§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
This afternoon we are covering a good deal of ground, because this is a debate on the Middle East which deals with a considerable number of countries, and they vary in their characteristics, even though it is convenient at times to consider the problems of this important region of the world as a whole.
It may therefore be of assistance if I give to the House, in the first place, a brief outline of the matters I propose to discuss. I shall try to give an account of 960 the main political, economic and social problems of the Middle East, an analysis of their causes, and an outline of the measures taken and to be taken both by the countries of the area and by ourselves. I propose to devote some attention to the particular questions of the day—Persia, Egypt, oil and defence—and to conclude by giving the House a description of our hopes and objectives.
The collapse of the Ottoman Empire let loose a number of forces, some of which were latent in the Middle East and had been dammed up for centuries, while others swept in from the West when- the old order changed. Since then, no more than half a lifetime ago, the Middle East has undergone a revolution almost unparalleled in history; it has been accompanied by great convulsions, the aftermath of which will be felt for many years to come. But already a new order has begun to emerge. A number of independent sovereign Arab States have come into being, and they are beginning to take their place in the comity of nations; the new State of Israel has established itself, and is consolidating its position.
First and foremost among the forces to which I have referred must be reckoned that of nationalism. Now, national consciousness and national aspirations are, in themselves, desirable. Indeed, they are essential to the maturity of a nation, as our own history shows. We therefore welcome their emergence in the States of the Middle East, knowing them to be potentially good influences. But there is every difference between patriotism and xenophobia. As we and the other peoples of the West have learned, the interests of a nation cannot be served by unbridled nationalism, and there are sufficient recent examples to show that those who espouse it sooner or later destroy themselves and their followers. Today, the nations are so much members of one another that the interests of none can be advanced by ignoring the legitimate rights and needs of the rest.
A corollary to the irresponsible nationalism in many parts of the Middle East is an unreasoning hostility to and suspicion of our allegedly imperialist designs. If we had harboured such designs, it would have been easy enough for us to realise them. We did not. On the contrary, we gave every encouragement to the peoples for whose care we 961 were responsible under League of Nations mandates to develop their institutions and so equip themselves for their newly-acquired freedom.
In a few short years the nations now known as Iraq and Jordan came into being, and, far from seeking to tighten our hold upon them, we did everything to hasten their progress towards complete independence. But it was clear to us then, as it is now, that an alliance between willing partners is more to our interest than the domination of discontented subjects. I am happy to record that, in consequence, we enjoy close and cordial relations with our two Middle Eastern allies, Iraq and Jordan.
One failure we admit: namely, Palestine. We had hoped eventually to bring about a settlement that would have been acceptable to Jew and Arab alike, and have brought peace and prosperity to the Holy Land. Unfortunately, we were not able to carry out this task. The House will be aware of the circumstances in which we felt compelled to abandon it. There comes a point when the man at the wheel cannot, in the interests of his own and his passengers' safety, allow himself to be further distracted by back-street drivers—[Laughter.] I gather that this afternoon hon. Gentlemen on the back benches opposite again have no particular wish to be serious but want to be hilarious. They can do as they like. If these back-seat drivers will not be silenced, then the driver has no alternative but to get out of the vehicle and leave it to those who feel better qualified to drive on.
§ Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
We should like a little clarification. Is the right hon. Gentleman now referring to the conditions under which it was decided to evacuate Palestine? Is that the point to which he is directing our attention? In that case, who was the back-seat driver? And was it "backseat" or "baksheesh"? I am not quite clear.
§ Mr. Morrison
What I said was quite clear because I repeated it, and I therefore need not repeat it again. As to the other drivers, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, there were some other countries who were interested in this matter. There were the people of Palestine itself, and it was to the ultimate evacuation of Palestine that I was directing my remarks.
962 We have strong traditional bonds of friendship with the Arab States which we would wish to see strengthened and developed in every possible way. I am also glad to say that cur relations with the young State of Israel are steadily improving. We wish her well. We cannot consider our relations with Israel and with the Arab States as in any way incompatible, despite the mutual friction which, to our regret still exists between them. Two years have now passed since the conclusion of the armistice between Israel and her Arab neighbours, and it is distressing that as yet they have made no progress towards a peace settlement. Indeed, mutual suspicion and hostility are as strong now as ever, and as the House will be aware, these emotions have been-exacerbated by a series of major frontier incidents.
In consequence of these unsettled conditions, little progress has been made in the economic and social improvement which is essential to the future prosperity of all the countries concerned. And, what is more serious, their stability remains in constant jeopardy. There is, I fear, responsibility on both sides for this unhappy state of affairs. The Arab States still seem unwilling or unable to recognise the plain fact that Israel has come to stay as a national entity and cannot be swept bag and baggage into the Mediterranean. The Israelis, for their part, do not perhaps fully appreciate the strength of Arab suspicions regarding their aims at expansion and the importance of taking positive steps to allay them.
I should like to take this opportunity of reaffirming the determination of His Majesty's Government to carry out the obligations which, in company with the Governments of France and the United States, they assumed in the Tripartite Statement of 25th May, 1950. As the House will recall, the three Governments undertook to join in taking appropriate measures to prevent violations of frontiers or of Armistice Agreements. We shall resist any act of aggression, whichever side may commit it. I earnestly hope that reason will soon prevail, and that both sides will come to the realisation that it is in their own interests to put forward sincere and positive proposals for peace. Their present pretensions are such that both will have to make considerable concessions.
963 His Majesty's Government, for their part, will do everything within their power to assist in the pacification of the area; but it must be understood that nothing can be done unless or until the initiative comes from the parties to the dispute. No settlement can be imposed from outside, and peace must be freely and willingly negotiated. If I have spoken bluntly on this matter, it has not been with the intention of criticising for the sake of criticism, but only as a genuine friend of both sides, who does not wish to stand by and watch them deliberately destroy themselves.
I will now turn to the problem of the Arab refugees who fled or were driven from their homes in Palestine. This is not only a very serious human problem, but a grave political problem, affecting the stability of the entire area, and in particular that of Jordan, where over half the refugees are concentrated. It constitutes, moreover, one of the major obstacles to the achievement of an Israel-Arab settlement. Until the end of last year, the Arab Governments, with the exception of the Jordan Government, refused to agree to the settlement of refugees in Arab countries. I am glad that more realistic counsels have now prevailed and some progress has been made towards a long-term solution.
At the Meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations in November, 1950, and subsequently at the Arab League meeting in February, 1951, the Arab Governments accepted the principle of re-settlement of the refugees without prejudice to their rights to repatriation or compensation. The Assembly Resolution was also supported by the Israel Government. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine will shortly be negotiating a re-settlement programme with the Middle East Governments. There is, however, considerable anxiety in the Middle East that the necessary finance will not be forthcoming. In particular, it is felt that the Re-settlement Fund of 30 million dollars provided for in the General Assembly Resolution of November, 1950, is totally inadequate. It will obviously only enable a beginning to be made with the problem.
The task of re-settling some 150,000 families cannot be undertaken quickly or cheaply. The General Assembly Resolu- 964 tion invited Governments to contribute a total of 50 million dollars for the year ending in June, 1952. So far 27 Governments out of 60 have made offers. We earnestly hope that those Governments who have not already responded will shortly do so. In this connection, I would refer to the United States Government's generous proposal, which is now before Congress, to step up its contribution from 25 million to 50 million dollars. For their part, His Majesty's Government have so far offered to contribute approximately £3 million, and we are considering whether we can increase this contribution. It will be recalled that since 1948, we have already, despite our straitened resources, contributed over £4 million to the Arab refugees.
Let us now consider the question of social and economic development. I have already referred to nationalism as one of the main forces which are shaping policies and events in the Middle East. The other is the urge for social and material betterment. Much of the frustration which now exists in the Middle East is due to failure to satisfy this urge. The best ideals of the West—the ideals of social justice and conquest of poverty, disease and illiteracy —have deeply stirred the peoples of the Middle East, particularly since the Second World War. In many parts of the area society is still organised on feudal lines. But, as in Western Europe centuries ago, the feudal structure has degenerated into glaring extremes between rich and poor—between a small minority of extremely wealthy individuals who have profited from the economic impact of the West, and the great mass of poverty-stricken peasants. Little has been done so far to remove these anomalies.
It must be recognised, however, that before standards of living can be appreciably raised the productive capacity and wealth of the area as a whole must be increased. Indeed, this will be necessary if the present standards are to be maintained and the effects of the great population increases which are taking place are to be met. Taken as a whole, the Middle East is poor. It has vast regions that are deserts incapable of development on an economic basis. Nevertheless, it has great resources, particularly in oil and agriculture, which must be developed.
Since the end of the war, the Middle East Governments have shown an increase- 965 ing realisation of the need for economic and social development. Those in power at present are for the most part men whose aspirations were mainly political and who spent long years in the struggle for independence. It is to their credit that a number of them, and of the young men who have joined their ranks, are now devoting their energies to economic matters. During the last five years a number of over-all development plans have been prepared, a number of individual schemes have been surveyed and some of them have been put in hand.
The Egyptian Government, for example, launched a five-year development plan in 1946. A beginning has also been made with the Nile Waters projects which alone can increase the amount of cultivable land in Egypt.
In Iraq, an Irrigation Commission appointed in 1946, of which the chairman was a British engineer, has prepared a 50-year plan for flood control and irrigation development works, estimated to cost some £100 million. At the end of last year, the Iraq Government set up a Development Board with a British secretary-general to ensure the coordinated planning and execution of all aspects of the country's economic development. This Board has just produced a five-year development plan. The entire oil royalties will be allocated to the Board to meet the costs of the projects. Work on the Tigris and Euphrates projects is in hand.
In 1946, the Syrian Government—[Interruption.] Is there something wrong with my pronunciation? I do resent this snobbery on the part of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Churchill
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is nothing snobbish, only that "Euphrates," as the right hon. Gentleman pronounced it, I am bound to say to my ears is an unusual pronunciation. But everybody has a right to pronounce a foreign name as he chooses. I am only anxious to make sure that it was the Euphrates that he meant.
§ Mr. Morrison
In my recollection, the right hon. Gentleman certainly exercises the right to pronounce foreign names exactly as he likes. If I happen not to get a name pronounced according to the standards of hon. Gentlemen opposite, I think that good manners should guide them not to giggle about it.
966 In 1946 the Syrian Government engaged a British firm of consulting engineers to carry out a general survey of the country. As a result, projects for a water supply for Aleppo and the development of the port of Lattakia are now being put in hand. In 1948, the Lebanese Government engaged the same firm to carry out a similar survey, and this is now being followed up by a detailed survey of the Litani river basin, undertaken by the United States Point 4 Administration.
The Jordan Government are carrying out a number of small developments in agriculture, road construction, etc., financed by His Majesty's Government's £1 million development loan, to which I shall refer later. They also recently engaged a British firm of consulting engineers to prepare a report, which is being published today, on a major project for the irrigation development of the Jordan Valley.
Israel is, of course, pressing ahead rapidly and efficiently with economic development. In Saudi Arabia a number of public works projects for road and port development, and for electricity and water supplies, have been undertaken by British and American firms.
Finally, the Persian Government, in 1949, launched a seven-year plan of economic development based upon a report prepared by an American firm of consultants, and estimated to cost £210 million; but, unfortunately. very little progress in putting this plan into execution has yet been made.
Progress is being made in tackling development problems in such fields as forestry, animal husbandry, entomology and basic statistics. In the social field, attention is being given to the development of public health, nursing, education, agricultural co-operation and social security. Here I should like to mention the recently-introduced Egyptian social security scheme which constitutes an outstanding social reform. Labour legislation is also being generally introduced, and a start is being made in certain countries with the development of trade unions—a development which is highly to be encouraged.
All these measures, however, represent only the first step in tackling the immense problems of poverty, disease and illiteracy in the area. In many cases the plans are 967 still mainly at the paper stage. Further progress in the area as a whole now depends largely on two main factors, firstly, on the willingness of the Middle East Governments to improve their administration, land tenure system and so forth; and secondly, on the provision from outside sources of the necessary capital and technical skill which are not available in the area.
With regard to the first point, the Middle East Governments have been accused of being reactionary. It is not for me to defend their shortcomings. The clash between reaction and progress, however, exists in the Middle East as everywhere. It is true that the Middle East Governments have so far failed to grapple with sufficient energy with the taxation, administration and land tenure reforms which are necessary to bring about a more stable and equitable social structure.
The standards of public life are not, with few exceptions, all that they should be. But, as I have already said, many of the Middle East countries are just emerging from the feudal state. There is virtually no middle class, much less an enlightened working class. Truly democratic governments can only be established after a period of evolution which is necessarily a slow process. There is no alternative, short of a resort to force which might throw up dictatorship either of the right or of the left. This would be revolution, not evolution.
Middle East Governments have also been handicapped by preoccupation with political questions, particularly the Palestine question, and with the false political aspirations of a few ambitious and unscrupulous men. Like other worthy causes, Middle East nationalism has its false prophets, men who, to achieve their own ends, have resorted to any means, fair or foul. During the war they were prepared to serve the Fascists and the Nazis. They have brought nothing but disaster to their fellow countrymen. Fortunately, the Middle East has its patriots also, who have far-sighted vision of the interests of their countries. I refer, and I should like to pay tribute, to his late Majesty King Abdullah and also to His Majesty King Ibn Saud.
With regard to the second factor—the provision of assistance for economic and social development from external sources 968 —His Majesty's Government have so far, since the war, made the major contribution to the area. During the war, an attempt was made for the first time, through the Middle East Supply Centre, to collaborate with the local Governments in economic development. On 23rd November, 1945, my predecessor, Mr. Bevin, told the House:His Majesty's Government are anxious now to keep in being the same spirit of common effort to promote the well-being, health and prosperity of the people of these regions, and to collaborate with the Governments to raise the standard of living of the common man."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1945; Vol. 416, c. 775.]This policy has subsequently been carried out in a number of ways, both directly by His Majesty's Government, and indirectly by the British oil companies and other firms.
Let me now enumerate some of these. Early in May, 1946, the Development Division of the Middle East Office was set up, consisting of a small team of experts in such subjects as agriculture, health, labour and statistics, whose task it is to give free advice to Middle East Governments at their request—a sort of British Point 4 for the Middle East. Although small in numbers, the Development Division has substantial achievements to its credit.
Its services have been acceptable in most Middle East countries and, in a number of cases, the experts' initial work has led to their subsequent direct employment on secondment by the Middle East Governments. During the past five years members of the Division have extensively surveyed the area. Definite progress in legislative and administrative fields has resulted. In addition to the work of these experts, the tradition of direct employment of other British experts by the Middle East Governments themselves has been maintained. At present, there are some 500 British experts and technicians so employed. There is also the important work, to which I have already referred, which a number of British firms of consultants and contractors are carrying out for the Middle East Governments.
As a result of the work of all these experts and firms, I think it is true to say that the survey stage has in the main been largely completed, and that the 969 second stage, that of execution, has been reached. At this stage, the problem of the provision of capital arises. Here, unfortunately, our own post-war financial difficulties and responsibiliites in other areas, particularly the Colonies, have pre- cluded us from making a contribution on the scale which we would have liked. We have also as I have already explained to the Committee, been committed to contributing over £7 million to the Arab refugee problem which might otherwise have been available for economic development.
Nevertheless, we made a £1 million development loan to Jordan in 1949, and, in 1950 we authorised the Iraq Government to raise a loan of £3 million through the Export Credit Guarantee Department to meet obligations in connection with railway development projects. Another way in which we are contributing to the development of the area is through the work of the Desert Locust Service and Control Organisations at Nairobi. We are at present spending £1,250,000 on this work. Finally, I should not omit to mention the valuable work of the British Council in the Middle East.
In addition to direct forms of economic aid, we have, despite the strain on our balance of payments, permitted a number of Middle East countries to draw extensively on their sterling balances which were blocked during the war. A series of sterling release agreements with Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Israel, beginning in 1947, has enabled those countries to cover their financial requirements, including large purchases of capital goods. We have made every effort to supply the capital goods required to equip the new industries which had developed in the Middle East during the war and for the many new development projects. The proof of this can be seen in the steady increase of exports of capital goods from the United Kingdom to the Middle East.
§ Mr. Morrison
We do business, and presumably that does give us something in return. At any rate, we consider that these are sensible and rational policies in the light of the need for the general economic development of the Middle East, with which we on this side, at any rate, want to be friends.
970 But perhaps the most significant factor in the post-war economy of the Middle East has been the development of its oil resources through the efforts of the British and American companies. Oil has today become the most important industry and source of revenue for a number of Middle Eastern countries, and it has made a major contribution towards the financing of projects designed to raise productivity and living standards in these areas. It is sometimes forgotten that it is the enterprise, revenues and technical skill of international oil companies which have made this development possible.
The oil industry requires the expenditure of vast human, financial and technical resources. Transport facilities and world-wide marketing arrangements must be developed to match the expansion of oil production. In addition to the revenues the oil industry has brought to these regions substantial economic and social benefits, such as transport facilities, water supplies, health, education and welfare services.
We are entering a new era in the history of Middle East Oil. Revenues from oil have vastly increased and the concession agreements are being modified to take account of changes in circumstances that have occurred. It is my earnest hope that the future development of the Middle East oil industry will be towards an ever closer partnership between the countries possessing the oil and the foreign companies contributing the capital, technical skill and marketing facilities, so that they may jointly and in full harmony develop the natural resources of the area to meet the world's requirements.
The next few years should see a still further and massive increase both in the rate of oil production and in the revenues accruing to the Governments. I can imagine no greater contribution to the solution of the Middle East problems than the wise and effective utilisation of these oil revenues for purposes of social reform and raising the living standards of the people, not only in the oil producing countries, but throughout the whole area. I am sure that His Majesty's Government will be ready to contribute towards this objective by any means within their power.
971 Persia affords an excellent example of the difficulties which excessive nationalism, unless allied with statesmanship, can bring in its train. The concession which the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company has been operating for so many years in South Persia has, in the past, provided an opportunity for British technical skill and commercial knowledge to come to the aid of the Persians in the development of the natural resources of the country, and at the same time to secure an increase in the revenues of the Persian State.
During the years since 1933, when the present concession was negotiated, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company has not only brought very considerable prosperity to the oil fields, but has provided a steadily increasing revenue to the Persian State, which, if properly handled, could have brought a great increase of prosperity to the country as a whole. Indeed when, after the war, Persia evolved her seven-year plan for economic development, which was to have been entirely financed out of her share of the oil revenues, it looked as though a new era for the Persian masses was in sight.
When the Persians asked for a greater share in the profits of oil, the Company, with the approval of His Majesty's Government, negotiated with the Persians the Supplemental Oil Agreement of 1949. Under this Agreement, Persian revenues would have received some £38 million for the years 1948–50 over and above the £38,670,000 which would have been obtained under the 1933 concession. The Supplemental Oil Agreement was signed by the Persian Minister of Finance in July, 1949, and was submitted to the Majlis for ratification. Dissident elements in that body succeeded in preventing its ratification for over 18 months, and in the meanwhile a vocal minority on the Majlis Oil Commission, after rejecting the Supplemental Oil Agreement, began to exert increasing pressure for nationalisation.
His Majesty's Government made it clear to General Razmara, who was then the Persian Prime Minister, that the Company's concession could not legally be terminated by an act of nationalisation, but nevertheless the Company told him on 10th February—and I should like the House to take note of this fact—that they would be ready to negotiate an 972 entirely new agreement based on an equal sharing of profits. It was almost immediately after this that General Razmara was assassinated, and that the handful of so-called national front leaders embarked on the policy of forcing through an unconsidered programme of nationalisation of the industry, regardless of the consequences to Persia's economy. That is what brought about the present crisis.
From what I have said, it is clear that, as far as His Majesty's Government and the company are concerned, they have been ready at every stage to meet the legitimate aspirations of the Persian people and that, if it had not been for the assassination of General Razmara, an agreement acceptable to both parties might well have been reached last March. The unhappy history of events since then is well known to the House. For our part, we have every sympathy with the natural desire of the Persian people to control the mineral wealth of their own soil and we have agreed to accept the principle of nationalisation. What we have asked is that agreements freely entered into under international auspices should not be broken unlaterally without discussion or negotiation.
As regards the immediate situation, the Persian Government have communicated to Mr. Harriman, for transmission to His Majesty's Government, proposals for negotiations between His Majesty's Government and the Persian Government regarding the dispute between the Persian Government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. His Majesty's Government have taken advantage of Mr. Harriman's visit to London to discuss these proposals with him. Certain points remain to be settled.
Meanwhile, His Majesty's Government have made arrangements, as soon as these points have been settled, to dispatch a Mission to Teheran, led by the Lord Privy Seal. If the Mission is dispatched, one of my right hon. Friend's first actions will be to pay a visit to Abadan in order to familiarise himself with the conditions there and in the oilfields area. Mr. Harriman himself will very shortly be returning to Teheran. I hope the House will agree that it is not expedient for me, at this moment, to say anything further on this matter.
I now turn to the Egyptian question. I should like first to pay tribute to the 973 work of my predecessor, who laboured unflaggingly to place Anglo-Egyptian relations on a footing which will both preserve the best elements in the close relationship which has long linked our two countries and will, at the same time, take account of the realities of the dangerous situation in which the civilised world finds itself today.
That work I am anxious to carry on. He believed, and I also believe, that one of the cornerstones on which stability and security in the Middle East must rest is friendship and co-operation between us and Egypt in the various fields in which we have common interests. We are well aware of the difficulties which face the Egyptian Government and we have tried to approach our common problems with patience and the understanding of these difficulties. We know that the stand taken by Egypt has its roots deep in the past, and we have tried to take account of that fact. Unfortunately, our patience and understanding have not always been reciprocated, and we are still faced with uncompromising insistence on demands which bear no relation to present-day realities.
The problem of the presence of British troops in Egypt is not now a purely Anglo-Egyptian problem. We are a Power bearing responsibilities in the Middle East on behalf of the rest of the Commonwealth and the Western Allies as a whole. Egypt is in some respects the key to the Middle East. As history bears out, it is mere delusion to pretend that Egypt can stand aside in any major conflict. Situated as she is on the bridge between two continents and upon a vital link in the sea communications between the Eastern and Western hemispheres, she is an objective of first importance for any aggressive Power in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant.
The destinies and civilisation of our two countries are bound up together and it is unrealistic for Egypt to pretend that she can avoid danger by refusing to allow us to share in the defensive organisation of the area. Moreover, she can no more stand alone in the defence of her own territory than we can in the defence of our country.
I have confidence that should war be forced upon the free world the Egyptian people will, as in the past, join with us in resisting the aggressor, but the vital 974 difference between us and the Egyptian Government is disagreement over the measures required to prepare to meet such an emergency. We know that without extensive preparations in time of peace our cause would be lost before the struggle began. Our task is to persuade the Egyptian Government to face this inescapable fact and to convince them of the dangers to them and to us all of neglecting such preparations.
In common with our North Atlantic and Commonwealth Allies, our own people have assumed a great burden in time of peace in order to make the world safe for those countries with whom we share a common heritage and civilisation. We invite Egypt's partnership as an equal in this common effort to make the world safe. We want to plan our relationship on an entirely new basis. If Egypt rejects that invitation, we cannot allow that to prejudice the fulfilment of our international responsibilities, but we shall not give up hope of persuading her to offer the spontaneous co-operation which will make our task immeasurably easier.
Now for the Sudan. We are now discussing with the Egyptian Government the future of the Sudan. Here, again, we are faced with certain prejudices which prevent the Egyptian Government from approaching the problem in a realistic frame of mind. The Sudanese people, though mixed in race and religion, have advanced rapidly in the political, social and economic spheres to become a well-ordered, self-reliant community. Their mutual dependence on the waters of the Nile have linked the destinies of the Sudan inextricably with those of Egypt, and in due course we hope to see the Sudanese people choose that relationship with Egypt which best fulfils their needs. It is our aim that they should be brought as soon as possible to a stage of development in which they are able to exercise their choice in full freedom and consciousness of its implications.
We are only too anxious that Egypt should play her full and proper part with us in guiding the Sudanese along the path of political evolution. To insist, however, as certain Egyptians do, that there is no distinction between the Sudanese and Egyptian peoples is simply to ignore the facts, and such an attitude can only tend to increase the difficulty of obtaining 975 the close and intimate association and understanding which we should be glad to see develop between them.
I now come to the Suez Canal. The House will share my regret that the Egyptian Government have not yet seen fit to modify their attitude over the restrictions which they continue to maintain in defiance of world opinion on the free passage of shipping in the Suez Canal. In common with the other great maritime Powers, we have done everything open to us through diplomatic channels to persuade the Egyptian Government of the injustice and unreasonableness of these restrictions and to induce them to put an end to them by spontaneous action.
Unfortunately our efforts have borne little fruit and the matter is now before the Security Council of the United Nations. It may be that the Security Council will find that, since the permanent armistice régime has been in uninterrupted operation between Egypt and Israel for well over two years, there is no reasonable ground for the continued discrimination against international shipping in the Canal or for the ban which prevents oil from the Persian Gulf from reaching the great Haifa refineries. This irresponsible action on the part of the Egyptian Government is causing at least as much damage and distress to innocent third parties as it is to the intended victims. It is intolerable that the maritime nations should be expected to suffer, apparently indefinitely, from an abusive practice which has neither practical nor moral justification.
Moreover, whatever the immediate purpose of these restrictions, their effect is to retard rather than advance the prospects of a peaceful settlement of differences between the Arab States and Israel, to which both parties are committed on their own declarations. All maritime Powers have responsibilities as well as interests, and Egypt especially so. I think that we have the right to expect that in her unique geographical position Egypt should set an example of international conduct rather than abuse this position to flout maritime tradition and international convention in the way she is doing in the Suez Canal and in the Gulf of Aqaba.
In connection with the "Empire Roach" incident, I am glad to be able 976 to inform the House that measures have been agreed upon between the Egyptian Government and ourselves to prevent the recurrence of incidents such as occurred recently in the case of the s.s. "Empire Roach" in the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba. These arrangements are, of course, without prejudice to the claims of His Majesty's Government in respect of that incident, on which naturally we reserve full rights.
As I have already told the House, His Majesty's Government hope that it will soon be possible to reach agreement on the inclusion of Turkey and Greece in the North Atlantic Treaty, and thus complete the organisation of North Atlantic defence by blocking the path of an aggressor through the backdoor to Europe.
The defence of Turkey is, however, not only a matter for Europe. It also closely concerns the defence of the Middle East. We are most anxious that Turkey should play her proper part in the defence of the Middle East, too. I was, therefore, very glad to see that the Turkish Foreign Minister, in a statement in the Turkish Parliament on 20th July, said that Turkey would be disposed to enter into negotiations with the interested parties in order to play her part effectively in the Middle East and to take the necessary joint measures.
The defence of the Middle East is just as vital for the Western World and for the United Kingdom as the defence of Europe itself. In Europe, we have, through the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, built up a system of defence co-operation, with integrated forces under integrated commands, which is unique in peace-time and offers the countries of Europe a real hope of effective defence against any aggressor. What we now have in mind is to do something similar for the Middle East. The problems there are, of course, different from those in Europe, and we cannot, therefore, apply exactly the same pattern. We have to work out an arrangement which will fit.
We also have to take account of the various interests of the countries concerned. We have to think of the Middle East countries themselves, and of how best their co-operation can be secured. We have to think of our Commonwealth and North Atlantic Treaty Allies, some of whom are concerned in the defence of the Middle East and some of whom are not. These are the sort of problems we are 977 examining at this moment and discussing with our Allies, and until we have got further in our joint examination of them, I am sure the House will not expect me to make any detailed statement of our plans.
Let me now summarise the aims of His Majesty's Government in the Middle East. We wish to see the countries of the area free, stable, prosperous and secure; and we will help them in every possible way to attain these objectives. We hope for an early settlement of the differences between them; and we are ready to give them every assistance we can to this end. But unless they themselves are genuinely anxious for a settlement and will make positive efforts to secure it, our own efforts will be wasted.
Meanwhile we shall take all measures required to halt aggression by preventing the violation of frontiers, the breach of Armistice Agreements or any further outbreak of hostilities. We are determined to defend the area as a whole against aggression from without. The extent to which we can do so will depend in large measure upon the willingness and ability of Middle East States themselves to contribute to the common cause.
We wish to see the Middle East States develop their own institutions freely; and we do not expect them to adopt systems of government that are not consonant with their own particular needs. Constitutions cannot be transported and transplanted. I have often thought, and said, that on paper one could export the British constitution, but to make it work properly one would probably have to export the British people with it. But we expect that due account will be taken of the liberty of the subject, internal law and order, social justice, and all other principles in accord with the standards of the civilised world. We shall continue to give all possible financial and technical aid to economic and social development and, as a matter of especial urgency, to the solution of the refugee problem.
And, finally, we shall safeguard our own legitimate interests in the area. This is not an imperialist objective, nor does it conflict in any way with the interests of the Middle East countries themselves. On the contrary, partnership with them can be as fruitful to both sides in the future as it has been in the past.
978 Ernest Bevin aimed at a big and comprehensive policy for the Middle East which would result in co-operation between the countries of the Middle East not only among themselves but also with the Western Powers. He was determined to make war on poverty and despair, those enemies of peace and prosperity. And the more I myself see of the problems, the more I, too, feel the need for bold and imaginative policies, including social and economic policies.
His Majesty's Government are ready for them; and so also, I believe, are the United States and others. But we shall need much political wisdom and cool heads on the part of the Governments of the Middle East themselves, and sincere and energetic efforts to collaborate with the Western nations so that the help given from outside is properly used for the purposes for which it is intended.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
When the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary asked me to forgo the opportunity of opening this debate, I was encouraged to hope that he would have something to tell us. I thought that he would be able to cast a light on some of these anxious and serious problems which in more than one quarter press upon our minds this afternoon. Instead, he has treated us to an able and agreeable parade of bland truisms and platitudes which I fear must, in these busy times, have caused him many long hours of toil and study. I, also, shall indulge in a somewhat general survey, though I shall not go back so far as the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which, after all, took place at the end of the First and not of the Second World War.
The decline of our influence and power throughout the Middle East is due to several causes. First, the loss of our Oriental Empire and of the well-placed and formidable resources of the Imperial armies in India. Second, it is due to the impression which has become widespread throughout the Middle East that Great Britain has only to be pressed sufficiently by one method or another to abandon her rights and interests in that, or indeed any other, part of the world. A third cause is the mistakes and miscalculations in policy which led to the winding-up of our affairs in Palestine in such a way as to earn almost in equal 979 degree the hatred of the Arabs and the Jews.
I was struck by the fact that the right hon. Gentleman should have confessed mistakes which have been made in this matter. One failure, he said, we admit. It has long been evident how disastrous was the course we followed there, and all these put together, the loss of our power in the world, and in that part of the world, the diminution of our resources, the mistakes which we have made, and the feeling that we are incapable of putting up an effective resistance—most unjust assumptions I would certainly say—all these have brought us to the melancholy and anxious position in which we stand this afternoon.
The position is not necessarily irretrievable in its long-term aspects, but we certainly cannot restore it by ourselves alone. It can only be retrieved at a lower level in any case than before the Second World War, and it can only be retrieved, in my opinion, by the joint co-operative action of Britain and the United States, and, in the Mediterranean sphere, of France. [An HON. MEMBER: "And Turkey."] And Turkey, I entirely agree with that.
It is for this reason that I have been most anxious to encourage the United States Navy to take a leading part in the Mediterranean and that I welcome so strongly the support which they have given both to Greece and Turkey, and the keen attention they are at length—I might almost say at last—giving to Persian and Iraqi affairs.
The oil supplies from this part of the world have a value far above their commercial or financial importance, great though this be. The strategic aspect of the destination of the oil supplies and the immediate future of the Middle East countries is of immense importance, not only to Britain, but to the United States. It plays a part in their whole plan of creating ever-increasing deterrents, direct or indirect, to the spread of Communism, and thus to preserving the peace of the world by reaching conditions on which a lasting and friendly settlement may be made with Soviet Russia on the basis not of weakness and divided policy, but of strength, unity and well-conceived measures.
We may, indeed, truly say that the events which are taking place in Egypt and Persia play an integral and, possibly, 980 vital part in the whole purpose of the vast alliance, under the supreme authority of the United Nations organisation, to which we have all bound ourselves. The consequences of this alliance present themselves now to us in this country in a manner which dominates our domestic life, with our immense expenditure on re-armament and the reactions which that entails on the standards of life of all classes throughout Great Britain. The issues at stake in the Middle East are of capital importance to us at home and abroad and to all our Allies.
Since the war stopped, I have always been anxious that the United States should become more interested in what is taking place in Persia and in Egypt. We admire and support the sacrifice and exertions they have made to resist aggression in Korea. Mortal injury would have fallen upon us all, upon the free democratic world, if we had been unable to serve, or unwilling to serve, the United Nations organisation in resisting armed aggression at any point.
But in a material and geographical sense, Korea, after all, is a promontory jutting out into salt water, ruled by American sea-power under an air canopy controlled by, in the main, American air forces. It is not a place from which things can spread in a physical way against the main interests of the United Nations. The moral and strategic importance of Persia and Egypt, on the other hand, and the relation of those countries to the Atlantic Pact system profoundly affect American interests and the success of their world policy in which Great Britain and the Dominions of the Commonwealth are all joined.
If, for instance, the Persian situation arising out of the oil dispute and the wrongful treatment meted out to us by Persia, with the consequent prolonged paralysis of the Persian oilfields, were to lead to the regions from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf being included in the satellite countries which are Kremlin-controlled today, the consequences would be far more deadly, not only to us, but to the United States than anything that could have arisen in Korea.
Therefore I have done, speaking as an individual, whatever was in my power —such as it is—to impress upon leading 981 American statesmen and citizens whom I have met and with whom I am in contact that their main interests are engaged in the Middle East at least as much as they are in any other part of the world outside their own country.
General Eisenhower's sphere of responsibility is also deeply affected by what happens in Persia and Iraq. Turkey is the right flank of any front that can be formed in the Europe against Soviet aggression—should that occur, which I do not pre-judge—and the position of Turkey would be greatly endangered if the Soviet control covered all the regions immediately south of the Caspian Sea. The European situation is, therefore, directly involved in what takes place in Persia and Iraq.
In surveying the general scene in the Middle East our relations with Egypt, to which the right hon. Gentleman devoted some of the closing passages in his speech, are of the first importance. During the war we preserved Egypt from the injury and pillage of Nazi-Fascist subjugation. I shall not speak of our loss of life, for that cannot be computed in material terms, but we spent vast sums of money in Egypt maintaining a local war-time prosperity there beyond that which any other country was enjoying in the whole world. Unhappily, that prosperity was shared almost exclusively by the rich and well-to-do classes while the peasantry seemed to remain in very much the condition in which I saw them when I first went to Egypt as a young officer, towards the end of the last century.
This point of view was confirmed and, indeed, emphasised by the Foreign Secretary in his speech. These rich, well-to-do, classes who got so much control in Egypt are the very ones who are trying to keep a popularity with the masses of the people by ungratefully assailing us today. It was calculated at the end of the war that we owed more than £400 million to Egypt. Most of it was for the local services and supplies we had purchased to maintain the armies which protected them.
These are the notorious war-time sterling balances—I said war-time sterling balances, because more complicated forms of sterling balances have come into existence at later dates, but I am speaking of the war-time sterling balances—in 982 other words, presented to us as British debts. The War Cabinet of the National Government had always reserved the right to present counter-claims against these debts for the services we rendered in saving Egypt from the horrors of war and conquest.
When, some weeks ago, I was referring to our immense volume of unrequited exports under the heading of sterling balances, the Chancellor of the Exchequer used extravagant language condemning anyone who could so violate, or talk of violating, contractual obligations as to refuse to pay or put in a counter-claim against these war-time debts. But his predecessor, the Minister of Local Government and Planning, used very different language, which I shall venture to quote to the House. This is what he said—it is a lengthy quotation, but I think hon. Members ought to have it in their minds as it was spoken by so high an authority at the beginning of the Socialist reign:
That vast accumulation of debt represents an unreal, unjust and unsupportable burden. If Lend-Lease and mutual aid had been applied among all the members of the Grand Alliance as they were applied between the United States and the British Commonwealth, by far the greater part of these debts would never have been charged up against us. Sooner or later—and it would he better sooner than later—this mass must be very substantially scaled down. Britain is strong, but one side of her strength must he refusal to take on fantastic commitments, which are beyond her strength and beyond all limits of good sense and fair play. Nor could I, as the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, support financial arrangements which would mean that for years and generations to come this little island, which led the fight for freedom, would, through this peculiar war-time accountancy, carry a crushing load which even the defeated enemies of freedom—Germans, Japanese and the rest —would escape.Pretty good stuff, that. The Chancellor is not here—no doubt he has some other preoccupations—but I trust that this quotation may be brought to his attention by some of his colleagues on the Front Bench. It is of special importance because the Prime Minister—who, I understand, is to wind up the debate tonight—was asked on 12th May, 1947, whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech represented the views of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman replied, with his usual laconic precision, "Yes, Sir." Surely the Chancellor of the Exchequer should moderate 983 his denunciations of a policy which his predecessor declared in such illuminating terms and which his chief endorsed without a qualification of any kind.
I hold that we should have presented counter-claims and such a policy would have been supported by the United States. At the same time as we were being so strict, pedantic, meticulous, and punctilious in paying Egypt, we were borrowing or accepting from the United States far larger sums of money which I doubt if we shall ever be able to pay back. It must be an odd state of mind in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer can go on begging and borrowing from one country in order to pride himself and preen himself and plume himself in cutting such a fine example of financial probity, dignity and decorum with another.
It is said that one should be just before one is generous. In this case we ask the Americans to be generous in order that we might be just to the Egyptians and indeed, as I hold, unjust to our own people. I say that because it was known at the time that the United States' object in lending to us, giving us these very large sums, by which the Government have maintained themselves so remarkably—which, as I think the right hon. Gentleman said, have prevented unemployment rising to levels of millions in this country—the United States' motive in doing this was in order that the British people should be able to rebuild their own strength and stand securely on their own feet.
However, the payments of sterling balances continue on a large scale, and only the other day—I believe it was the day when the "Empire Roach" was attacked; but that was a mere coincidence, a pure accident, I am not making any serious point out of it—almost on that day another agreement for heavy payments was announced to the House.
What form do these payments take? There is a destroyer of the Hunt class. H.M.S. "Cottesmore" was her name. She, I understand, has been traded to the Egyptian Government, and her name has now been changed to the Ibrahim el Awal. [Laughter.]
§ Mr. Churchill
I expect that the right hon. Gentleman wishes that he had such cordial relations with his own back benchers. It would have been strange for the Government to have sold a destroyer to any Power outside the Atlantic Pact at this time, when anti-submarine vessels are regarded as top priority in our shipbuilding programme. But to have given one to Egypt in the circumstance and at this moment is, I think—I appeal to the ordinary unprejudiced common sense of the House—quite inexcusable.
And how will Egypt pay for it? They will not send us anything which will help our standard of life in this country; they will not send anything to us which will help us in our production of goods for export; not at all. All they will do is simply to scratch a few figures off their sterling balances account which the Government have lately consented to invalidate on a still larger scale.
I ask: Is this destroyer still in our shipyards or has she already been delivered? I am told that she is at present at Cowes—I may be misinformed. The Hunt class is a very valuable class of destroyer. Apparently we have not been able to afford to develop them for anti-U-boat purposes because of the money difficulties in which we are plunged. Here was one which we could have had for nothing. If it is not too late I say without any hesitation that she ought not to be handed over unless or until there has been a settlement of other matters.
There is another aspect which should be examined. After the brief war in which Israel, contrary to the expectations of His Majesty's Government—
§ Mr. Churchill
Not at all. The hon. Gentleman has been on all sides in this particular question. After the brief war in which Israel so conclusively demonstrated its fighting superiority over the much better armed Egyptian troops—perhaps the hon. Gentleman would agree with that?
§ Mr. Churchill
All right. I think that was a very foolish thing to do, but it was done in the period of the war when, naturally, arms got loose in different directions.
985 But this is a question of this destroyer; it is a question of going on arming Egypt now, long after the war. I quarrel with the hon. Gentleman on a great many things. I do not want to quarrel with him on any one of those points with regard to the innumerable facets of which we might occasionally get a gleam of agreement.
After this war with Israel an armistice was arranged. In breach of this armistice the Egyptians have closed the Suez Canal. The Foreign Secretary—let me put hon. Gentlemen at their ease—is entirely against the Egyptian closing of the Suez Canal, is he not?
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Yes, Sir, I am. But, unlike the right hon. Gentleman, if I could come to an overall friendly agreement of good relations with Egypt, I would do so.
§ Mr. Churchill
The question is whether the right hon. Gentleman is adopting the right course or not. At any rate, the course which he has adopted, as I shall presently show and have to some extent shown, has certainly not led to the conclusion which the right hon. Gentleman desires, and the closing phrases of his speech were instinct with an atmosphere of disappointment on this point.
But an armistice was arranged after this war. In breach of the armistice the Suez Canal was closed to all passage of tankers to the Haifa refinery. Here was a property in which we had an important interest and which could have made our petrol position easier here at home. We have been putting up with this complete breach of the armistice, and utterly illegal blockade, as I contend—I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman will challenge me—under the Suez Canal Convention—for more than two years.
And all through this time we have been releasing money—I am not talking about payments with Egypt; they were going on all the time—to Israel to buy oil that has to be brought all the way from South America. If one takes those things together—our treatment of Egypt, the misbehaviour of Egypt and our indemnifying of Israel; which I do not particularly quarrel with because it was our weakness that let them suffer through the Canal being blockaded—there one really has an example of British submissiveness to 986 find an equal to which one would have to search the world very far.
All the time we were sending valuable exports to Egypt for no return, including ships of war, aeroplanes and other munitions, while all they had to do, for their part, was to go on breaking the Suez Canal Convention, insulting us ever more bitterly every day, clamouring for the Sudan and extorting further sterling balance concessions from us in the various agreements which were made.
The extraordinary thing is to see the Foreign Secretary carrying out this policy and the Chancellor of the Exchequer carrying out what looks to be an entirely separate policy. It is not departmentalism, it is compartmentalism of a kind quite extraordinary. I have not seen its like before. I contend that no payments of sterling balances should, on any account, have been made to Egypt while they persisted in their illegal action in the Suez Canal. Fancy not bringing this strong point and leverage into the argument.
There is the Prime Minister. I think it is a question to which he should address himself because he is not at the Foreign Office or the Exchequer; he sits over both. Fancy, I say, not bringing this into the general argument. Let the right hon. Gentleman give us his reasons when he winds up the debate tonight.
Here is another fact. I do not know why we should have waited all this time for Israel to bring the breach of the armistice before the United Nations. Why could we not have done this two years ago, or supported Israel in doing it two years ago? Why could we not have refused all military exports and all payments on the ground of sterling balances until the matter was satisfactorily settled? That is an argument which I honestly think requires the attention of the Government. Although much can be brushed aside in our present course, nevertheless there are verities, truths and sequences of causation which should be in the minds of hon. Members of the House of Commons, though I do not say of the public or of the whole of the Press.
The right hon. Gentleman is not directly responsible for much of this mistaken Egyptian policy. For more than a year we all watched with sorrow Mr. Bevin's illness. It was evident that we were virtually without a Foreign Secretary—
§ Mr. Churchill
—for a very long period. The Prime Minister is responsible for whatever happens, but I think it will be found that we were virtually without a Foreign Secretary during the whole of that period.
§ The Prime Ministerindicated dissent.
§ Mr. Churchill
The Prime Minister may hold a very different view, but he cannot dismiss an argument or even an assertion by muttering, "Quite untrue, quite untrue."
§ The Prime Minister
I was trying to correct the right hon. Gentleman on a point of fact. It is quite true that my right hon. Friend was ill, but he was an effective Foreign Minister throughout. It may well have shortened his life, but it is quite untrue to say that Mr. Bevin ever let his hand go off the Foreign Office. Anybody in close contact with him knows that that is not in accordance with the facts.
§ Mr. Churchill
That, of course, is a matter of opinion, but I adhere strongly to my statement. I fully admit that the Prime Minister had opportunities of closer study of what was actually taking place, but, anyhow, he is directly and personally responsible for allowing the Foreign Office to be without effective guidance during all this critical and, as it may well prove, costly time.
We have now got a new deal. The curtain has risen on a new star. The right hon. Gentleman is now at the Foreign Office. I have here a report of the speech delivered by him to the Durham miners a few days ago. I do not intend to inflame our debate or, indeed, to detain the House by reading it.
§ Mr. Churchill
Because I do not wish to inflame or detain the House. I have already given those two reasons, and it did not require any "why not" from the hon. Gentleman.
This, however I must say. Viewed against the sombre background of the world scene it must be considered as one of the most lamentable utterances which a 988 British Foreign Secretary or, indeed, the Foreign Minister of any important Power has ever made in recent times. It shows how far the right hon. Gentleman dwells below the level of events, and how little he understands their proportion in the discharge of the great office to which he has been appointed. It will certainly be viewed abroad as a measure of the contribution he is capable of making to foreign affairs, and of the spirit in which he approaches this grave and solemn task.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough, after condemning me so strongly and so sweepingly, to quote what is objected to.
§ Mr. Churchill
It will certainly not make for the tranquillity of the House if I read it out. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read the lot.") It will add considerably to the length of the proceedings. If the right hon. Gentleman really wants it I will read it.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is the sort of churlishness we are accustomed to. All I can say is that there is presumably in the speech something to which the right hon. Gentleman takes strong exception. Will he read those parts of it to which he does take exception?
§ Mr. Churchill
I really have no choice, but it will certainly add to the length of our proceedings and I expect it will give opportunities for cheering by partisans on both sides. I was hoping that we could keep this Foreign Office debate if not in controversial at any rate in calm channels.
Let me say this in advance. In judging what I am now about to read, the House, I am sure, will feel how much better it would have been if the right hon. Gentleman had got Foreign Office officials to write for him his speeches to be delivered in the country and he had devoted some of the leisure made possible thereby to learning something about the great task he has undertaken. Here is what he said:But Mr. Churchill had shown a sensible restraint, which, however, had not restrained the warlike fever of the Conservative backbenchers. A substantial body of Tory backbench M. Ps. and a number of Conservative newspapers are playing quite a vigorous party game in foreign affairs. It started way back in the days of Ernest Bevin and has, if anything, intensified in recent weeks. I make no personal complaint. I can take it.989 The right hon. Gentleman must not be so touchy today.Indeed, I have naturally been a target of Tory attacks all my public life. And if some of the less distinguished chat paragraphists or London letter writers find their work easier by accepting cantankerous and untruthful copy from Tory quarters, well, have a heart! The weather has been warm and some folks find it tiring. Nevertheless, we have seen signs of dangerous Tory irresponsibility in foreign affairs. It is one of my duties as Foreign Secretary to stand up for the proper interests of our country. In doing so I rule out nothing that is legitimate.That is a very far reaching assertion.But what I will not do is needlessly, precipitately and irresponsibly to take warlike courses.
§ The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. James Callaghan)
What is wrong with all that? It is very small beer.
§ Mr. Callaghanrose—
§ Mr. Churchill
I expect the Foreign Secretary can look after himself, but will, no doubt, express his thanks to the hon. Member for his chivalry in coming to his rescue.If you had seen and heard the semi-hysteria of hack bench Tory M. Ps. in the last fortnight, if you have read the more excitable of the Conservative newspapers, then you will find it difficult not to come to the conclusion that, if they had had their way, we should have been involved in two wars in the last 10 days.I say that was a falsehood, all the more shameful because all the facts were known to the right hon. Gentleman. I could read more, but I have taken up enough time. I have been forced to take up the time of the House with it.
Let me press this point. Here is the new Foreign Secretary, who shows to all the world that his main thought in life is to be a caucus boss and a bitter party electioneer. It is tragic indeed that at this time his distorted, twisted and malevolent mind should be the one to which our foreign affairs are confided.
Now I turn to Persia. The right hon. Gentleman told us nothing new about Persia. [An HON. MEMBER: "Neither have you.] The newspapers seem well informed, and I base myself on them. It is necessary for those on either side of the House to make their position clear. Judged by every standard, the conduct of 990 the Persian Government has been outrageous, but this must not lead us to ignore what is fair and equitable in the Persian case. In February, 1948, Sir Stafford Cripps appealed for dividend restraint—we seem to go round that circle still—the Anglo-Iranian oil company was earning about 150 per cent. and paying 30 per cent. As payments by the company to Persia were in part proportional to the distributed profits, this had the effect of keeping down the amount received by the Persian Government, not on commercial merits but because of the domestic policy or the British Government. All this was put before the House in June by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). I must repeat what he said then:As they"—the Persian Government—saw it, the company was earning 150 per cent. or thereabouts but they were still paying 30 per cent. His Majesty's Government were getting a good rake-off, not as a shareholder but from taxation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st June, 1951; c. 758, Vol. 489.]It was quite clear from the moment this situation developed, and indeed before it, that new proposals must be made to the Persian Government. In 1949, negotiations between the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and the Persian Government ended in a Supplemental Agreement, which was signed in 1949. Meanwhile, an agreement had been made in Saudi Arabia on a 50–50 basis by the American company which has been tactfully renamed "Iramco." Just watch that a little. It is as if we had changed the name of our company to "Persanglo." There is nothing like studying the customer.
The Supplemental Agreement of 1949—to quote the Foreign Secretary a few days ago—offereda more advantageous return for a ton of oil than was now enjoyed by any Middle Eastern Government.Nevertheless the agreement was not ratified by the Persian Government for 18 months, and General Razmara, the Persian Prime Minister, who favoured it, was murdered on 17th March. The fall of British prestige in the Near and Middle East, particularly as a result of Anglo-Egyptian relations, must be considered as the main reason why this beneficial measure was not accepted, as it deserved to be. It is also a reflection on the British Government that they were not more 991 active or more effective in pressing this matter from here., during the long interval of 18 months in 1950 and even before the end of 1949.
Then was the time to send a British Minister of the Crown to the spot. Then was the time to try to form with the United States a properly-conceived joint or harmoniously-co-ordinated policy; but the Foreign Office had fallen into the disarray to which I have referred, and which I believe was caused by the illness of Mr. Bevin. It had not the acumen, at any rate, or the ability to enable the Department to benefit from the accumulated experience of the old Foreign and Political Department of the Government of India, whose personnel they had absorbed.
As usual, no foresight was shown and nothing constructive or effective was done. It may be said, "How easy to be wise after the event," but surely it is the business of the British Government to be wise before the event. In this case, the facts were obvious. The loss of India as a factor in these regions had effects plainly visible, not only on our prestige but on our power, which could only, and can only, be compensated by a closer association of British policy in Persia with that of the United States.
The issue was of such great importance as to be well worth a visit by the Prime Minister to the United States at a time when the two countries were acting so closely together in matters like the Atlantic Pact and its development. This matter might well have been incidental to the important topics discussed; but, as we know, an interval of five years passed between his visit after taking office in 1945 and the hastily-resolved mission on which he went eight months ago.
The truth is that the Government are so unequal to the enormous and complicated task, and so oppressed by their own political preoccupations, that they only live from hand to mouth and week to week, and seem to derive no benefit from the invaluable resources of special information and the opportunities of guiding and shaping events which, as an Executive, they enjoy.
I have before pointed out to the House the different characters of the responsibility borne by the Executive Government and the Parliamentary Opposition. This presents itself in the sharpest form where 992 military operations are in question. It is not the duty of the Opposition to suggest or demand specific military operations. They do not know what are the forces available, nor what course of action the Government are pursuing. It has well been said—I think, by Lord Lansdowne, although I have not been able to verify this—that an Opposition may properly urge restraint upon a Government where military action is concerned, but ought to be very chary in demanding military action. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]That is the course which I have followed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh !"]
I say that if military action were to be taken, it would usually be unwise for the Executive Government themselves to describe it or to discuss it beforehand. For that reason, I and my colleagues thought that some private interchanges would be useful, and might help the Government and the general policy of the country, by avoiding undue Parliamentary interrogation and debate which otherwise was inevitable on a matter about which we would feel very strongly and which rouses so much justifiable anxiety.
I may say here that there has been no question of any agreement between the representatives of the Opposition and those of His Majesty's Government at these private discussions. We have expressed our opinion. We have offered some suggestions. We have endeavoured to make the Government feel that a policy of firmness, exercised with prudence, would in this matter, as in other matters, be treated in a non-party spirit. On the other hand, there is one point, which I shall come to later, which we have made absolutely clear.
Our general attitude on this side of the House is not the same as that of the Prime Minister when he led his party into the Lobby against National Service less than four months before the late war. Then he was only asked to give the support of his party to measures which no one knew better than he were necessary and, indeed, overdue.
§ Mr. Churchill
If there is any urgent need which the Government feel for stronger military preparation, I can only remind them that they have always received our support in all major things that concern the national safety. But the 993 giving and promising of our support to such measures of security and preparation is quite different from, and has no relation to, the urging upon the Executive of definite military operations. For these, the initiative and sole responsibility fall upon the Government of the day.
The situation in Persia is indeterminate. It follows from what I have already said that I attached great importance to the announcement that the President was sending Mr. Averell Harriman to Persia. He is a man who has a complete grasp of the whole world scene and a man of the highest personal capacity. Naturally, he was not, in our view, going as a mediator, still less as an arbitrator. We rightly take our stand upon the judgment of The Hague Court. That was the attitude of His Majesty's Government. It is the prima facieduty of those who believe in the rule of law to sustain in every way they can judgments of this character and not to make compromises between them and some other solution.
Mr. Harriman does not necessarily represent British views. Nevertheless, I believe that the Harriman mission has been helpful and that it has improved, and not lessened, the hopes of eventual agreement. Mr. Harriman's exertions have, at any rate, brought the prospects of a resumption of civilised conversations much nearer than they were before. We have been told nothing about this today, but at any rate I hope that what I have said will be found to be true.
If I may digress for a moment, it would seem that the Government have an advantage in their task in Persia in having so much in common with the Persian Government. They, like them, are holding on to office by the skin of their teeth and, like them, they are persevering in a policy of nationalisation without the slightest regard for national interests. This can certainly form a basis for mutual sympathy and future understanding.
We are now embarked upon a period of negotiations which may conceivably be protracted. The Government have been quite right to insist that the persecution and maltreatment of our personnel shall stop before sending a special envoy to Teheran. It does not follow that time is necessarily against us. The position in which the Persian Government have placed themselves so needlessly, and, as we all see, so heedlessly, has brought 994 the whole process of producing and refining oil to a standstill. The tankers are dispersed on other business and cannot be replaced except as the result of an agreement. The markets to which Anglo-Persian oil was sent are almost entirely closed against them by agreements between the various oil companies. Finally, the Abadan refinery has been shut down.
We, both British and Persians alike, suffer from the delay, but the Persians suffer more and run greater risks with every week it continues; and meanwhile their Government is standing between their people and the immense new benefits embodied in the Supplemental Agreement, or variants of it, and the further welcome and important promises of American aid in arms and money. This seems to me to be a situation calling, in an exceptional degree, for patience on the basis of firmness.
Obviously, if the House were not rising this week, we should have postponed this debate. As it is, we have no choice but to set forth our position upon essentials in plain terms. We do not mind if the Government consider it necessary to withdraw our oil personnel from the mountain oilfields into Abadan. It may be necessary or it may not, but it may well be that we could not easily protect them there from violence and murder in their scattered positions in the oilfields. If they are withdrawn—it is said in the papers that there are 300 or 400; it may be true or not, I do not know—to Abadan, they may quite well be the ones who would not be needed there and would be surplus to the essential staff. The matter is not one, in my opinion, which raises any important issue.
We have, however, in all our discussions with the Government made it clear that the Conservative Party will oppose and censure by every means in their power the total evacuation of Abadan. The refinery must continue to be occupied by a sufficient number of British Anglo-Persian personnel to make it possible for the installations to be maintained in an effective fashion and for the business to be progressively re-started whenever a settlement is reached. Every effort should be made to rally this nucleus of British personnel to the high opportunity they have of rendering distinguished service to 995 their country. They must stay, and we must never agree to their being withdrawn. If violence is offered to them, we must not hesitate to intervene, if necessary by force, and give all the necessary protection to our fellow subjects.
§ Mr. Churchill
But this I must say in conclusion. If the Government so manage this affair as to lead in the end to the total evacuation of the British oil personnel from the Abadan refinery, it will be our duty to challenge them here and in the country by every means in our power. The issue between us—which I trust may not arise—is the total evacuation, in any circumstances which are at present foreseeable, of the Abadan refinery by the nucleus of British personnel.
We request that if this decision is taken, and if possible before it is taken, Parliament should be recalled in order that a clear issue may be presented. All the power lies in the hands of the Government. If they use their precarious and divided majority to cast away one of the major interests of the nation, and indeed injure, as I think and I have sought to show, the world cause, if they are found to have been guilty of such a course of action now that they are asking of all of us so many sacrifices to carry out the policy of re-armament, then I say the responsibility will lie upon them for this shameful disaster, diminution and impoverishment of our world position and we are quite certain that in the long run justice will be done to them by the British people.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Crossman (Coventry, East)
In the course of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), to which we have just listened, we were at least entertained. Indeed, I do not think that for a long time he has been in such boyish—or should it be "adolescent "—form as he was in that part of his speech in which he made a gross personal attack on the Foreign Secretary. I draw my own conclusion that when one has the very delicate problem of keeping one's own party behind one together, the best thing to do is to be as offensive as possible to someone important on the other side.
996 But there was a good deal of substance in what the right hon. Gentleman said, and I should like to make some comments on the views he expressed about Egypt. The right hon. Gentleman's diagnosis on Egypt was one with which I could hardly disagree. During the height of the Palestine controversy it was always a pleasure for those of us below the Gangway who are on the Left of the Socialist Party to have the lone support of the right hon. Gentleman for the right policy in Palestine. I will not disagree with him, therefore, that the disaster of Ernest Bevin's policy in Palestine led to most of our problems in Egypt today; nor would I disagree that it was that Palestine policy which led to our present troubles in the Suez Canal.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke very properly of how terrible it is that the Egyptians should blockade the Suez Canal. Yet for a long time, in 1948 and 1949, the Opposition, with the exception of their Leader, were egging on the Egyptians to close the Canal to ships going to Haifa. I should like to remind the House that—regrettably in my opinion—during the course of the Palestine war the Egyptians blockaded the Canal with the support of most people in this House. It is not surprising that having been egged on to treat a small people—the Jews—badly, they treat this country badly—a country which, having provided them with arms with the intention that they should defeat Israel, changed its side when the Israelis won the war.
I can well appreciate the reasons why the Egyptians feel very bitter against a vast majority of hon. Members in this House who wanted the defeat of Israel when that looked likely and switched round when Israel won. It may be necessary to support the winning side but it is not very creditable. [Interruption.] I was saying that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford was alone in support of the Left Wing below the Gangway on these benches at that time. If the right hon. Gentleman could name those of his hon. or right hon. Friends who gave one word of support to the Israelis in their fight before they were certain to win, I should be delighted to hear the names. He can number on the fingers of his one hand the members of his own party who backed him when he 997 supported the Israelis at the time when things looked bad for them.
The right hon. Gentleman, from his position as Leader of the Opposition, has come out today with a demand for a complete economic blockade of Egypt undertaken unilaterally by this country. [Interruption.] That is what he said. We were to refuse absolutely to pay any of the sterling balances and bring such economic pressure on the Egyptians as would bring them to heel. He asked what on earth the Egyptians sent to this country. He said they got everything from us and we got nothing from them.
He is concerned with re-armament. Very well. Where shall we get Egyptian cotton during this period of economic blockade? I should like to get this thing right. It is a little easier for the other side to demand an economic blockade—in part without the consent of the United States—than it would be to carry it out if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford were in power.
When he came to Persia, and indeed in his whole treatment of the Middle East, the right hon. Gentleman's only real criticism of the Government was a nostalgia for what he so charmingly described as "our Oriental Empire." One does not make a policy by having a nostalgia for the Indian Army. We have to make a policy on the assumption that there is not an Indian Army to send to Basra, or wherever it might be, to bring people to heel. That is not the world in which we live, but that is the world in which the right hon. Gentleman still psychologically resides.
His second great demand was for strength, for firmness, for showing the flag—if possible an Anglo-American flag —with a view to—
§ Mr. Churchill
I never mentioned the word "flag" or "showing the flag" in the whole of my lengthy discourse.
§ Mr. Crossman
It was my fault for using a vulgar cliché where the right hon. Gentleman's rhetoric is far more stirring. But the substance of it was that we should be "stronger" and show how strong we were. I would remind him that this policy has been tried in the Middle East. Lord Killearn did exactly what we have been told by so many people is the way to handle the Egyptians. In order to effect 998 a change of Government in 1942, he arranged for tanks to break into the Royal Palace and deliberately insulted the King. We are suffering still from the appalling scar on Egyptian national honour which this piece of toughness with the Egyptians has produced.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Preston, North)
I hope the hon. Member will also recognise that it was thanks to Lord Killearn's firm action that we had a friendly Government in Egypt when Marshal Rommel marched in Alexandria.
§ Mr. Crossman
On the contrary. The bringing of tanks and the rest of the paraphernalia of "being great and strong Imperialists" was not necessary to bring about the change of Government we wanted; and it has produced deep hatred against this country to this day. This is the whole difference between the Tory back benches and ourselves. They think that if one puts tanks in a palace that will "really show 'em." They want the oil installations protected by military force. They say, "Show the flag, use force, because that is the only language the lesser breeds understand."
I suggest it was tried in Egypt and in Palestine. In Palestine, 100,000 British troops were employed for a tough policy to break Jewish nationalism, with the incitement of hon. Gentlemen opposite who cheered when every Jewish leader was arrested. [Interruption.] Yes; my own side did it, but with full support from the Conservatives. They tried the Tory trick of being tough with the Jews.
Thank goodness, they have learned the lesson that in the Middle East this crude idea that we can treat people in this way, and knock them about or threaten to knock them about, does not work. Even when hon. Members opposite propose it, and it gets printed in every Arab newspaper that this is really what we want to do, this has the most disastrous results. Even since the last debate on Persia, it has made hon. Members on the back benches opposite look silly.
§ Mr. Crossman
I suggest to the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) and others that they should read his speech in the last debate. Last time we were solemnly advised by 999 the Tory back benchers that the Government must declare its determination to defend the installations in Persia. Then they were supported by a certain noble Lord who is the Leader of the Tories in another place.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Woodford on having departed so far from the company of his back benchers, up to this afternoon at least, that he did not support them in this demand that the installations should be protected. He was extremely careful. He only said that we should protect British personnel. If we send troops only to protect British personnel, the troops cannot be kept in Abadan indefinitely if the personnel are in danger.
I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman is walking so delicately, like Agag. He must satisfy his back benchers that he is tough, and yet he knows that no serious person can propose the course of action which the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton advised us to take last time. If we had done as he said six weeks ago and had put our troops into Persia, The Hague Court would not have given a decision in our favour, and Mr. Harriman's mission would have been impossible. We should have been engaged in military operations—in aggression.
§ Brigadier Headrose—
§ Mr. Crossman
The hon. and gallant Gentleman will be able to make his speech later. I should like to hear his reply, and I will sit quiet throughout his speech. Thank heavens we have here in the Foreign Secretary somebody who has not been lured into the belief that strong arm methods pay in the Middle East.
On the other hand, I must say to the Foreign Secretary that I regard his picture of what has been achieved in the last five years as extremely optimistic. When I listened to his statement of the record of our great achievements, and his suggestion that we were getting on splendidly—
§ Mr. H. Morrison
I did not say we were getting on splendidly. I said that some very important things had been done.
§ Mr. Crossman
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. Perhaps between us 1000 we can dispel the impression that things are going on splendidly. In fact, things are terribly dangerous.
I should like to put to my right hon. Friend four propositions. First of all, we have a responsibility in the Middle East rather like the American responsibility for Europe. Just as it is no good the U.S.A. doling out arms and men to Europe, just as it is necessary for Europe to defend herself, so the Middle East can only be defended if the people in that area are willing to do it themselves. Yet it is a fact that there is no country in the Middle East today which willingly accepts the presence of our troops. The right hon. Gentleman said that we had good relations with Iraq. Three years ago a Treaty of Portsmouth was signed. It was at once repudiated in Baghdad and no one there has dared to mention it again, so hostile is Iraqi public opinion to any connection with this country. It is a very dangerous situation when in Egypt, Iraq, and now, I fear, in Jordan, to be pro-British is regarded as high treason.
The right hon. Member for Woodford, in his moving references to Abdullah the other day. said two things—that he had been a faithful ally of Britain and that he was a true friend of the Jews. I thought, when I was listening to this obituary, that if he had spoken it about Abdullah while he was alive, it would have been tantamount to sentencing him to death. For those are the two most terrible things of which an Arab can be accused in the Middle East today. Surely we must consider the matter in its full seriousness. It is a desperately serious thing for this country that being pro-British or pro-Jewish in the Arab world is tantamount to being "bumped off." Unless we grasp the seriousness of the situation, we cannot find the correct remedies for it.
In the second place, broadly speaking, in the Middle East there is not a single country outside Israel and Turkey capable of defending itself or willing to lend a hand in any war—except on the winning side. So in 1940, so again in 1951. It is no good talking about allies in a situation of that sort. How has this come about? The right hon. Member for Woodford made his diagnosis of how we have come to this pass.
§ Mr. Crossman
Oh, no. I have now switched back to the Leader of the Opposition. The right hon. Member for Woodford omitted a most important thing in his diagnosis which was stressed by the Foreign Secretary. For a generation we have grossly underrated the importance of nationalism in the Middle East. It is no good saying these nationalists are wicked people. I was a little nervous when the Foreign Secretary said that there were good nationalists and excessive nationalists. The Boston Tea Party was regarded in London as somewhat excessive nationalism when it took place. When Generals Smuts and Botha fought us, they were regarded by us as excessive nationalists. Mr. Ben Gurion was once thought to be an excessive nationalist—before he won the war.
§ Mr. Crossman
Of course, there are excessive nationalists, but I am saying to the Foreign Secretary that if he thinks that every Arab who is awkward is excessive and should not be brought into a government, he would be mistaken by taking the advice of most of his officials in the Middle East. Recently I was talking to one of our officials in Amman. I told him I should like to meet the national opposition. "Oh." said the official, "they are not the sort of people you ought to meet. They are not important people: they count for nothing."
§ Mr. Crossman
I wanted to meet both sides. Of the five men I met that day, despite official disapproval three are in the Cabinet today. Because Abdullah has been murdered, the nationalists are in, and the men whom the British officials said did not count because they were excessive nationalists, are in power. The trouble is that the sort of men with whom too many of our officials consort would be torn to pieces by their own people if our troops were to move out. If we allow our policy to be maintained on the basis of propping up so-called pro-British Arabs—men who are so reactionary that in the absence of ourselves, they would be torn to pieces—then we are building our policy on dangerously weak founda- 1002 tions. That is the prime fact we must recognise—the vast importance of the nationalist opposition, legal and illegal, in all these countries.
In the second place, I agree with the right hon. Member for Woodford; believe that he is right that in the past 25 years, the tragedy is that we have conceded to violence too late the things we should have granted to our friends voluntarily. I can think of three great statesmen in the Middle East who have been murdered because of this—or to be precise two of them murdered and one made ineffective. I am thinking, first, of Dr. Weizmann. We refused to concede to our friends among the Jews what we finally conceded to force.
Secondly, there is Abdullah. Abdullah has been murdered because so great is the power of nationalism in Jordan, with half the population starving refugees, that Abdullah was regarded as an enemy simply because he wanted peace with Israel and he wanted to stand loyal to Britain. As a result, the ferment arose and he was murdered out of popular hysteria.
If we had given even £10 million to Jordan for the re-settlement of those refugees in the last few years, we should have given Abdullah a chance to survive. Now we shall give the £10 million and give it probably too late to preserve democracy and preserve our position. The same is true of Razmara. In Persia in the end we shall grant infinitely more than Razmara asked, and we shall grant it to those who shot him because he was pro-British.
This is the very opposite of the view of the Tory back benchers that what we want is a "strong" policy. If in the last six years we had made the concessions we shall now have to make in Persia—and we shall have to make them because of nationalism—if we had made in Jordan an effort to help to re-settle the refugees; if we had made in Palestine the concession of a Jewish State which we refused, we could have saved our friends from their political or actual physical extinction.
The tragedy of the Middle East is this —concession to violence too late. If we could only learn that lesson and only say to ourselves from now on, "We will not believe that time will settle things." I know that in some western countries, 1003 in Britain for instance, it is often true to say that, if you leave a thing, time will settle it. The natural inclination of British statesmen is to say—especially when advised by experts—" Well, do not let us settle this; do not let us decide anything; it might settle itself." It is the one rule of the Middle East that nothing ever settles itself and that everything gets worse if you have not the courage to make up your mind—everything, every time.
What matters in the Middle East is bold policy and firm decision. It is better to decide the wrong thing than to decide nothing at all when dealing with the peoples of the Middle East. Because if you do not decide, if you let time settle things, you are regarded as weak, vacillating and contemptible, and finally, as people only fit to be thrown out.
I want to make three positive suggestions to the Foreign Secretary about how we might strengthen our position. My first is this. Let us give up using the big stick to keep reactionaries in power who are pro-British only because they are so unpopular in their own country. That is number one. Secondly, let us please recognise that the politicians who represent the mass of the people in the Middle East today are all out of Government and nearly all of them in jail.
It is no good having someone in power simply because he is pro-British and then encouraging him to lock up anybody and everybody in the opposition. In the end he will be "bumped off" and we shall have nobody left at all. Let us recognise that and let us make every effort in future negotiations to demand that the nationalist opposition are brought into every negotiation we have. In Iraq for instance it will be a wise precaution to bring into any future oil negotiations the nationalist politicians who very likely are going to obtain power in the next five years—because nationalism is growing very fast in Iraq.
The next suggestion I want to make is that, whatever else we do, we should not be under the delusion that economic aid by itself solves anything in the Middle East. We can pour money into the Middle East, but if it goes into the wrong hands it will not be used usefully for the people, and if pit goes without political settlement accompanying it, we shall merely be thought to be attempting to bribe the 1004 people of the Middle East. The result will be to strengthen their nationalism.
When the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company last February, as the Foreign Secretary said, found that it was possible to pay twice as much as they had been paying in the last six years, the result was not gratitude; the result was to ask why we could pay twice as much as a result of a bit of pressure and then to demand nationalisation as well, since we had not attempted a political solution, the mere granting of double royalties merely increased the rapacity of the demand.
First of all, then, we have to get a political framework in the Middle East and then we can start the economic aid. But what political framework? As a result of the death of King Abdullah, many doubt whether Jordan can survive as an integrated state. There are profound divisions between Palestinians and Trans-Jordanians who were held together only by the personality of the King. Half of the population are destitute refugees. The justification for Jordan was Abdullah.
I ask the Foreign Secretary to consider whether it is not now time for Jordan to be merged with Iraq in a larger unit. I know that would be very unpopular. The Egyptians, for instance, would complain. But unless we are forward-looking and bold and, seeing Jordan disintegrating, we at least do something definite, we shall be faced with the fact of disintegration and it will be too late to take action.
My third suggestion concerns the problem of Egypt and the refugees. I suppose the unhappiest part of the world, the most miserable piece of the world, is the Gaza strip—a strip of land cutoff from Palestine, attached to Egypt, but cut off by a range of desert, where 100,000 refugees are living in absolute destitution under the Egyptian Army. Why not negotiate with Egypt and Israel to make Gaza a British base and take the responsibility for these refugees, whom neither Egypt or Israel will look after? That is the sort of policy which will catch the imagination of the Middle East. It will create a lot of opposition but at least it will be proof that we are looking for something constructive.
Let me sum up. I think the Middle East today is the supreme proof that the Western Powers actually become weaker and not stronger by giving re-armament an overriding priority. For the more we 1005 think of arms and armaments in the Middle East, the less support we have. If we go to the Egyptians or the Syrians or the Iraki for military bases, they say, "There are one million Arab refugees for whom you have done nothing for about three years except leave it to U.N.O. and pay £4 million." The figures are £4,700 million for armaments and £4 million for Arab refugees. That is the contribution of this country so far, and an Arab measures our British sense of relative importance by comparing those figures and he concludes, "They want the bases here, they want the oil here, but they do not care about the people here."
As long as we give that impression we shall never have the people on our side, and if we do not have the people of the area wanting to defend themselves, then whatever defence we may create will fall to pieces in the stress and under the arbitrement of war. The lesson of the Middle East, therefore, is that social and economic and political policy must never be subjugated to strategy unless we are willing to destroy ourselves.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Brigadier Head (Carshalton)
I am glad that I have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), although to follow him completely needs an agility of which I am not certain that I am entirely capable. In the course of my speech I shall come to many of the points which he raised, but I thought that not the least interesting was the suggestion he made to those responsible for selecting the Governments of the Middle East that those who were going to form these Governments in five years' time should now be brought into office. I cannot help feeling that if that philosophy were applied here we should have a very interesting situation vis-à-vis the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan).
I want to be as brief as possible. Of the three areas in which are now engaged in the cold war—that is to say, the Atlantic Pact area, the Far East and the Middle East—I do not think any hon. Member would dispute that far the least satisfactory area, and that in which there is the least unity, both in planning and in policy, is that of the Middle East. That is incidentally the area in which at present we have the major responsibility.
There are many hon. Members on this side of the House who are genuinely and 1006 firmly convinced that our present position —our unsatisfactory position—in the Middle East is due to six years of weakness, vacillation and short-sightedness of policy on the part of the present Government. People may say, "That is just Opposition talk," but there are a large number of us who are interested in this matter who genuinely believe that, and I should like to try to explain why we think that, because it is not unimportant that each side of the House should share the. other's views, and this is, in my view, too important a matter for a purely partisan speech.
Ever since I have heard speeches about the Middle East in this House—not for very long: six years—the majority of the speeches from the opposite side have been concentrated on one particular aspect. Perhaps it is to over-stress it, but I should say that hon. Members opposite have regarded the Middle East as a kind of vast slum area which needs a rapid rise in the standard of living and a kind of Socialism brought to it to improve the lot of the fellaheen and other peasants. These are entirely worthy and estimable desires, but I so often feel that many of those who advocate them do not realise the appalling conditions in which people are living in the Middle East—do not realise the present state of the fellaheen or of the Persian peasants, or the utter corruption, incompetence and hopelessness of the Governments of many of those countries, or the full magnitude of this task.
Far too much concentration has been put upon this vast though desirable task, and far too little on keeping British prestige alive in the Middle East—because, paradoxically enough, the very thing that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to bring about, an improvement in the standard of living, can be brought about only if our prestige and influence with the Governments in the Middle East are high. If our prestige disappears, are we going to influence the Persian Government or the Egyptian Government or the pashas to be very provident and to look after the fellaheen and others better? The only land where there has been a marked rise in the standard of living in the Middle East is the Sudan, where British influence and prestige are greatest.
§ Brigadier Head
Turkey—that, of course, was largely through a dictatorship, 1007 and I think that hon. Members would agree that that is a method on which we in this House are not particularly keen. We have not interfered in Turkish affairs very much. I am saying that we have let go or tended to depreciate British prestige, which constitutes the one method of getting that which hon. Members desire so much. In these last six years something which has been built up laboriously year after year in the past has been dissipated at a really astonishing speed.
Nations are not unlike individuals where the summing up and assessing of policies and the characters of others are concerned. The "buzz goes round"—to use a colloquialism—in the Middle East about what can and cannot be done about Britain. If the hon. Member for Coventry, East, and I had been at school together, suppose I had heard that if I caused any trouble to him or got up to any nonsense with him he would turn out to be a very tough type, though fair; then probably I should have left him alone.
But suppose that I was told that not only would he do nothing if I kicked his backside—I apologise, Sir—not only would there be no reprisal, but that he would be likely to give me a piece of toffee as well, then, doubtless the hon. Member for Coventry, East, would know exactly what to expect and very often too. That is exactly and precisely the case in the Middle East. The Egyptians have come along and kicked us where I said; and what did the Government do? They turned round and gave them a bit of toffee—that is to say a very, very, satisfactory settlement of the sterling balances.
What I say to hon. Members is that this method of acting is extremely catching, and now in the Middle East they see that Britain's prestige is on the down and down, and they say, "You can twist the lion's tail and get away with it. Let us be in on this." It is that state of affairs which has developed in the last six years, which is the root cause of the Persian problem. It has grown up during these years. It is not a sudden phenomenon or a bit of bad luck. It is the logical continuation and result of six years of weakness.
§ Brigadier Head
I say the last six years. The hon. Gentleman says 15; but, as he himself said—and it is very nice to be able to agree with him—if some settlement could have been arranged between the Persians and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company two or three years ago, it would have been worth 50 times the arrangements which are now being sought.
There has been, in my opinion, so far as Persia is concerned, a lack of foresight, and a lack of liaison between the Foreign Office, the Treasury and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and a very great lack of contact on general policy between us and America. This situation was easily foreseeable. Had the Persians known that we and America would have stood as closely together as we do now, I doubt very much whether this would ever have happened.
One month ago we had a debate in this House about Persia. I do not believe that in the short time I have been a Member of this House I have seen more unanimity in the House on this particular question. There was the exception of the hon. Member for Coventry, East, but speaker after speaker on both sides got up and said, "We must stay in Persia. Evacuation would be disastrous." Members on both sides said so.
§ Brigadier Head
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman really meant, although I have read his speech three or four times. However, my impression is that there was unanimity about this matter. Then at the end of that debate we listened to what I considered the most lamentable speech by a Foreign Secretary I have ever heard.
Subsequently, in the light of the unanimity of this House, that we must stay in Persia, and that evacuation would be disastrous—and there was a most eloquent speech from the other side of the House about that subject—in the light of that, the Foreign Secretary made a statement to the House that I must quote. Hon. Members accuse me and others of being warmongers, but this is what the Foreign Secretary said:At all events, it is clear that conditions are becoming intolerable.That is, conditions in Persia.Our attitude remains the same. The Company has no desire to withdraw from an in- 1009 dusty which it has built and brought into a high state of efficiency. Yet this, with all the disastrous consequences to Persia that would ensue, is what the Persian Government appear bent on forcing the Company to do."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th July, 1951; Vol. 489, c. 2508.]I repeat, "…the. Persian Government appear bent on forcing the Government to do."
That, in my opinion, is about as disastrous a statement as could have been made. What does it do? First, it has the effect of saying to the hard-pressed, unfortunate employees of the Company, out there in the boiling sun and subject to Persian insults, that if the state of affairs gets much worse we shall move out. If one is in a very difficult position and, as it were, holding a last-man, last-ditch, position, any talk of evacuation is always disastrous to the morale of the people concerned. The second effect of the statement is to encourage the Persians to say, "One more heave and they are out." It suggests to the agitators and the Persians in the oil fields that if they pinch another chap's house or insult one more Briton, we may go. I maintain that that statement was the worst possible statement in the circumstances.
Hon. Members opposite say that we are warmongers, but we did not say in that debate categorically—as the hon. Member for Coventry, East, tried to make out that I said—that we should send troops. What I said most carefully—and I repeat—was that we on this side cannot possibly know whether the troops are available and what the circumstances are or whether it would be a practicable operation. What we said was that we should stand firm, and we submitted that the logical consequence of standing firm might involve the dispatch of troops.
But when we say, "We stand firm," there is no obligation in foreign policy to state the number of troops. Supposing the Foreign Secretary had no intention of sending troops because it was impracticable, or because, for the sake of argument, there were not enough troops, he should still have said, "We stand firm." The Persians do not know that he has got no troops, and by saying that we encourage the oil company, discourage the Persians, and, if you like it, bluff. But to say that we might get out if they push harder is sheer ineptitude. All hon. Members do when we say that we should stand firm is to say that we are the "gunboat policy 1010 boys." Incidentally, while talking about gunboats, I notice that there are nine gunboats outside Abadan now. Apparently it does not seem to matter so long as hon. Members opposite send the gunboats.
§ Brigadier Head
The hon. Gentleman displays the same immense lack of bias that he displays in all these matters.
Frankly, I am getting sick and tired of this long and constant accusation of "warmongers." They all call us warmongers. What is a warmonger? As far as I know, a warmonger is somebody who advocates a policy which, if put into effect, would make a war more likely. That is what I understand a warmonger to be. Now, what is the way in which war is most likely today? What would be the easiest way to encourage, for instance, Russian aggression? I say that Russian aggression will increase by the proportion that our defences are weak, or that there is lack of unity among the Allies, especially between Britain and America.
Now who is advocating no full re-armament drive? Who is making remarks calculated to drive a wedge between Britain and America? The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). If hon. Members opposite want a warmonger to point their fingers at, the logical person is to turn them on to him, and the ragtag and bobtail pack who follow him. They are the warmongers. They say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wood-ford (Mr. Churchill) is a warmonger.
§ Brigadier Head
All I can say is that, if the hon. Gentleman has not said so he is very nearly the only one on his side of the House who has not. This has been their constant theme.
§ Mr. Crossman
Throughout my speech I drew a sharp distinction between the relative sanity of the Leader of the Opposition and the insanity of his hon. Friends on the back benches behind him.
§ Brigadier Head
On this particular occasion the hon. Gentleman may not have said so. Certainly the Minister of Defence called him a "war-horse," which is a new expression.
§ Brigadier Head
Hon. Gentlemen opposite keep calling my right hon. Friend a warmonger, but, when we consider how war comes about, it is worth noticing that when my right hon. Friend was advocating the only sane policy in those dismal years before the war, hon. Members opposite were tramping through the Lobbies against re-armament, and fighting by-elections against re-armament. Yet, it is they who call my right hon. Friend a warmonger. Personally, I think that there is only one real reason for it, and that is votes. That is the only reason for a great many of the contradictory statements that come from the other side of the House. In my opinion, there is nothing more dismal than a party which plays ducks and drakes with the nation's safety in order to gain votes.
I think that in the Middle East now there is still a chance of restoring the situation. If we and America together can bring closer unity between Greece, Turkey and Iraq, and perhaps other Arab countries as well, if we have a tougher and more enlightened policy, if we show some foresight, then I think we may still pull the situation out of the fire. But whether we succeed or not—and pray God we shall—we on this side of the House will never forget that that task has been made so much harder by the lack of foresight and determination of this Government, a failure which, in its long list of blunders, will long remain a classic.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Reid (Swindon)
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) is absent from the Chamber. He was present when I came in, and I want to make a few remarks about his speech, which I consider irresponsible and deplorable, and little more than cheap party propaganda. I will take a few of the things he said. It is not pleasant, but I presume he was speaking for his party, and whoever replies for the Opposition can answer some of the points I raise, much against my will. In my opinion, we are living in most serious times; we are dealing with a serious crisis, and the things the right hon. Gentleman brought up today need never have been mentioned. However, as 1012 he has mentioned them, I also must mention them.
He said, perfectly truly, that our position as a nation suffered from weakness owing to the loss of the great and historic Indian Army. We admit that; everyone who has ever lived in the East knows that it is true. The implication of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks is, of course, that we have got rid of the Indian Army by our policy in India. He did not say so. I wish that he would say so, because then we could deal with it.
We have lost the Indian Army because India has got her independence, and giving India her independence is one of the finest things the Labour Government has done. The right hon. Member for Woodford tried to prevent us from giving India independence, and even suggested that we should send troops from Palestine to fight the Indians, to keep them down and rule by force. If the right hon. Gentleman's policy about India had been pursued, we might today not be fighting with the Indian Army on our side, but still fighting the Indian Army. That is a fact, which everyone who has lived with this problem in the East knows.
At the time we were debating the Indian Independence Act, I opposed the right hon. Gentleman's views and said that we might need our forces nearer home rather than have them fighting the Indians, the Burmese and the rest. The right hon. Gentleman is entirely off the rails when he accuses us of the loss of the Indian Army. Thank goodness we are not fighting the Indian Army.
§ Brigadier Smyth (Norwood)
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the conflict between India and Pakistan was inevitable when the Government skedaddled out of India without settling the fate of Kashmir and Hyderabad? It was inevitable that those two countries would come into conflict.
§ Mr. Reid
Different settlements were proposed at the time. The federation of the whole of India was proposed by the Labour Government here, but the Indian parties refused to accept it. I cannot say that the quarrel between India and Pakistan over Kashmir was inevitable. I think I would agree that it was likely. But what would have happened if we had stayed? Would that have solved Indian problems? There would have been blood- 1013 shed between the two parties; we should have been mixed up in it, and our boys would have been killed.
I know that the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows India. So do I, and I can assure him that the people on the spot, including the people who know best of all —the Indian civil servants, who have spent their lives amongst the people and know their religions, their habits, customs and races—advised us to leave as quickly as possible. What the hon. and gallant Gentleman says may be true, but if the Indians and the rest were going to fight it out, our job was to be out of it and not to be mixed up in the bloodshed.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned Palestine, but if there is one person guilty of the mess that resulted from Palestine, it is the right hon. Gentleman himself. He made speeches on this subject in 1920 and 1921—I am speaking from memory, although I think the date is right, because I know this subject backwards—when he said that there was not to be a Jewish State, that we never promised them anything except a Jewish National Home, a home for the Jews in Palestine.
§ Mr. Reid
Let me finish my sentence. The right hon. Gentleman at that time opposed the creation of a Jewish State. He was a Zionist and backed up the Jews. What is the result today? What have we gained even materially from what is happening today in Palestine? We have 900,000 Arab refugees, and a crime has been committed in which the right hon. Gentleman took part when he was Colonial Secretary.
§ Mr. Janner
In fact Members on both sides of the House stated quite categorically, including the right hon. Gentleman, that the ultimate object, was to allow the Jewish people to have a State in Palestine.
§ Mr. Reid
That is quite incorrect. Mr. Lloyd George said that long afterwards. He said that if the Jews should become a majority in Palestine they should then become a State. The whole policy was 1014 iniquitous. It was a blot on the good name of the West, and perhaps the biggest blot of all was on the part of America, who won an election with Jewish support fighting for partition of Palestine, aided and abetted by Russia. We are now reaping the aftermath.
The right hon. Gentleman should never have mentioned Palestine. It has been the cause of frightful friction in the East. The right hon. Gentleman accused us of weakness. He forgot to mention that since the war an immense force has risen to power, namely, the Soviet and its huge army. He says that we were weak. As a matter of fact, we were engaged, and have been since the end of the war, in Greece and in other parts of the world in resisting Soviet Communist imperialism, and therefore we have had to turn our eyes for the moment away from the Falkland Islands and other minor issues. The right hon. Gentleman knows these things well, but he has to make a propaganda speech.
Then he came along with the question of sterling balances. I want to ask Members of the Opposition a few questions about that subject. When were the sterling balances created? Who made the arrangements that created the sterling balances? Was it the Labour Government who made an arrangement with India, Ceylon and the rest during the war about how the Indian Army operations, for instance, were to be financed? Was it a Conservative Government or a Coalition Government? Now the right hon. Gentleman says that these sterling balances were spent in saving the countries concerned. That is largely true, but I ask the Opposition, "Do you suggest that we should now repudiate the repayment of sterling balances? If you do not, why try to make party capital out of the sterling balances arranged by yourselves and the Coalition Government?" All this makes me sick.
We have to pay back the sterling balances if only for the rehabilitation of backward areas. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, I think, are in favour of spending money for the rehabilitation of the backward areas. If they are not, I hope that they will deny it. Are we to go to these backward countries and say, "Give up your sterling balances; we will not pay them in full but will give you hundreds of millions of money under the Colombo Plan?" What are the sterling balances 1015 due now from India and Ceylon? Instead of giving them the money, we are giving them hundreds of millions out of the sterling balances. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite before I leave this subject, "Do the Opposition repudiate repayment of the sterling balances?" If not, we say, "Hold your peace."
It is a curious coincidence that about three years ago the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) and I spoke one after the other about the Middle East. He knows the Middle East and I know it, too. I remember that on that occasion he stressed the danger of the Middle East and the need for some sort of pact to protect the Middle East. I backed him up. Anyone who knows the strategic position there should realise the immense danger to the West and the opportunity for Soviet imperialism if the Middle East is not defended. We had not the means to defend it. Stalin has seen that we stretched our resources from Korea to Hong Kong, to Malaya and the rest, and that is extremely dangerous.
I wish to say to some of my friends in the Arab countries—and I have some friends there—and to the Persians and others from Syria to the Timor Sea that they are living in a state of unprecedented peril. To the north of them, and on all sides are the countries of Soviet imperialism and in their midst are the Communist parties, in Persia the Tudeh Party, for instance.
I would ask these people in the Middle East a simple question: "Why has not Communist imperialism attacked you already by force?" I asked one of them the other day. He said, "We are too far away and they would have to come a long way." At last I forced him to answer. I said, "The real reason is that you, like ourselves, are being defended by the North-Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and without that you would not exist for a week." In the end, he was bound to admit that was so; and that is what is going on.
In these countries—I will take Persia first—they are disgracing themselves by repudiating the contract made with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and secondly they are fiddling while Rome is burning. They have on the borders the Soviet power which is only kept off by the forces of the North Atlantic Treaty 1016 Organisation. They are endangering their country by this attempt at confiscation of the property of their protectors. All these countries want capital to be pumped in and European enterprise. Who is going to sink capital in these countries after what has happened in Burma and is now happening in Persia? These people are behaving like children. They are ruining themselves and trying to ruin the world, which is trying to back them up against Communist imperialism.
This reckless conduct is happening not only in Persia but everywhere in many countries, except perhaps in Ceylon. We have in India people fighting about Kashmir, and all the time the great Indian and Pakistan armies are facing each other in Kashmir, though Soviet troops are on the border. Even if they cannot settle this question of Kashmir now, they should refer it to arbitration, settle it somehow and join forces with the West to prevent the whole of India and Pakistan from being gobbled up by Russia. There is parochialism everywhere and at the back of their minds is this idea: "We may fight between ourselves and behave parochially, but in the end the Western Powers will protect us from Russia." That is at the back of their heads the whole time, and it may prove to be quite a fallacious theory of security.
In contrast with these States which are not lifting a hand to join the West and save themselves and us from conquest by Communist Imperialism, there are at least two exceptions—Turkey and Greece. I know these countries well, especially Turkey. I say to my Turkish friends that, however poor the country's people may be and the difficulties they may be in, they have the morale, and we can depend upon them. In Greece there is a lot of political friction, but the Greeks are ready to fight. I commend the example of Turkey and Greece to the people further East who are squabbling over domestic politics and other things, and who should do their best, even with their limited means, to set up a united force and pledge themselves to join the West in the attempt to save the civilisation of the world.
I do not agree very much with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), but there was one thing which he said with 1017 which I do agree. There is a lot of talk now about the rehabilitation of the backward areas. But political problems have to be settled before real success can be achieved. I very much doubt if the people who talk about such things realise the colossal and enormous difficulties ahead. Take the system of Mushaa land tenure in Palestine. How can anything be done as long as there are people who occupy a piece of ground for two years and then hand it over to someone else? Take the Zemindar system in India or the landlord system in any country in the Far East. Unless one can get some unoccupied crown or public land, it may take years to do anything. There are immense difficulties of that kind.
Again, those who have read the report of the Colombo Plan will note the proposal to spend £2,000 million on sound wealth producing schemes in the East. The authors say that if the schemes are carried out in six years there will be produced enough wealth to meet the increase in the population in the meantime. I would say to my hon. Friends in the East that there is no use in going on expecting the Powers of the West to spend their blood and treasure in saving them and also, in supplying their vast economic needs.
We have 65 million people in our Colonies, excluding the Protectorates, and there are hundreds of millions of others in need. The people of the West cannot provide the necessities of life or even prevent starvation in those countries of the East and of Africa. There has got to be a social revolution there, and I say to my friends of the East that they must introduce some form of birth control. If they do not, nothing can save them. Mr. Nehru himself has said so; so I can do the same.
I have said perhaps some blunt things to my friends in the East, especially my Arab friends. One day I was talking to an Arab and saying things such as I have been mentioning today. He told me that they had an Arab proverb which said that if a friend threw stones at them the stones became pomegranates. I find that the people in the Middle East do not object to being told the truth bluntly. Those whom they despise are the people who do not tell them the truth.
1018 My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East, made several recommendations, one of which was to merge Jordan and Iraq in a greater Syria. He suggested that we should do it, but I say we should do nothing of the kind. That is an entirely wrong approach. The people out there have got to do it. When I came back from Palestine in 1938, my advice was that the only way we could solve the whole Jewish problem was to merge Palestine, Iraq and Syria in la State. If that could be done, there would be a State with room for all. I therefore agree with my hon. Friend's suggestion, but what I object to is telling these people in the East that we must do it. They must do it, and the responsibility must be on them. If they will not save themselves, nobody else can.
I want to say one word about the confiscation of the oil refinery at Abadan. I do not know all the facts, but I was in entire agreement with His Majesty's Government in not rushing into arms straight away on a ticklish problem like this, apart altogether from the fact that once military operations are started in that part of the world the Lord alone knows where they may end.
Therefore, I appreciate the efforts of the Foreign Secretary to go cautiously and to see if peace and justice cannot be secured by negotiation. I think they can. I hope they can. I do not think the Persians are so demented that they are going to ruin themselves so long as they see we are not going to kowtow to everything they demand. I sincerely hope that, whatever happens about the negotiations and the risks that have to be taken, we will not surrender the oil company or Abadan.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Preston, North)
I should like at the outset to join in the last sentiment expressed by the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid). There is an increasing feeling on both sides of the House that whatever happens we must never abandon British lives or British installations in Abadan.
Most of us have received with satisfaction the news that there is a prospect of resuming negotiations on a civilised basis with the Persian Government. For my part, I have also been very glad to see that this news has been received without any excessive enthusiasm. There is always 1019 a tendency in moments of this kind to jump at the idea of getting any kind of settlement, a tendency against which we must be on our guard. We must be very careful to ensure that any settlement that is reached is consistent, both with British honour and with British interests.
We must take our stand on the ruling laid down by The Hague Court. There can be no question of a satisfactory settlement if we are negotiating under duress. We must also make quite sure that whatever settlement is reached assures the British people of an adequate return on the effort and the outlay which has been made in building up the oil industry in Persia. I have been told that the revenue which accrues to the Treasury from the efforts of the Anglo-Iranian Company amounts to somewhere between £30 million and £40 million a year. The loss of this sum would be equivalent to one groundnut scheme every year.
We have also to take into consideration the possibility that the negotiations will not succeed. If that is the case then it must be the duty of the Government, as has been said by others today, to take all the necessary measures to protect British lives and British installations in Abadan. It is not for us to say, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) has said, by what means we are to achieve this, but all necessary means must be employed, including a resort to force if necessary.
We must, however, be clear that no settlement of our present differences with Persia will by itself restore stability to the Middle East. The Persian crisis is not an isolated phenomenon. It is only another symptom of the decline of British influence throughout the whole of the Middle East. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) has already traced the course of events which has marked that decline—the story of our scuttle from Palestine, and our unhappy relations with Egypt and Iraq. I do not want to repeat this story, but it is against this background of weakness and withdrawal that we must consider recent events in Persia. They do not excuse the actions of Dr. Mossadeq and his colleagues, but they go a long way to explain them.
We must look closer at what the decline of British influence has meant to the 1020 peoples of the Middle East. There cannot be a vacuum in politics, and our place has been taken by factious groups of local leaders, very few of whom have either the experience, or the wisdom, or the power to govern effectively.
Independence has proved a very mixed blessing to the nations of the Middle East. I remember once asking an Egyptian peasant what he thought about it all. He told me in ungrammatical but rather expressive terms what he thought. He said, "Independence good for Pasha, bad for fella. British rule good for fella, bad for Pasha." So long as British influence prevailed in the Middle East there was at least some measure of justice and personal security. Now most of that has gone. In Egypt, even Cromer's law, under which no peasant could be deprived of the last four feddans of his land, has become a dead letter.
It would have been sad enough if the decline of British influence had only led to an extension of the area of misgovernment; but its consequences have been more sinister. Misgovernment breeds discontent, and, to divert the wrath of the people from their own misgovernment, the ruling groups in the Middle East have often found it tempting to make the foreigner, particularly the British, a scapegoat for all ills.
They have deliberately encouraged zenophobia, and, in this process, have unleashed terrorist forces which they can no longer control. For six years now, the whole Middle East has been in the grip of an epidemic of terrorism. The list of assassinations and attempted assassinations is formidable. At least a dozen of the leading men of Syria. Egypt, the Lebanon, Jordan and Persia have been struck down. Many of those men were our friends: Ahmed Maher and Amin Osman, in Egypt, General Razmara in Persia. the late Prime Minister of the Lebanon and, most grievous of all, our ally King Abdullah.
Nor is the influence of terrorism to be measured only by its victims. We are told that in Persia the moderate elements dare not raise their voice. The situation is not very different in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. In all of those countries our friends go in fear of their lives. These killings of moderate leaders are not just mad outbursts of fanaticism. They are 1021 acts of deliberate policy and it is very hard to believe that they are not all part of a common design. It is certainly easy enough to see whose interests are served. Communism, as such, is still a very weak force in the Middle East, but for some years it has been Soviet policy in that part of the world to penetrate and to work through extremist and terrorist organisations.
But Soviet policy is not the only or even the chief cause of terrorism. We have to recognise that there is another. We British have taught the Middle Eastern peoples that terrorism pays. It is a lesson which they have learned only too well. The other day we passed in this House a solemn Motion deploring the assassination of King Abdullah. It was very right that we should, but I wonder how many of us realised that the real responsibility for King Abdullah's death lies here, in Whitehall. King Abdullah was killed because he was a friend of Britain, and because the peoples of the Middle East no longer believe that Britain can or will protect her friends.
In the context of the present international situation, stability can only return to the Middle East by a build-up of British military power. I agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat; it is no good drooling away about Point Four or the development of backward areas by themselves. We may buy off Dr. Mossadeq for a time with promises of help for his seven-year plan, but until we have built up military power in the Middle East we shall have settled nothing.
For this purpose we must have an adequate base. Egypt alone possesses the natural advantages which are required for this purpose. It is sufficiently far removed from the potential military front. It has the harbours, the airfields, the communications and the labour force that can sustain a major military operation. For six years the Government have sought to conciliate the Egyptian regime. Seldom in history has good will been so ill requited, but though we may not win the favour of the rulers of Egypt we may still win their respect. It is high time that we turned our backs on any attempt to appease the 1022 Egyptian Government. I am glad to hear the Foreign Secretary indicate that we have no intention of withdrawing our troops from the Canal zone.
I hope that he will also take a strong line to ensure a free passage for our tankers through the Suez Canal. Here, I feel bound to say that it was a great mistake to leave it to Israel to raise this question in the Security Council. The issue is not primarily one between Arabs and Jews. Nor should we allow, still less encourage, issues to be raised which will increase the tension between those two races. In this matter of the Suez Canal, British rights and British interests are at stake far more than those of Israel. It is the British Government which should have brought the matter to the attention of the Security Council if, indeed, that is the right way to raise it at all.
There must be an end to the wholly artificial state of war between Israel and the Arab countries. We should not be afraid to apply very strong pressure to both sides to achieve this end. Of the issues at stake only two, I believe, are serious. There is, first, the question of Arab refugees. Something must be done, and done urgently, to resettle these victims of the war. We should make a greater effort than the Foreign Secretary indicates that we are prepared to make at the present time. After all, there never would have been a war if we had not run away from our responsibilities in Palestine. It is also important for the future peace of the Middle East that Israel should make a contribution to their resettlement. Her finances are already strained, but we should be prepared, either directly or through the International Bank, to help her raise a loan for this purpose.
The other important issue that stands in the way of a settlement is one of confidence. Neither the Arabs nor the Jews trust the other's signature. There must be an international guarantee that the terms of any eventual peace treaty will be upheld. There must also be evidence of British strength in the Middle East to ensure that such a guarantee will, if necessary, be enforced. I am glad that the Government have at last overcome their former hostility to the new State of Israel.
1023 Relations with Israel seem to have become more normal. I trust that we shall try to make them something closer. We have very good friends, and have had in the past, among the Jews in Palestine. We have also had some bitter enemies. In the past we made the mistake of refusing to our friends what we afterwards conceded in much greater measure to our enemies. I hope that we shall not make the same mistake again.
Today, our friends are predominant in Israel. But everything out there is still in the making. Whether the new State will prove to be a stabilising and progressive influence, as Lord Balfour hoped, or whether it will be the disruptive force its enemies have feared, will very largely depend upon the support and understanding which our friends there receive from this country in these formative years.
The outlook for the Arab world is vague and uncertain. The vacuum which France left in Syria has never been filled, and with King Abdullah's death even the future of Jordan is in question. I hope that we shall do everything possible to strengthen the Arab Legion and to reinforce our bases in Iraq. I also believe that it would be wise to break finally with the bankrupt conception of the Arab League and to pursue instead the far more constructive and practical alternative, which was also King Abdullah's policy, of closer association between Iraq, Jordan, and Syria.
British influence in the Middle East must always rest on something more than military bases. This has always been the case. The work of Milner and Cromer in Egypt, of Cox in Iraq, and of the British Administration in Palestine, meant, in their time, an extension of security and of social and economic reform to those countries. We have to go on in that way. We have to prove to the peoples of the Middle East that we are their friends. The Government might be well advised to take the initiative in suggesting the formation of some kind of O.E.E.C. for the Middle Eastern countries, an organisation in which Britain, France and Turkey might also take part and with which, I hope, the United States would be associated.
By its very nature, the work of such an organisation must be of a long-term 1024 character, but the immediate and urgent task is to build up a situation of strength for regional defence. I have already spoken of the need to build up British bases in Egypt. I do not see how, even in peace-time our Forces in that part of the world can be much fewer than three or four divisions strong. We must be able to reinforce those troops both from home and from the Commonwealth and Empire. I hope that the Commonwealth conference which took place some weeks ago resulted in concrete decisions which will help in that direction.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Does the hon. Gentleman advocate the permanent posting of three or four divisions in the Middle East? Does he hold the view that these divisions should be taken from Germany, or would he lengthen the period of National Service in order to get the extra divisions?
§ Mr. Amery
Yes. We could also get more colonial troops There are other ways in which such troops could be raised.
We all welcome the Foreign Secretary's decision to support the extension of the Atlantic Pact to Greece and Turkey. We all want also to see the building up of a joint Middle Eastern defence force and defence command. It is not practicable to suppose that the defence of Turkey could be organised from General Eisenhower's headquarters in Paris. We should long since have formed a joint Allied command for the defence of the Middle East, a command which should rest primarily on the British Forces in Egypt and the Turkish army, a command within which Israel and the Arab countries could each make their specific contribution.
I hope that France and the United States will also make their contribution to such a command. The French have played a great part in the Middle East in past years. It might well be a good thing that they should be associated with its defence again. Even more important is to receive the support of the United States, but we must not underestimate the 1025 burden which is already laid on the shoulders of the American people. They will help us, no doubt, but in proportion to the effort which we ourselves make. The defence of the Middle East must be primarily a British responsibility.
Events in Persia have thrown a flood of light on the extent of our weakness in the Middle East. Is that light only a warning, or is it the first flame of a conflagration which may spread throughout the region? No one can say. None of us can tell in what circumstances we shall meet again in the autumn. But the Government's duty is plain. They must uphold our rights in Persia. They must work to build up a situation of strength in the Middle East.
The issue at stake is as transcendant as any in history. If Persia were to pass under Soviet control our Turkish allies would be outflanked, Russian submarines would find a base in the Persian Gulf, and what remains of our influence in the Middle East might well be swept away. Yet the Middle East is the backbone of the Commonwealth and Empire. If it goes, the sea and air routes to Australia and India will lie not through the Middle East but through the United States and the Panama Canal.
Let us be clear about it; nothing less is at stake in the Middle East today than the survival of the British Commonwealth and Empire as an independant force in the world.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I am very pleased today to be able to follow my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on a line which is so different from the line taken by his predecessor and those which were adopted by some hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am convinced that the policy to which my right hon. Friend referred and regarded as an important long-term view, and which is apparently being accepted generally this afternoon, is one which can be adopted forthwith and with strength.
Israel has set an example which can well be followed in other parts of the Middle East and which is capable of dealing with a considerable amount of the distress and degradation which prevails in many of the Middle Eastern countries. I believe it is fundamental to the political situation to consider the 1026 desperate need for economic rehabilitation in the Middle East. The Middle East is the victim of centuries of human neglect of natural resources, so that once fertile soil has dried up and become eroded, its water resources have been permitted to stultify into swamps, and the area has degenerated into a liability on the economic resources of the world.
Those of us who have visited the Middle East from time to time know that the standard of life among most of the peoples there is pitifully low. Mass poverty goes hand in hand with an indecent privilege and wealth of the few. Diseases such as tuberculosis, bilhrzia and trachoma are rife among the Arab populations. Anyone who has visited the Middle East cannot fail to have observed the terrible number of blind people of all ages due to the scourge of trachoma.
It has been estimated that two out of every three fellaheen in Egypt are sufferers from the debilitating disease, bilhrzia, which is directly caused by wading in the waters of the Nile. The high incidence of tuberculosis, which is mainly due to over-crowding and malnutrition, is aggravated by such attendant diseases as pellagra and anaemia, and the total of human misery throughout the Near and Middle East should appal civilisation.
I believe that man and soil are closely wedded. Only rehabilitation schemes of bold and adventurous proportions that will irrigate the deserts and raise crops in the barren waste-lands; that will provide power for widespread industrial developments by the provision of hydro-electric plants, and create productive employment for the people; and that will inaugurate extensive medical and relief measures through recognised international agencies can radically bring an improvement of the human situation in the Middle Eastern countries.
The Middle East needs 20th century man with all his scientific and philanthrophic resources, as has been demonstrated—I say it with pride—in the young and growing state of Israel and in the spirit of the Zionist settlers. Time after time in this House I have said that those of us who believed in the Zionist cause were believing in something which was of tremendous advantage to the Middle East and that it was the only means which could possibly help the Middle East out of its difficulties.
1027 I had even hoped at one time, as did Lord Wedgwood and other friends of mine that we should have been able to see established in Palestine a British dominion. Those who attacked the Zionist Movement did not attempt to deal with fundamental issues and they must now realise what a tremendous mistake they made. I do not say that in any party sense, for there were misunderstandings in all parts of the House, but I believe that very many of those who attacked the type of policy which was being advocated by my hon. Friends and myself in this House must now be regretting very seriously the steps they took.
If that policy had been supported in its full effect we should not have had the situation in the Middle East that we have today. I am astonished that there should still be left on this side of the House of all places one hon. Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid), who is still grasping at fantasies which can never be realised. He must know that his proposals can help nobody.
In the days of the Mandate in Palestine Jewish pioneers there demonstrated that hard work, enthusiasm and the imaginative application of scientific methods could make even the dead sands bear fruit. The achievements of those men have become familiar to the world now that the Israel Government are applying their experience to the problem of the reclaiming of large tracts of wastelands. They have declared war on the desert, the one kind of war which the moral sentiments of mankind endorse without reservation.
Let me give an example. One of the most eminent soil experts in the United States visited Palestine in the days of the Mandate, Dr. Walter Lowdermilk. Our own British Government have used him since for research work in the Colonies. Dr. Lowdermilk prepared an irrigation and power scheme that would bring incalculable benefit not only to Israel, but also to Syria and Transjordan. This scheme would divert the sweet waters of the Upper Jordan and its tributaries into a network of irrigation canals and would compensate the Dead Sea for the loss of these waters by introducing sea water from the Mediterranean. As the sea water dropped into the river it would create an effective fall of almost 1,300 feet for the development of hydro-electric power.
1028 The scheme envisages the drainage of the Huleh swamps, potentially one of the most fertile areas of the land, but at present a breeding ground for mosquitoes and the most heavily malarial district in the entire region. The supply of cheap and abundant power would make it possible to exploit the mineral resources of the Dead Sea and would help in establishing an extensive new range of industries. The Jordan Valley scheme should not cause envy among the neighbours of Israel. It should stimulate other countries to tackle their own desert areas.
Who can estimate the rich benefits for the Middle East that would result from a scientific exploitation of the waters of the Nile, for example? And one must not overlook the possibilities that could be uncovered by hydraulic drilling for new water resources. For instance, it has been suggested that a great subterranean lake may lie under the Sahara that may one day cause that terrible desert to blossom, and similar hidden water resources may well exist in the Middle East waiting to be surveyed and mapped.
The tragedy of this situation is that such eminently desirable works of peace as these could have been hindered by petty nationalism, as was seen in the recent Syrian opposition to the drainage of the Huleh basin by Israel. Some hon. Members actually supported the miserable attack made on the efforts of the people endeavouring to clear that swamp so that this malaria infested area might be cleaned up. Their only excuse for intervening was that there were a few acres of land of that area which happened to belong to Arab owners.
The protest of the Jordan Government against the work carried out by Israel on the Jordan Valley plan was, in my opinion, something which, instead of being commended by hon. Members should have been strongly protested against because, as Dr. Lowdermilk has said, "Such actions turn back the development of mankind." There is too much tendency by Middle East States to centre their policies around the parish pump and to neglect the larger interests of the region but also to act contrary to its interests for their own selfish ends.
Consider the attitude of Egypt over the Suez Canal. It is characteristic of this deplorable tendency. In open violation 1029 of Article I of the Suez Canal Convention of 1888, by which she is pledged to keep the Canal always free and open, and of the General Armistice Agreement between Israel and Egypt of 24th February, 1949, which, it was envisaged would put an end to blockade practices, the Egyptian Government has maintained its unwarranted restrictions upon tankers despite the individual protests of 10 maritime nations.
Such an attitude derives directly from the marked determination of that government not to end the state of war with Israel and to encourage its associates on the Arab League to remain hostile to Israel when it would be in the best interests of all the countries concerned and for the world at large that a real and effective peace should be restored to the area.
It is not only a question of the opposition to peace terms. The terms of the armistice were clear. No state of war is legally recognised. On the contrary, the terms of the armistice made it clear that there were pledges against any further active hostility between the parties.
Egypt at one time declared that she was aware of the fact that the armistice agreement was entered into for the purpose of preparing a permanent peace and it is only in recent months that she has attempted to contend that there is a state of war.
It is nonsense for her to break all her obligations in respect of the free passage of vessels through the Suez Canal and to Aqaba, on the excuse that there is a state of war. International agreement and maritime law prohibit her from taking the stand which she does, and which certainly makes it imperatve upon her to obey the behest of the United Nations, of which she is a member.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker (Banbury)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, would he say whether he and his friends support the internationalisation of the oil refineries at Haifa and thereby enable tankers to be allowed through the Canal so that they may make use of those refineries?
§ Mr. Janner
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman misses the point I am trying to make. It is not a question of internationalising the Haifa refineries which is involved. There is a definite and clear 1030 duty upon the Egyptians to allow tankers and other ships to pass through the Suez Canal. There is a duty upon Egypt to allow ships to enter the Gulf of Aqaba, to go to Aqaba or wherever it may be, on their legitimate business. It is wrong that questions of internationalisation should be raised in order to cover Egypt's breach of duty.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker
While I agree with the hon. Gentleman, at the same time, to remove the final objection, would the hon. Gentleman say whether he and his friends support that?
§ Mr. Janner
As my right hon. Friends on the front Bench say, I should like notice of that question. The present position is that the oil refineries are British interests and I am not sure what would be the point of view of my right hon. Friends in regard to any suggestions I might make for internationalising them.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
The hon. Gentleman speaks constantly in this House for the Israelites, and I am not attacking him for that, but he might let us have the answer.
§ Mr. Janner
If the right hon. Gentleman had done me the honour of being here at the start of my speech, he would have realised that on these issues I am not speaking in the interests of anybody but Britain. The policy I have always advocated in this House has been to make the position in Palestine one which would be of advantage to the whole world, including Israel and this country. I was referring to the body of people, including the late Lord Wedgwood, who had precisely the same view as myself on these matters.
Today, we can see for ourselves that the re-creation of Israel has done what those of us who advocated that cause always said it would do. There is no question of any part of Israel remaining a desert. One has only to go there to see what is happening. She is taking in literally hundreds of thousands of people who are fleeing from oppression in other places, and is rehabilitating them. If the Arab world would do the same as Israel, they would be able to do something prac- 1031 tical for refugees, instead of keeping them on the borders as a political pawn to play with from time to time.
Having seen what persecution has meant I should be the last person in the world to see anybody suffer by being deprived of the ordinary needs of life. Indeed, I need not refer to the terrible things that happened to many of those who have had to seek refuge in Israel. I say to the House that we must look at this realistically. It is ridiculous to ask that the Arab refugees should be returned into Israel at the present time. Look at the assassinations that are taking place. How can Israel possibly bring into its borders people whom it has to vet so meticulously? It has to vet every person who comes back in.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)rose—
§ Mr. Janner
I am sorry, I cannot give way. I have done so several times already and I have taken more time than I desired to take.
§ Mr. Speaker
I deprecate too many interruptions. We have exactly one hour remaining before the final speeches start.
§ Mr. Janner
I do not want to use more time than is necessary, and I have been talking merely on those matters on which I have some knowledge.
In conclusion, it seems to me that the solution of all problems in the Middle East will depend upon co-operation between the Middle Eastern countries. That co-operation should cover economic development; and in the political and military field, their actions should not be directed against somebody else, but for the common security and for the common collaboration of all countries in the area.
At present the Arab Governments are persisting in their policy in refusing to transform the armistice into permanent peace settlement. We in Britain want to encourage as much as we can the developing of the armistice into a peace treaty, and we should not put any bars in the way of that. We should realise that so far as Israel is concerned, she is prepared to do all she possibly can—and it is to her and the Arab countries' advantage to do so to create a peaceful settlement.
1032 Instead of our stirring up trouble by taking actions which are not clearly understandable, we should do all that we possibly can to produce peace between the two sides. If we throw ourselves into a real determination to bring about peace, and rehabilitation in the Middle East we shall have done something not only for the Middle East, not only for the Arab States, but for the world as a whole.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Fitzroy Maclean (Lancaster)
In a broadcast the other day, the Prime Minister went back to the Battle of Waterloo to prove how wicked the Tories were. I have had to go back a couple of thousand years before that to find a parallel for Socialist stubbornness. stupidity and lack of foresight. In the tragedies of the ancient Greeks, the principal character is always the last to foresee the disasters which ultimately overtake him. The other characters and the audience always see what is coming to him long before he does, but he blunders on blindly to meet his fate.
That, it seems to me, is exactly the position of the present Government. It is rather like "Twenty Questions"—everybody knows the answer long before the people principally concerned. Everybody saw ages ago that the Government were heading for trouble. Everybody warned them, but in spite of these warnings they persisted in their foolish muddle-headed course, and now, of course, their follies are coming home to roost at the most alarming rate, and nowhere more than in the Middle East.
To grasp just how disastrous the Government's conduct of affairs has been, we have to go back a full six years to the summer of 1945. At that time, our position in the Middle East was one of great strength. Alamein and our other wartime victories had brought us immense prestige—and then there was a change of Government. The mournful notes of "The Red Flag" resounded in the Chamber. Once again, one is reminded of a Greek tragedy. In the opening scene, everything is for the best. Then comes the first warning of trouble ahead, and from then onwards things go from bad to worse.
Looking back, it seems strange now to recall that six years ago the Labour Government actually had a foreign policy. But they had. It was a Labour foreign 1033 policy, a Socialist foreign policy, an ideological foreign policy. It was framed very largely by Mr. Zilliacus, the former Member for Gateshead, and it was summed up by the late Foreign Secretary, when he said in 1945:Left will talk to Left in comradeship and confidence.In other words, it was based on the principle that a Socialist Government in this country should have close and intimate relations with Communist Russia, and distant and distrustful relations with capitalist America.
It seems extraordinary, looking back, that even the silliest of Socialists should have believed that such a policy was practicable. For one thing, one would have thought that they would have known enough about the Russians and about Communism to realise what was their attitude towards them. One would have thought that they would have remembered what Lenin said when he was asked whether he and his friends would support the British Labour party:We will support them "—he said—as the rope supports the hanged man.Of course, it very soon turned out that the comradeship and confidence were all on one side. Hon. Members opposite regarded the Russians with sympathy and admiration, but the Russians regarded them with nothing but contempt.
Nor was it possible in practice for the Government to be quite as offhand with the Americans as they had hoped to be, for the simple reason that they very soon found out that the only way in which they could hope to finance their famous Socialist experiment was with good capitalist dollars from the United States. In other words, their Socialist foreign policy was no good.
And so what did the Government do? They sacked Mr. Zilliacus. [Laughter.] It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to laugh, but six years ago Mr. Zilliacus played a very important part in the Government's foreign policy. They did not treat him as such a joke then. When he was sacked, the Government accused him, the architect of their foreign policy, of being deviationist, but of course what really happened was that the Labour Party had deviated from Zilliacus and not Zilliacus from the Labour Party. Looking back.
1034 I must admit that there were some hon. Members opposite who were honest enough to admit that at the time and to point it out. But even though for a year or two now Mr. Zilliacus's political body has been mouldering in the grave, his soul has gone marching on. His ghost has been very difficult to lay. Not only has it hovered round the lunatic fringe of the party opposite; at times, it has even haunted the innermost meetings of the Cabinet. It is always looming up.
Of the old policy, three things have remained; three things have gone on hanging about in the air like a bad smell. The first is an unhappy love for the Soviet Union, a nostalgia for what many Socialists long regarded as their spiritual home: a hankering which the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) once diagnosed in an interesting article as the "Russia complex." Sometimes one is rather inclined to say to him, "Physician, heal thyself."
Secondly, the party opposite, while accepting American dollars by the sackful, have never really been able to get over their dislike for the American capitalists who provide them—" shabby moneylenders," in the vivid phrase of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman).
§ Mr. Maclean
This all has a lot to do with the Middle East; it provides the background for the Government's foreign policy.
Finally, at the back of the minds of a great many hon. Members opposite—and sometimes not very far back—there lurks another prejudice, a prejudice against the British Empire and the feeling that the Empire is something shameful and something which, in the picturesque Left-wing phrase of Sir Stafford Cripps, should be liquidated. Of course, that has not been a very happy psychological background to the conduct of our affairs. It has led to all kinds of things—to half-hearted appeasement of Russia and her satellites, to constant misunderstandings with America, and to a progressive weakening of our position throughout the world.
I said that in 1945 our position in the Middle East was one of great strength. Since then, in so far as we have had a 1035 policy at all, it has been one of withdrawal and abdication and a refusal to accept our responsibilities. Everywhere we have pulled out prematurely, letting down our friends and leaving those who looked to us for a lead to sort out affairs as best they could. Everywhere the result has been the same, chaos and bloodshed—chaos and bloodshed in India, where, in the space of a few weeks, more people were killed than in two centuries of British rule, and in the Middle East where the Government attained the remarkable feat of earning the hatred and contempt of Arabs and Jews alike. Above all, our Middle East defences have been so weakened that today they no longer serve to encourage our friends nor to deter our enemies.
The result has been to produce throughout the whole area uncertainty, disorder and disunion—in other words, a power vacuum. A power vacuum, like every other vacuum, is something which offends Nature and is bound to be filled. If one is created right up against an expanding aggressive Power like the Soviet Union, there is little doubt who will fill it. Russia is as much an Asiatic as a European Power, and every time she has been blocked in the West she has turned Eastwards. For a century or two the Dardanelles and the Persian Gulf have been traditional targets of Russian expansion, and they remain so today. Let us make no mistake about that.
That is the background to everything that is happening in the Middle East. That is the real danger of which we must never lose sight. Fifty years ago Russia was checked in her progress by the knowledge that if she went any further she would encounter the embattled might of the British Empire. What is to stop her now? Very little indeed. I recently spent a couple of months travelling around the Middle East, and I must say that I came back profoundly disturbed by what I saw and heard there. In my view, not one of those countries could stand up to an all-out attack by the overwhelming armour, artillery and air power of the Soviet Union for more than a few weeks, unless they received early and effective help from outside. In other words, if they are to be saved, their salvation must come from the West, 1036 and it is to the West that they are looking for help in the case of Soviet attack.
What are their prospects of receiving such help? In the minds of a great many people in the Middle East I found an uneasy suspicion that for them war would mean occupation by the Red Army followed, with luck, at some future date, by liberation at the hands of the West by when, on all probability, there would be nothing left to liberate. Certainly, when they look round to see where help could come from, the outlook for these potential victims is not very encouraging. There is no American land force, less than a division of British troops in the Canal Zone and only a couple of battalions scattered along the coast of North Africa. That is against scores of Soviet divisions in the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Black Sea and wherever they choose to concentrate them.We regard the Dardanelles,the chief of the Turkish General Staff said to me,as being of great strategic importance. But we do not even know what the Western Powers would do to help us defend them if the Russians attacked them, or even if they would help us to defend them at all.That is not the sort of situation which is conducive to collective security. It is conducive to going off and making the best sort of arrangement one can with the enemy. Fortunately, for us the Turks happen to be an immensely courageous people who would fight by themselves if necessary, as we did. But I think that by our attitude of cold shouldering them as we have done hitherto we have exposed their loyalty to a very severe strain. If there is to be any sort of security in the Middle East, one thing is necessary, strong Western forces—and when I say strong Western forces I include the Commonwealth, America and France—with naval and air support within striking distance of the areas threatened.
Naturally, at this stage we cannot hope to match the Russians division for division, in the Middle East, or anywhere else. What we can do is to have in readiness an effective striking force which can at once come to the help of our Allies if attacked and stop the Russians having it all their own way. It seems to me vital that our Allies should know they can count on that and that the Russians 1037 should know that, wherever they or their satellites strike, they will have the Western Powers to reckon with from the very start. At present they do not know that.
The party opposite, in their speeches in the country—as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) said—are always trying to brand us as "warmongers" or "warhorses." I want to say this. If war breaks out in the near future, the party opposite and the Government will have a very heavy responsibility to bear for their failure to maintain adequate defences. At the present time there is a very real danger that our manifest weakness in the Middle East may tempt the Russians into aggressive action. But if, on the other hand, they come to the conclusion that there is no hope of a quick easy victory for them and that we are as strong as or stronger than they are, they may think twice before starting anything. Our job is to see that they reach that conclusion without any delay. That is what hon. Members opposite ought to try to get into their heads instead of bleating about disarmament and calling us warmongers.
Something was said to me recently which struck me as being very much to the point. It was said by a Moscow-trained Communist, so perhaps its Left-wing origin will commend itself to hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was said to me by Marshal Tito. He said this:Never forget that the only argument the Russians understand is strength. It is the only thing that will deter them. In Western armed strength lies the only hope of preventing a third world war.It appears from the Press that the principal author of that criminally foolish pamphlet, "One Way Only," the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) is at present on holiday in Yugoslavia as the guest of Marshal Tito. Let us hope that his host will take his opportunity to instil into him some grains of commonsense.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
I am trying to follow the hon. Member's argument, but I should like to know what he is suggesting. Is he suggesting that the present re-armament programme is not big enough?
§ Mr. Maclean
I am coming to that point. I am suggesting that the Government, for the last six years, have neg- 1038 lected their duties and failed to build up any sort of proper defence or security system in the Middle East. Fortunately, today there are at last signs of what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has so aptly called "a process of belated conversion to the obvious," and that the Government are at last getting round to the idea that a Middle Eastern defence system is necessary, and that we must now build up on existing positions of strength. But the trouble is that it has been left much too late.
Everywhere in the Middle East what were once positions of strength are rapidly being undermined and becoming positions of weakness. The Egyptians are seeking to drive us out of Egypt. In Jordan the assassination of King Abdullah has not only deprived us of a very good and loyal friend but has removed one of the most potent factors for stability in the Middle East. [An HON. MEMBER: "The hon. Member does not blame us for that? "] As my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) said just now, the Government might well be considered to have a certain responsibility for what has happened. Further East, Pakistan and India are now so divided over the question of Kashmir as to be able to make practically no contribution to the cause of Middle Eastern security.
Finally, there is Persia. We still do not know how things will end there, but one thing is certain—vital issues are at stake which far transcend the question of the oil. The gravest danger of all from our point of view and that of the free world is that Persia should fall under the domination of Russia. The present Persian Government completely lack stability. They are not representative of the Persian people as a whole but of a small corrupt ruling class. The egregious Mr. Makki yesterday called us "bloodsuckers." If anything describes the present ruling class in Persia, it is just that term, "bloodsuckers."
The Persian Government can depend on the loyalty neither of the Army nor the Civil Service. They are short of cash and they are at the mercy of a bunch of ruthless extremists who have already made short work of one Prime Minister. And of course, a little group of extremists can make life very difficult for a Prime Minister, as the right hon. 1039 Gentleman well knows. What it comes to is that if the Persian Government persist in their present course, if they drive out the oil company they will be killing the goose that lays the golden eggs; they will be cutting off their principal source of income, and they will be signing their own death warrant. Because then it will be only a question of time before that unfortunate country is plunged into complete and utter chaos.
Once that happens the next stage follows automatically. There is in Persia today only one really strong, efficient, well-organised force, the Communists, who take their orders from the Russian Embassy. If Persia is plunged into chaos, the Communists will take over. That will mean that in a very short time Persia will become a Soviet satellite. It will mean that Russia, without moving a single soldier, will have achieved what has been one of her important strategic aims through the centuries.
That is a possibility that we cannot afford to contemplate. If Persia, from the Caspian to the Shatt el Arab, were to fall under Soviet domination, it would disrupt our whole position in the Middle East. One country after another would follow the same way. Our flank would be turned. It would only be a question of time before the whole of Asia went the same way, with all the Foreign Secretary's schemes for entomology, basic statistics, waterworks and the rest. It would be the beginning of the end.
Some hon. Members may have read recently an article by the well-known Soviet publicist, Mr. Troyanovski, explaining how easily it should be for East and West to get along together. I hope that hon. Members were not taken in by it. I have been looking at an earlier article by Mr. Troyanovski on another aspect of the same subject. This is what he wrote then:India is our principal objective. Persia is the only path open to India. The Persian revolution is the key to the revolution of all the Orient, just as Egypt and the Suez Canal are the key to British domination of the Orient. Persia is the Suez Canal of the revolution. Persia must be ours.That is Mr. Troyanovski in another vein.
§ Mr. Maclean
In 1918. They stated their policy and they stuck to it, unlike some people. If proof were wanted that they meant what they said, one has only to see what is happening now. I wonder that that has escaped the hon. Member.
What conclusion can we draw from all this? Only one conclusion can be drawn, and it has already been drawn, with his immense authority, by the Leader of the Opposition. It is, of course, that we have to stay in Persia. We have to maintain our position and interests there. We have to uphold the decision of The Hague Court. Above all, we have to ensure at all costs that Persia does not fall under Russian domination.
It seems that negotiations may shortly be re-opened with the Persian Government. I hope that, if so, the Government will tread very warily. I hope, in the first place, that they will not agree to negotiate while the Persians are still ill-treating our people in Persia as disgracefully as they are at present. That would be to negotiate under duress. I hope too that they will not accept any old settlement that they are offered simply for the sake of getting a settlement.
I should like to hear the Government make their position clear in advance—much clearer than they have hitherto made it, certainly much clearer than the Foreign Secretary made it in his speech. I should like to hear the Prime Minister, when he winds up the debate, state specifically that in all circumstances we intend to stay in South Persia, and that the Government will protect British lives and interests there by all the means at their disposal. If that object can be achieved by negotiation, so much the better.
I hope that he will make it equally clear that we intend to stay in Egypt. I think that on both sides of the House, and certainly in the country, there is a feeling that the Government have been deplorably weak in their dealings with the Egyptian Government; a feeling that it is high time we stopped letting the Egyptians kick us around. It is a feeling, I may say, which is particularly strong amongst people who were in Egypt during the war and know that country and its inhabitants at first hand.
I should like to see the Prime Minister do three things: first, reaffirm our Treaty right to maintain a British garrison in 1041 the Canal zone; second, take all necessary measures to restore the free passage of shipping through the Suez Canal; third, make clear our determination not to leave the Sudan until such time as the Sudanese people can freely determine their own destiny.
It may be argued that it would be dangerous to take such a tough line at the present time. Perhaps. But then under existing circumstances, in the straits we are in, any course is bound to involve certain dangers. And the most dangerous course of all is to let things drift—do nothing at all—as the Government have done up to the present.
It is the old story of the Sibylline Books: the longer you wait the higher the price you pay. If the Government had listened to our warnings over the past six years—[Interruption.] I can say that on the rare occasions when I have been fortunate to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, or that of Mr. Speaker, I have almost invariably dealt with this subject in very much the same terms as today. I do not expect hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to listen to me but they might at least listen to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, who have said exactly the same over the same period.
If the Government had listened to our warning over the past six years, if they had had a firm and coherent policy, if they had not neglected our defences, if they had maintained better and closer relations with America, this whole situation might never have arisen. But they did not, and it has. And if it comes to war, they will have a very heavy responsibility to bear.
I do not myself believe that even now the risk involved is overwhelming. I do not think that even if our troops should be obliged to occupy Abadan they would meet with any serious resistance from the Persians; in fact, from what I know of Persia I think a great many Persians would welcome them. Nor do I think that we would find ourselves involved in hostilities with Russia. I do not believe that the Russians would seek battle with us unless they had already decided that the moment had come when it suited them to provoke a third world war. And if they have decided that, we shall get a third world war anyhow.
1042 I believe that if we stand up for our rights, if we take steps to protect our legitimate interests, if we make it clear to all concerned, our friends and enemies, that we really mean business, then it will not increase the tension, it will relieve it; it will not increase the risk of war, it will reduce it. But if we drift, as we have done hitherto, then I do not see how disaster can be avoided for us and for the rest of the free world.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
I am a sincere admirer of the author of "Eastern Approaches" and therefore it is with all friendliness that I say to the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. F. Maclean), "When you come to the House do not come with a lot of party cracks written out." They sound dreadful when read out and they detract from the very valuable contribution which the hon. Member can make. This is not an occasion for party cracks at all. Both parties supported the policy of Mr. Ernest Bevin in the Middle East. I thought that policy was wrong. I still think it wrong, but the two main parties were agreed.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, in opening the debate, referred to the great changes which have come about in the Middle East. I believe that the real trouble is that there has been no substantial change in the Middle East for 500 years. In the Middle East man still lives as he lived 500 years ago. His social organisation is as it was then, and so is his mind. The trouble is that the Middle East has got into a rut of decaying feudalism from which it has been unable to extricate itself.
I do not think that we shall understand Middle Eastern problems so long as we go on judging them by reference to our European experience. So many things have a reverse significance in the Middle East. If, for instance, one wishes to conceal an intention one's best method is to proclaim it, because then one would certainly be disbelieved. On the other hand, if one wants to reveal an intention one should deny it publicly and whisper it in private, for only whispers are listened to. That seems to me to be the error in the criticism of the Government's statements made by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head).
1043 The hon. and gallant Member said how wrong it was to suggest that we might evacuate Persia. I am not at all certain that the reality of evacuation is not the thing which the Persians most fear. It would put responsibility on them. I am not at all sure that a military landing would not be the one thing which would save Mossadeq by providing him with an excuse to accede to force and escape from responsibility. This is the sort of thing one has to consider here. This is an area in which only the devious appears credible. I have here a copy of a diplomatic correspondent's message in the paper "Al-Mokattam." He says:Britain realised America's imperialist intentions in the Middle East, and, therefore, brought pressure on America first to enter the Korean war, and then to oust MacArthur from his post, thus weakening America on the military and home fronts.That is the kind of nonsense, the sort of devious ideas which make the hypo-thesis of Middle Eastern thought. That is the sort of line on which their minds run when Mr. Harriman goes to negotiate. Again, in the Middle East the advantage of surprise lies with the man who acts simply and directly. When we landed in Normandy our success was largely brought about because Hitler took it as a mask for another landing and did not send in his reserves. If one takes direct action in the Middle East the people there will be always looking for another landing.
The Middle East is an area in which democracy is the instrument of reaction and military dictatorship that of progress. Nationalism in the Middle East is not patriotic. It involves no willingness to serve one's nation let alone to die for it. It is, in fact, simply an expression of zenophobia while nationalisation is simply the theft of the foreigner's goods by a land-owning class that is engaged in the most shocking exploitation of its share-cropping peasants.
It is often said that poverty breeds Communism. Unfortunately, it more often breeds something worse—conservatism. The most conservative populations on earth are the poorest and most hopeless and most oppressed. Communism, or any other form of revolutionary thought, involves at least a sense that man bears some responsibility for 1044 his own destiny. That sense is absent in the Middle East and that is the problem.
The other day I came across a hillbilly story. A Yankee saw a house burning and its owner lying on a bank. He said to the owner, "Hurry, your house is on fire." The man lying on the bank said, "I know it." The Yankee said, "Well, why are you not doing something about it?" The man said, "Oh! But I am. I have been praying for rain ever since it started." That is the attitude of mind of the Middle East. Destiny is no man's affair. It belongs to Allah. Indeed, there are very striking resemblances between the situation in the Middle East and that in the deep South. In both areas one finds an atrophied society.
In the deep South society stopped with slavery and in the Middle East it stopped with feudalism. In both one finds impoverished land and man-made disease. In both one finds share-cropping—the worst method of agriculture in the world because it provides a man with no incentive to put anything back in the land —and degrading poverty. In both areas one finds the same decadent, diseased human beings—the lanky debilitated "poor white" of the South beside whom there is nothing worse save in the Middle East—and the same problem of malnutrition.
In both areas one finds the same savage racial and national intolerance, the same hysterical opposition to any form of reform, the same enforcement of reaction by secret societies—the Muslim Brotherhood and the Ku Klux Klan—the same fundamentalist beliefs—Genesis and the Koran—the same brand of reactionary conservatism, the same copper-bottomed, perfect anti-Communism. The Communist menace in this part of the world of which we have been hearing is, in my submission, a complete bogy. It would require an enormous advance, the sort of advance which Kemal Ataturk effected in Turkey or that Peter the Great imposed on Russia, to create the circumstances in which a Communist danger would arise. We have to cope in this area not with a Communist danger but with conservatism. Our enemy is popular reactionary conservatism coming up from the people.
I ask my right hon. Friend this question: Has the Foreign Office any evi- 1045 dence at all of any Cominform activity anywhere in this area? Is it not a fact that the Cominform have written off this Middle Eastern area as hopelessly arid soil from their point of view? Yet our policy in the Middle East has, I believe, been bedevilled by this futile fear of Communism. We have been propping up reactionary régimes who are our avowed enemies, because we fear that they might be succeeded by non-existent Communists, and I believe that that has been our trouble. We have granted concessions to Farouk which we have denied to Abdullah. We are now considering giving concessions to Mossadeq which we denied to Razmara. The result of this policy is that our friends are dead and our enemies are alive.
In this area we need a new policy—a simple and direct policy, a policy of sustaining our friends and of destroying our enemies. Persia has lived but a century in a world of power politics by exploiting her congenital weakness. She has lived on perpetual appeals to be propped up lest she fall into somebody else's arms. Today, she is threatening to topple into the arms of Russia and the Tudeh Party.
I think it is time that bluff was called. Is there a scrap of real evidence that Russia wants Persia? She did not raise a finger to support the régimes which she had left behind her in Azerbaijan. She left the tribesmen whose land she had enfranchised to be murdered by the army of the absentee landlords of Teheran.
More important still, has Russia done any development on her own in the Baku oil fields since the war? My information is that she has done none at all. I am informed that Russia's oil supplies are not limited at the moment by her oil reserves but by her development capacity, and that her entire development capacity has been used on the Volga and in Siberia. It would appear that at the moment Russia is not interested in any oil which is vulnerably close to her frontiers. All her effort is in the safe areas.
In the last debate we heard a great deal about Russia's treaty right to enter Persia in certain circumstances. I would ask again: Is there any evidence whatever of Russia's intention to do so? Have there been any troop movements of any sort? I am informed that there have been none.
1046 Again, would Persia be of strategic use to Russia? Hon. Members may be interested to hear a German military appreciation. In 1940 the Germans were considering a joint Russo-German attack on Abadan. They came to the conclusion that such an attack could not be delivered through Persia. The communications were impossible. They came to the conclusion that an attack on the Gulf would have to go through a corner of Turkey, through the Syrian Plain and through Iraq. That was the German appreciation in 1940.
Since then there has been some improvement in those communications, but the new roads are carried along viaducts and are appallingly vulnerable to the air. I do not believe that Persia is of strategic use to Russia. Even if Russia had Abadan, she could not defend it against sea power. I ask seriously—because I believe that our Middle Eastern policy has been so bedevilled by these non-existent fears of Communism—is there any evidence that Russia is any less anxious than ourselves not to govern in Persia? Is there, indeed, any evidence that she has shown interest there since the war?
What about the Tudeh Party? It has. some following in Abadan, where the oil company has raised living standards to the point where people have begun to expect something of life. In Teheran it can raise a not very big riot. Is there any evidence that it has any following at all in the peasant areas, still less in the tribal areas? I do not believe that the Tudeh Party exists as a mass party of the Persian nation.
There is only one party in Persia that is capable of government, and that is the army. In Middle Eastern countries armies are political parties. They do not defend their countries or fight foreign enemies. Their solitary attempt to do so in Israel was not very encouraging. They exist for the purpose of exercising internal political power. Reza Shah established dominion over the tribes with an army. That army is still the effective power in Persia, and the Tudeh Party is tolerated so long as it is useful for the purpose of blackmailing us.
When my right hon. Friend negotiates with Mossadeq I would ask him to bear certain things in mind. First, Mossadeq needs an agreement with us far more than, we need one with him. The dagger of 1047 the assassin is at his back and the sword of the army is at his belly. If he is to survive he must have an agreement which, on the one hand, satisfies the extremists and, on the other hand, provides the money necessary to pay the army.
Second, an executive agreement with Mossadeq is worthless; even if he had the will to perform it, he has not the power. The next demagogue would tear it up just as Mossadeq himself tore up the agreement which we came to with Rasmara. If there are to be negotiations there should be parallel and unofficial negotiations with the Shah and the army. No agreement is worth anything with Persia unless it is under-written by the army.
Third, is it desirable to come to an agreement with Mossadeq at all? He has defied the International Court. Is the idea that while Abdullah and Rasmara die, Farouk and Mossadeq live, an idea that should be allowed to take root in the Middle East? Farouk and Mossadeq bear a far larger responsibility for the murders of Abdullah and Rasmara than Zaghoul ever bore for the murder of Lee Slack.
Ought we to negotiate with such people? Should we not remember that their undesirable survival depends on our willingness to negotiate with them? We have it in our power to create for them internal situations which will result in their elimination. Remember—these men have proved themselves not only our enemies, but the enemies of their own people and the whole Middle East. They cannot be appeased, for zenophobia is the basis of their authority and they are unworthy of conciliation. For my part, I believe that if there is, in my right hon. Friend's words, to be a free, stable and secure Middle East, these are two hides that will be required for the council rock.
I have not time to discuss the measures by which we can deal with the Pasha Government in Egypt, but I believe that they are available to us. In Persia, I believe the correct policy is to wait and leave Mossadeq without any money. He may be prepared to let the oil run into the sea, but the army is not prepared to let its pay run into the sea. Its pay is already in arrears. Without money from oil I do not believe Mossadeq can survive for more than a month or two.
1048 I am sure that it would be a mistake to put in troops, not because it would involve fighting with the Persian army, for nobody with whom I have discussed this believes for a moment that the Persian army would fight, but because I believe we ought to force the Persians to clear this up for themselves. If we put in troops that takes away from Mossadeq the responsibility for the mess he is in. We should leave him to bear that responsibility and see how he survives. Meanwhile, we should enter into unofficial negotiations with the Shah and the generals.
In the Middle East we should always have double representation for, as a result of the futility of Middle Eastern democracy, the government generally is powerless. We need unofficial representation with the real power, and in Persia that is the army. The Shah has reformist ideas. He should now know enough to realise that such ideas can only be put into effect by strong military government. We should encourage him in this course. Reform must be imposed in the teeth of reactionary public opinion.
That is the position here. It is no use relying upon evolution. The trouble in this area is precisely that evolution has not acted. They have been in this rut for 500 years and they have to be yanked out of it. That is what Kemal proved in Turkey. Years earlier, in a very similar population, Peter the Great proved it in Russia. It is something of what Abdullah was doing in Jordania.
First, there must be strong central government. Then there must be the economic reforms that only strong government can carry through. Mossadeq and his gang of landlords must be stripped. Share cropping must be brought to an end and the land must be divided. Then, in time, we may create sufficient progressive opinion and found a tolerable democracy. First, autocracy has to do its job. We cannot have a tolerable democracy in the Middle East at the moment which is not completely reactionary. I would urge the Foreign Secretary to be firm, tough and patient, remembering always that an agreement is useless until we can get a Government capable of fulfilling its obligations.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Hopkinson (Taunton)
I shall not attempt to follow the hon. and 1049 learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) into the very novel fields of thought into which he has led us, although I want to say a few words concerning his last remarks about Dr. Mossadeq. Whatever we may think about his obstinacy and his nationalism and his folly, the fact is that he is probably the only defender of the poor existing in Persia. One reason he has sought to nationalise the oil is the campaign which he has conducted, I believe for over 25 years, to try to secure an improvement in the conditions of the poor, and in that sense he is a traitor to his class in Persia, but—
§ Mr. Hopkinson
That may be right. I am talking about what he is aiming at in his policy. I have only a few minutes, and I wish to deal with one point—the Anglo-Egyptian treaty negotiations. These negotiations were launched in great style in 1946 but in the very worst possible way and at the worst possible time. Had the Government, a year before, attempted to put into force the conditions of the 1936 Treaty and arranged for the evacuation of our troops and headquarters from the Citadel and Kasr-el-Nil barracks, from Cairo and Alexandria, to the Canal Zone, the Egyptian pressure for a revision of that Treaty would never have arisen.
As it was, the Government were forced to yield to that pressure and they started those negotiations by making the naive and futile gesture of saying that, whatever the outcome, they intended to take all British troops out of Egypt. Anybody who has ever brought a carpet in the Mousky bazaar in Cairo knows that that is not the way to go about business in the Middle East.
As a result they found themselves at a point in the treaty negotiations where they had reached agreement on every subject except that of the Sudan. On the question of the Sudan they came up against difficulties. The late Foreign Secretary, Mr. Ernest Bevin, made a statement on 27th January, 1947, thatno change should be made in the status of the Sudan…until the Sudanese had been consulted through constitutional channels.He said that he feltthat for the sake of an agreement, which would have been as much in the interests of 1050 the Sudanese as of either of the other parties, I should be justified in alluding in the Sudan Protocol to the existence of a symbolic dynastic union between Egypt and the Sudan, provided always that no change was introduced into the existing system of administration.…"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 617.]His Majesty's Government may have regarded such a phrase as symbolic, but the Egyptian interpretation and the interpretation in the Sudan itself was bound to be that His Majesty's Government intended to concede the union of Egypt with the Sudan without the right of self-government. In due course, as a result of protests made from this side of the House and elsewhere, those negotiations were broken off.
We know nothing about the present negotiations, but we trust that we may get an assurance from the Prime Minister that, with the object of getting a treaty for opportunist or electoral reasons, there will be no concession about the question of sole Egyptian sovereignty. What the Egyptian Under-Secretary said to the Press on 12th June—that the latest British note gave high hopes of solving the Sudan problem—gave us cause for anxiety on this point. The truth is that there is very great doubt as to what is exactly the constitutional position concerning the sovereignty of the Sudan.
The Condominium Agreement of 1899 is by no means clear on the point. have no time to go into it now, but what is quite certain is this—that the Condominium arrangements were continued by Article 11 of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936; and until the Sudanese people themselves decide whether to adopt complete independence, whether they want some form of association with Egypt or some form of union with Egypt, or whether they want the maintenance of the Condominium, it is essential that the present divided or undefined sovereignty of the Sudan should be maintained.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Macmillan (Bromley)
I do not intend at this late stage in the debate to go over the general history of our Middle Eastern policy during the last six years. It is, in our view, a sad story of mismanagement and failure; and, in any case, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition had the melancholy task of reviewing the collapse of those great policies in Palestine, in Arabia and 1051 in Egypt which he has done so much in his long life to build and to sustain. I shall try tonight to confine myself only to the two questions of Egypt and Persia.
Perhaps I may be allowed to say, in passing, with what pleasure it was that we heard from the Foreign Secretary his reference to the admission and adhesion of Turkey and Greece to the general defence system. Those of us on both sides of the House who were at Strasbourg know how keenly our Turkish and Greek colleagues felt on this matter, and I have already had some very happy messages from my Greek and Turkish friends on this important occasion.
Since the war there have been two main points of challenge from Egypt: the first is connected with the 1936 Treaty, the maintenance of British troops in the Canal Zone, and. of course, as part of this question, the future of the Sudan; and the second has resulted from the evacuation of Palestine by Great Britain, leaving a void and a large number of problems unresolved. From this has followed the illegal blockade of the Suez Canal and even of the Red Sea, beginning with the stopping of the tankers and ending with the "incident"—to use the colourless diplomatic phrase—of the "Empire Roach."
The "Empire Roach" was, in our view, proceeding on her lawful occasions, and I think it is a great pity that the Foreign Secretary, in Question and answer, introduced a complication which was inaccurate, meaningless, but none the less dangerous, when he referred to her being in territorial waters. Every international lawyer would surely agree that if a ship is on what is called "innocent passage" she has the same right in territorial waters as on the open sea.
Merchant ships of all nations pass every day within three miles of the Kentish coast on their way to the London docks and to the Thames, but that does not give the British Government any right to stop them or search them in time of peace. So that this absurd distinction—and dangerous distinction—about territorial waters ought to be immediately put aside.
The Egyptians have claimed, presumably under Article 10 of the Suez Convention, which deals with the right of self defence, that the blockade is and has been legal. I have never quite understood the 1052 Government's hesitation on this matter, for passage in peace or in war is guaranteed absolutely under Article 4 of the Convention—the setting up of the Suez Canal Convention.
Yet, during all this time, while our tankers have been illegally held up and while the Haifa refinery has been correspondingly put out of action, the Government have shown a hesitant attitude which I find it impossible to understand, the more so because they cannot be in doubt as to the law, because in the Note of 5th July of this year they referred to the earlier protests—and these are their words—against the illegal and unwarranted interference with the movement of shipping through the Suez Canal.It is true, as has been referred to already, that the question of the blockade is now before the Security Council as part of its relation to the whole armistice convention. It has come up, as has already been said, on the application of Israel, and I understand that the Government have given instructions to Sir Gladwyn Jebb, their representative, to support the protest of the State of Israel. I am very glad of that. However, I think that it would have been very much better, as my right hon. Friend said—better for our prestige, and better, too, for the hope of ultimate reconciliation between Arab and Jew—if this matter had been dealt with on our initiative a long time ago.
So much for that side of this question. Now I come to the Treaty. For a long time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Hopkinson) said, a difficult and inconclusive negotiation has been going on regarding the Treaty, and during a great part of the time of this negotiation the Government of Egypt have openly defied us on the question of the Canal. In the autumn of last year they threatened to abrogate the 1936 Treaty altogether, unilaterally and illegally; and even then the Government were reluctant to take any counter-measures. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition observed, they seem to have an extraordinary capacity for separating related questions in their own minds; and different Government Departments operate, it would seem, almost independently, and without any unifying or coherent theme.
The Ministry of Supply went on supplying arms to Egypt, which blockaded our 1053 ships and threatened to denounce our Treaty rights, and it was only a revolt of some hon. Members of their own party—and I give them all credit for it—which led them, very reluctantly, to suspend the supply of arms. The House will remember the debate of—I think it was—20th November last year. If the Ministry of Supply was temporarily checkmated, the Treasury went out in a splendid isolation.
It would seem that, while the Foreign Office has built up since the war a large and powerful economic department, the Treasury has retaliated by setting up a diplomatic policy and machinery of its own, and at the very height of the blockade, during the most unsatisfactory part of these inconclusive treaty negotiations, the Chancellor of the Exchequer cheerfully concluded the sterling balances agreement, including the promise to supply Egypt with oil—no doubt, Persian oil. Indeed, at the very moment when the Foreign Office was expressing displeasure and even protest in one sphere of our relations with Egypt the British Treasury representative in Cairo, entering on the field of diplomacy with all the enthusiasm of the amateur, declared that this financial agreement was "a good send off to the political talks which will take place in London and Cairo shortly."
If he had been more experienced he would have known that there could not have been a worse possible send off to these talks. He went on to say that Britain had made most "valuable concessions." But what was the result of these concessions? As my right hon. Friend observed, the very day that the sterling balances agreement was signed—the glorious 1st July—was the day of the illegal boarding of the "Empire Roach."
The hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), I thought, no doubt quite sincerely, misunderstood or misstated the argument of my right hon. Friend. He challenged my right hon. Friend with demanding an economic blockade of Egypt. That is a travesty of my right hon. Friend's argument. During the whole of his argument he was not referring to current operations, or movements of goods, services or money for which real commercial consideration had been given. He was dealing entirely with the accumulated war balances, and was developing an argument which, after all, could not be so very disreputable. for, as 1054 he proved, it was an argument sustained by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister of Britain.
But then, I never very much worry about the hon. Gentleman's speeches. I know the hon. Gentleman well, and I ask my hon. Friends not to be too much concerned by the beginning of his speeches, when he throws taunts at his opponents. Let him alone, and as his speech proceeds he begins to develop a damaging series of attacks upon his friends, which make any blows that he may deal us seem but friendly and endearing taps in contrast.
I must revert for a moment to the negotiations over the Treaty of 1936. The Egyptian Foreign Minister announced this year that the British proposals had been rejected "collectively and singly." Well, that was very clear. I do not think our position is quite as clear. I wish it were. The Government have, of course, the right to take up the negotiations again. They equally have the legal and constitutional right to bring them to a conclusion, if they can, without consulting Parliament. I do not honestly say that I think the present is a very good atmosphere for such a conclusion, unless we mean to make an absolutely unconditional surrender.
But I do think that this ought to be emphasised: I trust that there will be no watering down of the Foreign Secretary's undertaking that, whatever may be the constitutional right of Government, Parliament will have a right to intervene and, if necessary, declare its view before such a treaty is ratified. Perhaps the Prime Minister will be able to give us a reassurance on that point, for, not only are British interests in the Canal and in the Middle East generally concerned, but there is involved, as my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton has just said, the important question of the future of the Sudan.
I am afraid that I must trespass for a few moments on the House on this matter. I trust that there will be no ambiguity, not the shadow of a doubt, about the Government's position in this matter. As I understand it, Mr. Bevin's pledge stands. He stated in the House that His Majesty's Government's attitude to the Sudan remained the same; that was that the Sudanese should in due course freely decide their own future.
1055 I should be quite content with that, because it is a very good formula, if it were not for one possible source of doubt —to which my hon. Friend has just alluded—which must be removed. For, two years before this statement which I have quoted, in an attempt, and no doubt an honest attempt, to facilitate a general understanding, Mr. Bevin used these words on 27th January, 1947. He said that acting on the highest legal advice—never, I think, a very certain thing on which to base one's decision, but still important to have it to take into account—for the sake of an agreement he felt that he would be justified in alluding to the existence of a symbolic dynastic union between Egypt and the Sudan.
While, of course, Mr. Bevin considered the phrase, "union between Egypt and the Sudan"under the Crown of Egypt as a purely symbolic, and even, one might say, metaphysical, phrase, the interpretation given to it by the Egyptians—and I do not blame them—was a quite different one. Nokrashi Pasha told his party, regarding this Protocol:…when I say unity of Egypt and the Sudan under the Egyptian Crown, I mean permanent unity.On this refined, 'but very real, difference, the negotiations broke down. The symbolic conception of the Condominium for a great part of more than half a century has, I think, served a useful purpose in the past. The unity of Egypt and the Sudan under the Crown of Egypt may serve a useful purpose in the future. I cannot tell, but I trust that there will be no doubt at all about this: if and when the time comes for the people of the Sudan to achieve what may be called Dominion status—when they reach that point—it will be in the sense that has been made familiar to us by the Statute of Westminster, and carrying the same rights. There should be no retreat and no compromise on this issue. I hope that the Prime Minister, when he replies, may be able to reaffirm this position.
I pass from Egypt to the only other question which I must deal with and try to sum up: the tangled and confused story of Persian oil. I shall spare the House by being very brief. There are 1056 only two things which I wish to say about it. Of the past, I will only say this: the Government are very fond of reminding us that they, and they alone, appreciate the significance and understand the subtleties of the rise of new nationalism in the Near and Far East.
The Government have some responsibility for the conduct of the company, because, after all, they are the majority shareholders. It is two years since the supplemental Agreement was initialled. How is it that they were not aware of the deteriorating position? How is it that they took no steps to forestall—to use the "Economist" phrase—" the outburst of passion that now threatens to end the Persian part of British oil operations"? Apart from this, there are some incidents and some aspects of the recent crisis which, I confess, are still a complete mystery to me, and, I think, to many other hon. Members.
What, for instance, does the British Government mean by the word "nationalisation"? What precise connotation do they give to this term? This is a word with which I think they are familiar. They have banded it about a good deal in the last 20 years. It is true that, like every epidemic, it has become a little less virulent at home. We are, perhaps, through the worst of it here. But the mischief is that this disease, like others, cannot be confined to one place. It cannot be kept to Britain; it spreads all over the world. One would have thought that the Government of a country which owns, or did own, more property abroad than any nation in the world would have realised the danger involved.
There are, I know, two kinds of nationalisation. There is the comparatively respectable and the not so respectable. The trouble is that what Ministers would call the right sort of nationalisation so easily slips into the wrong sort—just as Socialism so easily merges into Communism all over the world. In these ideological disputes, the line between orthodoxy and heresy is very tenuous. I ask, then, what precisely did His Majesty's Government mean to imply when they authorised the British Ambassador to state in April—I quote the precise words:His Majesty's Government was sympathetic to the principle of nationalisation of Persian 1057 oil, hut it did not accept the expropriation of the company"?Nor does the statement of the Foreign Secretary, of which he was kind enough to give us a copy of the important part, take us much further. This is what he said today:For our part we have every sympathy with the natural desire of the Persian people to control the mineral wealth of their own soil and we have agreed to accept the principle of nationalisation.Persian oil is nationally owned. It has always been nationally owned. It is in the same position as coal in Britain became after it became the property of the nation as a result of Conservative legislation. The oil belongs to the Persians as does the mineral wealth, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, but the installations, the tanker fleet and the mass of other properties are, of course, the property of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.
Does the phrase which the Ambassador used in April and the phrase which is used in the statement made today mean that the Government were sympathetic to the nationalisation of these properties—the tankers, the installations and all the properties belonging to the Company? Those are assets of the Company analogous to those which, up to the Coal Mines Act, 1946, were the property of the various coal undertakings of this country.
Are they prepared to accept nationalisation on similar terms; that is to say, compensation but not expropriation at a rate to be fixed by the purchasing Government and payable in the currency of the nation acquiring the property? If not what do they mean by the phrase
sympathetic to the principles of nationalisation.I fear that this dangerous phrase was more useful perhaps for internal than for external needs. It should have been put on one side as an export reject. We are now beginning to see that it will lead to an interminable net and tangle of argument and confusion, from which it will be very difficult to escape.
Moreover to the oriental, as well as to many western minds, the distinction between the two conceptions, nationalisation and expropriation, has never been very clear and certainly not very agreeable. Indeed, many in the West as well as the East have often thought that one was really not much fun without the other.
1058 Whatever may be the end of this tragic dispute, whatever the bandying of terms and phrases, surely it is clear that some form of partnership, ensuring a continuance of the skilled and scientific management of the oil industry in Persia, is absolutely vital to the interests of all there; for, quite apart from British rights under legal agreements made openly and freely, quite apart from the importance of this industry and the vast capital and devoted service which has been given to it, such a partnership is really vital to the political, economic and strategic life of Persia, to the whole of the Middle East, and, indeed, to the peace and freedom of the world.
Nothing shook me more and I think the country, too, than the narrow and unimaginative estimate which the Minister of Fuel and Power gave us at an early stage in the dispute: "It will be all right. We shall only lose a few million tons and there will be plenty of petrol for the holidays" That was the implication, when the things underneath are far more important than the money concerned or the tonnage of petroleum which can be taken from this part of the world.
I believe that the British influence is not at all unsympathetic to Persian aspirations, much as they resent the crude and hysterical zenophobia in which they have been manifested. But also, at this moment, this is not the real issue. We are prepared as a nation to be generous, but we do not like to be bullied. Meanwhile, it is right to enter on new negotiations, but only if free negotiations can be effectively guaranteed, and if the men in the employ of the Company are protected from unreasonable and cruel insult and attack.
I understand that the Government are making that condition, and are taking the firm stand which we regard as an essential preliminary to a successful negotiation. I trust that in no circumstances will this condition be abandoned or whittled down, even under friendly pressure. I hope that the Prime Minister will be able, before he finishes his speech, to give us a definite assurance on this point.
Whatever be the result of this negotiation, of this new effort—for which we owe so much to Mr. Harriman and his friends; the result of this week and next week—there will be many changes and twists in this difficult problem before we are out of it. I believe that the proper 1059 course, whatever be the result, is not to evacuate Southern Persia. I confess that I do not understand the policy followed so far as regards evacuation. In my view, the day when the last British employee of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company leaves Abadan will mark the end of the association of Britain with the development of Persian oil. It means, still more, the collapse of British power and prestige in the East.
On this question of evacuation there seems to have been a continual change of policy and shift of tactic from week to week. At one moment it was almost encouraged as a threat to Persian economy. At another, it was to be avoided at all costs as a major disaster. I did not find the Foreign Secretary's formula very robust. He told us on 9th July that the company's employees should stay as long as practicable. That was almost an incitement to forcible rejectment. It has given very little comfort to the men on the spot. On 25th July, the same day as the right hon. Gentleman renewed his plea to the men to stay in their posts, Mr. Mason, the senior representative of the company in Abadan, declared that the British workers were becoming exasperated and could scarcely carry on under present conditions.
Would it not have been possible to adopt a consistent and coherent policy of partial evacuation, of evacuation perhaps of the mountain oil fields which, those who know the country will be aware, are some hundreds of miles from Abadan, or even evacuation of the greater part of the staff in Abadan leaving a small, selected team of men to maintain the refinery?
That would have brought upon Persia all the economic pressures of the policy of total evacuation that some people have thought attractive. It would also have maintained the principles of the continuity and the reality of our connection. By limiting the number required to stay and by making frequent reliefs, the physical and moral pressure on the staff could have been reduced. It is difficult for those of us who normally visit hot countries during the cold season quite to realise how terrible that pressure must be today.
Such a policy of non-evacuation, or of only partial evacuation, involves a 1060 policy of protection. It means that measures must be taken to secure the safety and reasonable comfort of these men while they are carrying out the duty of protecting British rights and, incidentally, the decision of the International Court.
To secure this is a commitment on a comparatively modest scale for which we must assume that His Majesty's Government have made adequate provision and from which the Foreign Secretary has repeatedly told us that he would not, in certain circumstances, shrink. In any case, I trust that we may have a definite reply to this question, which my right hon. Friend has already posed: In the event of any change for the worse in the situation and before any question of a total evacuation of Abadan, will Parliament be recalled?
Naturally, the policy of hanging on and waiting, which I think is the right policy —and I also believe that the House thinks it is the right policy, judging from the temper of much of the debate—has its dangers. I am not particularly impressed about the argument concerning direct Russian intervention. If the Russians want or feel able to occupy Northern Persia at any time they will no doubt do so. After all, they have seized the greater part of Central and Eastern Europe and hold it still; and, in the same way, if they want a third world war they will not hesitate to launch it.
But they certainly could not appeal—nor, I think, would they worry to appeal —to the Soviet-Iranian Treaty of 1921. The terms of that Treaty have often been widely misunderstood and misrepresented. Under that Treaty Russia may send troops only if Persia should become the base for a third party's attack on Russia. Nobody could describe as coming under that definition the kind of action which the Foreign Secretary has repeatedly told us that he was prepared to take to protect British lives in Southern Persia.
But there are other dangers. There is the danger that pressure on the Persian economy may bring about what we want, a more sensible and reasonable Government, but it may on the contrary bring about a Government even more difficult or even a Government of the Tudeh Party and under the influence of Russia. These risks are there, but they are inherent in 1061 the whole Middle Eastern position and they have always been so. It is against those risks that our whole policy of Middle Eastern defence as part of the defence of the free world ought long ago to have been designed and made effective.
If the House will bear with we I should like to venture upon some concluding remarks. It is perhaps natural, at a time when parties are so nicely balanced in the House and when a fresh appeal to the country is perhaps so near that we should all watch each other with more than usual anxiety and keenness, each trying to see where a shrewd blow can be struck at some chink in our opponent's armour, that some electoral advantage can be obtained by charges, imputations or insinuations that one party which, after all, represents at least half our fellow countrymen—is seeking, or would thoughlessly risk, the frightful dangers and sufferings of war.
It is perhaps—if it were not so serious—a little comical that this should be the accusation levelled at the Conservative Party. It is certainly a new twist in the laborious and distorted presentation of the history of the years before the Second World War with which we are so familiar. I do not see one of the main authors in his place.
The charge concerning those years is that the Conservative Administration were filled with such horror and detestation of war that they passed over, or allowed the world to pass over, serious violations of international law and that the invasion of Manchuria, the conquest of Abyssinia, the forcible union of Germany and Austria and the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia were not resisted by the collective force of European arms under British leadership.
That was the charge, and on these great issues history will, of course, give her final judgment. But do hon. Gentlemen opposite really accuse us of wanting war? Can they really have it in their hearts to say that we either want war or would rashly risk war, when they know well, if they search their hearts, that the sufferings and miseries would be distributed throughout every home in this country? If they do not know it, let them look at the war memorials of two wars. Many hon. Members—the Prime Minister is one —in all parts of the House have personal experience of war, some of two wars. I 1062 am convinced of this, that those who have seen the most war hate and abominate war with the deepest and sincerest feeling.
But let there be no mistake. If international obligations are consistently set aside without effective action in protest; if treaties are unilaterially abrogated; if the decisions of international courts, themselves the instruments of the United Nations, are flouted without penalty, then, in the long run—perhaps even in the short run—we may have to make a frightful choice: either another war, with all that we know it means, or the surrender of that freedom without which life is intolerable and peace a travesty.
Like many of my contemporaries—men of my age—it has been my good or perhaps evil fortune to remember the days before the lights went out all over Europe; before the frightful chaos of cynicism and crime which has made a shambles of the world these 30 years or more. The first war took from us the friends and companions of our youth. It broke up our families, destroyed our traditions, wasted our substance. The survivors suffered something more which made them sometimes even envy the fallen. The First World War shattered much of our faith and hopes and dreams. The Second World War has done the same for our sons.
Yet, in war, we have at least one compensating consolation. There grows amongst us a new sense of comradeship and solidarity. It is only a few years since that spirit was in this whole House. Must all that be forgotten and put aside when the battle ends? We have plenty of subjects for difference and dispute. We give and take the knocks of controversy without rancour and without much personal bitterness. But I beg of Ministers not to repeat these monstrous charges against their fellow countrymen.
Though we may differ in the means to achieve those ends—peace and freedom —which far transcend our minor differences, let us at least be generous enough to believe that we are each and all united in this: that we seek these common purposes in sincerity and good faith. At this moment our people, after all their efforts, are in these great affairs distracted, confused, even disillusioned. It is surely our duty to sustain their courage. Let us disdain to exploit their fears.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
I welcome very much the note that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) struck in the conclusion of his speech. I wish that he had opened this debate, or that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) had been here to do so, because I cannot think that his substitute struck the kind of note that was needed in a serious discussion of these matters. We had instead a speech punctuated all through by the cheapest of jibes against the Government and against Members of the Government, and not even sparing a late Member of the Government who is dead. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, might have left that alone.
He made a number of very foolish attacks. He made a violent attack on my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for a speech which he delivered on a Saturday in Durham. I had the pleasure next day of reading an account of the speech which the right hon. Gentleman delivered in his own constituency the same day. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that my right hon. Friend's remarks were unworthy of a Foreign Secretary. I must say that the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition were hardly those one would have expected from a distinguished ex-Prime Minister. [HON. MEMBERS: "They were true."] That, of course, is a matter of opinion.
The right hon. Gentleman also spoke about the satisfaction, or the reverse, of the followers in various parts of the House when their leaders are speaking. I have often wished that the right hon. Gentleman had our advantage of seeing the faces of hon. Members opposite when he is speaking.
§ Mr. Churchill
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it would be a great and agreeable change from what I have to look at now.
§ The Prime Minister
Before the right hon. Gentleman can be sure of that, he had better get a periscope and watch them when next he makes a speech.
The right hon. Gentleman, I think, throughout showed a failure to appreciate the problems of the Middle East. The right hon. Member for Bromley and other 1064 hon. Members know a good deal about the Middle East, but it seemed to me that the right hon. Gentleman failed to realise what has been going on in the Middle East. He said, first, that the decline in our influence was due to the loss of India. It is quite true that there were a lot of Indian troops which could have been sent about the world, but supposing we had not given self-government to India, does the right hon. Gentleman really think that our influence throughout Asia would have been greater? Does he think that if we had followed his policy we should have been any better off? We can see the results where people have been slower than we have in recognising the forces of nationalism.
The right hon. Gentleman next said that what happened in Palestine was due to our mistakes. There was a great deal of division in both parties on the Palestine question.
§ The Prime Minister
How many million would there have been if the right hon. Gentleman had tried to put down India by force?
§ The Prime Minister
I am now dealing with a matter in which I know the noble Lord is particularly interested. I am dealing with Palestine, on which I should like to see the noble Lord march together with his Leader. The one chance that I thought we might have had of settling the Palestine question before it became so exacerbated was in the war-time Coalition Government. It was very unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman did not take up the matter then, because there would have been a great chance, I think, of getting agreement on the matter.
§ The Prime Minister
Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman said that it was an impression of weakness that we gave. That was quite wrong, because we were not weak. There is a very sedulous propaganda to try to show that we are weak everywhere. I was struck by the speech of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. F. Maclean), for whose writings I have 1065 a great admiration; but his was a most surprising speech which seemed to ignore everything that has been happening in the world. He seemed to think that somehow or other we could have maintained enormous forces, for they were enormous forces, in the Middle East and everywhere else, and he seemed to think that that was the policy put forward by the Opposition. It was never so. The Opposition always realised the limitations on the possibilities of what we could do in arms, and it is well known that we have been endeavouring all the time to build up our strength in the Middle East.
It is not a thing we can do by ourselves; we are in close touch with other Commonwealth countries and we have been in close touch with the United States all through this. But, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, it took rather a long time to get the people of the United States to realise the importance of the Middle East. I am glad that, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, that is now being. realised. But it really is no good jobbing backwards to five years ago when we had a totally different position, and remember, there was a considerable hangover in American public opinion which always regarded our presence in another country as being equivalent to the oppression of the American colonies in 1778. It has taken a long time for them to realise that now they have succeeded to world responsibility, they are glad we are in some places where formerly they thought we had no business at all.
The next thing I think in regard to the right hon. Gentleman's speech and some other speeches is that we are living today under an acceptance of the rule of law. We have accepted the United Nations and we have, I am glad to say, taken action in Korea, with others, in support of the United Nations. I think the right hon. Gentleman and I were both agreed in the days before the Second World War in wishing to have the same thing done with the League of Nations. If that had been done, we might have been spared a Second World War.
It is quite incompatible with the acceptance of the United Nations organisation and the rule of law to think that we can go about the world in a kind of Palmerstonian fashion building up strength. How is that strength going to 1066 be used? We must remember that there are a number of old memories of that time which are not too good. In Egypt I see they were remembering the bombardment of Alexandria. That kind of thing could be done in the 19th Century; it cannot be done today. We are working under an entirely different code.
Next, I think the right hon. Gentleman did not fully appreciate the force of these nationalist movements and I think that throughout his speech he ignored the social and economic problem. I think there is a great appreciation of this today. It is quite true that we cannot cure all these matters just by social reforms—we must have effective political institutions —but I think we were far too slow in this country in realising the social responsibilities where money was being obtained from the development of some of those countries.
I think it is realised today that the oil companies were far too slow. Nothing was done, or very little was done, before. My late colleague, Mr. Ernest Bevin, as soon as he took office, was particularly impressed by the vital need to deal with the social and economic problems of the whole of the Middle East, and he did very much to influence the Anglo-Iranian Company to do a great deal more than it had ever done before for its employees in this area. He was constantly working with others and with the United States and the Commonwealth countries to try to get effective measures adopted to raise the standard of life in all these Middle Eastern countries.
As was pointed out in one speech made today, I think by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), there is too often a tendency to imagine that these countries are just like European countries. I think that they are suffering in all these countries from an old feudal system, with an irresponsible landlord system, bad cultivation and the rest. It is not very easy for us to make revolutions in other countries. We have to deal with the Governments that are there and try to influence them as much as we can towards better things.
It is equally important that if there is an increase of the resources of those countries, those resources must be used 1067 for the whole of the people and not for a narrow section. The trouble is that the profits from the oil have not been used for the mass of the people. They have gone to the small ruling class; and one must realise that even if there were a change there, it would be some time before there could be a real change because there is a limit to the amount of supplies and resources that can be effectively used by countries with a very low standard of administration. In fact, you have to make up your mind to slow progress because you cannot hurry the East. But the trouble is that wherever there are nationalist movements there are always people in a hurry who think that a great deal more can be done than can be done in a given period, and who get impatient.
A few days before his assassination, King Abdullah wrote to me a very wise and moving letter re-affirming the friendship and mutual confidence which have persisted between his country and the United Kingdom. In his letter he said:Likewise few are the people who comprehend that independence is a gradual affair and take into consideration the necessity of allowing a time lapse from the moment of its inception to its maturity.That is always the difficulty. The desires of the nationalists always outstrip the possible performance. We get that in Persia, in the Arab countries and in Egypt; in fact, throughout the Near East.
I wish to turn to one or two points that have been put to me in regard to Egypt. The right hon. Gentleman raised again the old question of the sterling balances.
§ The Prime Minister
Yes, war-time sterling balances. That was not a matter peculiar to Egypt. It was a fact that these heavy balances were piled up. I dare say that some of these payments were far too large for the services rendered. But the House must remember that these were delayed payments for things and services that we utilised in the war. It may be that we ought to have made a better bargain, but no action was taken during the time of the war-time Government to warn these 1068 people and tell them that we would not pay these balances. There was no decision that this obligation would not be honoured. There was no decision by the Government. I know the right hon. Gentleman talked about it very often but a monologue is not a decision.
§ Mr. Churchill
And the right hon. Gentleman was able to interject his "Yes, Sir," in the monologue of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman is a little previous. I am still in 1944–45. I am coming on to 1947 and to the next point. Of course, we should all have liked to scale these balances down, but we could not do it just by arbitrary action. We could only seek agreement, and that is precisely what we did. We sought agreement; we were unable to get that agreement. It is perfectly well understood. The right hon. Gentleman talked about United States loans and the rest of it. We agreed we would do our best to scale down the balances, but we never suggested there should be a unilateral repudiation.
Therefore, since that time, as we could not get agreement for the scaling down, we have had a series of arrangements for blocking these balances. Some parts were blocked, others have been released and they were essentially for the rehabilitation of those countries. It must not be forgotten that in the war those countries also had to divert their activities to the production of things for the war and they therefore wanted to use the balances, like any other war saving. And it has been part of the process of getting world trade going again that, from time to time, we have released the sterling balances and we have come to an agreement.
There was an agreement made last March with Egypt in which there is to. be a release of £10 million a year over 10 years. The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken in thinking that there was another large financial agreement made last week. That was merely the ratification of the agreement which was the subject of the March debate. Egypt, as we all know, holds a key position in the Middle East and we have been trying 1069 very patiently to get an agreement. Everybody realises that the 1936 Agreement is not a satisfactory agreement for our position in Egypt. We have to work with them at the present time on the basis of that agreement while trying to get a better one, and many times we have been pretty near to getting something satisfactory.
What other policy could we have carried out? Does the House really believe that any other policy would have been successful? Supposing we had refused to pay any sterling balances and cut off trade, we would not have got agreement. One cannot treat countries in that way. They are countries with which one wants to work in the future, and the House must remember the t if one takes a big stick attitude towards one of those countries, one may think it is going to have a good effect on the others, but it may have a very bad effect.
In the whole group of Moslem countries they are apt to quarrel among themselves but they are also apt to feel pretty acutely if there is failure to recognise the position of one of them. I am quite sure that if we had tried to treat Egypt roughly, not only would we not have succeeded in getting an agreement but it would have had a bad effect throughout the Arab world—in Pakistan and, in fact, throughout the whole Moslem world.
We are still trying to negotiate. There are one or two points which the right hon. Member for Bromley put to me about that. One was whether, if we reached an agreement, it would be brought before this House. The right hon. Gentleman knows how foreign affairs are carried on, and that if an agreement is come to, it is arrived at between Governments; it is brought to this House for ratification, and therefore, before the final decision, it is bound to be brought before this House.
§ Mr. H. Macmillan
It is within the constitutional right both to negotiate and to ratify it. I was only asking, if the House should not be sitting, that it should not be ratified without discussion in the House.
§ The Prime Minister
I think we should have a discussion in the House before ratification; I quite agree.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Sudan. We stand absolutely where 1070 we were on that matter. We believe that the people of the Sudan have the right to decide their own future. The right hon. Gentleman talked about symbolic kingship and so on, but he knows the long history of the Condominium. That was taken by us purely as a symbolic gesture which we thought would be useful at the time.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked me about a Hunt class destroyer, H.M.S. "Cottesmore." That destroyer was purchased by Egypt in October, 1949, and it was paid for and handed over in June, 1950. It went to Cowes under the Egyptian flag for a refit which was completed in April, 1951. It then left for Egypt. The ship is out of date. It was in the lowest category of our reserves, and it was a good commercial business to sell it to the Egyptians. The Egyptians will find it quite useful for their purposes.
The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that we have ships which are not yet in commission. It is not possible to commission the whole lot, and there are ships which go out of date, and therefore from time to time, on the advice of our naval advisers, we sell them. I remember the right hon. Gentleman pleading for some obsolete ship to be retained. There is a sentimental approach to these things, but I do not think it need apply to this particular Hunt class destroyer.
§ Mr. Churchill
Was not the Hunt class destroyer one of the type of destroyers that are now being furbished up for use in, the event of a U-boat attack? Was not the payment made quite simply by crossing out something of these sterling balances?
§ The Prime Minister
That is quite possible. Obviously, it is not much good releasing to people their sterling balances if they cannot buy anything with them. The right hon. Gentleman is like Mr. Bultitude who said to his son, "What is. the good of half a crown to you? You will only spend it." We base our rights in Egypt on the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936. and so long as we do this we have to honour our own obligations under the 1071 Treaty, one of which is to facilitate the supply of arms to the Egyptians.
On the Suez Canal question, I think hon. Members were a little positive, perhaps, on the whole matter of this question in international law. I do not want to pursue it because the matter is now before the Security Council, and I would rather not follow that up when the matter is under discussion there.
I do not want to talk at any great length on Persia. I think the House will agree that it would be a mistake to go at any great length into this question when we are in negotiation. But the right hon. Member for Bromley asked me about the exact connotation of nationalisation. At one time I think he said it was the way the Labour Party or the Socialists moved towards Communism, but almost immediately afterwards he was glorying in the nationalisation of coal underground by the Conservative Party, so it looks as though they are still on the march.
I would say that the acceptance of the principle of nationalisation was very strongly pressed upon us by our American friends. What is its exact connotation? I quite agree that originally the oil belonged to Persia. I do not think we can go further than saying that the conception of nationalisation is that the oil should be worked primarily in the interests of Persia. I think the right hon. Gentleman came down to the right words towards the end of his speech when he talked of a partnership. When an operation of this kind is carried out, either you must pay people and they go altogether—and that is quite impossible, for it would be a loss to the world and to us and not least to Persia; or you must do the right thing, which is, I think, to work for some kind of working agreement or partnership in which we supply the knowledge, the know-how and all the rest of it and the Persians manage this thing in the interests of all.
§ The Prime Minister
And the plant. This seems to me to be really what we wish to bring under this rather general phrase of nationalisation. At the present moment we are accepting that principle. The details will have to be worked out.
I greatly hope that we may come to an agreement on this matter, but one has to 1072 realise that we are dealing with people who have a very large amount of xenophobia. I do not think we could even assume that they will not be ready to cut off their noses to spite their faces. It will require a great deal of careful and very patient negotiation and I should like again, here, to express the gratitude we all feel to President Truman for sending Mr. Harriman and to Mr. Harriman for going to Teheran to do what he can to ease the situation and to bring the parties together.
I was asked a number of detailed questions—
§ The Prime Minister
I think the statement made was perfectly clear on that. There may have to be a withdrawal from the oil wells and there may have to be a withdrawal from some part of Abadan, but our intention is not to evacuate entirely.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Mr. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Order of the House this day, to put forthwith the Questions, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the outstanding Resolutions reported in respect of Classes I to IX of the Civil Estimates and of the Revenue Departments Estimates, the Navy Estimates, the Army Estimates and the Air Estimates.
§ [For details of the remaining Resolutions, seeOFFICIAL REPORT, 25th July, 1951; Vol.490, c.2260–2266.]