§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Buchan-Hepburn.]
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Nutting)
Today's debate covers a wide area and a number of important topics. I will, if I may, concentrate on the principal questions involved: Arab-Israeli relations, our Agreements with Egypt and Persia, the Sudan and the Arbitration Agreement with Saudi-Arabia. I will not go outside the Middle-East, as I understand that arrangements will be made for a debate on the Far East and the Manila Treaty early next week.
The problem of Arab-Israeli relations overhangs a large part of the Middle East today. There is, of course, nothing new in this. Of the problems still awaiting a settlement it is certainly among the most difficult. I am far from despairing of a solution, but I am sure that the House understands that this is not the sort of Problem which can be settled by a stroke of the pen, or by the simple act of sitting down at a conference table even if it were possible to bring the parties to the table which, for the moment, unhappily, it is not. It will require time and patience and, above all, a restoration of peaceful conditions upon the Arab-Israeli frontier. From this, co-existence may grow into toleration and toleration into good neighbourliness.
So long as Israeli and Arab indulge in accusation and counter-accusation there can be little hope of mending this rift, from which only the Communist world can and does profit. So long as incidents continue, as they have done, bringing drastic reprisals in their wake, there can be little hope of establishing conditions of peace and toleration.
Having said that, I am glad to be able to point out that on the Israeli-Jordan border there has been a recent and considerable improvement. Israel has now returned to the Mixed Armistice Commission, which she had boycotted for the past seven months and, in addition, the number of incidents is a great deal less, 217 for about two months past. The figure, I understand, has dropped from 48 in June to nine in September and six in October.
I think the House will join with Her Majesty's Government in welcoming these signs of progress towards more settled conditions. For their part, Her Majesty's Government have made it plain that they are ready at any time to lend their good offices for talks between the parties to this unhappy dispute. We have, in fact, made persistent efforts to this end and have, perhaps, made some headway. We have not proclaimed this to the world for very good and obvious reasons. As the example of the Trieste settlement has shown, these efforts—as, indeed, most efforts at peace making—are better made out of the glare of publicity. If we are to have any hope of making progress, we must take time and work at the problem quietly.
As the House well knows, the problem of Arab refugees is inextricably intertwined with the whole problem of Arab-Israeli relations. I wish I had some encouraging news to give about those refugees, but I regret to say—I must be quite frank about this—that the problem is increasing rather than decreasing. For instance, the natural rate of increase of these refugees is about 20,000 a year and, despite the very great efforts which have been made by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, only about 9,000 have been permanently resettled over the last three years. For our part, we shall, of course, continue to contribute to the utmost of our ability and all our ingenuity to whatever improvements are possible to rehabilitate and to relieve the lot of these unhappy people. As some contribution to this effect we shall support a proposal in the United Nations to continue the mandate of the Agency for another five years.
I said earlier that I do not despair of a settlement to the Arab-Israeli dispute, but I am sure that it can only be solved by those concerned doing two things. First, by looking a little beyond the narrow confines of their own differences. So long as this dispute continues to fill the whole horizon of the Arab and Israeli world they will find no answer, but, if both parties are prepared to regard it in a wider perspective such as the twin needs for unity within the non-Com- 218 munist world and for economic well-being in the Middle East—if they are prepared to regard it in that wider perspective—I am convinced that an answer can be found. Secondly, and equally important, is the step by step approach.
The agreement which we have just concluded with Egypt is, I believe, an essential step in the process of rebuilding peace and stability in the Middle East. I know that Israel has been showing a certain nervousness, but there is nothing in this agreement which should fairly give rise to anxiety on the part of Israel. There is, for instance, nothing in the agreement which conflicts with our obligation under the Tripartite Declaration of 1950. With the redeployment of our Forces in the Middle East, which the agreement has made possible, we shall continue to be in a position to fulfil these obligations.
I would repeat to the House that under the agreement no weapons will be handed over to Egypt and, as to future supplies of arms, our policy will, of course, continue to be based on the Tripartite Declaration. We will supply arms for legitimate self-defence and to enable Middle East countries to play their part in the defence of the area as a whole. Nor have we any evidence that any country plans aggressive action.
After my statement in the House last week there was some criticism that in the negotiations in Cairo we did not obtain an undertaking from the Egyptian Government to remove the restrictions on Israeli cargoes passing through the Suez Canal. But, as the House knows, the restrictions on Israeli cargoes through the Canal arise from the hostility between the Arab States and Israeli and are in no way connected with or affected by the presence or absence of British Forces in the Canal Zone. The withdrawal of British Forces can have no adverse effect on this situation since it is the Egyptian authorities who have all along been in control of the terminal ports of the Canal and not the British.
Nor, I submit to the House, would it have been in anybody's interest for us to delay a settlement of our own differences with Egypt over the Suez Canal base until the problem of cargoes for Israel had been settled. We certainly could not have hoped to do any good in Arab-Israel re- 219 lations while our own relations with Egypt were so bad. Moreover, the late Government took the cargoes question to the United Nations, where it still is, and this more than ever removed it from the scope of direct Anglo-Egyptian negotiation. I would, however, like the House to see this question in its true perspective. So much attention has been concentrated on the restrictions on Israeli cargoes that the impression has got abroad of a serious disruption and reduction of traffic in general passing through the Suez Canal. In fact, this traffic stands today at an all-time high of more than 90 million tons in the year. That is nearly three times the highest figure recorded before the war—in 1937—when it stood at 36 million tons. At the same time, I would point out that this figure included a considerable volume of ships through the Canal destined for Israel. It is only those ships carrying strategic cargoes for Israel, together, of course, with all Israeli shipping whatever the cargo, that are denied passage. But as I have said, a considerable volume of traffic to Israel passes through the Canal——
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
May I ask a question about this, because I am not clear that it is the same problem? When the right hon. Gentleman and the present Foreign Secretary were in Opposition, they joined with me in the strongest possible protest against the British permitting this to happen. What has happened to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleague, now that they are in the Government, that they are repudiating all the speeches which they made in Opposition?
§ Mr. Nutting
I will deal with the hon. Gentleman's point.
I was saying that, after the protests by the late Opposition, to which the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) referred, the late Government took this matter to the United Nations. That, as I have already said, made it more than ever an international issue, and not an issue which could be settled by bilateral negotiations between Britain and Egypt. It is always dangerous——
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
I gather from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that strategic, or near-strategic, traffic destined for Israel is barred by the Egyptian Government. I am not now arguing the legality or illegality of that—I will come to that later. But can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what kind of traffic goes to Israel and how much passes through the Suez Canal?
§ Mr. Nutting
I have not the full details beside me; no doubt they can be obtained. But the sort of cargoes which are allowed through, in non-Israeli ships, are food supplies, meat supplies, and so on—non-strategic cargoes. In other words, cargoes outside the range of such things as oil supplies which are included in strategic cargoes for this purpose.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
Is it not the case that this matter had already been taken to the United Nations by the previous Government in the summer of 1951, when the present Foreign Secretary divided the House because an agreement had been made with Egypt without settling the problem?
§ Mr. Nutting
The right hon. Gentleman is no doubt referring to a remark made by my right hon. Friend when in the Opposition in the context of the debate on the release of sterling balances to Egypt. That, I think, is the occasion to which he is referring. On that occasion my right hon. Friend said:… if these arrangements—and this I give to the Government—were part of a wider agreement which resulted in the satisfactory settlement of a number of our differences with Egypt the position would be completely different, and I should not now be standing here making this complaint."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th March. 1951; Vol. 485, c. 2340.]That is precisely the agreement which we have now obtained with Egypt, the settlement of wider differences.
§ Mr. Nutting
I have answered the right hon. Gentleman's question—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I have told the right hon. Gentleman more, I have told him precisely the words used by my right hon. Friend when in opposition, and I have told him the context in which they were 221 used. I think that that completely answers the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman.
It is always dangerous to prophesy, particularly in international affairs, but I hope that the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement will make it easier to solve these other and broader questions. Certainly, a solution of any problem in the Middle East areas will be easier if we can secure some improvement in Arab-Israeli relations. So long as our relations with the Arabs were poisoned by the Egyptian dispute, our influence could hardly have been weaker, but all the reports which we have received from the Middle East since the heads of agreement were concluded last July agree that far from it being reduced, British prestige has been very considerably raised.
The House will have seen, I hope with pleasure, the tribute from the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Said, an old and tried friend of this country, which was quoted in last Sunday's Press, in which he is reported to have said that the settlement with Egypt had improved the political atmosphere throughout the Middle East. I should like here to pay tribute to the extent to which our relations with Iraq have remained stable throughout this troubled period.
I will not weary the House by repeating the detailed statement which I made about the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement last week, or the debate of last July, but I would draw attention to two important facts. As right hon. Gentlemen opposite no doubt will recall, until the present régime in Egypt came to power, no Egyptian Government had been prepared to negotiate with us upon a reasonable basis. For one thing, all previous Egyptian Governments insisted upon our recognising their right to sovereignty over the Sudan as a pre-condition of any negotiation. This, it will be remembered, was the rock on which the Bevin-Sidky agreement foundered in 1946. By dropping this precondition the present Egyptian régime opened up the possibility for negotiation.
Another point to which I would draw attention is that the conclusion of this agreement marks the first occasion upon which a post-war Egyptian Government have recognised that Egypt cannot be a neutral onlooker in a conflict involving Turkey. When we take into account the fact that Turkey is an 222 important member of N.A.T.O., that she is, in fact, N.A.T.O.'s right flank, the implications of this step are obvious and significant.
It has been suggested in some quarters that had Her Majesty's Government not hesitated, they could have got better terms from Egypt 18 months ago. This, of course, is quite wrong. In fact, by exercising patience we have been able to get the inclusion of Turkey in the reactivation clause. Had we rushed to clinch the agreement earlier, we should not have got Turkey included, which would have meant an agreement of a far more limited scope than the one we have obtained.
Apart from this, the agreement gives us all we require in the way of workshop repair facilities for our forces in the Middle East, storage of war reserves, transit rights and servicing for the Royal Air Force. Another thing which we have gained from the exercise of a little patience is a reduction of our commitments in respect of the maintenance of the base. The Egyptians have undertaken responsibility for the security of all the base and for the maintenance of about half of the installations against the eventuality of reactivation. This joint enterprise will, I hope, be as valuable and fruitful politically as practical and useful economically. We have freed our Forces from a wasteful commitment and released them for more useful tasks elsewhere. At the same time we have eliminated the main source of friction between ourselves and the Arab world.
I suggest that these are decisive gains, and it is our hope that from this new beginning we shall be able to go forward in rebuilding confidence between Britain and Egypt. But, as I made crystal clear in my talks with Colonel Nasser and his colleagues, this rebuilding process depends on a number of things. One of the most important is the policy of Egypt towards the Sudan. For Egypt—or, for that matter, for ourselves—to seek to influence the Sudanese in the choice of their future constitution is not only a breach of the Sudan Agreement itself, but an act of political folly likely to boomerang upon its perpetrators.
Our view, which I repeated to the Egyptian Government, is that the Sudanese must be allowed to choose their own future in freedom without foreign 223 interference. Subject to that, we have every interest in seeing good relations between the Sudan and Egypt as between the Sudan and ourselves. There is reason to believe that the Sudanese are becoming increasingly determined to decide their own future in the interests of the Sudan rather than of any outside power. We look forward to the visit to London in a few days' time of the Sudanese Prime Minister as the guest of Her Majesty's Government. We welcome this opportunity to talk over questions of interest to both our countries and to demonstrate to Mr. Azhari our desire for friendly relations with the Sudanese Government and with Sudanese of all parties.
Another important element in the developing pattern of peace in the Middle East is the agreement reached with Saudi Arabia to submit the Buraimi dispute to arbitration. This dispute was overshadowed by the problems of Persia and Suez but it was, nevertheless of considerable importance in the context of the Middle East and it cast a shadow over the traditional friendship between us and Saudi Arabia. This agreement is, therefore, another important contribution to a better atmosphere and improved relations in the Middle East.
The Deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Yusuf Yasin, is now in London and I am sure that the House will join in welcoming this distinguished representative of a friendly country. We have profited from his visit to discuss matters of common concern and he assured me yesterday of King Saud's firm resolve to get down to work over arbitration and so to remove this irritant in our relations.
I should now like to give the House a few details of the Persian Oil Agreement which was ratified by the Shah of Persia last Friday. In reply yesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe), I spoke of a consortium of oil companies which is to operate in Persia. This consortium consists of eight companies—the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company with a 40 per cent. share, the Royal Dutch Shell with 14 per cent., the Compagnie Francaise des Pétroles with 6 per cent., and five United States oil companies each with 8 per cent.
224 All these companies already have big interests in Middle East oil and were, therefore, in a position to contribute to a settlement of the Persian oil problem. They are the companies with a ready market for Persian oil, and the marketing of that oil was, of course, one of the problems with which we had to deal. Further, since the Persians wanted a solution on a multi-national basis as distinct from operations by a single company, it was evident that a consortium of this kind was the best arrangement.
The consortium will act as the agent of the Persian Government whose ownership of the industry is recognised in the agreement. The agreement itself contains various provisions and safeguards about day-to-day management. The consortium's tenure is for 25 years in the first instance with options to renew for three five-year periods. The Persians themselves, through the National Iranian Oil Company, will run a small oilfield and refinery, the Naft-i-Shah field, and the Kermanshah refinery for oil required for internal use. They will also handle all distribution within Persia.
The consortium companies have set up a London organisation known as "Iranian Oil Participants Limited" in which each of the eight companies hold shares on the same percentage basis as for the consortium itself; and another London organisation known as "Iranian Oil Services Limited" to handle the staffing and purchase of material for the operations in Persia. In Persia itself there will be two operating companies, one for exploration and production and the other for refining at Abadan. All the shares in these two companies are held by Iranian Oil Participants Limited. The two London organisations have British nationality and the two operating companies have been incorporated in Holland.
Under the agreement the two operating companies in Persia have had delegated to them managerial powers. This will ensure efficient operation. Each of the two companies is to have a board of seven members, two appointed by the Persian Government and five, of whom one is to be a Persian, nominated by the consortium. The composition of both boards will, in fact, almost certainly be the same.
Compensation for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company has been obtained in two 225 ways; first, a payment of £25 million from the Persian Government spread over ten years from 1957; and, secondly, payments totalling £214 million from the other seven companies for the 60 per cent. share in the consortium which they have taken up.
§ Mr. Crossman
Will the Minister tell us what the value of Anglo-Iranian was? I gather that we are to get £25 million from the Persians in exchange. That is the only thing the Persians will pay—£25 million for the total value of the refinery. Apart from that, the others are to buy us out. We cannot get compensation from an American company for the fact that the Persians are taking the oil. That is not compensation.
§ Mr. Nutting
I want to get this clear. The £214 million which Anglo-Iranian will receive from the other companies, including the Americans, is a payment for the 60 per cent. share which those companies will have in the operations. The £25 million which is to be paid by the Persian Government is a different matter altogether. That figure was arrived at as a result of a calculation of the claims and counter-claims—the claims of A.I.O.C. against the Persians and the counter-claims of Persia against us for their loss of revenue during the three years of what was called the "blockade" of Persian oil. That figure of £25 million results from the offset of the claims and counter-claims one against the other.
§ Mr. Crossman
So it would be misleading to say that more than £25 million was being paid in compensation. The fact is that the other companies are buying us out for certain interests. Therefore, it would be true to say that we get £25 million compensation finally and otherwise we are being bought out of our monopoly by American oil companies.
§ Mr. Nutting
The hon. Gentleman has got this wrong. He keeps on talking about the Persians paying us £25 million for the Abadan Refinery. I have explained how the figure was arrived at. It is not a payment for the Abadan refinery because, indeed, the consortium of operating companies engaged in the refining of oil will be operating the refinery.
§ Mr. Nutting
The compensation was necessary as a result of the slate-cleaning exercise that I have described to the hon. Gentleman, but I repeat that it is not payment for the Abadan refinery.
§ Mr. Nutting
Of these payments, £32.4 million is to be paid to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in three equal instalments over 12 months, starting from when oil exports from Persia are resumed. That is how a beginning has been made in the payment of the £214 million. The balance of about £182 million will be paid to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in the shape of a payment of 10 cents on each barrel of crude oil exported.
Production arrangements are regulated under the agreement by a contract with the consortium. This lays down that the consortium shall produce and sell enough oil to give Persia an income in the third year of production of about £79 million. The financial arrangements will give Persia and the consortium a 50/50 profit-sharing deal in accordance with the system now common in Middle East oil producing countries.
Thus we have an arrangement which should contribute to the prosperity of all parties and not least to the people of Persia themselves. We have, I believe, settled a dispute of long standing which had impaired British and Persian interests and was another dangerous cause of instability in the whole Middle East, and we have restored our relations with Persia to their traditional basis of friendship and co-operation.
§ Mr. Hugh Dalton (Bishop Auckland)
Is it the case that the consortium now owns the Abadan refinery?
§ Mr. Nutting
No, the National Iranian Oil Co. will own it but the consortium will operate it for 25 years with an option to renew for five-yearly intervals for another 15 years.
§ Mr. Nutting
I have given the House a very full description of the picture which the Middle East presents today. There is still a lot of work to be done if we are to restore peace and build up unity and stability throughout the whole area. We 227 and our partners will continue our efforts to this end. The Arab-Israel dispute is still the main source of weakness and division, but there are other elements of growing strength. For instance, there is the new Turkish-Pakistan defence agreement. This is a notable asset to the defence and security of the Middle East.
However, there is an obvious need for further progress and co-ordination in every field. With our agreements old and new, we have made, I believe, a good beginning in the process of progressive reconciliation of disputes. We must now develop these achievements in the positive direction of promoting unity, strength and well-being throughout the Middle East. I ask the House to help us in these further great and challenging tasks.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
We are obliged to the Minister of State for the exposition which he has given of the various matters with which he has dealt. Perhaps the exposition is not complete in all detail, and no doubt questions will be asked during the debate which I am sure the Secretary of State will be happy to answer in complete detail.
It will, I think, be the wish of the House generally that I should extend our congratulations to the Minister of State upon his promotion—[An HON. MEMBER: "Lucky."] One of my hon. Friends says that he is a lucky man, but let us wait and see, because the position which he holds is not always a lucky one to be in. At any rate, we wish him every success in the greater responsibilities which have now fallen to him.
I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman that relations between the Arab States and Israel dominate the Middle Eastern scene as the biggest single item. It will, consequently, be necessary for me to refer at some length to that matter. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government are doing, and will do, all that they can, but that little or nothing is possible today. I am sorry to hear that expression of opinion.
The right hon. Gentleman rightly says that one of the first necessities is peace on the borders between Israel and the surrounding Arab States, but that is also bound up with the making of a peace between Israel and the Arab States. I 228 am glad to hear that the incidents on the Israel-Jordan border have diminished. I hope that that may continue to be the case. Of course, the period with which the right hon. Gentleman dealt is a short one. Therefore, one must not be too sure about it, but I hope very much that the improvement to which he referred is likely to be permanent.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there have been no threats from Egypt against Israel, but I am afraid that that is not true. I have a number before me, and I will quote one. On 2nd July, 1954, the Egyptian Minister for National Guidance, of whom we hear a good deal from time to time—I suppose he is the Minister of Information—in the course of a public statement in Beirut, which was subsequently reported over the Cairo radio, declared that:As for the problem of Palestine, that is a problem which can be solved only by force. That force will not be achieved until the Suez Canal is freed. The Egyptian Army is unable to fight as long as the British Army separates it from its bases. The United States and Britain are withholding arms from Egypt…I gather that there is now a different situation.… and are preventing Belgium from selling her arms. … They know that with the freeing of our economic and military forces an end will be put to foreign occupation throughout the Middle East.I take it that that includes Jewish occupation of Israel. That does not seem to fit in with the Minister of State's claim that no threats have been made; and yet this is only one of the threats to be found on the record.
I agree with him entirely about the Sudan and how desirable it is that Egypt should cease to make objectionable or improper interventions in the internal affairs of that country which has now got its freedom, and which, by the way, owes a lot, and will continue to owe a lot, to past competent British administration. It is a curious thing that although the Foreign Office is not, strictly speaking, an administrative department—it is a diplomatic department—its administration of the Sudan was very well done; it was, in fact, a great administrative job. That is generally accepted in all parts of the House.
Now, as to Persia, on the information given by the Minister of State in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for 229 Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) it would appear that the Persians, who earlier said that they were to get the refineries and installations for nothing—which we were resisting because we demanded compensation—have now got them for nothing, and, moreover, are to have a revenue of about £79 million per year as well, which will, no doubt, include the rent payable in respect of the use of the refineries.
In respect of Persia—and Egypt as well—the Government have committed a very great reversal from the policy for which hon. Gentlemen opposite spoke when they were in Opposition. Without committing the Opposition to the view that the oil agreement with Persia is fully satisfactory—I am not sure that it is; but it may well be that it was the best which could be obtained in the circumstances—it is nevertheless to the good, and we share this view with the Government, that some amicable arrangement has been reached which will enable the oil to flow again and will bring to an end a situation between us and Persia which was undesirable.
However, what has been said and what has happened amply justifies the policy in respect of Persia which was pursued by the Labour Government in 1951. The view we took was that if it was a question of protecting British life and limb we would act and, if necessary, act by military force. We did not wish, however, to commit ourselves to the view that we would use military force for the protection of the property of a company, important though that property was, and however much we objected to the methods of the Persian Government and the policy that it pursued. We were pressed by the Opposition—and I could give quotations—clearly in the direction of making use of military force for that purpose.
Frankly, it was a difficult question to answer, because if we had said "No," we should have made the Persians feel more comfortable, when I did not want to do so, and, if we had said "Yes," and had not meant it, we could have been in trouble. We were determined to protect British lives, and we made preparations to that end, but, happily, it did not prove to be necessary. We were not prepared to commit ourselves to warlike operations for the protection of the property.
230 I must say that Dr. Mossadeq was a very difficult gentleman to deal with. Negotiating with equals, both of whom are really negotiating, is a nice occupation, even if sometimes difficult; negotiating with equals, both of whom mean business and want to come to a settlement, even if the wrong settlement, is tolerable; but negotiating with a man who is not only reckless about coming to any settlement, but who, in the process of the discussions, is perfectly willing to do damage and injury to his own people and his own country, is a bit rough. It is like a war in which one side is ready to die, and the other side is in no hurry to die. I do not know whether we can call that fair fighting or not, but that was the case with Dr. Mossadeq, who was a very difficult gentleman to deal with.
Notwithstanding the blandishments and the great friendship extended to him—which was very genuine—by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes)—and I am not sure that he would agree with everything I have said about his friend Dr. Mossadeq, with whom he had careful and cordial exchanges, and who really did his best—that is how it was. There is no doubt whatever that that was the attitude of the Opposition, and, if necessary, examples could be quoted, but I do not want to bother the House with a lot of quotations. [An HON. MEMBER: "Get it on the record."] It is on the record; they are all to be found in Volume 489 of HANSARD.
We also had to take into account certain considerations, because it is all very well to be light-hearted about a warlike manner in trying to settle a dispute about property. To be quite frank with the House, we did not enjoy the wholehearted support of the United States of America in the Persian matter. I am not wishing to raise controversy, but simply stating it as a fact, which had to be taken into account as to the degree to which we went in the arguments with or pressure upon Persia. We ran a real risk, or we should have run a real risk, of being pulled up by the United Nations.
Evidence to that end is provided by the fact that we went to the International Court, which gave a decision in our favour. But, instead of the United Nations clearly pronouncing as a result of that decision, they were rather evasive 231 about it, which indicated that they wanted to side-step the issue and that we should not have had much sympathy there. As was admitted by the Conservative Opposition at the time, our action would have involved the right of the U.S.S.R. to invade Northern Persia, which certainly would have been a business that would not have been welcome, and that might—I only say might—have involved a risk of war.
Notwithstanding all this, the Conservative Government continued the Labour Government's policy of patience and care, taking every opportunity, as time went along, to try to reach a settlement, which was exactly what we were proposing to do and were doing. Indeed, in the circumstances, short of warlike operations, it was the only thing to do. It is no good the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs sitting over there looking very happy with himself. It is a nice feeling, and I do not want to depreciate it too much, but, after all, this has not been a quick operation. The Government have been in office for about three years, and, therefore, they have been patient. It has been slow motion, moving with great care and circumspection as and when they had any opportunity of moving at all.
Now, Dr. Mossadeq has gone somewhere else, but the Government did not move him. [Interruption.] Someone says, "So has the Labour Government." It is a fair observation, but it has nothing to do with the case, any more than it will have anything to do with the case when this Government meet their inevitable defeat at the next General Election. Anyhow, Dr. Mossadeq has gone, and that was an enormous improvement in the situation. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary would not boast that he liquidated Dr. Mossadeq.
§ Mr. Morrison
The fact is that the Labour Government's policy of patience, of taking their opportunities to secure an improvement when they could and come to effective negotiations, which was our policy, is exactly the policy which this Government has followed. All the blether and bluster of the Conservative Party in Opposition, when they talked about using strong-arm methods, was abandoned, and 232 very rightly. I congratulate the Government to the extent that agreement has come about from a successful application of the policy of the Labour Party.
The story of Egypt is much the same. Here, again, the present Prime Minister, very fiercely, and the present Foreign Secretary, a little less fiercely, but well on the road, criticised us in this matter. I remember when they used to sit over here in a terrible state, and there was a moment when there was a little danger of their being supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman).
§ Mr. Crossman
With great respect to my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench, some of us were consistent throughout these affairs. Sometimes we had the Tories and sometimes our own Front Bench on our side, but we were always on the same side.
§ Mr. Morrison
I should not wish to provoke my hon. Friend. I only say that the impression upon the House—and I was Leader of the House during part of the time and Foreign Secretary during another part of the time—might have been that the Government had grave apprehensions that they could have been defeated on this issue of Egypt week after week. It was a real possibility. If I recall these unhappy and worrying days, surely that is a legitimate thing to do; but I was not seeking to attack my hon. Friend. He knows that attacks by one Labour Member upon another are not allowed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The Prime Minister has enough trouble on his own hands. Let the Prime Minister go out and find his right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse), then he will be busy.
§ The Prime Minister (Sir Winston Churchill)
I will shake hands with my right hon. and gallant Friend at any time.
§ Mr. Morrison
Very wisely and kindly, I think, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not there to shake hands with.
The story of Egypt is much the same. The Egyptian Government has also been difficult like the Mossadeq Persian Government was. The Egyptian Government also unilaterally repudiated agreements, as did the Persian Government, though in the case of Egypt it was a treaty—the 233 Treaty of 1936—and, in both cases, the treaty in Egypt and the agreement in Persia were freely arrived at.
My late colleague, Ernest Bevin, sought to reach an amicable agreement of a far-reaching character and was attacked at the time by the Conservative Opposition for so doing. We were accused, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition reminded the House earlier on another debate, of a policy of scuttle. Well, the anti-scuttlers have now scuttled. It was a pity that the Egyptian Government did not reach agreement at that time. I thought, and I still think, that the proposal which I put forward on behalf of the Labour Government, whereby the British would have gone out as such, and the base would have ceased to be British and would have become an international base for collective security in the Middle East in which Egypt would have become an absolutely equal partner, was the best solution. It was a better one than this. I think both sides of the House agreed on that, and it was supported by the then Opposition. I was grateful for their support.
It would have been better for Egypt, for Egypt's security and for general international security in the Middle East. However, they would not have it, and the Government had to do something radical with a view to British withdrawal, subject to such conditions as they could get. Therefore, I am not, in the circumstances, complaining fundamentally about the Government's decision. Neither are my hon. Friends on this side of the House. Now the present Government have accepted the policy of withdrawal, subject to certain conditions, and have abandoned the Treaty of 1936. In all the circumstances, we are disposed to accept the view that the decision could not, in principle, be avoided.
How the Prime Minister bases it on the development of the atom bomb and the hydrogen bomb I do not know. We regard that more as an excuse than as a defence, especially as, on the same day, there was an announcement about Cyprus which was clumsy politically and made a lot of trouble. It was very badly handled. Anyway, Cyprus was regarded as a military feature of some strength and possibly as a partial alternative to Egypt.
If the Suez Canal was no longer any good because of the atom bomb and the 234 hydrogen bomb, I should not have thought that Cyprus was much better. The Prime Minister fell back on the atom business as an excuse in an awkward situation. He had to find a position distinct from that which he took in Opposition—something new—and that was the only thing he could think of; so he thought of it and produced it.
Cyprus cannot be a military base of importance. It can be useful in secondary ways. No doubt it was desirable that it should be used. I do not wish to develop this point, because it is not strictly within the bounds of the debate, but I would urge the Government to remember, in connection with Cyprus, that it is important to be a little more reasonable, courteous and co-operative in discussing these problems with people who, undoubtedly, have deep feelings. The Government did a lot of harm by the announcement to which I have referred.
There are two serious points which arise out of the agreement with Egypt which have not been satisfactorily dealt with. One concerns the water traffic through the Suez Canal. Article 8 of the agreement we reached with Egypt says that the two contracting Governmentsuphold the Convention guaranteeing the freedom of navigation of the Canal signed at Constantinople on the 29th of October, 1888.There is no equivocation about that agreement. It is clear that any traffic is permitted to pass, in peace or war. It really is too bad that the Minister of State and the Foreign Secretary should not categorically say that Egypt is breaking the agreement and breaking international law. I take it that they agree with that.
§ Sir A. Eden
We said that at the last meeting of the United Nations. We were absolutely firm. There was a unanimous resolution.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is satisfactory.
The question arises, what is to be done about it? If Egypt is interfering with Israeli traffic of a certain kind—"strategic traffic" is a very wide term—whether it is carried in Israeli ships or in any other ships including British ships, if Egypt is forbidding Israeli ships altogether—if that is admitted and if it is tolerated—then Egypt is free to do that to the shipping of anybody else, including us. It is a really serious state of affairs.
235 It is not only Israeli shipping that is involved. It could be British shipping or the shipping of other countries, particularly if certain classes of goods are destined for Israeli ports.
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs made a proposal when the Labour Government was in office about how to deal with this matter. I did not accept his proposal at the time, so I have no right to press it upon him now. On 19th June, 1951, the present Foreign Secretary asked meto consider the suggestion whether, if our international rights are still not met after these two years, it would not be worthy of consideration to send one of our tankers to the Suez Canal under, if possible, allied, but at any rate, effective, escort."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th June, 1951; Vol. 489, c. 242.]It is not two years now, but five years or more. It appears to us that this action of Egypt's is a breach of the 1888 Convention—I think that is agreed on both sides of the House—and that it is unlawful as to the shipping of Israel, Britain and other countries. I understand that that view has been upheld by the United Nations. One of the sad things about this is that the United Nations itself is being set aside.
There is the question of arms for Egypt and for other Arab States. We can follow the desire of Her Majesty's Government and the United States of America that the Arab States should be ready to defend themselves against possible totalitarian aggression. I want them to be able and willing to do so, and I appreciate and affirm the very great importance of friendly relations between us and the Arab States. If I appear to be critical of their policy it is not in any way that I do not wish us to be friendly with them. I realise how important that is. I want them to be ready to defend themselves against possible totalitarian aggression, if they are willing to collaborate to that end. We wish for friendship with them.
It has to be faced that for five or six years there has been an armistice between the Arab States and Israel which, unhappily, the Arab States have refused so far to convert into a peace. I have already referred to the threats against Israel which are making that country nervous. Much has been said about friendship between this country and various Arab States, and rightly so. Let 236 us not underestimate that Israel is a distinctly friendly country as well. I have been there twice, once in 1935 and once in Whitsun this year. I am enormously impressed with Israel as a great, progressive, democratic experiment. The extraordinary thing is that their processes of thinking are very much like our own, which is a comfort in these days.
They learned a lot, despite all the trouble between some of them and us under the British mandatory Government. They have learned a lot about government from the British mandatory Government, and they will admit it. There is, therefore, a friendly feeling on the part of Israel towards this country which we should not underestimate. They are in favour of almost any form of co-operation with this country for the peace of the world and for the general improvement of conditions, not only in Israel but in the Middle East as well, if they are permitted so to co-operate.
I regard Israel as a great democratic experiment. It has a mixed economy. It is an experiment worthy of great respect and admiration. She has made much economic progress. She can make more and I believe that she will make more. It would be a great loss to the world and an enormous loss to the Middle East if this demonstration were to fail—this demonstration that out of backward, unnourished and poor land can evolve a prosperous countryside and out of nothing can emerge factories and undertakings. This is, indeed, what needs doing in the Middle East as a whole. Israel is anxious to make her contribution by example and, if it were acceptable, otherwise, too.
Israel is bound to be apprehensive about the supply of arms to the Arab States and about what arms are to be left in Egypt, but we have been given an assurance this afternoon that no arms are to be handed over to the Egyptians.
§ Mr. Morrison
Yes. There may be sales of arms, as there are to Iraq. I want to put it to the Government that if our sales of arms to the four surrounding Arab countries, and, indeed, to others, too, together with gifts or sales from the United States, are to put Israel at a distinct military disadvantage, then, not- 237 withstanding the proved fighting capacity of Israel, that country may be in real military danger.
The United States have been rather forthcoming in this matter of arms for the Arab States; they have picked up a British tradition which no doubt they remember from earlier times. It is good that they are capable of changing their policy for good as well as for otherwise. If the total military equipment and the quality of the military equipment of these surrounding Arab States is to be substantially greater than that of Israel, then Israel would be in great danger and she would need more than the equipment of one country, so to speak, if she were to defend herself.
But what a tragedy it is that all this military business should be going on. What a pity it is that they cannot devote their time to economic programmes and development. We ought to be told in the Secretary of State's reply to the debate what arms are to be made available to the Arab States by the United Kingdom and the United States as compared with the arms made available to Israel.
I agree that in part it will depend on how much they are prepared to buy, but I want to know what is be available for I am sure that the Prime Minister will agree with me—I have always liked his sympathetic interest in what was formerly Palestine and is now Israel—that it would be a great loss to the world if anything went wrong there, with they themselves having no aggressive ambitions towards anybody else.
Is it sufficiently realised that the vigour and democratic health of a country does not depend on arms alone but depends also upon economic health and upon social security, which in my judgment is an important factor in the vigour and the military capacity of any country? The great need of the Middle East is for economic development and progress and improvement of the conditions of life. These will have political, economic and if necessary military consequences not a bit less important than the supply of arms.
The Minister of State referred to the three-Power Declaration. That Declaration was dated 25th May, 1950, so that the Labour Government were involved. It is good as far as it goes, but it does not fully meet the situation consequent 238 upon our new agreement with Egypt. The Declaration provides thatThe three Governments, should they find that any of these States was preparing to violate frontiers or armistice lines, would, consistently with their obligations as Members of the United Nations, immediately take action, both within and outside the United Nations, to prevent such violation.I am not quite sure what all this means.
§ Mr. Morrison
I said it was 1950; it was the best we could get. This agreement about the Suez Canal did not then exist, which makes a difference. We were there. We were in a better position to act. We shall not now be in a position immediately to act if an aggression takes place. I admit that the words of the Declaration are our words, but they are vague and in the new circumstances, with the British out of the Canal base for effective purposes, it seems to me that the situation is made much more dangerous. As against this vague declaration, coupled with British evacuation of the Canal Zone, there are specific military guarantees against external aggression on our part in respect of Iraq and Jordan. The two cases are, therefore, not parallel and there is a further danger.
What is needed is an Arab-Israel peace. The War of Independence was stopped at the request of the United Nations, in which the United Kingdom and the United States took a prominent part. Hostilities ceased and an armistice was made at a time when Israel was achieving a considerable degree of military success; but she is a good United Nations country and a good friend of ours and of the United States, and she accepted it. The two sides sat around a table. Temporary borders of occupation were settled. It is the case, however, contrary to all the principles of the United Nations to which all these countries belong, that after five or six years the armistice goes on, there is no peace and there are incidents. Presumably the active state of war has ended in the ordinary meaning of the term, but the present situation is absurd and anomalous.
I saw a case where the cottages of a farm are in Jordan and the farmland is in Israel; and the farm cannot be operated because of this separation. I saw another case where there had been demilitarisation or neutralisation of many 239 acres of land. It is good land. The Israelis have tried to persuade the Arabs to talk, with a view to reaching an agreement whereby it could be divided and the produce divided between the two countries. It is such a tragedy that all this should be taking place. Anything that we can do, should be done. We have a duty to try very hard; so have the United States and the United Nations, in view of our pressure five or six years ago.
In some ways there is something approaching a state of war, and Israel is in a condition of near-siege. If she had not the Mediterranean on one side, even though she is cut off from the Suez Canal, she would be in great difficulty. There is an economic boycott and a blockade of traffic on the Suez Canal. Israel has asked for negotiations She has offered a non-aggression pact.
It is interesting that this debate should take place on 2nd November, which is the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration of 2nd November, 1917. This is the anniversary of our Declaration, which was supported by the United States, for a Jewish home in Palestine. As I say, it has been a great and an inspiring thing.
Reference has been made to the refugees. For those people, I agree, it is a tragic and terrible experience, but there are many thousands of Arabs living in Israel in peace and security, enjoying political, social and economic rights, and with a better standard of life than that of their former countrymen elsewhere. Nevertheless, the situation should be handled with a view to international settlement. There was a state of war. The Arabs left voluntarily. I am glad that Israel has generously released a substantial amount of frozen money, but this business of the refugees ought to be settled at a peace conference.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I think that the right hon. Gentleman said just now that the Arabs voluntarily left Palestine to be refugees. Surely he knows that that is a monstrous inaccuracy.
§ Mr. Morrison
I think it is generally true. I would not say true in every case, but when the war broke out many of them left, as do many people in similar circumstances. Therefore, it is a bit unjust to claim that the problem is one of 240 Israeli creation. There are large numbers of Arabs still living in Israel in happy conditions. They have their own members of Parliament, and their own town councillors, too, as I saw at Nazareth.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
On the question of responsibility for the original creation of the problem, is it not the case that, at the beginning, many left, not voluntarily but persuaded by the inducements of the Arab States that, if they left, they would be sent back?
§ Mr. Morrison
I have no doubt that many unpleasant things can be remembered—the whole business is unpleasant—but I think that, with the co-operation of the United Nations, a more definite effort should be made by the Arab States to settle these people—just as the Israelis have settled people of all sorts and qualities, coming from all over the world, into Israel—instead of letting them merely exist, as it were, on sufferance, on the aid, generous as it is, given by the United Nations. They should be settled on the land; heaven knows, there is plenty of land on which they could be settled.
What is needed is economic co-operation between Israel and the surrounding Arab States. Much more water could be obtained for all the countries concerned as a result of co-operation. Much more electricity could be obtained. A power station is supposed to be in course of construction on the Jordan River which could serve Jordan as well as Israel. With co-operation, manufactured goods can be bought and exchanged, and there is room for the sale of agricultural produce grown in the Arab countries. Were peace established and co-operation forthcoming the whole economic situation could be improved.
Looking at the Middle East generally, there is great need, and room, for agricultural and general economic development in the countries concerned. The Middle East is an area of riches and poverty and that, itself, is a great social danger. There are all the raw materials and elements of Communism, and one of these days something may happen. These extreme riches 241 and poverty should be dealt with. The masses need a better standard of life. Above all, it would be a fine thing if they had a labour movement and a trade union movement.
In all these respects it is important that the Western countries should assist. Great developments and great advances are possible. I should like to see a Middle East economic and social board carrying out a survey, in conjunction with the Middle Eastern Governments—all of them—to see how conditions could be improved and economic developments take place. I think that the very great profits which are going into Middle Eastern countries from the oil undertakings might, in greater part, be used for the economic and social development of this part of the world.
Such economic development and stimulation in the Middle East, with higher standards of education and higher standards of social security would be a real contribution not only to social advancement but to the development of a real democracy, security and peace in this vital and important part of the world.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Professor Sir Douglas Savory (Antrim, South)
I am sure that the House listened with sympathy when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) spoke of the necessity, under the Constantinople Agreement of 1888, of keeping open the Suez Canal. We felt sympathy when he spoke of the perils to which Israel is at present being subjected, and we sympathised even more with him when he described the present deplorable condition of the refugees.
With regard to Egypt, I should like to make a personal confession. My earliest recollection of that country is a very sad one. Evening after evening when I came home I asked my father, "What news is there of General Gordon?" When the terrible news arrived that Sir Garnett Wolseley's expedition had arrived two days late and that Gordon had been murdered, the blow which struck me then, as a small boy, is one that I shall always remember. From that time forward, I have always taken the very keenest interest in Egypt. I have listened to all these debates with great attention. I feel that the defect in so many of our discus- 242 sions is that we ignore the historical background of these problems.
I feel sure that the House will agree that the greatest strategist of the last century was Napoleon. We can learn a great lesson from his invasion of Egypt. On his way to that country he was shrewd enough to seize Malta from the Knights of St. John. He landed successfully in Alexandria, defeated the Egyptians at the Battle of the Pyramids and became master of Cairo and of Alexandria. He might have remained there had it not been for Nelson's glorious victory at the Battle of Aboukir Bay, at which the French fleet was destroyed and the French army's retreat cut off. Sir Ralph Abercrombie and his 15,000 gallant British troops then landed, completely defeated the French and our forces, themselves, occupied Cairo and Alexandria.
We were there for two years, and a great mistake was made by our withdrawal. Would it be believed that within two months of our abandoning Cairo, war was to break out again, the Treaty of Amiens overthrown, and we had lost for ever that strategic position we had occupied? Why did we not listen to the man on the spot? Why do we always ignore our distinguished representatives in foreign countries? Major Misset insisted over and over again that we should remain with the consent and the desire of the whole of the population. But no, we withdrew, and we handed over the country to that bloodthirsty tyrant, Mohammed Ali. Many people think that this founder of the Egyptian dynasty was an Egyptian. He was not an Egyptian. He was not even a Turk. He was simply an Albanian adventurer, and he is the ancestor of all the successors who followed him on the throne of Egypt.
To show the nature of this tyrant, many of us have heard of the tea party in the Citadel, where Mohammed Ali invited all the Mamelukes, that is to say the Turkish Governors, and every one with one exception was murdered. I was shown in the Citadel the amazing parapet over which one of these Mamelukes on his horse is said to have jumped. I think it is really a fairy tale. I believe he was sick in bed at the time. Anyway, he was the only one who escaped. That is the first opportunity that we lost.
243 The second opportunity that we lost was at the time of Ismail, the grandson of Mohammed, who, after many years of extravagance, piled up debt after debt, borrowed money which he could never repay, at 12½ per cent., and finally, in order to get further funds, demanded that he should be placed under joint control of Great Britain—Major Baring was our representative—and M. de Blignières that of France. A rebellion broke out, the famous rebellion of Arabi Pasha against Taufiq, the successor of Ismail, and even Mr. Gladstone's Government, so disinclined to take any action at the time, were obliged to send the fleet to Alexandria and bombard it, and after the great battle of Tel-el-Kebir were forced to pursue the victory and once more occupy Cairo and Alexandria There again we should have remained. It was the desire of all the inhabitants, but once more we lost the chance of incorporating, with the will of the people, Egypt in the British Empire.
Again, in 1914 Turkey declared war upon us, and the Khedive of that period, Abbas II, was in Constantinople in league with the Turks. It was decided that he should be deposed. There again, the fundamental error was made of proclaiming a protectorate, which in international law is extremely doubtful, and we put on the throne the uncle of Abbas II who, harmless old gentleman, remained there till his death. That was the opportunity once more that was lost, not of proclaiming a protectorate, but of incorporating Egypt with the British Empire. Instead of that, we went even further. When Fuad I came to the throne, we actually gave him the title of King, in spite of all his endless intrigues. and there again a very great mistake was made.
With regard to the treaty made in 1936, how well I remember that the man who carried out all the negotiations for that treaty, Nahas Pasha, was received when he returned to Cairo with acclamation. British troops were cheered in Cairo and in Alexandria as well. In fact, the treaty was so popular that all the parties wanted to have a hand in signing it. When we signed that treaty it was understood that it was a treaty of alliance. It was a treaty which, in time of war, would have called upon Egypt to play her part.
244 That is the interpretation put upon it by our great representative, Sir Miles Lampson, who was 13 years in Cairo as High Commissioner and afterwards as ambassador, the present Lord Killearn. He thought at the time that the Egyptians, instead of remaining neutral when the war broke out in 1939, would have co-operated in every possible way. In fact, they did not declare war until it was quite certain that all danger from Italy had ceased, not until February, 1945, when eventually they made up their minds that the time had come to declare war upon the enemy.
What happened then? We incurred a debt of £400 million sterling for goods that had been supplied to us for our aid in defending Egypt from aggression. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer did his utmost to get it scaled down, and I should be glad if the Foreign Secretary would tell us something more about this £400 million. My belief is that it has been doled out at the rate of about £15 million every year to the Egyptians.
Now we come once more to this fresh agreement which is before us today. We heard a good deal of discussion last year about the 1953 Convention relating to the Sudan, and the Foreign Secretary came here on two occasions at least and denounced the way in which that agreement was being carried out by the Egyptians. Now we have the present treaty, and I should like to ask some questions about it.
First of all, we have made an agreement with certain people, and I want to know whether they are really in a position to "deliver the goods." At the present moment Egypt is in a state of unrest. The Muslim League seems to have enormous influence. It may be suppressed for the moment, but again and again we have seen the Muslim League being restored and resuscitated. I want to ask whether this government, this republican government established by a coup d'état, is in a position to fulfil the terms of this treaty. On what do they rest? When the Egyptian Prime Minister was asked about the future constitution and whether he was going to have an election he said, "No, we are going to have a selection." It sounds rather like the recent election in Eastern Germany. Are they in a position to "deliver the goods?"
245 The British Government made a treaty with the Sinn Feiners in 1921. It was introduced here with prophecies of peace. What happened? Within a very few months, the whole of the year 1922 saw a state of civil war between the regulars and the irregulars. The whole of Southern Ireland was devastated, and part of the capital, including the Four Courts, the palace of justice, was occupied by the rebels. That Government were not even able to control the capital. They could not "deliver the goods."
We have been told again and again that we cannot hold our position in Egypt because the population is hostile. I have been talking with people who have come back from the Canal Zone and who deny this. They say that the population is not hostile, and would be delighted to cooperate with us if it were not intimidated. The population was said to be hostile when the Treaty Ports were handed over to Southern Ireland. I know what I am talking about. Berehaven, where the whole population, from generation to generation—father and son—had served in the British Navy, was loyal to a man. At Queenstown. also, there was consternation when the Union Jack was hauled down, and I have it from an eye witness that at the forts on Lough Swilly, when the Union Jack was hauled down and the Sinn Fein flag was hoisted, the whole population was in tears. Yet I had to write four letters to "The Times" to contest the absurdity of the statement that the Treaty Ports could not be held because the population was hostile.
I now come to my third point, and I speak here with very great diffidence, because I wish to quote from my leader, the Prime Minister, a few sentences which very deeply moved me when I heard them in 1946. I am very glad that he is here—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—because I informed him that I would make this quotation. On 24th May, 1946, he said:Let us try to foresee what will happen if tension grows at any time in future and an emergency arises.… We shall then be in dispute with some other Great Power … the moment will come when the military advisers will say, 'We ought to reoccupy the military installations, camps and airfields in the Canal zone. We ought immediately to move in from our bases to the East or to the West of Egypt.' What might be the behaviour of the Egyptian Government at such a juncture? No doubt we shall be told that there would be a treaty 246 of alliance, but I cannot feel that, under such dire pressures, it would be of any avail. The Great Power with whom we shall be in dispute would, of course, say to the Egyptian Government: 'We should regard any movement into the Canal zone of British forces as an unfriendly act.' Can anyone suppose that the Egyptian Government, confronted with this situation and not desiring anyhow to have British troops or Air Forces in the Canal zone, will not refuse permission for us to reenter? … They will say, 'We do not agree that a state of emergency has arisen. We do not agree that a state of international emergency'—to quote the words of the Treaty of Alliance—'has arisen, and we deny your right to decide upon the fact contrary to us.' If such an attitude were adopted, and there were no British personnel in the Canal zone, the Egyptians … would be able to put out of action all the installations, radar equipment, airfields and so on, long before we could get there. … Can anyone imagine the British Government in such a situation, when the dread issue of peace or war in a renewed world struggle may be hanging in the balance, forcing the issue, whether Egypt agreed or not?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th May, 1946; Vol. 423, c. 774.]I apologise for that quotation. When I heard this speech, it made a very great impression upon me. I am sure that the Prime Minister has some very impressive reasons for taking a different point of view today, and I should very much like to hear them.
I am very reluctant to oppose this treaty, but I am encouraged by the thought that I was one of the few Members who voted against the Yalta Agreement. Can anyone say that we were not right to vote against it, when we look at the world and especially at Asia today? I hate to criticise any action of my own party, but when it is a question of conscience and I feel as strongly as I do upon this question, "I can do no other." I feel sure that the House will sympathise with me in the attitude I have taken.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I deeply sympathise with the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Sir D. Savory)—as he very rightly asked us all to do—but, in his reference to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, he must realise that one of the greatest of the many assets possessed by the Prime Minister is a very great flexibility of mind which enables him to meet changing circumstances.
I sincerely congratulate the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, firstly, upon his new appointment, and, secondly, upon the way in which he presented this matter to the House. Unfortunately, I am now—too 247 rapidly for my liking—becoming reckoned among the seniors of this House, but I can assure the right hon. Member of the admiration we all feel for him and his work. Not only has he already established himself as a Minister, but he has impressed his own personality upon this House of Commons. If I am spared to see it, I look forward to even greater offices being held by him.
I also congratulate him upon the work which he did in Egypt. He tackled it resolutely and with a success which we can all see. I have not the slightest doubt that this agreement is one upon which we can congratulate ourselves. What is desired above everything in that area is stability, because it has had such fluctuating fortunes and has passed through such dangerous times.
We must always bear in mind the importance of the area. It is not a mere accident that some of the greatest people in the history of this world have come from that area, situated as it is between the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa. Unfortunately, for many centuries now it has ceased to occupy the very prominent position which it hitherto held for a very long time. We have been unable to achieve stability so far because of disunity, but I believe that this agreement is a step towards unity, and any step in that direction strengthens our position and the position of all free countries.
It has been argued that we have left the Canal Zone now because circumstances have altered and the Canal Zone is no longer able to be defended. The atom bomb and the hydrogen bomb are said to have made all the difference. My view is that ever since the heavier bombers were used the Canal, as an open highway, has been indefensible, but, be that as it may, I would much prefer to think that we had left there, not for strategic reasons, but because it was right that we should do so. That is a much better reason. I fail to see how there can be any strength in a base established in a hostile country, and undoubtedly for a long time now Egypt and the Egyptians have been hostile to us, in spite of all that we have done for them.
I think they owe more to us than to anyone else. We went there 74 years ago. We brought them law and order. 248 We harnessed the great waters. We put the Egyptians on a sound economic footing, and we might have put them on a far sounder one if only they had listened to us. We have taught them the ways of democratic government. In two great wars we saved them, and preserved their independence. Nevertheless, inasmuch as we were there on their land, in spite of all we have done, their regard turned to an intense dislike.
I cannot see that there can be any strength whatsoever when one remains in part of the house and one's host no longer requires one there. That cannot strengthen the position of the host. Therefore, by this agreement we have not only done the right thing, but we have, in truth and in fact, strengthened our position, and, through ourselves, the position of our allies in the Middle East, so far as Egypt is concerned.
Now I come to the matter that was referred to so eloquently and so well by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). This very agreement has now given rise to a fresh set of circumstances and has undoubtedly increased the anxiety that is felt. We have helped the Arabs in the past, every one of the Arab States. Not only Egypt, but every one of the Arab States owes its independence and its position to the actions of this country in the Middle East. We went to their assistance when we were fighting here, and we acted not only as their advocate but as their shield throughout the whole period.
I am sure that Israel would be the first to acknowledge that we, above everybody else, helped to create the State of Israel. That State is under a deeper debt to us than to anybody else, even materially. Let us remember that it was from this country that the first word went out, in the famous words of the Balfour Declaration, which led to the growth of the Zionist movement and, ultimately, to the formation of Israel. Not only does Israel recognise the debt it owes to us, but we recognise our own obligations towards Israel. We have done so in the Tripartite Declaration signed in May, 1950. However, it is a mere declaration made by the three of us.
When this agreement was made, and on the very day when the Foreign Secretary announced in this House the fact 249 that this agreement with Egypt had been signed, he gave a firm assurance to the Government of Israel and to the people of Israel that we were abiding by the Declaration made by the United States, France and ourselves, but, unfortunately, that in itself has not relieved the tremendous anxiety that there is in Israel.
The people of Israel have suffered so much since they had to fight for their independence. They had to fight against a combination of all the Arab States. Ever since then, although they have succeeded, as the right hon. Gentleman said, not only in doing amazing things but in performing almost miracles upon the hard and harsh land by turning it into a fruitful country, they have had the whole time to watch their long unnatural border day and night. They have had to conscribe their young men, and also young women.
They have done so even though they felt, so long as our Forces were along the Canal, that we would act as their shield and that nothing very disastrous could happen, and that we would intervene in the terms of the Tripartite Declaration. Today they understand that, within 20 months, our people will have gone and that that shield will no longer be there.
The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said that so far as he knew there was no intention of any aggressive movement against Israel by Egypt. I only wish it were so. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South gave us a quotation out of a statement that had been made a year ago, I think it was. I have one referred to in the "Manchester Guardian" today, and not merely quoted there but actually incorporated in its leading article. It is a statement made by no less a person that Colonel Nasser, and made after the agreement had been signed and after the right hon. Gentleman had left Egypt. It is in terms that would cause anxiety anywhere, but must of necessity cause deep anxiety everywhere throughout Israel.
Here is the statement quoted in the leading article:Only last week Colonel Nasser said: 'I shall control my rage until the most expedient moment for the reckoning will come … The Palestine problem will not be solved and there will be no peace between Jews and our-selves as long as the enemy holds a single 250 crumb of our soil. Man can forget everything except blood, vengeance and honour.'Those are very terrifying words.
Then the leading article goes on:Take again the remarks in the newspapers. 'Al Goumhouriya' says: 'The artificial State of Israel must be erased from the map of the world for ever.'I do not know how it came about that those statements were not brought to the attention of the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. He himself made a very definite statement.
§ Mr. Nutting
No. What I said was that I had no evidence of any plans for aggressive action. That is quite a different thing from speeches such as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has drawn attention to, of which, of course, I am aware.
§ Mr. Davies
I did not expect that the right hon. Gentleman would be aware of plans for invasion, but what can we have more definite than the words of the Egyptian Prime Minister with whom he negotiated in signing this very agreement and who, the moment he leaves, makes this very bellicose, frightening statement about vengeance, blood and honour?
What are we to do? What we really want to do in that area, above everything else, is to build it up. But how can we get this stability if there is this continued disunity? I have already mentioned what is happening in Israel, and I have not the slightest doubt that in the same way along the border Syria, the Lebanon and Transjordan are also worried. Instead of being concerned about their future and their economic progress, the peoples of those countries are today concerned with watching one another. That cannot be of any help to anybody, least of all to themselves.
Is there anything that can be done? I know how hard the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has tried. He has tried time and time again, both by persuasion and by calling these people together, and by saying to them, "I cannot settle it and the United Nations cannot settle it. No arbitrator can settle it for you. Why not get into a room together and settle your differences between you?"
Israel is ready to do this and has said so time and again, both publicly and privately, but the Arab States refuse.
251 Therefore, one wonders whether there is anything further that we can do. May I make a suggestion? As I have said, we in the main are responsible for the creation of Israel. Today, we are her best friends, and we have brought others into joining with us on the Tripartite Declaration.
That is going a long way; that is a guarantee. It rather reminds me of the guarantees contained in the Charter of the United Nations. The fine and noble words in that Charter appeal to us all, but none of us, and least of all the Foreign Secretary, relies entirely upon the great words that are to be found in the Charter. If we could have relied on them, we would not have taken part in bringing about the Brussels Treaty, and the right hon. Gentleman would not have undertaken during the last few weeks the very great task of bringing the nine nations together and of forming N.A.T.O. and the South-East Asia Organisation.
Why, again, should there be a Pacific Pact if the words and guarantees contained in the United Nations' Charter are sufficient? We realise that something closer and more definite has to be given by way of guarantee. I wonder whether this trouble is not due to the fact that there is discrimination between what is done to the Arabs and what is done to the Jews, although I admit at once that the right hon. Gentleman wants to be fair to both of them, and merely wants to bring them together.
However, there is this discrimination. When it comes to the Arabs, there is a definite binding agreement. A definite binding agreement of mutual aid is made between ourselves and Transjordan, and such an agreement is made again between ourselves and Libya. Such an arrangement is also really contained in the new agreement made with Egypt, and there is another which was made with Iraq as long ago as 1936, in which we said to them, "If you are attacked, we shall be alongside you in a moment."
I agree that there is the statement contained in the Tripartite Declaration, but there is a lot of difference between the fine words contained in the Declaration by the three countries and a close, binding agreement. Therefore, I am wonder- 252 ing whether, if we made a definite agreement with Israel saying, "If you are attacked, we shall be with you," that might not also have its effect upon the Arab States.
The Arab States have their own binding agreements, but Israel stands alone. It might very well happen that if we took that further step, it would bring about what we all desire, and that they would then get into a room together and settle their differences, thus bringing peace to this part of the world, and that tremendous prosperity would undoubtedly follow. Not only would that have an immediate effect upon the fortunes of all in the area, but it would have a tremendous effect upon the rest of the world.
As I have said, this part of the world has played a very great part in the history of humanity in the past. It can play such a part again, but only if all the countries concerned work together in unity for the peace and welfare of all.
§ Mr. Thomas Reid (Swindon)
Surely, if there is to be military intervention on one side or the other, that intervention should be made by the United Nations, the people who set up the Jewish State.
§ Mr. Davies
I thought I had made it quite clear that there is a difference between a far-off guarantee, or the words used in the Charter of the United Nations, and the closer, binding agreement such as we have made with the Arabs and such as we need for our safety by the establishment of the Brussels Treaty and N.A.T.O.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
I think that probably the whole House agrees with the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) in his assessment of the needs of any policy or strategy that we may have in the Middle East, namely, that it should aim at stability because, as has been rightly said, our one interest above everything else in that part of the world is stability.
I propose to touch upon two questions which are concerned with this stability, and which, therefore, have a direct bearing upon what I am sure ought to be, and indeed is, the main aim of British policy in the Middle East. That aim is the stability of the whole area so that we can get out of it what we feel we want and 253 need, and what we feel that everyone there has the right to have, namely, the raw materials of the area for the benefit of those who live in it and for the benefit of the whole world. These things can be won if there is stability.
One of the questions bearing upon this stability is that of Cyprus. This has already been mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). I propose to deal with the question quite shortly because I know that there will be other occasions on which it will be dealt with at greater length. I shall certainly not fall into the error, the very easy error, of regarding that problem as a simple one. I think that it is an extremely difficult question.
I must say that I begin with a prejudice which is probably shared by almost everybody in this House, which is that if 80 per cent. of the population of a given territory want to be governed in a particular way, then probably all of us would say prima facie that they ought to be allowed to govern themselves in that way—provided, I would submit, that the granting of their request to be allowed to govern themselves, or to be governed in the particular way of their choice, does not interfere with the legitimate rights of other people who may be their immediate neighbours or, perhaps, their not so immediate neighbours.
I will give a simple example. If Scotland really decided that she wished to be governed entirely separately from the United Kingdom, I suppose that, according to the principle I have just laid down, she ought to be allowed to do so; but if, on the other hand, the City of London expressed a similar wish, I suspect that any impartial person looking at the position from the point of view of the principle I have propounded, would say, "No, the City of London should not be allowed to do this because all our planning and transport all over the nation is centred in it, money has been poured into this City; as a capital city, it is the natural port of a great hinterland, and it would not be right to do this, having regard to the rights of the surrounding people."
Looking at the question of Cyprus from the point of view of this principle, and in the light of these two very simple illustrations of those who should be allowed to follow their wishes and those who 254 should not, what are the considerations which are in the mind of the Government in saying that they will not consider or discuss the question of allowing Cyprus to be governed in accordance with the apparent wishes of 80 per cent. of its population?
Is it because of the 20 per cent. who, broadly speaking, we can call the Cypriot-Turks? I submit that because one-quarter of the population of Cyprus do not want Enosis—union with Greece—that in itself is not sufficient to permit of us saying in equity, "These people shall not be governed in accordance with their own wishes." Is it some other consideration? Is it Turkey, as distinct from the Cypriot-Turks? It is here that I feel that the Government have not been quite fair with the House, in that they have not told us sufficiently about what Turkey thinks. What is Turkey's conception of this matter? What would the reaction of Turkey be to an immediate prospect of Enosis? Would it be sharp, as some very responsible people think?
Some people claim that in Cyprus itself those who support Enosis are divided roughly in the proportion of 50 per cent. as between those who are Greek Nationalists, and who, broadly speaking, are Conservatives, and those who are Communists or, at any rate, Communist inspired and extremely Left. Akel is, I believe, the name of the party to which these latter belong.
Some people claim that if there were an immediate prospect of Enosis, those in the Akel Party who now support Enosis for their own reasons, would cease to do so, and there might easily be civil war inside Cyprus as between those two very considerable factions, and, before any Greek army was able to arrive on the scene, a Turkish army would have arrived. We want to know if this sort of thing is a mere flight of fancy or is it the Government's view that it is a possibility. Is this one of the considerations which they are thinking of when they say that they cannot allow the express wishes of the 80 per cent. to prevail because of strategic considerations?
So far I have only asked questions. I think that we ought to be told more by the Government about this position and the considerations which make up their reasons for not doing anything about the Cyprus question from the point 255 of view of change of sovereignty, summed up in the words "strategic reasons," by the Colonial Secretary recently. Can we be told more about it? I submit that something has to be done, and it is no use sitting down and saying, "We do not propose to discuss this matter." That just will not do.
It seems to me that we should go to the Greeks and the Turks and the Cypriots and say that we in this country have been good friends of the Greeks and the Turks for too long to allow this question to bedevil our relations with them or, indeed, the relations between the two countries, Greece and Turkey, themselves. Let us get together and talk about it. Let us talk with anybody who has an interest, as we have, in the stability of this area.
It may be that we could find that there would be some form of condominium or some "European" solution which would, for the present, tide us over this ridiculous position into which we are drifting, whereby we shall find ourselves at loggerheads with Greece certainly and probably with Turkey also. If there were, for instance, a British governor, a Greek governor, a Turkish governor and possibly two other governors to make an odd number, we might still this question until such time as the international situation permits of a more permanent solution being found.
It really is not any use for us to say—if the Government do say it; I have not heard the Government actually saying it but I have heard people on the other side of the House say it—that this 80 per cent. of Cypriots are not really Greeks at all. What does it matter whether they are Greeks by race or blood if they feel themselves to be Greeks and if they wish to be regarded as Greeks? Any other consideration, as it seems to me, is quite irrelevant, including the consideration that according to the literature of the ancient Greeks it seems that the ancient Greeks, any rate, regarded them as aliens.
A nation is surely more a body of ideas than a race of men, as, indeed, the United States shows. It certainly has more than one race of men in it: it has many religions, languages and racial origins, and yet it is undoubtedly a nation. Sir Ronald Storrs wrote, 256The Greekness of the Cypriots is, in my opinion, indisputable.Ever since 1830 and the Greek War of Independence there have been expressions of ideas favouring Enosis.
Has this matter been whipped up by agitators, the lawyers or the Church? It may very well have been. I must confess that I have the deepest suspicion of any political movement which is led by a Church: undue influence is only too likely. But the fact is that this movement is here, with 80 per cent. support of the people of the island, and all I submit to the Government is that we just cannot afford to sit back and say that we will not discuss it.
Something must be done with the Cyprus question as a contribution to the stability of that area. Of course, there may be other strategic considerations in the mind of the Government than the one I have touched upon. We must not allow the impropriety, inconvenience and almost indecency of two N.A.T.O. countries reaching the position of being at loggerheads, perhaps even coming to arms, among themselves. There may be other considerations, but surely we are not seriously suggesting that Cyprus can ever be a base in the sense in which the Suez Canal was a base. It may have a few offices, perhaps, for the officers of the Middle East headquarters, but nothing more. Surely we are not suggesting more than that. If, when a reply is made to this debate the Government could give some indication of what are these strategical considerations that prevent them from even discussing this question, I for one would be grateful.
The second point, which has already been brought to the attention of the House this afternoon, and which I should like to underline, is the question of stability viewed from the angle of the Israeli border. Instead of trying to concoct some sort of base in Cyprus, would it not be far better to come to a sensible agreement with Israel?
I agree heartily with what has been said about the friendliness of the Israeli people towards ourselves. I question whether there is a more reliable or more friendly people to us in the Middle East than the Israeli people, and it would be 257 far better to come to a sensible agreement with them which would make for stability on their border. So long as that instability exists, the whole Middle East is in a state of instability and we forfeit our two main immediate objectives—oil, and space in which to manoeuvre troops in time of trouble.
What are we doing in that area to achieve this stability? Are we not bolstering up very small minorities in the Arab States who are, in fact, leaving enormous majorities of their peoples in a state of poverty, ignorance, illiteracy for the most part, and disease? Surely it would be very much better if we insisted that any revenues which came from us by way of either oil royalties or subsidies were devoted to raising the standards generally of their people and making those countries more stable; because at present they are extremely fertile ground for the breeding of Communism.
I was pleased at the advance made this afternoon by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, but are we not turning a nearly blind eye to the origins of these incidents which continue on the Israeli border? We have heard the threat, which was mentioned just now, by Colonel Nasser. Almost every one of the Arab leaders has at one time or another—and two of them, to my knowledge, fairly recently—stated that it was their object to drive the Israelis into the sea.
We know that the Israelis want nothing better than peace because, without it, they cannot exist. Therefore, there is no excuse for pretending that the blame for these incidents on the Israeli border lies on the side of the Israelis. It is the intention, I submit, of the Arab minorities who rule these Arab countries to do that which they were unable to do by overt military action, and to play tip-and-run on the border in order to put upon the Israeli State a far greater burden of defence expenditure than it can possibly bear.
§ Colonel Cyril Banks (Pudsey)
A few moments ago, speaking of Cyprus, the hon. and learned Member said that he thought that in certain cases 80 per cent. of the population should say by whom they wished to be governed. Does he not think that the same formula might have been applied at one time in Palestine by the people who lived there?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I think it might have been applied. Indeed, in all countries it should be applied. In Palestine at the present time I should certainly apply it.
§ Colonel Banks
Does the hon. and learned Member consider that the present Israeli Government would now be in power in Palestine had that formula been applied?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
If the majority had been allowed to speak, the Israeli Government probably would not be in power. That might apply to a great many countries.
It would be difficult to imagine a country which has not come to existence by the exercise of force of arms rather than the force of votes. Nevertheless, the ideal which we all have is that we want, if possible, to allow the majority to govern itself in accordance with its own wishes. I should certainly apply that to the Arabs, as well as to the Israelis or to any other country.
We really ought to try to stop this tension on the Israeli border by ceasing to pretend that the fault is on both sides, when out of their own mouths the Arabs stand condemned because they want to turn the Israelis into the sea.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I hope that in his suggestion as to the motive of the surrounding Arab States the hon. and learned Member will not overlook the very great service which the Arab Legion has rendered in trying to keep law and order on that front.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
The Arab Legion has done great work, but that was not what I was aiming at. It is not always the Arab Legion which starts the incidents on the Israeli border. On the contrary, it is probably done by irregulars, and more often than not it is condoned by authority.
We ought to make our position absolutely plain. We should say that we realise where the blame lies and recognise that the trouble could be stopped, provided we came to a sensible agreement with Israel. That would show the Arab countries that we are extremely friendly and wish to co-operate with them as well as with the Israelis for stability in the Middle East. It would demonstrate our belief that the best form of co-operation 259 there would be a cessation of these incidents on the Israeli border, and the establishment now of a peace which it is puerile to pretend can be delayed for ever. If we were to press forward in these directions, we would contribute significantly to that stability in the Middle East which we all wish to see established.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. F. M. Bennett (Reading, North)
If I do not follow the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) into his discourse on Cyprus, it is not because I should not like to discuss that issue with him but because it has been made clear that today is not the occasion for going deeply into that problem. With regard to the second part of the hon. and learned Member's speech, dealing with the fears of Israel, I cannot help feeling that no service is done by stressing the fears of one side as against those of the other side. Anybody who has travelled in the Middle East knows perfectly well that there are grounds for genuine fears on both sides.
My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, in debate after debate, have repeated firmly their intention to do all that they can both to end that tension and to abide strictly by the terms of the Tripartite Declaration. The best service that we can do, therefore, is not to take sides in a dispute which has been bedevilled very much because it has gone on far too long already Rather we should give support to the Foreign Secretary in what my right hon. Friend today said was our policy of quietly and patiently pursuing a means of reconciliation between the two sides without exacerbating matters by taking part in a continuation of this dogfight which, as I have said, has gone on far too long.
More generally in his opening remarks today, the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), the former Foreign Secretary, speaking from the Opposition benches, was rather ungenerous to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary about the great achievements that any unbiased observer would agree have been acheived by the Government in the Middle East. The right hon. Gentleman's criticism about the agreements with Egypt and Persia in particular was that they were not good enough. We 260 always say that agreements are not perfect and that is doubtless so here, but at least we can say that these agreements are better than nothing and it is precisely nothing that was left by the Labour Government when they went out of office.
The other argument I have heard put forward from the benches opposite about these agreements, and particularly the Egyptian one, is that a better one could have been reached much earlier. It is a perfectly valid argument that with the expiry of the 1936–56 agreement approaching our bargaining power for getting a new one decreased accordingly. But on that argument, if followed to its logical conclusion, it should have been still easier for the Labour Government to have reached an agreement during the six years that they held office, when the end of the current agreement was still some distance off.
In actual fact, by our patient work since the present Government came into power, we have attained one particular credit point which I do not believe the Opposition were ever within an arm's length of getting, and that was the inclusion of our N.A.T.O. ally, Turkey, among the countries which would cause reactivation under this treaty being brought into force. Contrary to the views of some of my hon. Friends—and we all understand and respect them fully; I stress that at the outset—most of us here regard this treaty not just as a salvage operation or the best that we can get, but as a very real and positive thing from which many benefits have already flowed and from which we have every reason to expect many more will follow in the future.
Some years ago, while the treaty dispute with Egypt was going on, I had the good fortune to be in that country for a short time, and whatever we may now say about the population being hostile or not, it immediately became apparent that we were by no means popular with the articulate leadership in all political parties throughout that country. A fact that we have had to face for some considerable time was that the Egyptians wanted to get us out. When I called at Cairo for a short time during my recent visit to East Africa with the Parliamentary Commonwealth Association, the first advantage I noticed from the new agreement was a transformation in the feelings 261 of all sections of Egyptian society towards us. An Englishman landing in Egypt now is regarded immediately as a friend, and the whole atmosphere has altered drastically for the better.
The second point that occurs to me concerns the upkeep of the installations. Obviously, we should prefer that our Forces should be there to look after those installations and to maintain the garrison base, but, as the late Government found out and as we know only too well, no agreement was possible with the Egyptians which meant the leaving of British troops in that base. We in this country may regret it because we have enjoyed our national sovereignty for such a long time that we think there is nothing particularly undignified about the presence on our soil of friendly allied troops, and not only do we think so but so do many Powers in Europe.
The Egyptians, however, are at the moment too sensitive to understand the difference between occupation and the presence of the troops of a friendly Power. We hope that in years to come they will understand that in the modern world considerable advantages flow from the sort of co-operation which the N.A.T.O. Powers enjoy. Until that time arrives we have a new agreement with the Egyptians and in that respect we have at least safeguarded the installations not only up to the end of 1956 agreement but for some five years beyond that with the question of the renewal and extension of the agreement being left open. That, I think, is a marked advance on anything that could have been envisaged here three years ago.
Some mocking remarks have been made about the Prime Minister calling suddenly to his aid the argument about the H-bomb and dispersal of our Forces. I do not think that that is fair at all, because, of course, it surely is true that the advent of various nuclear bombs in the field of military strategy has forced us to make a re-appraisal of our military position. In Egypt, all our Forces were grouped in one large area. Under the revised plan one of the positive benefits will be that our Forces will be dispersed over a number of smaller units throughout the Middle East.
§ Mr. Crossman
I gather that the hon. Member just now described the Suez 262 Canal as a small area. After all, it is 100 miles long and probably some 40 miles wide. Would the hon. Gentleman tell me whether the area in Cyprus, where we are proposing to construct a £20 million base, is larger or smaller than the Suez area?
§ Mr. Bennett
The hon. Gentleman, who is always coming into this House with bloodcurdling stories about the devastating effects of the H-bomb, is now, I understand, saying that the H-bomb would not do so much damage. What he has suggested about the base moving into Cyprus is a deliberate misinterpretation of what the Government have said up to now. What I am saying, and what Government spokesmen have said, is that Cyprus is to be only one of a number of dispersal centres in the Middle East, and if the hon. Gentleman had not interrupted me I was going to mention some of the other ones. They are widely dispersed and are more than 100 miles apart.
§ Mr. Crossman
That is not the question I asked. The hon. Gentleman said that the reason the Suez base was being left was that it was a small area and is now obsolescent owing to the H-bomb. May I ask him whether the area of Cyprus, where we are now building a £20 million base, is larger or smaller than Suez or at least as obsolescent?
§ Mr. Bennett
I thought I answered that point. No one has suggested for one moment that the whole base which was in Suez should now be moved to Cyprus.
§ Mr. Bennett
I am saying that only part of the base is going to Cyprus, and if Cyprus came under an H-bomb attack only a section of our Forces, which previously, were all grouped in one place, would be hit because the others are to be widely dispersed throughout the Middle East. In other words, instead of one base there are to be five or six. That, I think, spells dispersal.
§ Mr. Bennett
If I could be allowed to continue my speech, that is exactly the next point I was going to make.
263 There have been suggestions where our troops might go in the Middle East. We could have a greater concentration of Armed Forces, by agreement, in Libya, and another country is Transjordan. Another possibility, which is not to be disregarded altogether, is some fresh agreement with Iraq if that could be reached, and we have our friendly ally, Turkey, with whom it is not impossible to envisage some agreement on the same terms as we enjoy with our other N.A.T.O. partners.
Finally in this context—and this is the principal point I wanted to make in this connection—I want to plead for a rear base, if it is militarily strategically advisable, to be established in Kenya. When I was in Kenya recently I found that the community generally endorsed the idea of us having a military rear base for stores, etc., in Kenya. That would not only give us the advantage of possessing a base well back from the possibility of sudden and devastating attack, but it would also be in a sterling country, so that expenditure for it would not be in hard currency, as would be the case if we had to stay in or go to a foreign country. Thirdly, it would introduce an element of stability into Kenya and into East Africa generally, which events recently have shown would be nothing but advantageous.
The other arguments in favour of the conclusion of this agreement have been made on a number of occasions and I shall not repeat them at length. However, we know that the position which has existed up to now, with our 80,000 troops grouped in the Suez Canal area, has not been good for the morale of the Army or for recruitment. By the release of those Forces elsewhere we shall, in addition to the other advantages I have mentioned, do a great deal to improve locally their morale and well being and the conditions under which our troops in the Middle East are serving.
§ Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)
The hon. Gentleman was suggesting Kenya, but we have already built an important base in the Mackinnon Road and we gave it up because it was not serviceable.
§ Mr. Bennett
I said, and I repeat, that in the light of existing conditions, which 264 have altered materially because of nuclear weapons, militarily and strategically there is a case for reviewing the possibility of having a satisfactory rear base in Kenya.
Economically, too, there is every argument for our having completed this agreement. Wherever we put our Forces, whether in Kenya, Cyprus or Jordan, we would save the expense of scarce hard currency, which would be of considerable assistance to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
One facet of this question which has not been touched on, and which, from the start of this controversy, I have felt to be all-important, is that if an agreement had not been reached by the previous Government or by this one and 1956 had arrived, what a much weaker position we would have been in. Under Article 8 of the old Treaty, which is now expiring, there was a provision that in the event of no agreement by consent having been reached by 1956, the parties would go to arbitration either by the League of Nations or some other body which could be agreed between them.
There is not much doubt but that this body ultimately would be the United Nations, and if a dispute as to Whether we should keep our troops on Egyptian soil or not had gone to the United Nations, one of two things could have happened. It could either have gone to the Security Council, where probably we would have been out-voted, and then would have had to face the choice of using the veto or else of going out of Egypt lock, stock and barrel, without any agreement; or it would have gone to the General Assembly where we would stand in even greater danger of being out-voted, and in that event we would have had the grim choice of flouting the United Nations or of going out of Egypt also without any agreement having been reached. In the event, the agreement that has now been reached carries us over that danger. Not only does it keep us our position until 1956 but, subject to certain admitted limitations, we now have a reasonably satisfactory agreement with Egypt for the stability of the Middle East lasting through the next seven years.
Coming briefly to Persia, here again the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South was once more a 265 little ungenerous over the arrangement we have managed to reach with Persia. As he has returned to the Chamber, may I repeat my last remark, that it is all very well picking holes in the agreement, but it is better than no agreement at all, which was precisely what the right hon. Gentleman left behind when he vacated his high office. Looked at purely factually, it was under the Labour Government that Abadan was lost, and it is under a Conservative Government that the British are back in Abadan again.
§ Mr. Bennett
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman to give an honest answer to this question: whether he would not have clutched at this agreement with both hands if he could have had it offered to him during his administration?
As to the figure of 40 per cent. of the consortium which he has just mentioned, in fact this is rather more than 40 per cent. and I thought the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs was modest on that point today. Britain's share of the consortium is nearer 50 than 40 per cent. because of our large holding in Royal Dutch Shell. Therefore, Britain is not only the largest single shareholder in the new consortium which is to get the benefit of Persian oil for at least the next 25 years and probably for a long time thereafter, but we also have nearly a controlling interest in the consortium as such.
Before this agreement was reached, all we had was a claim on a big refinery which had closed down and which was apparently lost to us for ever. I should think that this is indeed an agreement of which we could be proud since we are now getting some compensation which was not offered before, although, admittedly, it is only limited compensation. Also, we have nearly a 50 per cent. interest in the combine which will run Persian oil for the next 25 years or more, and we are also getting about £220 million sterling from the other companies which will share with us in the running of the industry.
Today, our Ministers are telling the House a story of achievement in one field of foreign affairs, the Middle East, and every unbiased person will agree that they have every right to be extremely proud of that achievement. One after 266 another the problems left over by the previous Administration have been settled——
§ Mr. Bennett
My hon. Friends and I are extremely proud. Hon. Gentlemen opposite should not mock too much when hon. Members on this side of the House pay deserved tribute to their leaders. It is not a question of our trying to curry favour, as is often said, but it is in marked contrast to themselves when in office, because they never had anything about which to cheer their own leaders.
I repeat that on this side of the House we have every right to be extremely proud of our administration in the Middle East as well as in its conduct of foreign affairs generally throughout the world. I have no doubt that when history is written a Government which was heralded into office by jeers of "warmongers" from the party opposite, will go down as the greatest peace-making Government for many a year.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Reading, North (Mr. F. M. Bennett) will not expect me to follow him in the eulogies which he has presented on behalf of his own Government to his own Government. At this stage, because time is short and many other hon. Members want to speak, I shall not enter into controversial matters of that nature.
Whilst I appreciate the attempt that is being made to settle the position in the Middle East, I am afraid that mistakes are being made in so far as the emphasis is concerned, in relation particularly to the attitude towards Israel and the Arab world respectively. Perhaps I am particularly entitled to speak on this matter. I happen to be occupying in a very humble way the position which was held by the person in the British Zionist Federation to whom the Balfour Declaration was given. It is rather interesting to look back a little on what has happened since that time.
Today is not only the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration but this year happens to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Dr. Herzel, the founder 267 of the Zionist Movement. I believe that if we had stood by what the Balfour Declaration really intended—and I speak on this issue irrespective of party in this House—and if we had done what we should have done and seen what we should have seen, we would not have thrown away one of the finest opportunities for co-operation in the Middle East that was ever presented to our country.
That is why for many years I have attempted in this House to foster a cause which I believe is in the highest interest of civilisation and of Britain. That is why, with men like Josiah Wedgwood, I believed strongly in the creation of Palestine as a British Dominion.
At the outset, I should like to quote his reply to a question which was put to the Prime Minister of Israel not very long ago so that the House may realise that Israel has gone very far towards fulfilling what it set out to do in the best interests not only of itself but of democracy and the world. The question was put by a correspondent to that very eminent statesman, Moshé Sharett. He was asked,What do you see as the outlook for the future for Israel?He replied:The outlook is one of a hard-working, modestly-living cultured democracy, making the best of its human and natural resources by a persistent pioneering effort, advanced education, improved technology and painstaking scientific research—learning from the experience of other nations and putting its lessons to the best possible use.It is our basic purpose to foster the ties of brotherhood with the Jewish communities of the world. We rely on their assistance and spiritual attachment and we hope to contribute to the enrichment of their cultural life.It is our ambition eventually to establish relations of good neighbourliness and peaceful collaboration with the Arab States, with whom we are ready to pool efforts, aimed at material and social progress, for the benefit of the entire region. In so doing, we do not propose to divest ourselves of our universal tradition. We are a people with world associations and we must strive to maintain and deserve that historic status.If a statement of that nature were presented to us on either side of the House as being the aim and object of our own people here, who would or could cavil at it?
What is the concern of the Israelis at present? I have been in Israel a number of times and I have seen there how they 268 have created a State which is worthy of their pride. They have endeavoured to bring, and have brought, within their boundary men and women whose sufferings were such that they cannot be described in words. They have rebuilt the minds as well as the bodies of hundreds of thousands of the victims of the fiercest oppression and persecution that has ever taken place in the history of the world.
They have endeavoured to wrest life from a soil which has been barren for years. They have succeeded in making two blades of grass grow where one or none grew before. I submit that with that example the Middle East, if properly persuaded and properly directed by us, and others, could soon flourish in a way which would be remarkable, and which would bring real prosperity to the peoples of Arab countries and amity and understanding between them and Israel.
That is all that Israel asks. It is no good underestimating the boundary incidents. There in Israel, men and women have to go to work during the day and they have to sleep with a Sten-gun under their pillows because marauders come over the border from Jordan at night, whether authorised, unauthorised or semi-authorised, and innocent victims are killed night after night. They may be killed in ones or more. Perhaps it does not sound so bad "in ones" but that is happening night after night, and the tension is terrific. Yet while all that is going on the land is being improved. A democracy with a Parliament is building itself up in a manner which is worthy of any nation, and which should be a source of pride to the United Nations and to the League of Nations which created that State, with the help of the Jewish people and of this great country of ours.
That is the situation on one side. Why are the Israelis nervous about the general position? My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) has given a quotation, and the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), the Leader of the Liberal Party, has also made quotations from statements made by people who really count in that unfortunate Arab world in which there is so much power for the leadership and so little with the masses being led.
I should now like to give the exact translation of a statement made by Prime 269 Minister Nasser and to ask the House whether it is not fair to infer from it that things are very far from being as good as they should be. According to "Falastin," the Arab-Jordanian paper published in the Old City of Jerusalem, Nasser said:I shall restrain my fury until the hour of fruitful and useful fury comes. It will come when I and my friends have cleaned our house. We shall not clean the street as long as our house is still contaminated. The Arabs were defeated in the Palestine War because they were driven by their fury without judgment and clear thought. When we terminate the question of the Canal, Egypt will know but one problem—that of Palestine.There cannot be much doubt about the intention of a statement of that kind. It may be that Nasser is trying to show that he is as good a nationalist as the Muslim Brotherhood, but it is a very dangerous thing to have leaders of his description expressing themselves in that way.
I am sorry that the Prime Minister is not here. I remember, and you will remember, Mr. Speaker, that when the Nazi problem arose I urged, as he did, in this House 20 years ago that we should not take for granted the statements that were being made by Hitler and other Nazis, implying that Hitler did not really mean the terrible threats to Jews and others expressed by him earlier. The Nazis sent out statements in an attempt to deny what they had said before, and to suggest that they were humane people and had no intentions against the Jewish community. The result of all that was the murder of six million people. That fact cannot be overlooked. We must remember that when leaders of the type of Nasser are about, stirring up the population, very serious consequences can ensue.
Today we have heard of some of the things that have been said by Egyptian leaders, but what is being done in Egypt? I do not know whether hon. Members realise that threats are not just stopping at words. I should like to quote from a report from Geneva. I wonder how many hon. Member realise that:Reports of alleged widespread Egyptian ill-treatment of Jews have been filtering through to Switzerland for example. The reports declare (1) that the Egyptian Government in recent months has proceeded with large-scale arrests of Jews. One hundred and fifty Jews are listed as having been recently imprisoned on charges, which are described as 'fantastic'; (2) that Egyptian Jews are being 'lumped together as Zionists, Communists, and even members of the Moslem Brotherhood' 270 as 'enemies of the State'; (3) that the Egyptian Jewish community is currently in a state of panic; and (4) that the interrogation methods used in questioning the arrested Jews 'stagger the imagination'.I have a very unhappy recollection that I read in this House from a report in the same journal—the main journal of the Anglo-Jewish community, the "Jewish Chronicle"—a similar quotation about the Nazis at the time of the Hitler events, and people did not believe it. They said that it was just unbelievable and could not possibly be true; but it was true. I am sorry to say that I am convinced that what I have quoted just now is also true.
I believe there is a great obligation upon us, having conceded so much to the Egyptians and having conceded so much to the Arab world, to make our voice heard so that they will understand in unmistakable terms that the conscience of humanity will not allow any part of the kind of thing to be perpetrated in the Middle East which at one time was practised in that unhappy country of Germany at the time of the Nazi régime.
May I turn for a moment to another matter? Why do we not do something definite about the Suez Canal? After all, we know the international obligation which rests upon Egypt in this respect. I remember the Foreign Secretary himself, making an intervention when I asked a Question in this House about the free passage of Israeli ships, he said, "Why do the Government not push ships through?" I remember that very distinctly.
Why should we as a self-respecting House, as a self-respecting community—knowing that an international treaty is being broken and knowing full well that there is no answer to the breach—merely say that because the United Nations is dealing with it we have no further obligation, or that we have an obligation which we are not prepared to exercise individually but only collectively? Are we not part and parcel of the United Nations organisation? Have we not as much voice as any other nation concerned in the Security Council, or the United Nations organisation itself?
What are we afraid of? Why should we, too, not say to the Egyptians, who have detained a small vessel belonging to Israel, that Israel has as much right as any other nation to send ships through the Canal under the 1888 Treaty? Why 271 should we not say, "You must allow that ship to go through and let her men, whom you have illegally arrested, go free"? What is the matter with us? Have we come to a stage at which we are afraid to speak our mind? If we enter into an agreement with Egypt and give them concessions, why cannot we do the right thing and say, "We shall not stand for this kind of nonsense"?
What a stupid excuse they have given that the little Jewish boat attacked some Egyptian people and shot them up. I have heard that kind of argument used before. If I may be permitted to say so, it was referred to in this House at that time, it was used years ago by the Nazis. Even from the point of view of the Egyptians it is a most foolish explanation of a situation of that sort. Why should Israelis want to shoot anyone up? Why should not the boat, with its cargo of plywood, or other harmless goods, be allowed to proceed? What right had they to arrest the man in charge? Why do we not say to them, "We have made concessions to you. You must act in the spirit of the civilised world and do the right thing by the civilised world"? I think we could succeed if we did not shrink from doing our duty.
If we emphasised the points which could be emphasised the whole civilised world would be prepared to support our view. Not only would we be doing the right thing by ourselves but we would enhance our own prestige, our own dignity. We would be doing the right thing by the world and the right thing by the Egyptians and the Arabs. Why do we not tell the Arabs that they are cutting off their nose to spite their face when they boycott a country from which they could obtain products and to whom they could sell very much more than they themselves purchase? When Israel offers a pathway to the sea to Jordan, we should say, "For goodness sake take this opportunity and do something towards improving the conditions of your people."
Why do we always one-sidedly emphasise the question of the refugees? An hon. Member opposite said that the Arab refugees were pushed out by the Israelis. I say, and many others who know the truth say, that their own people told them, "Get out; you will be back again in a few days' time, as we shall have 272 pushed the Jewish people into the sea" I know, for example, that efforts were made by the Jews in Haifa, with the knowledge and approval of the Governor or the British person in charge, to persuade the Arabs—there was an Arab-Jewish Council—to accept an agreement to stay. The Jewish community said to their Arab co-citizens, "Remain in Haifa, the only thing we want is that you should not hold arms to use against us." These things can be checked up, but that is past history.
Why do the Arabs not take their refugees as the Jews have taken their kith and kin, gather them together and give them a chance to work on their own soil? What is wrong with that? Why are they using their own brethren as a pawn. That is the position. They are trying to persuade the rest of the world that the Arab refugee is in need of help. I am not denying it, but they could bring them on to their own land, where they could work as the Jews work in Israel. Is not that what we should try our best to encourage instead of letting this festering sore develop on the border? From time to time Israel has offered suggestions. It offered compensation. It offered to open a way to the sea for Jordan and it does all possible to help in the United Nations.
§ Mr. C. J. M. Alport (Colchester)
As a matter of information, will the hon. Member say how far the offer has been made to restore any or part of the land vacated to Jews by the Arab refugees and previously in their possession?
§ Mr. Janner
Israel has set a sum aside for the purpose of compensating them. I believe the hon. Member will accept my view—I say this to him in a perfectly amicable spirit—that Israel cannot possibly be expected to bring into their country at present the Arabs who left in consequence of their leaders telling them to go, and then used them as a pawn. The Arabs in Israel are being treated well. They are represented in the Parliament, the women have the vote, the educational system is open to them and the country is run on non-racial lines.
Why on earth do not the Arabs do the same thing for their brethren as the Jews have done for theirs? Would not that be the finest thing to do? I know that the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of 273 State for Foreign Affairs have at heart the settlement of this issue. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are anxious that in some way this problem should be settled. I appeal to the House. Do not let the Arab population think that because we are not making a sufficiently loud protest—I know we are protesting, but we are not making our protests sufficiently strong and often—they are doing right.
It has been pointed out by the Secretary of State that in this agreement there was an opportunity to create something on practical lines to make the Arabs realise their obligations. I appreciate the difficulties which the right hon. Gentlemen have experienced. But the world must realise that there are people who say they are trying to lift themselves out of the mire. They will not wish the world to point a finger at them and say, "You are not civilised people." What they are doing at present is certainly not civilised. I speak with emotion in these matters. I have been concerned with them for many years.
The opportunity is there. We should not just stand aside. We should take a lead, a strong lead, in whipping up public opinion which is there ready to be informed of the right position. I am certain that everyone in this country, and every civilised person in the world, would be prepared to support the plea I have made. Could we not point out to Egypt, for example, "You cannot arrest men and women and even put them in danger of their lives on charges which are obviously absurd; for example, because they happen to be members of another religion. You cannot be allowed to do that kind of thing. If you were so allowed other backward nations might follow your terrible example"? How should we deal with the same situation in different parts of the world?
I say that we must continually press home that fact. When the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs goes to the United Nations organisation shortly, may I ask him to do this? There he will have an opportunity to speak with the voice of Britain on matters of great importance. If he can succeed in bringing the Arab world to admit, as they know to be the case, that Israel is not aggressive, that what the Israel Prime Minister said in the reply that I have quoted is what Israel 274 means, and what the Zionist movement has always meant, he will return with something really worth while for Britain and for the world as a whole.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Captain Charles Waterhouse (Leicester, South-East)
First, may I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs for leaving the Chamber in the middle of his speech. But I had to attend a Select Committee meeting upstairs, so I had no option but to attend to my duties in another part of the building. May I also thank my right hon. Friends for the fact that they have been able to arrange this second debate on this important subject. It amply meets the pledge given by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary just before Christmas last year, when we first raised our voices in this House in dissent from the policy which we believed the Government was about to follow, and provides an extra and final chance—at least for those fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye—fully to express their views on what we believe to be a most important question.
Perhaps the House will allow me to make quite clear my own position and that of those hon. Members with whom I have been associated. I read in "The Times" yesterday that members of the "Suez Group" as its political correspondent called us, no longer had much fight left about them. I do not know that "The Times" is much of an organ to make that sort of accusation. I very often think when I look through its columns that I seldom find great efforts made for many things which I believe to be primarily British interests. I feel, too, that in the leading article today the remark that Her Majesty's Government are to blame in not having consulted Greece over a possible arrangement about Cyprus is not peculiarly helpful at this juncture.
However to clear up any doubts which "The Times" or any hon. Member may have, I should like to say quite clearly that the little association of hon. Members who have interested themselves in this matter for the last 20 or 21 months are as united on the subject today as they were on 29th July, when we had our debate on the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement. So far as I know, not one of those hon. Members has moved from the position which we then took up; and I have their autho- 275 rity to say that we view the subsequent events with the very greatest concern. We feel that matters as they have so far developed have fully justified the fears which we then expressed.
Naturally, I shall not try to rehash the debate which we had three months ago, but there is one point from that debate with which I should like to deal. Hon. Members may well remember it. It was a notable debate, but hon. Members will probably agree that the most notable contribution—and in saying this I in no way disparage the speeches made by my right hon. Friends—was the intervention of the Prime Minister; when he used those most striking words—that the thoughts of a year ago were now obsolete, that the base itself was obsolescent because in the interval the hydrogen bomb had intervened in our calculations.
I know that those words had a great effect on many of my hon. Friends, as they had on people in the country. They have frequently been quoted to me. It is, therefore, an astounding thing to read the Agreement which is now in our hands. We find that Articles 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 and Annex II and its appendices A, C and D, which, in all, cover about 16 pages of this short White Paper, are entirely devoted not to the evacuation of the Suez Canal Zone base, but to its maintenance and replenishment—I repeat, replenishment—both in peace and war. I leave the matter with that bald statement, but it does seem to me to be a not easy task to tie up what the Prime Minister said then with the arrangements that the Foreign Office have made now.
The House will watch with interest the growth of the strategic reserve in this country arising from the movement of troops from the Middle East. We shall look forward with pleasure to the economies which it was alleged we will surely see from the movement of troops. We will see how large those economies will be after 1,200 technicians and 20,000 or 30,000 Egyptians have been paid by the contractors and after new stations have been built at Cyprus and elsewhere. I have not the smallest doubt that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Defence will welcome Questions on that subject from time to time.
276 One of the matters rightly stressed was the redeployment which this change would make possible. I do not think that this was fully dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. I have had to rely on reports given to me, but I do not think that he dealt with that. I very much hope that the Foreign Secretary will deal with it at some length. Obviously, redeployment is all important if we are to maintain our position in the Middle East, but I do hope that redeployment will not stop with the Middle East and the Mediterranean. I feel very strongly that our redeployment must stretch out further south and that we must do something about the Persian Gulf and about Africa.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can say a few words about the station that we were starting at Mackinnon Road, and explain why that was stopped. I remember that the matter came before the Public Accounts Committee, when it was said that we had lost about £12 million as a result of our change of plan and withdrawal; but I have not been able to find any clear explanation of the reasons why that withdrawal was started. This is a matter of very great importance to the whole of Africa. I hope that my right hon. Friend will deal with it when he speaks later in the debate.
The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) dealt, with great eloquence and tremendous sincerity, with the position of the Jews. I do not pretend to be a Zionist, but Zionist policy has been accepted and everybody in the House, whether Zionist or not, must admire the work that has been done by the Israelis in their new home. Therefore, every one of us should be concerned, from their point of view apart from anything else, at the position that they have been forced into with their shipping through the Canal.
It seems to me that Article 8 of the Agreement derogates from the dignity of the whole of the Agreement. It is hard to understand how anybody could seriously put in words such as:… to uphold the Convention guaranteeing the freedom of navigation of the Canal ….at a time when this little Israeli ship to which the hon. Member referred was under arrest and the Jewish sailors were, presumably, on Egyptian soil.
277 I thought that the hon. Member rather overstressed the matter when he spoke of the little Jewish ship firing on the great Egyptian people. I am not quite sure that it is working out that way. There are those who take the view that if the Jews wanted to they could be in Cairo within a fortnight, with little more than token resistance. I do not know whether that is true or not.
§ Mr. Janner
I hope that I did not express myself in such a way that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not understand. The ship to which I referred was the "Bat Galim," which is a ship that has been stopped on the pretext that it had been firing on people before reaching the Suez.
§ Captain Waterhouse
I appreciate that, but the hon. Gentleman was taking the attitude that Israel was an insignificant little country faced by a great and paramount Egypt. I do not think that that is so. The fact remains that here we have a breach of the Convention of 1888 which has been looked on as a Cardinal point in imperial and, in fact, world transport arrangements.
This Convention has been honoured by us meticulously. Even in the time of the Italian attack on Abyssinia we forbore from using the powers which were so easily in our hands to stop Italian ships going through the Canal. Now the Egyptians have stopped Israeli oil and Israeli ships altogether but we are told that, in the kindness of their hearts, they are allowing some goods to be taken to Israel. I know the figures given by my right hon. Friend about the 90 million tons of shipping, but they can in no way detract from the error that the Egyptians are in in interfering with free traffic through the Canal.
It is a great pity that when we had so much to give away, such great concessions to make, we did not take the opportunity to insist that the Convention should be honoured. What trust can one have in an Agreement which is now signed by a Power which is in open breach of a treaty in which the freedom of navigation should be secured through the Canal?
The most important point of all is the position of the Sudan. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Minister of 278 State for Foreign Affairs referred to it and said that he had made it crystal clear to Nasser that interference with the Sudan would be a breach of the Agreement and an act of political folly. It is all very well to make it crystal clear that it would be a breach of an agreement and an act of political folly, but so what? What is the sequel to that? Do we simply say, "You have done very wrong; you have broken the Agreement; you have been very foolish"—or do we do something about it? When they were in breach of the Convention of 1888 we did nothing. The right hon. Gentlemen opposite handed it over to U.N.O., and U.N.O. found a convenient shelf for it, where it has been sitting ever since. As far as I know, nobody has even dusted it. Is that to be the position about the Sudan, too, if the Egyptians continue to break the Agreement?
Surely we must have some real thought for the Sudanese, whose independence we guaranteed. There is every indication that the Egyptians mean to get effective control of the Sudan. There was the incident reported the other day of Major Salah Salem who, in the Sudan, spoke in large terms about the independence which they were safeguarding. When that report went up to Cairo the man who sent the report got a reprimand and the sack for doing so wrong as to repeat in Cairo something that Salah Salem had said in Khartoum. That does not look as if Egypt intends to play very straight.
I should like my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to say something about the Sudan. Have we washed our hands of it? Do we feel that we have discharged our obligations? May Egypt now do what she wishes with the expectations, rights and liberties of the Sudanese? I do not believe that that is the position. If it were so, I should feel that it was extremely shameful.
I believe that much more hangs on the attitude that we adopt about the Sudan than merely the Sudan itself. The Sudan is to be used as an indication throughout Africa, and possibly throughout the world, as to whether or not we still intend to carry out our duties and obligations. The Sudan was never part of our Empire, but we have promised to see that the Sudanese have independence. We have promised other people the right of development. If we give way to Egypt 279 in the Sudan, will it not be taken as an indication throughout Africa, and even throughout the whole British Colonial Empire, that we are not going to stand firm?
That is really the position about which I and hon. Friends of mine who are acting with me in this matter feel so extremely keenly. We think that the Agreement is a misfortune. However, it has been signed, and there is nothing that we can do about it, but about the future we can and will do something. We will use our utmost powers to urge this consideration on our right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench, and our confidence in the Foreign Secretary and his ministerial colleagues is such that we believe that we shall not urge our plea in vain.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
On the main issue of the need for the conclusion of an agreement on Suez, I entirely disagree with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse), although he has couched his argument in an admirable manner and one can agree with much of what he said on the issues which arise from the agreement with Egypt.
When I listened to the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. F. M. Bennett), I thought how remarkable it was that a geographical change of about 10 yards in this House could turn "a policy of scuttle" into "agreements of which we can all be very proud." Indeed, the hon. Gentleman's defence of the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's statement in the last debate on Cyprus was rather remarkable. The hon. Gentleman was assuring us that Cyprus would not be made the only base and that there would be a number of other bases and, therefore, the danger was not quite so imminent. At one stage I thought the hon. Member was going as far as assuring the people of Cyprus that as only part of the base would be there they could feel confident that only a part of a hydrogen bomb would drop upon them. I thought that his argument was completely negative and did not meet the case made by the right hon. Gentleman in opening the debate.
280 I want to refer more to the Persian situation. Although the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs gave us some details, I thought that he tended to gloss over a great deal. From questions asked from this side of the House, I thought it became clear that the agreement in respect of Abadan is, financially speaking anyway, a rather poor and thin one. One is tempted to refer back to some of the statements made in the 1951 General Election about the attitude of the Labour Government towards Abadan and to contrast them with the mouse which has now emerged from the negotiations of the past three years.
It became clear that we receive about £25 million and that the Persian interests will own the refinery at Abadan. I do not know whether the Foreign Secretary can give us an assessment of the value of the Abadan refinery. I have seen it from the air and I have been through it and looked at it in detail. I am not an accountant, but it is a complete engineering miracle in the middle of a Middle Eastern desert, and the cost of the refinery, the boosters and the rest of the machinery in the oilfields must be colossal. It is apparent that under the agreement on Abadan we are suffering a huge loss.
It would appear that the other interests which are now going into oil-getting in South Persia are to pay us about £232 million, but that is a payment for buying their way into oil-getting in Persia and can by no means be described as compensation to us from the Persian Government. Indeed, I am not too keen about some of the people who are now apparently to capitalise some of the oil-getting in Persia.
When Qavam was Prime Minister of Persia he was speculating about bringing the Soviet into Northern Persia with the idea of starting oil companies there to be held jointly by Persia and the Soviet. Who knows whether that position may not arise again in a few years' time? If there are American interests in the south and the Soviet exploiting oil in the north, one can imagine that things will not be too comfortable for the Persian people or for world peace.
The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said that £79 million will go to the Persians themselves. I should like 281 to know precisely what will happen with that money. Hon. Members who have visited South Persia will know that much of the trouble there arose because the oil workers of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company believed that house building, hospital building and the rest of the social side of their lives was the duty of the oil company and not of their own Government.
In 1946, when I visited South Persia with two colleagues from the House, we could find hardly a brick house in South Persia which had not been built by the oil company. The hospitals, the schools, the roads, the sewerage system—everything had been built by the oil company. Looking at that background, we might believe that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company would get credit for all that work, but the fact was that all the Persian workers believed that it was the company's duty to do that sort of thing and that it was being done under the company's agreements for getting oil in Persia.
During the war the need to double the size of the Abadan refinery arose, and building material had to be diverted from the erection of brick houses for the oil workers to the task of enlarging the refinery. At the same time thousands of people were moving into Abadan to work in the refinery. They put the blame for the fact that house building had stopped on to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and not the Persian Government. It was a build-up of this sort of thing which was exploited by the Tudeh Party and eventually led to the difficulties which we experienced in South Persia.
The Government, therefore, owe a duty to us to tell us precisely what is to happen with the £79 million which is, apparently, to be given to the Persians. I want to relate an experience which may be semi-amusing, but depicts the sort of thing which was happening in Persia in the days when I visited the country. I was discussing with the manager of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company the manner in which he had got along with the various Shahs of Persia, and so on. He said that on one occasion he approached the Persian leaders and said, "Is it not time that an educational system was started in South Persia?" The reply was, "Yes, we agree that it is, but we are a poor 282 nation and cannot afford that sort of thing." The manager said, "I will build you eight schools"—I saw the schools, and they are very fine establishments indeed—" but I do so on the understanding that it would not do for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company to be in any way connected with the educational system which you inaugurate, for people would say that we were making good little Persians for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company."
He told the Persian Government that they must get the teachers, decide their own curriculum and go ahead. After these schools had been idle for 12 months, he again approached the Government and said, "Don't you think it is time you started an educational system?" The reply was "Well, you know what it is; we have not got sufficient educated persons to act as teachers," whereupon the Anglo-Iranian manager said, "All right, we will second a number of our own educated Persians to act as teachers until you can educate enough people of your own to do the job. You make your arrangements with them as far as salaries are concerned."
After three months, the teachers came back and asked the Anglo-Iranian management what they supposed they were to use for money, and the management again approached the Persian Government, but the reply was the same. It was, "We are a very poor country," and, in the end, the Anglo-Iranian management built the schools and paid the teachers, and now they have to pay for their co-operative attitude. While all this was going on, all those interested in the royalties on oil were on a very good thing indeed.
It really is not enough to believe that we shall get a settlement of our problems in Persia merely by saying that a huge sum is now going into the Persian economy. We really must take some responsibility for seeing that that sum, or a great portion of it, is allowed to be used to increase the standard of life of the Persian workers, and particularly those who are workers in the refinery in the employ of this new oil company. Unless we do that, I feel that we are kidding ourselves if we believe that we are getting a permanent settlement of the oil problem of Persia.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how he thinks we can do that without infringing the sovereignty of the Persian people?
§ Mr. Lee
We could do it; it is quite simple. When we are making these agreements with nations in the Middle East, it is possible, and I dare say that we have done it on many occasions, to ensure that a certain percentage of any money paid should be devoted to capital equipment, etc. in such ways as will serve the very best interests of the people.
I do not want to be too blunt about this, but, in reality, government in many parts of the Middle East is quite a racket. I am tempted to say more, but I will not do so. We must try to ensure that our objective is peace in the Middle East, but we cannot ensure that if we are continually to have these crises. The moneys which are allocated to this purpose must have some proviso attached to them in order to ensure that they will be used to benefit the people and the workers and that they will not be used by what the Persians called "The thousand families."
One of the conditions which the Persians asked to include in the negotiations was that no publicity should be given to the fact that discussions were in progress to increase the royalties, because, otherwise, the people working in the refinery would want to know where their share of the increase was coming from. I hope the Government will not be content to congratulate itself on making this agreement and believe that there can now be development over the whole area of South Persia and that the crisis is over.
I recall that one of the most terrible things that I saw when I was out there was that the Shatt-el-Arab, the great river of South Persia, overflowed its banks. Many of the communities which lived on the banks of the river in their dried mud huts were drowned, and all the others were in imminent danger of drowning. Because of the complete lack of amenities and of education, they did not comprehend, when they saw the engineers sounding the flood waters, that if they did not move they would be under water themselves within a few hours. When our engineers told them of the 284 danger, they simply said "If Allah wills it …"
That is not good enough, because these are the people who have been working in what I have described as an engineering miracle in the Middle East. They are people who are asking to be educated. I saw the level of craftsmanship which young engineers had attained in the repair and maintenance shops of the refinery at Abadan, and I say that the standard of work done on the lathes and benches there compared very favourably with that done by many British craftsmen at home. I am told that when they reach the age of 21 they seem to forget everything, and it may be that when they reach that age they realise that they will have to work for the rest of their lives if they remember too much.
During the war, the Americans were driving a road from the Persian Gulf to the Soviet border, and the Persian workers saw the standard of life both of the Americans and of our own people out there. One cannot praise too highly the work of the British technicians in Abadan. I may have said this before in this House, and, if so, I will say it again, that never in my life have British women impressed me more than the girls working in hospital at Abadan who were doing a magnificent job in terrible conditions. Unless we realise that the Persians, having seen the standard of life which is possible for the West, as the Persians would say on the strength of the oil which we get from them, there is no hope for us.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), in his opening speech, said, and I believe quite rightly, that this question of the poverty of the Middle East is something that we must tackle at once. Here we have people living in shocking degradation and poverty of the worst type, at the same time seeing the rich lifeblood of Western industry flowing away from Abadan through the tankers to the rest of the world. The Persian knows the value of his oil, and he desires to have a share of that value for himself. He does not see any reason—nor do I—why the Western world should be allowed such a high standard of life on the basis of his poverty, and any agreement or arrangement with the Persians which does not take cognisance of that fact is a waste of time. It will not be a final settlement, 285 but something which can allow the West successfully to exploit the oil while no Persian worker benefits himself as a result.
We all know the background of Persian politics. Playing off the West against the East is a very dangerous policy. I believe that if we can ensure that most of the increased royalties which are to flow into the Persian coffers can be diverted for use in the improvement of Persian living standards—I do not necessarily mean merely the wage packet, but the building of new cities, and the acceptance by the Government of Persia of those responsibilities which they have successfully palmed off on the oil companies in the past, such as for education, roads, sewers and proper housing—we shall have done a very good job of work, because, otherwise, Persia could be such a trouble to the rest of the world.
We all know that if there were aggression in Persia, from either side, it could be the point at which another world war could begin. We have so much to gain—and this is a selfish point of view—from trying to ensure that, instead of the racket of years gone by continuing in the future, the Government of Persia shall have proper regard for the interests of their own people. Now that we have signed an agreement with that Government, we should make a stipulation that much of the currency which is to flow into that country shall be used for the benefit of the people who do the work in Persia. I am sure that the Persian people would feel that that was a gesture of friendship from this country which they could reciprocate.
I have tried to show that the Government should not merely be content with the signing of this Agreement to ensure the passage of Persian oil to the West. If they are content to leave it at that, without trying to make certain that the increased currency which the Persian Government will now have at their disposal is used in the ways I have suggested, this will by no means be the end of the trouble.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
The major part of the debate has concentrated around the Mediterranean shores of the Middle East. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) for taking us to Persia, because I wish to address 286 my remarks to the House about the Persian Gulf, which is on the other side of the Mediterranean. It is a part of the world from which I have just returned after my third visit in the last 12 months. I was anxious when I went there to get the reactions of the people to the Cairo Agreement. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the agreement had immeasurably improved our relations with the Arab peoples. I purposely do not use the word "prestige" but prefer the word "relations."
Perhaps it may not be well known in this House, but the Arab people around the Persian Gulf have a very high opinion of the Egyptians. It is from Egypt that all education has flowed. I was very concerned about their divided loyalty to Egypt and to ourselves. Starting from that point, we have at this moment a unique opportunity around the headwaters of the Persian Gulf to improve that relationship.
I wonder whether the importance of the Persian Gulf to this country is fully appreciated and understood, and whether many people realise that it is from Kuwait, which only a few years ago was a mediaeval trading centre, that nearly 60 per cent. of our motor fuel in this country emanates. I wonder what the Chancellor of the Exchequer would think if that supply were suddenly cut off. The oil from the Persian Gulf is absolutely essential to this country both in peace and in war. I had it put to me the other day by somebody who is much more conversant with that part of the world than I am, that our cost of living absolutely depends upon Persian Gulf oil, and that if anything went wrong with our relationships there, as very nearly happened at Abadan, the whole of our economy and our cost of living would be affected.
I was interested to notice the tender concern shown by the hon. Member for Newton about our interests in the Abadan refinery. He may now realise the feelings of certain property owners in this country when their property was nationalised.
§ Mr. Gough
I will not continue in that digression.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) is not in his place, because I want to take up one point which he made. He referred in general terms to the Arab States being very rich and very poor and completely lacking in any sense of social responsibility to their peoples. There are two States which are friendly to ourselves, the State of Kuwait and the island State of Bahrein. That must be put on record.
Kuwait is a fantastic spectacle. It is getting an enormous revenue, but His Highness the Ruler is undoubtedly using it for the benefit of his people in providing magnificent new schools, hospitals and water distillation plants. Every year one goes there the place takes on a completely different aspect. At the same time, thousands and thousands of American cars are becoming the property of the people. That is one of the dangers one has to put up with in the modern Middle East.
I would mention the immense possibilities for our industrialists to go there and help in the development of industry. Cheap power in absolute abundance exists there in the form of natural gases, over and above the oil resources. Although a great deal has been done already, many of our industrialists would be well repaid by a visit to that part of the world to see whether they could help in the industrial development which those States are very anxious to see.
All the development to which I have alluded, and particularly the development of our friendship, depends upon three particular points. The first is our ability as a great nation, in friendship with those Arabs, to help them and the people of the Midland East—I include Israel as well—to help themselves against aggression. Iraq and one or two other States have small armies of their own which can only be used in a last-ditch defence of their country. There is no doubt of the danger of aggression in that part of the world. The second point is to help them to face up to the cold war which undoubtedly exists. The third point is to improve Anglo-American relations.
If one looks at the map for a moment one can have no doubt of the risk of 288 aggression from the northern portion of the country. This is just as possible as the aggression of Germany through Yugoslavia in the last war. Many other places in the Middle East demand our protection and that is why, now that we have moved out of Cairo, the agreement has been completed and we have a great many troops ready for redisposal, I ask my right hon. Friend to consider one matter which I raised very tentatively when first I addressed this House.
Would it not be the obvious thing to do to form an airborne division? The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South said that Cyprus was of second-rate importance, but if we had an airborne division, with the tremendous mobility that that entails, based on Cyprus or Tobruk—it does not much matter where—we could bring immeasurable confidence to all those nations, tribes and sheikhdoms in the Middle East. I have served in an airborne division, and I have seen 9,000 troops dropped in a space two miles by half a mile within six minutes, which is pretty staggering. We could in this way remove my right hon. Friend's worries and troubles, because we could quickly get back to the Suez Canal if there were any emergency. That is the only military way we could do it and I put this point forward to my right hon. Friend for his most serious consideration.
The second point I mentioned was facing up to the cold war. A great deal has been said on this matter by the previous speaker with which I entirely agree. We must look to the education of the younger generation of the Arab States. I remember that 12 months ago, when I was in Beirut, I was approached by a few influential people, oil men and others, who told me that an English school had been mooted in Beirut. I do not know what has happened to that project. I understood that it was practically an established fact, and that it then came under the financial freeze of two years ago.
I wish to ask my right hon. Friend whether that project is still in mind, because it seems to me that if we can produce a school like that in the Lebanon for the propagating of our ideas, particularly our ideas for civil servants of the future, we could encourage some of the younger generation to develop ideas 289 which we believe are right in a modern democracy.
Lastly, I wish to say a word or two about Anglo-American relations. Actually those relations on the spot are quite excellent, as they usually are, but I do not believe that they have always been very good in the years since the war. I do not think that they were very good at the time of Abadan, but I believe that it is absolutely essential, if that vital part of the world is to progress in the way we want it to, that the American people and ourselves must understand each other and that we must jointly accept the responsibility for seeing that such progress takes place.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)
I can assure the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) that I share his fears about the Persian Gulf, but before I proceed with what I propose to say, I wish to refer to the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) who, I think the House will agree, is not without courage. We on this side of the House have watched his battles with the Government Front Bench with great interest, and the position as he put it today with regard to the Prime Minister's statement of last July, that the Suez Canal base is now untenable because it may be subject to hydrogen bomb attacks, strikes me as a logical one.
This debate has centred round the narrow point of the recent Cairo agreement, as we all understood that it would. Now, perhaps, the Foreign Secretary can appreciate—indeed, I think he did in years gone by—the difficulties of the Labour Government's Foreign Secretaries in regard to a situation which, quite frankly, is highly explosive. Ernest Bevin spent a long time on this project. I have a long memory on these things, and I fully realise and appreciate the patience exercised by the British Foreign Office and by British diplomacy all through the years up to the present time.
I remember, and I say this quite frankly, when British soldiers were murdered by the Jewish organisation, Irgun Zvai Leumi, and when they were stabbed in the back in the alleys and market squares of Cairo. The British soldier bore all that with fortitude and patience although at the time he was not 290 engaged in any warlike activity. That, I think, should be remembered by the protagonists of both the Egyptian and the Israeli case when it is put in this House.
The position in regard to the Egyptian Government and the Suez Canal is of such an international character that, eventually, its permanent solution will have to be undertaken on a world-wide basis by the United Nations. The Suez Canal is an international waterway. I remember, as far back as 25 years ago, Professor Laski lecturing on the freedom of the Suez Canal. It is an international waterway which is vital to trade and commerce and to defence and security, and one which should be vested in the nations of the world.
I propose to spread the argument a little further in relation to the Far East in general. The global and strategic importance of the Far East during the period of the cold war, which is still with us, is so important that the Western nations must constantly be applying their minds to the position and planning their strategy in regard to it. This Mediterranean inland sea has from ancient times provided the waterway on which empires have arisen.
The term "Middle East" is very little used. It defines the piece of land which stretches from Morocco to the Afghan border. It represents a large proportion of geographical land mass and takes in a tremendous number of people. For centuries past, continental Powers have extended their empires into the Middle East, and farther, and have used it as a line by which to link themselves together in a formidable arrangement of commercial enterprise. During the last war, the importance of the Mediterranean was preeminent, because it was from there that the allied nations struck at the soft underbelly of Hitlerite Europe.
Let us take stock of what this immense region has to offer in the defence of freedom and in the fight for democracy. It has three outstanding assets. Economically, with its mass of mineral reserves and its petroleum deposits, which are the greatest in the world, it is the largest underworld bank. It is of such importance to the West that the redefinition of our monetary commitments in that sphere have not gone without notice, and, although we quit Suez, we 291 shall have left behind since the war a chain of strategic air bases which, in time of need, can serve the Western allies should aggression ever come to that part of the world.
From the Atlas Mountains, on the one side, to Turkey on the other the area is rich in mineral deposits of lead, zinc, iron, manganese, copper and gold. Its geographical position is one of the most important in the world. The industrial Powers of the West ply their trade on the Mediterranean waterway from the Atlantic into the Red Sea to the Far East, and up the Black Sea through the Dardanelles to the very centre of Russia's factory operations and factory population.
Therefore, if we can secure the cooperation of the Arab peoples and of the Israeli peoples in a permanent system of co-operation within the framework either of U.N.O. or of N.A.T.O.—and in this respect I prefer the more tightly bound N.A.T.O. position—we shall have done much to secure our position in regard to any future aggression.
If properly lined up, the pressure in favour of freedom is tremendous. Surely, it has not passed without notice in this House that immediately pressure was put on us to quit Egypt the Enosis movement started in Cyprus. That movement was not even mentioned two years ago, but is now in the forefront of Cypriot policy. Before retreating constantly from position to position it should be realised that we have this island of ours to defend and we have to feed its 50 million inhabitants. Such a realisation should lead us to bind ourselves to alliances wherever they are to be found—and especially in the part of the world now under discussion.
Much has been said about the wealth of this area and the use to which it can be put. Short of impinging upon the sovereignty of the Arabian countries, we have no direct control over the use to which the oil revenues are put but, by encouragement and example, we can perhaps inspire the sultans, shahs and sheikhs to use those revenues in a progressive manner for the benefit of their peoples.
It is all very well to view the position of the Arabian people from our own shores. We are so used to democracy that we take it for granted elsewhere. 292 That is not the case. The system of religion in the Middle East leads naturally to despotic government. It is all that they have ever known and understood. Even with incalculable patience it will need a long time before such a situation can be changed. Changed it will have to be because militarily the area is of such strategic importance to us.
In Morocco and Iran the country could be made use of to support huge airfields, some of them with runways two miles long. The intervening territory is not, perhaps, so good. The importance of this can be realised if we cast our minds back to 1946 when, at Aizerbaijan, the Russians attempted their first sortie. The American Government's answer was short, sharp and resolute, and the Soviet quickly terminated that adventure. However, from the disorders of which one hears almost everyday—one started in Morocco yesterday—it is obvious that the cold war is progressing and is likely to progress.
In our future plans, despite the difficulties, we must bring home to the rulers of the Middle East countries the necessity for integrating themselves into a tighter defence system. The effort may need broader thinking on a much wider plane, but let us not forget that their great underground petroleum bank is the virtual life-blood of Western industry. The wheels of industry cannot turn without the oil. The oil wells of the United States are running dry; the oil in Canada is too hard to get and Venezuelan oil is also expensive.
In the Middle East there is oil in huge quantities. It is with that in mind that the narrow structure of N.A.T.O. should now combine in an economic and political association, in order to ally those countries more closely to the West and, at the same time, by example or otherwise, offer greater opportunities for uplift among the peoples of those countries.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
I am sure that the House as a whole will, in general, agree with what the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) has been saying. I wish to speak only on the question of the agreement. Before so doing I should like briefly to affirm how much I agree with the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough), with regard to what certain 293 sheikhs are doing for their people. He referred, in particular, to the large amounts being provided by Their Highnesses the Sheikhs of Kuwait and Bahrein, but he did not mention his Highness the Sheikh of Qatar. All three are doing great work at the present moment, and all three have the wish to help their people.
I should like to ask the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs the same question as my hon. Friend asked—what exactly is being done with regard to this English school in Beirut? I am convinced that such a school would be a very good thing, and if the Treasury are holding matters up I trust that the Minister will once more look into it. In this House, in March, I expressed the hope that the Foreign Secretary would go forward with the negotiations then in progress and reach a successful conclusion, and said that I would welcome a conclusion which was honourable to us, honourable to Egypt and, at the same time, would do good for both countries.
I sincerely trust that the agreement now before us will provide a basis for a new Middle East defence strategy. There is one point, however, which I do not find mentioned in the agreement. Has provision been made for the people, with or without nationality, who have served us in the Canal Zone, and who, when we depart from it, may find themselves in difficulties with the Egyptian Government? Although their numbers may indeed be small, there should be some such provision in the agreement.
As regards the picture of Middle East strategy, I feel sure that the Government of Egypt should be approached as soon as possible to see whether we can give them any assistance or help in any way by training their men as technicians in order to equip any special devices that may be necessary in the Middle East theatre. Though the argument might be adduced that the machinery for that is not at present available, I feel sure that there is available machinery to train men in that way. It would be far better to start now than to have any delay.
It is also my belief that, in order that after the signing of this agreement things in the Middle East theatre, and in Egypt in particular, should go forward in a way desired both by Egypt and ourselves, it is very necessary that Egypt should 294 realise that that state of affairs cannot come to pass unless economic stability is brought to that country. With regard to economic stability, the difficulty is that, during the time of political instability, internal capital was salted down, and certainly, advisably and naturally the flow of foreign capital into Egypt was restricted by the atmosphere generated by instability in the political arena.
That is the dilemma. It is necessary for Egypt to secure her own economy from political disturbance. During the last year, much internal capital has been salted away and there has been little foreign capital inflow into Egypt. This must now change. I believe that that calls for a very adventurous approach by the Egyptian Government, and I trust that the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs will have talks with the Egyptian Government on whether some arrangement can be made, in connection with customs duties between the two countries, which will be beneficial to both, by starting the flow of capital into Egypt, at the same time forming agreements which will be of mutual help. I believe that that would be the only quick method of producing a solution to the problem.
It has always been my view that friendship between ourselves and the Middle East is of advantage to us both. Furthermore, it is one of the main pillars upon which the security and peace of the world may be built. So often in the past the situation has been bedevilled by politics, personalities and by people who have only known the country in time of war, which at no time is exactly the same thing as knowing a country in time of peace. In addition, when people have known a country only in war-time there is generally a considerable time lag between the end of the war and the various changes which take place. If we look back over the past 40 years there have been some considerable changes in our country, let alone in other countries.
One of the things that we have now got to do—and it is not so easy to do—is to put aside the many irresponsible declarations that have been made in the past, and, by so doing, sow and reap a friendship to the mutual advantage of Egypt and ourselves. Only trust, confidence and good faith can bring about the climate necessary for friendship.
295 Trust must be built on actions which not only are right but seem to be right. It is my hope that genuine friendship and understanding will prosper between the nations and that expedient political hatred which flows primarily from fear and hurt will be a thing of the past. Egypt has so much to gain from such a course, and we have so much to share—security, commerce and understanding.
I express my gratitude to the Foreign Secretary, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and to all those who have tried their level best for so long to bring about an understanding between the Middle East and ourselves. At times their efforts have not by any means been blessed with much thanks, but I believe that they are blessed by giving security and peace. For those reasons, I wish to thank the Foreign Secretary, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and all those concerned for the work that they have done.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
My excuse for intervening in the debate is the fact that I have just returned from a visit to the Middle East. I have listened to most of this debate this afternoon and I was particularly struck by the opening remarks of the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and his reference to the Arab-Israel dispute. We all welcomed his statement that he did not despair of a settlement to end the conflict. He added, if I may say so, in a very statesmanlike way, that the approach which Her Majesty's Government must make must be a cautious one. He referred to the recent welcome settlement of Trieste, and he reminded us that in delicate international affairs a good deal more can often be achieved by private negotiation than in public.
A good deal has been said this afternoon about this regrettable Arab-Israel dispute. To my mind, it is the factor which dominates the whole of the political situation in the Middle East. Therefore, all I wish to say about the agreement with Egypt is that, while welcoming it for a number of reasons, I also regard it as having removed one of the great barriers to an improvement in the general political climate in the Middle East, because that is a subject which is not only of great human importance to all the 296 inhabitants of Israel and the Arab countries concerned, but is also a special interest to the Western world.
I have not had the advantage of visiting Israel, as has my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). I was in Arabia, Syria, the Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Therefore, I saw and heard for the first time the Arab point of view. However, before giving my impressions of what I heard, I should like to say how much I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) have said about the tremendous achievements of the State of Israel in the last few years. We all admire the prowess, energy, success and enthusiasm with which they have set their hand, in spite of innumerable handicaps and difficulties, to improving the material prosperity of that very small country.
I cannot help feeling that if Her Majesty's Government and the United States of America are, at the appropriate time, to play a decisive part in improving relations between the Arab countries and Israel in the hope of eventually producing a settlement, it is, above all, necessary for us in this country to approach the matter as calmly and dispassionately as we can, and with sympathy for both points of view, avoiding partisanship and prejudging the issue.
I must confess that I was appalled at finding such depth of hatred in all Arab countries towards the Jews in Israel. There is an intensity of public opinion which is difficult to appreciate until one has been there. I have no doubt that in all the Arab countries there are responsible leaders who, if they could have their way, would be willing to sit down at a peace conference with responsible leaders of Israel. But one cannot ignore the fact that there is this tremendous depth of public opinion so strongly felt not only on the frontiers of Israel, in Jordan and Syria, but as far away as Baghdad, in the centre of Iraq, and right down to the Persian Gulf.
Therefore, I agree with the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs that we cannot hope in the immediate future to seek a dramatic solution to this problem. What we must hope to do is to try to improve relations. We must hope that there will be a lessened tension and a continuous 297 reduction of frontier incidents, and we must try, by persuasion, through the United Nations and by all the means available, to seize the right opportunity to bring these parties together.
We must also realise that there may even be a danger in Her Majesty's Government appearing to take too much of an initiative. We are dealing with sovereign States and rising national sentiments. Arabia consists of proud, sensitive races, with long histories, and they do not necessarily welcome outside interference. On the other hand, I am quite sure that at heart these States will want to respond to whatever diplomatic efforts Her Majesty's Government and the United States can make to bring them together.
In approaching this problem, we must realise that there is a very real sense of fear on both sides. My right hon. Friend and others have said that a great many people in Israel live in tremendous personal fear, because of the frontier incidents that have occurred. Of course, from a purely military point of view, Israel is far stronger than all the other Arab countries put together, even if there were any possibility of their achieving military cohesion, which is very unlikely.
At the same time, there is undoubtedly a very great fear in Arab countries, especially those which are on the borders of Israel. They see developing in Israel a thriving, young and prosperous community, with great natural gifts and natural desires for expansion, and they fear that a frontier incident may lead to an expansionist, aggressive action on the part of Israel. Our objective must be to try to remove these fears. We can do so partly by removing the possibility of further frontier incidents.
The conditions at parts of the frontier are literally intolerable. My right hon. Friend mentioned some of them. I came across a place where a whole village is in Jordan, but the wells which supply its water are on the other side of the frontier, which is only 20 yards away. The villagers on the Arabian side are unable to obtain water supplies from those wells and have to go six miles in the other direction to obtain water. Imagine the provocation inherent in this situation. It is not an isolated case. On the Israel side of the border at another part of 298 the frontier, similar conditions occur in reverse that are equally exasperating to the Jews. I hope that we shall concentrate our efforts upon persuading the Frontier Commission to deal with these acute frontier conditions as rapidly as it can.
We should be deluding ourselves, however, if we did not also try to formulate a general idea for the eventual solution of this problem. We know that the Arabs regard the Jews as intruders. In fact, they talk about the Jews today as they talked about the Crusaders 700 or 800 years ago. They say, "The Crusaders occupied the land for over 100 years, but they were eventually driven out." As long as that kind of feeling persists there is not much hope of a settlement. There must be give and take on both sides.
First, the Arab countries must recognise that the existence of the State of Israel is a fait accompli. On the other hand, Israel must recognise that it occupies an Arab country and that this fact has not unnaturally created resentment, tension and extreme hatred. Next, Israel should, at any rate, make an offer either to take back the refugees or compensate them.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am not saying that they have not. I do not want to be led into anything which is controversial. There is some controversy whether the Arab refugees were driven out or went out voluntarily or at the invitation of their leaders.
To be honest, I do not know the full facts about that. All I know is that it is appallingly pathetic to see, in Jordan and Syria, vast numbers of Arab refugees living in miserable conditions without any work and in temporary, makeshift camps. Their numbers are increasing at the rate of 20,000 a year. There are 75,000 of these Arab refugees just outside Jericho, where they can be seen in long queues filling their water carriers at Elisha's Well—practically their sole occupation of the day.
They are kept out of the general economy of the Arab countries for two reasons. In some cases they would be taking work away from native Arabs and, secondly, it is thought that they will one 299 day go back to Israel. But it is quite likely that many will not go back. Many of them would prefer compensation, and Her Majesty's Government and the United States could appropriately help by making substantial contributions to the cost involved.
If we are all sincere in our efforts to do what we can to bring about the end of this miserable and unhappy dispute in the Middle East, a contribution should be made by us and by the United States—and the most obvious and convenient form would be by way of financial assistance to help pay the compensation to which these refugees are entitled if they do not return. Many of them have lost their land and all their belongings.
Then, the question of Jerusalem should also be settled. Nothing in the Middle East makes one more unhappy today than to see Jerusalem, which is not only the most historic but, in many ways, the most attractive of all places in the Middle East, divided into two halves across the line of war. Through the middle of the city there runs a no man's land. If one ventures to cross the line one is liable to be shot at. I hope that sooner or later we shall be able to devise a scheme for the internationalisation of Jerusalem, although it may well be that that would not be an ideal solution to either side. At any rate, some solution must be found.
Finally, there must be a considerable frontier adjustment. This can be done only by a body under the neutral chairmanship of America, Great Britain or some other country which is acceptable to both parties. In the meantime, we must realise that there is very little hope of Israel being able to come to terms with any one Arab country. It is a question of a complete settlement or nothing. No single Arab country will take the risk of incurring the odium of being responsible for initiating negotiations. It must, therefore be a joint operation, and this, after all, will provide the most satisfactory solution.
One further point deserves to be made. The State of Israel is making rapid and tremendous strides in economic development, but it is not alone in that respect in the Middle East. It has gone much further than the Arab countries. But there is a vast potential for extension and 300 progress all over the Middle East, not only because of the oil revenues but because of the natural resources which could be developed if the money, the ability and the engineering skill were forthcoming. There is plenty of evidence that they will be forthcoming.
Much of the Middle East is now a desert, but at one time it was a vast granary. Syria was the granary of the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago. In the midst of the desert there are still to be seen vast ruins of great cities like Palmyra, because 1,500 or 2,000 years ago, it was a fertile and prosperous country and it can be made so again. I mention that for this reason. I should think in the natural course of events the strength and the material prosperity of the Arab countries will increase and that in itself should not be a matter which makes it more difficult but rather should make it easier to produce a settlement.
There is every indication that in the next two years, with this sudden accretion of wealth, the Arab countries will extend their economy maybe not at the same rate as Israel but to a considerable extent. That, I would hope, will give them every confidence in their own future, and a sufficiency of urgent domestic problems on which to concentrate to induce them to see that the policy of live and let live in the Middle East is not only possible and desirable, but the only one consonant with the great human needs of the area.
I have spoken longer than I intended, and, in conclusion, may I sum up what I was trying to say. I very much hope Her Majesty's Ministers will follow the spirit in which the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs spoke this afternoon and will take every possible opportunity, in private, by diplomatic meetings and in other directions, to try to bring these two great nations together for the mutual benefit of both.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. C. J. M. Alport (Colchester)
I hope that the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) will not feel in any way embarrassed if I say the speech to which we have just listened is the one which, during the whole of our proceedings this afternoon, deals with the general problem we are discussing in the best perspective. He seems to have 301 drawn the proper line of distinction between partisanship of the Israeli case on the one hand and partisanship of the Arab case on the other. I am quite certain that unless this country is able to maintain that balance in its dealings with all the affairs of the Middle East, and in particular with those of Israel and the Arab countries, we shall not succeed in producing the solution for which we hope.
I hope that those hon. Members who have preceded him—and in the main they come from the other side of the House—will realise that the extreme partisanship which they have shown from time to time, particularly in supporting the Israel case, is doing more to damage that case than it does to advance it. I believe, as the hon. Member said with perfect truth, that the initiative in the matter of providing a solution cannot really come from the Western countries or from this country—that it can only be reached slowly and over a long period of time as the result of the gradual changing of opinion in Israel and in the Arab countries which surround it. It will not come in this generation—let us not fool ourselves by thinking that it will; it can only come as a result of the passing of many generations.
Anyone who presumes to air his views to the House of Commons on the Middle East does so at his peril. Its politics are full of the unknown and of the inscrutable. The currents of intrigue run darkly, and at any moment an assassin's dagger may remove some man of power and so bring tumbling into ruin a patiently constructed policy of many years.
It is difficult even to define the Middle East, although one hon. Member on the other side of the House was bold enough to do so, because, after all, the Middle East as we think of it in one century stretches up to the foothills of the Pyrenees and in another to the gates of Vienna. It is not a geographical expression. It represents no acceptance of common political institutions. It comprehends a vast number of cultural and religious traditions and combines a host of ancient and modern hatreds with the most modern of all aspirations, towards nationhood. So we can be quite certain that any generalisation is bound to be wrong.
302 I mention these points perhaps more as a warning to myself than for any other reason. I also do so in some degree as a protest against the dogmatism which has so often characterised the discussions of these affairs in this House in the past. After all, we were told quite dogmatically that the result of the agreement which my right hon. Friend, the Foreign Secretary, recently concluded in Egypt, would be a decline in the prestige and influence of the United Kingdom amongst the Arab countries. The truth of the matter is that precisely the opposite has taken place, as anyone who has recent experience of the Middle East and of the Arab countries will know.
We have already the evidence which has come to us from the sheikhs of the Persian Gulf. We have the evidence from the recent statement of Nuri Pasha, and quite apart from that I might give the evidence of the feeling amongst the small Arab community in Eastern Africa. The long conflict between ourselves and Egypt was a source of great anxiety to them and a strain upon their continuing loyalty and service to the British Crown. Now that that conflict has been resolved, they themselves feel that the prestige and position of the United Kingdom has risen rather than declined.
The hon. Member for Islington, East is absolutely right when he says that whatever may be our personal and individual views on Egypt—and let us be quite frank, it is often based on a short sojourn in Cairo during the war, in very artificial circumstances—Egypt is looked upon, and has been looked upon for many generations as a great country in the Moslem scheme of affairs. It is from the Azhar university there that a great deal of Islamic culture penetrates down the east coast of Africa, out across Arabia to Persia and along the north coast of Africa.
Let none of us, therefore, be too certain that we know precisely what is going to be the result of the policy now being followed. The truth of the matter is that the first object of the agreement has been achieved. It has reduced the tension between ourselves and Egypt. It has not only raised and increased our influence with our traditional friends who exist in that part of the world, but it has brought about what I think is perhaps a still more important result.
303 My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery), at the recent Conservative Party conference at Blackpool, welcomed with great enthusiasm the decision of Her Majesty's Government to undertake long-term military commitments in Europe. Indeed, I should have thought that most Members in the House would agree that our ability to undertake that commitment has enabled us to maintain the unity of the Western world in the face of the threats and destructive tactics on the part of the Russians and of Communism.
I may be wrong, but I should think it would have been impossible for any Foreign Secretary to have accepted a permanent commitment of four divisions in Europe when, at the same time, he knew that he had more or less a commitment of two to three divisions on the Suez Canal; and that it was only as a result of his knowledge that a solution was to be achieved for the Suez Canal problem that he was able to make such an immense contribution to the maintenance of the stability of the Western world and the security of our country.
Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North will not want to have it both ways. I do not think for one moment that he could have had all he wanted in respect of the Suez Canal and all he wants from Western Europe at the same time. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will be consoled in knowing that by losing one battle in the Middle East he has gained a victory for the policy in Western Europe for which he has stood with loyalty and vigour for so long.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that the Foreign Secretary felt compelled to get some agreement with the Egyptians in order to enable him to rearm the Germans?
§ Mr. Alport
No, I did not say that and I did not mean it, and the hon. Gentleman knew that before he got up.
There are other advantages. The financial advantage is perhaps small, but there will undoubtedly be a saving as a result of the agreement. However, there is the other advantage, the improvement in the trading relationship between ourselves and Egypt in particular, but with the Arab world in general, which will result from this agreement. After all, 304 Egypt has been a traditional market of ours over a considerable period. In some degree we have been dependent for the prosperity of the cotton industry in Lancashire upon Egyptian cotton. Now the obstacles and difficulties which existed in respect of that trade will be removed.
What is more—and I hope this will be regarded by the House as being an important point—we shall be able to pick up the long tradition of peaceful cultural contacts between this country and the Arab world. On both sides we have made contributions to the progress of civilisation, ourselves in respect of the Arab civilisation, the Arabs in respect of our Western civilisation. It has been a two-way movement of ideas, of art forms, of literature and, in some degree, of science. One of the greatest advantages is that this exchange can now be resumed.
These are some of the concrete advantages of the agreement, but I suggest to my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State that the real advantage will not be enjoyed by this country unless the new situation which has been created in the Middle East is used to produce a new pattern of policy for the United Kingdom in respect of the Middle East generally. As I have said, we have been able, as the result of the agreement, to release the log jam which has so far held up the expansion and alteration of our policy in that part of the world.
In the first place, it must clearly be the object of our policy that we should carry out the effective redeployment of the Forces that have been released. I should like to associate myself both with my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. F. M. Bennett) and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) in asking Her Majesty's Government once again to look at the advantages which would accrue to us of including Eastern Africa as one of the bases to replace the Suez Canal.
My right hon. and gallant Friend said that he could not find the reason for the abandonment of Mackinnon Road. I do not know the inner history of the negotiations that went on at that time, but I suggest that the evacuation of the Suez Canal area and of Egypt was advised by the General Staff immediately after the war; that in fact it was the view of 305 the Chief of the Imperial General Staff at that time that an alternative supply base should be developed in East Africa at Mackinnon Road; that plans were undertaken to that end, that the work was put into effect and then suddenly, for reasons which were partly due to the conflict of personalities and partly due to sudden decisions made under the stress of the Palestine situation, the whole new pattern of redeployment was abandoned.
If that is the case I feel that there are strong arguments now for looking at the project once again. Because there is one vital thing which, from a military point of view, has to be borne in mind. It is all very well for the War Office to argue that it is easy to deploy by air troops stationed in this country in any part of the Middle East, the Far East or Africa. Yet the truth of the matter is that those troops will not be of any use from an operational point of view until they are acclimatised, and they cannot be acclimatised under a period of at least two months.
In my view it is not fair to the troops, it is impractical and it is an unfair military risk to take a battalion from, let us say, my own constituency, Colchester, or Aldershot in the middle of winter, reequip them in tropical kit, and suddenly send them out by air in a period of 24 hours to operate either in the jungle or in the desert. Therefore, once again, I say that I hope that at this time—because this is the time of opportunity—Her Majesty's Government will look again at the possibility of ensuring that a permanent garrison, a permanent trained reserve, acclimatised to tropical and desert and jungle conditions, is available somewhere in Eastern and Central Africa.
I am certain that one of the most important aspects of our policy is to try to ensure that there is no further penetration of Russian Communism south into the Arab countries, into the heart-country of Persia, down into that vast land bridge between Europe and Asia. I agree with hon. Members opposite that one of the ways in which we can prevent that penetration is by assisting in the economic development of these countries. I am quite certain that in the case of Egypt, for instance, the Liberation Government will only remain in power if they can produce the social improvements, the 306 higher standard of living for which the fellahin look at the present time.
Although I do not agree completely with the thesis of the hon. Member for Islington, East, I am certain that the same applies in the long run in Persia, Transjordan, Africa and elsewhere. I feel, therefore, that just as in days centuries ago it was our policy to try to ensure the maintenance of our point of view rather by the use of money and subsidies and financial support than by direct use of troops placed in strategic positions, we should follow that policy not only to maintain our political interests but with the added incentive that by using our money in that way we can ensure improvement in the standard of living throughout this vital part of the world.
I believe that we should go further than the hon. Member for Islington, East suggested, and that what we want is something parallel to the Colombo Plan to cover the Middle Eastern States. I am sure that those rich sheikhdoms would be prepared to associate themselves with a plan of that sort. I believe that that can be used to inspire the policies and points of view of many of the Arab territories, and that it might provide an entry into the community of nations of the Middle East for Israel, which would be able to make such an obvious practical contribution to a scheme of that sort.
But we must not do that as a result of pressure from the United Kingdom or the United States. It may be that the third object of our policy, which is the military integration of the Middle East, will come about, but, as with the economic integration, the military integration must only come about as a result of the voluntary act and policy of Middle East States themselves. The initiative must come from them.
It would be wrong for us to suppose that we can bring Transjordan or Iraq or Egypt into a Middle East defence community or, for that matter even into a Middle East Colombo Plan if the initiative does not come from them. I am certain that the desire is there below the surface, provided that their suspicions are set at rest. If the initiative comes from them we shall obtain the results that we want in a way which will have a greater permanence and more lasting 307 value, because it will be based on the voluntary wishes of the Middle Eastern people as a whole.
We must not forget that the nationalism that we are experiencing in Africa and in Asia and in Europe is perhaps at its most acute in the Middle East. We cannot ignore that factor. We must pay the respect to it which a movement of that sort deserves. We must give the understanding without which we shall certainly fail in our opportunities to influence and perhaps lead those countries. I think, therefore, that this series of agreements which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has concluded in respect of a number of Middle East countries provides that springboard for a new policy, a new development of our relations with the Middle Eastern countries generally.
I should think that the basis of that policy would be to aim at ensuring not only that there is no further penetration south of Russian Communism, and at improving the economic conditions, but also at increasing the cultural contacts between the Western world, and this country in particular, and the countries of the Moslem Middle East. In relation to that, one of the features which I welcome most of all in the agreement just made is contained in the exchange of letters towards the end in which the Egyptian Government undertake to pay to those British servants of the Egyptian Government, who were summarily dismissed from their employment as an act of political retribution, the compensation which they deserve.
It is they, the men who have worked over there, far more than the soldiers, who have really provided the basis for the friendship which has been enabled so quickly to blossom out between ourselves and Egypt after the obstacle of the Canal Zone conflict has disappeared. It is they in the long run who will provide the advisers and the help, in particular with great projects like the Nile irrigation scheme. They have served with the Egyptian and Transjordan Governments and have worked with the people of those countries as equals. These are the people on whom the prestige of this country in the Middle East is really based.
It is along those lines of influencing and of helping that we shall be able to maintain our relationships and our position 308 in the Middle East. I have always maintained that Glubb Pasha and 40-odd officers of the Arab Legion and perhaps £5 million did far more for the British position in the Middle East than 80,000 troops on the Canal and £50 million spent on maintaining them. It is on those lines of traditional policy, traditional right back to the time of Elizabeth I, that we shall find for the future, in our relations with the Middle East, the best assurance of the continuing friendship of those countries.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)
The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) spoke of the importance of developing cultural contacts between the Western countries and the Islamic world. If he will allow me to say so, I am sure not only that he is right but that within that lies a great part of the correct solution of the whole Middle Eastern problem.
Inevitably, there have been many references in this debate to the ill-will felt by Arab countries towards the State of Israel. My own limited experience, so far as it went, when I travelled in some of those countries, led me to form the opinion that this ill-will towards Jewish people was only one example—though far and away the most outstanding example—of several hostilities felt by Arab peoples towards other communities; for example, the partly French and generally Europeanised community to be found in the Lebanon, towards Armenians, towards Copts and various other groups, all of whom had this in common—that they were more sophisticated, more in touch with the West than are the Islamic countries as a whole.
I believe that there is no ultimate remedy for the hostility between Israel and the Arab communities other than the bridging of the profound cultural gap that at present exists between them. In the Arab nations we have a community united by the fierce and majestic structure of Islam, a community able to look back over periods in history when they were not merely the equals but the superiors of Europe in science and in literature. Indeed, I believe it is historically true that at the time of the Crusades the Arab populations at that time in possession of the Levant regarded, and rightly regarded, the Crusaders as invading barbarians with a lower standard of culture.
309 In several periods of history that has been the case but what has happened in recent times, partly, I suppose, through the industrialisation of Europe, partly through the depressing effect of Ottoman rule over Arab countries, has been that this whole section of mankind has got culturally out of step with the rest of the world. So we have a community uneasy in itself, irritated with the rest of the world, a community which, looking back on its history, naturally will never regard itself as primitive or backward, but is painfully aware that in recent times it has in certain material respects fallen behind the rest of the world.
That is why, if one travels in that part of the world, one sees ceaselessly the contrasts—the contrasts of people, some of them most learned, sophisticated and cultured and others living in great poverty and squalor, the contrast of all material things, the contrast of the latest devices of 20th century science with the most primitive methods of agriculture.
So long as those contrasts persist, so long as the Arab countries feel that they are, in effect, out of step with the cultural development of the rest of mankind, we shall have this general unease of which hostility to the State of Israel is one, and the most striking, manifestation. It is an obvious enough deduction from that to say that the object of policy should be to give whatever assistance a Western nation can give in helping the Arab nations to take their rightful place in the 20th century.
That is not an easy job to do. One cannot pick up culture in lumps and hand it out to other parts of the world. If one does so too aggressively, or too patronisingly, one is likely to defeat one's own ends and to be met with hostility. It seems to me that it is true of foreign policy as a whole that successful foreign policy does not consist in the main of every now and then bringing off a striking diplomatic coup. It consists, surely, in realising what is the major historical necessity of the time; of patiently watching for every opportunity of doing what that historical necessity requires and, when an opportunity arises, to use it to the full.
There have been several references in the debate to the desirability of favouring the project of an English school at Beirut. That is one example of the way 310 in which, as the hon. Member for Colchester said, we can link up Western culture and the Islamic world. It is one of the ways in which we can help the Arab nations to take the place which, by historical right, should be theirs in the 20th century. But, of course, it is only one way and we should not conceive of this task too narrowly. We ought to conceive of it, not as an opportunity to try to promote specifically English culture, English ideas and the English way of life, but as the linking of Western and Islamic cultures.
As the years go on other opportunities of that kind will offer. If the various agencies to be found within the machinery of United Nations are properly used, they also will give opportunities where, without patronage and without exciting hostility, the West can stretch out a helping hand to the section of mankind which we have been discussing tonight. I think that it is by the steady pursuit of a policy of that kind that, in the end, we are likely to get a more satisfactory relation between the Arab nations and the rest of the world.
I believe that the solution of the present troubles between the Arab nations and Israel is part of that general problem. We should do everything we can to make the Arabs aware that there is open to them in the 20th century a rich and developing world, where the fertile and vigorous intellect which has characterised their nations in the past can profit with dignity in the future. The more we can do that the more they will realise that it is not worth their while to waste their energies on a squalid and unnecessary struggle with the State of Israel.
If we look on it from the viewpoint of common sense, there is nothing whatever in the economics, politics or geography of the matter to make this conflict in the least necessary. It springs from old prejudices and fears, and, as I say, from this feeling on the part of many of the Islamic nations that they are out of step with the rest of mankind. I have suggested that there are ways in which, cautiously and without patronage, nations like our own can help to resolve the problem. Now that we have an agreement with Egypt, and can think more in terms of a constructive policy towards the Arab world as a whole, I trust that this aspect of the matter may be borne 311 in mind by those responsible for directing policy.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
I am grateful for this opportunity of making a brief contribution, for the first time, to a debate on foreign affairs, because in September I had the opportunity of paying a visit to Israel, and I took advantage of my visit to learn something of the many difficulties and problems facing that country.
I thoroughly agree with what has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House, particularly by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), about the astonishing achievements of Israel. I had not been to Israel for about 30 years, and I found it impossible to compare the position in 1920 with what I found in 1954. I am sure it is true to say that the Arabs who have remained in Israel, and many have, have also shared those benefits. Many Arabs who left Israel, some voluntarily and some otherwise, are jealous of those who stayed behind, because the conditions enjoyed by the latter are surprisingly good.
I came back convinced that there is for us an immense amount of good will in the State of Israel today. I happened to be there on 21st September when our offer was made to the representatives of the Arab States of our good offices to bring the two countries together and to reopen negotiations between Israel and the Arab League. That certainly made a tremendously favourable impression in Israel. It gave great satisfaction. I hope that both sides will take advantage of the offer. For my part, I believe that it would be a good thing if we gave both sides a reminder from time to time that the offer is still open and if we tried to push them into getting together and doing something about it. We must take a lead in the matter.
Despite the satisfaction, there is undoubtedly a fear in Israel that we are more concerned with our friendship for the Arabs than for them. There is no doubt, too, that they are anxious, quite understandably, about our agreement with Egypt in respect of the Suez Canal base. Perhaps they are unduly anxious. I am not so disturbed as some people 312 may be about the threats which have been made in the Egyptian papers and by Egyptian politicians. I take the view, which may be optimistic, that the bark of these people is considerably worse than their bite, and that if the Egyptians know what is good for them they will not start anything against Israel.
I should like to know whether or not it is a fact that the terms of the 1950 declaration would bring us in on the side of Israel in the event of that country being attacked by any of the Arab States. I am not clear on that point. What I hope more than anything is that this debate, and especially perhaps the few speeches that we have yet to hear, will add to what has already been done by Her Majesty's Government to reassure the Israelis about the results of our leaving the Canal Zone base.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave them a reassurance when he said on 19th October that we shall be able to move forward to a general relaxation of tension in the Middle East. We all hope that that is so. I believe that it will be so, but I think that the Israelis would prefer something rather more concrete in the form of a reassurance.
Of course, it will take a good deal of time before tension is relaxed. It will take a lot of time and patience to put an end to these quarrels. Meantime, I am very disturbed about some of the activities which are still going on. I am less disturbed by reports in the Press and speeches made by politicians than I am by one incident in particular which was reported last week to have taken place in Israel near the Egyptian frontier. I refer to the blowing up of the water pipeline leading to the Negeb.
I look on that as being most serious because Israel already feels that she has a grievance about the inaction of the Security Council in respect of the Syrian obstruction to the plan to get water from the Jordan and bring it down to the Negeb. This plan would undoubtedly be of immense benefit to Israel from many points of view. I have had it explained to me, but I am not a water engineer. As I understand it, and I have been told about it only from one side, the plan would do no harm to anybody and least of all to Syria, which is causing the obstruction and, anyway, has plenty of water of its own.
313 I am given to understand that if the water plan is put into effect it will enable Israel to settle another 1½ million people in the Negeb. I am convinced from what I have heard and seen there that Israel does not want to extend her own frontiers. I do not think she has any wish at all to extend her territory; what she wants to do is to make the best possible use of the land within her present frontiers, and to do that she must have water, and water she means to have. I am convinced that the most serious risk of trouble in the Middle East today between Israel and her neighbours is to be found in any interference with Israel's attempts to get water, whether it is by obstructing the plan I have described or, even more serious, by sabotage like that which occurred last week. We ought to urge the United Nations to take much stronger action than they have hitherto done.
I am sure it is the earnest hope of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House that the relaxation of the tension to which the Foreign Secretary looks forward will enable a stout-hearted and virile nation like Israel to make an effective contribution to the defence of the Middle East alongside her Arab neighbours. When all is said and done, apart from our own Armed Forces, there are really only two bodies of troops in the Middle East which are really efficient in battle, and they are the Israeli Army and the Arab Legion, and what we need to do is to get them both on the same side. That ought to be the aim of our policy.
Suggestions about alternative bases have been made. I have often wondered whether thought has been given to asking Israel to consider the possibility of Haifa being used as an advance base. That would have many great advantages. It is true that Israel has already offered free port facilities to Jordan in Haifa and has offered a right of free passage from Egypt to Jordan through the Negeb. If a more complete arrangement could be made for allowing Jordan free passage to a Mediterranean port, I believe that in due course it would be possible to persuade the Arabs to permit the reopening of the oil pipeline to Haifa. It is a tragedy to see the great oil refinery at Haifa running at quarter capacity, and running on oil from Venezuela at that. There could be no more ridiculous situation.
For my part, I do not despair of a settlement. I do not despair of again 314 seeing oil flowing from Iraq to the Mediterranean at Haifa. After all, I do not think that three years ago anyone would have given much for the British chances of operating the oil refinery at Abadan again. I do not want to say any more on that subject, but the fact remains that Abadan is operating again today.
I have deliberately refrained from saying anything about the very controversial matters which have been mentioned, such as the Arab refugees, the border incidents, the passage of ships through the Suez Canal, and so on. I have views on those subjects, but I feel that in many ways public discussion in this House serves, if anything, rather to fan than to quench the ill-feeling between the Israelis and the Arab States.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will find it possible to say something about some of the points which I have raised. In case he feels that to say anything about those matters and some of the other controversial matters which have been raised would be unwise, I would merely express the hope that we shall be told that the Government are doing their utmost to bring about negotiations between Israel and her Arab neighbours by those tried and excellent methods of diplomacy which were so successful in bringing about a settlement between Italy and Yugoslavia over Trieste. I am sure the old method of diplomacy is the right way in which to conduct that sort of affair, and I hope that it will be tried and proved successful as between Israel and the Arabs.
Finally, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—and I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs—is personally using his own very great influence, and it is very great, with Egypt and with the Arab States to induce them to reach a settlement which will bring peace and prosperity to the Middle East.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Dalton (Bishop Auckland)
We have had an extremely valuable debate today, and a number of the speeches, not least the last two—one from each side of the House, from my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) and from the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson), who spoke with a very great knowledge of these matters and from 315 recent observations on the spot—seemed to me to have added very much to the value of the debate.
The debate started with, and, so to speak, was hung upon the peg of, the Suez Agreement, but, in fact, there has not been much discussion of the details of the Suez Agreement, although I am sure that we have all studied the White Paper as part of our homework. I am not going into detail on it myself at all, but I was very sorry that I was not in the House when the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) spoke, because he, I think almost alone of the speakers today, did tackle that agreement. According to a report which has been furnished to me of a number of his observations—I carefully arranged for this in view of our past association and of our, I hope, mutual esteem—he appears to have put a number of extremely penetrating questions, which I hope have been duly noted for answer by Ministerial spokesmen. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman put very penetrating questions on the political, financial and strategic aspects of the Suez Agreement, or so I am informed.
The Suez Agreement registers very great concessions to Egypt, and many of us are disappointed to find that it coincides with—I do not say registers—no comparable concessions by Egypt to us in respect of the admittedly illegal stoppage of vessels passing through the Canal. I must pursue that a step further, following up what has been said on this subject before, and particularly in view of the reception that was given by both sides of the House to the very striking speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), who was loudly applauded on both sides when he asked why it was that Her Majesty's Government, having admitted that the Egyptian procedure is totally illegal and unjustified, are not speaking more strongly about it and giving a more active appearance of indignation and determination to have the matter put right.
The Foreign Secretary intervened at a certain stage of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), and said, in a tone of almost impotent resignation, "It 316 is illegal, but what next?" Are we really not to have anything further said to us by the Government about this illegal blockade? I ask this because I remember that in 1951—I think it was—before the change of Government, the right hon. Gentleman was particularly indignant about one aspect of this illegal Egyptian blockade which has so far not been mentioned except by the hon. Member for Blackley. The right hon. Gentleman was exceedingly indignant regarding the stoppage by Egypt of British oil bound for the Haifa refinery. The hon. Member for Blackley dealt with this most outrageous aspect of this Egyptian illegality.
§ Mr. E. Johnson
The right hon. Gentleman must have misunderstood me. I merely referred in my speech to my hope that the Haifa pipeline might once again contain oil. I did not say anything about ships in the Suez Canal.
§ Mr. Dalton
In that case the hon. Member and I are supplementing instead of repeating each other's arguments.
It is equally outrageous that the pipeline should be blocked over land as it is that their lawful routes across the sea are blocked for ships bearing British oil to a largely British-owned refinery at Haifa. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to recover some of that pristine indignation he showed when this matter was first raised some years ago, and when he sat over here.
The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said that the Egyptians were stopping Israeli ships or had stopped them, regardless of their cargoes, and were stopping other ships regardless of their nationality if they carried what the Egyptians, in their wisdom, deemed to be strategic goods for Israel. The right hon. Gentleman spoke specifically of oil. It was he who reminded us, in mentioning Haifa, that the Egyptians are presuming to prevent British oil passing through the Canal for Israeli ports. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will have something more emphatic to say about that when he winds up.
He will, I am sure, as an acute and experienced Parliamentary observer, have sensed that there is deep concern in the House about the risk—admittedly there is a risk and we have to try to evaluate it in the light of the evidence—of a second 317 war between Israel on the one hand and some of the Arab States on the other. Before I sit down I shall urge the right hon. Gentleman to take a rather firmer and clearer line in relation to this risk. But I will first say something more about the Arab refugees.
Every person, not merely in this House but wherever he be, who has even the faintest glimmerings of the life lived now by this mass of Arab refugees, must be profoundly shocked and horrified in his most humane sentiments. This is a dreadful legacy and is the most shocking element of the whole Middle Eastern situation. Quite apart from any views on the other topics which we are debating tonight, it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government, and of all Governments even remotely concerned, to do their best gradually to dissipate this seething mass of degradation and squalor which is so clearly visible to all who travel in those parts in the Middle East.
The Minister of State said today that it was getting worse and not better. In spite of all the efforts of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency we have only succeeded in settling, he said, about 9,000 refugees in any permanent and satisfactory way since the start of that Agency's work. I forget the total which the hon. Gentleman gave—it was very large—and perhaps he could tell me what it was.
§ Mr. Dalton
Only 9,000 out of 900,000, that is, only 1 per cent. of these unfortunate people have been settled in any permanent and satisfactory way. That is a terrible indictment of everybody who is responsible in any degree for the continuance of this state of affairs. I take it that all members of the United Nations agree that something should be done, but not enough vigour and energy seems to be devoted to doing it.
These people must be resettled. But resettled where? Surely it is a most cruel thing to try to delude these poor people who are suffering so much by presenting to them some political slogan which suggests that there is any hope or any practical possibility of their all being resettled in the State of Israel.
That is a cruel delusion, and I should like to see steps taken to dispel it with 318 whatever emphasis is proper. I do not want to say anything which would cause further bitterness, but it should be made clear that that is a totally impracticable suggestion, and, until that is out of the way, we shall not get effective co-operation to settle the refugees elsewhere.
There is literally no room for the whole mass of these people in Israel, but only, at the best, for a very small minority of them. Since they left six years ago and became refugees, their places have been filled by the immense immigration into Israel, and, to a considerable extent, the places of those unhappy Arab refugees from Israel have been taken by equally unhappy Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
They have come, and this exchange of population, as it is sometimes rather coldly called—although this phrase often covers great human tribulation—has taken place and cannot be reversed. Therefore, I should like to see some official statement agreed upon, perhaps through the U.N.R.W.A.—I do not dogmatise as to how—indicating that it is really quite impracticable to contemplate the resettlement of more than a small minority of these unfortunate people in the State of Israel.
I should have thought that it was quite clear, if we look at the barest elements of geography, that the place where the great majority of these people could most happily, easily and satisfactorily be settled would be in the wide lands, still undeveloped, of the Arab States. May I offer a geometrical observation? I am told by those who have worked it out that the total area of the eight Arab States is more than 200 times that of Israel. I am told that the State of Israel is barely more than 12,000 square miles in area, and that the Arab States have more than 2,500,000 square miles.
It is quite true that much of the Arab States is desert, but so is much of Australia, and so is a large part of this pocket handkerchief of a country which we call Israel. I use that phrase to show the thing pictorially. It is a small place on the map, and more than half of it, including the Negeb, is stony, dry and sun-parched. I dare say that the right hon. Gentleman, like myself, has seen it. It is not a country in which I would be eager to settle. It is, therefore, quite 319 idle to say that we can take all these people from the Arab refugee communities and resettle them in the tiny land of Israel.
If it is true, as I believe, that the great majority of them must seek, in the Arab states, any happy future, it is surely desirable that we should co-operate to the full—financially, and with economic advice and so on—in the refertilising of large areas in the Arab States, which can, indeed, be so treated if we have the will. In ancient times, Mesopotamia—the land between the two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates—was very fertile, well-watered, heavily populated. So it could be again today. There is no technical or engineering problem there which we could not solve.
I leave this argument at this point, repeating the hope that we shall try to clear away the delusion, fostered by the propagandists in some of the Arab countries, that the refugees can yet find their way back to Israel—and urging the Government to do more than they have done, and to urge others concerned—including the Arab States themselves, which have been a little hesitant in the matter—to do more to get rapid, large-scale development and irrigation, land settlement and so forth, in suitable Arab territories.
The party opposite have recently invented a new slogan—in some contexts not a bad one—"Invest in success." We could do that on a great scale in some of the Arab countries. We should certainly be investing in success, not only in terms of material development but in the removal of one of the obstacles to peace. So long as this idea prevails that, somehow or other, the refugees will be able to find their way back to Israel, there is a standing temptation and invitation to warmongers. But, we should be investing not only in successful material development but in human welfare and in laying the foundations of peace in the Middle East.
I should now like to turn to Israel, the Arab States, and the supply of arms. When this matter was mentioned earlier I gathered that the Foreign Secretary undertook to give us more information about this. It may be a diplomatic fiction, but the Arab States say they are still at war with Israel. It is, indeed, true that there is no diplomatic relation- 320 ship established between the Arab States and Israel, that there is a trade boycott greatly damaging both sides, and a complete lack of effective contact on any plane. The difference is that, whereas the Arab States say that they are in a state of war with Israel, the Israelis say that they are in a state of peace with the Arab States.
That is a difference not without importance. Indeed, the Israeli representative at the United Nations has this month proposed, on behalf of his country, a series of non-aggression pacts with the several Arab States. I gather that that has not been very well received, but I still hope that something of that kind may be possible, if only to break the deadlock involved in the present absence of diplomatic relations.
What is the position? The Arab States say that they are at war with Israel; Israel says she is at peace with the Arab States. We—and the Americans also—are supplying arms in larger total quantities, as I understand, to the people who say they are at war with their neighbours, namely the Arab States, than to the people who say they are at peace with their neighbours—Israel. If that is so, and I know that the Foreign Secretary will deal with this, it seems very paradoxical and unjustifiable that the people who are thinking and talking of war should get a larger quantity of the implements of war than those who are talking—and, we hope, also thinking—primarily of peace. It seems to me that, until we get a settlement, it would be desirable for both sides to get nothing much more potent in the way of arms than a few truncheons and pistols.
But if we must go beyond that, I hope that we shall, at any rate, be assured that the Israelis will get the same supply of arms as the aggregate of the Arab States. The Arab League, which I have always regarded as something of a diplomatic figment, but which exists, is for many purposes simply a united front against the State of Israel. However, the right hon. Gentleman will, as he promised, say more about the arms.
Several of the speakers in today's debate have quoted statements by Egyptian Ministers and statements made in the Egyptian official Press. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, 321 South (Mr. H. Morrison) quoted a number of them. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and other speakers have done the same. If they are to be taken literally and at their full value, they are pretty serious. I am not going to read them all again, but let me re-quote a phrase or two so that the Foreign Secretary will have them in mind, although I am sure he knows them all very well.
Take this example:The artificial State of Israel must be erased from the map of the world before there can be peace.I would not send arms to people who talk like that.As for the problem of Palestine, that is a problem which can be solved only by force. That force will not be achieved until the Suez Canal is freed.Those are the words of the "Dancing Major," the Minister for National Guidance, while the Suez negotiations were going on. He went on:The Egyptian Army is unable to fight as long as the British Army separates it from its bases … with the freeing of our economic and military forces an end will be put to foreign occupation throughout the Middle East.Do we or do we not attach any importance to what these people say? Do we or do we not attach any importance to what is said by those who hold high office in Egypt, such as the Prime Minister of Egypt and the Minister for National Guidance, and what is said in their official newspaper? If we attach no importance to what they say, why are we signing treaties with them?
We recognise their good faith and sincerity to the extent of signing treaties with them. In that case, we cannot discard these statements quite as lightly as some speakers have done—even the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs when the matter was hinted at during his speech. It appears to me, therefore, that all this tendency and talk in Egypt should lead to very great economy indeed in the supply of arms to these gentlemen. That would seem to me a very simple and prudent maxim.
Let me now say a word about the 1950 Declaration. This Declaration, jointly signed by the United States, the French and ourselves—I have it here, but I need not read it again—gives certain assurances to the effect that if there were any threat of violation of the frontiers set up 322 under the armistice arrangements, or any threat of the use of force, the three signatories would regard themselves as bound, both under the United Nations and also by this special arrangement outside the United Nations, to take action to deal with it.
But, as has been said by those who have quoted the exact words earlier today, there is much less exactitude and force of phrase in this Declaration than there is in a number of the bilateral agreements which we have made with several of the Arab States, in such phrases as:… will come immediately to their aid as an ally in defence of collective security.It has been said that the Israelis are apprehensive because they feel that the assurance given to them by the three Western Powers in the event of their being attacked by the Arab States is much less firm, much less quickly operative and much less automatic than were the undertakings given by us—without the United States and France being involved—to Iraq and Jordan—[An HON. MEMBER: "And Libya."]—and Libya; although Libya is further away and does not matter for this purpose.
We should seek to remedy that sense of inequality and uncertainty in the minds of the Israelis, which, on the actual wording of the text, seems to some extent to be justified. That uncertainty may also exist in the minds of certain of the Arab States, and it is very important to remove that. I should like us to hold the balance absolutely level between Israel on the one hand and the Arab States on the other. I should like the Foreign Secretary to consider whether it would not be wise to see that a new, clear and firm declaration was made which would leave Egypt and the other Arab States in no doubt at all that if they attempted to use force against Israel it would immediately be met by force on the part of those of us who signed the 1950 Declaration.
Equally, it should be laid down that, if Israel made an attack upon any of the Arab States, it would also immediately be met and resisted by force on the part of the three signatories. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether that would not have a pacifying effect and would not give a certain amount of reassurance throughout the Middle East. On the one hand, it would remove Israeli 323 apprehensions that they were being unequally and unfairly treated and, on the other hand, it would remove from the minds of certain Arab leaders the thought they may be harbouring that they may be able to get away with a second round without our intervention.
I support what was said by the hon. Member for Blackley, namely, that the offer we have already made to use our good offices in a completely impartial manner as between Israel and the Arab States whenever it seemed useful and helpful, could be renewed so that the two sides could be brought together for a sensible and rational discussion of concrete problems.
I shall say only a few words about bases. Various hon. Members have spoken about possible alternatives. I shall not speak of Cyprus, that is for another day; but I have occasionally thought about Gaza. The Egyptians are at Gaza, but it is not part of Egypt. Many Arab refugees are around Gaza. Whatever bases we have in the Eastern Mediterranean, we shall have to keep relatively small numbers of troops, stores and equipment in each. Could not we have some at Gaza? That would have the advantage of giving productive employment to a number of Arab refugees who are now mouldering there.
Haifa is another possibility which has often been mentioned. I do not want to pry into too many secrets—I see that the right hon. Gentleman has got my point in one—but would it not be useful to have some naval installations at Haifa? The Israelis have been very good about Haifa, and they have offered Jordan a free passage to it and a free zone in the port. Could not we keep that in our mind? I am sure it has been thought about.
And speaking from my personal travels and observations, I ask whether we could not do something more in the Gulf of Akabah and have a sort of joint base including both Akabah and Elat? There are only some palm trees, growing very nicely, between the two, and I think we might arrange something by agreement with the parties concerned, thereby linking them at the one point where they both touch the Red Sea. We have got a few troops there now. Could we not have a few more?
324 I hope we are going to try for some additional bases to contain not a big number but a reasonable number of troops and their equipment and stores in several parts of the Middle East. We want to find bases where we will have a welcome from the local inhabitants. That is most desirable, and I hope not impossible.
This debate, as I have said, has been exceptionally useful and a high proportion of really interesting speeches made from both sides of the House have contributed to our understanding of these difficult problems. The debate will have done good if it demonstrates the anxiety that is felt in the House regarding the present situation in the Middle East. If it strengthens the Government's will to tackle this problem with more vigour than they have hitherto shown and a greater sense of urgency, so that the problem will not be put somewhere near the bottom of the list, we shall have taken a great step forward. We do not want to hear the Government say again: "It is quite true that the Egyptians are being very illegal but we cannot do anything about it."
I urge the Foreign Secretary to give the Middle East a very high priority in the coming months, and if out of a close and concentrated attack, which, of course, must be carried out in consultation with other Powers, including the United States, France, the Arab States and Israel, there is achieved something which will relax tension, sweep away impossible solutions and concentrate upon possible solutions, then we shall advance a stage further towards not only peace but real and genuine prosperity based upon enduring factors in that troubled area of the world.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir Anthony Eden)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) has just made what I must frankly admit is a very constructive contribution to the extremely difficult problems which we have been discussing this afternoon. Both his speech and that of his right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), who opened the debate for the Opposition, were of the order of those who are trying to help to find solutions 325 to problems with which they have been familiar for many years, as I am familiar at the present time.
Let me first say this to the right hon. Gentlemen, that there is no question whatever of these problems being neglected or put at the bottom of a list in our preoccupations. I can assure the right hon. Gentlemen, and the House, that now that for a moment we have what I hope is a breathing space from our European problems—and I hope Her Majesty's Opposition will agree with that—this problem, and particularly the Arab and Israeli problem, will be very near indeed to the top of the list. But it is one which—I know nobody will take offence—it is easy to feel emotional about and not so easy to find practical solutions for.
In what I shall say to the House tonight I shall try to take, as far as I can, a number of the points that have been raised in the debate on both sides of the House. I cannot cover all the field, because any number of detailed points were mentioned, but I will take care that those which are not dealt with in my speech will be dealt with by written answer in the House, because I think that the quality of this debate has been exceptional, and the House is entitled to feel that the observations which have been made have been carefully considered.
I shall start with what I think is, on the whole, probably the most important part of the aspects of this problem, and which was referred to by both right hon. Gentlemen opposite and was also mentioned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). That is the position about the Three-Power Declaration of 1950, for which the late Government were responsible, how far it meets our present needs, whether it ought to be amended, and whether there is anything else we can find which would better serve our purpose, and if so, what?
If I may say so, I think that both right hon. Gentlemen rather underestimated the extent of the commitment in the 1950 Declaration. It is extremely far-reaching. To give one example to the House, it goes far beyond our commitment under S.E.A.T.O. I will not quote all the words, but those to which I want to draw attention are in paragraph 3. The three Governments—and it is, of course, of 326 cardinal importance that it is the three Governments—all declaretheir deep interest in and their desire to promote the establishment and maintenance of peace and stability in the area and their unalterable opposition to the use of force or threat of force between any of the States in that area.This is the strong sentence—The three Governments, should they find that any of these States was preparing to violate frontiers or armistice lines, would, consistently with their obligations as Members of the United Nations,There is nothing in that; that is in every treaty—immediately take action, both within and outside the United Nations, to prevent such violation.That is preventive action, and I know very few international instruments, if any, which carry as strong a commitment as that one does. So that, while I am not by any means rejecting the suggestions made this afternoon, I would say that on all the legal advice tendered to me, this is a very far-reaching commitment indeed, and I am sure that the last thing the right hon. Gentleman would desire is that we should work out anything else which would result in weakening in any way the commitment we have there undertaken.
In that connection, I must answer something in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson): do the terms of the 1950 Declaration bind us to go to the help of Israel if she is attacked by an Arab State? The answer, is, yes, Sir, most certainly. They not only bind us, but they bind the United States and France also in exactly the same way, whether it be Israel or an Arab State. So I say again that I would be very hesitant myself to touch that Declaration unless I had a clear view where exactly we were going.
I could not help feeling as I listened to the debate that there was perhaps some misunderstanding in the minds of some hon. Members about our present engagements elsewhere. It is true there is an engagement with Jordan, also made by the late Government. I am not complaining, they made the treaty with Jordan and that is a far-reaching commitment. But, of course, there is no obligation under the agreement we have just made with Egypt in respect of a conflict with Israel, none. Israel is not 327 included in the definition of an outside Power. Under this Agreement we are only pledged to go to the help of Egypt—that is our obligation—if Egypt is invaded by a Power from outside the Middle East. It is in those terms—in other words, what I might call world terms—that the obligation applies. Therefore, I repeat my doubt as to whether it would be possible to find a better definition than is to be found in the 1950 Declaration.
As to our ability to carry that out, which has been mentioned by one or two hon. Members, I do not think that we are worse placed to do that now than we were before we reached agreement with Egypt. On the contrary, it would be very difficult to see what we could have done to carry out that obligation during the period of the worst relations with Egypt, when our Forces in the Canal Zone were virtually a beleagured garrison.
As to the way in which we shall be able to deploy those Forces, I do not want to give the House tonight, and I hope that hon. Members will not press me for it, a detailed list of what our ideas are about redeployment. There are other people who might be considerably interested. Although, no doubt, they will find out in due course, I do not see why we should tell them tonight. We are engaged on this. Plans are being worked out and redeployment is at present taking place both in respect of land forces and air forces.
I share the view of the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland that there might be occasion for making certain smaller local bases. The Egyptian base will be very much smaller than it was. The Egyptian base may well be—I can go as far as this—in the form of a rear base whereas there may be other smaller bases in advance of it, having in mind that the duty which we shall have is to protect, shall we say, the Turkey-Iraq line. That is as far as I should like to go in showing how our minds are working, but I want to assure the House that there is a plan behind this effort.
The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South and the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland and others asked what we were going to do about arms deliveries now that we have made the agreement. I want to make it quite clear that we are 328 going to make these deliveries only on the basis of the 1950 Declaration, that is to say that we shall continue to keep a balance as between Israel and the Arab States collectively. That is the balance that we shall try fairly to keep, and we shall do that in conjunction with our allies, which we must do, otherwise there is very little avail in our efforts. The last thing that I want to see is anything in the nature of an arms race in that part of the world. It would be quite disastrous in the present much inflamed atmosphere.
The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland spoke about refugees and this is the problem which I find most difficult of all to handle. I hope that the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) did not think that I did not care about it. I thought that he shook his head when it was suggested that I did.
§ Sir A. Eden
I have taken more personal trouble over this unhappy matter than I think over anything else since I became Foreign Secretary, and I confess that I have been singularly unsuccessful. I am beginning to doubt whether we can hope to make very much headway unless we can take some steps towards general political discussion. I do not think that it is true to say that the Arabs really believe that the great part of the refugees are going to be resettled in Palestine.
I do not think that they believe that in their hearts. On the other hand, there is this continuous deep sentiment among most Arab States—even in Jordan where, in King Abdullah's day, relations with Israel were the best—that the boundaries as they are now, are not those which the Arab States want to accept. I am not saying that they are right or wrong, but they are arguing that they are not the ones which were originally laid down by the United Nations. We all know what followed—there was war and fighting and this is the result, this is the psychological position we have to deal with.
Whenever one tries to make plans about the settlement of Arab refugees elsewhere there is no doubt at all that there is strong feeling among the refugees that what they want is to go back to the 329 territories which, in their view, were wrongly taken from them. We have to try to solve that problem. In the United Nations we have done more than tinker with it; very much money has been spent. We have ourselves spent more than £10 million—£10¾ million in the last three or four years—in handling it.
The tragedy is that we are not solving it but keeping it going, keeping people more or less alive and not getting nearer a solution. Any number of plans have been advocated, some ambitious and some less ambitious. I can only tell the House that we shall persist in doing everything which lies in our power to try to find a solution, but, after the experience we have had, I cannot pretend that I am very optimistic about an early development.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Sir D. Savory) referred to the friendliness of the Egyptian people. That is true. For instance, we are now having the full assistance and support of the police in the base area and incidents and thefts there have virtually ceased. Our prayer is that this may long continue and that friendly relations will develop. I want to give one example of how this improvement will be manifested. As the House probably knows—some hon. Members know—there have been anti-collaboration laws in Egypt which sought to prevent the Egyptians working with us. Now, although these are not mentioned in the Agreement—they could not very well be—the Egyptian Prime Minister did volunteer to my right hon. Friend that when the Agreement is ratified the Egyptian Government intend to repeal all those laws, so that that chapter will come to an end.
I know that what I am saying is not particularly popular, but I do hope that the House will give the Agreement a chance to work out. I do not believe we can bring assistance to anyone in the Middle East—Israeli or Arab—unless we can make some kind of success of this Agreement. If our relations with Egypt are thoroughly bad it does poison the atmosphere in all that area and make our influence more and more difficult to exercise.
Much has been said in this debate about the apprehensions of Israel and her anxieties. That was shown in the 330 eloquent speech of the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), who felt warmly on the matter. I have heard of these apprehensions and, of course, read the speeches to which reference has been made. I deplore those speeches in the atmosphere in which we have to work. But, in assessing this anxiety, I do not think the House ought to underestimate—I know the hon. Member does not—Israel's very real military strength. According to our information it is certainly at least greater than that of any single Arab State and that is a very low estimate of its military power.
Although we give due weight to what occasioned these anxieties, perhaps we should not exaggerate them too much——
§ Sir A. Eden
The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South was able to make his assessment not long ago. I do not know what information was given him then as to the relative military power.
§ Mr. Morrison
The right hon. Gentleman was comparing Israel with the Arab States. I said that there are four Arab States.
§ Sir A. Eden
I said that it was a moderate underestimate of Israel's power. The right hon. Gentleman knows the calculations quite as well as I do.
But there is this fact, and this is where we have to bear in mind the position of Israel. For Israel, there is a very heavy economic strain in keeping this military effort going, and that is another reason why we have to seek to reduce the tension, so that Israel, equally with the Arab States, can devote more of her resources—as she wishes to do—to improving the economic well-being of the Middle East.
The right hon. Gentleman said, "Do not let us neglect the chance to negotiate." I promise that we shall not do that. I think we have already established certain contacts, but whether they will be of help in any way I simply cannot tell at this stage. I can only tell the House that we shall do everything in our power to try to reduce the tension by every means; whether it is locally from the point of view of the actual fighting in Israel and Jordan, or by other methods. We shall use whatever influence we may 331 have. We shall not weary in well doing in that respect.
I would repeat the warning of my right hon. Friend that if we are able to do anything about this there must be good relations. In that sense it is like the Trieste problem, you have to go underground to try to work things out and to try to get a measure of discussion. Therefore, while we will do everything that in our power lies, I cannot tell when I shall be able to report to the House.
Now a word about the vexed question of the Suez Canal. In the view of Her Majesty's Government, Egypt is acting unlawfully in stopping even strategic cargoes bound for Israel from going through the Canal. We have expressed that view more than once at the United Nations, but I think that the House ought to know what is the Egyptian argument, even though we do not accept it. It is based on the Egyptian claim to be exercising a belligerent right which they derive from Article 10 of the Suez Canal Convention of 1888. I know that this was examined during the lifetime of the late Government. It allows her to take action in respect of the Canal in defence of Egypt. Article 10 declares that Egypt can waive certain Articles, including Article 4, for the defence of Egypt. I repeat that we do not accept this, because we do not accept that Egypt is a belligerent.
The case of the ship "Bat Galim" is not exclusively an Egyptian affair. It was actually taken to the Security Council at the request of Israel on 14th October, and after hearing the discussion they asked for a report by the Mixed Armistice Commission, and I think that that was right. The Commission has not yet reported, and I think it possible that the Israelis may ask for a further meeting of the Security Council if the report does not come in shortly.
I can give the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West one reassurance. I have been able to discover no evidence of persecution of the Jews in Egypt. As the hon. Gentleman knows, they form, and have for many years past formed a prosperous part of the community, and they play their part in Egyptian life. I am thankful to say that I have heard no evidence of anything otherwise than that recently. If the hon. Member has any 332 information no doubt he will convey it to me.
The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) and my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) have all discussed another picture, for this debate has covered a wide field. It is the problem of a Middle East economic organisation which is so much wrapped up with this problem. The right hon. Gentleman asked—and again I sympathise with this as I have done before now—could we not have a Middle East economic organisation? The difficulty which we come straight up against is that up to now some of the countries have no oil royalities. Those who have not show a perhaps not unintelligible desire to share with those who have. That is a desire which is not always shared by those who have to help those who have not, and that is not exclusively a Middle East monopoly. It happens in other parts of the world.
What is to be done about that? Actually, some of these countries are doing very valuable work already on the very lines that the right hon. Gentleman indicated. For instance, in Iraq 70 per cent. of the total oil revenues, which are very large now for Iraq, are being entirely devoted to development plans. That is very good. I want the House to encourage the work in the message that it sends out from this debate. The difficulty they are up against with all the development plans is that there is very little to show for the first three or four years. The result is that the people in the country who know that large oil revenues are coming in say, "Why do not we see something more immediate as a result?" That applies also to the schemes which we are trying to work out for the settlement of refugees. The House should encourage the countries who are prepared to do this, because it is the right way in which to handle a difficult problem.
I understand that the Persian Government intend to follow similar projects. They have similar projects in mind for when they get their revenues from the oil which is now to flow again, and we will help in any way we can. I ought to remind the House that we have a small organisation in the Middle East, a technical organisation, which has only about 333 half a dozen officers. It does invaluable work in these countries, giving technical advice on schemes and also reporting to us where we can give help.
I should like to make one reference to the Sudan. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) did not hear the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. I do not want to repeat what my right hon. Friend said but simply to add that we have not, of course, lost interest in the Sudan in any way at all. What my right hon. Friend said is, I believe, true. There is reason to believe that the Sudanese are becoming increasingly determined to decide their own future in the interests of the Sudan in their own way. I can ask for nothing more than that.
If my right hon. and gallant Friend wants to know why they are taking that point of view I can only advise him, and anybody else who is interested, to try to work it out for himself. I am not prepared to elaborate the reason why I think the process which, personally, I welcome is now taking place. That does not mean that I have not got my own ideas about it.
Finally, I wish to say something about Persia. I start by expressing what will be the sentiment of the whole House—our regrets to His Majesty the Shah on the death of his brother. The Shah has tried perhaps more than any living Persian to develop his country and to bring his people to what we believe they should be in a modern State.
About the terms of the agreement, the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), I am very glad to be able to tell him—because I hate to see him worried about anything—was under a misapprehension. Probably he was not aware, and there is no reason why he should have been aware, that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company's Agreement in 1933 provided for the transfer of the whole of the Abadan refinery, lock, stock and barrel, and the installations, to Persian ownership at the end of the concession. That was, if things had gone smoothly and well, 1993. Some of us may still be alive then, but not all of us.
What the consortium has done is to agree to recognise Persian ownership now but the consortium will have the use of 334 the installations until 1994—one year up. That is assuming that all the options are taken up so that, though the title is technically transferred, in fact the employment of the refinery is actually the same under the new arrangement as it was under the old.
I should like to say a few words about the £214 million which the other nations are paying for their share. Some say it was not very much, and not enough, but I do not know. I would only say that a short while ago I do not think that many would have offered 214 pence for our chance of returning to Abadan and to Persian oil. So, on the whole, I think the arrangement is a fair and reasonable one.
I want to say something about the American firms, very shortly but very firmly. I hope no one will suggest that out of this the Americans have in any way stolen some advantage over us, because that really is not true. We could not possibly have put this complicated negotiation through without American help, and particularly without American financial help throughout the year which has elapsed since Zahedi took over authority in Persia. They have kept the Persian Government going financially. Mossadeq, to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred so correctly, left, among other things, an empty till, and it was only by American help, which I reckon to be in the region of 100 million dollars, that the Persian Government have been able to keep going long enough for the complicated negotiations to be completed and for the oil to flow again. That ought to be clearly stated from time to time if there are unfair criticisms about the American concerns.
I am glad that the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South welcomed the Persian Agreement. I think he did so, on the whole. If I understood him aright, he thought it was the kind of agreement that he would have liked to make had he not had to negotiate with Mossadeq. I sympathise with him there completely. As I watched him negotiating then with Mossadeq, I thought that he was perhaps having the same kind of experience that he sometimes has in negotiations rather nearer home.
As I listened to him—I listened very carefully to his account of the proceedings—I thought there was only one small 335 difference between us, and it was a very small one. At the end of the prolonged negotiations he was, unhappily, out of Abadan; at the end of our long negotiations we are, happily, back in Abadan again. However, I do not want to stress that difference unduly. What I do stoutly deny is the suggestion about being bellicose with the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, I have a speech with me now in which the right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to refer to my moderation, so I should never accept that suggestion at all.
I should like to say, in conclusion, that there is nothing which will please the House as a whole more than to have got this unhappy dispute over. There never was anything more futile and foolish than this quarrel. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The fact was that Mossadeq was "completely unnegotiable." One comes across that sort of person occasionally. Fortunately, another system now operates, and we say to the Persian people tonight, from this House, that we hope that on the basis of the new agreement oil will flow freely and that they will get large revenues and that the prosperity of their people will be raised. Nothing will please us more than that. It is a true British interest that Persia should be happy and prosperous. May she be so once again.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. P. G. T. Buchan-Hepburn)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.