HC Deb 02 August 1956 vol 557 cc1681-721

4.36 p.m.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) said earlier today that it was desirable that hon. Members should try to speak from their own experience on this great problem. I have two particular experiences which may be of some relevance to the debate. The first I remember all too well. I remember being in Salzburg just after the Anschluss and seeing bands of Hitler youth going round the town beating drums morning, noon and night. It reminded me of the words of John Scott of Amworth: I hate that drum's discordant sound, Parading round and round and round. I think we all hate it. None of us, least of all my right hon. Friend who had to present it, could welcome from the bottom of his heart the statement about the Proclamation which has just been read to the House, though I think that the debate has shown that the vast majority of us realise that the Proclamation is necessary.

This, therefore, is a moment of some bitter memories to some of us and of some tragic memories to many of us. Let us hope that this time the action has been taken really in time, because surely the object of this action must be the prevention of something far worse. This is not the moment to hark back to the conditions of 1954 when we debated this matter at some length, or the moment to start any form of recrimination. It is the moment to face the problem before us and to consider what we shall do about it.

We must all remember one essentially important point. I hope that those who are banging the drums loudest today are not imagining that if military action has to be taken in Egypt or anywhere in the Middle East it will be a minor, comparatively trivial affair. What we have to face up to in this House is our duty of telling the people what we are trying to do, why we are trying to do it, and the meaning of what we are trying to do. I believe that we should not be fulfilling our duty today if we led anyone to suppose that, should all the efforts made by our own Government and by our Allies, and by those who I hope will come along to co-operate with us in solving this great problem—if those efforts fail, it is useless to think that the military action we take can be of a limited and comparatively small character. I do not believe that it can.

I believe that if, ultimately, these negotiations fail the country ought now, and we here ought now, to make up our minds how far we are prepared to go, and what is the risk. That is not to say that I believe that the ultimate risk will materialise; in fact, I feel that the action announced today, the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the splendid speech of the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison)—all those speeches have indicated that perhaps we have learned something from history, that perhaps we have at last acted in time. I hope so. I believe that there is a very fair chance of it, but let the country not be under any delusion that, if we are too late, the risk we are taking is not the supreme risk that any nation can take. It is not pleasant, and I do not think that any of us here can welcome this occasion in any way.

The other memory which I have of this matter concerns an incident which occurred some years ago in Egypt. I do not propose to go into any detail beyond saying that if we have to take any action in Egypt militarily, we shall have to do something else as well. We shall have to take control of her communications by land and by air, and that is a very big job. Therefore, this is a major military campaign once it is embarked upon, and it behoves us all to do everything in our power to prevent it ever getting to the stage when that action has to be taken.

I agree with everything that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said today, and with everything said by the Leader of the Opposition except one thing. I am doubtful whether the United Nations is the right international body for this matter. I say that for two reasons. One is that I do not think we can allow it to get into a sphere where the veto can be operated by the Soviet Union. The other reason is that although in Israel herself the reputation of the United Nations is comparatively high, the United Nations has an unfortunate association in the Arab mind by virtue of the great clash of opinion on the subject of Israel.

I believe that if we are to get a solution in this area acceptable to everybody, which will allow everyone to settle down and operate this international waterway in a peaceful manner, we ought to try to set up a body completely divorced from that unpleasant issue. If we bring the United Nations into it, I do not believe that we can do that. So I believe it would be better to have a new international consortium of some sort. However, I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that if we wait for all the nations to come together—and we shall have to bring in the weak as well as the strong—if we let that drift on, it may come to nought.

Somebody has to take the lead, and I agree with hon. Members who say that we must take the lead in this sphere. But although we must take the lead, we must make it clear that we are prepared to take this stern action and that we all endorse what the Prime Minister says, that this international waterway can never be allowed to remain in the position where it is at the whim of a petty dictator. That is why I feel that the House should let a message go out from it today that it has weighed most carefully in the balance what are the issues, and has come down decisively in favour of taking the attitude enunciated by my right hon. Friend today.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)

I think that the House, which is usually generous in its criticisms, will at least credit the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) with one thing on this aspect of world affairs, and that is his consistency on this matter.

This has been a serious debate and a serious occasion. The most serious part of it to me was when the Foreign Secretary intervened and said that he was returning to the Foreign Ministers' conference for further consultations. It is deplorable, to my mind, that agreement has not been reached with our American Allies, even at this stage in what can prove to be a very explosive situation, because just as Great Britain was the nation of the last century, it can be truly said that the United States is the nation of this century, and she must measure up to her responsibilities. It took the United States three and a half years to go into the First World War, it took her more than two and a half years to go into the last war, and we have not that much time left in these circumstances. Time is short, and action may have to be swift to be decisive.

I would say to Nasser at this stage that he has done something which has been done before in history by people who have assumed the rôle of dictator. He has succeeded in uniting the House of Commons, which is always dangerous for anybody who takes that risk. So he should take due note of what has happened in the past to people who assumed that risk and undertook that rôle.

It is with the United States, however, that I wish chiefly to deal. It is true that she has never been a colonising Power as we were during the last century, but she is a great commercial and investing Power. She is investing millions of dollars in the British Commonwealth and in areas which will give a rich return and a high dividend for the expenditure of those dollars. In those areas the United States has not the responsibility of maintaining law and order, of keeping open sea lanes and lines of communication, of providing a base on which prosperity can be developed to enable the underdeveloped peoples to go ahead.

This is her responsibility, however. It is no use the United States deciding to put up petrol stations all over the world without being prepared to back up such a policy by diplomatic means or otherwise.

Frankly, I am sick and tired of British Service men in these last fifteen or twenty years taking the brunt all over the world, in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malta, Malaya and Cyprus, doing the job which should rightly be done by the United States. It is no consolation for any hon. Member of this House to have to speak on public platforms in his own constituency and in others, where people in the audience have had sons murdered in areas which we have had to defend, not only on our own behalf but on behalf of the free world.

The other obligation on the American people is that whilst there is an issue here for us in Europe and an issue for Nasser in the Middle East, there is also an issue for the United States. The people behind the Iron Curtain are at present held down by dictatorships, and if the United States defaults on her responsibilities here, what hope is there for them? If the United States is bound to assume obligations which are compatible with her strength in the world, then she must back Europe on this issue. I do not say Great Britain and France; I say Europe, because what is concerned here is the life-blood of Europe.

Our people in the factories and workshops should be told. I am surprised that even now the Prime Minister has not taken one or two trade union chiefs into consultation. If certain measures come into operation, sacrifices on the part of workers will be required, and they ought to have been consulted about the position and what the outcome may be.

We depend upon the oil of the Middle East, where there are terrific United States investments, to keep the wheels of industry turning, particularly in Great Britain, for it is by this means that we can export in order to earn our people's daily bread and maintain our standard of living. Anything that interferes with the free passage through the Suez Canal of essential goods and supplies for Europe is of vital concern to us. In view of the lead which we have given through the League of Nations and the United Nations, we are right on this occasion to defend our position with all the means in our power, and to let Nasser know that we intend to continue as free people living our way of life, and that, if there is a cost to be paid, we are prepared to pay it.

4.52 p.m.

Mr. John Harvey (Walthamstow, East)

For some months now the dilemma of dealing with Nasser has been to know quite what to make of him. Many of us have tried to give him the benefit of what doubts appeared to exist. We had hoped that at last someone had arrived who would provide his country with a period of stable, enlightened and incorruptible government, which would have been for the good of Egypt and for the great good of the Middle East as a whole.

However, we are now entitled to assume that his policies are too barren, his temper too impetuous, and his patience too short for so desirable an end. We are entitled to fear that his ambitions cannot be contained within the bounds of Egypt, and, if that is so, it is a grievous fault. Yet I feel that it is worth while even now trying to make it clear to Colonel Nasser that we of the Western world have no wish to bully him out of any rights that his nation may have or to deprive Egypt of its legitimate interests in an expanding Middle Eastern wealth, which will continue rapidly to expand provided that not too many spanners are thrown into the works.

Colonel Nasser should be clear about this. There are many of us who feel that the situation in which we find ourselves today is analogous to the situation which Hitler created when he marched into the Rhineland. We remember that our failure to act in the defence of, and in honour of, international agreements at that time led Hitler to imagine himself invincible and led eventually to world war. Many of us feel that Colonel Nasser's policies today are shaping much the same way, and we feel that the stake for which Egypt is gambling is para-mountcy in a militant Arab world. It is not without its touch of irony that the Jews are again being used as a catalyst in this perturbing development.

Today, with the British economy being consciously and deliberately geared to oil power, it is not too much to say that the economic activity and survival of Britain, our jobs and our prosperity, will depend in increasing measure over the coming years on freedom of passage through the Suez Canal. Indeed, it is even permissible to doubt whether the Suez Canal in its present form will be able to cope with all the traffic to which it will have to give passage over the coming years. Therefore, propositions such as the one made by the Leader of the Opposition for alternative methods of speeding the flow of oil through that part of the world need to be given urgent consideration, not only for political and strategic reasons, but for simple economic reasons as well.

Colonel Nasser should, therefore, be asked to understand that, if his ambitions are really as boundless as he has led us now to believe, he has forced us into a position where we cannot accept a new Rhineland situation, because we know from our own bitter experience the consequences of too inexhaustible a patience, but he should also understand that he is still in a position to show us that he is big enough to have second and more sober thoughts.

The present situation has been brought to a head by the withdrawal of offers to help in regard to the Aswan Dam. Yet I have not heard so far in this debate any figures in that connection. It is relevant to notice that in the budget recently presented in Cairo Colonel Nasser has seen fit to earmark nearly £54 million for armaments expenditure while less than £4 million has been appropriated towards the Dam project, and the £54 million for arms expenditure is a considerable increase on the previous year's figure for similar purposes.

Therefore, I think we can say to Colonel Nasser from this House that, if he is prepared to spend a little more on potential welfare and a little less on potential warfare, a little more on proteins and a little less on propaganda, we would gladly echo the words of a leading article in The Times this week which said: On the British and American side the present withdrawal should neither be regarded as a total rejection of the Aswan scheme for all time, nor as implying any disregard of the needs of Egyptian peasants. It is possible to make certain allowances for Colonel Nasser. He is faced with a delicate situation whichever way he turns. He is, after all, much my own age and still has a very great deal to learn. We would forgive him for having thought it possible to solve his problems quickly by playing the East against the West, but we shall not be able to forgive him if he fails to learn from his mistakes.

It is perhaps difficult for us to understand just what the establishment of the State of Israel has meant to Arab minds. It is not a subject on which they can reason. It is for them a subject of the greatest passion. Therefore, in seeking to defend our own vital and legitimate interests, we should not lose sight of this underlying cause of tension and trouble. The Arab refugee problem looms in my mind very prominent among such causes.

It is a short step from this problem to the consideration of the new pattern of the cold war, on which I should like to detain the House for a moment or so only. In assisting in the establishment of the State of Israel, it was no part of this country's policy deliberately to set nation against nation in the Middle East. We were concerned solely with the provision of a homeland for the much persecuted Jewish people, and yet the effect has been to inflame the Middle East.

Into the midst of what we had hoped might eventually become a better understood situation, into a situation in which we had hoped there might eventually be some easement of tension, the Communist Powers have not hesitated now, in pursuance of their own policies, to inject a policy which is obviously calculated to exacerbate the situation. There has been a great deal of talk over recent months—there has even been mention of it in the debate—about the new attitude of Communist Russia. Many hopes have been engendered about the new policies of Moscow. I find it very difficult to share those hopes when I consider that what the Soviet Union is doing in the Middle East is callously to fan the flames of Arab-Jewish hatred in the obvious hope of damaging to a greater or lesser degree the nerve-centre of our oil-based Western economy.

The Soviet Union is seeking to do this damage in the easiest possible way, by the judicious and quite unscrupulous use of economic weapons. In fact, notice has been served that from now on we can expect a new form of warfare from Moscow under a banner which the Russians appear to have borrowed from the Lord Privy Seal, bearing the strangely chosen device "Invest in Success".

We of the Western world must now concert our policies, and particularly our economic policies, as never before. The American Government can no longer afford to let the American oil companies go on manufacturing Middle Eastern policy for them. They must face up to their own responsibilities in these matters and, if Colonel Nasser has taught us that lesson, then he has done the Western world a great service.

The Middle East stands today at the threshold of perhaps the most rapid and remarkable economic transformation that the world has ever seen. The potential rate of increase of wealth throughout the Middle East over the next few years is likely to bring about for all the peoples of that part of the world an increase in the standard of their livelihood that no one has ever known before. In that it is legitimate that Egypt should hope to share, and it is legitimate that we should bear in mind that Egypt has not the same oil resources as some of its neighbours in the Middle East and will therefore want to look to the Canal as a way of increasing its own wealth.

But Egypt should also remember that the goose which is laying the golden eggs of the Middle East is not an Egyptian goose and, if Egypt tries to grab that goose, it may succeed only in killing it, to the discomfiture of all concerned. Let us hope that even at this late stage Colonel Nasser will realise that he stands to gain far more than he stands to lose from a very considerable change in the policies which he has pursued until now. He stands to gain a share in a colossal expansion of wealth, whereas the other way he stands to prejudice and even throttle the expansion of wealth not only of Egypt but of the whole Middle East, and, indeed, of the Western world.

5.2 p.m.

Mr. W. T. Proctor (Eccles)

We have listened to a very interesting speech with some of which I agree, but I do not come to the same unhappy conclusion about the Russians as did the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. J. Harvey). I remind hon. Members opposite that when Mr. Khrushchev was in this country he stated that had he been a British citizen he would have been a supporter of the party opposite. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members opposite will, in their speeches, try to inspire in the hearts of the Russians a love of peace.

This is a very grave moment in our affairs. No one who has been in the House for the last five hours, as most of us have been, and who has listened to the grave words of the Secretary of State for War when he read the Proclamation could have failed to realise that this is a grave moment for this country and the rest of the world. We are today dealing not only with the affairs of Egypt, but with those of the whole world.

We should ask ourselves, what do we want to do in the Middle East? The Middle East has two vital assets. It has a tremendous percentage of the oil resources of the world and that great international waterway, the Suez Canal. It is the desire of all hon. Members that the great wealth of the Middle East should be used for the benefit of the people of the Middle East. We should be making plans to raise the standard of living, not only of the favoured few at the top in the Middle East, but of all the people.

We should hold out to the Egyptian people, not only the construction of the Aswan Dam, but something far greater than anything which could be envisaged in any of the plans which have been brought forward by Colonel Nasser. If we can bring together the great nations of the world who are vitally concerned in this matter, we can make arrangements for immense economic changes in Egypt and the Middle East which would redound to the benefit of the people who are justly entitled to them.

Much has been said about the legal position. Talk of the legal position never impresses me very much. It is suggested that the law is on the side of Colonel Nasser. All my life I have been considering what the legal position was and if the law was wrong, then I have wanted to alter the legal position. I am not very much impressed if someone says that the legal position is in their favour. I am concerned with what is morally right. Let us consider how one wins one's legal position as the ruler of a country like Egypt at the present time.

Colonel Nasser was a colonel in the Egyptian Army. He conspired with General Neguib and others to start a revolution. He removed the King and the elected Cabinet in Egypt and then he obtained power. He obtained power on the basis of guns, bayonets, tanks and military weapons largely supplied to Egypt by this country. I remember seeing in the Daily Mirror a terrible picture of an Egyptian who had worked for the Canal Company and who was charged with having worked for the English. There was no other charge against him and the Daily Mirror caption was: A Few Minutes to Live. That man was to be hanged for working for the British; that offence, and for nothing else.

In a dictatorship no one can express an opinion contrary to the opinion of the dictator. When Nasser reached a position of unanimity on that basis, he held an election with one candidate and made himself President of Egypt, and then the legal position was on his side. The world has to face the situation that dictators must not be allowed to gain power and arrive at the right legal position in that way.

Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)

Does my hon. Friend feel as strongly about dictatorship countries in the so-called free world, countries such as Spain?

Mr. Proctor

I feel as strongly about all of them. I am not inconsistent in the slightest degree. The great democracies of the world must take some action in some way to achieve a great international authority where this kind of thing shall not be allowed to happen, and where opinion will be a great decisive force and not the force of bayonets and guns.

As well as being a grave moment, this is a moment of great opportunity. The sovereign State as we know it is too small to deal with the great problems of the world. We cannot deal with them on the basis of complete sovereignty. I plead with the Government, the House and everyone dealing with the matter to recognise Europe as one of the great factors in this situation. I want to see us progress as quickly as we possibly can towards a United States of Europe. Let us pool our resources with Europe.

In 1940, in a grave moment, we made an offer of complete union with France. The time has arrived for some such dramatic offer as that. We should be ready to pool our resources and to give up our own sovereignty if we ask other people to give up theirs and to reach a basis of internationalism. Such a Europe would be one of the very wonderful units in the world. Instead of our going into Recess, I should like to see a dramatic stroke by the Prime Minister—the inviting of Members of Parliament from all the Parliaments of Europe to this country to discuss this matter to see if we cannot make this a great turning point in history.

The two matters with which the present small sovereign State is unable to deal are defence and economic planning. We are ideally suited for dealing with Welfare State matters, but for defence and economic planning we want a newer and bigger unit. That is a subject which we should consider—unite Europe, pool our resources, our skills and our statesmanship and lead the world to peace.

On the grave problem of the Suez, we must face the question of Russian intentions in this situation. The whole matter hinges upon that consideration. I believe that we can agree that the Canal should be internationalised. That would be the ideal solution. Egypt could derive all the benefits which are due to her by reason of the geographical location of the Canal. The Canal should be administered by an international authority. That solution would be in the interests of the Russians as well as of the peoples of Europe and America.

We have heard a lot about competitive co-existence. I am not in favour of competitive co-existence with the Soviet Union or anyone else. What I want is co-operative co-existence. If we can get the great nations of the earth together, and begin to consider the solution on the basis of co-operative existence, there would not be any competition as to who should build the Aswan Dam. The Russians could have their allocation of the undeveloped areas, and America and Britain theirs. Britain has done a tremendous amount for the undeveloped countries of the world. No one can go from the source to the mouth of the Nile without realising that British working people have benefited Egypt by the immense irrigation work they have carried out all the way down the river.

The British people have helped the underdeveloped areas throughout my lifetime. They have invested capital in the Argentine, and the United States should remember that when it was an undeveloped country. The capital was created by the British working people.

Mr. John Baird (Wolverhampton, North-East)

Is it not a fact that the people of this country have taken far more out of those areas than they have put into them?

Mr. Proctor

In two world wars we have, in defending liberty, lost vast investments which British working people toiled to place in other countries of the world. It may be true that the capitalist classes have derived some wealth from these areas, but it was the toil and the work, for minimum rates of pay, and the misery endured by our working people, which developed the undeveloped countries—Argentine, the U.S.A. and the rest. I want to see these matters placed upon a different basis. Let us all share in this work of helping the undeveloped countries. Let America and Russia play their parts. This is the moment when that grand solution can be applied.

There is one thing which I appeal to the Prime Minister to do. Russia is essential in this matter. What she is going to do will depend upon whether we can deal with this situation peacefully, happily and co-operatively.

Mr. S. Silverman

Does my hon. Friend consider that one guide to whether we can co-operatively—by which I suppose he means in common with all nations, including, as he says, the Soviet Union—internationalise the Suez Canal, on the ground that an international means of communication of that kind is not fit to be under the sole control of a single small country, is whether or not this principle is limited to the Suez Canal; if, for instance, it were applied to the Bosphorus and the Dardenelles?

Mr. Proctor

I am not limiting my aims or desires. All the great international waterways of the earth should be included. I am not going to be caught out by being modest in my desires to put the world right.

Mr. Silverman

I assure my hon. Friend that I had no doubt what his answer would be, and I accept it as his answer and the answer of the vast majority of this party in the House and the country, but I would point out that there is a vast difference between that and the Government's proposition this afternoon.

Mr. Proctor

The Government's proposition fits in with my conception. It is a start. If we internationalise the control of the Suez Canal, and by doing so we can benefit Egypt and the Middle East, we shall be making progress. I do not demand that the whole lot shall be done immediately.

Mr. Silverman

Only the part that suits us.

Mr. Proctor

I have laid down the principle, and I like us to be going along the right road.

I had been dealing with the question of the attitude of Russia. I accept the view that there have been great changes in Russia. Mr. Khrushchev's speech has said everything about Stalin that I said before. I am grateful to him for making that speech because when I go to my constituency and meet some of the Communists, I can give them Khrushchev's opinion of what has been happening in Russia, and it is an answer that would not have convinced them had it come from me alone.

There are possibilities of great changes taking place in the Soviet Union. We are consulting America and France, and I have pleaded with the Government that we should consult all Europe. I believe that the Prime Minister could not do a greater service to the world than to go straight from that conference to Moscow and discuss the question of the Suez Canal and the oil resources of the Middle East, in order to ascertain the opinion of the Soviet Union on these matters, and see if we cannot arrive at a great international settlement of peace, security and friendship, instead of risking the desperate situation that might arise as a result of our taking unilateral action—and when I say "unilateral action" I mean action without the co-operation and help of the Soviet Union.

5.16 p.m.

Mr. Julian Amery (Preston, North)

The contribution which we have just had from the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) widens still further the unanimity which has informed our debate so far. Indeed, the moral to the debate was pointed by another hon. Member earlier, when he said that Colonel Nasser had succeeded in uniting the House of Commons. What is perhaps more remarkable is that he has also succeeded in uniting the Assembly across the Channel, in Paris.

There is a long gallery of tyrants, emperors and dictators who have paid with their lives for waking up and uniting the boldness of France and the determination of England. Colonel Nasser may find himself in that boat before long.

I was glad when the hon. Member for Eccles, in the earlier part of his remarks, emphasised the dictatorial character of the régime in Egypt, and how little it had done to fulfil the early promises of social reform which were so much on Nasser's lips when he came to power.

Our relations with the Government of Egypt are likely to be strained in the next few weeks, but it is very important that, during that time, we should make a distinction between the Government and the people of Egypt. I do not believe that the people are wholeheartedly behind their Government. We must not forget that there have been times of very good co-operation between us and the people of Egypt—both with the dynasty in days gone by and, more particularly in the last war, with the Government of the great Wafdist party, under Nahas, which gave us unstinted co-operation when Rommel was at the gates of Alexandria.

Mr. W. Griffiths

Did they?

Mr. S. Silverman

A new reading of history.

Mr. Amery

I was there at the time, and I remember that no British troops at all had to be engaged upon internal security in Egypt. The Egyptians took charge of that matter themselves, and stood loyally by us. We still have a great many friends in Egypt, and it is well that that fact should be emphasised.

The essence of the problem is one upon which I do not think there is much disagreement in the House at the moment. For about two generations the Canal was under the management of an international company—we might call it a high authority—and under the protection of the British Army. In the last few weeks that situation has come to an end. Six weeks ago the last British soldier was withdrawn from the Canal Zone, and one week ago Colonel Nasser grabbed the Company. We now have a situation in which the present Egyptian Government has a monopoly of the management and protection of this great waterway.

The prospect would be daunting enough even if we lived in times of perfect international concord, if Colonel Nasser's record was as pure as driven snow, and if Egypt had shown the stability of Switzerland in recent years. As it is, I think most of us regard that prospect as one which cannot be endured.

The Leader of the Opposition catalogued at some length the bad points in Colonel Nasser's record which give us reason for not trusting him. I will not weary the House by recapitulating them; but there is one aspect of them to which I should like to draw the attention of hon. Members, because I do not think that it has been sufficiently stressed in this debate. Let us not underestimate the extent to which the military junta in Egypt has already passed under Soviet influence.

When we took our troops away, a kind of military vacuum was created, and that vacuum is already being filled with Soviet arms and instructors. A large part of the Egyptian cotton crop—the larger part, as indeed was stressed by the Leader of the Opposition—is already going to the Soviet Unions. Now, with the elimination of Western influence from the management of the Suez Canal, a further economic and technological vacuum is being created in Egypt which the Egyptians cannot fill from their own resources, and which may well be filled, as the military one is being filled, from the Soviet Union.

Nasser, in fact, has taken a giant stride towards making his country more dependent on the Soviets than it was before. I do not wish to suggest that he himself is a Communist, but there are a great many in his entourage and leadership who are. Frequently, and I think rightly, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) reminds public opinion that one should not think of Communism too much in conspiratorial and cloak and dagger terms. But in Egypt it is precisely in those terms that we must think about it. It has not become a mass movement, but it is a conspiracy which can be most dangerous.

Mr. W. Griffiths

Is it not a fact that in Egypt the Communist Party and the Socialist Party are illegal?

Mr. Amery

The hon. Gentleman asks whether it is not a fact that the Communist Party is illegal—

Mr. Griffiths

And the Socialist Party.

Mr. Amery

A former leader of the Socialist Party is now an ambassador in Washington for Colonel Nasser. It is true that the Communist Party is officially proscribed. It was a nice way of getting dollars out of the United States. But in fact we all know—any serious student of Egyptian affairs knows—that there are a great many prominent figures in the Nasser régime who are Communists.

I was saying that we must not underestimate this danger. This is the man who holds the economic life of Europe by the throat, and we are agreed that it would be madness to leave the Canal at his mercy. We are also agreed—the point was made most effectively by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot)—that this is not only a threat to the waterway, but a challenge to the whole of Western influence in the area between the Atlantic Ocean and the Persian Gulf. If we do not meet the challenge this time, there will not be another time—at any rate, not in the context of peace.

We have, therefore, to ask ourselves what it is that should be done. On that account, I think that there is a wide measure of unanimity in the House, at any rate as regards the objectives which should be pursued. As I see it, the assumption from which we start is that we cannot accept the Egyptian monopoly of the management and protection of the Canal. We are therefore determined to place the management of the Canal under some form of international control, it may be by the maritime Powers, or the United Nations—these are points on which there may be shades of difference—but under some form of international control; and, similarly, to bring the protection of the ports and installations, and the management to which I have referred, under some form of international defence.

This is not the time to go into exact details. Indeed, I myself certainly have not enough information to do so. But clearly, the terms under which an international authority is set up must do justice to the claims of the Company, and the claims of Egypt, and must provide security for the main users of the Canal.

More controversial, but more important in the context of this debate, are the methods by which these objects are to be attained. We are all agreed that the economic sanctions so far imposed are justified. But most of us would agree that they will no more successful in deterring Colonel Nasser than were the sanctions which were applied during the time of the Abyssinian war in deterring Mussolini. In this context, I hope that the Government can assure us that there is no question of allowing the two Egyptian destroyers to leave this country.

Next there is the prospect of a conference to draw up a plan.

Mr. Robens

Would the hon. Gentleman suggest that we impound the Egyptian destroyers?

Mr. Amery

Yes, I would. Would the right hon. Gentleman dissent from that?

Mr. Robens

What would be the reply of the hon. Gentleman if Colonel Nasser impounded some oil tankers in the Suez Canal? How far do we get with that kind of thing?

Mr. Amery

I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the point opens up many possibilities.

Mr. Robens

Yes, it does.

Mr. Amery

I should have thought it quite justified at a time when we are impounding war materials, I gathered with the agreement of the right hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Robens

Is not oil a war material?

Mr. Amery

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that we were wrong to ban the export of arms, or that Colonel Nasser would be right to take reprisals on our tankers for that? He cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Robens

Yes, but the hon. Gentleman has said that he would suggest some solution. We are anxious to hear what he has to say. The first proposal he makes is that we should impound the Egyptian destroyers. I am asking, what do we do when Nasser impounds British ships as a reprisal? He must carry this through to its logical conclusion.

Mr. Amery

I think that the right hon. Gentleman has put his finger on the problem. We are banning the export of arms, I gather, with the full agreement of the party opposite.

Mr. Robens

British arms.

Mr. Amery

Yes. British arms, and, of course, destroyers are arms.

Mr. Robens

But we do not own them.

Mr. Amery

Arms in this country purchased by the Egyptians are not yet Egyptian arms. That is exactly the position. These ships are here in this country. They would be delivered to the Egyptians. We are perfectly entitled to stop them. The right hon. Gentleman has argued in the same context about supplying arms in the Arab-Israeli struggle.

The question about the Canal, moreover, is the question of the freedom of the seas, and the freedom of the passage through the Canal. If the Egyptians impound tankers in the Canal, as distinct from tankers at Alexandria, they would be doing it in clear breach of the Convention of 1888.

The other suggestion put forward is that a conference should be held—and on this I think there is general agreement—to draw up a plan for internationalisation of the Canal which could then be put into force. It has been suggested by the United States—if Press reports are right-that the Soviet Union should take part in this conference. I have no inherent objection to the participation of the Soviet Union in the conference, but the fact that the United States has suggested it cannot help but awaken in our minds the shadow of Yalta and the days when Washington thought they could do a deal with Moscow at our expense. I hope I may be wrong.

However, a conference in which Russia took part would inevitably be protracted, and events will not wait on a conference for long. The countries which lie round the Suez Canal are watching what is happening with great anxiety and anticipation, and, in my view, there must be decisive interim action pending the conclusion of such a conference. I think that already while the conference is in progress steps should be taken to ensure the safety of the Company, not merely the safety of the passage through the Canal, but the safety of its installations. I think that while the conference is in progress, and before Egypt is admitted to the conference—and here I endorse what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove—Colonel Nasser must revoke his decree of nationalisation. I think that he should also agree to British and French units as an advance guard of the international protecting force going into the Canal Zone already, on the principle of what The Times described in an admirable leading article yesterday as having "a foot in the door".

If the Egyptians accept interim arrangements of that kind—say, the presence of some guarding forces in the Canal Zone and revocation of the decree until such time as the conference is concluded—then I think that they should come to the conference. If not, I do not think that they should, because one thing we cannot do is to pay them a price for the cessation of wrongdoing.

If one is thinking in terms of armed forces going to the Canal Zone one has to face the risks involved, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) did in a speech a few minutes ago, which I think impressed the House deeply. The risks are greater now than they were perhaps three years ago, but they are less today than they would be next year, and infinitely less than would be the risks of cowardly submission to the aggressive policy and career of the Egyptian dictator.

In all this, solidarity with France is the key. There have been comparisons, especially in the French Assembly, between this crisis and the Rhineland crisis of 1936. There are great differences too. In 1936 the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary of the day in England rather poured water in the wine of the French. The French attempted to put all the responsibility on to the British. I think that we should salute the clear readiness this time of both sides to bear their part today.

This may not be the time to revive the exact proposal to France which my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) put forward in 1940, but our work should be informed by the spirit of that proposal. Our alliance with France is really the essential alliance for us in all the world. It is essential for Europe, for the Middle East and for Africa.

We appreciate, of course, the difficulties in which the United States find themselves because of their election. We hope that they may be able to help us in whatever lies ahead; we expect that at least they will not hinder. They have done us enough harm in the Middle East already. We must make it clear to them that if they will not or cannot join us, then we will go ahead without them. It will not be the first time. Our life is at stake, and we can do no other.

But already there is one conclusion which must be drawn—and which should be stated—as a result of the attitude of the United States in this matter. It is this. I think that inevitably there is going to be, perhaps that there should be, a slight shift of emphasis in our foreign policy, drawing us closer to our Allies in Europe in the months and years ahead.

For some years now Middle Eastern policy has been a great source of anxiety in the House and, sometimes, a source of dissension. I have not always been able to follow my right hon. Friends in the policies they have pursued. I do not want to revive all that now. I am content that history should judge which of us was right and which of us was wrong. But this I will grant. The policies which my right hon. Friends have pursued have at least proved their undoubted good will and desire to give Nasser every possible benefit of the doubt. They have gone to the last limit of concession. I, for one, only pray that this clear evidence of our unchallengeable moral position has not been too dearly bought.

Now the House separates, and the whole responsibility rests on the Government. But with the responsibility comes a gleaming opportunity, too, an opportunity to redeem what has been lost and to re-establish British influence in the Middle East on firm and permanent foundations.

5.35 p.m.

Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)

In a debate on Cyprus a few days ago I said that, although I did not agree with the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery), I had a warm regard for the hon. Gentleman and I thought that he was much better than some of the dreary mediocrities who sat on the benches opposite above the Gangway. During his remarks today the hon. Member has made a number of comments with which we on this side of the House cannot agree. One of the things that he has not said, and for this the House will respect him, is, "I told you so", although he has considerable reason for saying that to his hon. Friends.

There is this difference between the hon. Gentleman and me. I am one of the very few hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House who voted for the Suez Agreement; he is one of the more numerous, but still few, hon. Gentlemen opposite who voted against that Agreement. I will come to that matter in more detail in a few minutes. The remarks of the hon. Member, within the context of the background of the views that he has held, were, if I may presume to say so, moderate and responsible and far more confident of support on this side of the House than would have been believed from some of the bellicose statements that we have read in the newspapers which are alleged to support his point of view.

The hon. Member said that at least we were agreed on one thing, and that was on the objects of any action that we should take—that we should try to keep the Canal open as an international waterway. I absolutely agree. One thing I say to some of my hon. Friends. It is that I hope that they will bear in mind the importance to the future of any Labour Government in Britain of the fact that we will never be able to give any aid to the underdeveloped areas unless the Canal is available as an international waterway. I emphasise that to all my hon. Friends who have any doubts about the value of the action which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition advocated at the Dispatch Box this afternoon.

The second thing I would say to my hon. Friends who may have any doubts about this matter is this: not only are we discussing the future of this country but, in this House this afternoon, we are having to raise our voices for the people of Israel. Their lives are at stake every bit as much as our lives are at stake today. We are the only people who can take effective action on behalf of the people of Israel by the implementation of any decision which we may make here. I underline that point.

The third point is that we on this side of the House are against nationalism. We have been against it consistently in this country and we were against it when fanned by Hitler. We must be clear that we have to be against nationalism whether it is white, black or coloured in any form. It has no particular virtue about it because it happens to come from Asia or the Middle East.

Mr. Baird

Who is against it?

Mr. Donnelly

I am against nationalism. Our party has always been against nationalism.

Mr. S. Silverman

Not at all.

Mr. Donnelly

My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has been one of the most consistent internationalists in this House.

Mr. Silverman

The hon. Gentleman is correct and I am grateful to him for saying so, but I never thought that there was any conflict between a wise, patriotic, normal nationalism and internationalism. It is nonsense to say that people ought to be against nationalism. It is the excesses and distortions of it that are wrong, and not the principle.

Mr. Donnelly

I should have drawn the distinction much more firmly. I say that there is a distinction between nationalism and patriotism. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I hope that hon. Members opposite will not embarrass me too much by any cheers. I am trying to put a case to some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne does not like it, but he must learn to take it.

Now I come to something on which hon. Gentlemen opposite will not applaud so loudly. Having established the basis of any agreement which we may have about the objects of any action that we may take, I want to underline the fact that this House should have been discussing this matter long ago. As far back as 2nd November, 1951, the then Foreign Minister of Egypt discussed the international control of this waterway in a Press interview. I would ask the Leader of the House whether any answer was made by the British Government to follow up that proposal at that time. We should be very glad now if we had accepted that proposal from the Foreign Minister of Egypt.

In a debate on foreign affairs on 5th February, 1952, the question of the international control of the Suez Canal was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). The present Prime Minister evaded the question in his answer. We should be very glad now to settle for my right hon. Friend's proposal. As recently as 4th June we should have been giving thought to this matter, because the Egyptian director on the Suez Canal Board stated that the Agreement would not be extended one minute beyond the moment when it finished in 1968, and he added that the Egyptian Government had in existence plans for taking over the Suez Canal.

That was eight weeks ago. This House cannot necessarily know about all these things, but the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs should have known. If I had been sitting in the Foreign Office and had heard a thing like that I should have been extremely concerned. What action did the Government take?

I have stated the background to explain why I ask why the Government were caught completely unawares in the last few days. It is clear that a great deal could have been done to forestall the situation by political action. Now I go on. I would ask the Government what on earth they have been doing to become so dependent for our oil supplies on the Suez Canal. Mr. Onassis has been talking about building larger tankers. He knows that if the Suez Canal were blocked those tankers would be of inestimable importance to the world. Why have not the Government been thinking about that? Why is the country so dependent on the oil that comes through the Suez Canal?

When the Suez Canal Agreement was made in 1954 I voted for it in perfect good faith because I thought that the British Government would be thinking about forestalling the present situation. Her Majesty's Government have let their supporters and the country down by taking no effective action of any kind to see that they were able to deal with this situation, if it arose.

My third point is to ask why we have allowed the situation to drift for so long that we are dependent so much upon the oil from the Middle East? Why is not our atomic energy programme much larger than it is? I am prepared to go to my constituents and say that we have to deny ourselves of some of the good things of life because we must be independent of this kind of blackmail. Are the Government equally prepared to say the same?

The gravamen of the charge that I make against right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway is not only that they have done nothing about this matter but that the proposals in the very bare statement of the Prime Minister this morning, and the announcement of the Secretary of State for War, are open to doubt on the grounds of ineffectiveness.

There is now talk of military action being prepared; what kind of action? I understand that we have two battalions of paratroops in Cyprus. That may be the case. Have we the aircraft for them? I understand that we are talking about commissioning aircraft carriers and putting troops on them, but how many troops? Where are they to go to? How are they to land? What kind of equipment is available for them to go with? At the very moment when the critical situation exists we have no information of any kind of this nature, and there is every reason to have grave doubts about the military action that the Government have been talking of today. We have every reason to be doubtful about the way in which they are conducting the affairs of the country, even supposing that their policy be right.

Let me now turn to a more constructive side of what the Government have said. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Government supporters should not be too ready to cheer. We on this side of the House have been waiting for a long time for some constructive policy from the Government, but we have not had any. I understand that there is a conflict as to whether the 1886 Powers should act, or whether the criterion should be maritime users only. I urge the Government to take note of what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition had to say, which was that we cannot ignore the existence of Soviet Russia as a power in the Middle East. It may be, as the hon. Member for Preston, North said, that a conference must be speedy if it is to be successful. But I say that it must also be successful.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

Is the hon. Gentleman inviting us to draw the conclusion that it is not a matter of our prestige in the Middle East and only the question of the ownership of the Canal?

Mr. Donnelly

I did not say that at all. The hon. Member must not assume that for one minute. We shall have far more prestige if we can get unanimous agreement among the great Powers of the world that the Canal shall be made an international waterway.

The fact that we have to make clear at the conference is that our American Allies, unwittingly it may be, precipitated this situation. It ill becomes them to go to an international conference with this country and to insist upon the matter being talked out or that no action shall be taken. The British Government should make it absolutely clear that the decision which precipitated the situation was theirs, and that we hold them responsible for it and expect their loyal co-operation.

Mr. Baird

I assume that the hon. Gentleman agrees that Russia should be invited to the conference. Does he expect Russia to agree to internationalising the Canal and other waterways?

Mr. Donnelly

I have said so.

Mr. Baird

What about the Dardanelles?

Mr. Donnelly

Yes, certainly. I agree.

The Leader of the Opposition said earlier that in any action the Government took following the conference they must carry support in the United Nations. I underline that too. I want to make that perfectly clear to right hon. Gentlemen opposite that otherwise they will not get the country behind them; I warn them of that.

The real solution to this problem must be peaceful. I am prepared to take a tough line to make this Canal an international waterway. I am prepared to take it to the toughest possible point short of war. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite imagine that the only kind of toughness which exists is the toughness of war, but that is not so. It is not a laughing matter to talk about war; and it would certainly not be a laughing matter for Colonel Nasser if we were to impose very tough economic sanctions.

It would be far better, if we had to come to any kind of serious political conflict, to take six months by settling with economic sanctions than to take five minutes and to precipitate a war. That is what hon. Members opposite have constantly to remember. When they imagine that toughness can only be military toughness they are making a very grave mistake indeed and are rendering their party an ill-service if they speak like that in public places. That is the kind of charge to which they have so often laid themselves open.

Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham) rose

Mr. Donnelly

I think the hon. Member will agree that I have given way a number of times. I promised Mr. Deputy-Speaker that I would be very brief.

In the years since 1945 we have established ourselves in a particular position as a former imperialist nation which has now become an anti-imperialist nation in many parts of the world. We have done more than any other single country to eradicate the old scars of imperialism. It would be a great tragedy if precipitous action by the British Government, urged on by any irresponsible elements on the benches opposite, were to prejudice the position which has been built up at so much cost and with so much hope.

I want to make quite clear to hon. Members, including the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), that I am not prepared to see the golden gleam of India tarnished on the sordid shores of Suez. I want him to understand that quite clearly. Perhaps he can work that out for himself later.

The final point is, having given this qualified support to the actions of the British Government, having said to them that we are prepared to go thus far with them at this moment, I would warn them that there is also to be a reckoning on how we ever came to be in this situation.

5.54 p.m.

Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)

The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), in the early part of his speech, said that we ought to have been discussing much earlier the fundamental problem which we are discussing today. I agree, and is it not ironical that such fundamental points should come up over what are only secondaries and in this case only irrelevances, such as the legalities of nationalisation and the Convention? I think it was the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) who said that the legalities of this question are entirely irrelevant, and of course he was right. The Tightness or wrong-ness here is as irrelevant as it was whether the sheep was given a right answer or a wrong answer by the wolf as to the direction of the stream at which the sheep was drinking. It was the fact that the wolf was a wolf which alone was relevant.

Surely, as the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) said, the philosophy is what matters: this is the fundamental issue of anarchy and insecurity which is raised here. May we put it this way, that while it is not certain whether order is Heaven's first law, I think all of us in this nation are quite certain that a sovereignty based upon self-determination is not high up in the table of Heaven's laws and that there can be conditions such as anarchy and insecurity in which unlimited sovereignty is not justifiable merely by a claim to it based upon self-determination. This reservation upon the uninhibited abuse of sovereignty is general. We instinctively reject such a claim, whether it applies to the case of Mussolini, or that of Hitler. It is not in the case of Nasser only that we insist that the mere act of taking to oneself sovereignty based upon a claim to self-determination is no justification for the abuse of that sovereignty when taken. Surely that is the issue in this case.

Dr. Summerskill

Because this is such a very important matter, and because words spoken here go out to the world, I think the hon. Member should tell us how he can relate the word "anarchy" to the nationalisation of a canal running through a sovereign country.

Mr. Pitman

The right hon. Lady cannot have listened either to me or to her right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South who introduced the word "anarchy" and made precisely the point that the philosophy point was the main issue and that the legalistic one was irrelevant. I, too, am making the point that it is entirely irrelevant in the present case, as it was in the case of the wolf. Surely that must be so. What we are really worried about, as was said in the case of Hitler and the legality of the Sudetenland and of Austria, is not whether Nasser's case is legal but that his is the part of the wolf.

I should say that the whole nation is at one behind the concept that in the use of sovereignty there must be a degree of judgment, moderation and decency, an absence of anarchy and a regard for the security of others. Within the field of human rights when a young man becomes 21 years of age one does not necessarily allow him a shotgun, and if he appears not to be a fit and proper person to have one he is denied his rights in the interests of order and of security. In this case, whether it be Nasser or Neguib, Fuad or whoever may be coming along, the real issue is that they are and will be for some time as incapable as was Hitler or Mussolini of giving the world an objective Government—in this case on this important waterway of world communication. After all, the Suez Canal and everything it stands for is far more important than any shotgun.

It is in just this context that the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and a number of hon. Members on this side of the House and the other have said that, if an issue is of such great would importance, order and security are paramount, and the Canal and its zone ought to be placed under some international authority. The Leader of the Opposition used the phrase "an agent for the United Nations." The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), in a thoughtful speech, both raised the point of what sort of authority, what sort of agent that is to be. If it is a good enough authority to do the job for Suez, it is going to be good enough to do the job for all other waterways as well.

If Suez is to be given Heaven's first gift of order, and if an authority is to do away with anarchy and give security, the new authority is going to be so good that it could be applied also in the other vital world waterways, and I would not mind whether they were the Panama, the Bosphorus or the English Channel. I would say that the Americans would be the first to wish to join the strong moral background of such a new international authority to the rather weak foundation for the government of the Panama Canal to which the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) referred. Surely a wonderful, new and great advance has been made in the last few days in achieving this unanimous opinion that the new authority should be an international one.

We are, however, up against the difficulty of how we are to make it such a good authority that it can really do the job. That difficulty was in the mind of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South and of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely. Both distrusted the ability of the United Nations to achieve the desired solution. I would submit that it is not that the United Nations is at fault and to be distrusted but that the organisation in which the United Nations is forced to work is making it at fault.

The right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Water-house) talked of international control of this Canal strip and the waterway. The United Nations is, however, not in its organisation either international or an authority, it is an inter-Governmental body for the voluntary co-operation or non-co-operation of national Governments. Moreover, its debates are necessarily national, not international, because every delegate who goes to the United Nations is sent there to represent his nation. It is merely an extension of 10, Downing Street or the Quai d'Orsay to the floor of the United Nations to achieve a subjective nationalism, not an objective and planatary humanism.

The problem that we have to face is a very difficult one: it is how to organise within the structure of the United Nations a brand new organisation which will give us the kind of forceful authority which will bring about order and security in the Suez area. It is one of the fundamental principles of organisation that if one is to have responsibilities one must have powers, and sufficient powers. Whether we look at Danzig, Trieste or even Korea, which is a very good instance of my case, we must realise that the United Nations as at present organised is entirely powerless. It is in an even worse position than the Crown was long ago in the days of the Earl of Warwick. If the Earl of Warwick walked out with his troops, the central authority did not completely cease to have any power to match its responsibilities. The powerlessness of the United Nations to do anything of itself is no organisation with which to guarantee security and order m these terribly important parts of the globe.

It is clear that we should today be considering how to evolve a new type of organisation around the United Nations which will guarantee security and order in the Suez Canal. If we work that out for Suez, it may well be the pattern not only of the organisation that we want for other waterways but for the one we so badly need for the control of atomic weapons. The whole of the disarmament efforts of national Governments are falling down for lack of a really effective unit with decisive power, with which to furnish some new branch of the United Nations.

We must, after all, face facts. Thirty or forty years ago a Foreign Secretary could think in terms of giving security to a nation. Twenty-one miles was the limit of the range of a gun. Now we have guided missiles ranging over 5,000 miles and able to carry the hydrogen bomb. The situation these days is that in consequence foreign policy is based not upon a hope of security but upon being able to threaten equal or even greater insecurity to somebody else. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely is right in saying that the really frightening thing at present is the sense of real all-round insecurity and the length to which war can go if anybody touches it off.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

Remember that today.

Mr. Pitman

The real issue is thus in Suez and in the whole realm of security that we must build up an authority based on the moral principle of its being a planetary international organisation which will be and must necessarily be also effective to give order and security. That is indeed the most important issue which faces mankind today.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

Mr. Jack Jones.

Mr. S. Silverman

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. It has been said repeatedly throughout the debate that the House is displaying a remarkable unanimity of opinion. I know that the Chair cannot possibly anticipate what line a speaker is going to take, but I venture to call your attention to the fact that all the speakers on this side of the House, except one, have been on one line and that they are not necessarily representative of all opinion on this side of the House. It would be a great pity if, on an occasion of this kind, we got an artificial air of great unanimity which does not really correspond to the feeling of the House of Commons.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, the Chair can have no knowledge at all of what hon. Members are going to say. The Chair has today followed the usual practice of the House. What the hon. Gentleman has raised is not a point of order.

Mr. Silverman

I did not want to say anything, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that might sound like a reflection upon anyone, certainly not upon the Chair in the selection of speakers. I know that it is always difficult, and in many cases impossible, to know what line an hon. Member will follow, but it is sometimes known.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is not a point of order at all.

6.5 p.m.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

I suggest that not even my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) could know what line I am about to take. Throughout my experience in Parliament, since 1945, I have never uttered a word on the question of foreign affairs. I intervene for only a short time to say exactly what I think, regardless of what may be thought on the subject of what line it is or what line it is not.

This morning I took a walk along the Embankment, a very long way from Egypt. I often look at the memorial to my regiment, The Imperial Camel Corps, which fought in the Sinai Peninsula for same weary years in defence of democracy. Inscribed on the memorial are the names of about 200 good men who fought and died to prevent dictatorship overrunning Egypt. If those men could be brought to life today to see the present situation, having fought to prevent Egypt and the Egyptians from being overrun by a dictator, they would wonder what had happened in the interval.

I claim to speak with some knowledge of Egypt, and also some knowledge of Persia. I spent many weary years in Egypt and some time in the Persian area. I do not want to be Foreign Secretary. I have never even claimed to be one who can give evidence to my party's Foreign Affairs Committee, which I have never attended. I want to face facts, and the facts are brutal. The situation is very plain. The House and the country are faced once more with a grave situation, whether we shall lean over backwards to a dictator, or say that democracy, as we understand it, and our constitutional way of life, are worth defending and proceed to its defence, cost what it may.

I repeat what I have previously said, that I am proud of my country and of most of what it has done. I am ashamed of some of the things it has done, including some of the things it has done in Egypt, but, at the same time, I have some knowledge of what has been done on the credit side. The situation is plain. It is part of a big, designed plan, which has been well timed.

Mr. K. Zilliacus (Manchester, Gorton)

The timing was done by Mr. Dulles, not by Colonel Nasser. By withdrawing the Aswan Dam offer, Mr. Dulles made it necessary.

Mr. Jones

The decision about timing rested with Colonel Nasser; he dictated the time and what the issue should be.

I want to be fair all round, as I usually try to be. Had Nasser said to this country, or to the world, "I am about to nationalise the cotton industry", I could have understood it, but even then, without the people's decision, I should not have agreed. Had he said, "I am about to nationalise the breeding of camels," I should, having ridden dozens of them, have felt that there was some importance in it and might have agreed to it.

However, Nasser made his decision without reference to his own Government, without a plebiscite of his people, without seeking the opinions of those who are against what he has decided or even the opinions of those who are in favour of it, and he made his statement at the end of the day after haranguing the mob. I disagree with that. Nasser did not make his statement as an afterthought; it was made at the end of a period of thinking and design.

Let no hon. Members accuse the so-called simple ones among us of not being able to see what is going on around the world. There was the naïve suggestion from this side of the House that "It is, of course, their country." Of course it is. It is also said, "It is their Canal". It is not. Nobody took a bucketful of soil away from the cutting of the Canal. The earth is still there, on the embankment. I saw enough of it to appreciate that; and the water in the Canal has come from the seven seas—the Egyptians never put it there. The goodwill and asset value of the Canal has been built up by those who sought to improve particularly themselves but also to some extent the lot of the people living in the country where the Canal was built.

The Government of Egypt, through their spokesman, have made a very grave decision—if one can say that that Government have made the decision. Nasser, when he reads today's debate, and, in particular, when he reads that it has been found necessary in the present situation to declare what has been here declared—the right to call up Her Majesty's Reserve forces—will, I believe, think again.

I am all against war. Heaven knows, I myself saw too much of it. Five of my six six children served during the last war and they have seen enough of war, also. I am against war, but if it is that only the use of the sinews of war will prevent the use of the thug system there is only one issue. We have had to do it before, and the constitutional rights of democracy have been preserved by that use.

I am against war and, inside our own industrial life, I am against strikes and disputes. I come from an industry with a wonderful record of industrial contentment. I believe in round-the-table talks. In this issue, at the end of the day, someone, somewhere, must get round the table.

It may be that we should have foreseen a lot of what has happened. One of my hon. Friends has said that Her Majesty's Government should have gone ahead and built more tankers. I say to him that tankers have been built as fast as the available sheet steel has made it possible; and could we have had more coal from the mines of our country, there would have been less need for oil.

Let us be fair about this. The company with which I am associated produced, in the week before last, about 10,000 tons of steel, and not one pennyworth was produced except with the use of oil. Oil has been introduced into our steel industry to the tune of about 70 per cent. The steel industry could not continue for a fortnight if supplies were stopped. I believe that it has about ten days' reserve stocks. So let us have less of this political rhetoric and internal dispute between party and party, and inside parties. The preservation of our country comes first, because unless we preserve this nation there will be no parties.

Nasser's action is part of a great plan. If I may digress, I was in East Germany a few weeks ago. The plan could be seen at work there. It can be seen in Persia and it can be seen in our own factories. I do not say that the drums will roll tomorrow, but I have said repeatedly to my constituents that, in the last resort, rather than allow the constitutional, democratic way of life of our country, and all that we who live in it believe in, to slip away as the result of the instigation of one speech by one person in the world, there is only one alternative.

It is unfortunate, and to be regretted—but there it is. I pray that Her Majesty's Ministers are, at this very moment, busily engaged in getting round the table with other nations—with any other nations, be they Russians, Communists, whatever they may be—with the Egyptians, with the Sudanese. I could make a long speech about what has been going on in the Sudan in recent months, but I promised to be brief, and I wish to be fair to other hon. Members.

I hope and trust that this very brief contribution will serve to prove that there are some of us at least who have some regard for our way of life, and will not allow any damage to be done to our industrial capacity by a cessation of the passage of oil or anything else through the Canal. Please God, we will achieve security and an honourable peace, which will be recorded in history as having arisen from the debate today in this Chamber.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)

The whole House will have listened with respect to the powerful and moving speech of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones), who is so well known to us as representing one of the heavy industries of the country. There is no question that what has emerged from this debate today is not merely this country's fear of what would happen should the Canal be blocked or endangered, but a sense of unity of purpose when the country is threatened by a man who is merely a dictator and endangers the peace, not merely of the Middle East but of the whole world by his action. Of that there is no question.

Hon. Members here who have long experience of office or of Opposition have recalled the background of events, so similar, in the late 'thirties which led to the rise of another dictator who could, at one moment, have been stopped. I think that this, as The Times newspaper and a number of speakers have said, must be for us the point of no return. If we lose out here, we lose out throughout the Middle East.

There is no question but that the steps taken by the Government today are the right ones to take in this emergency. There is little need for me to pursue further the arguments which have been adduced on all sides of the House and throughout the country as to the absolute necessity of stopping Nasser here. There is only one thing one can do as far as the question of overall direction of policy goes, and that is to recommend even more to the Prime Minister and to the Government the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) in an historic speech, when he spoke not for his career, not for his position in his party, but for the interests of the country, as few men have spoken before, having such a turbulent political background as his own. It was a speech of immense courage, and one which, I hope, we will all read and study.

The problem that raises itself and which must be solved in the next few days is the problem: who will bell the cat? Who will chain the mad dog in Cairo? I know that my views have been expressed forcibly in the Sunday Express newspaper. From the spirit of that article, I do not in any way retract. I believe that if other nations will not take the lead in this matter, we ourselves must take the lead. In that newspaper article I have tried to explain what might be the consequences of taking the lead. I have tried to explain the risks, the calculated risks which must be taken.

I believe that calculated risks must be taken by us now, because the alternatives are infinitely worse than the taking of those risks. I further believe that it is necessary, if we cannot get unanimity between ourselves, the Americans and the French, for us to join hands with the French on this issue. It is not joining hands with bloodstained imperialists; it is not joining hands with men who are out merely for revenge. It is joining hands with one of the most honest Socialist Governments France has ever had.

I must say that I stand completely where M. Mollet stands on this issue. I stand, as did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in the speech which he made today, on the fact that it is impossible to accept the unfettered control of an international waterway by one man, and especially by one man who, time and time again, has broken his pledge.

This is the point of no return. It is vital that the Middle East, and the West and the world, should know that if Nasser is not prepared to accept the principle of an international authority for this waterway, of an international agency for the carrying out of that international authority, then he must firmly be told that all means will be used to enforce our will.

Mr. Zilliacus

Will it not be difficult to convince public opinion in this country that it is necessary to take unilateral action to impose an international solution? Surely international agreement should be the condition precedent upon international solution.

Mr. Fraser

We have had, unfortunately, some experience of what international conferences tend to run into. I know that the hon. Gentleman doubtless is an immense believer in the capacity of the largest Canal user, which may well be Panama, to raise the flag in the defence of international liberty.

Mr. S. Silverman

Is not that what the hon. Gentleman is doing now?

Mr. Fraser

I am quite certain that it is the duty of a great Power, especially of a Power such as we are, with our friends in the Middle East, to move with the French alone, if we are driven to it. I think that this is essentially important when one considers the interest of our friends in the Middle East, when we consider the interests of Sudan or of Jordan, or of any of these smaller countries. We know full well that their Prime Ministers, Presidents and Kings have sent telegrams of greeting to the new Saladin in Cairo, and I must say that if I were in their place I would send reams of cablegrams because, if we and the West and the world cannot stand at this point, then they know they are doomed. They know that the Sudan will go. Even the King and the brothers of the King in Saudi Arabia must know that if there is no stand by the West now they will be engulfed as well.

This issue has a special impact on the Arab world today—the issue of this country taking a firm line. The Prime Minister this afternoon said that we could not and would not tolerate this international waterway being in the hands or under the control of one Power. That is where we stand, and that is where I believe the great majority in this House of Commons stands. Let that be known to the world, but let it also be implemented, if need be, by prompt action by ourselves and the French, because at this stage in world history action alone can achieve the necessary peace.

6.24 p.m.

Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North West)

I do not intend to intrude upon the time of those who wish to raise other subjects, but I am taking advantage, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, of your having called me to make one or two points about the position—one in which, obviously, I have been interested for a very considerable time and which I have raised on numerous occasions in the House.

I think that the Prime Minister himself, in a question supplementary to one raised by me, made a very strong statement about the obstruction of ships in the Suez Canal some years ago. There is one point to which I should like to reply. The suggestion was made that this situation was a matter which arises purely from the issue of the Balfour declaration. That is utter nonsense. It is perfectly clear now that the same kind of policy and tactics is being adopted by Nasser as was adopted by Hitler at the time when he used a somewhat similar type of action in order to deceive the world.

I remember that the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), in the years preceding the last war, declared time after time how he opposed the line that was being taken in respect of the attacks which Hitler was making upon the Jewish people. He realised—and if I may say so humbly I, too, realise—that that was not really the end which Hitler was seeking. What he was after was using that as a facade in order to be able to wreak his own power upon the rest of the world; and, indeed, that is what actually happened.

Those of us in the House at that time will remember how after the first attack on Jews there came the attack on the churches, on the trade unions, and so on. The dictator was merely trying to cover what he was doing by his horrific action against one section of the German community who were innocent of anything of which he was accusing them, but who were used for that particular end as victims.

The House knows that very well, and will know very well that the action being taken by Nasser today is of a similar nature. We have been exceedingly foolish in not having realised before that the prevention—I hope the House will agree with me on this; I think that we must now from what we have seen—of ships going through the Canal by Nasser was definitely contrary to international law. That has been admitted here. It was admitted by the United Nations and the Security Council passed resolutions to that effect, but nobody took very much notice of them. In this House I, with others, tried to get that point pressed forward, because we knew that it was merely the thin end of the wedge of an action similar to the one being taken by Egypt at present.

Not only this Government but my own Government, I am afraid, overlooked this and did not realise what the ultimate results of it would be. We should have enforced by some kind of economic action, long ago, the prevention of breaches of international law. Almost to this very day—it is only a few weeks ago—the Greek ship "Panagia" reached the Suez Canal on 25th May on her way from Haifa to Eilat. She was carrying concrete for building purposes in Eilat. That ship was prevented by the Egyptian authorities from proceeding on its lawful voyage. The captain was informed that the ship would not be allowed to go through the Canal to Eilat. That constitutes a breach of paragraph 1 of the Israel-Egyptian Armistice Agreement. The ship is Greek and that means that over and above preventing Israeli ships from using the international waterway Egypt was persisting in holding up ships of other nations carrying goods to and from Israel.

Mr. Harold Davies

As one who has supported my hon. Friend's point of view for years, and who has even voted against my own party to support it, may I say that the very point which he makes today exposes the entire showmanship of this debate? Nothing was done about it because of the oil interests, and others and the party opposite made no protest. Today they protest, but they did not protest then.

Mr. Janner

My hon. Friend has gone on to another line.

Mr. Davies

That is the key of it.

Mr. Janner

I am doing my best to get through as much as I possibly can in a short time, and I am sure that if my hon. Friend wants to develop that line he will have an opportunity of doing so on some other occasion.

I listened with very great interest both to the speeches of the Prime Minister and of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon, and I was very impressed with what they said. I sincerely hope that the deliberations which are now going on between the three parties will result in some kind of satisfactory economic action which will prevent Nasser and others like him from violating international laws. I also hope that it will be realised that there is not only Nasser's action in obstructing the Canal which has to be considered; there are other violations of rights taking place in other parts of the world. I referred to one of them a few days ago, in a speech in the House. There is the attempt by Egypt and other countries to interfere with people trading because they are of a certain race or religion. This is contemptible and against all international law.

Attempts are now being made by the Egyptians and others to stop trade in which Jewish people, citizens of this country, happen to be concerned purely because they are Jewish. Here is an opportunity to point out to Nasser and others that we will not stand for that kind of action, too, which is a violation of human rights. I hope and trust that an effective solution will be found to these problems and that strong economic action will be taken. I hope, also, that in future, when similar issues arise again, we shall not sit still and say, "Just because it happens to be Israel or some other country which is affected by a breach of international law, we are not going to do anything." Once we do that, we are conceding to the blackmailer, and concession to a blackmailer never pays.

Major Legge-Bourke indicated assent.

Mr. Janner

I have said it dozens of times in this House, and I am glad to see the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), with whom I have often crossed swords in the past, agrees with me on this point. Concession to blackmail will never pay, and that has been going on, as far as Egypt is concerned, year in and year out.

If the welfare of the people in Egypt were at issue, the best thing which could happen would be for the invitation which has been extended by Ben Gurion to be accepted, for the differences to be settled by a meeting between the parties, and for Israel, with her tremendous experience of developing on proper lines, to pass the benefit of that experience to Egypt. That would help. If that experience were given and utilised for the benefit of the whole of the Middle East, it would do precisely what everybody in this House and in the civilised world wants.

I sincerely trust that the outcome of this unhappy incident will be that the eyes of the people in the Middle East—as well as ours and everybody else's—will be opened to what is of real benefit for the Middle East inhabitants instead of them being used as pawns to satisfy certain political desires on the part of leaders who do not know how to lead and who ought not to be allowed to try to lead.