argument, let me turn back to the 1936 Agreement itself. Quite clearly, the obligation was laid on the Egyptians to build installations in the Canal zone, and there was no intention whatever of our withdrawing from Cairo and Alexandria until such time as these installations were completed. They were not completed at the outbreak of the war, and we are dealing with very much larger forces now. Therefore, I think that 723 it is established, beyond any shadow of doubt, that the charge that His Majesty's Government have incurred in bringing about our withdrawal from Cairo to the Canal zone has no substance in it at all.
§ Major Beamish
This is a most important point. It seems to me that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has most clearly misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). Is he arguing that because it may have taken two years, as he suggests, to move our armed forces out of Cairo, that was any reason why we should not have made a gesture by starting to move out last summer?
§ Colonel Wigg
Under the 1936 Treaty— negotiated not by the present Government, but by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite—we clearly intended, that when the installations were provided by the Egyptians, and they have not been provided, we were going back to the Canal zone, and it is clear from the Treaty itself that it was open to the Egyptian Government to raise the question of revision, as, in fact, they have done. It seems to me that the way this matter has been raised now has nothing whatever to do with the actual physical presence of our troops in Cairo. From 1899 onwards, one finds, in a study of the negotiations with the Egyptians, that two issues emerge: one is the question of our occupation, and the second is that of the Sudan. The Government have to face up to this. It is a monstrous argument to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary has been negligent, and has embittered relations between our Government and the Government of Egypt. Our relations with the Government of Egypt, from the end of the last war, have always been difficult because our policy has prevented the emergence of responsible government in Egypt. Many times, when independent decisions were about to be taken, the late Lord Lloyd, a gentleman honoured by the Party opposite, summoned battle cruisers from Malta. Demonstrations by force were carried out time and time again to prevent the taking of decisions we did not like. We never treated the Egyptians as equal partners. It is the policy of the present Government to enter into negotiations, not only with people who are stronger than we are but 724 also with people who are weaker than we are, and to deal with the issues as equals. I am very glad indeed that the Opposition have given us the opportunity of making our position clear on this point.
I want to conclude by saying one word about the Sudan. I welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement in March of this year, when he said that the issue of the Sudan was to be decided on the principle of the welfare of the Sudanese people. I hope in any negotiations that take place he will stand absolutely firm by that principle, and I only hope that he will not, as a result of the mischievous arguments put forward this morning, find his hand weakened in bringing that about.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)
I hope the hon. and gallant Member for Dudley (Colonel Wigg) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his argument, because I do think it is very desirable this morning to inject into our discussion the second and wider question that is now before the Committee, namely, the question of where is, and where should be, the seat of responsibility for Commonwealth defence. This seems to me to be an appropriate subject for Empire Day, and while the Prime Ministers of the Dominions are still here in London after their Conference. A disturbing light was thrown on the ambiguity and the inadequacy of our methods of planning Commonwealth defence by the statement of the Prime Minister and his two subsequent amending statements. I think the public were startled and shocked to realise that, in a matter of Commonwealth defence, where the defence of the area in question certainly did not concern this island any more than other parts of the Commonwealth, such as India, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, the sole responsibility for decisions was with the Government of this country. The Dominions were informed; but they were not in any real sense consulted; and certainly they did not share the responsibility for the decision; though the experience of two great wars has shown that the Dominions do share fully in the consequences. The fact is, I suggest, that the Statute of Westminster, which purports to give equal status between ourselves and the Dominions, has never been carried to its logical conclusion in the most vital sphere of all, that of defence. A report signed by the five Governments in 1926 said at that time, though I think it 725 was a regrettable anachronism even then, that the major share of the responsibility rested and must for some time continue to rest upon His Majesty's Government in Great Britain.
A book just published by Chatham House entitled " British Security " has pointed out that in practice this major responsibility has come to be interpreted as, in fact, a sole responsibility. The main decisions for defence, for the foreign policy associated with defence planning, for the burden and costs of armaments have, in fact, between the wars rested upon this country, with only supplementary contributions here and there, and with a responsibility for merely local defence upon the Dominions. I repeat, when war comes, the Dominions share fully in the cost, effort, sacrifice, and consequences, but in the intervening years there is no true sharing either of the burden of defence or of the privilege of participating in the decisions upon which depend the future issue of war and peace, and the issue of victory or defeat if war comes. Twenty years have now elapsed since the Governments agreed that the major responsibility should for the time being rest with this country. When is this professedly and admittedly transitional period to end? How long will the Dominions be content with a position in which they suffer all the consequences of inadequate Commonwealth defence, and yet have no effective share in planning it? How long will the Government of this country be content to act as though they possessed, as they quite obviously do not possess, the resources which enable them to bear so disproportionate a burden and responsibility?
This question is sometimes regrettably obscured in the public mind by the existence of a world organisation such as the League of Nations or the United Nations, in which the Dominions and ourselves are separate members. Even in the days of the League of Nations, however, experience showed that it was necessary to form groups within the universal organisation, and the United Nations organisation has applied this experience in definitely recognising what are called regional associations; and quite clearly one must understand that regional associations cover not only associations based upon geographical proximity, but on political affinity, such as there is between members of the British Commonwealth
726 The United Nations organisation, moreover, relies much more explicitly than did the League upon the strength and concentrated responsibility of the great Powers. At the centre of this new organisation is a tripod of power. Every Member in this Committee will, I am sure, agree that it is of the utmost importance that in this tripod of power cur leg should be of equal strength. If unhappily the tripod of power should become a biped it is even more important that we should have adequate strength. It is perfectly clear that this little island can no longer be an equal partner with the other great Powers. But this Island with the Dominions as a United Commonwealth can. That, however, means real Commonwealth planning and real Commonwealth defence.
What are the obstacles? It is no longer the difficulty of travel and communication. I think the difficulties are really twofold. There is some reluctance on the part of Whitehall to part from the position which it has been accustomed to in the past. I do not think the process of digging out all the ideas and psychology of pre-Statute of Westminster hegemony is one that has yet been completed. It is, of course, also true that there is a reluctance on the part of the Dominions to accept that burden of responsibility which is the true and logical counterpart of their equality of status. I think there has been some inclination to seek to find in the existence of a new organisation such as the United Nations an alternative to full and equal acceptance of responsibility, which is certainly not justified by the character of that organisation as it is.
I will respectfully and diffidently suggest that in relation to U.N.O.—and I speak as one who has for many years been associated with the experience of the League of Nations—a Dominion really has a choice between three alternatives. First, it may regard itself as a completely separate and independent unit, in which case its place in U.N.O. will be that of a small or secondary country with no more influence upon world policy and upon general developments on which any future war, which will probably engulf us all, will depend, than any other secondary State. The second one is that a Dominion, like, say, Australia, should hang upon the skirts of a great country like the United States of America, in the 727 formation of whose defence and foreign policy it cannot, in the nature of things, expect to have any considerable influence. Its relationship would be that of a friendly satellite. The third alternative is that the Dominions and ourselves should combine together now to build up into a real, strong and effective Commonwealth the Commonwealth which is now theirs as much as ours. I wonder how long the negative process which necessarily preceded the Statute of Westminster will continue^—the negative process of cutting away the United Kingdom's hegemony in the older British Empire. Will it go on until the whole Commonwealth is dissolved into separate unities; or, now that the Dominions are equal members with ourselves, and it is their Commonwealth as much as ours, will they turn with us and make it something which can ensure that we shall be an equal to any other great aggregation of power and influence in the world—so that we should be subordinate in U.N.O. to no other section, but only to the whole? A great deal depends for ourselves and for the whole of the world upon which of these alternatives is taken.
I suggest that now and here it is for us and for our Government, as a contribution to this process, to make it clear, without any possibility of misunderstanding and without reservation, first, that we cannot physically continue to assume, and will not pretend that we can continue to assume, the responsibility for the major and, indeed, almost the sole responsibility, for defence policy, defence costs, and defence decisions in the periods between wars; secondly, that we desire to get rid of any remnants there may be of the pre-Statute of Westminster hegemony; and, thirdly, that we are prepared to work with the Dominions on any suitable methods of consultation and joint action that may be desirable in order to give effect to these purposes. I feel sure that the people of this country would wish that. I believe that when the public of the Dominions really appreciate the issues involved, they, too, will be prepared to move in this direction, for they, too, like ourselves, know what it will mean if the traditions, outlook and experience that we have gained together in building up and developing the British Commonwealth should be now lost as an effective element in determining the future of the world.
§ 12.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
The right hon. gentleman the Senior Burgess for Ox ford University (Sir A. Salter) speaks with great authority on this subject, and I think he has raised it at a very opportune time. I would like to refer to what he has said later on in my speech. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) spoke with considerable moderation this morning. I did not agree with much of what he said, but I think the temper was rather different from what has taken place before on this subject. He said that the Opposition have not unduly pressed the Government on foreign affairs since it has held office. However, this is the second Debate on Egypt in 17 days in this House, and there has been a Debate on Egypt in another place. The Liberal Party has made its position upon this absolutely clear—
§ Mr. Granville
The Liberal Party—by the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) on 7th May and by the speech of Lord Perth in another place. Our position is that we support these negotiations and the action which is being taken by His Majesty's Government at the present time with regard to Egypt. A very interesting aspect of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington was when he appealed for national unity on foreign policy. He instanced a recent trend in the United States of America where there has been more than consultation with Opposition leaders. I have taken the trouble to read very carefully the Debates which have taken place in the last two or three weeks on Egypt, and particularly the part which referred to whether the Dominions were to be informed or consulted. I cannot quite follow whether the right hon. Gentleman wishes the Opposition in this House to be " consulted " or "Informed " on these questions and decisions on foreign policy, but in any event the responsibilty, after there has been consultation, must remain with His Majesty's Government. Whether consultations or discussions upon these negotiations between the Leaders of the Opposition and His Majesty's Government would have obviated the necessity for this Debate or previous Debates, I do not know. 729 I would also like to make some reference to the question of Dominion consultation. The Conservative Party, as far as I can see, are always jealous of the rights of the Dominions when they themselves are in Opposition, but when they are in office they usually leave the advocacy of that to Lord Beaverbrook and the Dominions. It is perfectly clear now that the Canadian Prime Minister has made a specific statement in which he has said there is no disagreement on this question of Egypt and consultation and I notice that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington in his speech today did not refer to this question of Dominion agreement. I noticed also in today's Press that the Australian representative on the Conference which has just been concluded in this country—Dr. Evatt— has said that this is the best Conference they have had so far. There is, of course, the agreed statement issued by the Conference today which has a direct bearing on this question of the machinery for Dominion consultation; this is the question which was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University. I have no doubt that all these questions of defence and security were discussed. It is of course this all important point of the Dominions having a voice at the policy-making level before decisions are taken and not merely being informed. I hope that the initiative was taken by the Prime Minister on this, because a great deal depends upon it.
During the war many of us pressed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), the Prime Minister of that time, to form an Imperial or an Empire War Cabinet, as was done in 1915. We were constantly pressing the Government of the day because of the protests being made from the Antipodes and elsewhere. I am afraid that I was always urging the Government of that day to see that the Dominions had a voice at the policy-making level. I am not sure that the Prime Minister always consulted the Dominions before taking decisions. It is within the recollection of hon. Members that the right hon. Gentleman refused to deal with this. I know that the Prime Minister of Canada was opposed to it. He has his own particular difficulties in Canada, but there were very strong protests from Australia and New Zealand. I rubbed my eyes when I saw the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford raising this question of Dominion consultation 730 at this juncture with regard to these discussions on Egypt.
Surely if there ever was an opportunity to improve this machinery for consultation and methods of contact and communication, which are very intricate, here was the opportunity to emulate the Imperial War Cabinet of 1915. That was the time to have indicated the raising of the status of the High Commissioners here to enable them to sit in at all these policy-making discussions. Of course Canberra and Ottawa wish to be perfectly free to take decisions in their own Cabinets, but surely it would have been possible to have assembled an Imperial or a Commonwealth Council, and to. have improved these methods of consultation.
I am not deterred by the statement issued from Downing Street this morning which says that the present methods envisaged by the Statute of Westminster are to remain. I think the time has come when the whole question of consultations and communications within the British Commonwealth and Empire should be carefully examined. I had hoped that the Prime Minister might have proposed to the representatives of the Dominion Governments that a full Commonwealth Committee to inquire into this should be set up. There are many aspects of this matter—the use of radiotelephony and of aircraft, for instance, for calling the Prime Ministers together. Of course the system works in ordinary matters of routine, but when we get to a crisis, questions are bound to arise whether the Dominions have been properly consulted. Somehow or other we have to improve the technique, now out of tune with modern trend. I should have thought the opportunity would had been seized at this Conference to have a full and frank discussion, in order that the members of the Conference might report and make representations to the next Imperial Conference.
This Debate has now gone back to the even tenor of its way. I am glad that it has not developed into a stunt. I think it is extremely important that this question of Egypt should be properly debated, and debated at the right time. As I see it, the declaration of withdrawal from Egypt has been made. Negotiations for transfer of troops and materials and installations are proceeding, and a fresh Treaty is at the present time being discussed. We are 731 told in the Press that there has been some delay in these negotiations. I use the word " delay " and hope that the Foreign Secretary, when he replies—and I think he has a perfect right to reply at the end of the Debate, because there were numerous occasions when his predecessor listened to the speeches and made his reply in a similar way—will tell us something of the reason for the delay, if he can. All we are left with at the present time are stories in the newspapers, and despatches coming from Cairo.
Of course this question of the Treaty and the defence of Suez is bound up with the whole of our foreign policy. I would like to ask the Government what their policy is in regard to these vital waterways, these vital spots at Suez, Singapore, and even Panama. Is the defence of these places to be a United Nations responsibility? Is that the long-term policy to which the Foreign Secretary referred some time ago, and from which he said he would not deviate? Is there a short-term strategic plan, or is it the long-term policy we are aiming at? Is the defence of these places, such as Singapore and Suez, to be the responsibility of the Commonwealth of British Nations? As has been said, it is well known that we cannot police the world; the British taxpayer cannot bear the whole burden. Is the defence of these areas a question for the Commonwealth of British Nations and the United States of America together by agreement? Canada has recently concluded a regional defence arrangement with the United States of America. That is all to the good. Australia may feel that she wants to do the same in the Pacific with the United States of America. Are these matters within the arrangements of the scheme for Commonwealth defence, or the United Nations defence, or a defence which is a matter of agreement between the Commonwealth and the United States of America? It may be that Admiral Leahy's visit to this country recently was to clarify this question of bases and regional defence. We read about this visit, and are told in the Press what it is for, and there are negotiations going on in Washington. Can the House of Commons be told if Admiral Leahy came on an official mission, to discuss the.question of bases and regional defence?
If we are to make these arrangements with the United States of America for, as 732 it were, a joint regional defensive arrangement, then, as the Under-Secretary knows, public opinion in the United States of America will have to be taken into consideration. I do not think that in atomic war these waterways can be kept open. It cannot be done. I have no doubt that the Government's experts are in possession of the latest information with regard to aircraft and modern methods of attack. Lord Stansgate was advised by our Ambassador and the Commanders-in-Chief in the Middle East, and I have no doubt that the Committee of Imperial Defence had the advice of experts on modern warfare. But I say this, to the Government, and I have been saying it in this House for years, "If your defence is to be a Commonwealth defence plan, either as a sphere of influence, or regional arrangement, within the United Nations set-up, you must have your Air Forces decentralised throughout the Commonwealth,"That was the lesson of Singapore. I remember that when I tried to move the Adjournment of the House of Commons to get fighter defence for Singapore we were told that it took so long to get planes there. But if we had had production of aircraft and tanks and technical equipment in that region the story might have been different. Speed becomes an increasingly vital factor in modern warfare. I hope that in any reorganisation of the Committee of Imperial Defence we shall have experts from all parts of the Commonwealth consulted. They would, I am sure, say that it is vital to decentralise our industrial war potential. It is also essential to decentralise laboratories and science, and so on. Scientific decentralisation ought to be a question for future planning. I hope we an; not going to put all our scientific development into one place, under one roof, or in one country. I believe that if out defence is to be upon a Commonwealth basis it must be decentralised. I think the time has come to reorganise the Committee of Imperial Defence, or replace it by a new type of Commonwealth Council of Defence. Our scientists, industrial experts, planners and the like should be fully represented.
Of course the United Nations' policy of security must, in the end, be the Government's long term policy. I say that world government must be the ultimate goal. One day the peoples of the world will demand their security in the terms of world economic and world political government. 733 This country has had enormous burdens to bear and it may not be looking far enough ahead; I do not know. I do not intend to criticise the Government's foreign policy, or to say that it is continuity of policy or merely a continuation of Conservative policy. We have had two world wars, and we want to avoid a third, as a repetition of history. I do not think we can get ultimate security in the Middle East or elsewhere, in the light of modern scientific warfare, by patchwork alliances and arrangements of that kind. I think we have to go for the big, the bold, the visionary aim of world government. It is the only thing—" one world, or none ". That is something which was preached by that dynamic figure Mr. Wendell Wilkie in his advocacy of " One world ". I am sometimes disturbed when I think that the Government have their heads too close to the ground, and they do not fix their eyes on the distant objective. The objective I have suggested is the only way we shall prevent a repetition of history. We have tried everything else from alliances to the League of Nations, and now the United Nations organisation, but extreme nationalism has always led to war. In conclusion, I would say that we wish the Foreign Secretary and the Government well in these difficult and complex negotiations with Egypt. I hope that as soon as we have been able to deal with some of the questions of resettlement, the Government will give us the beginning of a real visionary long-term policy which will, one day, envisage world government.
§ 12.53 P.m.
§ Major Wilkes(Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
When I used to read the long and exhaustive histories of our relations with America in the 18th century, and of our relations with Ireland in the 19th century, I used to believe that the people who were the real menace to this country, and the people who would, if given their heads, lose us our Empire, were hon. Gentlemen of the calibre of many of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, who quite fail to realise that the world is changing, and who fail to make the necessary adjustments in time. It is quite obvious that had we made the right approach to the American Colonies and to Ireland in time we should still have had America in even closer partnership with us, and we should have had Ireland in closer partnership with us than Ireland is today. 734 It seems to me, on summing up history, and in listening to this Debate with the greatest care, that the policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite is to refuse concessions, even at the cost of considerable blood and treasure, which they are compelled to make in five or ten years' time.
As one who, in common with many other hon. Members, got to know Egypt and the Middle East generally quite well during the late war, I say that it is impossible to realise the growth of nationalism in the Arab world without coming into contact with it. It is, of course, unfortunate that nationalism is being discovered by the ex-subject peoples of the world just at the moment when we, who have had our nationalism for centuries, are beginning to find out the limitations of nationalism. That is a tragedy, but it is a tragedy which results from repression and feelings of psychological inferiority. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have not stressed what many hon. Members who have had personal contact with the Middle East in the last five or six years feel is the most important aspect of the present political problem of the Middle East—its psychological aspect.
In common with many other people visiting the Middle East and working for the first time in that area, I found that the English community before the war had done everything possible to exacerbate those feelings of inferiority among the Egyptians. One goes into the Gezira and Maadi clubs, where English officials congregate, and finds that they boast in those clubs that they have no social contacts with the Egyptian world. There is a feeling on the part of the Egyptians, in dealing with the British official of prewar days, that they are regarded, to use a vulgar word, as " Wogs."It is this psychological feeling of inferiority which is to a great extent responsible for the riots and the unrest in Egypt today. I would like to congratulate the Foreign Secretary and the Government on taking a great decision in trying to remove, as quickly as possible, this great psychological irritant, in order that the two parties should enter into negotiations with a complete feeling of equality.
We have sat on Shepheard's veranda too long with the wrong kind of people. Suppose I put it this way: I realise that our security is closely and intimately bound up with the retention of influence by this country in the Middle East. We 735 must retain that influence, but when hon. Gentlemen opposite think in terms of retaining Imperial influence, I suspect that they think in 19th century terms of one battalion here, and another battalion there, surrounded by many millions of apathetic coloured people. That is not the way to retain influence in the modern world. One battalion isolated from the rest of the community here and another battalion in barracks there is not the way to defend the Suez Canal in the 20th century. If we can get agreement, as between friends and equals, with the Egyptian people and Government, our contribution, in terms of economic and social welfare, the contribution we have to make to combating poverty and disease, such as trachoma, in the Middle East, will be enormous. All Egyptians know that we have the science, the medicine and the resources that they have not got to conquer their political, social and economic ills.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
The hon. and gallant Member will surely not deny that we have taken immense steps and measures in order to bring about this amelioration of the lot of the people in Egypt in the directions he has mentioned?
§ Major Wilkes
It is true that we have made some contribution. Nevertheless, anyone who knows Egypt knows that illiteracy, disease, lack of sanitation and lack of housing are such, there and throughout the Middle East, that if we have been predominant in the Middle East for the last 100 years, the present state of the fellah and the Arab worker is no great credit to us. I would suggest, to the Committee and to hon. Gentlemen opposite, with the greatest respect, that it would be a great pity if, through a wrong political approach, we were not to be allowed to make the great contribution which we can make to agriculture, medicine and science and the welfare of the Middle East. The more we are closely and intimately connected, through our technicians, scientists and economic experts, the greater will be our Imperial security in the Middle East, and we shall gain a measure of security and respect that the battalions failed to gain in the 19th century.
I would like to close by asking if it is not possible for the Government, after 736 their negotiations, to bring the draft treaty or agreement to U.N.O., and for U.N.O. to be associated in some measure with this final agreement. I am not one of those who think that U.N.O. ought to be kept out of power politics. The old League of Nations died through not being associated with power, politics, and through questions of power politics being decided outside the League. On the great questions of the narrow waterways converging on the Mediterranean, which are the greatest menace to peace, I should like to see us start, after our negotiations with the Egyptians, by bringing in U.N.O. and associating it with the measure of agreement which we reach to defend the Suez Canal. I think that that might be a great step forward towards a similar agreement with regard to the Dardenelles, and, in that way, by trying to make the present negotiations the approach to an overall Mediterranean agreement with which U.N.O. is associated, we might make very real progress. I fully realise that there are risks which the Foreign Secretary is facing. There are always risks in going forward, but the alternative, I believe most sincerely, is merely to exacerbate, to repress, and, in the event, bring about the complete and utter collapse of that position in the Mediterranean which we have built up at such great cost and which is so vital to our security.
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Colonel Wheatley (Dorset, Eastern)
I was very much impressed when we had our last Debate on this subject by the attention with which the hon. Gentleman who represents the Combined English Universities (Mr. Kenneth Lindsay) was heard by the House when he mentioned that he had been in Egypt quite recently for seven weeks. I have spent over 20 years out there, and so I venture to intervene in this Debate in a very small way. I was interested to hear what was said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Newcastle (Major Wilkes) and, taking his words alone, I must agree with a great deal of what he said. The great problem is a psychological one, but the difficulty I have seen, as I have listened to this Debate, is that hon. Members seem to think that the Eastern peoples look at matters in exactly the same way as Westerners do. When they talk to an Eastern, they think of what they themselves would do. 737 I respectfully suggest to hon. Members that Rudyard Kipling, for quoting whom the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden) apologised, said a very wise thing, which I have proved during the many years I have spent in the Middle East, when he said " East is East, and West is West ". I could give many instances which would show that one cannot, after a few years in the East, just sit in London and say, "This is what the Eastern wants ". I find it difficult in a way to talk today in this Committee, because the last thing I want to do is to hurt any of my Egyptian friends, of whom I have many and with many of whom I still correspond today, but I think they know me well enough to understand that to hurt them is the last thing I would want to do.
I would like to stress the point that we cannot look at this question in exactly the same way in which we should look at our country if it had been helped and occupied as Egypt has been. There has been a great deal of talk about derogation, which was stressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), with whom I entirely agree. There is not that amount of derogation which many hon. Members have tried to suggest takes place in Egypt. I would ask those hon. Members who went to Cairo and talked to students if they went up the river at all and talked to the people of Egypt, to the fellaheen in their own language and heard what they had to say. If they had done so, they would have found something quite different, and would have found that a great deal of this agitation is local to the big towns of Cairo and Alexandria.
The hon. Member for East Coventry (Mr. Crossman) told us a tale the other evening how he could not go up from Port Said to Cairo in a convoy of Army cars because it was very dangerous, and how he went in a lorry with one Egyptian driver, and, therefore, was quite safe. I think the hon. Member draws entirely wrong conclusions from that episode, because these riots arc engineered, to a large extent, very suddenly. Nothing is easier than to raise a riot in an Eastern country, where the people are more fanatically minded and hot-blooded. Many of them are ignorant and will listen to the call of the agitator. These riots begin very quickly and end very quickly. 738 As the hon. Member for the Combined Universities said the other night, after the riot, British soldiers were able to go out and mix with the Egyptians without any danger at all. That is quite true. These riots do take place quickly, and hardly any of the people know what they are about.
I well remember the riots in 1924, after Sir Lee Stack had been murdered. Fellaheen up the Nile Valley were urged by agitators to storm the police station, and they shouted for liberty. They went to the police station, and the Egyptian magistrate came out and said, "I have not got liberty here."They thought it was something tangible which an officer could hand out to them; They said, " Bring it out; you are hiding it from us and trying to keep it for yourselves."That is a true story, which I ask hon. Members to believe, and it shows the mentality of the Eastern, and especially of the more backward portions of the population. It is not the people who live up the Nile who want to see us go. In the days of Lord Kitchener, there was great reverence for him, not only because he was a great soldier, but because he gave them the Five Feddan Law which prevented moneylenders from taking away the whole of a man's land. I am astonished to hear that that law has now been taken away. If one asks the fellaheen whether they want the British to leave Egypt, they will say, as they said before the last treaty was put through in 1936—" Don't go."
I well remember a story told to me by an English adviser in Cairo when we gave them their independence. The Minister came to the adviser and said, in great anger: " Here you are, you English, you have dropped us in the pit again."The adviser said, " What do you mean, Your Excellency? "The Minister replied, " You have given us our independence, and you are going to leave us."The adviser said, " Surely, that is what you have been asking and agitating for? "The Minister replied, " Yes, but that is only political."The last thing the Egyptians want us to do, in reality, is to leave the country.
§ Colonel Wheatley
I was talking about " liberty,"The word used by the fellaheen; the word "Independence " was used at the time when Egypt was made a sultanate 739 and then a kingdom. I hope hon. Members will not be bored by hearing the views of one who has lived among the Egyptians as an Army officer. I would point out that even when we gave them their independence, they did not take advantage of it. What did they do? Did they immediately say, " Now that we are free, we will fill all the posts in the administration and the army with our own people?"They did not; they discharged every Britisher but brought them back again immediately on their old rates of pay after giving them compensation for the pension rights which they would lose.
After the murder of Sir Lee Stack, when the Egyptian army removed from the Sudan and the Governor-General of the Sudan no longer filled the post of Sirdar— commander-in-chief of the Egyptian army —what happened? One would have thought that the Egyptians would have taken the opportunity of saying, " Now we will have an Egyptian commander-in-chief." What they did was to appoint a British inspector-general. I ask hon. Members to believe that, in the East, the shadow is as important as the material. I am perfectly certain in my own mind how this present Egyptian agitation has arisen. It has not, as some hon. Members have suggested, arisen because of feeling among Egyptians as a whole. It is only among the intelligentsia and the students, the people collected in Cairo and those who made the riots, that the feeling exists, but the fellaheen do not want to see us go. I suggest that the reason why, after the 1936 Treaty, the Egyptian Government put not one brick upon another in the Canal zone, in order to carry out their part of the contract, was because they did not want the British troops to leave Cairo. They were very useful to them, if only from a financial point of view.
§ Major Wilkes
Is it not, perhaps, taking too pessimistic a view, or even anticipating the results of the present negotiations, when the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggests that the British have already gone from Egypt? Is not the object of the present move to remove British troops from Egypt so that negotiation may go on in the most favourable atmosphere, and might not the result be that we shall be in and around Egypt in greater strength, and for a longer period.in the future as the result of the action taken last week?
§ Colonel Wheatley
These negotiations are going on now when no British troops have been removed from Alexandria or Cairo, and they will be concluded before any British troops have been removed. We know that the second item in the negotiations is how long it will be before the troops will be removed from the towns. It only bears out what I have suggested, that the shadow contents them and that they do not really want the substance. Another point that I would bring to the notice of hon Members is that this matter of derogation—which I am harping on because I feel that it weights heavily on their minds—is not apparent in connection with one of the most important administrations of the country, namely, the police. Since Egypt has had its independence, there has been a British officer in command of the police in Cairo, and the higher posts in the police service are held by Britishers. Does that bear out the suggestion that, because there are Britishers in the country, it is a derogation of their sovereignty? Of course not. They like us, they trust us and they know we are honest in our work, and are interested only in the good of the country. No Egyptian, whatever his political view, will deny that we have acted in Egypt from a disinterested point of view. We have done what we could to help the Egyptians and to improve the country. An hon. Member spoke about illiteracy, ill-health, bad housing and so on in Egypt. Egypt has had independence for some years now, and I do not think the conditions have improved to any great degree. Time moves on there very slowly. People cannot be changed in a minute. Things move, and the world goes round, but do nationalities and what people think and feel change? I do not think so.
I do not wish to keep the Committee much longer, but I particularly wanted to stress the point of derogation because I feel that it is having an enormous effect on some hon. Members of this House. They are being persuaded that the Egyptians look at the matter in the same way as they do themselves. I wish to say one word about the defence of the Canal. The hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) spoke about the atomic bomb. In the last war, gas was never used and, previous to the atomic bomb, gas was looked upon with the same sort of terror. I leave the implication to hon. Members. In the last 741 war we landed airborne troops from this country in North Africa. That implication, again, I will leave to hon. Members. Those who are thinking about defending the Canal with troops from Kenya, Cyrenaica or Palestine should remember that the enemy, whoever he might be, would be there and in possession long before we could do anything about it. As in all other things possession is nine points of the law.
§ Mr. John Freeman (Watford)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that we landed airborne troops in North Africa. That is perfectly true, but the landing was followed up by a seaborne invasion, and that must be taken into account.
§ Colonel Wheatley
I agree that that is so, but possession, as I have said, is nine points of the law, and by getting our airborne troops there, we established ourselves and enabled the seaborne troops to succeed in their endeavour. I do not want to say anything about the Egyptian troops. It is probable that I know more about them than any other hon. Member in the House at the present moment. I would point out that in the 1914–18 war, it was only the presence of British troops and British commanded Egyptian troops, which prevented the German commanded Turkish army from seizing the Canal which, in those days, was kept open the whole time.
The Sudan has been mentioned. I would like to draw the attention of hon. Members to the fact that the Sudan is not one country, but two. It consists of two different types of people with entirely different outlooks on life. I hope the question of the Sudan will be left out of these negotiations, and that the Government will suggest to the Egyptians that the question of the alteration of the present condominium should not be discussed at the present time. We owe a great responsibility to the people of the Sudan. I do not wish to detain the Committee; being a new Member, I find it difficult to keep within bounds, and I am not quite sure how far I should go in this question, but I beg hon. Members not to listen for one moment to any cry from the Egyptians—a parrot cry, perhaps—"The Nile Valley, Egypt and the Sudan are all one."They are not. The last thing the Egyptians want is to be sent to serve in the Sudan. I apologise for keeping the Committee so long, but I do beg hon. 742 Members when they are discussing this very difficult question to remember"That Easterns do not look at these questions of derogation and so forth in exactly the same light as we do.
§ 1.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Reid (Swindon)
I shall detain the Committee for only a few moments. On the first occasion when this question was raised the Leader of the Opposition asked a few pertinent questions. He asked whether the Chiefs of Staff and the Dominions were consulted, to which the answer was, " Yes."Today it seems that the Opposition find that they have marched into this fray without the necessary ammunition and they have called upon the Foreign Secretary to give them some ammunition to play with. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), whose knowledge of the East is extremely great, used one piece of blank ammunition when he said that if after the defeat of Japan we had immediately moved our troops from Cairo and the big cities down to the Canal zone, we would not have had this trouble. I also have some knowledge of the East, and I can assert without any fear of contradiction that that view is absolutely wrong. The right hon. Gentleman fails completely to understand what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Newcastle (Major Wilkes) said about the wave of nationalism sweeping the Middle East, and about the whole Pan-Arab movement. If we had our troops in the Canal zone immediately after the Japanese war, this same agitation would have arisen.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Eastern Dorset (Colonel Wheatley) knows a lot about this country. He referred to the fellaheen. It is true that the fellaheen are not much addicted to politics, but it is the Egyptian Government which count. The Egyptian Government have to pay attention to public opinion and public agitation in Egypt, and it is the Egyptian Government who are asking us to move our troops out, fellaheen or no fellaheen. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington has admitted that the Treaty must be revised, and that we have promised to quit Egypt again and again. That is true, but the question is when and who is to decide. Can we decide to stay in Egypt against 743 the wishes of the Egyptian Government and against this Egyptian agitation to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Eastern Dorset referred? I agree with a great deal of the practical things that he said about Egypt, but can we decide to stay in Egypt against the will of the Egyptian Government which he, with his knowledge of Egypt, knows as well as I do is in a difficult position, in view of the political agitation which goes on in that country from time to time? Who is to decide? Are we going to remain there by force? Were we not told from the Government Benches very plainly that there was danger of very serious trouble in Egypt if we did not remove our troops? Again, is it not a fact that our political experts in Egypt have told us that it is essential that we should remove our troops? Is the Committee going against that? It is essential that we should remove our troops, whether we like it or not.
We have to get for this Middle East area, including Egypt, a really useful Treaty for the future. I do not want to go into all the details of the subject, although I know something about it. Everyone knows that this area is of the most vital strategic importance. Therefore, we need the friendship of the Egyptian people and of all the Arab peoples in that neighbourhood. Shall we get that by saying, " We will not remove our troops from Egypt until you give us what we want "? That was the old Imperialistic way which is as dead as a doornail all over the East now. The Eastern people pay no attention to it. If we tell them that we are stronger than they are and that we intend to use force, they will fight to the last man in resistance. If anyone looks at the trouble in the Near East in recent years—I do not wish to go into details—they will find that we had overwhelming power, but we did not crush that spirit. It is a spirit of nationalism which cannot be crushed. It can be kept under for years or decades, but it cannot be crushed, and it is foolish to try to do so. The Suez Canal concession expires in about 20 years. Our Treaty with Egypt expires, too. We must get a Treaty and an understanding with Egypt and with the adjoining countries on matters of vital importance. We can only get it by treating these peoples as equals and not by keeping our troops in 744 any particular area until they give us what we want.
What is the best way of defending the Suez Canal? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington has spoken about the Canal zone. Can we defend the Canal by putting troops in slit trenches on its banks? I do not pose as a military expert, but I know enough about this place to know that the Canal zone is now a much wider area than it was 20 years ago, owing to the scope of aircraft and the various other inventions of modern times. We want ports for our ships. We want the friendship of the countries South and North of Egypt if we are to defend the Suez Canal. The essential condition is friendship with all the countries in that area, and no other system will work. Speaking from my knowledge, that friendship is waiting for us if we only pursue a policy of justice for the peoples concerned.
One hon. Member said this was a case of " scuttle and run." One would imagine that we were running away from British territory. One hon. Member said that we should keep the flag flying there. Why keep the flag flying in an independent State? What is the point in that? We are not talking about British territory, but about independent countries. To keep the British flag flying on the citadel of Cairo is just the way to annoy the Egyptians. In my opinion, the policy of the Government is right and sound, and I shall be surprised if it does not meet with complete success.
§ 1.29 p.m.
§ Major Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
I hope the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid) will not consider it a discourtesy on my part, because such is certainly not my intention, if I do not follow him in all the points in the speech which he has just made. The announcement made on 6th May by the Prime Minister that all British troops were to be withdrawn from Egyptian territory, has aroused genuine and sincere misgivings among a very wide section of the population here and, not least, among some of those who served in the Middle East both in the recent war and in the preceding one. Other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have stressed the unique strategic position which Egypt and the Canal zone occupy in the network of our essential Commonwealth communications. In two wars many casualties have been 745 suffered in the defence of those vital areas. In their defence certainly Egypt and the Egyptians have benefited just as much as the Allied Powers.
In the darker days of the war I recollect that the Egyptians were very glad to see British, Dominion and Indian troops. I hope, therefore, that it will not be taken amiss, or in any way misinterpreted by the Egyptians—from many of whom I have enjoyed much kindness and hospitality—if I say that it is at least a matter of some regret that, as the threat from Rommel receded from Egypt's frontiers, the gratitude to the British, Dominion and Indian troops, which I believe was widely felt by the Egyptians themselves, was replaced by riots, and by other less normal forms of grateful expression. It is perfectly understandable that the presence of British troops in the big cities in Egypt should arouse a good deal of resentment. That fact was foreseen in the 1936 Treaty. By that Treaty we undertook to withdraw from the big cities. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and with other hon. Members who have spoken today, that a great mistake was made in not doing something as soon as possible after VJ-Day to diminish that vast network of buildings with which G.H.Q., Middle East, seemed to surround itself like some magnet, and to reduce those hordes of personnel who poured in and out of those somewhat gloomy portals. If we had done so, the psychological results would have been out of all proportion to the administrative difficulties involved. Two or three months after VE-Day one could walk from this House, up Parliament Street, through the Horse Guards, in between all the Government Departments, the strategic nerve centre of our war effort, and see fewer men in uniform than one would see if one walked down any of the main streets in Cairo. I believe we made a great mistake in not taking the earliest possible opportunity—in spite of all the administrative difficulties—to show signs of an immediate withdrawal of troops from Cairo.
I must admit I am genuinely puzzled by the tactics employed by the British Delegation in Cairo. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister on 6th May, in regard to the proposed withdrawal of British Forces from Egyptian territory, was apparently uncon- 746 ditional. It was the first big move we made. It subsequently transpired, from the speech which he made on the Debate on the Motion for the Adjournment, that if negotiations for the joint defence of the Canal, in which we and the Egyptians have a joint treaty responsibility, were to break down we should have to go back to the terms of that Treaty, part of which we now seem to be doing our best to rewrite. I hope I have not misinterpreted or misunderstood what the right hon. Gentleman said. The original announcement to withdraw seemed to be an example of open diplomacy; cards face upwards on the table, tactics of which the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary is, quite rightly, a great exponent. However, the second point which emerged in the Prime Minister's speech seemed to be that the withdrawal was not altogether unconditional; there was a condition attached to it, so that at least one of the cards was not face upwards. Is this withdrawal unconditional or not? I am merely asking for information. What is the object of making a premature declaration that British troops will withdraw from Egyptian territory, until you are certain that subsequent negotiations will enable you to do so. How, in fact, do we undertake our joint responsibilities with the Egyptians for the defence of the Canal zone?
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister told us that the Chiefs of Staff and the British Delegation were satisfied that it was possible to defend the Canal zone without the physical presence of British Forces. It is not for me to query that decision. I am not a military or a strategic expert. I do beg the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, when he winds up, at least to give us some information on how it is proposed to do this. Where do the British Forces go when they go out of Egypt? Do they go to the Sudan? Do they go to Kenya? Do they go to Palestine? Is there sufficient accommodation for these postwar Forces, with their wives and families, in those areas? Do the Chiefs of Staff consider that, for the sake of argument, Kenya, Uganda, the Sudan or Palestine are sufficiently close to enable airborne troops to get to the Canal zone in an emergency? Is he satisfied that the Egyptian Army is capable of maintaining the installations and keeping the airfields 747 in proper order so that, if there were an emergency, we could get there quickly? Above all, will he tell us who is to be the arbiter under the new arrangement which we make with Egypt as to whether or not there is a state of emergency?
What alternative port for the British Navy is available in place of Alexandria? Is it intended to go to Haifa? If so, that would seem to be bound up with the future status of Palestine, which no one can say at present is certain. Is it intended to go to Tobruk, which is not at present a big enough harbour? Though Tobruk has certain possibilities, it would require a good deal of reconstruction work done on it. Is it intended to go to Famagusta in Cyprus? Again, that is a harbour which would require a vast amount of work done on it before it could afford anything like the sort of accommodation which Alexandria at present can provide, greatly to the benefit of the Egyptians and ourselves alike. I ask these questions because, for my part—with, I am sure, a great many hon. Members on this side of the Committee—I am genuinely puzzled -by the apparent obscurity in which these negotiations have been carried out. I wish there had not seemed to be quite the hastiness with which the statement was made. I wish the Prime Minister's announcement had contained just a little more information. Above all, in view of the complete lack of information we have had up till now, either in the newspapers or in the absence of any speech from the Government Front Bench, I wish that in the vital negotiations for the joint defence of those areas, vital alike to Egypt, to ourselves and to the Dominions—and, I believe, to the peace of the world—it did not seem that the British Delegation in Egypt had, in response to popular but by no means universal clamour, forsaken the substance for the shadow.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
I am bound at the outset to. make my protest, which I have already tried to make to the Committee, against the refusal of the Government to make a statement at an early stage of this Debate. I do not want to repeat the arguments I used earlier today, but I would remind the Committee that since this Debate was arranged—and it was arranged to suit the convenience of the Foreign Secretary—a very important change has taken place: 748 the negotiations have broken down. They have broken down, I suggest, because considerations which are vital in the view of one side or the other, probably our side, are not being met. That is surely a matter of first class importance which ought to have been revealed to the Committee when this Debate started, because if—let us suppose—the condition that we shall be allowed to enter upon Egyptian soil in the event of the danger of war is being denied by the Egyptians, that alters the whole meaning of the Prime Minister's original statement. That is why I feel that we ought to have had a statement today at a very early stage.
For my part, and I speak for my hon. Friends who no doubt will join me when they have finished lunch [Laughter.] Like other Members, they are sustaining themselves at this hour—we are really concerned in this matter more with the methods employed than with the act itself, because the act is not yet completed. I am bound to say that, one is very much perturbed by the methods adopted. What was in fact a sudden and ill-considered statement was presented to the House without any notice to any other part of the community. As the right hon. Gentle man the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said at the beginning, it has been the policy of this House from time immemorial, and it should be our policy now more than ever, to try as far as possible to secure agreement on great measures of foreign policy, so that they at least may be taken out of the realm of party controversy. If this Egyptian question has become a matter of party controversy, the responsibility lies at the door of the Government, and nowhere else. It was announced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wood ford (Mr. Churchill)—
§ Mr. Cluse (Islington, South)
The hon. Member's idea of keeping foreign policy out of party politics means presumably, providing this side does all that the other side agrees with. Then everything is all right.
§ Mr. Stewart
I do not think the hon. Member has really any right to say such things; I will give him a bit of history in a moment which may give him cause to think again. The right hon. Member for Woodford told us, and it was not denied, that the only notice he had had of the Prime Minister's statement was half an 749 hour's notice—on a subject of such supreme strategic importance to the Empire as this. How different it was in other days! In the time of the much maligned National Government under the leadership of Mr. Chamberlain, it was the custom of the Prime Minister, and of his leading Cabinet Ministers, whenever vital matters arose constantly to invite the leaders of the Opposition to meet him privately. I am not giving away any secrets I have no right to give away; every one knew that. The Opposition leaders were told the facts, they were taken into the confidence of the Government; they were not of course expected or asked to commit themselves, but at any rate they were given all the facts and were permitted to offer their views. I have not the slightest doubt that now and again, if not frequently, the views presented by the Opposition were taken into account and did, in fact, sometimes alter Government policy.
§ Earl Winterton
The matter goes even further than that. Lord Balfour, when he was on this Front Bench, was invited by Mr. Asquith, in view of the critical nature of the times—not more critical than they are today—to be a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and he accepted.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am greatly obliged to my Noble Friend. That was the established policy of the Government, with which the then Opposition themselves cooperated. Why has that policy stopped now, particularly in this case, when the Leader of the Opposition happens to be who he is? Whatever you may think of his politics, he is a man with unique knowledge and experience of war, strategic problems, and especially of this very question of the Middle East. It is not only ill-considered, it is one of the most rash actions I have ever heard of a Government taking at all, to decline to take the Leader of the Opposition into consultation at the present time. I do not know why it was not done. I do not know whether it was because of thoughtlessness on the part of the Government or because, as the Lord Chancellor said in another place the other day, because they had a lot of things to do, or whether it was merely another example of this Government's extraordinary arrogance. They give one the impression that they know all about everything, they know far more than anybody 750 else can possibly know, and decline in all circumstances even to consult, or take the slightest opportunity to seek the advice and help of, people on the other side. One knows the way that arrogant people go, and it is not for me to warn this Government—the sooner they end the better— but I do say to them, looking back on the history both of Governments and of individuals, that by continuing to pursue this course of arrogance, they are certain to land themselves quickly in a very unfortunate position.
Why has there been this indecent haste about the statement and the decision? I do not want to repeat the argument that has been put so often here. We on this side, as no doubt on the other side, have our channels of information with the Middle East, and I know of no one— there is not a man-on-the-spot with whom one has made any contact—who does not say that had we taken steps after the Japanese war to remove British troops from the great cities these troubles would not have arisen. I understand that very well; had the situation been reversed and had a foreigner, even an ally, taken his place in the castle of Edinburgh, I assure the Committee that the Scottish people would have been very angry. If they had seen foreign troops and their vehicles rushing up and down Princes Street there might well have been revolutions and protests. The Egyptians are probably in that respect, if in no other, not unlike the Scottish people. One is bound to ask— and expect an answer—Did the Government do anything, after the end of the Japanese war and up to the time of the Prime Minister's statement, to remove that sense of grievance? Did they do anything at all? I do not think they did, and unless we get some answer to that, we must assume that they did nothing. If it is so it was a very great dereliction of duty.
I want for a moment or two to refer to the question of Dominion cooperation in these affairs. The statement of the Prime Minister which upset us most was that in which he appeared to claim that the Dominions had agreed. That was followed the next day by statements showing that that was not so. It was an exceedingly upsetting statement for the whole of the Empire, and I confess that I am not in the least comforted by the statement issued from No. 10 Downing Street this, morning, because I find there, apparent 751 recognition of the fact that there are occasions and instances where it is not sufficient for one member of the Commonwealth to take the full responsibility. I noticed, for example, that the sentence referring to methods says that:They are flexible and can be used to meet a variety of situations and events, both those where the responsibility is one member alone and where the responsibility may have to be shared.Surely if there was one responsibility that ought to have been shared it was this one. We really must have more information about this matter than we have had so far. What, in fact, did happen when the consultations took place with the Dominion Prime Ministers? The statements we have had have been so confused that one wonders whether consultations took place at all. Surely, as I say, this was a matter where responsibility ought to have been shared by all. Is this an agreed statement issued by the Prime Minister this morning? What do those words mean, in view of the fact that upon the supreme issue of the moment they do appear to mean anything at all? I observed that Mr. Nash, on the eve of the departure of the Foreign Secretary for Paris, said:A Commonwealth parliament is not practical politics, but we ought to find a way of speaking with a Commonwealth voice.On this supreme issue, on which a Commonwealth voice ought to have been sounded, a Commonwealth voice was not sounded. On whose responsibility was it not sounded? Did the Government take all the measures they could have done?
I hope that when the Secretary of State replies he will explain to us the very disturbing passage in the account that "The Times " gives this "morning. It says:The movement from boldness "—that is to say, real cooperation of Commonwealth parliaments—To shyness within the last month has been quite clear.What does that mean? Does it mean that just immediately after the Debate on Egypt it was borne in upon this conference the Prime Minister had gathered together that something ought to have been done, but that as the discussions took place and the debate receded in time they were unable to do it? One ought to know whether that statement in "The 752 Times "Is correct—"The movement from boldness to shyness in the last month."
§ Mr. William Wells (Walsall)
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but if he is quoting from "The Times " will he proceed to complete the quotation —not with the words that come after but with the words that go before?
§ Mr. Stewart
I do not know whether I should read a sentence or two passages. It says':The next day Dr. Evatt took the opportunity of a broadcast address from London to define various forms of consultation and the flexibility and variety of relations within the Commonwealth. The third stage was marked by the arrival of Mr. Mackenzie King. The views expressed by him during the last three days have imposed still further restraint on any tendencies to survey what is misleadingly called the ' Commonwealth machinery.' The movement from boldness to shyness within the last month has been quite clear, and there has been no suggestion of a future meeting on the lines of the imperial conferences of 1926 and T927.Has it so receded? If it has, why has it so receded? Are His Majesty's Government responsible for this recession?
§ Mr. King (Penryn and Falmouth)
Surely the position here is quite clear, that some of the Dominions are totally unwilling to accept responsibility.
§ Mr. Stewart
We do not know what the facts are. The Dominions do not appear to bear any share of responsibility for the Government's action, but I am concerned with the declaration of policy of His Majesty's Government here. I am asking for His Majesty's Government's views on these matters to be made clear, so that we can help them in their difficulties. We are anxious in this matter to bear our own share of responsibility. There is only one other matter to which I want to refer. I confess to the House that this is one which gives me the greatest concern. I ask myself: Is the action taken here in Egypt, and particularly the form of that action, an indication of the real and lasting future policy of the Labour Government? Because if it is, then the country has a right to know where it is going. There was published the other day a very interesting booklet by Mr. G. D. H. Cole 753 called " Labour's Foreign Policy." He sets out what in his view should be the policy of the Labour Government. There is no use in pretending that Mr. Cole does not matter. Mr. Cole is a man who, as we know, exercises great influence on the policy of the Labour movement. He sets out deliberately to express a foreign policy. When that foreign policy is so much like that of the speeches one has heard for a generation past from Labour Members, inside and outside the House, I am bound to assume that this has some relation to thought within the Labour Government. What does he say? He recommends that we should—I can quote him fully, if desired—as soon as possible get out of our Imperial responsibilities. That is what his policy amounts to—to get out of them all, and come home and look after social affairs in this country. He is very plain in his criticism. He says:People will not endure continued austerity, on even worse, because the Government tells them they are committed to keeping huge forces under arms either on account of obligations to U.N.O., or in order to hold under a revolting colonial empire, or because it is necessary to have large forces all over the world to counter possible Russian moves against British imperial interests. The people who voted the Labour Government into power simply will not stand for it.What does that mean? That is a very serious statement to be made by a responsible member of the Labour movement, of such admitted influence as Mr. Cole. Is that what the Labour Government stands for? Is that what His Majesty's Government intend to do in the future? I can understand the policy of saying " Let us give up our Imperial responsibilities." One can see that that is a policy, but I would ask hon. Members opposite, if that is their policy, how they expect to maintain 45 million people living and working in this island. That is a question of the utmost importance to the people of this island. I ask if this Egyptian move, with its sudden, ill-considered introduction, is an indication of this Government's policy in respect of their Empire responsibilities throughout the world. If that is so, I say our nation is in very great danger. I am entitled to ask, and to expect from whoever is to reply to this Debate a clear answer.
§ 1.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker (Smethwick)
The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart) based part of his speech on the allega- 754 tion that our Government have not consulted with the Opposition in this matter of Egypt. There can be no evidence either way to support or refute the allegation. The hon. Member cannot know whether it is true that that is the case: if they did it secretly and privately. I cannot know. All that I know is that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) made a statement in very carefully chosen words, saying he had " not seen the piece of paper handed to him half an hour before—
§ Mr. Stewart
May I interrupt? Did I catch the hon. Gentleman aright in saying he did not know whether any consultation took place on this issue? Because if so, we have the statement of the Leader of the Opposition that he was not consulted, and we have the confirmation of that of the Lord Chancellor in another place that there was no consultation.
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker
I am afraid I do not know what went on in another place. What I do know is that the Leader of the Opposition did not say that he was not consulted. He picked his words extremely carefully and he said that he had not seen that particular statement that was read out. It is true if he says so. But he did not say whether he was consulted or not. The last point the hon. Member for East Fife made, I think, as a humble back bencher of the Labour Party, I can answer myself—that the foreign policy of the Government is determined by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and not by Mr. Cole.
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker
Most of the Conservative reactions to the policy of our Government on Egypt, typified very well, I think, by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden), whose speech went down very well on the other side, are not surprising. I can well understand that the Conservatives find it difficult to appreciate some of the arguments in favour of our present policy. I refer to those arguments which arise out of the fact that the world is a very different place from what it was yesterday and what Conservatives were accustomed to. The last election shows that in home affairs they are out of their depth, and they no longer know what it is appropriate to say or do. It seems 755 to me that they are also getting out of their depth and losing their way in regard to foreign affairs. I prefer that explanation to the only other alternative—which is that they are putting Party before the country. It is easy to see that they cannot appreciate what I would call the political arguments in favour of our policy, but I find it harder to understand their failure to appreciate the purely strategic argument.
The hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey seemed to me to be speaking for most of the Conservatives, and many hon. Members opposite have echoed his remarks, when he spoke about keeping the Canal open, and of vital links and arteries with the Empire. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Flight-Lieutenant Crawley) pointed out, the important thing is not to keep the Suez Canal open, but to keep it shut, as in the last war, and to deny its use to an enemy penetrating from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. With regard to links and arteries with the Empire, the real link is not through the Suez Canal, but across and around Africa. With these vital routes, you get the necessary distances and depth for defence in a modern war. Of course, we all agree that the Mediterranean is of vital importance to us, not so much because of Suez, but because it bounds Southern Europe and washes the shores of Asia Minor, which is one of the strategic key places in the world. We must remain a great Power in the Mediterranean, and it is here where the important political arguments come in, as well as the military arguments—the political arguments which I referred to a moment ago, when I said that the Conservatives were finding difficulty in understanding the case we are putting forward. As the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Reid) said, the days of our automatic superiority and power have gone. Nations are arising in the Middle East that have their own foreign policies and preferences.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) made great play with the idea that we and Egypt have mutual interests in the defence of Egypt. I agree with him that we have mutual interests, but you cannot establish mutual interest by unilateral declarations; you must have mutual declarations. To many Conservatives, excluding, if I may say so, the right hon. Gentleman, who has 756 made speeches very different from those of his colleagues—he has been much more patriotic and has taken more into account the national interest—I say that you cannot establish mutual interest by unilateral declarations. It follows that we can only be a great Power in the Mediterranean if we are a great democratic Power, and this does not apply only to the Mediterranean. Nations are arising and have new powers, new desires and a new freedom of choice in their foreign relations. If they observe that we as a democratic Power not only order our internal affairs with decency, decorum and with respect for our word, but also order our external affairs by these principles, particularly in regard to respect for our word and respect for the rights of others, if we behave in that way as a democratic power, not only internally but externally, we shall add to and not detract from our stature as an Empire.
It is very easy for people to underrate the power of Great Britain and the Empire, but we shall make a great mistake if we do not realise that our power in the world will depend a great deal upon our moral strength. That will be a very important factor in our material strength. It follows that our behaviour in one part of the world will affect our moral standing and therefore our strength in the whole world. In this Debate we are concentrating our speeches on Egypt, but we cannot concentrate our thoughts on Egypt alone. This does not strictly affect Egypt alone. Our standing in one part of the world affects our standing and strength in other parts. I was talking the other day to a Norwegian of standing in his own country and I was asking him what his country thought about closer association between the Western democratic Powers. His answer was that British action in Egypt and India had greatly increased support for the idea of a Western association of democratic Powers in Norway, which would be a key country in such an association. Our actions over Egypt and India have influenced him, and he is an important member of his country. The immediate good effect is that it strengthens our power in the West and other parts of the world.
Finally, there is the alternative to the policy of the present Government. I am quite sure that if we adopted the Conservative alternative, which is typified in their 757 attitude towards Egypt, our country and the Government would be repeating the mistakes made by George III who threw away our first Empire. The Conservatives are advancing a false policy of strength. It is really a policy of weakness, because it ignores the irresistible development in the world.
§ Earl Winterton
I am sure that every historian will admit that the policy of George III, with which I do not agree, was a policy of weakness. His actions were actuated by a kind of pacifism, and he found it so difficult to get sufficient forces from his Government that he had to hire foreign troops to do his work, and they did it very badly.
§ Mr. Gordon-Walker
As one historian to another, I would say that the policy of George III towards America was a policy of false strength. I believe in our Empire, that it should become greater and greater and do greater good to the world. Because I believe in this, and I am not a pacifist, I strongly support the Labour Government's attitude, and strongly deprecate and resist the alternative policy urged by the Opposition. I believe that their policy would throw away our Empire and that our Government's policy is right; it will give our Empire greater strength and repute and enable it to give greater service to the world.
§ 2.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker (Banbury)
I want to make one or two observations, largely of a non-controversial nature. I would first take up one or two of the points put from the other side of the House. The hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon-Walker) made a remark about the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) to the effect that my right hon. Friend had made a very good speech which was unrepresentative of our side of the House. That is a technique which is being increasingly used by the other side. They describe anything which is said by anyone on this side of the House, and which is likely to obtain popular support, as being untypical of our party. The policy of " force " which he attributes to us as being the policy of our party, is one of the fallacies which he has no doubt learned from the writings of Mr. Victor Gollancz—[Interruption]— not from any of our party publications.
758 The hon. and gallant Member for Central Newcastle (Major Wilkes) spoke about a few battalions scattered about the Middle East as being useless in the twentieth century. I am afraid that this occurred in fact in the summer of 1940, when I happened to be in Egypt for a short while. There were very few battalions there then—how few I think the people of this country fail to realise even today. What they did in 1940–41, until they were reinforced from Britain, I think many people have forgotten. It is a great pity that they should forget. I think that is a good illustration of why many of us on this side of the House are extremely anxious about these steps which are being taken by His Majesty's Government in view of their past history. The very few battalions in the Middle East in those days were all " volunteer," either Regular or Territorial, Forces, and it was open comment there that the inadequacy of our Forces was due to the opposition of the Socialist Party in those days, and the obstruction of many of its members to the National Service Act. I would remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that I believe 15 Members of the present Cabinet were among those who voted against the National Service Act in April, 1939, after the Nazi occupation of Prague.
§ Mr. Follick
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that 287 Members of his party did not vote for Mr. Churchill to be Prime Minister in 1940?
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
Is the hon. Gentleman really suggesting that when the Government of his party was in office, with its massive majority for 10 years, they were so utterly irresponsible that they refused to take measures which they knew were necessary for the safety of England, because of the Opposition?
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker
The failure of our.policy to speed-up rearmament adequately in the summer of 1939 was largely due to the then Opposition. In consequence in the summer of 1940, there was I very considerable shortage of Forces in the Middle East, and, in my opinion, and the opinion of many other hon. Members on this side of the House, that was due in considerable degree to the policy of hon. Members opposite. We had General 759 Wavell's campaign which threw back the hordes from Italy and held the Middle East at that time. That brings me to the question, which I think has come forward most in this Debate, of Egyptian susceptibility. I believe that we should have withdrawn from the big cities of Egypt directly after VJ-Day. I think that it has been said on that subject, in another place, that advice to that effect was tendered to His Majesty's Government within two weeks of VJ-Day, and that, in fact, no action was taken. Some token action might have been taken, for example, to move G.H.Q. from Egypt to Palestine. Instead of that having been announced recently to take place on 1st June, why could not some token withdrawal have been made by 1st October last? One of the reasons put forward was that war establishments were too big and the accummulation of personnel too vast to be moved, and accommodation was not available. It was the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) who suggested last October that an all party, ex-officer committee be set up to examine war establishments. That suggestion was rejected by His Majesty's Government last autumn, with, I believe, unsatisfactory results. It would have produced considerable savings in manpower and in money, and to foreign susceptibility. My next point is that it is undisputed now, that the friendliness of countries used as bases is absolutely essential in time of war. When the Germans, and others, occupied countries unfriendly to them, they suffered to a considerable extent in the course of the operations. It is essential therefore that we, as a country, should retain the friendliness of the Egyptian people.
That leads me to the next point, which I should like to stress to His Majesty's Government. It is not just the Egyptian problem with which we are dealing. Egypt is, by common consent, the keystone, politically and strategically, of the Middle East. So it is essential that we should retain the friendliness of the Middle East through the Egyptian people. As pointed out by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Windsor (Major Mott-Radclyffe), who was one of the volunteers in Egypt in 1940, this friendliness was at its greatest when Rommel was at the gates of Alexandria. The fact was acknowledged in 1942 and 760 earlier in 1940–41 that the presence of British troops in Egypt in those days, not only saved British and Imperial communications, and not only saved Egypt and the Arab world, but was one of the factors which maintained Western civilisation as we know it in the world today. I think it essential that we in this House should draw the attention of the world to these facts. Memories are far too short, and I think it is extremely unfortunate that we in this House should have short memories.
We have done a great task by being in Egypt and maintaining their independence. I do not believe that anyone, who has been seriously involved in Middle East affairs since the Treaty of 1936, looks upon our troops there as being an Army of Occupation. It is nonsense to suggest that those responsible Egyptian or British regarded us as " occupying " Egypt. Our forces were essential as part of the defence of a far wider interest than merely that of the British in the Middle East. This fact was realised by the world in general in 1942 and 1940–41. Again, I suggest that any British Government, to take a realistic view, is forced to take into account the fact that had the declaration of 7th May been made in operation in 1936–1940 they would, at some time or other between those years, have had to come to the Egyptian Government and say, " Will you make possible mutual assistance in time of war, or in threat of war?" Because who will say that in those years, 1939 to 1940, war was not "Imminent "In some part of the Middle East or Europe? Such assistance would without doubt have been effected by reoccupation in depth of the Delta and the Desert.
As I have pointed out, the Canal zone and Egypt are not only a British Egyptian Imperial interest but an Arab-Moslem, and indeed a world, interest. I should also like to remind Egyptians and the friends of Egypt what happened to the Ethiopians, especially the educated classes, when Italy conquered Ethiopia in 1935–36, and I should also like to remind them of what the Italians did to Arabs in Cyrenaica and the Senussi. I maintain that by being in Egypt, whatever the circumstances of the past may have been, was of at least equal value to Egypt: and to say that we have not saved the Egyptians from a fate similar to the Ethiopians or the Senussi is to disregard the facts as they stand today. It is the 761 responsibility of the Egyptian Government as much as for Britain to see that Egyptian sovereignty is maintained and that any idea of " occupation "Is finally removed. Who would get up in this House and say that today the threat of Egypt being occupied by another Power has finally been removed? I contend therefore that in any Treaty there must be an allowance for joint occupation of strategic points in time of war or when war appears to be imminent. We must take into consideration " a threat of war," and in view of the time lag needed for preparation—I am disregarding the atomic war for the purpose of this argument, because I believe the atomic war will require even more time for preparation than defence and operations did in the last six or seven years—the operative word is "Imminent."
Finally on this point, I should like to say that we have learned in the lest few years that improvisation of bases is disastrous. We have to be well established and well set on our starting line both in the major strategic campaigns and also for the tactical battles. I would, therefore, request the Foreign Secretary to give us an assurance that he has a practical realistic plan which will satisfy the Service Departments, who are still responsible for expert advice on the defence of this country, that the preparation or reoccupation of bases can be made in time. We may say, possibly, that we are slightly reassured by the fact that if no such plan can be made, which is acceptable to our Chiefs of Staff, we revert to the 1936 Treaty, as was made plain in the statement by the Prime Minister earlier this month. Thereon we start again.
I do not want to detain the Committee too long but I should like to make the point that while I advocate the withdrawal from the inhabited parts of Egypt I consider that it is neither desirable nor necessary to withdraw from all Egyptian sand. I prefer to use the word "sand" rather than soil, because I think most people know that the greater part of Egyptian territory is sand, including the Canal zone, which but for the Canal would be virtually uninhabited today. I am quite convinced that we can find defence bases in depth in Egyptian territory, which will not bring us up against the susceptibilities of Egyptians who 762 want to cultivate and dwell on their bits of land.
I should also like to touch on the Sudan question, because I have a particular interest in that country. I would ask the Foreign Secretary to confirm—I think it is important at this stage of the negotiations that it should be done—that the policy of His Majesty's Government is the same as that put forward on 26th March in his statement. I will read the more important sentences:His Majesty's Government look forward to the day when the Sudanese will be able finally to decide their political future for themselves. It is not proposed by His Majesty's Government to influence their eventual decision in any way. His Majesty's Government have no object in the Sudan other than the true welfare of the Sudanese, and this principle has likewise been proclaimed by the Egyptian Government in the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936. The welfare of the Sudanese cannot be secured unless a stable and disinterested administration is maintained in the Sudan. The objects of such an administration must be to establish organs of self-government as a first step towards eventual independence, to accelerate the process of appointing Sudanese to higher Government posts in consultation with Sudanese representatives, and to raise the capacity of the mass of the people for effective citizenship. These are the objects of the present Sudan Government, and His Majesty's Government fully support them. In the meantime, His Majesty's Government consider that no change should be made in the status of the Sudan as a result of treaty revision until the Sudanese have been consulted through constitutional channels."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March, 1946; Vol. 421, c. 217.]I make the particular plea that the Sudan and the people for whom we are responsible, in conjunction with our Egyptian friends, should not become pawns in any negotiations between this country and Egypt.
I would suggest that it is retrograde, in these days of the United Nations organisation and of plans for collective security, for joint defence to revert to one nation. Defence by common consent in the Middle East is a joint affair and can be accomplished even within Anglo-Egyptian interests. I consider that this defence is an Anglo-Egyptian or, better still, an Imperial-Egyptian obligation if necessary to be made in depth, and not only in the Canal zone, and that it can be carried out by occupation of certain strategic points outside the inhabited areas. I contend that this is a policy within our obligations and commitments under U.N.O., and that it can be acomplished in these uninhabited areas without offence 763 to Egyptian susceptibilities; even less so than the United States bases in the British West Indies. I do not think anybody in this House feels any stigma, even one of those little ones felt by the Foreign Secretary on occasions, because of this occupation of British territory. I think a great number of people welcome the fact that America has joined with us in mutual defence in that part of the world, and if any Briton today in this country feels a worse man because American troops are on our soil I should like to know him. Finally, I would urge the Foreign Secretary to maintain this joint defence of North-East Africa if necessary in depth, remembering that it is not a British Imperial, or Egyptian Muslim interest solely, but a world interest. He has made fine stands for collective security in the past year, and I would ask him to make this further one in the negotiations now in train.
§ 2.28 p.m.
§ Mr. John Freeman (Watford)
I am grateful for the opportunity of intervening at this late stage this afternoon, and I should like, after some hours of Debate, to put to the Committee in very simple terms what are really the issues. We are just approaching the moment which, from the point of view of entertainment, we all look forward to more than anything else, when we have the fulminations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). He will, I have no doubt, as he feels keenly on these matters, give us a most brilliant exposition of the art of Debate. His voice is, as Matthew Arnold said of Byron's, " like the thunder's roll." But the function of thunder is not so much to charm the ear as to deafen it. His words and metaphors have the brilliance of lightning. But the effect of lightning is usually to blind rather than to illuminate. Before we are subjected to this magnificent entertainment to which the whole Committee is looking forward, I should like to ask my hon. Friends on this side to try to get quite firmly in their minds what the issues really are.
In the first place, I have the very greatest possible pleasure in saying to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that the whole of our Party, every man on these benches, is with him in the step which has been taken. I have on occa- 764 sions in this Parliament been critical of some of the things he has done, though I have always had confidence in him, and on this occasion he should know that to a man we are with him. Secondly, I should like to refer to a passage uttered by the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council when he said that these negotiations were being carried out in three phases. The first phase was the acceptance of the principle—it is common ground, having been accepted on many occasions before—that British troops should ultimately be withdrawn from Egypt. The second phase was a discussion of the timing of that operation; and the third phase the negotiating of the new Treaty.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that it is common ground that British troops should be withdrawn from Egypt, or from Cairo and Alexandria to the Canal zone?
§ Mr. Freeman
I will not go into that point because of the short time at my disposal. If it is not common ground, the Opposition can have it as something not common between us, but I thought it was common. There have been two arguments, first, a purely strategical one, and, second, a political one. As to the strategical argument, I do not want to take the time of the House; but I would like to put this point. It is perfectly obvious that the Prime Minister's statement that the Chiefs of Staff agreed to this approach to the problem has been grossly misinterpreted by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. That statement clearly means—I hope the Foreign Secretary will make it plain—that we can meet the situation without abandoning our strategical commitments. The chiefs of staff in fact have accepted that they can make an appreciation of the situation in these new conditions and undertake our Imperial commitments from this point of view. If that is untrue, I hope, the Foreign Secretary will tell me. As to the political problem, will hon. Gentlemen opposite address themselves for one moment to what is the alternative to the step which has been taken? It is popular among some hon. Gentlemen opposite to pretend that the British and British troops are popular in Egypt. That statement is factually incorrect. We have become intensely unpopular in Egypt, and 765 anybody who has been there recently and has, as the hon. and gallant Member for East Dorset (Colonel Wheatley) said, mixed with Egyptians will accept that fact. If we do not now concede this vitally important principle to the Egyptians, we shall be faced not only with maintaining a large garrison in Egypt which we can ill afford to do, but we shall be faced-—and I ask hon. Gentlemen to note this—with policing Egypt as well; because it is quite certain that the Egyptian civil police, as at present constituted, are not capable of meeting the situation which will follow the retention of British troops in Egypt.
Next, I want briefly to refer to a point made by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Quintin Hogg) the other night, which appears to me to have been a point of substance and one which requires an answer. He taunted the Government and the Labour Party with doing what he described as appeasing a very bogus kind of 19th century nationalism in Egypt. He said that the Labour Party, which had always stood for internationalism, is now appeasing nationalism in Egypt. The hon. and gallant Member for East Dorset covered something of the same point today. The answer is clear. All countries and all nations go through different phases of development, and the fact is that Egypt is now going through a phase of nationalism. We have stimulated that to a great extent, and that is a fact which we must recognise, but it is an absurd and dishonest excuse to say that we must remain there for that reason. If we do remain, there is no possibility of Egypt going through the natural processes of development and obtaining social as distinct from purely political liberty in the future. It is the grossest kind of dishonesty to use that argument.
Hon. Gentlemen have talked about the good which British occupation has done— and which Lord Cromer did—and of the beneficent effect of our rule. I do not deny that in Lord Cromer's day the British administration was actuated to some extent by beneficent motives Lord Cromer himself undoubtedly undertook measures which did result in a slight amelioration of the lot of the Egyptian peasant. That is not so today; and the House had better recognise the fact that British officials and administrators in Egypt now and for the past considerable number of years have 766 been entirely in the hands of pashadom and have no interest in and no contact with the common people of the country. That is the background of this problem. His Majesty's Government have taken a very great step forward towards settling the whole development and stability of the Middle East by addressing themselves, to it as a political and not merely as a military problem.
Hon. Members opposite, and on:his side of the House, were very much excited arid exasperated in recent months because of the behaviour of the Soviet Government in Persia and Azerbaijan. I put this to them. Is it wrong for the Russians to negotiate a Treaty in Persia under the threat of force and right for us to do precisely the same thing in Egypt? I: is because I support my right hon. Friend, in the stand he has taken over this other country in the Middle East that I am prepared to support him fully in applying the same principle to our own problems in our own sphere of influence. His Majesty's Government have taken what may well be a decisive step. They have—and this is common ground—crossed the Rubicon. But peace and security are to be found on the far bank of the Rubicon, and His Majesty's Government are looking in:he right direction. If the Opposition wish to vote against this policy, they will have the opportunity to do so; and as the Chancellor said to them a week ago when they were almost as uncomfortable as they are going to be this afternoon, if they want to divide with all this on their plate, they can go into the other Lobby and bad luck to them.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
Although we have not yet had the privilege of hearing his voice, I am sure I express the general sense of the House when I say that we are very glad to see the Foreign Secretary back in his place. I earnestly hope that his health has not been affected by the very hard work he has had to do and the amount of worry inseparable from the discharge of all his functions. I quite sympathise with his preoccupation. He was at Paris, and I regret very much that he was not able to give his full mind to the subject we are discussing today. He was announced as the head of the delegation, but it was understood that he could not go himself, and Lord Stansgate went. We have to be very careful not in any 767 way to trespass on the conventions of the Chamber that nothing must be said disrespectful to a Member of the other House, but I think I may go as far as to say that the substitution of Lord Stansgate for the Foreign Secretary involves the employment of an altogether lighter weight.
The only point where I would make a personal comment to the right hon. Gentleman is about his Parliamentary tactics. I really do not understand why he should not have made a short statement and told us where we were, and he could have had, in Supply, full opportunity of a rejoinder if he was not satisfied with the way he was treated by any of the speakers who followed. Apparently he cannot either trust any colleagues to discharge a portion of his functions for him in the course of the Debate—he must keep it entirely in his own hands—or, alternatively, he has undue apprehension about leaving his tail uncovered. I hope I may not deduce from that that he has the intention of indulging in violent and personal attack and then escaping from the Chamber under the blether and blare of majority cheering. He has no need to adopt those tactics, and should have more confidence in this House, and even perhaps more confidence in himself.
I come to the timetable of the recent Egyptian story. We must get the timetable right. Chronology is the secret of the matter. In 1936 a Treaty was made by which the British were to withdraw from Cairo and Alexandria to the Canal. The Egyptian Government were to build a barracks and installations in the Canal zone, and when they were built the British were to leave Cairo and Alexandria and repair to them. We should certainly have carried out that undertaking as and when it fell due, but later, long before the barracks were built or our time for removal to the Canal zone arrived, war burst on the world, and Egypt was soon threatened by an Italian invasion for which an army of nearly a quarter of a million troops had been moved steadily forward on the North African coast towards the Egyptian frontier. As we now know, it was to be included in Mussolini's African Empire. Naturally, it was not possible for the Egyptian Government to build the barracks and installations during the war, nor could anybody expect that the British troops would vol- 768 untarily withdraw to the Canal zone in the years of war. If they had done so, Cairo would have been sacked by the Germans, and the Italians, and the Delta would have been subjugated.
No one can suggest for a moment that we have not kept our word. No one can reproach the Egyptian Government with not having built the barracks. There is no ground whatever for what the Prime Minister the other night, I am sorry to say, called suspicion on the part of the Egyptians. The only sentiment that the Egyptians should permit themselves upon this war interlude is not suspicion but gratitude—gratitude, I might say, such as two nations have ever owed to another. However, the war has ended. Nearly all the Italians and Germans who ventured into Africa were destroyed or captured at a medium stage in the struggle. Egypt remained intact, enriched, securely defended. None of our troops were involved except in keeping internal order and for anti-aircraft defence. She was saved by the Armies of the British Empire from all the horrors which have racked the whole of Europe and large parts of Asia. And at the end we are assured that a large money debt is due from this country to Egypt for the supplies we purchased locally to feed the Armies which were successfully defending the soil of the Delta. No, I repeat, gratitude, not suspicion, is the only sentiment becoming to the Government of Egypt.
There is however one practical step which should have been taken by us. It was mentioned today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). The withdrawal of the troops from Cairo and Alexandria ought to have been completed many months ago. It would have been a wise act of policy, and of efficient administration. It would have been entirely in the spirit, and going far beyond the letter, of the Treaty of 1936, to withdraw the British troops and to withdraw the enormous swollen staff from Cairo and from Alexandria even though the barracks in the Canal zone had not been erected by the Egyptian Government. Camps could have been put up, new telegraph communications could have been arranged, or rearranged, and the necessary forces could have been moved as a gesture of good will away from the Egyptian capital. That this was not done, is the responsibility 769 of His Majesty's Government. I have no doubt that there were many difficulties, but that it was not done is their responsibility. The fault certainly does not lie on the 1936 Treaty, or anything in connection with the carrying out of that Treaty. The fault lies on the Treasury Bench. It may not be a very grievous fault; it may be one for which there are many explanations, but when we are told that the Egyptians have suspicions of our attitude at a time when an altogether different sentiment would be natural, then I think I am bound to point out that this is one way in which confidence in our desire not to interfere with their independence or sovereignty could have been sustained or stimulated would have been by a very considerable exodus—I think that is a very good local word— from Cairo and Alexandria of the enormous masses of staff officers and motor cars and so forth, which have been a prevailing feature of the streets of these cities during these years of war.
As I say, the fault, if any, does not lie with the Treaty or with any execution of it on either side. An opportunity was lost. But even graver issues are now before us. I would first examine the military aspect on which many speakers have delivered themselves. His Majesty's Government have made it clear, after considering any military advice they have received, that they regard it as vitally important that the Suez Canal should be defended. I think that is so—that His Majesty's Government have made it clear that it is vitally important that the Suez Canal should be defended. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary was in Paris at the time when the Prime Minister used these words, but I am only putting him in touch with what was said in order to make sure that there is no misunderstanding.
When we talk about defending the Suez Canal, I presume the Government mean that it should be kept open. What reason could there be for a naval Power like Britain to fear it being kept open? If the warships or transports of another nation with a weaker navy obtained passage through the Suez Canal in time of war we should encounter them in the Indian Ocean basing ourselves either on Aden or the East African harbours. We do not suffer if the Canal is kept open. We can only suffer if it is closed. I assert that it is impossible to keep it open, unless British personnel 770 are permanently stationed in the Canal zone. There may be doubts about our ability to keep it open in the air age, even if we have garrisons and fighter aircraft in that zone. But at any rate without that personnel there is no chance of keeping it open whatever. I do not believe that any military advice by the responsible Chiefs of Staff would challenge this assertion. If I am to be told that the Chiefs of Staff say that the Canal can be left open without any permanent garrison and air forces in the Canal zone, I treat their opinions with the utmost respect, but put on record that I am utterly unconvinced. But we do not know what questions were put to the Chiefs of Staff or on what political data they were called upon to report.
In the case of the Irish ports, in the spring of 1938, absolutely wrong political data, in my opinion, were put before the Chiefs of Staff—another set of Chiefs of Staff—and they gave advice which nearly brought us to our ruin. [Laughter.] I have heard all this mocking laughter before in the time of a former Government. I remember being once alone in the House, protesting against the cession of the Southern Irish ports. I remember the looks of incredulity, the mockery, derision and laughter I had to encounter on every side, when I said that Mr. de Valera might declare Ireland neutral. We are seeing exactly the same sort of thing happening today, although I am not so much alone as I used to be. I would hardly have believed it possible that such things could happen twice in a lifetime.
Let me make it perfectly clear that our position is that His Majesty's Government have no right to claim the approval of the Chiefs of the Staff for any policy without informing the House of the precise questions upon which their advice was obtained. I am astonished that people should talk continuously about the Suez Canal and say nothing about the Isthmus of Suez. Until my right hon. Friend mentioned the matter this morning, and reminded us that this extraordinary region is the junction between three Continents, I have not heard the Isthmus mentioned, or read of it in any of the newspapers. Even if the Canal were blocked by aerial bombardment, as it might be if our fighter air force were overcome, or if a lucky shot or several lucky shots fell home, there is always the means of transhipment across the Isthmus of Suez. With our fleet and air power properly disposed, this 771 can be assured. Under proper air protection in the Suez Canal zone, and with naval command of the Eastern Mediterranean, our troops could be disembarked at Suez and could re-embark at Red Sea ports. But if the overland route across the Isthmus is to be available, with the necessary installations and air bases, it is necessary to have British, and we hope, of course, Egyptian air and ground forces in effective control of the Canal zone. Without that, failure is inevitable.
Let me now examine the other alternatives which are suggested. I have, of course, no official information on these matters. I rely upon the public organs and the general discussion that goes on in this country, and upon my own knowledge which I have acquired of these subjects in the not too distant past. It is widely said that we should establish ourselves in Palestine, and the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Flight-Lieutenant Crawley) touched upon that this morning. The British troops who will in time of war defend the Canal, and the Isthmus of Suez, will be maintained, on this hypothesis, in camps or barracks in Southern Palestine. From there they will be able to fly in or will move in by motorised transport as soon as a state of emergency is reached. Here I have to speak of Palestine as a place of arms outside Egyptian territory, for British Forces which have to re-enter Egypt, at or before the moment of crisis. It is even said that our troops are already moving off in this direction, or that plans have been made to move them as fast as possible.
The consequence on the Palestine position of such a decision must not be overlooked. I am in entire agreement with the policy of the Government in trying to enlist American aid and cooperation in solving, or at any rate in dealing with, the Jewish-Arab quarrel in Palestine. My views on this question are well known. I am for a Jewish national home in Palestine, with immigration up to the full absorptive capacity. I am also convinced that we cannot carry this out unless we have the help and active collaboration of the United States. Only by the action of our two Powers together can the objects to which we are pledged, and which the President of the United States evidently desires, be attained. I admire the Report of the Anglo-American Commission; but I think it is too much to 772 put on Britain alone, single-handed, weakened as she is by her efforts in the war. It is too much for her alone to have to carry out this policy to which we are pledged and which the United States desire. I was most hopeful that the Report of the Anglo-American Commission, and the manifest interest of the United States, and the declaration of President Truman about the acceptance of 100,000 Jews immediately in Palestine, would lead to cooperation between the two countries.
I have no difference with His Majesty's Government on that. I agree with them entirely. I congratulate them on the progress they have made. But from the moment when Britain is going to use Palestine as a jumping off ground to reenter Egypt, and defend the Canal and the Isthmus, it seems to me that quite a different question is raised, and I fear that the hope of gaining the aid of the United States on the Palestine question, the Arab-Jew question in Palestine, will be seriously prejudiced. If they refuse, far and away the best hope of a solution being reached by the two great English-speaking Powers on the Palestine difficulty, in a manner which would be respected both by Jews and Arabs, all that vanishes and we shall find ourselves left alone in Palestine, from which we derive no advantage of any kind other than that of keeping our pledged word, and we shall have to carry on alone a wearing dispute either with the Jews or with the Arabs, or possibly with both. In any case we shall incur the increasing hostility and criticism of both these powerful forces, and, of course, of all the sideline spectators in all the various countries.
It seems that by using Palestine as a jumping-off ground for the reoccupation of the Canal zone in time of an emergency we will impair the prospects of American aid, and will leave ourselves with the most thankless, profitless and unfortunate task that can be imagined. That is my first conclusion.
§ Mr. Churchill
I am not criticising the hon. and gallant Gentleman in any way. I only referred to him out of courtesy. I have not had the pleasure of hearing him speak previously. I am not saddling him with any responsibility for the Palestine 773 question. I will give him complete acquittal on that. He may leave the dock without a stain upon his character. This alternative of Palestine, which the Government may be cherishing, in order to protect the Canal, is disastrous to us and unduly complicating to all the other policies they were hopefully pursuing.
I turn Westward. It is also said, and here again I rely upon nothing but what I read in the different public prints, that we may obtain the trusteeship of Cyrenaica, where powerful air bases can be established, so that another jumping-off ground may be established there. This also seems to me a dangerous and unwise alternative. First, we throw away our grand position of seeking nothing for ourselves except honour, nothing out of the late war, after all our prodigious exertions, except to see that our duty is done as best we can, and is thoroughly and consistently maintained. We become immediately an interested party, seeking new bases in lands which were not ours, and in which we had no treaty rights before the war began, and we shall be immediately represented—and I do not need to indicate some of the quarters from which we shall be immediately represented—as a greedy, grasping nation, playing at power politics and demanding territories formerly owned by others for the sake of our own designs upon Egypt. We may be quite sure that, if we seek to build a new strategic position in Cyrenaica, in relation to the Suez Canal and Isthmus, Russia will renew or reinforce her demand for bases in the Eastern Mediterranean. Upon this argument, we should enter under every disadvantage, and I do not believe that we should succeed in gaining our desires without paying an inordinate price. Therefore, I say that, both to the East and to the West of the Canal, these alternatives for jumping off grounds would involve us in endless difficulty and vexation, that we shall come down from our high position as a Power not seeking any advantage from the war, that we shall encourage or condone all the appetites of other countries, and pay very dearly for any accommodation that we might obtain.
I go further and submit to the Committee, in extension of this argument, that, whether we establish our jumping-off grounds in Palestine or Cyrenaica, or both, and whatever price we pay for them, they will not be of any effective 774 use in time of emergency for the purpose of defending the Canal or the Isthmus of Suez and keeping them open. Let us try to foresee what will happen if tension grows at any time in future and an emergency arises. My right hon. Friend very fittingly referred to this matter this morning. We shall then be in dispute with some other Great Power. That makes the emergency, and the moment will come when the military advisers will say, " We ought to reoccupy the military installations, camps and airfields in the Canal zone. We ought immediately to move in from our bases to the East or to the West of Egypt." What might be the behaviour of the Egyptian Government at such a juncture? We all know of the great sympathy there is when a small country is in so terrible a situation as that. No doubt we shall be told that there would be a treaty of alliance, but I cannot feel that, under such dire pressures, it would be of any avail. The Great Power with whom we shall be in dispute would, of course, say to the Egyptian Government: " We should regard any movement into the Canal zone of British Forces as an unfriendly act." Can anyone suppose that the Egyptian Government, confronted with this situation and not desiring anyhow to have British troops or Air Forces in the Canal zone, will not refuse permission for us to re-enter? And what then? They will say, " We do not agree that a state of emergency has arisen. We do not agree that a state of international emergency "—to quote the words of the Treaty of Alliance—" has arisen, and we deny your right to decide upon the fact contrary to us."
Meanwhile, the days will be slipping very quickly by. If such an attitude were adopted and there were no British personnel in the Canal zone, the Egyptians, or any ill-disposed persons, would be able to put out of action all the installations, radar equipment, airfields and so on, long before we could get there and the mere threat that they would do so, and had perhaps prepared the necessary measures to do so, would render our attempt to enter futile even before it was made. Can one imagine the British Government in such a situation, when the dread issue of peace or war in a renewed world struggle may be hanging in the balance, forcing the issue,, whether Egypt agreed or not? My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick 775 and Leamington reminded us of the difficulties of staff conversations. I have seen two great wars break out, and I know what a difficulty it was in the first, even to obtain the mobilisation of the British Fleet, which, in fact, I had to order in 1914 without the consent of the Cabinet, and only upon the personal assent of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. This is not a question of the mobilisation of our own forces; it is a positive act, an act which will be widely regarded and denounced as an act of aggression, as an act destroying the last hopes of peace. There are always hopes of peace which it is a terrible thing to trample on. and extinguish. Therefore, I say, we shall purchase our jumping off grounds, either in Palestine or Cyrenaica, or both, only at the greatest detriment to our political position and policy among the nations. And when we have lavished our money upon them, they will prove useless in the hour of need.
The United Nations organisation might well be called upon to prohibit the incursion of the British into Egypt. This would certainly be the case if the Egyptian Government stated that, in their view, the emergency did not warrant the action. Therefore, both alternatives, costly as they will be, will be utterly futile. Now it appears that the Egyptian Government already say:There must be no return until Egypt declares war.That is what I read only yesterday in the newspapers from Cairo. We have yet to learn what answer His Majesty's Government will make to this. The other night the Prime Minister said:We can only carry out our obligations if we have been put in a position by the Egyptian Government to bring our Forces into action in the area without loss of time in an emergencyI intervened to say: "Before fighting begins."
The Prime Minister answered: "Yes, certainly."That is a very solid, serious, resolute statement and the Prime Minister further said:If the whole matter breaks down, there is still, of course, the 1936 Treaty." [OFFICIAL REPORT, Tuesday, 7th May, 1946; Vol. 422, cc. 859, 860.]The more I think of these alternative devices, the more I feel that the surest resting place at this time would be the 1936 776 Treaty and that we should rest there for the next five or six years in the hope that U.N.O., meanwhile, will grow up, and gather a great world army which will put so many of these strategic dangers, nightmares and calculations back into the limbo of the vanished past. So much for the military aspect; I hope it may be carefully considered by the Committee.
I now come to the diplomatic procedure. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary has been working night and day in Paris. The position which has been adopted by the Government is that, first, they will evacuate Egypt, and, secondly, they will defend the Canal. This is a complete and total contradiction in terms. Then we are told that, in order to start on the negotiations in good will, we had, "reluctantly,"To say—that was the Lord President's remark—we will evacuate Egypt and that the second stage will be to examine how the Canal and Isthmus can be defended without British troops, and if it is clearly proved that anyone can see that anything of this kind is possible, the negotiations will break down and we shall revert to the Treaty of 1936.
I cannot imagine a more lamentable and, indeed, disingenuous procedure. We promise something as a prelude to the negotiations in order to give them a good start, but, in fact, we concede the whole point at issue, subject to conditions which cannot be obtained and, then, a little later on as the discussions proceed, we shall either have to accept some pure sham, or the negotiations will break down. Then, indeed, we shall be reproached with having excited hopes which could never be realised and with having endeavoured to procure Egypt's good will at the onset, when all along we knew we could not possibly give them what we had promised. That is not the way to deal with any people, least of all is it the way to deal with an Oriental people. I do not believe in tantalising diplomacy, holding out hopes which fall because of the inherent difficulties in the path of the negotiators.
The course which the Government have been pursuing seems to me to be marked with the utmost unwisdom. A perfectly sensible and straightforward course was open. The Government of Egypt had the right to raise the question of the revision of the Treaty at the 10th year. 777 They have done so. His Majesty's Government could then have replied, " We will certainly discuss the matter with you, but you should first of all tell us exactly what it is that you propose and how the essential matters of the defence of the Canal and Isthmus of Suez are to be provided for."The Egyptian Government would next, in due course, have put forward their plan. We could then have said, " We will discuss this plan with the Dominions, and especially with those Dominions who have in two wars exerted themselves in your defence, and the graves of whose soldiers in scores of thousands lie in the desert." We ought to have approached this grave issue as-a united Commonwealth and Empire.
There is another important point which the late Foreign Secretary has mentioned. We ought to have made sure that the Egyptian Government speak for the other great parties in Egypt besides the Court party which is now in power. There are the Wafd who lately had a considerable majority. What has happened now? The Egyptian Government make their proposals, and if they were all accepted that would not settle our relations with Egypt. The Wafd opposition would simply go one better. As it is, they are already denouncing this offer of the evacuation of Egypt as wholly insufficient because the question of the Sudan has not been settled in a similar manner. We ought to have approached this matter with much fuller knowledge of what the Egyptians of the. leading parties would agree as a settlement, and we ought to have met in council beforehand with our Dominions and presented a united delegation to take part in the discussions. That would have been a reasonable and sensible procedure.
Let me, however, say this. Great departures of this character ought not to be influenced by threats of mob violence and by threats of attacks on British troops and installations. There have always been such threats. It is the responsibility of the Egyptian Government to keep the Treaty which we have signed with them, until another one is signed, and meanwhile to maintain order in their country. I have not the slightest doubt that they have full capacity to do so. The Government have taken an entirely wrong course while there was a perfectly right and proper course open to them, and further, if this wrong course is persisted in it will 778 ruin our interests in the Middle East, destroy our communications with our possessions and fellow Dominions in the-Indian and Pacific Oceans, and will, in: the Foreign Secretary's own expressive-phrase, " Sever the lifeline "—" lifeline " was his word—"of the British Empire."
I am going to 'divide the time with the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary as agreed. I have a few minutes more. I have a word to say about the Dominions. In our brief Debates on the Adjournment Motion a fortnight ago, I said that the Dominions had not been consulted. I said they had been told. I asked the Prime Minister this question pointedly, and, when I shook my head at his reply, he rejoined, amid a roar of cheers, that I was not there. It appears, however, that I was right. The Prime Minister has withdrawn from the position which he took up. He has not only withdrawn but he has apologised—a manly and. I may also add, the only thing to do. We now know that instead of an agreement with the Dominions upon this policy of Egypt, and abandoning the defence of the Suez Canal, as I have declared, all that the Governments of the Dominions have agreed, is that we should shoulder the responsibility alone. Is it our responsibility alone? Have we any moral right to assume the entire burden of dealing with the fate of our communications through the Mediterranean, and of the defence of the Canal and the Isthmus of Suez?
It seems to me that this is a very dangerous right for us to claim, and a very onerous responsibility to assume. After all, in the 1914–1918 war and in this last war—especially and overwhelmingly in the last war—the defence of these large interests has been very largely entrusted to the Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans. Without their aid we could not have succeeded in protecting Egypt. It is a strange thing to call upon brave soldiers to travel thousands of miles across the ocean to fight for great strategic objectives, all well-defined and fully declared, and then to turn round immediately afterwards, and discredit altogether those strategic objectives—or apparently do so—for which so many-men, at our request and under our leadership, have come so far to give their lives. Apart from the interests of Britain, apart from the danger to Imperial communica- 779 tions in the Eastern Mediterranean, I say a shock has been given to the British self-governing Commonwealth, and their confidence in the guidance 'and leadership of the Mother Country has been painfully and injuriously affected by the apparent casting away of those interests which we have hitherto declared to them were vital.
It always looks so easy to solve problems by taking the line of least resistance. Again and again in my life I have seen this course lead to the most unexpected result, and what looks like being the easy road turns out to be the hardest and most cruel. No nation is so remarkable as ours for the different moods through which it passes, moments of great abjection, moments of sublime triumph, heroism, fortitude and then exhaustion. What has been gained with enormous effort and sacrifice, prodigious and superb acts of valour, slips away almost unnoticed when the struggle is over. I earnestly hope that the Government—with whom I do not attempt to pick a quarrel, but to whom I am giving a serious warning on this matter at this moment—will realise that there is only one safe resting place for this country, and that is the firm maintenance of the Treaty of 1936.
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
There has been some complaint that I did not speak earlier in the Debate. I make no apology for it, because I was a little concerned to know whether this was going to be a Vote of Censure or whether the Committee was seeking for information. When I read the newspapers in Paris and found a demand for a Vote of Censure on this business in the middle of a great international conference, I must confess I was seriously perturbed. We went through many crises during the war, and shared with the right hon. Gentleman many unpleasant and difficult decisions. However, we took our corner, and I think that in the difficult international circumstances in which we now are we might have earned a little reciprocity. However, when the party spirit gains the upper hand over the national interest, we have to take what comes along.
§ Mr. Bevin
I have watched the right hon. Gentleman as a great patriot, and half an hour afterwards as a party man; they are two entirely different persons; a duality of character which has been most pronounced in my experience. This problem of Egypt is a very difficult one to deal with, and I would remind the Committee that it is not the only international problem left on the plate as a result of the war for the Government to deal with. It has to be looked at in relation to many other great difficulties that we are grappling with at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman said, if I may put it in the colloquial phrase, " You must not as it were funk an issue because it involves trouble and difficulty of decision."I have had to decide —and I am not going behind anybody's back, or saying that I came to this decision reluctantly. I came to this decision and advised the Cabinet with my eyes open and with deliberation, and I stand upon it. Neither was it affected by my being in Paris or anything of the kind. This was a deliberate policy come to after careful consideration. [HON. MEMBERS: " Reluctantly."] Not reluctantly. I did not say that. [Interruption.] Maybe, but I am talking for myself. [Interruption.] I do not apologise for that. I say that, as Foreign Secretary putting forward this advice, I put it forward deliberately, and, therefore, I make no apology for it.
The right hon. Gentleman was talking about difficulty of decision. The easiest decision to take is to use force, as against relying on morality. When you have 100,000 troops in a country, or nearly 200,000, it is very easy to say that those troops can keep order and you can do this, that, and the other thing, but I say that that is a grave abuse of the 1936 Treaty and of the numbers that were affected in the 1936 Treaty.
In fact, one of the difficulties associated with this business, as has been rightly said, is the number of troops in Cairo and in Alexandria.. I am asked why, at the end of the Japanese war, did we not reduce? I would like to say that what puzzles me is this: Why, after we won the Italian battle, and got into Italy, when the right hon. Gentleman was Minister of Defence, did he not reduce and begin to move these troops out of Cairo and Alexandria, and begin to clear Egypt at once?
§ Mr. Churchill
The reason was because Egypt remained a great focal centre of all our communications with the East.
§ Mr. Bevin
I should like to explain that I did not give way at first because the right hon. Gentleman would not give way to one of my hon. Friends at the back there just now. I will be perfectly reciprocal; but I am not going to concede an advantage that he is not prepared to give to my colleagues. I want to assert this in this House.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
It would be to the advantage of all if the Foreign Secretary were allowed to continue without these constant and persistent interruptions.
§ Mr. Bevin
I am very glad this has come out, because it has only been a very thin veil, the courtesy in 782 support of me since I have been in office. I knew it would end sooner or later. I sympathise very much with my predecessor when the right hon. Gentleman makes these incursions into foreign affairs. In the Egyptian difficulty, the problem that has arisen has been the right to revise in 1946. Why was this reference to revision put in the Treaty? What was there to revise? The only essential clause that remained, assuming the war was over, was that about the troops in the Canal zone. Read the Treaty as carefully as you like, there is a right to be readmitted, there is a right of joint defence; and there is the maintenance of the installations, and so on. That is the main principle.
When was this Treaty made? I am sure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) will agree with me in this, that it was about or just after the time of the Italian-Ethiopian War, and when the black shadow of war was hanging over the world, with Hitler arising, and when everybody knew or, at least, ought to have known that there was a danger of a world war. It was natural at that moment for the concession for troops to be retained in Egypt to be given. The Treaty was made for 20 years, but the right hon. Gentleman and the Government of the day agreed to a revision in ten years. I can only conclude that there was an assumption that if the black cloud of war passed and the situation changed it was the right of the parties to review the situation. That is a fair deduction, and that is what has happened. Then came the desire for revision.
In the meantime, two rather interesting events have developed. One has not been mentioned, and that is the development of the United Nations organisation, in which all these countries, great and small, feel that they have a new status. Indeed, here in London, and in New York more recently, the United Nations organisation has expressed this new feeling. Countries assume that through that organisation there is to be a new era of regional defence, and that their great salvation lies in that, rather than in supporting solely one State. They may be disappointed as time goes on, but that is what is in their minds. Every Stale which I have had to deal with as Foreign Secretary has really pinned its faith on that basis.
783 The first thing that has to be considered is on what basis must the Egyptian Treaty be revised. There is a demand for the withdrawal of foreign troops from their soil. I have to have regard to the fact that it is not a very popular thing now in international affairs to maintain troops on other people's soil; it has become out of fashion, and I think that that is a good thing. I have, therefore, either to follow what this House has agreed and make the United Nations organisation work, or go one worse and rely solely on our own manpower and ability—there is no halfway house. Therefore, seeing this feeling, I recommended to my colleagues that they should begin the negotiations by making a proposal to do what we promised to do from the first day when we went into Egypt, namely, to withdraw and evacuate our troops, or in other words to have an exodus. Then we would proceed from that basis to decide what shall be substituted for the troops. If nothing can be substituted to protect this great artery, it is quite true that the Treaty must stand. Egypt could only denounce it, and this would place her in a very difficult situation. I have tried in this business, as an act of good faith, to begin the negotiations by making the proposals ourselves, without waiting to be forced or for disorders in the streets or to have it dragged out of us. That is the basis and that is the beginning, and having made that proposal both Egypt and ourselves now face a new situation.
I know that with all the agitation which has gone on in Egypt things are extremely difficult, but I am not going to weary or be impatient, nor break down negotiations at the first disappointment. I have been too long an old negotiator in this country. If I walked out simply because someone did not agree with me, there would be nothing but trouble. I do not do things that way. Perhaps we may have an apparent rebuff, but do not forget that any country which has been occupied by another's forces has an inferiority complex. One of the great things which we have to achieve in that country is to get over the inferiority complex, and not make them claim that they are equal, but make them equal. That brings me to the point, why I did not deem that all the parties in Egypt should be in the negotiations. Some time ago the Government made a declaration that they would not 784 interfere with Egypt's internal affairs. When we made that declaration, we meant it. I have taken the line that I am not going to be a party to putting Governments in and putting Governments out.
§ Mr. Bevin
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman this. Suppose Sidky Pasha came to London and met the Foreign Secretary of His Majesty's Government and said to me, "I cannot negotiate with you, Mr. Bevin. You must go and get His Majesty's Opposition into the negotiations."I should have thought that was an interference with the sovereignty of this country. I should have thought it perfectly improper for any Government to say to me as Foreign Secretary: "I will not negotiate with you. You are properly appointed by the Prime Minister, and are in Office, and hold the Seals of Office, and you have been appointed this way or that way according to your country's dictates; but you must change all that in order to deal with me."I cannot bring myself to do that. I believe that it is fundamental, if self-government is to prevail in a country, that responsibility must grow with it. How could I protest, if I did a thing like that, at happenings in other countries where so called unfriendly Governments exist, and pressure is put on to push them out of Office, and to put in another Prime Minister or another form of Government? It is fundamental—it runs right through— and I think myself that it is a question of opinion—and I have a great respect, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, for his opinion. Rightly or wrongly, I took the line that I would rather say to the people of Egypt: " You appoint the people we are to negotiate with. It is not for me to question. But if your Parliament do not endorse them, or there is a failing, then the responsibility rests on your people. I have not determined or appointed."That is the principle which I think I must follow.
§ Mr. Bevin
They were not this time. It is not for me to say to Sidky Pasha, or to somebody: "You must go into the negotiations."I cannot do it, and I have 785 no intention of doing it. I will deal with the Government of the day, whoever they may' be, and that Government must accept responsibility to their own people.
The next point was the method of handling. I have said quite clearly that the Canal must be defended. For years we have promised to train the Egyptian Army, and it is alleged that we have not adequately done it. That is a matter which I am going into very carefully, because if we have promised to produce an Egyptian Army of an efficient character, then we ought to carry out our promises.
Our relations with Egypt, unfortunately, rest on a very narrow basis. We have never gained the gratitude and thankfulness of the masses of the people in Egypt. We have added, as a result of our connection with Egypt, very great wealth to the country, but it has never flowed down to the fellaheen. The result is that it has been an extremely narrow circle with whom we have dealt. If we had spent one-tenth of the money that we have spent on defence, in grappling with that awful disease that weakens the whole fibre, due to impure water in Egypt, we should have earned the eternal gratitude of the Egyptians. If we had only turned on the great medical and scientific knowledge which is available to us, and grappled with trachoma and these other illnesses, all of which are curable in comparatively quick time, we would have won the enduring friendship of the Egyptians. One hon. Member mentioned the United States. Leaving strategy on one side, I hope to get the cooperation of the United States through the Rockefeller Foundation and other organisations to grapple with the problems in the Middle East and try to see whether we cannot make the connections which we have go right down through to the working people. The surest foundation for friendship between two countries is an understanding and appreciation of the efforts by the working people of the one country to help those of the other. That is far better than to rest on narrow circles either for military or for other purposes.
The Committee will realise that I am terrifically handicapped today, because we are right in the middle of the negotiations, and I am not going to say one word that will prejudice them. I do not think I ought to be asked. I am not going to be perturbed because the Prime 786 Minister of Egypt or his Committee may take this line today, and our negotiators another tomorrow. But I do deprecate it, when the Government have appointed someone like Lord Stansgate, that there should be reflection upon him as a light weight. I think it is better for a friend to go to Egypt than a gentleman with spurs.
Reference has been made to the prejudice that has been created by our not withdrawing from Cairo. Let me tell of one incident that created heartburn in Cairo. I do not think they have got over it yet. It was on our King's Birthday, when there was a great military parade through Cairo, with several thousands of troops and tanks. That was not a nice thing to do in another country when the war with Germany was over, though that with Japan was still going on. This display of force right in the heart of these citizens created a tensity that is almost impossible to overcome. I recognise, like everybody else, that in the early days the work of Lord Cromer and others was such that it has redounded to the advantage of us all, but we cannot live on the past. Here is a new age, and we are trying to meet it with advice on education, social services, health, training and all the rest of it.
I announced to this House some time ago that, notwithstanding the breakup of the Middle East Supply Centre at the end of the war, I had recreated something with a view to trying to get exports, assistance, trade, and everything going effectively in that area. Circumstances may not have been such as to allow it to produce the best results owing to political difficulties at the present moment. But one has to look a little wider. One hon. Member referred to the effect over the whole Arab area of dealing with Egypt. I have given lots of consideration to that. I believe sincerely there is only one way to hold the association of the Arab countries with us and that is on the basis of friendship. I do not think mere force can do it. The friendship spreads through the Muslim world right down to India. I suggest, with all respect, and despite all the criticism of this Government, that our prestige is higher through the Muslim world now than it has been for many years because of this decision we have taken to trust them. I am prepared to trust rather than to shoot. I do not think the Poona mentality suits today.
787 Therefore, the attitude towards the Arabs and such people depends entirely upon our approach. In this approach to Egypt we have had in mind the very great success that has come to some of the best of our ambassadors who have handled other Arab territories in a similar spirit. Hon. Members will appreciate that in Iraq and other Arab territories, a change of approach made a tremendous amount of difference. I do not hide behind the advice of the man on the spot. I think it would be mean for any Minister to say, "The man on the spot advised me to do this, so I did it." One must come to one's own conclusion whatever the man on the spot says. Therefore, I am not going to play that card, except to say that I did go out of my way to take the opinion of expert advisers, ex-ambassadors, military people, and many others, some expressing views one way and some another, I weighed all their views in the balance before coming to the conclusion to make these proposals.
We are asked what we did with the Chiefs of Staff. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden) that no one has a right to come to the House and say, "The Chiefs of Staff did this, that or the other."It is for them to carry out the Government's decision. I should not hide behind that. There were differences of opinion, but then those differences of opinion must be weighed by the Cabinet of the day, and in the end one must make one's political decision and accept responsibility for it.
In this case it is perfectly obvious that any Foreign Minister who neglected to study all the complications that were likely to arise, would not be doing his duty. I am not going to say that there was any unanimous opinion. The difficulties were pointed out—if you go this way, that might happen; if you do that, then the other—all were weighed in the balance. They were then weighed against, I will not say the great prize, but the great hope I have of seeing the Middle East working together as a whole—not merely Egypt—in a great comradeship with the United Kingdom and the rest of the Commonwealth, and ultimately woven into the regional defence as provided for within the United Nations. One is in a difficulty because the Military Committee are at work under the United Nations. I 788 understand they have not made much progress yet. On the other hand, there is the aspiration and urge from all these people.
There is one thing on which I will give the Committee an assurance. I will be no party to leaving a vacuum. There must not be a vacuum. If the Egyptian Government try to force a situation in which there is a vacuum—meaning that we have gone and that there is nothing there for security instead, regional defence or other organisation—to that I can never agree. But I have offered in the name of His Majesty's Government a new basis of approach, in which I believe. Perhaps partnership is the wrong term, but it is a joint effort for mutual defence not only in the interests of Great Britain and her Commonwealth, but in the interests ultimately of the contribution to what I hope will yet become a United Nations defence for the security of the world. That is the aim, that is the goal for which we are striving, and which is actuating our minds. Therefore, we took the decision. Certainly I was under no delusion that if we got away from imposition, or got rid of the obligation implied on one country in the Treaty, and got on to a basis of a willingness to withdraw and agreed to pursue it later, we would really be performing a great human task.
Then there is the question: Must we. always keep in mind that another great enemy like Germany is coming up? Is it defence, or is it offence which must actuate our consideration? I must confess, and I hope I am right in this, that I do not bring myself to study offence as a primary motive. Defence is the main consideration, having regard to the development of the United Nations organisation. This principle is running through the whole of our policy. It is said that we ought to be ready, if disorders occur, to step in and insist on keeping order. A lot of mischief can be done under the term " keeping order."If we have 150,000 or 200,000 troops in an area where we should only really have 10,000 and exasperate the people, " keeping order "Is not quite the right description of our action. We could not move troops out quickly. After the war with Japan we were faced with an overwhelming problem of demobilisation in the Far East, as well as the Near East, and in Europe, and it became more 789 difficult to move them just at that time than earlier. We could not move the whole of this great mechanism which has been built up largely for administration in the time at our disposal, and we had to have regard to these circumstances.
I want to turn to the question of consultation with the Dominions. The right hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) seemed to assume that somehow Great Britain was responsible in some way, because there was no united Commonwealth defence. I assure him that the problem of the Commonwealth defence has been discussed over and over again. But, is it within the power of this House and His Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom, to tell Australia, Canada and South Africa that they must contribute to a common object and supply manpower for a particular purpose in peacetime? We cannot do it in wartime. They are their own masters.
§ Sir A. Salter
I regretted there was not a more effective form of consultation. I suggested that there was a contribution this country could make, although it was limited, and that the Dominions could contribute quite as much as this country.
§ Mr. Bevin
I cannot go into all the matters affecting the Prime Ministers of the Dominions. They have their own problems. But this problem of defence is so vital to us that we do not neglect opportunities of discussing it with the Dominions. With regard to this question of consultation, I personally reported on the subject to certain of the Prime Ministers who happened to be here. But I have never yet understood that even in relation to the 1936 Treaty, the Dominions committed themselves to it in any way. I can find no trace that the Dominions in 1936 became a party to the Treaty. It was sent round. They raised no objection to it. I do not even find in the records that they endorsed it. I am open to correction on that point if I am wrong. All of us who have served in the Government know Dominion procedure. As Foreign Secretary I have done what I can to send to the Dominions almost every document that has arisen, and have urged them to express their opinions over and over again. In this case the matter was discussed openly. We did not ask for a decision, and in relation to matters of this kind I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite if they can remember, in any 790 Dominion Conference, that on a specific act such as a Treaty, or the termination of a Treaty, or a change in a Treaty, the Dominions have ever been asked to take the decision. What they have been asked for is their opinion, and the United Kingdom Government have then come to their conclusion when those opinions have been obtained. That is what we have done in this case. We are not tied by them and they are not tied by us. Therefore, I say that a mountain is being made out of a molehill.
I can only conclude by saying that when this problem, like many other problems surging through the world at the present time, is claiming settlement, it is a terrific anxiety to know whether one is taking just the right step, and what its reaction will be on something else in this close-knit world. In this case I had the choice of going to my colleagues and recommending force when the disturbance was in progress or offering friendship, which I thought would re-echo through the Arab world. I chose friendship.
§ Ordered: "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—[Mr. R. J. Taylor.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.