HC Deb 02 August 1956 vol 557 cc1645-75

Question again proposed.

2.48 p.m.

Mr. Warbey

When we were interrupted, I was saying that it was time hon. Members opposite grew up and recognised some of the facts of modern life. Among those facts are that there are hundreds of millions in Asia and Africa who are now quite determined that they shall not live in the ways of imperialism, and that if we seek to contradict their will and their desires for national freedom and independence, then we are invoking disaster for this country.

We learned the lesson of that in India. Had we after the war followed the advice of many hon. Gentlemen opposite, a most disastrous situation would have arisen which would not only have led to bloodshed in India itself, but would have been fatal for this country. I should have thought that in face of that lesson hon. Members opposite might begin to think in more reasonable and rational terms about how we ought to behave in the present situation in Egypt.

We must recognise that the legitimate interests of the British people in this situation, as in other international matters can be protected now only by recognising and not over-riding the legitimate interests of the people of other countries. We have to take that as an axiom of behaviour.

Our legitimate interests in this issue are three—peace, oil and unhampered communications. Peace implies that we seek the settlement of disputes by free negotiation between equal partners and not by imposition of decision. In the long run we can have the oil which is vital for this country only if we are prepared to give goods and wealth in exchange for it. We must recognise that the vital commodities which this country needs, including oil, can be got only by a fair exchange of wealth for wealth and not by any other means, and, above all, not by fighting for them. As I said in the debate last Friday, once we have to fight for the oil we have already lost it. Thirdly, unhampered communications can be maintained in present conditions only through fair relationships between equal partners and parties, and by being prepared to pay a fair price. I want to refer to this point again in a moment.

It is clear that we cannot safeguard these three interests of the British people by the kind of intemperate action recommended by Government supporters and their friends in the Press during the past week. The course suggested by the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South, who has now left the Chamber—[Interruption.]—I do not blame him for that. I have no doubt that he has very good reason—was the presenting of an ultimatum to Egypt in advance of an international conference. We must recognise what would happen if we followed that course.

I would advise Government supporters who doubt my words to read the very sober and rational editorial article in today's Manchester Guardian. It is far more sober and rational than The Times of yesterday. They will see the kind of thing that will happen if their advice is followed. We shall have three-fifths of the world, probably more, against us, not only the Middle East, with the possible exception of Israel, but the uncommitted nations of Asia, of course the Communist countries, and possibly the United States.

We shall have turned the legitimate nationalism of the Middle East into a thwarted, twisted and violent Chauvinism. We shall have set the whole Middle East aflame—and in those flames the oil itself will be consumed upon which this country depends for its livelihood. Therefore we have to pursue a calm and reasonable course.

That involves making a clear distinction between the issue of the ownership of the Canal and the issue of freedom of transit through it. On the issue of ownership, there is very little more to be said. No one has been able to show any reason in international law why the Egyptian Government should not nationalise the Canal. The Government have not been able to show it; The Times in an article today by its legal correspondent has not been able to show it; on the contrary, it has declared that in international law there is no reason why the Egyptian Government should not nationalise the Canal on payment of fair compensation. [Interruption.] The Egyptian Government have offered fair compensation, or what is regarded internationally as a fair basis of compensation. There is as yet no reason—[Interruption.] If Government supporters wish to interrupt and have a reasonable point to put, I shall be glad to give way.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

Would the hon. Member direct his mind to the point how Egypt will implement her promise?

Mr. Warbey

Nobody is suggesting that we should rely on promises. All I am saying is that up to this point a fair offer of compensation has been made. I want to know the Government's answer to it. Axe the Government prepared to accept that offer, or are they proposing to reject it? That is a point on which we have had no statement at all from the Government and on which we are entitled to have one. Do we, in other words, recognise the right of Egypt to nationalise the Suez Canal Company?

What is the real purpose of the economic measures which the Government have so far taken against Egypt. If their purpose is solely to ensure that the promise of compensation is carried out, I support them up to that point and that alone. If their purpose is to act as an economic sanction, to apply duress, against the Egyptian Government in order to seek a revocation of the nationalisation decree by force and outside pressure, we should be told. That is an illegitimate and illegal act, which I could not possibly support. The Government's position ought to be made absolutely clear on this question before the debate concludes.

Freedom of transit through the Canal is absolutely vital. It is a vital interest of a very large number of countries in the world. I have no doubt at all that ultimately the appropriate solution for these international waterways is to place them under a genuine international authority, but it is a little late in the day, and a curious moment, for us to come forward with this proposal when a particular British interest is threatened. Some of us advocated the internationalisation of these waterways many years ago, without much effect and without making much impression upon the Labour Government or upon the subsequent Conservative Government.

If we are now proposing the internationalisation of the Suez Canal or its international control, can we refrain from applying the same principle to the Panama Canal and other international waterways? Of course, we cannot. Otherwise we have no ground of principle whatsoever, and we are admitting that we are acting purely in a selfish national interest and on grounds of expediency alone. That we cannot do.

Therefore, by all means let us have international discussions about this matter. We have heard talk about an international conference, but what is to be the composition of that conference? Are the Government proposing to be so incredibly foolish as to try to exclude the Soviet Union from the conference? Russia was a signatory to the 1888 Convention. The exclusion of the Soviet Union would obviously make it impossible for the conference to succeed or come to any kind of international agreement.

Of course, Egypt must be invited to such a conference, because we must seek by every possible means to achieve maintenance of free transit through the Canal by the agreement and with the agreement of the Egyptian Government and people. Any other course is of course unthinkable. As a matter of fact, I do not believe there is any danger of the Canal being closed because, quite clearly, the Egyptian Government want the revenues from the Canal. Egypt needs the revenues from the Canal more than ever, and will need them more than ever.

If it is suggested that the Canal dues might be raised in order to increase those revenues, the Government have already admitted—in effect the Prime Minister admitted today—that the present Canal dues are too low. The right hon. Gentleman said they were only on a cost basis and not on a value basis. I hope they will not be raised, but if they were I do not think we would have very much cause for complaint, nor would they have any significant effect. The present dues on oil are 6s. 3d. a ton compared with transport costs of about 102s.

Sir R. Boothby

Does the hon. Member suggest that the doubled revenues should all go to the Egyptian Government? Is that his contention?

Mr. Warbey

All I am saying is that if hon. Members are raising a difficulty about the possibilities of Egypt continuing to maintain the Canal in a fit condition and also providing revenues for industrial development it could be done by a comparatively small increase in the Canal dues, which would not be illegitimate in view of what the Prime Minister has said and which would not do any harm of any significant character to this country. I see no difficulty there at all. I see no difficulty about the payment of compensation to the shareholders. If it is to be £70 million, the Egyptians have sterling balances to the extent of £110 million and, therefore, have ample funds available to pay that compensation. We must, of course, see that they do so, and we must eventually endeavour to establish effective international control of the waterway under the authority of the United Nations.

What we cannot do today in the modern world is to take up a viewpoint which says that any single nation or group of nations can arrogate to itself the right to exercise supra-national powers over any other country. That is no longer possible. That is imperialism by whatever country or group of countries it is practised—[HON. MEMBERS: "Russia?"]—whether it is done by Russia, Britain, or the United States. Therefore, I say we have to accept the principle that, if any form of supra-national power is to be exercised, it can only be exercised by a world authority.

Hon. Members who are genuinely seeking for long-term solutions of the problem of reconciling international interests with local, national interests and for a solution of the particular problems of the Suez Canal and of the Middle East, will have to recognise that in the long run that is the only approach which will get them what they want without involving this country and other peoples in disaster.

3.4 p.m.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

The speech we have just heard from the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey), I am sure, will be read with the greatest pleasure in Moscow and with some little interest, no doubt, in Cairo. I think that that speech is out of tune with the views and feelings of the great majority of hon. Members in the House, if not all. The hon. Member did back benchers on this side of the House the compliment of describing them as a "yelping tail". Perhaps he will not mind if I refer to him as the wagging mouth.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

Is this intellectualism at its best?

Mr. Hall

The hon. Member for Ashfield mentioned one or two points to which I will refer particularly when he referred to the ability of Egypt to pay compensation, which he said she is willing to pay on the basis of the value of the shares on the day when nationalisation was announced, which amounts to about £70 million. He went on to say that Egypt would be quite entitled to increase the tolls payable by ships going through the Canal in order to raise increased revenue. If she is to take over a company like the Suez Canal Company as a monopoly the monopoly value which she should be prepared to pay in compensation would be far in excess of £70 million, and it would be very questionable whether the £70 million represents the value of the compensation for assets taken over on that basis.

I do not want to take up more time in dealing with points raised by the hon. Member, as I know that other hon. Members want to speak in this debate. I have the honour to represent a constituency where lived throughout the greater part of his life Disraeli, Lord Beaconsfield, who was referred to by the hon. Member. No doubt many hon. Members have visited the Manor House at Hughenden where Disraeli spent his declining years, and they will have seen there the record of the efforts which he made to acquire for this country that large block of shares in the Suez Canal Company. Disraeli realised perhaps more acutely than anyone else how important it was to ensure that the Suez Canal did not get into the hands of one Power. For that reason he persuaded the Government of this country, after first going to private enterprise to help him over the financial difficulties, to take over this block of shares in the Suez Canal Company.

Seventy-five years after Disraeli's death—the seventy-fifth anniversary was in April this year—we find a situation which would have caused him considerable pain. When he died he had won for us Cyprus, the Suez Canal shares, and had made Her Majesty Queen Victoria Empress of India. That title has gone, we are under pressure from the Greeks and hon. Members opposite—[An HON. MEMBER: "And by America."]—to get out of Cyprus and now apparently we are to lose our holdings in the Suez Canal Company. In that short period of seventy-five years a lifetime's work of a man is in process of destruction.

Something has been said about the legal position of Egypt and whether she is right or wrong to nationalise the company. I doubt very much whether there is any real uncertainty about her right to nationalise. After all she has had an example set her by this country and others and, not being a lawyer, I would not say that she has not the right to nationalise an Egyptian company registered on Egyptian soil—

Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)

Is it not really unwise and rather contrary to the interests of the country to make an analogy between a Government nationalising internal domestically-owned industries in this country and an act of unilateral nationalisation of an international concern like the Suez Canal Company? Is not the hon. Gentleman running his party prejudice to a point at which it is liable to prejudice the discussions?

Mr. Hall

I thank the right hon. Member for his intervention and take the point he has made, but if he had waited until I had finished the sentence he would have seen that I was not making a party point but was going on to the actions of Egypt which I regard as illegal. I think it might be held that her action in the unilateral breaking of an agreement freely entered into was illegal. I think the lack of negotiation on the terms of compensation for those concerned would be regarded as an illegal action, and above all an attempt to retain the labour of people of all kinds in the company by force under threat of imprisonment is an illegal act because that would be introducing the principle of slave labour.

Mr. Rankin

Like conscription.

Mr. Hall

I do not think we can compare the two. It would be wrong to get involved in a discussion about the legality of the points at issue.

That sort of discussion can go on for long and weary months, and for that reason I was a little perturbed by the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition, in what, if he will allow me to say so, was an excellent speech, that this matter should be referred to the United Nations. I was perturbed for this reason: I understand this to be not a question of a dispute but of a matter which is likely to lead, in the well-known phrase, to a breach of the peace. As such, presumably it could be made subject to veto in any discussions in the United Nations.

We cannot be at all sure that the discussions in the United Nations might not give rise to many opinions, and we cannot be at all sure that the veto would not be used by one Power or another, not necessarily friendly towards our position. I think the discussions might go on for far too long, and this is an issue which must be settled very quickly. If it is not settled very quickly it can go sour on us. For that reason, I much prefer the suggestion that there should be a conference of the maritime Powers concerned, who should then be in a position to state to Egypt what Egypt should do and, if necessary, back it by the use of force.

I know that the idea of putting troops into Egypt is attractive to many people, but in my opinion it is a step which should be taken only in the last resort and only if we are quite sure that it will be successful. Nothing could be worse than threatening Egypt with an ultimatum which we were not afterwards able to support successfully. I mention that only as a warning.

Much more is involved here than merely the question of the Canal. As we know, Egypt has for some time been conducting a propaganda campaign against us in other parts of the Middle East and indeed wherever we have any sphere of influence at all. I will mention only two cases. Already we are feeling the effect of Egyptian propaganda in Northern Nigeria and the northern territories of the Gold Coast, even down on the coast strips. If we are unable to deal with Egypt at the moment, and if we give way to her, we shall have created a situation throughout the Middle East which will be of the greatest detriment to the interests of this country and the Commonwealth in the future.

Mr. Rankin

What about Cyprus?

Mr. Hall

If the hon. Member could make his own speech when he catches Mr. Speaker's eye, I think it would help the House quite a lot.

The only other comment which I have to make concerns the United States. Many of us have very friendly personal relations with citizens in the United States, and I think we all realise that it is absolutely essential that the unity of the Anglo-American alliance should continue and should be strengthened. Nevertheless, it is sometimes a little difficult to understand exactly what America is trying to do. I think it would be true to say that at the time we were in the Suez base and the debate was taking place whether we should leave it, America was a little unco-operative, to put it very kindly. The efforts of the American Ambassador in Cairo certainly were not the most helpful.

Even now, there seems to be a reluctance to come ungrudgingly to our support. There is this feeling of anti-colonialism—a feeling that any troops other than American troops or any sphere of influence other than an American sphere of influence, in another country, are examples of colonial expansion and imperialism. It is time that America woke up to the facts and gave us far more ungrudging and unequivocal support than she has given so far.

In some ways I was rather sorry when it was announced that we were to have this debate, because during the debate, possibly quite inadvertently, something may be said which may be misinterpreted outside the House—and the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) was quick to pick me up when I made such a remark.

We have had two first-class speeches from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition which have placed before the world very clearly what I believe to be the united opinion and view of the House and indeed of the country. If world opinion takes note of what has been said in the House today by the two leaders, then it will be in no doubt at all about the determination of this country, supported, I hope, by France, the United States and the other Allies, to make certain that this great international waterway does not remain under the control of one Power, and that the project which Disraeli handed over to this nation when he died shall remain what he always intended it to be—a waterway open at all times for all the maritime nations of the world to use.

3.15 p.m.

Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)

This is a debate of much gravity upon which important events may hang, and it is most unfortunate—I am not attacking the Government in this respect—that it should be held on the day of the Adjournment, because after 10 o'clock tonight the House has no further influence over it, just as it now has no power over it. That is a pity, but it indicates the likeness between the customs of the former dictators of Italy and Germany and those of the modern dictator of Egypt. Somehow, the decision happens late one night, towards the weekend, and towards the end of the British Parliamentary Sittings and the coming of the long Recess.

It is unfortunate, and I wish the consultations between our country, France and the United States could have moved with greater speed so that the Prime Minister might have been able to make a decisive statement this morning. We still hope that the Foreign Secretary will be able to make one, but we do not know; it would not even be fair to ask him. In any case, he cannot make it until the end of the debate.

What worries me about this situation is whether the country and hon. Members are willing to realise that this kind of event opens the issue of international cooperation another way round. I am for international co-operation. I am for the United Nations. I wish it had happened that the Canal had automatically come under the United Nations when the United Nations was formed—and possibly some other international waterways as well. Why not?

But if we are to advocate internationalism and if, as a Socialist, I am to be a genuine internationalist, then I must not only advocate that internationalism and that the United Nations should be used as an instrument for the settlement of disputes; I must equally advocate—and I beg hon. Members all equally to advocate—that no country unilaterally should do something which is calculated to upset the interests of the wider world and unilaterally upset the international applecart. It is just as much a crime against international faith and the United Nations for one country to do what Egypt has just done as it would be for other countries to retaliate by the immediate use of force.

I went through this kind of business on another occasion and in a slightly different part of the world. I heard a lot about it and a good deal has been said about it since. Let me tell the House right away that it is an experience that I do not look back on with any great pleasure. That was another case in which one Government—if it were a Government, which is very doubtful; more likely it was one man—unilaterally decided that an agreement which had been freely entered into between the Government of his country years before and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company should be repudiated. He decided that, just out of the blue, he would repudiate it and nationalise the Company. [An HON. MEMBER: "Out of the red."] It may have been "out of the red", but Anglo-Iranian was not "in the red"—it was doing very well. Here it was unilaterally done—with no consultation.

Let it be remembered that in both cases there was no consultation with us or with our friends. There was no consultation with the citizens of the countries concerned; neither in the case of Moussadeq, who just whipped his decree out of his tail pocket, nor in the case of Colonel Nasser, who has done the same thing. There was no debate, or any effective debate, in the Parliaments of the countries concerned. There was no effective discussion among the citizens of those countries, and, after all, both these acts are calculated to damage the interests of the people within the country doing the damaging act. It was so in Persia, and it is so here.

I am bound to say that of all the uncomfortable experiences in the process of negotiation, negotiating with a man who happened to be the Prime Minister of Persia and who was utterly indifferent to the welfare of his own people—I will only say that it is a somewhat unfair form of negotiation. One does expect the man on the other side of the table to take some account of the interests of his own country, even if he does not take account of the interests of the country to which the man on the other side of the table is attached; but there it was. That was how it was in that case.

I can well imagine the discussions which this present Government are having about this present position in Egypt, because I am familiar with the other negotiations, and there are arguments both ways—indeed, several ways—as to the right thing to do, Nevertheless, there was the Persian oil happening, and now we have the Suez Canal happening.

What is this act? I do not, myself, follow the argument which is advanced, not only in some minority quarters of this House but in fairly respectable newspapers, that, somehow or other, Egypt is legally authorised in doing this. As to that, I cannot very well argue. I am not an international lawyer—or even a national one. I do not know about that, but the implication is that Egypt is morally justified in what she has done. With great respect, I entirely disagree—utterly disagree—with any such doctrine.

I had as big a hand in the nationalisation of British industry as had any member of the Labour Government—and I hope that the left wing of my party will always remember that. I had a bigger hand than had any other single Minister, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) ran me close, because he dealt with three industries.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

I get all the blame.

Mr. Morrison

Therefore, my right hon. Friend and I are both experts in nationalisation. We know how to do it. But we were then nationalising internal British industries, after a General Election in which that issue had been debated by the people of the country. We thought we had a mandate—I still think that we had, but there may be some others who think that it is not quite so clear as that. Nevertheless, it had been debated by the country.

It had been announced in Parliament, by myself as Leader of the House of Commons, that we intended to carry this list through. I remember Oliver Lyttelton, as he then was, standing up and getting very white in the face about it. Each Measure was debated in Parliament and discussed. If there were any foreign interests involved—and I do not know that there were, except incidentally—they had every opportunity to raise their case with the Government.

That is a democratic way of proceeding with the nationalisation of a domestic, internal industry—not an industry of an international character. That is constitutionally all right. There may be objections to it as to policy but, constitutionally, that is right and correct.

But what happens with this gentleman—this pocket dictator in Cairo? He does not consult his Parliament; in fact, I am not sure that he is permitting his Parliament to function in any effective way at all. My hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) says that he is not. I will take it from him that that is so. There is no discussion with us, no discussion with the other countries who are parties to these Conventions, and joint owners of the Canal—nothing at all. One night Colonel Nasser decides to go out and enjoy himself, and make a speech on the hustings. He makes a speech. Towards the end of his speech he whacks out a decree which he has just signed, or a declaration, that from that point the Suez Canal is to be nationalised and to become Egyptian Government property.

Sir, anybody who says that this has the slightest resemblance to the orthodox beliefs of the British Labour Party as to the process of nationalisation—why, if he said it outside, he would be guilty of a libel. This is not our way of doing things. It is not only not our way of doing things; it is not a civilised, international way of conducting public business.

Here we have the case of an existing international concern. We are in it, the French are in it, the Egyptians are in it—and now, I gather, the United States are in it, which I had forgotten, as part proprietors of the hotel—[Laughter.] I mean as part proprietors of the Canal. It is very natural that some of us should now be thinking of hotels.

This is an international concern and, therefore, I beg of my hon. Friends, and, indeed, hon. Members in all parts of the House, to remember that Colonel Nasser is not a person to be praised because he has asserted the rights of his country against this Canal, which is owned in a certain way. He is a person to be condemned, because he has acted contrary to the law of nations, of international good faith and against the principle of an institution which, while it might be more internationally owned, is, at any rate, internationally owned and held in trust for the common use of all the peoples of the world.

Therefore, I say that this action is morally wrong. It is utterly unjustified, and I refuse to say a single word in justification of what Colonel Nasser has done. No word of justification should be uttered. These unilateral acts, action by decree drawn in at the end of a speech—such actions can cause war just as much as can the actions of other people who may retaliate against the action which has been taken.

What is perfectly clear from the whole of this business is that the elaborate policy of the Government—and, like my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I do not think that this is the time for us to be unduly controversial, but I must say this—the elaborate policy of the Government, an excessive policy of appeasement towards Egypt, certainly has failed. It has badly failed, and there has been no gratitude towards us for what has happened.

Now, Sir, the question which has to be considered, and I think that some hon. Members on both sides are a little in danger of by-passing it—is whether, in the light of these discussions which are going on, force should or should not be a possible element in settling the matter.

I am in favour of taking this business to the United Nations. I am all in favour of it as long as the United Nations will be expeditious and effective about it. I still say that the United Nations is the greatest instrument which we have to try to conserve. There are transitions in these things. In the case of Persia, we took our dispute to the International Court and won. Then we took it, if I remember rightly, to the United Nations, or to the Security Council, or someone there, and it was by-passed.

I say to the United Nations that if it wishes—as we would wish it—to become the great moral authority of the world and the great decisive instrument, it must stop dodging vital international issues. If our Government and France and, if possible, the United States should come to the conclusion that in the circumstances the use of force would be justified, then I think that it is up to each hon. Member of this House to tell the Government whether we would support them or whether we would not. For my own part, in principle, if, after an elaborate and proper consideration, the Government and our friends come to that conclusion, I think that in the circumstances of this particular case it might well be the duty of hon. Members, including myself, to say that we would give them support.

I would say just a few words to the United States. When the President of the United States decided to enter the struggle about Korea, which I think he was right to do, our Government of the day decided to back him up and we entered it as well. I must say—and I say this as a sincere friend of the United States; I have never been in any way a member of the anti-American brigade, and I believe that it is utter madness for any good British citizen to become anti-American—that our American friends, now and again, if I may say so with great respect to them, do rather try our patience. I understand their hesitancy about joining the First World War. I was an opponent of it myself. There is no need to remind the House of that; they have been reminded of it too often. But they were shockingly slow in entering the Second World War. If ever there was a war about the American way of life it was the Second World War.

About this Middle East business, the Americans have been rather unsatisfactory.

Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)

That is putting it mildly.

Mr. Morrison

I am an ex-Foreign Secretary. They really have been unsatisfactory. They have often been badly advised, and often they would not listen to the British. After all, for one purpose or another, we have been knocking about that part of the world for a long time and we know a lot about it. The consequence is that American policy has been hesitant, rather wobbling, and not exactly sufficiently co-operative with the policy of the United Kingdom. I do not think that that is good enough.

We have our troubles there. They are not only our troubles; they will be the troubles of other people as well, including the United States, in due course. I think, with every respect to the United States with whom I want our country always to live in co-operative harmony, that they have been unsatisfactory about Middle Eastern policy and it is time that they took a clear line. I hope to goodness that, if they have not already done so with Her Majesty's Government in these discussions, they will take a clear line before midnight is reached, and that the world may know that Britain, France and the United States stand together.

If the United States will not stand with us then we may have to stand without them.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

What about the United Nations?

Mr. Morrison

I would ask my right hon. Friend, for whom I have the greatest respect: what becomes of any of us if individual countries are entitled to take anarchic action such as this?

This was the point which I was making earlier, and I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) that we can have a situation in which the foe of genuine internationalism can be the modern nationalist, hysterical State, determined to act on its own irrespective of the interests of the rest of the world, which is so in this case.

It can be just as much an evil and a danger to world well-being as was the old imperialism and the old jingoism. I spent much of my life, when I was young, in denouncing imperialism and I have no reason to regret it; in denouncing jingoism, and I have no reason to regret it; and in denouncing excessive nationalism, and I have no reason to regret it. What worries me is the way in which some people, having spent many years in denouncing that in respect of our own country, and having enjoyed its advantages, are now spending their spare time in praising countries like Egypt, which are doing the very thing that Britain and other imperialist countries were doing a hundred years ago. I may be dull, but I just cannot understand it and I do not think that it ought to be done.

I therefore say to the Government that I wish them luck in solving this problem, but I ask them to be careful and judicious by all means and to mind how they are going; but let them not be too much afraid. This is a world in which great Powers can be a nuisance; and, by the way, the Prime Minister's cheerfulness about the Soviet Union does not quite seem to have come off. They are backing Egypt and so is China. By all means consider all the pros and cons, but I ask the Government not to be too nervous, because if they are too nervous we shall begin to evolve a situation in which countries can set themselves up against international practice, international morals and international interests, and, in that case, we are not helping the peace of the world; we are helping anarchy, conflict and bad conduct among the nations.

3.39 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

I am intervening now, not with any idea of seeking to curtail the debate but in order that I may go as quickly as possible to resume my discussions with the two Foreign Ministers who are in London at the present time.

I regret very much that we have not been able to announce to the House during this debate the result of our discussions, but the American Secretary of State arrived here only yesterday morning. I sincerely hope, as does the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), who has just sat down, after making a remarkable speech which we all, I think, admired very much, that by midnight we shall be able to announce our decision.

I think that this debate has shown a large measure of approval and agreement in the House. The first point is that we, as a country, have done everything possible in our power to make friendly relations with Egypt feasible. We made the agreement with regard to the Sudan; we made the agreement with regard to the Suez base; we made the agreement with regard to sterling balances, which was fair and indeed liberal. We have done everything we can to promote more friendly relations. We have not succeeded, but I think that our course of conduct has the advantage that now public opinion, I believe, in this country and overseas, is united behind the Government in the attitude which has been indicated today.

The second point is that this Canal Company, as the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South has just said, is not an ordinary domestic concern which can properly be nationalised, however much we may or may not agree with the principle of nationalisation, but is a company of an international character. It has had an international character throughout the whole of its existence, and if one looks at the Convention of 1888, it is recited in the Preamble that the countries concerned wished to establish, by a Conventional Act, a definite system destined to guarantee at all times, and for all Powers, the free use of the Suez Maritime Canal … It was designed to establish an international system, and therefore I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the principle of nationalisation does not apply.

The next point is that the manner in which Colonel Nasser has acted has shown that in practice the Canal could not safely be left at his disposal. His method of announcing his decision, the threats to the employees who would not stay at work, the indication, with which the right hon. Gentleman dealt, about the uses to which the resources of the Canal were to be put in the future—all these things show, in my view, that apart from the judicial side of the matter, on the practical side it is not safe for this Canal to be left at his disposal. If this Canal is left in his control I think he can, and on past form will, do great harm to us or to any other country.

Mr. Warbey rose

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

I think I should be allowed to get on with my speech now.

The only acceptable solution in this present difficulty, I think, is some form of international system—an international system in which we can have confidence—and, therefore, we seek an international solution of this problem. I promise the House that. We are working at the present time for an international conference with suitable membership to meet with expedition—I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about that—to test international opinion on this matter; we are in broad agreement with our French and American Allies upon this matter, and I hope the country will hear more about it before midnight tonight.

There has been reference to the military preparations which are being made. I think they have been received with general approval. It is a very serious situation, in which many British subjects are in Egypt and many British ships are approaching the Canal, and it is a situation in which anything might happen. Therefore, I think that the Government would be failing in their duty if they did not take precautionary measures. Nevertheless, whilst taking these precautionary measures, we still seek and will do our best to achieve an international solution of the matter.

I think that the Government can feel that as a result of this debate they have the support or almost the whole House in what they are doing. I assure hon. Members—and this refers to what the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South said towards the end of his speech—that we intend to be absolutely firm in this matter. We are not prepared to accept the present situation. We are not going to yield on this question of principle—the principle of ensuring right of free passage through the Canal under some international system. We feel that this great international waterway must not be left at the mercy of the caprices or the spleen or the hatreds of one Power or of one man.

Mr. Warbey

Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman sits down, will he answer one point which I put to him specifically—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has sat down.

Mr. Warbey

On a point of order. I was in the course of—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise a point of order.

Mr. Warbey

On a point of order. I was in the course of putting—[Interruption.] Will the hon. Gentleman shut up.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must withdraw that expression.

Mr. Warbey

I will withdraw that expression if the hon. Member who used it first will also withdraw it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am not asking for a conditional withdrawal of an unparliamentary expression.

Mr. Warbey

I will withdraw unconditionally, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and now ask you to invite the hon. Member to withdraw the same expression.

Mr. H. Fraser

Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I merely said that the hon. Gentleman had already spoken for an hour or nearly an hour and a half and has bored a great many of us almost sick.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman used the same expression, I did not catch it, but it would be out of order.

Hon. Members

He did not.

Mr. Warbey

As you have not insisted upon a withdrawal by the hon. Member, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I do not intend to press that point.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I did not hear the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) use the same expression.

Mr. Warbey

Further to that point of order. I distinctly heard the hon. Member use that expression.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am not dealing with that. I said that I did not hear that expression.

Mr. Warbey

Perhaps I may conclude my point of order, namely, that I was in the course of putting a question to the right hon. and learned Gentleman before he sat down, and that before I had completed my question there was a good deal of noise from hon. Members opposite so that I do not think the right hon. and learned Gentleman heard my question.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The right hon. and learned Gentleman had resumed his seat. This is a serious debate and a very large number of Members are anxious to take part. I hope that the debate will be allowed to proceed. Mr. Paget.

3.48 p.m.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

With regard to the question of legality with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) has dealt, of course it would have been possible to have nationalised the Suez Canal Company in a legal way, but Colonel Nasser did not attempt to do that. Colonel Nasser did not embark upon the negotiations or the procedure which is necessary in order to deal with this matter in a legal way. He did it as an expression of power. It was a challenge of power which we should not fail to take up unless we were to abandon our position.

Colonel Nasser, having chosen how the game was going to be played, cannot now throw down his cards and say, "I want to act legally". I think it is useful to see how other people see the stakes for which Colonel Nasser was playing. I wish to quote from yesterday's New York Herald Tribune. According to the syndicated and well-informed article by the Alsop Brothers, this is how the Americans see it: American Middle Eastern oil also moves through (he canal, and will henceforth do so, if Nasser has his way, only by courtesy of the Egyptian strong man. But that is only a small part of the American stake. The biggest part is the British alliance. British prestige"— and I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South mention that— influence and power have been shrinking steadily. If Egypt successfully defies Great Britain on a matter absolutely vital to British interest, then it is no exaggeration to say that Britain is through, once and for all, as a great power. The value of the Anglo-American alliance, which remains the heart and soul of Western strength, will then be sharply and disastrously downgraded. What is more, what has now happened is a very direct result of American, not British, policy. I believe that that states the issue very well.

The stakes for which Nasser is playing are not merely control of the oil, upon which Britain and Europe depend, but control of the suppliers of that oil, because if Nasser holds the Canal he holds not only the users but he holds the producers; it means that the Middle East is in his hands, and we have seen how those hands work. That is why it seems to me that this is a challenge which we cannot fail to take up.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in what I think we all felt was a most remarkable speech, used one sentence which I should like to amplify and perhaps qualify a little. He said that we must act with the other maritime Powers. Certainly, we desire to do so. But so often there was the tragedy in the 1930s of the words, "We must act with other Powers" meaning that we must act with the most nervous, the most doubtful, the slowest and the weakest. That is not the way to act with other Powers.

If we are to act with other Powers, and there is to be action at all, somebody has to take the lead. That "somebody" here must be this country; there is nobody else. I think it is time that the Americans recognised that. When they, having encouraged the Bagdad Pact, failed to come into it, they left us with the leadership of the Middle East. We must tell them that in this area they have put the burden on us and we expect to be followed. Here is an occasion when we can talk very firmly to the Americans and say, "In Korea we accepted your leadership; here you must accept ours, and we expect you, as our ally, to go along with us in what we deem necessary".

As regards what is proposed, I do not want to ask, and at this point I certainly do not want to press, the Foreign Secretary for anything specific, but the Prime Minister's words, as I took them down, were, "We must insist on control by an international authority, and nothing less will satisfy us". I hope that those words stand literally correct, and that the position here is that, if a conference is called, on whatever terms it is called, it shall be a conference the acceptance of which we shall require of Egypt, and require it by force if necessary. Does that fairly state the position of the Government?

Once one has taken steps to bring about that situation, then it is up to the Russians. If they wish to take their part in the world as a great Power, they can participate with us in requiring Egypt to go before the world in a conference of the world's great Powers sitting in judgment. If the Russians do that, they will then be participants in the international authority which is created to control the Canal. If they do not join in demanding that, then they will not be participants in that authority.

That seems to me to pose a direct choice to the Russians. It is a choice which should be placed before them. Here is their opportunity to come in as a great Power, for the satisfaction of the world, really to perform what was the function of the United Nations. The function of the United Nations was to operate as the concert of the great Powers. It has not worked because there has not been a concert; it has been but the secretariat of the great Powers. We all kept it in being, and thought it was worth keeping in being, because we hoped with all our hearts and souls that that great concert of great Powers would come into being.

Here is an opportunity to bring it into being. It is for the Russians to choose whether they will go on as they are, causing mischief round the world, being smart, stirring up trouble for us while we stir up trouble for them, or whether they will come in where they would always be welcome, into the concert of the world to join with us in this demand that Egypt, which claims to hold this great interest, should come before the world in judgment. If the Russians do so, then they will be within the international control which has thereby been created.

3.56 p.m.

Mr. Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

The weight of the matters which we are debating today is being brought home to us by the more recent speeches which have been delivered, notably by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). The stakes at issue are very great indeed. While I would have every sympathy with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in his hope that we should secure the acceptance of Russia in the forthcoming conference, or even that we should succeed in obtaining the wholehearted support of the United States, it is in this Chamber that the responsibility lies today, and each of us must speak with a sense of that responsibility weighing on our shoulders. Here is where we can affect opinion, and here is where action, whatever action will be taken, will need to be authorised.

While we all deeply deplore the action of the Egyptian leader, we do, I think, deplore it from two separate points of view. First, there is the denouncement of the Concession in the operation of the Canal. Those of us who are interested in the development of under-developed countries particularly deplore this. Every time such action is taken, it is made proportionately more difficult to interest people in the great projects for developing the under-developed countries which have still to come along.

I am myself passionately interested in the great Volta River scheme. I want to see Africa developed, and the great rivers of Africa harnessed for the benefit of her populations. But I know, as everyone knows, that that will require vast investments from the savings of the Western World. Every time such action as this is taken, it becomes more difficult to secure the acceptance of the Western World in burying its savings in distant areas from which, perhaps, they will never be recouped. I say, therefore, that this action of Colonel Nasser is a betrayal of the under-developed areas and a betrayal of the hungry populations of the world.

That is not the most important issue before us today. What is more important, as was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and as was repeated by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, is the element of challenge in this action by Egypt. The right hon. Member for Lewisham spoke, with his great knowledge and authority as a former Foreign Secretary, of the occasion in which he himself had been engaged by the action of a dictator seizing a great piece of overseas investment in order to apply it solely to his own advantage. We must each speak from our own experience. I was a member of a Cabinet which had a long struggle with another dictator.

Time and again we had these questions—where do we draw the line, where do we resist—and do we use force? Because to use force is undoubtedly a terrible thing, and it was a terrible thing to determine to use force against Hitler. It involved, as we have seen, the destruction of half Europe. But there is a moment at which, for all that, force has to be envisaged or else one goes under. Not only does one go under, but all the helpless populations of the world go under too.

It may be that we delayed too long. There are many who complained bitterly of our action and said that we waited too long and appeased too much. That may well be. I make no apology for having sought to the limit, and beyond the limit, to preserve the peace of the world. But it failed. When a challenge like this is deliberately thrown down, pressed, insisted upon, hurled to the skies in radio and published and brandished about in every possible way, it is impossible simply to close one's eyes to it and to pretend that this is simply an outburst of justifiable nationalism which will soon pass away.

That was an argument which was used about Hitler, time and again. When a deliberate challenge was placed and stressed, at the end of the day it had to be withstood. The new challenge is being stressed and brandished now. It is impossible to read the speeches of Colonel Nasser—or to read his book—without realising that here again we have this challenge brought forward, from which there is no turning back.

When a man enters upon a course like that, he cannot withdraw from it unless he is faced with something which he cannot overcome. He will not be argued out of it simply by reason. There is a moment at which he has to be withstood, and that moment is here. That moment is now, and it is this House which will have to decide upon the withstanding.

Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)

Is the right hon. Gentleman arguing that the use of force is justified by what Colonel Nasser has already done or by what he anticipates he may do in the future?

Mr. Elliot

Exactly the same argument was put time and again in the case of Hitler: Do you object to Hitler taking over the Sudeten Deutsch population, who, after all, are his own blood and have voted in favour of him time and again? Are you in favour of withstanding him because of his annexation of Austria, which, after all, is a German Power and wished to come into the Reich?

Obviously, the two things go together, both the action and the philosophy upon which the action is justified. These are two inseparable parts of a single whole. It is the whole that we object to, and it is the whole that this country and the world are faced with now. It is not this or that aspect of the whole: it is the whole. Hon. Members must realise what we are faced with. That is the same philosophy and the same set of actions as we have been faced with before, and which, after a long, painful struggle for peace, we had to withstand, sometimes at terrible cost.

Many other hon. and right hon. Members wish to speak, and I do not wish to speak at length. Therefore, I only say this. It has been determined that we are to seek international control—good. It has been determined that we are to seek international control by means of a conference—good. The conference, it is said, shall meet promptly—good. But it must also decide promptly. It is useless that a conference should meet swiftly and then, as has happened in international conferences before, go on discussing for month after month without coming to any conclusion.

The conference must meet and decide. It must also meet in some great centre, not in a remote seaside resort or small Power capital. It should meet here, in a great commercial centre of the world closely connected with the great issues which are at stake.

Furthermore, we know that, in any internal dispute, such as an industrial dispute, always as a prerequisite to negotiations the arbitrary decision of one side or the other must be withdrawn. Strike notices and lock-out notices must be withdrawn. In all cases, the action which is about to be debated should be withdrawn while the discussion about its legality goes on.

If that is impossible, active action for alternative methods of transit should be, not merely considered, but proceeded with. For instance the contracts for the pipeline across from Elath to the Mediterranean should be put out—now, this week. The Americans built a great pipeline from side to side of their Continent in a matter of months. The industrial resources of the world would be far better disposed in producing an alternative traffic route at this stage than in a great many military operations which one could suggest. After the "Big Inch", as the Americans called their pipeline, crossed the American Continent, one pipeline has crossed the Rocky Mountains. It would be child's play for the industry of the world to build a 200-mile Big Inch across from the Gulf of Akaba to the Mediterranean; and it would show that we meant business.

I have every sympathy and every agreement with the arguments which have been put forward by the two Front Benches. The only word I would add is that of urgency. Urgency is the thing which is still lacking in this debate, and the matter is urgent. If it drags on till Christmas or next spring, without any question Nasser will have won. Then, what will come is not this or that control of the Canal or anything else, but the fact that a new dictator has arisen who will draw all men unto him in the Middle East and around, because that is an area which above all areas of the world recognises success. After the resounding success of that new dictator, the whole of that world will say, "He is the man to follow," and they will follow him.

Therefore, I stress the need for urgency. Let the action in the conference be taken with speed. Let the industrial action be taken with speed. Let it be begun now, and let us be sure that we do not let this issue slip through our fingers while we are discussing how best to avert the dangers of war. Let us not find that we have lost the peace by talking too much about it.

4.8 p.m.

Mr. Henry Usborne (Birmingham, Yardley)

Most right hon. and hon. Members in the House would, I think, agree with the right hon. Member for Kelvin-grove (Mr. Elliot) when he said with a sense of urgency that the new pipeline should be built as soon as possible and without delay. I entirely agree with him. Whatever happens to the Suez Canal, an additional pipeline is urgently needed. I do not, however, believe that that alone will suffice.

The right hon. Gentleman also said that it was the action combined with the philosophy which really was important, and I am convinced that in the problem which we now face it is the combination of these two—the action we take and the philosophy for which that action is taken—which alone will make the action successful.

All sides of the House are, curiously, agreed that the object of whatever action it is necessary to take is to get the control of the Suez Canal into international hands; that the Canal should be taken out of national hands. On that, it appears that we are all agreed. By implication also, running through all our speeches is a terrifying recognition of the fact, which was brought to the surface by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), that we may have soon to take that action, if need be, alone. In my own view, it will not be alone, because the French, in all circumstances, will be with us, but I think it is undeniable that there is a case for action to be taken soon.

For my own part, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South, and from what I now know about the facts, I could not say that I would oppose such action, I must make it perfectly clear that the military action we may take depends, if it is to be effective, on the long-term object for which that action is taken. If the solution which we seek is a valid and viable one, which we and others can conscientiously support, we can not only take the action, but take the consequences of that action, for many years if need be.

I do not suppose that anyone will deny that we did not leave India because we were not strong enough to stay. We left India because we did not believe we had a right any longer to stay as bosses in India. I think we left Abadan largely because we believed that those people there had some right on their side. I do not believe that we evacuated the Suez Canal Zone because we had not enough force to stay there. We evacuated it because, again, we had doubts on the Tightness of our occupation.

I think the hub of the problem here is whether we can believe ourselves in what we are doing, and whether we continue to believe it. If we believe in it, there is much that we can do and that we can continue to do for a very long time in order to get the final solution. If we rush in and take military action in support of a solution which is half-baked and which has not been thought out, and, after a little while, perhaps a month or two or a year or two, it is seen to be untenable, shabby and selfish, once again we shall lose faith in our Tightness to be there, and once again we shall pull out. I think this faith is so important that I want to devote a minute or two to a few comments upon the kind of solution to which, evidently, all in this House are now looking.

We are agreed that this business has to be taken out of the hands of one nation. Fundamentally, we are agreed upon that, because as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has said, not only does Colonel Nasser now control the Suez Canal; he virtually controls the whole of the Middle East and the other countries of which he is not the elected president. We have therefore a very complicated problem, not only in connection with the Suez Canal. We cannot only solve the Suez Canal problem; whatever we do which is designed to solve this problem must also solve many other problems as well, or it will not solve the problem of the Suez Canal.

It is not at all a simple problem. It is the kind of thing which I have myself, with friends of mine all over the world, spent my spare time in the last ten or fifteen years in studying. This is just one incident in a long chain, which stems from the conflict of a contracting world upon the structure of the national sovereign State. When we talk about the imperialism and wickedness of Colonel Nasser, we must remember, in the last analysis, that the Egyptians under Colonel Nasser merely want to be like us. They want to have power. They want to be able, as they have seen that we have been able in the past to push nations around. They have been pushed around by us in the past, and now they want to do a bit of the pushing around.

In other words, they want to make plain that theirs is a sovereign nation State, and we cannot complain if we ourselves insist that Britain must be a sovereign nation State. If we cherish and maintain inviolate the theory that a nation must be a sovereign nation, that nations should properly have their own armed forces, by implication then we admit that that nation State can do what the devil it likes.

There is no such thing as international law or justice when we accept that proposition. I noticed that the Foreign Secretary said that we must set up an international system in which we have confidence. Exactly what does he mean? Does he mean that we must set up an international system which we can control for our own self-interest exactly as we wish to do? Is that the kind of organisation he envisages, and is it the only thing in which we would have confidence? But if we have confidence because we control it, those thus controlled will have no confidence. This is the snag in any system of international collaboration between sovereign nation states.

My last point is this. If we want to turn this problem over to the United Nations, if we say that Suez ought to be governed by an international convention, and under law, operated through the system of the United Nations, what is new about that? Have we not been saying this since 1945? There is the institution—the United Nations. It was set up to take care of just such problems as this. Are we now taking to the United Nations what the United Nations has in fact had in its lap all this time and has not been able to solve? By what strange reasoning should the United Nations be able to solve it now? If we do not mean that, if we mean to set up something that is not the United Nations but sounds as if it were, I suggest that for a while, as long as we are sufficiently indignant, we can delude ourselves; but we shall delude nobody else. It will be quite clear when we have the patience to see it, that we are merely contriving a new system by which we intend to exert an authority which we deny to Colonel Nasser.

For myself, I think we must be sure ourselves about what we mean to do. We have got to go a lot further, think a lot harder and be much more courageous than most people have attempted to be so far. The United Nations, in theory, is one thing, but, in practice, it does not work because it is not properly designed so that it can work. We know the kind of thing we want, but I think it is now necessary to think a very great deal more carefully than we have done in the past about exactly what is to be done to make an organisation that really can work.

Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North West)

Does not my hon. Friend think that the real difficulty and the real trouble is that the United Nations has not been properly supported by the various nations of the world, and that this is an opportunity in which the United Nations can be given the real chance of doing something which we all want to do?

Mr. Usborne

We all think that, and when we use the word "we", we mean it for two different reasons, on two different occasions and in two different ways. We are going to delude ourselves if we think that we only have to take this problem to the United Nations and we will get the solution we want. Suppose the United Nations reaches a solution that Britain does not like? Is it to be able to enforce it upon us in the same way as we hope it will now enforce on Colonel Nasser a decision which he will not like?

There is only one other thing I wish to say. I do not think it is very helpful, although it may be very exciting, when my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N Evans) criticises the United States of America. I do not think it is harmful, but it does not do much good either. The fact of the matter is that sovereign nations act that way. If we think we can change the attitude of America by criticising or correcting it, then for heaven's sake let someone explain how it is we have made so little impression upon it hitherto.

Mr. S. N. Evans

Surely one of the privileges of friendship is that one can voice anxieties to a friend without their being construed as the criticisms of an enemy.

Mr. Usborne

Nor am I saying that they are criticisms of an enemy. I am merely saying that they have not got us anywhere very far.

The point of what I was saying, which would have emerged if I had been allowed to complete my sentence, is this. Could it be that it is not America's fault or Britain's fault or my hon. Friend's fault? Could it be that there is something wrong with the system we are trying to work? I happen to believe there is, and I happen to believe that we have to find a supra-national system now to take care of the problem of the Suez Canal, that will also take care of the problem which Germany may present in a few years' time if Germany is united and sovereign and powerful and nationalistic again. I do not believe we can solve the one without solving the other, and I do not think we can solve either unless we are all prepared to pursue a more courageous and comprehensive policy than any of us have dared to contemplate in the past.