§ [SIXTH DAY]
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [6th November]:
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign.
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament,—[Mr. Vane.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)
The Gracious Speeches, one proroguing Parliament and the other which we are now debating, contained many references to colonial affairs. It may, therefore, be of some value to the House if I intervene at this stage in the debate.
I should like, straight away, to make some observations on Cyprus, whose future and whose problems figure in both Gracious Speeches. Recent events in the Mediterranean have done more than any words can do to demonstrate the vital importance of Cyprus in the Middle East. Our policy continues, and must continue, to be influenced by this essential strategic need. Once law and order is restored it is our intention to press on with the introduction of a new and liberal constitution.
Yesterday, I received from Lord Radcliffe his constitutional report. The Government will study his recommendations with all possible speed. They will be published in due course and the Government will make a further announcement when those recommendations have been fully considered. I am sure that I am voicing the feelings of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House when I thank Lord Radcliffe for having so readily made available his legal and practical experience. I myself know at first hand how, for the past few months, he has devoted his whole time and thought to this task, both here and in Cyprus. I, as Secretary of State, and 755 my colleagues are deeply indebted to him for producing comprehensive proposals in so short a time. Through his help we hope to be able to offer the people of Cyprus a constitution which will give them a wide measure of self-government while safeguarding the interests of all communities.
Meanwhile, our first task must remain to bring terrorism to an end. Security forces have been maintaining relentless pressure on Grivas and his gangs. To those forces and to Sir John Harding and his administration I should like to express the sincere thanks of the Government. In recent weeks operations have been carried out in the Kyrenia hills and in the mountain ranges. They have had good results and have brought nearer the day of the destruction of E.O.K.A. and the day when the people of Cyprus can turn away from the nightmare of E.O.K.A. and set their eyes towards a brighter future of orderly political development. Then Cyprus will take her place in the natural progress of all British Colonial Territories towards self-government.
Now I should like to mention the position of Malta, to which reference was made in the Gracious Speech proroguing Parliament. The importance of Malta as a base has also been much emphasised by recent events, and the Government are very grateful for the co-operation of the Maltese Government in these matters. As Mr. Mintoff said in his Budget speech last week, the relations between our two Governments are good.
Of course, as hon. Members on both sides of the House know, there have been strains over financial and economic questions, but I hope that with the assistance of the Economic Commission, whose interim report will be ready for publication shortly, solutions can be found which will lead to a smoother economic relationship on the lines envisaged in the Report of the Round Table Conference.
§ On the question of the constitutional proposals at that Conference, to which reference was also made in the Gracious Speech proroguing Parliament, we hope to have talks shortly with the Maltese Prime Minister, talks on a draft constitutional scheme. As soon as agreement 756 has been reached on that scheme we propose to introduce the necessary legislation into this House. When the Bill has passed all its stages the Maltese Prime Minister intends to hold new general elections in Malta.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, some concern has been expressed at the fact that while reference to Malta was made in the Gracious Speech proroguing Parliament no reference to Malta was made in the Gracious Speech opening this Session. Will the right hon. Gentleman now give an assurance that the legislation on Malta will be brought before this House during this Session?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
It is not usual, when conversations have yet to take place, to announce as a definite fact that such and such legislation will be introduced, but it is our intention loyally to abide by the decision of Parliament. As soon as the draft scheme has been mutually agreed, Her Majestys Government in the United Kingdom will take the necessary action. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there was nothing sinister in the failure to refer to that in the Gracious Speech.
To turn to quite another part of the world, the Speech proroguing Parliament and the Gracious Speech which opened this Session both referred to our intentions in the Caribbean. An Order in Council will be laid before Parliament in this Session to provide for the constitution of the new British Caribbean Federation. This will cover the establishment of a Federal Government, a Federal Legislature, a Federal Supreme Court and other necessary federal authorities. It will also provide for the making of a grant up to £1 million towards the cost of the new Federal capital and provision for budgetary assistance to the Federation during its first ten years to enable it to help with grants those territories whose resources are insufficient to enable them to defray their administrative expenses.
Four key officials have already been appointed and have taken up office—the Federal Secretary, the Federal Finance Officer, the Federal Attorney-General and the Federal Establishment Officer. I know that the good wishes of all of us, irrespective of party, are with these gentlemen on the threshold of their new and thrilling responsibilities.
757 A commission appointed to make recommendations on the siting of the Federal capital, which is a very vexed and difficult problem, has now completed its task. A decision will have to be taken on the matter by the Standing Federation Committee, which will meet in January of next year. Also, as right hon. and hon. Members will remember, on problems of trade and tariffs, which caused some difficulty in our recent conference, a commission has been appointed and has already started work.
Much still remains to be done in the Caribbean. Certain measures are required to be taken locally which will have to await the coming into force of the Order in Council and the appointment of the first Governor-General, which appointment, it is hoped, it will be possible to make in the autumn of next year. Elections for the Federal Senate and the House of Representatives are to take place in the first quarter of 1958.
The British Caribbean Federation Act of this year received a very favourable reception on both sides of the House, in the country and in the Caribbean, and I know that I am expressing a hope which will be fulfilled when I say that we hope that the Order in Council, which will be laid this Session, will receive equally prompt and friendly treatment.
I pass now to East Africa, and I should like to say a few words of very great importance on Kenya. Kenya is on the edge of the Middle East whirlpool and deeply involved in all that goes on in the Suez Canal and elsewhere. As even those critics of Kenya who have been very vocal will agree, Kenya has recently shown very welcome signs of stability, of capacity for working together and of economic strength. After four years of brutal challenge to peace and orderly evolution by the Man Mau conspiracy, the shadow is now lifting.
I am very glad and thankful to say to the House that this morning, in Nairobi, Sir Evelyn Baring has announced the withdrawal of all military forces in Kenya from active operations and the assumption by the Administration and the police in Kenya of full responsibility for law and order throughout Kenya. This is very heartening news. On some other occasion I should like to say something more on what I feel about the courage, sagacity 758 and patience of the Governor and of many who have been working with him in recent years.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to convey to the House, in amplification of that statement, that, in consequence of the withdrawal of these military forces from active operations, a large number of our troops who have been serving there will now be withdrawn to this country?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That is quite another matter. I am dealing with the question of the emergency in Kenya and the use of troops in Kenya. It is not for me to say anything about the disposition of the Armed Forces of the Crown. I was saying, as to the military force, that the task will be in future for the Administration and the police, which is very heartening news.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Do we now take it that martial law has come to an end and that the police will be responsible to the law and not to any executive authority?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I do not accept what the hon. and learned Member has said. He and I have had many crossings of swords about the rôle of the police in recent years, but I am coming to other aspects of the situation in Kenya and it might be more profitable if the hon. and learned Member waited until I have finished my brief passage on Kenya. I will certainly answer any relevant questions as far as I am able.
In thanking the Governor of Kenya and all the Administration, the thanks of the House should go to General Lathbury for his skill and ingenuity which has undoubtedly brought the military operations to an earlier solution than at first seemed likely.
At the end of 1954, over 8,000 active terrorists were at large in Kenya and their butchery of fellow-Africans who refused to share their evil ways was at its height. Now the remnants left number only a few hundreds. The Africans in the Central Province of Kenya are returning with relief and energy to the constructive tasks of peace. All the problems of the emergency are not yet solved and I think that it is an answer to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) when I say that the Governor of Kenya 759 is still responsible for the peaceful return to society of over 30,000 detainees and about 10,000 people imprisoned for Mau Mau offences.
The process whereby those who have been duped by Mau Mau are released from its curse has now been effectively developed. In increasing numbers they are now returning to an outlook on life which fits them to play their part in a peaceful society to which they can be returned without causing anxiety to their law-abiding compatriots. Already, 30,000 have passed through this process by which we hope we shall continue to redeem as many as possible of the remainder until we can say with confidence that the emergency has really passed away.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give the figures of those who are still left in the camps?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I have already said that 10,000 were imprisoned for Mau Mau offences and that were about 30,000 detainees.
As to the constitutional position in Kenya, the multiracial structure of government in Kenya has stood the test of a General Election in Kenya, and has, I am thankful to say, emerged strengthened from that test. I am also very glad to be able to announce that today, in Kenya, constitutional changes have been made and published to enable the Governor to appoint one additional African Minister and one additional European Minister. He is also inviting the Liwali of the Coast, the leader of the Arabs, to participate fully in the work of the Council of Ministers.
Under these changes the Governor is also today appointing two additional African representative members to the Legislative Council, one to represent some of the peoples of the Nyanza Province and one to represent the Wakamba, whose staunchness in the emergency deserves the highest praise. This is striking proof that under our own system, and despite the ordeal through which Kenya has passed, it is possible for various races and peoples to work together for the achievement of a better life.
I should like to say a few words about Central Africa. We have, as from last 760 week, a new Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. I am sure that the House will wish to join with me in sending to the retired Prime Minister, Lord Malvern, our best wishes for a long and happy retirement. I, all my colleagues, and, I know, many others, hope that retirement is not the right word, and that public affairs, both in the Federation and in this country, will continue for many more years to benefit from his unique combination of realism and idealism, and the wisdom he has gained through long experience.
I should like, also on behalf of my colleagues, to do publicly what we have done privately, to welcome, as the new Prime Minister, Sir Roy Welensky. We wish prosperity and success to the Federation under his leadership. No doubt hon. Members will have seen what Sir Roy said recently about the Suez dispute:The Federation aligns itself fully with Australia and New Zealand in their support of the Anglo-French action. It was with a feeling of relief that I learnt of Britain's decision to take firm action.Sir Roy takes over at a time when there are difficulties, but also great possibilities and hopes in the Federation. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have urged me from time to time to pay an early visit to the Federation. I have long been anxious to do this, and I am glad to be able to say that I hope to do so during the Christmas Recess.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say a word about the emergency in Northern Rhodesia? Is it his intention to end the emergency soon or to wait for the inquiry until the emergency is over?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The hon. Gentleman has displayed an active and understandable interest in the situation in the Copperbelt, and I should like to thank him for the continued help he gives the Government and all others concerned by sensible criticism and by useful information. I hope that will not do him any harm with his colleagues.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I was about to get on to the business side of my observations on the Copperbelt, quite apart from the purely courteous ones. I know that many 761 hon. Members are uneasy about the declaration of emergency in the Copper-belt. As I told the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson), I am satisfied that the Acting Governor took the necessary steps. He is to be congratulated on taking those steps neither before they were necessary nor too late to prevent serious disorder and loss of life.
Now as to the future. It will be necessary to keep away from the Copperbelt for some time those who are seeking to foment disorders. However, I hope it will soon be possible to allow the majority of them, at any rate, to go to their villages in the rural areas.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether that announcement applies to the 70 trade union leaders who are representative of the African Mineworkers Union, and who have been deported from the Copperbelt to a distant village?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Trade union leaders, like everybody else, are subject to the ordinary processes of law and cannot be treated differently. I am conscious of the need to encourage trade union activities and we are anxious to do so, but there is always a danger in territories such as this that politics, and, indeed, sedition, can be introduced into so-called industrial organisations, with disastrous consequences for the dupes of the leaders.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
The Secretary of State knows that it has been the desire not only in this House but, for example, of my own trade union, the National Union of Mineworkers, to promote a better understanding between the two great trade unions in the Copperbelt, the Northern Rhodesian African Mine-workers' Trade Union and the Northern Rhodesian European Mineworkers' Trade Union. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that these emergency regulations are not being used to intervene in a peaceful industrial dispute? It is important that the Secretary of State should bear in mind that this causes anxiety, and will affect the attitude of people, who have been helpful both to 762 him and to his predecessors in promoting a better understanding between the two unions.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am aware of the need not only to see that happens but also that it is made clear. I can give the right hon. Gentleman a categorical assurance that there is no intention to use this, or any other power, to interfere in legitimate trade union activities or in legitimate differences between one union and another.
§ Mr. Davies
But the right hon. Gentleman has not answered the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson).
§ Mr. J. Johnson
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the only people he is now holding in Mumbwa Camp, in Northern Rhodesia, are all trade union leaders? None of them is a politician, a member of the African National Congress?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
It does not follow necessarily that by failing to belong to a political body one ceases to be engaged in a seditious purpose. I accept the view of the Governor that the people now detained should be detained in the interests of the peace of the Copperbelt and of Northern Rhodesia. But, as I have said, I hope it will be possible for the majority of them to go to their villages in the rural areas.
Now I will pass to the Far East. While the House was in recess many things happened to which references have also been made in the Gracious Speech. First, in the case of Malaya the Constitutional Commission there has completed its work over the Federation of Malaya. It is now on its way to Rome, where it will consider its recommendations and write its report. I hope to receive the report early in the new year, so that it will be possible to consider it and to work out the new constitution for the Federation during the spring, and to introduce and pass a Bill through Parliament conferring independence by the target date of August, 1957.
Meanwhile, the chief Minister of the Federation Tunku Abdul Rahman, accompanied by Colonel Lee, the Minister of Finance, is coming to London before Christmas primarily to discuss financial matters. I, and, I am sure, many of my colleagues on both sides of the House, 763 look forward to renewing the friendly contacts made with him during the London Conference at the beginning of this year.
A word about Singapore. I should like to congratulate the Chief Minister of Singapore, Mr. Lim Yew Hock, and his colleagues on their courage in tackling firmly the problem of Chinese Communist subversion in Singapore. I congratulate, also, the Singapore Ministers on the patience and firmness with which they have dealt with the riots instigated by the Communists when Ministers decided to restore discipline in the Chinese Middle Schools. Fresh from his vigorous action in this matter, Mr. Lim Yew Hock is coming to London in a few weeks' time, before Christmas, to discuss with me arrangements for a conference on the future constitution of Singapore, which it is intended should be held early in the new year.
If the House will bear with me for a few moments longer, I want to make one or two other observations about the Colonial Territories.
§ Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)
Is the Minister going to meet Mr. Lim Yew Hock when he arrives in this country next month to discuss the constitution of Singapore?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I shall meet him with enthusiasm and have many discussions with him. He is coming principally because he thinks it a good idea, as I do, that we should meet as soon as possible.
A word about Nigeria. I had hoped that the Nigerian Conference would have assembled in London on 19th September of this year. The Tribunal of Inquiry into allegations that have been made about the connection between the Premier of the Eastern Region of Nigeria and the African Continental Bank has necessitated a postponement, but, nonetheless, I am anxious to have this Conference as soon as possible.
On 28th September I suggested to the five Nigerian Governments, the Federal Government, the three Regional and the Southern Cameroons, that the Conference should meet in London late in January. All agreed to this except the Eastern Region, which suggested that the Conference 764 should be in December and should be held in Nigeria. Now the Tribunal has taken longer than was expected, through no fault of its own. It aims to finish public hearings this week.
I believe that its report is unlikely to be completed much this side of Christmas, so I cannot promise or expect publication before the new year. The Eastern Region Government have now intimated that they may not be able to commit themselves to a definite date for the Conference until the outcome of the Tribunal is known. Also, the views of at least one other Government may also be changed.
There are difficulties, of course, in arranging at short notice a conference of this magnitude concerning the destinies of 32 million people, but I very much hope that we shall soon come to an agreement on the timing of this conference. I am now in confidential communication about the position with the Governments concerned.
There is one other matter of very great importance in the west of Africa to which I know the House would like its attention directed. The Gracious Speech announced that a Bill would beintroduced early in this Session to grant independence within the Commonwealth to the Gold Coast under the name of Ghana, and it is the intention … that independence should take effect on 6th March. 1957. The Gold Coast Legislative Assembly have expressed the desire that Ghana should be an independent State within the Commonwealth.In choosing the name of Ghana for their country they have adopted the name of an ancient West African kingdom which flourished for about eight centuries, from 300 to 1100 A.D.
In taking this step we are giving effect to the wishes of the people of Ghana, as clearly expressed through their Legislative Assembly, after the issue had been put before the country in a General Election. As the House and many other well-wishers know, the Gold Coast has enjoyed the considerable measure of self-government since 1951 and virtually full internal self-government since 1954. We are now taking the final step, and the Gold Coast will be the first of the British dependent territories in tropical Africa to attain full self-government as a sovereign and independent nation.
We are taking this historic step at a moment when our nation is being charged 765 afresh with following what is called nineteenth century colonialism. I believe that the House, irrespective of party, will agree with me that this is not without significance. The way can never be easy for any new country in the modern world. There are bound to be difficulties ahead. It is our earnest hope that, through the statesmanship of their leaders, the people of the Gold Coast will be able to surmount them.
It would be idle to deny that there are differences of opinion in the Gold Coast about the constitution it is to have. Our country and our people have frequently and untruly been charged with dividing and ruling in Africa and elsewhere. Far from dividing and ruling, we have been the cement which has kept peoples together. With our withdrawal from control, the bonds which we have fashioned will have to be replaced by other bonds, which can be fashioned only by wise statesmanship.
I was very glad that the Prime Minister of the Gold Coast, Dr. Nkrumah, decided recently to meet the leaders of the Opposition parties and the Territorial Councils for a frank discussion of these differences and glad, also, that the Opposition in the Gold Coast accepted the Prime Minister's invitation. The Gold Coast Government's revised constitutional proposals resulting from these talks have just been published in the Gold Coast and were published for the first time in the London Press yesterday. Naturally, I have not as yet had time to give them proper study. I understand that they are being debated in the Legislative Assembly at Accra at the moment. We in this House will watch the progress of that debate with close and friendly attention, and it is our hope, as I know it is that of the people of the Gold Coast, that the widest possible measure of agreement will be reached.
When the discussions in the Gold Coast are completed, the changes in the constitution will be embodied in an Order in Council. It will then be the duty of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, as one of their last responsibilities for the Gold Coast, to advise Her Majesty on the form of this Order in Council.
Our own responsibilities as trustees for that country's future are coming to an end, but our advice and help on a 766 basis of equality will always be available and readily given, and I am sure that Ghana will enter on her new status with the good will of all in Great Britain.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
We all join, in every part of the House, in expressing our joy at the prospect of the Gold Coast remaining as an independent country within the Commonwealth. We also look forward to the emergence of the new Caribbean Federation. May I put this question to the right hon. Gentleman?
Both these territories will then cease to be Colonies and to be entitled to any advantage and benefit derived from the two principal methods of granting such help, through the Colonial Development and Welfare Act and the Colonial Development Corporation. We all know that it will be the desire as well as the need of the good people in Ghana and in the Caribbean to receive help of all kinds afterwards, and it will be our desire to help them. Are the Government considering what amending legislation or new legislation may be desirable, so that we may be able to continue to give the help which they require? Could the Secretary of State make a statement on that before we discuss the Bill granting independence to the Gold Coast?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I will certainly do my best to make such a statement. We are, of course, giving attention to that matter. As I expressly said a few moments ago, in the case of the Caribbean Federation we have engaged for ten years to give budgetary assistance to the Federation. I recognise that a general problem exists here, and the Government are certainly not unmindful of it.
While we have been guiding and directing the tide of nationalism in British Colonies and not running counter to it, we have been subjected to monstrous charges overseas, and a good deal of ignorance even at home. What we have been engaged in doing is in vivid contrast to the continual and increased suppression of liberty and the economic servitude imposed by Soviet imperialism on its subject peoples. The Soviets are always striving to enlarge the scope, the sphere and the extent of their empire, not least in the Middle East.
If I may, I should like to end with one or two general observations about the 767 Middle East. I am very deeply aware that the work in which we are engaged, and to which we have honourably set our hand, could easily be undone if a conflagration should once more challenge the world. It must, therefore, be our duty at every stage to anticipate events and, where troubles do break out, to take resolute action to stop small troubles from growing into great ones. From all the controversy aroused by the Government's action in the Middle East there has emerged a growing understanding that whereas the object of the Anglo-French intervention was to stop a war which already existed from spreading, other forces were at work in the Arab world to exploit the situation in the interests of Soviet imperialism. Indeed, the area of our debate over these past ten days has imperceptibly widened as the realisation of the basic issues has grown.
Today, very many people who began by talking as though we were concerned solely with a local conflict—[HON. MEMBERS: "The Government started that."]—have found themselves, however reluctantly, at grips with the really vital problem of our time. The effect of our action, first and foremost, has been the cease-fire. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No one can deny that.
It has also uncovered the extent of Russian penetration and designs. It is clear that Egypt was already deep in the toils, so far committed by her dealings with the Soviets that she could not draw back. We know, from Colonel Nasser's utterances and from innumerable other indications, that Egypt planned to establish a hegemony over her neighbours. But Egypt was no longer herself a free agent. The domination of the area would have fallen, in practice, into the hands of the Soviet Union.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
All this depended, however, upon the immobilisation of the United Nations and the belief that Britain and France would hesitate to act without prior international sanction. Such hesitation, in fact, was taken for granted. Instead—and this is now generally admitted—the Anglo-French action has stimulated the creation of a 768 United Nations Police Force. This, in itself, can be of incalculable benefit for the future.
The House will have heard something, in recent days, about Soviet volunteers—a favourite old story, but a true one; a favourite Communist method of pursuing hostilities. The House will have observed once again that the Soviet Union threaten that volunteers are to be brought into Egypt. We had this before, at the time of Colonel Nasser's seizure of the Canal, and now the threat is repeated. Just as there was an intervention of the Communist Chinese volunteers in the Korean War and, before that, similar movements in the Greek civil war, this technique—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Which side was I on? Responsible, as I am, for Gibraltar affairs—and I am not alone in this country in thinking as I do—I prefer to have Franco on the other side than the Soviet Union.
This technique of intervention, first by arms and then by volunteers, is deeply disturbing, in the sense that it attempts to clothe with legality the employment of private armies whose aim, in fact, is to lay their hold on the States that they are professing to assist. That has been going on in Egypt and it may now be going on in Syria. Without the external Communist intervention the wars in Greece and Korea would have been immeasurably shortened. By introducing the same possibility in the Middle East Russia merely provides irrefutable evidence that this so-called episode in Egypt is not an episode at all; on the contrary, it is a calculated development by the Soviet Union in a continuous process, of infiltration at the least, and of conquest at the most.
All this brings us back to the inexorable truth. I would commend hon. Members to read this week's Time and Tide, in which Professor Gilbert Murray had some significant things to say. Had the Professor taken another view his quotations 769 would have been on the lips of every hon. Member opposite. Long before most of them were born he was proselytizing for the League of Nations and the League of Nations Union. This is what he said:The rather wild confusion into which people have fallen about the Middle Eastern situation is, I think, due to two main causes. First, it is strictly a question of international law and our system of international law is not complete. The United Nations was intended to have a means of enforcing the law; it has no such means.He went on to speak of the consequences of the local war spreading, and said:Such a danger, the Prime Minister saw, must be stopped instantly and, since the United Nations has no instrument, it must be stopped, however irregularly, by those nations who can act at once.
§ Mr. Leerose—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I must develop this argument before I give way.
Of course, Professor Gilbert Murray is right. The United Nations has had no such instrument. We have now created an opportunity for the United Nations to have such an instrument. Hon. Members may say that this could not have been foreseen at the time when Her Majesty's Government and the French Government made their decision to intervene. They took upon themselves responsibilities which, had the international force existed at that time, it would have been for such a force to assume.
But what could be foreseen at that time was that the United Nations would not act effectively. It had no forces at its disposal, and it has been powerless in the past to enforce the many resolutions dealing with the Middle East. The action which we took has completely altered that situation. We and the French have immediately declared our willingness to admit without delay United Nations observers and to hand over our responsibilities to an international force. This is a practical opportunity which has never occurred before to the United Nations.
§ Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can make it clear just what are the reasons upon which he was wishing us to understand that the United Nations might have intervened at the time the Anglo-French forces went in, had such a United Nations force existed.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Would not it have been the purpose of such a force? It is a grim prospect for the future if the right hon. Gentleman really means that had there been a United Nations force it would not have regarded it as one of its duties to have intervened to stop the small war becoming a big one.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why, if the British Government felt that it was desirable from the start that there should be a United Nations force, they said nothing about it at all?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
No—not until the Thursday. The hostilities began on the Monday and the ultimatum was given on the Tuesday. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why, if that was the Government's view, they did not support the Resolution at the Security Council instead of vetoing it, and, having supported it—which would have meant that it would have been carried unanimously—then proposed that there should be a United Nations force to which we could contribute, in order to see that the Resolution was carried out?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will remember that at the very first moment that the United Nations took any practical action about it we ourselves took practical action to show our readiness. We took the only practical steps. I have no doubt whatsoever that, historically, it will be recognised that there never would have been an international force of any kind but for the action that we took. [Interruption] There are two sides to many questions, and the overwhelming majority of people are coming round to our way of thinking.
In conclusion, I should like to pass to the theme of Hungary. Many people have noticed that there has been an attempt to compare what has happened in the Middle East with what has happened in Hungary. I will refrain from making observations about the leading article in today's Daily Herald, because I cannot believe that decent people who read it will do other than deeply resent it, and particularly its concluding paragraph. In Hungary, repeated requests by the United Nations that its observers should be allowed to enter the country have been 771 refused, while we have straight away said that we should be ready to have United Nations observers and a United Nations force.
I will tell the House—lest, in its passionate concentration on Parliamentary debate, it has not had the time or the inclination to read it—what the neutral Press has been saying. From Sweden—a peace-loving and freedom-loving country—there is a flood of comment to the effect that no possible comparison can be drawn between our intervention to stop a war and Russian intervention, which must, in any event, have ben planned before the Suez operation began, to crush a nation.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I should certainly not recommend the right hon. Gentleman for the post of Minister of Defence if, however unlikely it is, the other side won an Election.
From Switzerland, in its recent issue, the Journal de Geneve—
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)rose—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I must, on different occasions, have given way a hundred times to the hon. Member, but I am not prepared to do so on this occason. The Journal de Geneve said:As far as France and Great Britain are concerned it is conceivable in law, possible in fact, and acceptable in principle that the United Nations take over the police operation which is aimed at separating the belligerents and protecting the Suez Canal. As far as the Soviet Union is concerned it is inconceivable in law, impossible in fact and unacceptable in principle that the United Nations should take over the military operation which has just been launched against the Hungarian people.Nor should anybody imagine that Communist plans are laid at short notice, or are hastily modified or improvised. What has happened in Hungary is the reaction to events in Poland and Eastern Germany, and the stirrings of independence among the satellite nations. Soviet counteraction in Hungary would not have been restrained or deflected by events in the outside world. Indeed, if an example is needed of long and careful planning by the Soviet, one has only to look at the Middle East itself.
We can now more clearly establish the extent to which Soviet arms and intrigue 772 have penetrated the area. It is increasingly clear, if only from Soviet anger, that our action there, directed as it was to stop the fighting and successful as it was in stopping the fighting, has also disrupted some carefully laid Soviet plans. These stem from the large imports of Soviet war material into Egypt since the beginning of last year—and also into Syria—and are now being followed by Communist infiiltration.
The House has spent many very anxious, and often hectic, hours on Suez. I hope that hon. Members are following with care the unmistakable signs, such as I have quoted, of a growing understanding in neutral nations that are not at this time involved in this dispute. I have quoted from Sweden and Switzerland. Perhaps I can end with quotations from Italy. The Corriere della Sera said:The truth is that fighting has ceased because the police action undertaken by Britain and France has succeeded.The Messaggero said:Events have entirely justified Anglo-French action.Is it too much to hope that hon. Members opposite, who claim to be an alternative Government, should also be able to step aside for one moment and take a long and not a party view?
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)rose—
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
On a point of order. Before the Colonial Secretary sits down, Mr. Speaker, could I put to him the point which he would not allow me to put a moment or two ago? He has given a vague and utterly misleading account of the reaction of—
§ Mr. Speaker
What is the point of order? I thought the hon. Member was raising one last time, but there was no point of order in that.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
May I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker? How can we get the Secretary of State for the Colonies to substantiate and give his authority for the utterly misleading impressions given by him of the European Press, particularly the Swedish Press?
§ Mr. Speaker
I hope there will be an opportunity for hon. Members of Her Majesty's Opposition to speak, in which case we shall no doubt hear any weak points of the previous statement carefully gone into; but it must be done in order by consecutive speeches.
§ Mr. Robens
I gather from the observations of the Colonial Secretary that he was appealing for some unity in this matter. I should like to suggest that if, in fact, that was the case and the Government wanted some unity and some calm thought on this matter, the last person they should have put up to speak was the right hon. Gentleman.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not follow him in what he had to say about the Colonies. I have no doubt that many of my hon. Friends who have taken a very special interest in the Colonies will, if they succeed in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, deal with many of the points that he has raised. I propose to confine myself to the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. I had prepared my own speech in the anticipation that the Prime Minister was to open the debate. Indeed, in the Press and over the radio it was announced that such would be the case. However, the Colonial Secretary has done that for him.
The events in these last fourteen days have, of course, moved very rapidly since the Prime Minister announced in this House the Franco-British ultimatum to Egypt and Israel after the invasion of Egyptian territory the night before. During that time a large number of reasons have been given by the Government for their action, and, indeed, the right hon. Gentleman advanced some more today. The new one, the Russian threat, was first advanced, I think, on Thursday by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. He said that the Egyptians had been armed to the teeth by the Russians and that there was a deep-laid Russian plot, using Nasser as its instrument, to take over the Middle East. The claim is that this plot existed before the Anglo-French intervention.
§ Mr. Robens
Let us consider this for a moment. If the Government were aware of this plot, a sensational threat to 774 peace involving the whole of the West, did they disclose it to the Americans? Did they disclose it to the Commonwealth, or did they keep it a fast secret to themselves? Surely, the first thing they should have done, in view of all that they have said, and especially in view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said this afternoon, was to consult America as the other signatory to the Tripartite Agreement.
Secondly, if the Government had evidence of this deep-laid plot which was to bring turmoil to the Middle East, surely they should have raised the matter at the United Nations as a possible threat to peace and brought world opinion to bear upon this Russian plot which they have now discovered. Surely, if they believed that there was this tremendous danger, the one thing above all that they had to keep in mind was the complete unity between ourselves and our most powerful ally.
Now about the Russian arms. Was this really a surprise to the Government? The Government surely cannot claim that they were ignorant of the Russian arms supplied to Egypt. Time and time again, week in and week out, month in and month out, the Government have been asked from these benches about supplying quality arms to Israel to match the Russian arms being supplied to the Egyptians. Indeed, in the debate on 24lh January, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition gave a very clear warning to the Government of the possible consequence of their refusal to give quality arms to Israel to match the Russian arms going into Egypt. He said:The result is that two grave dangers emerge. The first, which is the most obvious one, is that the Arabs, whose feelings on this matter we know, are bound now to be encouraged to hope that in the not very distant future they will have their revenge and will have their opportunity to eliminate Israel. The second danger is that the Israelis, realising that the balance is tilted against them and will be more and more tilted, will take the opportunity while things are not so bad from their point of view to go in for preventive action."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 24th January, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 68.]That, of course, is precisely what has happened.
Therefore, it is no use at this late hour for the Government to find as a reason for their extraordinary behaviour in waging war on Egypt the fact that 775 Russian arms have been pouring into Egypt. The facts have been well known since the first revelation of the Czech arms deal with Egypt in September last year. What the House was led by the Government to believe was, of course, exactly the opposite. We were led by the Government to believe that the balance of arms was in favour of the Israelis and that the Tripartite Declaration was a firm guarantee of security. On 12th December the Prime Minister said:Israel is not, in my belief, at a military disadvantage today in relation to any Arab State, or, indeed, to any combination of Arab States who are on her frontier. I think that that is about a true estimate of the situation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1955; Vol. 547, c. 964.]On 24th January the Foreign Secretary said in a debate:It is frequently contended that Israel has been left in a position of inferiority. That is not so. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in winding-up the debate on 12th December …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th January, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 160.]The right hon. and learned Gentleman then quoted the words I have just quoted. I wish to ask the Prime Minister when he came to the conclusion that the Tripartite Declaration did not cover the position of Egypt. He told us on 30th October it was when he was negotiating for the agreement on the Canal Base in 1954. This is what he said:I should have informed the House—I should have recollected before, because I have had something to do with those negotiations—that when we were negotiating for the agreement on the Canal Base in 1954"—I hope hon. Members will remember that date—… Egypt insisted on an agreed interpretation of the Treaty. Hon. Members will find that on the back of the White Paper which was published at the time the Treaty was issued.In that agreed interpretation Egypt insisted specifically on making it clear that we would not have the right to reactivate the base in the event of an attack on Egypt, or any other Arab State, by Israel. The only implication of that must surely be that Egypt did not want the three-Power Declaration to apply to her in respect of a conflict with Israel."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October, 1956; Vol. 558, c. 1346.]That was not the implication. The implication which was clear was that the Egyptians were not going to have the base reactivated if there was a war with 776 Israel. It had nothing to do with the Tripartite Declaration at all, yet on 30th October the Prime Minister said that in those negotiations with which he had a great deal to do he recollected the point so clearly and, apparently, it was from that date that he came to the conclusion that the Tripartite Declaration no longer covered Egypt.
The Prime Minister also told us in the same debate that the Egyptian Foreign Secretary had said that the Tripartite Declaration was a unilateral declaration and gave rise to no contractual obligation. Of course the Tripartite Declaration was a unilateral declaration made by the U.S.A., France and ourselves. Of course we did not consult the Arab States or the State of Israel when those discussions took place in Washington and the Tripartite Declaration was made, but that did not invalidate the Declaration. It was an instrument designed by the three Powers to try to bring some peace and stability to the Middle East.
It was designed to do two specific things—to maintain a fair balance of arms and to give an absolute, unqualified assurance that the armistice frontiers would be guaranteed by those three Powers and action would be taken if those frontiers were violated. The Prime Minister now excuses his non-use of the Tripartite Declaration which let him out of consulting the Americans on the ground that from 1954 onwards he had come to the conclusion that the Tripartite Declaration did not apply to Egypt. I want him, therefore, to explain some of the statements he has made in this House. On 12th December last year the Prime Minister said:As I have said a great many times before, and I repeat it now, we stand with our allies and are ready to carry out generally with our allies the terms of the Declaration, sharing full responsibility with our co-signatories for any action that would be taken. That would be action to assist Israel if she were attacked or action to assist an Arab country if she were attacked by Israel. That is the position, and I hope it is now clear enough for the whole House to understand."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 12th December, 1955; Vol. 547, c. 962–3.]That is exactly what we did understand, and we also understood that Egypt was an Arab State.
We need not rely on that one unqualified assurance and interpretation of the Tripartite Declaration from the Prime 777 Minister. He got cross with us from time to time, as did the Foreign Secretary, because we had constantly asked him whether he stood by the Tripartite Declaration or not, and on 14th February this year, in reply to an interruption, he said:Yes, Sir; the declaration of 1950 is wholly in harmony with the terms of the United Nations Charter. In fact, so far as I know. I have never hitherto heard anybody cast doubt on that fact … the right hon. Gentleman knows well that our position has been, remains and will be that we will carry out the terms of the 1950 Declaration. I do not think I can possibly go beyond that or put a gloss upon it"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1956; Vol. 548. c. 2168.]
§ Mr. Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)rose—
§ Mr. Robens
May I be allowed to finish this passage? I have one more important quotation to show that those statements were obviously at variance with the thinking of the Prime Minister, the explanation he gave us last week about the Tripartite Declaration and the reason he took no action under it in the recent crisis. This is what the right hon. Gentleman said in March of this year. He quoted the relevant section of the Washington Declaration and then said:The Tripartite Declaration of 25th May. 1950, provides for action both inside and outside the United Nations in the event of the use of force or threat of force or of preparations to violate the frontier or armistice lines. We are bound to recognise that there is now increased danger. Accordingly we have made arrangements for joint discussions as to the nature of the action which we should take in such an event."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March. 1956; Vol. 549, c. 2231.]Seven months after the Prime Minister had confirmed that arrangements had been made for joint discussions, the event for which the Americans, the French and the British had provided occurred. The armistice frontier between Egypt and Israel was violated on a major scale and, despite all these declarations, there was no consultation with the United States of America. What was even more amazing was that the Prime Minister explained at that moment that he had for two years decided that it was not going to apply in the case of an attack on Egypt.
I would ask the Prime Minister what happens now to the Tripartite Declaration? Are we no longer bound by it? Is it scrapped?
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Is the right hon. Member not saying, in effect, that under the Tripartite Declaration he and his hon. and right hon. Friends would have gone to war against Israel and with Egypt?
§ Mr. Robens
We stood four-square behind the Tripartite Declaration. We would have carried out the arrangements made with the United States and France, which were provided for by the Prime Minister on his visit to Washington. We would have had discussions with the signatories to the Tripartite Declaration.
We have been told, as one of the reasons for there not being any discussions, that there was not time. It is a fair point to make. There are occasions when there is no time to carry out obligations that we have undertaken and when we act and talk afterwards. Over the week-end I looked at this reason that the Prime Minister has given to us, and I compared what had been happening in this House with what happened at the United Nations. For this purpose I took account of the lag between New York time and the time in London. I brought them both to Greenwich mean time. They make a very interesting table of events indeed.
On Tuesday, 30th October, at four o'clock Greenwich mean time, the Security Council met to discuss the letter which had been produced by the United States delegate regarding steps for the immediate cessation of military action in Egypt. At half-past four in this House, half an hour later, the Prime Minister announced the Anglo-French ultimatum. Fifteen minutes later, in New York, Sir Pierson Dixon, the British delegate, told the Security Council that he was expecting a statement from the Prime Minister, that he did not know what would be in it, and that when he was made aware of the contents of the statement he would circulate it to members of the Security Council.
Ten minutes after that, at four fifty-five approximately, the Russian delegate, Mr. Sobolev, was able to read an Associated Press report summarising the Prime Minister's statement. At ten minutes past six the Security Council rose. It arranged to meet again at nine o'clock that night. At nine o'clock Sir Pierson Dixon immediately read the 779 operative points from the Prime Minister's statement. At half-past nine, Mr. Cabot Lodge introduced the United States Resolution, the text of which had been circulated before that time to all members of the Security Council.
This point is important. At nine-thirty, Mr. Cabot Lodge introduces the United States Resolution, of which the text has been circulated beforehand. At nine-thirty-four in this House, on behalf of Members on these benches, I asked the Prime Minister to stay his hand. I share with many hon. Members a lack of desire to quote my own speeches, but I hope to be forgiven for doing so now. I said:I therefore beg and urge the Prime Minister not to divide the House. He can lose nothing by postponing this decision for forty-eight hours, by which time the Security Council will have made its decision. I plead with him to do it. The Foreign Secretary has the opportunity to do that now, to keep this country united, and not have a declaration of war—because that is what this ultimatum will mean—with half of this House and half the country against the action proposed to be taken.That plea was made a few moments after the Security Council was beginning to consider the United States Resolution.
A few moments after that, as we were approaching ten o'clock, the Foreign Secretary said:In the present international system, where the Security Council is subject to the veto, there must be the right for individual countries to intervene in an emergency to take action to defend their own nationals and their own interests…. The suggestion is made that we should agree to defer any action until the conclusion of the Security Council debate. That is an undertaking which I believe it is quite impossible and impracticable for any Government to give."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October, 1956; Vol. 558, c. 1377, 1381 and 1382.]Two hours later, Britain along with France vetoed the United States Resolution. The only other Commonwealth member of the Security Council, Australia, abstained. This time-table proves beyond doubt that while the Foreign Secretary was on his feet here complaining about the use of the veto, he or the Government had instructed or were about to instruct our delegate in the Security Council to veto that American Resolution.
§ Mr. Robens
Why did not the British Government accept the Resolution: which 780 would have been carried unanimously, and immediately then propose the international United Nations force to see that it was carried out? They could have offered contingents of British, French and, indeed, American forces, because the American Fleet was in the Mediterranean and could have been the spearhead of the vanguard of those forces?
§ Mr. Robens
The Prime Minister ignored the pleas in this House and took his line because he wanted to ride on the backs of the Israelis and carry out the military action which he was denied in August because of public opinion.
Can the Prime Minister not understand that, when people have considered all these events and declarations, the timetable and so on, this ugly rumour of collusion is gaining ground in the capitals of the world? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I say that this ugly rumour is gaining ground in the capitals of the world. On Sunday there was an article in the Observer headed "The Question of Collusion." I want to quote only three small paragraphs from it, which set out the allegations made against the British Government. They are as follows:Last week Chalmers Roberts, the Diplomatic Correspondent of the Washington Post, wrote that 'the Eden Government deliberately set out to mislead the United States.' His charge was that at their meeting in Paris on October 16 the French Prime Minister and Foreign Minister 'sold' to Sir Anthony Eden and Mr. Selwyn Lloyd a plan of intervention which the former had already worked out with the Israelis.That is a grave charge. Later on, the article says:Researches in the capitals concerned show that the charge of Anglo-French collusion with Israel contained in this account is supported by a priori evidence. What follows is not a historian's judgment but is based on evidence available at present.Finally is this statement:On October 26 a number of senior Israeli officers arrived in Paris. On the same date American intelligence agencies detected a marked rise in the level of official cable and wireless traffic between Paris and Tel Aviv. It was on the basis of this information, rather than reports that Israel was continuing to mobilise after the threat of Iraq's reinforcement of Jordan had been dropped, that President Eisenhower issued his warnings of October 27 and 28 to Mr. Ben-Gurion.781 I understand that the Government deny these charges, but I repeat that they are serious and grave charges. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) suggested the other day that there should be a Select Committee or a Royal Commission to inquire into these matters. If these charges are unfounded, the Government in their own interests and for the fair name of Britain should agree to his proposals. If the Government are completely innocent of these charges, they have everything to gain and nothing to lose by a thorough investigation. Another matter about which we might be told something—
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that matter, I think it would enhance his own reputation if he said categorically whether he believes these charges are true or not.
§ Mr. Robens
My answer to the hon. Gentlemon is that I do not know. That is why I urge the Government to have this investigation, so that we shall all know the truth.
I was saying that there is another matter to which we might have some answers to questions asked in this House. For example, about the broadcast from the Supreme Command to Egypt on 4th November, and also about the content of the leaflets dropped over Port Said. The broadcast and the leaflets were designed to tell the Egyptians that they were being bombed and driven from their homes because they had committed a sin, the sin being that they had believed the lies of and had confidence in Colonel Nasser. That is a new war aim which we have not heard in this House from the Prime Minister.
We should have more answers to these questions, and I hope that the Lord Privy Seal, who I understand is to reply for the Government tonight, will give answers, not only to these questions, but to many questions which have been asked in these endless debates and statements we have had during the last fourteen days.
Let us have a look at the balance-sheet. What have we gained and what have we lost by the action which we have taken? Well, first the Government claim, on the 782 credit side, that they stopped the war and separated the combatants.
§ Mr. Robens
But throughout the Arab States, the whole of the Arab States, the Arabs do not believe that at all. They believe that it was Russian intervention and the threat of Russian rockets on Britain which stopped the war. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman may laugh as much as he likes, but that is what the Arabs believe. Loyal members of the United Nations believe that it was the decision of the United Nations that stopped the war. I say this to the Prime Minister. Outside the supporters of his party and his Government, there is no praise given to this country, to Britain, for having stopped the war at all.
What is the other claim that the Government make for their action? They claim that their military action produced a United Nations police force. This is an interesting claim, because had they decided that one day it was necessary to take military action to secure a United Nations police force, one would have thought that at some time or other they might have mentioned the matter in the United Nations. Yesterday, in answer to a question from one of my hon. Friends, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs revealed that at no time had the British Government raised the question of a police force at the United Nations. The most that the Joint Under-Secretary would say was what the Foreign Secretary has said from time to time; that he had had one or two private conversations with the Secretary-General and so on. But at no time, such was the desire of the British Government to have a United Nations police force—with people being slaughtered and war waged and we branded as an aggressor—was it thought worthy of mentioning in the United Nations.
Of course, they could have had a police force. In January of this year Colonel Nasser offered to withdraw his troops a kilometre from the frontier if the Israelis would do the same; and he offered to agree to a United Nations force—either an extension of General Burns' force or some other—occupying that area. The Foreign Secretary knew about this. The British Ambassador in 783 Cairo knew about it. They did nothing about it. At no time, either through diplomatic action or at the United Nations, did they seize that valuable opportunity in January of this year to have a demilitarised zone in the Gaza Strip with a United Nations police force which would have stopped the last outbreak of hostilities. So I think that the two claims the Government made are not claims worthy for the great mass of the people of this country to accept.
What have we on the other side of the balance-sheet? Britain's name has been dishonoured. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, indeed. She has broken her solemn pledge as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. The Tripartite Declaration has been destroyed, and it will be a long time before the United States Government ever put a signature alongside Britain to another declaration of that kind. Our action has split the nation and split the Commonwealth. Despite the fact that one of the aims of the Government was to ensure the continued and unfettered operation of the Suez Canal, it is blocked; and many weeks, possibly many months, will elapse before it is open to traffic once again.
Our oil supplies have been jeopardised, not only because the tankers must now go round the Cape, but because the pumping stations and pipelines have been destroyed. At a time when the country's economic position is difficult enough, this action places an additional burden and strain upon it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) dealt with this in great detail yesterday. To say the least, we have strained the Atlantic Alliance and the effects upon N.A.T.O. have yet to be seen.
The Bagdad Pact was one of the two pillars on which rested the Government's Middle East policy. We all remember how from that Dispatch Box both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister and Under-Secretaries have said that the basis of their Middle East policy was the Bagdad Pact and the Tripartite Agreement. Yet the Bagdad Powers meet without us and censure us for our action. The right hon. Gentleman talked about Russian influence in the Middle East. I say that we can put on this side of the balance-sheet that this action has been an open invitation to 784 the U.S.S.R. to come right into the Middle East. The Arabs regard the Russians as their friends; they regard us as their enemies. We have created a legacy of hatred among the Arab States that may not be dispelled in our lifetime. We have aroused deep mistrust throughout Asia and the Colonies, which is probably the worst disaster to British prestige that this country has ever had.
What of the future? The most serious development of all in my opinion is the great opportunity presented to Russia to acquire for herself more political influence in the Arab States than was the case before the Anglo-French attack on Egypt. Two possibilities emerge from this—serious ones, grave ones for us. The first is the arming of the Arab States for a war of revenge with Russian volunteers. The second one is slower; it is the highly dangerous menace of the political influence of Russia throughout the whole of the Middle East.
Syria has gone, Jordon is on the way. Iraq? We can put a question mark behind Iraq because she holds the key position, and who will be so bold as to say where Iraq will stand in a few weeks' time? Clearly, the animosities and hatred between Jews and Arabs are more inflamed than before, and, what is worse, British and French influence to act as peacemakers has gone completely. Alone among the Western Powers with any prestige or ability to influence affairs remains the United States, and if we were wise we would urge the United States of America and India, through the United Nations, to help to solve these terrible problems of the Middle East.
The international police force should move away as soon as possible from the Canal Zone. It should go into the Sinai Peninsula as soon as it is practicable and, finally, take up its position along the frontiers. Then, free from the threat of force on the Canal Zone, the Canal Users should take up negotiations from where they were abrupty terminated and again, through the United Nations, the six principles which both sides accepted in the operation of the Canal should be included in an agreement within the spirit of the 1888 Convention. All this will be a long and painful process. But to move from an atmosphere of war, hate and suspicion to conciliation, peace and friendship is a long and hard road.
785 I want to conclude with a few words about the United Nations and the Charter, especially in relation to the use of force. As we have pointed out so frequently from these benches in the last few months, force is permitted in the Charter in self-defence or collective defence against armed attack. If we or our allies were the subject of such an attack, we could justifiably use force and continue to do so unless or until we were told to stop by the United Nations. If we were not told to stop, then force would continue to be legitimate.
Force is also permitted under the Charter if the Security Council or the Assembly by a two-thirds majority specifically permits or recommends it. But there is nothing whatever in the Charter which permits a country to decide on its own to wage a preventive war. Those who drafted the Charter saw quite clearly that if preventive wars were made legitimate—if, in short, force was allowed other than in self-defence against armed attack—it would make nonsense of the basic ideas of the United Nations; for, throughout history, every aggressor has always claimed that his war was a preventive war. Nor is there anything in the Charter which permits nations to decide on their own that they may take what they please to call police action. The reason for this omission is exactly the same. For if nations were allowed to decide on their own to take police action, any State could use this as justification for any act of aggression.
When the right hon. Gentleman spoke about Hungary today, let us remember that if we can claim police action there are others ready to seize that same excuse for what they do themselves. The essence of all this is that, under the Charter, nations are not allowed to decide for themselves these crucial issues of peace and war except in self-defence. That is what hon. Members opposite never seem to understand. The essential feature of the United Nations Charter is that the members undertake to accept collective decisions and that, failing such decisions, they may use force only in self-defence.
My final word is this. Do not imagine that we can divorce either the Atlantic Alliance and N.A.T.O. or the Commonwealth from these basic ideas. Both those associations so precious to us, so vital to 786 us for our own security, rest fundamentally not just upon common interests, not even just upon common faith in democracy, though these are important, but also upon the acceptance of the ideals of the United Nations of which I have been speaking.
This is the heart of our charge against the Government. They abandoned these ideals and, for all the pathetic, desperate, contradictory series of excuses given almost day by day, they cannot deny that, in the opinion of the world, they have broken with that fundamental faith. In doing so, they struck the heaviest blows at the Atlantic Alliance and the Commonwealth. It is because the Government abandoned these principles that the divisions in the Commonwealth, with our allies and in the country have come about. I tell the Prime Minister, with all the sincerity that I possess, that it is only by returning to them and abiding by them that unity can ever be restored.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
I should like to begin by making one or two remarks about some of the things which have just been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), although I hope that later in the course of my more general argument I may return to some others.
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman's recommendation of the suggested Royal Commission was really not very helpful. However much any of us may think that such suggestions, at times when we believe the Government to be vulnerable, are useful as part of Parliamentary warfare, it is very difficult to believe that especially after the last fortnight of what the right hon. Gentleman called "these endless debates"—[Interruption.] I shall be very grateful if the right hon. Gentleman, even if he cannot bear to listen to me—I bore to listen to him; that was a test but I did it—will not talk too loudly.
I confess to the House that I have never been so frightened of making a speech as I am at this moment. I agree wholly with the right hon. Gentleman that, terrible things have happened in these last six or eight weeks, I agree wholly with him that terrible things are happening now, and I agree wholly with him that none of us dares guess how much more terrible things might happen soon. Thus 787 it is very difficult to feel absolutely certain that one is so well inspired that one may be sure by speaking in this House that one will do good, still more difficult to be sure that one will not do harm.
I agreed with the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) when he said that we are all in this now. We are all in it, not merely because we shall all share the consequences but because we all share the blame. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Let anybody who wishes to jeer at me for saying that search his conscience and be quite sure how much of the blame he shares.
To suggest that at this moment Her Majesty's Government would be likely to be either better advised or more effective if there were either a Select Committee or a Royal Commission looking into the events of the past few weeks seems to me to show a most careless ignorance of the way great things happen. [HON. MEMBERS: "Great things? "] Yes. Great things are happening; it may be good or ill, but they are great. It seems to me to show the most careless ignorance of the way such things happen to make that suggestion.
It also seems to me to show a pretty careless ignorance to urge, as the right hon. Gentleman did towards the end of his remarks, if I understood him aright, that India and someone else who I have forgotten should as quickly as possible be put in charge of the Canal Zone. Why not put them in charge of Hungary? Why not? Mr. Krishna Menon has shown an interest in that country. There could not be a more foolish suggestion than that made by the right hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] I must warn the House that if I feel like it I am going on today and no amount of cheering or jeering or anything else from the other side of the House will affect that except that the more noise hon. Members opposite make the longer I shall speak.
I turn to the question of the legitimacy of force in self-defence under the United Nations. It is a most difficult problem. We all know that it is a most difficult problem in private affairs and in criminal affairs, and it is much more difficult in public affairs, where Governments are not engaged in defending themselves. They are engaged, according to what poor lights they have—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, 788 hear."]—yes, the poor lights they have, not of course the good lights which shadow Foreign Secretaries have; they are engaged in trying to defend whatever millions of people may have been, rightly or wrongly, entrusted to them. It is the most difficult political question in the world.
Whatever else is said about international law, one thing must be admitted. Incidentally, I happen to know a lot of distinguished international lawyers from the very top brass downwards, and I have done the best I can to understand this matter from the point of view of international law. I am bound to say that I have found it difficult. I have found it so difficult that I could hardly imagine a Cabinet in which the majority of them would understand it and on which the bulk would be able to agree about it. Whatever else may be said about international law, there is this to be said: that in matters of vital emergency there is no time to get it reduced to easily accessible effectiveness except in the very simplest cases. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, and some in the country, who have been shooting off their mouths about international law—
§ Mr. Pickthorn
That is a phrase I should expect the hon. Member to know. As I was saying, those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen had better pause and consider it. Some have said quite a lot about the Kellogg Pact. Incidentally, anybody who knows anything about the way in which the Kellogg Pact came into existence must find it very difficult to speak of it with respect. Nevertheless, the Kellogg Pact has been appealed to as a kind of Old Testament in this matter. But the one thing of this sort about which I feel fairly certain is this—that under the Kellogg Pact everything that we have done would have counted as self-defence, for reservations at that time made it plain that if things of this sort had to be done they would count as self-defence.
I return to the right hon. Gentleman's words about "these endless debates". I agreed with all those three words except the last. I hope the House will acquit me of any temptation to lecture the House or to be superior—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I hope so—and I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will acquit me 789 of any intention, and I have absolutely none, of throwing any aspersions upon the Chair. But there is one thing about what has happened during the last fortnight which I should like to say, perhaps quite wrongly; and anyway, if I am right, perhaps I am the wrong person to say it. But I have been listening so long. That is why I did not speak until today. I have felt it necessary that at some stage someone should say this.
I am no very great friend of Oliver Cromwell and I have always thought it more than slightly absurd that we should have effigies of him about this place. This last fortnight, however, I have seen, I think, not why our predecessors put him there perhaps, but why I should abandon the half-formed intention I have had the last 21 years, since I have been here, that I ought to agitate to get him removed. I think I now begin to see the excuse for celebrating and eternising Oliver Cromwell in the Palace of Westminster. Oliver Cromwell found that it is quite impossible to conduct great affairs if one has a House of Commons sitting continuously and continually talking, nagging and questioning—
§ Mr. Pickthorn
—about the hourly administration, and especially about the administration of great affairs. If I can quote another gentleman from another revolution in that century—I have forgotten who it was—I should explain that he had been put off the Commission of the Peace for his county by James II; and when James began to need friends and became frightened of what was going to happen next, he invited the gentleman whose name I have forgotten to come back on the Commission; but the gentleman said—and this is an appropriate thing to remember in connection with Oliver Cromwell's kicking out of the Rump—"One kick on the breech is enough for a gentleman." [Laughter.] I hope that nobody will think that because something I say may be amusing, what I say is not most deeply and seriously felt. I never was more serious in my life.
I think the House of Commons, which at least conventionally is a hydra-headed gentleman, may have thought one kick was enough. I am quite sure of this—that the longevity of this House, the reason 790 for the development of parliamentary government in this country in the last 300 years, is that they learned from Oliver when he kicked them out that one cannot have Government managed if one is going to have this House directly trying to direct policy and to cross-examine the Administration in the course of proceedings.
Not at all. I have once before been rebuked for saying this, but I believe that the business of the House, apart from its most important business of all—and the two are part of the same thing—of controlling the choice of Ministers and the behaviour of Ministers, by voting or not voting money, is to get the Ministers who nearly as possible will do what the majority of the House want by continually making a market upon Ministers, with the reputations of Ministers continually going up and down. That is the business of the House. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman opposite seems to be more ill-natured than well-informed. Those who lie supine should not spit. I will do him the justice that he did not invent that jibe—it has been made already by live or six of his little friends. I hope this is the last time.
What I was saying was this. I have inquired of those who have the closest knowledge of the House during the last generation, and I have had a fairly close knowledge of it myself for 21 years, and my impression is confirmed by all with whom I have spoken, that never before has there been so long-continued noise, heckling, interruption—and, most especially, noise, noise, noise. It has not happened before, I believe, in the history of Parliament—certainly not in the history of any of our lives up to now.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because it seemed to some of us on this side that Mr. Speaker, probably in order to set an example, in his own unfettered judgment suspended the House very quickly. I believe that there was an occasion when Mr. Asquith was at the Box for over an hour before the Speaker suspended the House; and there was an occasion when a book was thrown at 791 the ex-Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). Anyone who reads the Lords controversy in the years between 1911 and 1914 could hardly bear out what the hon. Gentleman now says. It seems to us that Mr. Speaker was rather in a hurry to suspend us the other week—
§ Mr. Pickthorn
As far as that goes, one hour is nothing by comparison with one fortnight. The things are simply not commensurable. I did not assert that there had not been more decibels—I think that is the term for units of noise—than were emitted in one day in the last fortnight, but I said that by the accidents of our procedure, by the accident of the Parliamentary period in which we happen to be, and by the accidents of being, as a result, for a while without a formal Question Time, one way and another there has been, in fact, what it would be flattering to call debate, and perhaps still more to call discussion.
There has been continual talking, questioning and chi-iking on this matter in a way which I believe is unprecedented. I believe that the mere amount of noise made—and this may seem fanciful to some hon. Members opposite—has had a considerable effect in tiring those of us who do sit in the Chamber, and stupefying us, dulling our minds. I know that that is so with me, although it might not altogether be untrue even of those who are loudest-mouthed on the benches opposite. And I think that it is certain that this behaviour has made almost physically impossible the task of Ministers.
Apart from the chi-iking, and I believe that if that went on very long parliamentary government would become impossible and it is certainly a queer way of advertising the belief that all human affairs, even those between blood enemies, should be arranged by discussion—it is a very odd way of demonstrating that—there has been, besides the chi-iking, I admit, a certain amount of more articulate criticism, and perhaps I ought now to refer to that.
792 " Labour has won the first round"—that was the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I have always noticed that military, or, failing military, pugilistic, metaphors seem to leap most quickly and readily to rather surprising lips. I should have thought that the British people, who understand sporting metaphors, might find something to react against in that—that Labour has won the first round. Against whom? I think that the British people may well inquire.
There has been the charge that Her Majesty's Government—and I have no fondness for Her Majesty's Government, using the word "fondness" in its strict sense; I do not think that I find it impossible to see the mistakes made by Ministers, although I would not always agree about that with hon. Members opposite—there has been the charge that what Her Majesty's Government have done in the Canal Zone has somehow caused the events in Hungary. That seems to me to be absurd nonsense, and although Ministers have argued well against it, and I think that my right hon. Friend argued against it well this afternoon, yet it is difficult to argue against, because plain common nonsense is the most difficult thing in the world to argue against.
§ Mr. Percy Daines (East Ham, North)
I think that it must be within the notice of the hon. Member that every correspondent who comes out of Hungary says that the Hungarian people are saying just that.
That may be so. I have not read what has been said by all the foreign correspondents coming out of Hungary. It may be that they have all said that—I can hardly believe that it is true, but even if in some sense it is true I would ask the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines), for whom I have the deepest respect, and who, in all these matters, I have always found a most fair-minded debater both in public and in private—to agree that it is possible to be mistaken, and that people in the mess which the Hungarians are—and God knows what a mess it is, and God knows I would not blame them for anything they might say now—are likely to look for someone to blame apart from the great bully who is kicking them to pieces. There is, of course, the technique—"Of course, I do not believe this but only pass it on for what it is worth"— 793 of "There's a woman called Mrs. Smith in Main Street who says it, and a woman in Bye Lane who knows it"—that technique has been used a great deal to pin all sorts of charges of which this is one. So that when this charge comes back, wherever it comes back from, it is not altogether unreasonable to suppose that it is, at least partially, an echo of that technique.
The reasons for my speaking today were two. The first I have spoken about, perhaps at too great length, for which I apologise. Secondly, I thought that someone ought to speak who would avow, as I avow, that he has always been extremely critical both of the United Nations and what I might call United Nationism, and of the Israeli State, and of Zionism. So much, almost all of these debates—and, if I might warn my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, far too much from Ministerial speakers—in the last few days has been conducted upon the basis of a quite uncritical, what is called "belief" in the United Nations. As a rule, that has meant also "belief" in Zionism.
I do not, in that sense, myself "believe" in either of them, that their essence is sovereign and their effect miraculous. I thought that someone who did not ought to say so and to indicate one or two of the things which follow from that. I do not for a moment mean to suggest that I am unaware that the United Nations and Israel exist, or that I am not desirous, these things existing, that my country should take them into its calculations and should work as far as it can with these things, and should work, except under dire compulsion, if that should happen, in strict concordance with any agreements which it may have with these things, whether with the United Nations or the State of Israel. In that sense, of course, I believe in them. I always have believed in them and I still do. But we have not had sufficiently explained to us that we cannot always expect the United Nations to be quick and effective, and someone ought to go a little deeper and explain that it is not only the technique and behaviour of the United Nations but it is the essence of the thing which needs agonised reappraisal.
There are the words "United Nations" themselves, to begin with, and anyone 794 seeing the words for the first time would think what a funny thing it is. There was a world public opinion when I was a boy, because then all governing persons accepted or at least thought it right to pretend to accept what one might call the European Christian concept of the universe. That is not so any longer. It is far from being so any longer. The difficulty now is far worse than the difficulty of Babel. If the only reason why we could not talk to Russians or Chinese or even to many Arabs, I am sorry to say, and many Israelis too, was that they had different languages and neither side knew the language of the other, how simple the world would be. It is very much deeper than that, and we must never use the words "United Nations" without remembering that they are disunited as never before in written history.
There are other things about this—" Soviet volunteers," for instance. How can there be volunteers in a Communist country? The thing is plain nonsense, and nonsense will not last in the long run. That is all we can say—and Heaven knows it is not a very cheerful thing to say—to the Hungarians, or to the Poles, or for that matter, I would say, to the Yugoslavs, too. In the very long run nonsense will not continue to happen, but it happens for a long while.
We cannot now pretend to believe that there is a common basis of desire for peace all over the world. We cannot any longer—and here I come back to what I said just now about the chi-iking in this House during the last fortnight—pretend to believe that in all cases of dangerous disagreement between States such disagreement can certainly be removed by discourse. We cannot any longer believe these things.
We dare not forget—and I wonder how many people here remember—that Zionism was made into a State by the agreement of the United States and the U.S.S.R. in a United Nations operation. It was made into a sovereign State, and I have agreed ever since that we ought to work with it as fairly as we can.
I am very sorry indeed that the hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. H. Lever) is not here today because I wanted to refer to the admirable speech that he made the other day. He did not quite say it but he almost said, or left 795 upon me the impression of meaning, that the Israeli State from the beginning was like a man with a knife at his throat. I wish he were here so that he could correct me if I am wrong, but I am being as honest about it as I can. He was talking about the question of aggression and he was saying that if anyone has a knife at his throat, it is not aggression to kick the other chap in the teeth.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
The Foreign Secretary said that and the hon. Member for Cheetham took it up in the way that I have indicated. In such circumstances, this simple notion that wherever there is a row there is one who is the aggressor and one who is not becomes nonsense. We had better all remember that.
Now I come to the more general question, apart from the question of aggression, whether sovereign States ought or ought not to use force. A lot of hon. Members opposite have said that this is the essence of the matter—using force without licence of the United Nations. I agree, that it is a thing that one would not wish to do unless one had to. I would agree but if it were an absolute rule, I do not understand why N.A.T.O., why the Warsaw Pact, and why the Tripartite Declaration? We had more eloquent stuff this afternoon about not having acted under the Tripartite Declaration. The Tripartite Declaration had no licence from the United Nations. These people pick and choose about which are the interests in which force should be used and which are not.
Most remarkable of all on this principle is, what about the Hungarians? Are they right to use force? Are the inheritors of the tradition of revolution opposite going to tell us that no Government must ever use force?
§ Mr. Pickthorn
Are they going to tell us that no Government is entitled to use force without licence of the United Nations—
§ Mr. Pickthorn
—but that individuals are so entitled?
796 I have one other thing to say about Palestine. I do not apologise for saying this, and those hon. Members whom I have always opposed on Palestine will at least do me this justice that I have always hammered away on this point, and that is the question of the refugees. I beg my right hon. Friends to put the word "refugees" down in block capitals, if they think it is worth putting down anything that I say. Democrats opposite seem to forget that the reason why there is a Zionist majority in Palestine is that there are nearly 1 million natural inhabitants of Palestine who are not in Palestine. Of all the breeding grounds of hate, that has been the worst and the most unpardonable.
Of this I feel perfectly certain, that what is happening in that part of the world now will happen again—I do not know when, perhaps in five or ten years—unless certain things are done. I will not weary the House with what those things are, but one thing certainly is that the West should search its conscience and do all it possibly can to help with the refugees.
We have had at great length an argument against the Government for having changed their objectives. I really think, speaking as an academic, that to a very large extent that is academic in the worst sense of the word. It is like people who because there are convenience words of conventional analysis like "character," "brains," "body," "physique," "soul," and so on, talk as if any or each of these things were observable entities. It seems to me that the clearest defence of the Government on this matter of the change of purpose is to be found in two quota-tons which I copied out of the New York Herald Tribune. One, dealing with the real reason for going to Egypt, was:If Nasser were allowed to get away with seizing the Canal, then nothing could stop him annihilating Israel.I think that is true enough. The other was:If Nasser were knocked out. then Russian influence in the Middle East would be knocked out.I think that is true enough. I am not entering just now into any question about the tactics, or even the "morality," of the matter. What I am saying at the moment is that these three things were immensely entangled with each other before Her Majesty's Government made 797 the decision they did, and to pretend that they could have been kept apart or that there is some duplicity in desiring B because A is what you had announced five minutes before seems to be a quite false argument.
Now we are in the United Nations world again completely. I have already said what I want to say by way of warning that we should be careful how we behave there. We should be careful of not imagining there is some magic there. I heard the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) speaking a few weeks ago and saying something to the effect that it was quite unfair to criticise the United Nations; there was nothing wrong with the United Nations, and everything that was wrong was wrong with the nations which united. It is a slight parody of what he said, but I think he will bear me out, for there is not any United Nations apart from the nations which comprise it. There is nothing else. We had better be pretty careful about that.
Now we are there, what is the best we can hope for? Can we hope for anything better than what I would call an "Eisenhower solution"? Incidentally, with ail this about force outside the United Nations being wrong, I can see no evidence of the United Nations ever believing in anything but force, nor can I see that Eisenhower has ever believed in anything but force. Are we now to hope for any solution better than what might be called an Eisenhower solution, like Korea or like Formosa or like Indo-China? I am not saying that worse things might not have happened in any of those countries. All I do say is that what did happen was nothing but solemn recognition of accomplished facts, accomplished facts which, for the most part, were highly regrettable.
Are we now to hope for something better than that? I do not think we can unless, as Mr. Lippmann—I am sorry to quote; I do not often do it—wrote a week ago, unless President Eisenhower decided that the United Nations is to be an organ for the solution of the problems of Suez and Palestine and not a tribunal of judgment. He and other American publicists have been very strong in that desire, and have gone a very long way to indicating that, after all, we are just as indispensable to the United States as the United States is to us. I think none of 798 us should ever forget that, or ever think that we can contract out of great disasters by contracting out of greatness, because that, I am quite certain, is not within our compass though almost anything else might be.
The last thing I wish to say is this. If it is true, as I believe it is, and as many American publicists write, that whatever the differences between Washington and Westminster at this moment now, the causes why they should unite are very much greater—if that is true, I would beg hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to believe that if that is true of relations between us and the United States, it may be true also of relations across the House between us and the Socialists, and that, if so, they should not too lightly assume that all the righteousness is theirs. We all know, the poet told us, that the soul, when it is hot for certainties, is apt to get a dusty answer. We are not souls. Politicians get much dustier answsers when they are hot for certainties. Politicians who always want the Government they support or the country for which they fight to be 100 per cent. right will get pretty dusty answers. Nobody is ever 100 per cent. right. The other thing that never happens is that it is never six of one and a half-dozen of the other—never. I would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to stop and consider whether this country, as compared with any of the other countries in this story—and I have left out a good many quotations I have in connection with it, especially American quotations about Mr. Dulles—
§ Mr. Pickthorn
Consider whether it may be we are 51 per cent. right as compared with other countries, whether it may not even be true that we on this side may be 51 per cent. right as compared with them, if with real sincerity, not with the sincerity which we all aver far too often but with real sincerity, that is to say, having thought the matter out as hard as they are capable of thinking and being prepared to go to the stake for the result—if they cannot, with that kind of sincerity, reject the proposition I have put to them, then I beg them to do all they can to make our country in these terrible days a united country.
§ Mr. Mellish
On a point of order. May I, with a sense of humility, ask for your help, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? This debate is on the Suez crisis, and some of us got in earlier when Parliament was recalled. Most of us who were called by the Chair decided that it would be improper to try to get in again as obviously we could not hope to catch your eye. I understand that some of the hon. Members you are now calling have in fact spoken in the Suez debate, leaving out a number of back benchers who have never spoken. I merely want your advice and help, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. What is the position? It is awfully frustrating for many of us.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If I answer one point of order at a time I think I shall be doing fairly well. The point is that we are now back on the main Question, and anyone who has spoken before on the main Question is not entitled to speak again except by leave of the House. As to those who have spoken on the Amendments, that is a different matter; it is not the same Question that we are on now. Is that the point?
§ Mr. Mellish
My understanding is that anybody who catches your eye has the right to speak, and that on this occasion, as you say we are now back on the debate on the Address; but it means that some hon. Members have in fact managed to speak twice on the same subject. Surely the Chair is alive to the fact that a number of back benchers have not spoken on the subject at all. As regards those who have spoken on the subject, I would say with great respect that at least we have heard them once and by this time have gathered what they have in mind.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
Further to that point of order. I am an extreme case of what my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has been saying. I have been absent from the House between 10th October and 8th November, and I am very anxious to get into this debate if I possibly can.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have every sympathy with the hon. Member. There is an enormous list on both sides, but I must point out that up to now the speeches have been pretty long.
§ Mr. Mellish
May I say, with great respect, that I was not attempting to put the case for my hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus) but was thinking rather of my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines).
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
Not having spoken at all in this debate, I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) will now be able to get the benefit of my views at first hand.
The hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) and I have been in this House for a good many years—21 years, as he said. I have listened to him on many occasions with interest, trying to get at the point of view which he has been desirous of expressing to the House. I am bound to say that, listening to him today, I felt perplexed and mystified at the tortuous wandering of his mind, which I suggest to him, as one older Member to another older Member of this House, was hardly at all directed to the subject we are in all earnestness discussing this afternoon.
I can quite understand passions being aroused by the events that have taken place, and I hope that in the course of my remarks I shall be able to reason with little emotion as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) this afternoon in a well-documented and well-argued statement of the facts. I know that it is not always possible to arrive at the facts. As I have listened to all the speeches made in the House since the Suez event occurred, I am quite certain that all hon. Members, except those in the very narrow circle in touch with these events—the Cabinet, for example—must be in some doubt as to what has happened in some respects. On the main events, not only on this side of the House but, as has been shown in previous debates, on the other side also, there are some hon. Members who are in considerable doubt to say the least.
When the hon. Member for Carlton was complaining about what he was pleased to call the "chi-iking"—a rather inelegant expression, I thought, for one who at one time represented a university—by the Opposition and to substantiate his argument brought in as evidence Mr. Oliver Cromwell, I thought at once that the hon. Member was going dangerously 801 near to an exposition of Fascist government—that is to say, Government by one set of people to the exclusion of any opposition.
The hon. Member may recollect, as I and many other hon. Members present today recollect, the debates that took place before the war on the Nazi issue. Perhaps the hon. Member recollects the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) who, in season and out of season, criticised his own Government of the day for their action or inaction and who, indeed, on one occasion turned to his own Government and said words to the effect that British diplomacy had suffered a total and unmitigated defeat. Would that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford were able today to take his part in these debates and tell us, in words as eloquent as he used in those days, how in the eyes of the world, whatever we may say, British diplomacy has suffered a tremendous defeat.
Surely that should be sufficient justification, in a free and democratic Parliament like this, for hon. Members, wherever they sit, to express their point of view, sometimes in emphatic language, at the harm and danger that many of us think the Government have done our country. We are sent here by our constituents and we are entitled to say, and we do say, that under the leadership of the present Government our standing as a nation has deteriorated in the eyes of the world, and that this nation is no longer able to lead the world as she used, to do—if necessary, alone, as we did at a certain period in the last war. No longer, I think, after the terrible mistakes that have been made over Egypt, will anybody listen to any glorious words such as the right hon. Member for Woodford was wont to use about our country.
I do not want to inflame passions or to rouse any emotions. I will try to keep my emotions under control, although I am bound to say in the absence of the Prime Minister, for whom I had great respect in pre-war days—and I listened to his courageous resignation speech—that I am sorely tried on this occasion.
I not only do not want to rouse emotions, but neither do I want to say anything than can be used by some of those international crooks who are repeating to hon. Members words spoken in this House 802 and using them as evidence against us. I have nothing but contempt for some of those people who think that they can use words spoken by a free democracy to buttress and reinforce their own actions. I shall have something to say during my remarks about some of these dictators.
We know that both Egypt and Russia have used some of the remarks that have been uttered here to show that some of their actions have been justified. They have not been justified at all and, whatever the outside world may think about our country, I think that the outside world—with the possible exception of Mr. Nehru, I am sorry to say—is only too ready to proclaim the injustice and the criminality of some of those nations with whom we are at present involved.
It is difficult to try to arrive at the facts, and therefore it must be difficult to arrive at the conclusions, but surely hon. Members opposite, in the calmness as it is now—after all the dust has settled—will recognise and concede us this point. Whatever we may say as part of Her Majesty's Opposition, there is an enormous volume of opinion in the world otherwise friendly towards this country which has been antagonised and, to say the least, terribly disappointed at the action which Britain took with France in its incursion into Egypt. Therefore,. I say it will take a long time to recover our position, if ever indeed that is possible. One must only hope that there will come a time—at the moment we cannot say under what leadership it will be—when the world will pay some regard to what Britain says.
Hon. and right hon. Members opposite, whatever they say, cannot deny that our position has deteriorated considerably in the Middle East. We are in a situation there which, in my opinion, is fraught with gravity for our country. We cannot seem to get authenticated the news which says that Russia is pushing arms into Syria—I do not know, and the Government will not tell us, even if they know; but we do know now that very substantial arms and military stores of great potency were discovered in Egypt when Israel invaded that country. We now have evidence that Russia has fomented strife, and we can only assume that she will continue to do that. I do not for one moment think that Russia will make a direct attack on this country, because she knows 803 that it would mean world war, and Russia knows that if world war comes she will be blotted out whoever else may be extinguished. Nevertheless, in my opinion Russia will do all that she can to foment strife in the Middle East.
What protection or defence have we got against it now? It is impossible for this country to stand alone, certainly against a country like Russia. Our only hope is in association with other nations like the United States of America. Our only hope is to try to get the United Nations on our side. Even if some of the actions and words of the United Nations may not be very effective, at least they are better than nothing. Today, I venture to suggest, we stand naked in view of possible aggression in the Middle East which may come, and, I think, will come.
What was the purpose of those arms to Egypt? Was it a peaceful purpose? Everybody knows it was not. Why did Russia provide them? For love of the eyes of Colonel Nasser? Certainly not. Russia is a materialist country, guided by a materialist doctrine. The arms were there because the Russians thought it would pay them to supply them. It cost them quite a lot of money to send all those arms into Egypt. Their whole purpose was to destroy British power, whatever it meant, for whatever it stood, in the Middle East. They have not changed one iota, and they will attempt to do it as and when they can.
In these circumstances, how can we defend ourselves if we should be involved in an attack, as we should be if any aggression took place against Israel? In spite of what the Prime Minister said about the Tripartite Declaration, I cannot imagine that we should stand idly by if Israel were attacked by one of the Arab States today. I cannot believe it. Therefore, I must assume, as we were guarantors of the Tripartite Declaration, that we should not stand by, doing nothing, and, therefore, it follows that we should be involved.
What concerns me and many other people, too, on both sides of the House, is who would be with us in those circumstances. Would America be with us? The keystone of our policy, apart from the United Nations, because we can all see the many defects of the United Nations organisation, should be an 804 alliance with the United States. The Americans may not be very easy partners. Nevertheless, they are the only partners who can bring to bear so much of what counts in the world—not only the words of Mr. Eisenhower but the tremendous military might and industrial potential they have in their country.
We have been told by the Prime Minister—he used this as justification for his actions—that Britain at all costs and in all circumstances must have oil from the Middle East if we are to keep our industries going. Everybody takes that for granted, but how are we to get it? It is quite on the cards, even though some of those countries will want to sell their oil because of the big revenues it brings them, that they may not want to sell it to us. It is certain our supplies will be interrupted for many a long day to come. I am wondering what the Government have in prospect for ensuring those oil supplies which, they say, we must have.
For instance, why must it be left to a Greek shipowner to build the large tankers which, so I am told, are a possible means of getting oil to this country as quickly or at any rate as cheaply as bringing it through the Canal?
§ Mr. Bellenger
It may well be. I should have thought that the exponents of private enterprise on the Government benches would have been the first to have urged the Government to get on with the job by providing large tankers.
We do not even know whether America is coming to our aid in the supply of oil—America, one of our allies. I do not want to say anything about Mr. Dulles who is very sick and more or less retired from politics, at any rate for the time being, but I am bound to say—and it ought to be said in this country—that there is a very large question mark over the actions of our American allies in the last few months. I have stated my belief that we should have a strong alliance with America, and so it is in all friendliness that I say that there are in this country millions of people who have nothing but good will for the Americans who cannot understand some of the things which the American Secretary of State and even President Eisenhower have done or not done in the hour of Britain's trouble.
805 After all, America must know what Colonel Nasser's intentions are. Yet Mr. Dulles was sent, I believe, by the President of the United States to present a pistol or a revolver to Colonel Nasser. [HON. MEMBERS: "General Neguib."] Are we to blame if we consider that a significant gesture, or that it was meant to show that a token of force in the Middle East was a possible way of solving some of the problems there? I do not know. Perhaps somebody on the other side fo the Atlantic will explain why that gift was made.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
It is not for me to answer the question, but to the best of my recollection it was a very decorative and ornamental pistol given to General Neguib.
§ Mr. Bellenger
It makes no difference whether it was given to Neguib or to Nasser. Neguib was the President or the Prime Minister of the revolutionary government. The fact remains, and many millions of people think, that whether it was an ornamental pistol or not, much better and more suitable presents could have been made. That is all I am saying about that action. Although the Colonial Secretary has corrected me on a point of detail, namely, that the pistol was given to General Neguib, my argument still stands, that it was a most inappropriate present to make.
The United Nations and its Charter are all very good and well, but I look back to the days when we had the Covenant and the League of Nations, and they failed. Why did they fail? Because those who made up the League of Nations would not take decisive action at the right time. The Government need not expect me, because of that remark of mine, to support the action which they have taken. I certainly think it was taken at the wrong time. If it was right to take it at all, it should not have been taken at that time and in that way.
However, the League of Nations failed because it was based only on a covenant. That is just why the Ten Commandments are broken every day of the year. Only when a breaker of the Commandments is arraigned before a court on a charge can a verdict be given and a sentence imposed. Therefore, it stands to reason 806 that the United Nations, although it is probably the only sheet anchor this troubled world has to keep it out of war, is not a fully effective instrument as it is constituted at present, and I would urge the Government to take the appropriate opportunity to try to remedy that. Some of my hon. Friends have tried, with a plan of world government and so forth, to present proposals to all sorts of people. I do not believe myself that that is the speediest way. I believe in going the way that will get me where I want to go to in the shortest possible time. The world is not concerned with the millennium a century or two hence although we have to work for it, no doubt. What it is concerned with is trying to bring some sort of law and order to what is at present a lawless world.
I have said that I think that the keystone of our policy should be alliance with the United States. I wish to say one other thing with which, I know, many hon. Members on both sides of the House will disagree. I think that the time will come when a strong alliance between this country and Germany will probably keep the peace in Europe far better than any other organisation. We had the Kellogg Pact and the Treaty of Locarno and all the rest, but they were unable to stand against Hitler. I believe that it may be possible for such an alliance with Germany to maintain the peace of Europe. Therefore, I welcome the attempt that has been made to draw the two greatest industrial countries in Europe together under the common market proposals.
I have voted against the Government on more than one occasion in these debates, and therefore I should attempt to justify my actions. It is true that both parties are subject to what are known as three-line Whips. We are all party men, say what we will. Very few of us like to go against our party, but we are each free and elected Members of Parliament. We have been elected to say what we want to say, and say it on behalf of our constituents. The only people who can say "No" to us are our constituents. Thank goodness, we have once every four or five years an election when our constituents can say what they think.
I believe that if the Government were to go to the country today—and that would be the ultimate test—they would 807 be out of office tomorrow. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is my feeling. It may be that I am wrong, but there are many people within the Tory Party itself who think the same. Hon. Members have had letters—though I have had only one—from professing Tory constituents saying how sadly disappointed they are with their own Government. That is some evidence, even though it may not be overwhelming, that what I am saying is right.
If the Government were to go to the country they would be repudiated. It is all very well to say, "What does that matter? Other Governments have been repudiated too." It does show that even those who have been lifelong Conservatives are turning against the Government because of an act which the Government may think is right but which their own supporters think is wrong.
I am very sad in my own heart at the fact that for the first time since 1939 the House is divided on fundamental foreign policy. I know that there are some of my hon. Friends who say, "Away with bipartisanship," but I cannot forget that it was Mr. Ernest Bevin, a good trade unionist and probably the best Foreign Secretary we have had for many years, was the one who instigated a foreign policy which for a time even a Conservative Government followed.
When the country is in the position it is in today it is surely the time when the House of Commons ought to be united. If the House and the country is not united, how can we blame the world for throwing brickbats at us? We are divided and disunited, and it is no good hon. and right hon. Members opposite blaming us on this side of the House for it. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite, if they can, must put the matter right. It is the only thing that can bring back unity to the House and to the country. At the moment, we are split wide open because of the Government's action.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I do not want to follow the speech of the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) in very much detail, except to take up his remark that the British situation has deteriorated in the Middle East. A far more important and far more accurate statement would be to say that the situation in the Middle East has in general deteriorated. That 808 is the real problem which faces the House today. We have somehow to achieve a general settlement of the outstanding problems of the refugees, of the Israel-Arab frontier and of water usage in the area, both in the Nile and elsewhere. These are the root problems which must be settled, and until they are settled we must keep everything else in proper perspective.
I do not propose to follow the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), the shadow Foreign Secretary, in his interesting ex cathedra pronouncement about when one is an aggressor and when one is not. I should like to quote in reply to his remarks a few sentences chosen from a Report to the League of Nations by the Permanent Advisory Commission on Armaments in 1923, signed by most of the major nations. They are:A breach of the frontier by the troops of another country does not always mean that the latter country is the aggressor. Particularly in the case of a small State, a military offensive of as rapid a character as possible may be the means, perhaps the only means, whereby a weaker party can defend itself against the stronger.What we have to consider is not the ideological exchange, the various speeches and innumerable resolutions of the United Nations and the various individual crises of conscience which have befallen some of my hon. Friends. We must consider the facts as they are. It is the facts that perturb the country and should perturb the House rather than questions of party advantage.
The realities in the Middle East have become extraordinarily clearer in the last few days. First, the threat of Nasser is much clearer than it was before this Anglo-French action was taken. I have in my hand a document, not of world-shaking importance, but of interest because it was captured from the Third Egyptian Division by the Israelis on Mount Sinai. I shall lay the document, but I call the attention of the House to the third paragraph, which was issued to commanding officers down to battalion level and concerns the training of Egyptian soldiers in their section. It states:Every commander should be prepared and prepare his troops for the unavoidable war with Israel, in order to achieve our supreme objective, namely annihilation of Israel, and its complete destruction in as little time as possible and by fighting against her as brutally and cruelly as possible.
§ Mr. Fraser
I have a photostat copy, and no doubt the right hon. Gentleman, who speaks such fluent Arabic, will be able to understand it.
The other reality is the size of the Russian threat in the Middle East. Dr. Yadin, a world-famous archaeologist and the former Chief of Staff of the Israel Army, described at a Press conference today some of the massive fortifications and preparations which have been discovered by the Israelis in Sinai, and which it was clear had been prepared for a joint Syrian-Egyptian attack on Israel, connived at by Russia and supported by Russian arms.
Those are some of the facts which have emerged. A further fact which has emerged is that, whatever be the moralities of the situation, the Israelis spoiling attack and the British bombardment have put back any Egyptian, Syrian or Russian offensive for some months, if not for a year or so.
It is now clear also that the British and French intervention has stopped what my right hon. Friend described as the spread of a forest fire in the area. The other things which have made it possible to stop its spread are the two things which hon. Gentlemen opposite have attacked again and again. One is the Bagdad Pact, even if it is a bit shaky. The other is the Jordan Treaty.
We are left with a breathing space, no more than that, in which to decide what our policy should be now. That is the issue, not the bandying of legal arguments showing where the United Nations has failed, pointing to failure after failure in the Middle East. It is no use talking about the 200 resolutions which were defied, the resolution which told Israel to go back and she did not go back, the resolution which stated that shipping should go through the Canal and it did not go through the Canal. Such arguments are sterile and empty. Instead, we should face the facts of the situation, and the sooner that hon. Gentlemen opposite do so, the better their supporters throughout the country will be pleased.
An overall settlement of the problems which I have outlined is essential, and those problems can only be solved by the 810 intervention of all the major Powers. It is not possible for the United Nations organisation, or for a so-called U.N. police force, to deal with these matters. What is at stake is the fate of that area, which is more important to this country and to Western Europe than to anyone but the Arabs. It is vital, therefore, that there should be a force in the area able to impose the necessary conditions and not one which is a mere hotch-potch of bedlam, a collection of heterogeneous military units which can be of no possible use.
I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite this one question: Supposing there had been spread out along the hundreds of miles of the Israeli-Egyptian frontier the merry men of General Burns armed with submachine guns, do they believe that it would have been possible to stop the movement of Israeli troops or any counter-movement by the Egyptians? We must face realities in the Middle East and not play at U.N.O. soldiering. Some of the talk of an international force is merely a delusion which will have a shattering effect on the world when it is exposed.
I believe, therefore, that the Prime Minister was correct when he said that we would have to decide whether the suggested U.N. force was of a sufficient strength to undertake the necessary obligations in the area.
§ Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)
Surely such a force is capable of getting alliances from the big Powers? The important point is that it should take the initiative in carrying out the action and give a moral cloak to the others for doing it in their name.
§ Mr. Fraser
That may well be so, but if the size of the force is incompatible with the requirements, I do not believe that any amount of moral cloaking will benefit anyone.
Two minor conditions are essential. One is that we should see that the Canal is open and guaranteed by a world authority. Otherwise it is not impossible that Colonel Nasser, who has revived the age-old struggle between Babylon and Cairo, between Nuri and himself, will see to it, if he is left alone responsible for opening the Canal, that its opening is delayed sufficiently to ruin Iraq by cutting off her oil supplies from the world. We have already seen that the people who 811 undertook the destruction of the Iraq oil pipelines were not marauders or bandits but Syrians in Syrian uniform.
I know that the Americans have been passing through an election period. I know that for the settlement of the major problems of the Middle East, one of which is the refugees, American assistance is necessary. I wish, however, that the Americans could rid themselves of a delusion which has been controlling American policy in the Middle East, the belief that the French and ourselves are old-fashioned imperialists to whom the Arab world will not talk, whilst they come not merely with clean hands but with hands loaded with gifts. The fact is that today we and the Americans are not dealing, in Egypt and Syria, with simple Arab people but with Soviet satellites. Until that is realised by the Americans, and by certain hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, our critics will meet one pitfall after another.
§ Mr. Woodburn
If the hon. Gentleman is satisfied that we are dealing with Soviet satellites in the Middle East, would he tell us why Britain and France took on this job alone and all the risks involved in tackling Soviet satellites?
§ Mr. Fraser
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has been reading not only the Scottish, but also the other newspapers. He must realise that the man who gives orders today in Cairo is not Nasser but Ambassador Kissilev. As to the other point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, it is to the eternal glory of this country and France that we intervened.
The situation facing us today in the Middle East has deteriorated, and is deteriorating, because of Russian intervention. I believe that the steps taken have done something to stop some of those plans which were almost on the point of maturing. I believe that the situation facing us is the same as it has been for the last ten years but in heightened form: namely, to find a general solution for the problem of that area which, if necessary, must be imposed not by the force of Colombia, Nicaragua or what-have-you, but by the determination and the decision of ourselves, the French and the Americans.
I believe that this is the only possible course. As my right hon. Friend the 812 Colonial Secretary pointed out this afternoon in a noble speech, that solution does not involve the destruction of the Arab world or the exploitation of its people, since we stand before the world as a country which has done more for the underdeveloped peoples than has any other in history. We hope to do the same today, and, given resolve, given determination and given rejection of the feeble and squeamish points put by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, I believe that this country can yet rise again.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Daines (East Ham, North)
I want to return for a moment to the speech of the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn). I do so out of no disrespect for the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), with the subject matter of whose speech I propose to deal at some length.
The hon. Member for Carlton rightly said at the end of his speech that these are dark and sombre days. I believe they are days which are far too serious in their consequences for any of us to be subjective in our approach and to make mere party points. I think I can claim that on the various occasions when I have had the good fortune to address the House I have tried to be strictly objective about these great matters, and I propose to be the same today.
The hon. Member for Carlton—here I hope to have a little attention from the Government Front Bench—said a lot about the conduct of Government and the House. He deprecated the practice of trying to conduct government by question and answer. I believe that it is a paraphrase of what he meant. It is an interesting coincidence—I do not say that facetiously; I am speaking from at least main notes—that the first part of my speech deals precisely with that subject.
What worries me is the practice which has grown up in the House—it has happened in these debates and in previous debates—of Ministers reserving their last statement until the end of the debate. I hold most emphatically that the House owes it to itself that a Ministerial statement should be made at the beginning of the debate, setting out the facts, and that those facts should be subject to debate. It is quite wrong and a gross misuse of 813 the House to delay new matter until the end of the debate. A very typical example was that of the President of the Board of Trade a few nights ago.
However alarming that is, what alarms me much more—I am speaking only for myself now—is my complete lack of confidence in Ministerial statements. In passing, I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus) that all this talk about being against a bipartisan policy seems to me to be wholly fallacious and dangerous. I believe that one's attitude to foreign policy should be determined by what one honestly believes to be the interests of the whole country and the whole world. Therefore, obviously I regret a position where I find myself at differences with half the country or with the Government. It is only by unity that we can bring our maximum strength to bear, and one's policy has to be settled on the facts of the time.
Similarly, it is equally stupid to talk about a Socialist foreign policy. By all means, let hon. Members on this side of the House try to apply Socialist principles, but what we can do in the world for foreign policy is determined by what other countries will allow us to do. Therefore, I hope that we shall start forgetting some of the phrases and get closer to reality.
I repeat that I am considerably disturbed about the trend of Ministerial statements. Under the Labour Governments and under the Administration of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), I always accepted a Ministerial statement as an objective statement of fact. I must say quite candidly that I do not do so under the present Administration. I am not prepared to accept their statements unless there is a check and a double check. I will give the House some examples.
There was the occasion when Government supporters were obviously very disturbed. The Prime Minister came here and pulled the Canal Users' Association out of the hat. Immediately hon. Members cheered. What the Prime Minister conveyed to the House—he certainly conveyed it to me—was that the American Government were in full support and would probably use force behind it. That was completely false. Events in the succeeding days showed that there was no evidence of that at all, and there could 814 not possibly have been, because how could America make that commitment a week and a half before the election? My immediate personal reaction was against it, but I say that it was a gross misuse of the House.
Let me give another case which I found equally alarming. The Foreign Secretary was having a considerable hammering. He was being challenged by my hon. Friends about printed literature which was being distributed to the Egyptians. He was under considerable pressure. Right at the psyoholcgical moment, along came the Prime Minister, with a news flash about the fall of Port Said, to dig out his right hon. and learned Friend. Was that fair? Port Said had not fallen. We knew that next day. Is that a fair way to treat the House?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Surely the hon. Member remembers that what the Prime Minister announced on that occasion was that talks were going on between the local commander and our commander about a cease-fire. That was absolutely true. Afterwards, from Cairo, no doubt under Russian pressure, the local commander of the Egyptians was told, to resume fighting.
§ Mr. Daines
I believe that what the Prime Minister said was a little qualified, but what hon. Members opposite took it to mean, as they were calculated to take it, was that it was a victory which meant that operations were nearly at an end.
I now come to the question of the police force, which is a more general point. Can anybody doubt that the police force idea is something at which the Government grabbed after Lester Pearson had put it up? It seems to me that we have arrived at the stage when the Government are more concerned about rallying their supporters than about the external consequences of the action which they take.
I said earlier how much I regretted that we do not find ourselves in agreement on these grave issues. I do not know whether I am being accurate now, but, so far as I can find out, there has been no attempt by the Government to take the Leader of the Opposition into consultation on these grave issues. I do not know how hon. Members feel today. We all seem much calmer and things appear to be much more leisurely, but it was only a week ago that most of us felt that 815 there were signs that we were slipping into the third world war. I certainly felt that. It is easy enough to be calm today, but there were distinct signs that a series of chain reactions were taking place which would plunge us into the third world war.
Again, was the Leader of the Opposition consulted about the initial step? How can we get a united country unless there is some degree of consultation? I should have thought that, when a Government embark upon grave steps which may set off terrible events, its first duty is to consult the Opposition. I do not disguise the fact that I have always been a great admirer of the right hon. Member for Woodford. If he had faced that situation, I cannot believe that he would not have consulted us fully in an attempt at getting a united country. The present position is a disastrous one.
If that is what has happened at home, what about abroad? Proposals were being made for visits to America. How does our name stand abroad when Mr. Haggerty, President Eisenhower's Press Secretary, characterises proposals for meetings of Heads of Governments as "cock-eyed"? Could anything be more humiliating than that a proposal that the Heads of Governments should meet should be characterised as "cock-eyed"? Such is the extent to which we have fallen.
Then there is the wonderful situation with regard to the Bagdad Pact where Iraq—the only Arab country where anyone at the top would like to show friendship—has said that she would take part only provided we kept out.
I now turn to the remarks of the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone. It is rather remarkable how late in the day the Government have been uncovering the Russian plot. Is there any new fact in the great disclosures which they have been making, even about the amount of arms that Colonel Nasser has? Surely it is not unreasonable to surmise that the amount of British arms is equal to anything that Russia has supplied. All these facts are known.
§ Mr. H. Fraser
It is a new fact that a very extensive area has been built up in the Sinai Peninsula—and also that the quantity of arms discovered was much larger than was expected.
§ Mr. Daines
I quite agree, and I am going to follow up that argument, but there has been very clear evidence of these matters for quite a long time now. I dealt with that point in a speech which I made in July. I said that in the Middle East we have the peculiar phenomenon of tightly-organised Communist parties—some wholly non-worker. In Syria and in the Lebanon there are tight cadres of about 4,000 or 5,000 highly-trained people, all of the professional class, who are trained for the purpose of revolution.
Hon. Members may dismiss that fact because of the small numbers involved, but in this situation, when there is the fluidity of the mob in the towns, acting with the backing of the Soviet Union, the whole menace can be quite clearly seen. Of course it exists; it has existed for months. There is nothing new in it, and the Government should have known of it.
The idea of a plot does not seem to take us very far. The simple fact is that, however much we may dislike it, Russia is in the ascendancy in the Middle East today in every Arab country. We may have our Nuri Saids—or our friends who are trying to hold it back—but it is there, because every Arab believes that it was only because of Russian intervention that we stopped our attack upon Egypt. We cannot escape the facts. I am fed up with propaganda and speeches. What frightens me is the facts, and these are the facts which I am trying to put before the House today.
What of Egypt's propaganda line? It is that they would have beaten the Israelis but for the stab in the back that we gave them. I am not saying that I agree with that; I am merely stating that that is what the Egyptians say. That is one of their most potent weapons. The Government have not removed Nasser; they have built him up. That is the trouble. I am sorry to say it, but my sincere belief is that as the weeks go by we shall have to face a position where we are out of the Middle East, and either Russia or America has taken our place. I hope to goodness the Americans will have a true sense of leadership and wake up in time to take up their responsibility, and so save us all.
I now turn to what has been happening in Central Europe. I have never believed in the "New Look" of Russia. I have 817 made speech after speech in this House saying so. I have been rather amused when hon. Members opposite have come up to me after I have spoken and have quite candidly said, "All your speeches on foreign policy seem to have been on the right of me". I do not mind, because I have never been worried about party lines in these matters; I have been concerned with the facts. I have never really believed in the Russian "New Look," and in July I attacked the Prime Minister for the way in which he was trying to sell it.
The real charge against the Government in regard to the events in Hungary and Egypt is that in the first two or three weeks, when the spontaneous uprising began in Hungary, and the workers began to take part and when the army showed its hand, a point was reached which could have become a crucial turning point in history. If our Government, together with the American and French Governments, had seized the opportunity to try to prove whether the "New Look" really meant what it was supposed to mean—if we had told the Russians that if the satellites regained their real independence then we would gradually withdraw from Europe—there was a sporting chance that a deal could have been done. That might have been a great turning point in history.
But it never happened, because this Government were so bent upon their Suez adventure, the chips were down and the Russians moved in. That is one of the gravest charges which can be made against the Government. Despite all the propaganda that has been put forward, they have missed this very great opportunity. If there is to be any attempt at trading with the Russians for a settlement in the Middle East in return for the perpetuation of slavery for the peoples of Central Europe I shall oppose it for all I am worth. The people of Poland and Hungary have proved their desire for freedom.
In his party political broadcast at the Mansion House the Prime Minister used a reference to his previous speech as a justification for his actions, and I want to plead, by way of an excuse, that I have been browsing through some speeches made in this House some time ago, and I want to quote from a speech made on 11th May, 1953. The hon. Member who was speaking said:What are the facts about Hungary?
§ Mr. Daines
In 1945—which was the year of one of the last two free elections—the total Communist vote was 17 per cent. of those who actually voted. In 1947, it was 23.5 per cent. It is perfectly clear that the reason why the Communists were able to take over control in Hungary was that there was a Russian Army on the borders.Let me give another quotation:This is a grim story, and I believe it should be on the conscience of every one of us that there are millions of people similar to ourselves living under slave conditions today, in which a man is afraid to say a word to his neighbour, even to a member of his family, lest, because of it, the State police get him. I wish that some of those who look upon the Czechs, the Poles and Hungarians as expendable would live a little closer to a police State, to see what that really means.My third quotation is as follows:History shows, and has shown particularly in the last few years, that the greatest human sentiment to move men and women, even the men and women in the satellite countries—and I have had intimate contact with them—is the sense of nationhood. The national feeling is the predominant one of all the human feelings. It is far stronger than the appeal of Communism itself … but it is no good deluding ourselves. When the call comes it is our demand and our right to preserve for ourselves that which we know and love."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1953; Vol. 515, c. 939–942.]That was true in May, 1953, and it is doubly true today, I do not believe that Russia can go back to the time of the big smile. There was a chance, but there it is.
I also think that we too can make a profound mistake in our foreign policy. I know it is difficult to say this today. but we have become so obsessed with the Middle East that we tend to forget that the main objective of Russian policy is the control of Western Europe. Of course they wanted the satellites. That was the old Stalinist cushion of defence. They wanted them also for springboards, and they have become disturbed. But the main objective is the same. It is the control of Western Germany so that from the heart-land of Europe they can control the world. Whatever our local circumstances, let us always keep clear in our mind that that is their objective.
These are strange and terrible days. I believe that the consequences of this last fortnight will be quite different from those which followed Munich, but will be just 819 as important in history. A great convulsion has seized us. I believe—and I regret to say it—that we are condemned by most of the world. I regret to say to our Prime Minister that he commands little trust outside his own party. As I said at the beginning of my speech, he is undoubtedly discredited in America.
I suppose that hon. Members who follow me in this debate will be entitled to say, if they care to refer to my speech, "That is all very well, but what are you offering? What proposals can you make." I tell the House quite honestly tonight that I feel completely baffled and bewildered because it all seems to me to come back to one thing. Our Prime Minister—and he is ours irrespective to whatever party we belong—has rendered many services to this country. I sincerely believe, and I say it with regret and sorrow, that he should now perform his last great service and give up his seals of office so that somebody can follow him who can again restore unity to our stricken country and give unity and leadership to the world.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Wentworth Schofield (Rochdale)
I do not propose to detain the House for any great length of time, but I wish, first, to refer to a remark made by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) regarding some of the allegations that have been made since the beginning of this debate to the effect that the action of the French and the British in intervening in Egypt had touched off the massacre of the Hungarians by the Russians. If anyone really believes that I would ask him to consider the following points.
As one who has had some experience of the moving of large masses of tanks over considerable distances, I should like to refer to some of the difficulties which have to be faced in such an operation. Heavy tanks cannot be moved over large distances on their own tracks. If an attempt were made to take large masses of tanks across Hungary to Budapest under their own power the result would be that they would be off the road long before they got there. Tanks can be transported over long distances only by rail on flats, and only twelve to fifteen tanks can be taken at a time on a train. Alternatively, they can be moved on transporters one at a time.
820 We know that the events in Hungary came very quickly after the invasion of Egypt by Israel. It was only a matter of days. But what did we find? We found that Budapest was ringed by 1,800 tanks. But it is totally impossible to bring such a large number of tanks across Hungary to Budapest in a matter of days. Therefore, I suggest that those tanks had been brought to assembly points within striking distance of Budapest long before Israel ever attacked Egypt. That is a point which I think hon. Members should seriously consider. I am not making a party point; I am merely pointing out something of which I have had actual experience.
In February last, when the debate on foreign affairs took place, I drew the attention of the House to the large supplies of Egyptian cotton which were going to Russia in exchange for Russian tanks, aeroplanes and other arms. I described the deal at that time as mischief making on the part of Russia and as an endeavour to exert economic pressure on Egypt. I warned the Egyptians that they would find that cotton in the hands of Russia would be a greater threat to their economy than guns in the hands of Israel.
Recent events in the Middle East have disclosed that the accumulation of arms in Egyptian hands is of quite considerable proportions. If, as Colonel Nasser told me on Christmas morning, he had obtained them in exchange for cotton, then all I can say is that the quantity of cotton which has changed hands must amount to several hundreds of thousands of bales.
Let us look for a moment at the consequences which could arise and probably have arisen from the placing of so much Egyptian cotton in Russian hands. Most hon. Members know that Egypt's economy is based entirely on cotton, and that the price which she obtains for that cotton determines whether she is prosperous or otherwise. Her annual crop represents about I million to 1¼ million bales a year. The type of cotton which she grows is what is known as long staple cotton, which is used for making the better quality goods.
Let us consider what motives Russia might have had for buying such large quantities of this long staple cotton from Egypt. The first thing I ask the House to realise is that Russia is not normally a user of long staple cotton, for the simple reason that she has not the machinery 821 necessary to spin it. She just does not possess the machinery necessary to handle large amounts of long staple cotton.
On the other hand, she had obtained in exchange for weapons of war—of which she might have had great difficulty in disposing anywhere else—a non-perishable commodity which she can turn into money at any time she wishes to throw that cotton on the markets of the world. If at any time she puts that weight of cotton on the market the effect will be to crash the price of Egyptian cotton and smash Egypt's economy.
By her deal of arms for cotton Egypt has placed herself in a strait-jacket and Russia has obtained an economic weapon with which she has been able to blackmail Egypt into doing what Russia decided. It is very significant that since the exchange of that cotton Egyptian threats to Israel have increased, lying radio propaganda against this country has been intensified, and the world has seen the drawing closer together of Russia and Egypt.
There is another thing I should like to tell the House. Last December I made a tour of the Middle East and, on my way home, I called at Cairo. I had not been there for more than half an hour before I received an invitation to meet Colonel Nasser. I met him at his home on Christmas morning last. At that time the burning question in the Middle East was the Arab-Israeli question. I spent much time discussing it with Premier Nuri Said, President Camille Chamoun and other leaders of the Middle East.
I spent much time discussing the question with Colonel Nasser. I urged him to enter into talks with Israel on the ground that it was far better to talk before fighting than to talk after fighting. He said to me that he could not possibly approach Israel because if he did so his position would be imperilled in Egypt itself. Then I asked him whether he would undertake to speak through a third party, and he said to me, "If I did I must make this perfectly plain; under no consideration at all will I have a certain third party." When I asked to whom he objected as a third party he said, "The Security Council of the United Nations."
822 I said, "That is a very serious statement to make. Why do you say that?" He said, "Because I have absolutely no faith in the United Nations." He explained that in 1947, when he was a captain in the Egyptian Army fighting Israelis, the Security Council ordered a stand fast and a cease-fire and, although the Egyptians stood fast, ceased fire and did not bring in reinforcements, the Israelis, he said, got reinforcements and armour and then, without warning, swept across and defeated the Egyptians and he himself was captured. That shows how dangerous it is when a man like Colonel Nasser, who had been captured when he was a captain, should hold that in his heart purely for revenge at some time or other.
Throughout the whole of that discussion he stuck to the point that under no consideration would he agree to any third party talks through the United Nations. Yet, as soon as he seized the Canal and saw what was happening—the preparations being made by this country and France—he said, "Send the matter to the United Nations". Knowing what he had said to me, that under no consideration would he accept the United Nations because he did not believe in it, and then in the next breath and in another situation, saying, "Send it to the United Nations," proves to me that he is not only dishonest but hypocritical.
Because of that I have no doubt as to where I stand, and because of that I felt it my duty to support the Prime Minister in what he has done in Egypt at this time.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
I think we all listened with interest to what the hon. and gallant Member for Rochdale (Lieut.-Colonel Schofield) said, at least in his capacity as an expert on the questions of tanks and cotton. I should like to return in a moment to the point which he made about the Soviet military build-up before the entry into Hungary.
Behind all the blunders and to my mind the catastrophes which have followed the British action in the Middle East in the last two weeks there has been one thing which I found more depressing than anything else. That is the fact that the actions and statements of the Government in the last two weeks have very clearly revealed a basic inadequacy in their whole 823 attitude to the problems of the modern world. The Government just do not seem capable of appreciating what the problems are nor how they are seen by the majority of our fellow men.
To my mind the saddest thing about the last few weeks was, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) said, the opportunity which was missed in Eastern Europe. Before the Israel attack took place in the Middle East there had been tremendous events in Poland and in Hungary. It was one of the historic turning-points in the story of the human race. Also, in many ways, it was the culmination of eleven years of combined efforts by the democratic Powers in their foreign policy. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North that if this country had been fully alive to what was going on, if it had made it its main priority to discuss with its friends and allies all over the world the right approach to those events, there might have been a chance of freeing the whole of Eastern Europe and simultaneously solving innumerable problems which have perplexed the world for the last ten years.
I only say "might" because one can never be sure, but the most appalling thing of all is that there has never been any sign, in any statement, by any member of this Government, that they were conscious of the problem or aware of the possibilities at all. Sympathy has been expressed for the sufferings of the people in Eastern Europe; outrage has been expressed at the behaviour of the Soviet Union; but I have been able to find only one Ministerial statement which goes beyond that. I should like to read it to the House.
It was made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a speech in Manchester on 26th October. We might have expected from the Chancellor some really interesting comments on what was going on. He has identified himself in the last ten years with the struggle of the East European peoples for freedom by accepting office as President of the relevant section of the European Movement. I ask the House to consider whether in that situation it can be really proud of his remarks. The Daily Telegraph felt them so important that it extracted these words from the main report of his speech and printed them on its front page: 824he referred to the spectacle of people trying to throw off the shackles of Communism and added, 'It would be strange if at the same moment we were to fasten the fetters on our wrists. Make no mistake, Communism and Socialism are the same thing. One is hard, the other soft. One is red, the other pink, but the idea is the same and a bad idea it is'.
§ Mr. Healey
The House will have noticed that some whom I must call "hon. Members" opposite said, "Hear, hear" to those remarks. Are they aware that at the moment those remarks were spoken the Socialist workers of Budapest were fighting Soviet tanks with their fingernails? Are they aware that the backbone of the Hungarian people was the Social-Democratic workers?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
Would not the hon. Member agree that Hungary has been Communist since 1948 and that these were Communist workers fighting a national war for the salvation of their country, against the Soviet Union?
§ Mr. Healey
They were Socialist workers and were described as such by the Communists. I do not expect the Chancellor of the Exchequer to apologise to the House for his remarks. They were cheap and nasty, like most of his stock-in-trade, but I hope that he will take the opportunity next week of apologising to Miss Anna Kethly, Leader of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party, who will be visiting this country in order to obtain support for her suffering people.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
Does not the hon. Gentleman ignore the part played by students in Hungary in this resistance movement?
§ Mr. Healey
I do not ignore the part played by the students. From talks I have had with representatives of those students in the last few days I know they regard as the greatest tragedy of all that, in their hour of need, this country was committed to an act of aggression in another part of the world.
§ Mr. R. Chichester-Clark (Londonderry)rose—
§ Mr. Healey
No. I have already given way too much.
The hon. and gallant Member for Rochdale may be right in saying that 825 what has happened since those days was inevitable but I would remind him, on the matter of military build-up, that we have been building up our forces in the Mediterranean since the beginning of August. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If the preparation of ability to intervene argues intention to intervene, the hon. and gallant Gentleman has condemned his Government no less than he has condemned the Government of the Soviet Union for committing an act of deliberate aggression, with careful preparation months in advance. If he is really so certain that military repression in Eastern Europe was inevitable, how can he justify the action of the British Government in splitting their own people, splitting their allies, splitting the Commonwealth and splitting the United Nations on the very eve of these very tragic events which, according to the statement of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, the Government knew to be certainly coming?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Schofield
I was trying to show that there was no connection between our French and British force intervening in the Canal and what happened in Hungary.
§ Mr. Healey
I am not prepared to say that I know, and it may be no one will ever know, whether there was a connection, but there may have been one. Whether there was or there was not, there can be no excuse, on the hon. and gallant Gentleman's own argument, for the Government, at this moment in history, one of the great turning points in the history of the human race, deliberately splitting the world and deceiving their allies, in order to pursue selfish interests of their own in the Middle East.
The fact is that, even in the weekend before the Israeli attack, diplomatic correspondents in the Conservative Press were saying that the Government could see some advantage in the events of Eastern Europe in that they were diverting Soviet attention from the Middle East and thus making it more possible for Britain to pursue an active policy in that area.
The second fundamental criticism of the Government's behaviour in this period is their total failure to understand the forces at work in the Middle East.
826 I should here like to read a quotation from a Ministerial statement on this matter in the last few days. It is:First of all, I believe that what the Middle East is suffering from is an unhealthy stimulated spirit of nationalism … We must face the fact that this spirit is not a natural growth but has been deliberately inculcated as an instrument of policy by the present rulers of Russia.That is a statement made by the Lord President of the Council in the House of Lords, five days ago. It has been made in almost identical language many times by the rulers of the Soviet Union in referring to developments in Eastern Europe. I believe that the noble Lord sincerely believes what he said, but that fact shows that he and his like are quite unfitted to deal with the problems of Britain and the world at the present time.
The tragic events of the last two weeks have shown that nationalism is no less a genuine force in the Middle East than it is in our own country. I have nothing but contempt for those who say that nationalism has no right to exist in the Middle East and is quite artificial and who, the next moment, claim the right to use force against the Arabs in order to prove that Britain is still great.
The fact is, as other hon. Members have already pointed out, that the blindness of the right hon. Gentlemen on the Government benches to the fact of Arab nationalism has been responsible for destroying forty years' work by British soldiers and diplomats in the Middle East. All the work which has been done by our representatives since 1916 has now gone for nothing, and we see the spectacle of the Arab world united against us from the Persian Gulf to Casablanca.
It may well be that the Prime Minister, by his behaviour in the last fortnight, has signed the death warrant of Nuri Said. Certainly Nuri has no power any longer to pursue policies of friendship with this country, as was demonstrated very clearly by the Iraqi Government's statement at Teheran the other day. Even Persia. which is not an Arab country, voted with the Soviet Union against the West in the Security Council a few days ago.
The hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) made a most impressive speech, the first speech we have heard from the Government benches to attempt realistically to justify the Government's behaviour of a fortnight ago.
827 I do not agree with his justification any more than I agree with the action, but the speech was a serious attempt to justify it. It was a tragic speech at the same time, because the hon. Member knows as well as his Friends know that the speech has not justified the Government's behaviour in the last week. It might have justified the original conspiracy with two foreign Governments to bring down Nasser and take control of the Canal, but the fact is that right hon. Gentlemen opposite lost their nerve in the middle of the operation. They are believed all over the world to have lost their nerve because of Russian intervention.
That brings me to my last point. I believe, as my hon. Friend for East Ham, North said, that we were on the brink of a third world war last week as a direct consequence of the actions of right hon. Gentlemen in the Government. Let me look at the problem from the Russian point of view. In the last two weeks they have slowly beaten to death a whole people, a people whose Government had declared their neutrality and appealed for help to the United Nations. While they were engaged in the commission of this ghastly crime they shook their fists at the British Prime Minister, and he crumbled. He gave in.
If Government supporters do not accept my interpretation let them read what is being said in the Press of the countries who were their partners in this enterprise, in France and in Israel. Both countries believe that they have been sold down the river by the Prime Minister in the last seven days. The Colonial Secretary has been hard at work during the week-end looking for neutral comment which suggests approval of the Government action. I shall be interested to hear him read out some of the comments in Figaro and the French Press about the way in which the Prime Minister ratted on our allies in this enterprise before it was even completed.
Nasser is still sitting in Cairo, the hero of the Arab world. The Canal is still three-quarters under Egyptian occupation. The forces of Israel and Egypt are not separated by Britain. The plain fact is that we have sacrificed and shattered all the pillars of our foreign policy without 828 achieving the aims which the Government had in mind at the very beginning of the operation.
What is to be done? Quite frankly I agree again that it is very doubtful whether anything much can be done so long as the person responsible for this catalogue of tragedies remains Prime Minister. But I would say this: I believe that not only in this country but all over the world there are people who sincerely believe that the only possible basis for the survival of our human race is to get beyond the anarchy of power politics to some sort of international order; and who believe that it is the function of the United Nations, and the duty of its members, to co-operate in trying to create such an order.
I will agree with hon. Gentlemen opposite who said that the very blackness of the catastrophe which we have contrived for ourselves has brought home to people all over the world the need for order. I believe we do have an opportunity now, which we may not have had earlier, for making a reality of the United Nations. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not try to take credit for this—it would be like A1 Capone taking credit for improving the efficiency of the Chicago police. But if the Government are really serious in saying that they now want to rebuild the United Nations, I should like to ask them some questions which I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will answer.
First, are they prepared to accept whatever solution of the Canal dispute is reached by the United Nations without using their veto? Secondly, are they prepared to accept, as the basis for the functioning of the international police force in the Middle East, whatever agreement is reached by the United Nations Secretary-General with the Governments concerned in the area? If they are prepared to give those assurances, then there is a chance that this country can creep back slowly into the world family. If they are not prepared to do so, then they have excommunicated themselves from the human family for political purposes; and we shall have to go on living in the shadows and waiting until some other Government, or at least another Prime Minister, can bring us back into the community of nations.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Preston, North)
I will willingly play tribute to the passionate sincerity with which the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) has felt upon recent events in Central and Eastern Europe. I know of his intimate knowledge of the problem, but I beg him not to believe that we on this side of the House do not feel about it as strongly as he and his right hon. and hon. Friends. I myself know something of this problem, and I remember the years after the war up to 1950, when it seemed to me that something could be done, in the period when the West had a monopoly of nuclear weapons and hence a lever over the Soviets.
Whether anything can be done now in this tragic situation through which we are still passing, I do not know. I am bound to say that I have heard few constructive proposals from the party opposite on the many occasions on which they have raised this matter. I do not think anybody believes that an international police force would have solved the problem, and I cannot believe that making it easier for the Soviets to extend their grip over the Middle East would really have helped the cause of the patriots in Hungary. [HON. MEMBERS: "We have been making it easier."] I will come to that deeper and fundamental problem in what I have to say in a moment.
At the beginning of August, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that what happened in the Middle East was "a matter of life and death" for this country. I go back to that remark, because in the frequent debates we have had on this subject I think it very easy to lose sight of the real issues at stake. As I see it, unless our access to the sterling oil of the Middle East is secure; unless our sea communications through the Middle East and our air communications over that region with the world round the Indian Ocean are secure, the sterling area cannot stand. This country cannot enjoy even its present prosperity, let alone an increased one. Neither Britain nor the countries of Western Europe can be independent in any sense, even in the relative sense possible in the modern world. If we lose—and it is very much a question of whether we shall still keep our footing in the Middle East—if we lose it, I believe we shall be reduced 830 inevitably to the rank of a satellite of the West or the East, according to the way of world events.
These vital interests of ours in the Middle East were challenged by the rise of the Nasser movement, both in so far as it represented certain local social and economic tensions of a fundamental anti-Western character, and even more in recent years as it became increasingly an instrument of Soviet policy. We tried to come to terms with this force. We tried to appease it and failed. Then slowly, one by one, we saw our positions in the Middle East sliding away until the slide was in danger of becoming an avalanche. For some time I have had no doubt—I think many hon. Members on this Slide of the House have seen it coming for some time—that we were bound to have, probably this year, either a clash with Nasser or a surrender to him and those behind him.
The Israeli attack on Egypt brought matters to a head. I do not think we could have allowed that action to develop without intervening, without surrendering any influence which we still retained in the Middle East. I know there are some—it is a plausible argument, and has been advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby)—who say that we should have left the Israeli attack to run on and they would have dealt with Col. Nasser and that would have solved the problem. There was far too grave a risk that the war would have become general. Other banners would have been unfurled and our influence swept away. Non-intervention would have meant abdication. Even delay would have meant abdication. That is why I think the Government did the right thing when they went into Egypt.
I say the right thing from three points of view: from the point of view of British interests, because I think we cannot afford to abdicate our position in the Middle East; from the point of view of the Middle Eastern peoples themselves, because a repetition of the tragic Palestine war would have been the worst possible thing for the Arab and the Jewish people in the area, and finally, from the point of view of our international responsibilities.
I know that we did what we did against the Security Council, against the 831 General Assembly, but I confess that I have never shared the view of the Archbishop of Canterbury that the Apostolic succession has somehow descended on the members of the Security Council. I was indeed a little shocked to find the fervour with which—in all sincerity I know—a number of hon. Members opposite have almost transferred their allegiance to the United Nations organisation. It is the first time since the Reformation that a substantial body of opinion in England has believed it should take orders from an authority outside this country.
I take the view that the spirit of the United Nations is very important, I think far more important than the Charter; and it seems to me that the spirit enjoined on us the responsibility to stop the war and to promote a settlement. The fact that we were an interested party only strengthened our right to do it. Interested parties, after all, have the greatest responsibilities.
I think the House would acquit me of any temptation to underrate the dangers that were inevitable in what was done. It was, after all, because we felt it to be so very difficult to go back into the Middle East that some of us fought as we did against the decision to withdraw from the Suez Canal Zone. It would have been much easier to have stayed than it has been to come out and go back. Delay has only increased the difficulty of going back; but despite the danger I do not see what other course was open to the Government.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger)—I am sorry that he has gone out of the Chamber—said that we have lost our right to give leadership to the world as a result of what we have done and that never again will we be able to stand alone. In a sense we have stood alone, although not quite alone; we have been in good company, because we have stood alone with France. I would say this, too, that leadership is of its very nature nearly always unpopular.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw, when he was talking about leadership, referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). I can think of two speeches of my right hon. Friend the 832 Member for Woodford, both of which gave a lead and both of which were profoundly unpopular at the time—his speech at Fulton, which was received with horror by most hon. Members opposite and by most opinion in the United States but which afterwards became the established doctrine of a Labour Foreign Secretary, and his speech on high-level summit talks which was received with a good deal of apprehension by some of my hon. Friends on this side. Leadership by its very nature is often unpopular. Yet I think that, on the whole, public opinion as the days have gone by is beginning to move our way.
I have never been tempted to underrate the dangers. There was first of all the political danger—the danger of a quarrel between the United States and this country. Personally I never felt that it was possible to go on much longer without a showdown with the Americans over the Middle East. Over the last ten years successive Governments, whether Labour or Conservative, have found it almost impossible to secure co-operation with the Americans in that area. The party opposite had experience of this in Palestine and Abadan. We have had it in the Suez Canal Zone, the Sudan and Cyprus. I think that a showdown was at some time inevitable, because whenever we have tried to conciliate the Americans it has never led to any advantage. There was only one exception—one glistening occasion—when we stood up to them and even encouraged those Arabs who worked for us to fight against the Arabs who worked for them. This was at Buraimi. They climbed down, and that particular part of the Middle East has been peaceful ever since.
§ Mr. Amery
The hon. Gentleman's point has really very little bearing on the subject.
There has been the illusion, I think from genuine goodwill towards the United States, that their policy since the Suez Canal crisis was inspired very largely by electioneering considerations. I think that that was a profound illusion and that it has been proved to be an illusion by the speeches of Mr. Cabot Lodge since 833 the election, and by other expressions of American policy, not least the contemptuous rejection of any proposal for a high-level meeting with the Prime Minister of France or our Prime Minister.
I think this showdown was necessary but we have also to make an effort to understand American policy instead of only resenting it. Here is the only contribution which I have to make on that subject. There are two schools of thought in the preparation of American policy towards the Middle East. Like Gladstone in this country in the nineteenth century, there are some who think they will defend the Middle East better against Communism if they could clear British and French interests out of the way and work directly with the rising nations in that part of the world. There is another element, which is perhaps more in the Disraeli tradition, who believe that it would be more advantageous to build up the French and British systems as bulwarks behind which America can shelter. Our ability to secure American co-operation depends upon being strong and effective in the defence of our interests in the Middle East, upon our systems being going concerns.
There was also the danger of Soviet reaction. Of course it has been building up for months. It has been much publicised in the last few days, but those who have been following this question realise how deep the Russians have gone into Egypt in the last weeks. One thing of which I am sure is that there was never any risk—I believe that the hon. Member for Leeds, East was wrong in what he said just now—of the Soviets starting a world war over this Middle East business. They were not even prepared to send volunteers and had they begun to send them after our operations had begun, it would have been better to meet the volunteers as they were coming in than to wait until they were dug in and established.
Besides this, there were practical dangers of a clearer type, many of which have come to pass since then—economic dangers, the blocking of the Canal and the interruption of our oil supplies. Balancing these dangers, however, were tremendous opportunities that at last we might receive a real settlement in the Middle East, a settlement which would 834 conform with the interests of the Middle Eastern peoples and with ours—a settlement of the Palestine problem, of the Suez Canal problem, of the Nile waters problem and the North African problem.
Here was a great chance not just to break Colonel Nasser, though that was important too, but a chance to solve the social and economic problems which have given rise to Nasserism—a chance to create the conditions in which the beginnings of free institutions and modern administration which we had given to the Middle Eastern countries in the days of tutelage could grow up in the period of co-operation between equals. It was a great venture—it still could be. It was certainly nothing like as dangerous, however great the dangers, as sitting back and waiting for the Russians to dig themselves into the Middle East.
Accordingly, without reservation I associate myself with the decision of the Government in going into Egypt. I would like at the same time to pay my tribute to our sure allies the French, who have shown the most remarkable spirit of national unity. I had the privilege the other day, with some hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House, of being in Algeria, and I came back from there convinced that there is a kind of renaissance taking place in France. The unity of the French Parliament in this hour of danger and the patriotism of the French Socialist Party in this hour of danger is remarkable.
I would say, too, that curiously the French have shown in these last weeks the very qualities on which we used to pride ourselves—they have been very calm, very united; a little anxious, perhaps, at the rather excitable scenes in the House of Commons, reminiscent of the Palais Bourbon between the wars, a little unhappy that we should be divided and not always quite sure whether we would go on. I only pray that we shall not in the long run give them any ground to believe that in this emergency it is we who have let them down.
Of course, when one goes into a crisis of this kind one has to be determined to see it through. One has to have strong nerves. There is a great question mark at the moment as to whether we have had strong enough nerves as a House of Commons, as a party or even as a 835 Government. We took the great decision. We ran all the risks, incurred all the odium and suffered a good deal of the damage. Our immediate objectives were within our grasp. We could have got to Ismailia and Suez in a day or a day and a half. And then the cease-fire was ordered. The great question is raised, has this imperilled our ultimate objectives?
I should like to ask a few questions about the operation itself. It seems to have been admirably planned in accordance with all the best textbook principles. It was unfolded in a stately and majestic style over nearly a week. But it seems to have been a little unimaginative. The world did not stand still while this slow operation was unrolled. Could we not have gone a little faster? I know there has been the argument that the preliminary bombing was necessary to avoid casualties and so on. But in affairs of this kind speed is of the essence. You cannot make war with kid gloves. Surprise and fait accompli are the key. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
Let hon. Members opposite stop being a crowd of chattering monkeys.
§ Mr. Amery
I should like to ask a few questions, too, about the cease-fire. We ought to know why the cease-fire was ordered. We have been told, I know, that it was because the Israeli and Egyptian troops had ceased fighting, but in our original ultimatum I understood that we had asked to have our garrison received into Ismailia and Suez regardless of whether the fighting continued. Was it due to American pressure? There is nothing new in that if it was. There have been rumours that the Americans threatened economic sanctions. If so, we ought to know. If it was so and if the Government told the country, let them have no doubt that they would have the whole country behind them in resisting anything of that kind.
One of our commentators—I think the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), but I may be wrong—wrote that the reason we withdrew was that the United States had made it clear that they would not support us if the Soviet Union retaliated against our action in the Middle East. Was it the hon. Member who said that?
§ Mr. Amery
I thought so. I do not believe that there was any danger of Soviet retaliation; but if the Americans did give that threat we ought to know, because we cannot build or maintain an alliance on the basis of a lie.
Did the Soviet threat bring about the cease-fire? The Government have denied it, and I believe their denial. Was it the fear of volunteers? I believe that all this was propaganda spread by the defeatists to frighten the old women of both sexes in both parties throughout the country. There is, however, no doubt about one thing: that a lot of public opinion in the Middle East has been led to believe that the Russian threat had a good deal to do with it.
I want to make it clear that the questions I am asking are in no sense a criticism of the Prime Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—in no sense. They may be a criticism of some of my hon. and right hon. Friends who, having given their assent to the decision, drew back at the critical moment—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah"]—like Onan of old. They are not a criticism of the Prime Minister. It is presumptious of me to say this, but I think that the moral courage that my right hon. Friend has shown in this crisis has been beyond praise. It has been all the greater because it began with the reversal of a policy with which he had himself been long associated. I beg him to believe that the country is far more behind him in this matter than perhaps he knows—and that goes particularly for the industrial constituencies. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) was, I believe, in my constituency the other night at a rather small meeting at which he figured as a star.
There has, of course, been weakness, but it has been confined much more to the intelligentsia—to the readers of the Observer, the Manchester Guardian and the Economist, the papers that always produce the line of the American Embassy almost automatically.
§ Mr. Amery
There is no doubt that from the time of the cease-fire we have suffered a very severe setback. I do not believe that it need be a defeat, but if 837 we are to see how to turn it from being a setback into a victory we have got to take stock of the situation and try to find a way out. The damage which we have suffered is clear. The Canal has been blocked, the oil supplies interrupted, our immediate objectives have not been reached and we have lost a good deal of good will without obtaining the respect which would have followed from success.
This has been more particularly apparent in the Middle Eastern countries themselves. It was a great tribute to the Governments of the Bagdad Pact countries that they delayed any condemnation of any kind until three days after the cease fire had been ordered.
Nasser himself is still there—wounded, no doubt, but he is there. I remember an old Macedonian terrorist of long experience in resistance saying to me once, "Dictators are like snakes. You must either kill them or admire them, but never go poking them with a stick."
So much for the damage; but some of the advantages are clear, too. The fighting has been stopped. There is, therefore, no immediate danger of a large-scale Arab-Israel war. Nasser's military potential has been crippled, and that counts for a lot in the other Arab countries. His and the Soviet plans for taking over the Middle East has received a very sharp setback that may be the reason why the Russians themselves are so stirred up on this question. If we use the opportunity well, those plans may have been spoiled for good.
Above all—this is to me much the most important—the British and French troops are in the Middle East physically—they are there. [HON. MEMBERS: "They are going out."] They are there. The fact that they are there will be much the strongest card in our hands in the weeks that lie ahead.
As I see it, the difference between defeat and victory in those weeks will turn on the question of whether we can still reach our long-term objectives: that is to say, international control of the Canal in accordance with, or on the basis of, whichever way hon. Members like to put it, the proposals of the London Conference and both parts of the Franco-British resolution to the Security Council; a lasting settlement of the Palestine problem and a lasting settlement of the Nile waters 838 problem. If we succeed in these things, that will be the end of the Nasser and the Soviet threat to our interests in the Middle East. Although other problems will come along, it will be the end of that particular threat. If we fail, the British and French, and, I think, American interests, too, will be expelled from the Middle East. Our influence to bring about the right decision is still very great, it is great because we are on the spot.
The main purpose, as I see it, and the main justification of the Anglo-French expedition was to be able to achieve the realisation of these long-term objectives. It was not only to stop the immediate fighting; it was also to get a Canal settlement and a Palestine settlement. It is now proposed that a United Nations police force should be substituted for our expeditionary force, and the question arises, Can it do the job?
§ Mr. Amery
I am surprised that the hon. Member, who is quite an intelligent man, should make such an extraordinary banal remark. A police force is not a policy. It can only be an instrument of a policy. The question is, the instrument of whose policy—of the Security Council, which we know to be deeply split on ideological lines, or of the General Assembly, which has no competence in its Charter to try to enforce a settlement of particular problems all over the world?
I know that there are hon. Members—on both sides of the House, perhaps—and many of the public who think that this will be an interesting experiment in the development of international cooperation. Unfortunately we are the guinea pig in this experiment. [An HON. MEMBER: "Egypt is."] It is therefore very important to consider what are to be the duties of this force. In my view, it is essential that the police force, when constituted, remains in the Middle East until our aims have been achieved.
§ Mr. Amery
—which have been attributed to the Egyptian Government are wholly unacceptable and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, when he replies to the debate tonight, will be able to give us an assurance that the Government would not dream of accepting a police force on those terms. The size of the force is also very important. The figures as published in the newspapers of about 4,000 to 5,000 are, of course, just a joke, particularly considering what we learn about their equipment. A force without tanks or without an air component can do nothing in a situation of this kind. Does anybody think this rather mixed-up bunch will be capable of enforcing a settlement of these problems, of the problems of Palestine, the oil supply, of free passage through the Canal, and of the Nile waters? Does anybody believe they could keep out the Soviet volunteers if the Soviets decided to send them in? The hon. Member for Coventry, East was quite right this morning when he wrote that a force of this kind can be nothing but a smoke-screen for the withdrawal of the British and French forces.
§ Mr. Amery
The hon. Gentleman does not have to tell me.
Therefore, it is absolutely vital, to my mind, that the force should be of sufficient size, not to be merely a smoke screen but to bring about the settlements which were the objects of our expedition.
The composition of the force must, therefore, be vital to us. I should like to pay a tribute to the speech which the Prime Minister of Australia made—I think the day before yesterday. It seems to me essential both to our honour and to our interest that there should be French and British components in the police force. Essential to our honour because otherwise, whatever formula is found, people will think we have been kept out of it because we have been regarded as aggressors in this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Government are."] Essential to our interests because, where matters so important to us are concerned, we cannot safely leave decisions in the hands of others whose 840 interests are not necessarily the same as ours. We do not wish to exclude anybody, but we must not be excluded ourselves.
Some rather strange arguments have been advanced against having us in the force. First it was said that if we were in it we should have the Soviets in, too. Then the Soviets put forward some satellites to join, Rumanians and Czechs. Then a new thought was apparently produced, that if the force were kept small then the satellite applications could be regarded as having come in too late. On present lines the whole thing is being reduced to a joke. It is essential that the Government should make it clear tonight that they cannot go along with that.
If we have an international force which will stay until a settlement of the Middle Eastern problems is reached, if it is of a size and effectiveness to carry out that task, and if we and the French are part of it, I think we shall have secured our main objectives. Without that, I think the outcome will be a shambles.
But to have our way, to keep some of our interests in the Middle East, we shall need a greater degree of national unity than we have had hitherto. I have expressed some very strong views, and so have hon. Members on the other side of the House, in this debate and at other times. I recognise the deep feeling there is on the other side of the House against the policy pursued by my right hon. Friend. However, I ask them to try to understand the very strong support some of us have felt for that policy. It is very easy, when the issue hangs between victory and defeat, to try to humiliate the Government if one is in the Opposition. Let hon. Members remember that if they succeed in that they will be humiliating Britain and France and all those two countries stand for. Moreover, they will be reducing their own chances of doing something worth while if and when they should come back to power themselves.
Therefore, I do ask hon. Members, whatever their view about the decision taken, to look at this problem coldly. That our forces are there at Port Said is a fact. They can be taken out, but that does not mean that we can go back to the situation as it was before. Those forces in Port Said are the one card, the one influence, we still have in the Middle 841 East. I think we ought to agree, whatever we think about the past decision, to use this card to its maximum advantage.
The stakes are very high. If we fail—and it is a hair's breadth between success and failure still—if we fail our failure will mark, in my belief, the final expulsion of our influence from the Middle East, and it may be the end of Britain as a world Power. There is a real danger that we shall find ourselves humiliated to the level of a satellite, we and all that this country has stood for. It may be also the death blow to the peace of the world. If we go from the Middle East, if the French go from North Africa, a vacuum will be created. Do not believe the United Nations can fill it. They cannot. Into that vacuum will come the competing forces of the United States and the Soviet Union, and who shall say then how the matter will end? There are many, I think, who believe that at this moment the choice before us is between surrender and war. I would say to them, if you choose surrender you will get war.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
We have listened to a most extraordinary rigmarole. I ask what right has the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) to come to this House and pose as a practical little man of action? What right has this hon. Member to come to poke fun at the United Nations forces? One would imagine he came here after a great victory in the Middle East, whereas our oil supplies are cut and the Canal is blocked, and our influence completely gone in that quarter of the world.
There is one thing that the hon. Member has succeeded in doing. He has succeeded in justifying up to the hilt the criticism which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) that hon. Members opposite completely fail to understand the forces that are at work in the world today. I was unable to recognise the world about which the hon. Gentleman was speaking. He talked about it being essential to have a Britain strong and effective in the Middle East. Then there was this idea that we must choose between surrender or a clash with Colonel Nasser. It is difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman in the light of events in the last week and of the situation which we now have to face.
842 One thing the hon. Member said was that world public opinion was beginning to move our way. I believe there is some truth in that. Public opinion, I believe, is beginning to regard Britain again in some more favourable light, but world opinion is moving that way not because of anything the Government have done but because the people of this country are beginning to repudiate the action that was taken in their name within the last fortnight.
This fundamental feeling is felt and expressed in our country by people whom the hon. Member derided and scorned, whom he dismissed as the intelligentsia, the readers of the Manchester Guardian and the Observer. It is precisely because there are those people that we still stand a chance of influencing affairs in the world. It is because there are those people in this country and because there has been an expression of moral indignation from those people that we still have a chance of regaining some influence in the world. We have a chance to build upon the reaction which came from our people. If we are to build on what is good in Britain it cannot be on the basis of this choice which was posed to us by the hon. Member.
It is not a matter of surrendering to Nasser or of fighting Nasser. There is an alternative. I make no excuse for putting it forward, and I do not care if anyone considers it naive. I believe that the alternative is a genuinely held and genuinely pursued policy in support of the United Nations organisation. I hope to have something to say later about the kind of organisation which we should help to form. Meanwhile, I say that I do not believe that we can build this organisation while we have the present Government in office. If we are to pull our weight again in the world, it is absolutely essential that we should have a Government in power in whom we can have faith and trust and who we know will not endeavour to follow the lines which were insinuated in the closing words of the hon. Member for Preston, North.
I still doubt the Government's sincerity of purpose. My doubts have been reinforced by the hon. Member, because he must have some reason for believing that there is still a chance of using the present situation, with the landing of the international force, for carrying out the Government's underlying policy. My doubts 843 arise from the behaviour and words of Ministers in the House. I could understand a mistaken policy and I could understand a stubborn adherence to a policy once it had been launched. What I find it impossible to stomach is the humbug, hypocrisy and deceit which have characterised the conduct of our affairs in the last few weeks.
The original ultimatum was dishonest. Its dishonesty was underlined by the hon. Member for Preston, North when he told the House the true purpose of the landing. The ultimatum has scarcely been mentioned in the House since the word was first uttered about fourteen days ago. I will do no more than mention the subsequent leaflets dropped over Cairo, but we ought to have an explanation of the contradictions in the declared aims of Her Majesty's Government as uttered last Thursday by two Government spokesmen.
First, we had the Secretary of State for the Colonies telling us that the reason for the intervention was to secure a ceasefire. On the very same day, the Minister of Defence was saying:The whole point of this is that the Canal cannot and must not be solely the concern of the Egyptian Government. That is what all this has been about."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November. 1956; Vol. 560, c. 262.]How can we reconcile all this tangle of contradictory statements and deceit with the aim, which we are now told is to be pursued, of building a United Nations organisation and an international force?
There is another point about recent Ministerial apologia. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said last night that he has supported the Prime Minister in what he admitted might well prove to be an economically disastrous policy because he was against appeasement. I accept that, coming from the Chancellor, as sincere, though I believe it to be absolutely mistaken. I share the Chancellor's bitter hatred of the pre-war policy of appeasement, but our crime before the war was that we did not insist upon supporting international law. When Sir John Simon congratulated Japan on her success in Manchuria and Sir Samuel Hoare offered Italy a slice of Abyssinia and Mr. Neville Chamberlain agreed to carve up Czechoslovakia, we were tearing down the principles of collective security and breaking up the structure of the League of Nations.
844 Under a Conservative Government we appeased aggression before the war. This year, again under a Conservative Government, we have been the aggressors. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is progress."] The Chancellor pleaded for courage. He is right. We need courage. It has not been always conspicuous in our policy since 1945. But there are people who seem to think that courage is synonymous with military action. They are unable to conceive of courage being deployed in the pursuit of a political policy.
There are hon. Members opposite who demand, and I think they are right, that sometimes we should behave independently of the United States, and courageously. I understand very well what they feel, but courage and independence in themselves are not enough. Why could we not have had more courage and independence when it came to considering trade with China, and more courage and independence during the recent proceedings of the Disarmament Sub-Committee? We could have had some disarmament convention had we not tagged behind the United States. Why could we not have had courage and independence when it came to dealing with the loan for the Aswan Dam? We should have shown more courage and independence in our Middle East policy as a whole.
There were many occasions when strong, clear, courageous action would have been much better than a sickly compromise with the United States, but to have courage and take independent action for the wrong cause does not wipe out previous failures. A Liberal Member has spoken of frustration. He said that our aggression has been a reaction felt by hon. Members opposite against the frustration of the post-war years. There is something very true in that.
This afternoon the Colonial Secretary gave us a list of territories in our Empire which are moving towards independence. I believe that one of the causes of frustration among hon. and right hon. Members opposite has been the movements towards independence within the Dependencies in the British Empire. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite have not taken pride in the fact that India, Burma, Ceylon, and Pakistan are now independent. It is precisely that development which has led to the sort of frustration that we have seen expressed 845 from the benches opposite. They have the idea that we are being pushed around, but this idea, when properly examined, is simply the inability of hon. Members opposite to readjust themselves to the need to meet the national feelings of these Asian and African countries.
There is another reason for their feeling of frustration. The hon. Member for Preston, North spoke about the danger of leaving a vacuum in the Middle East. He was absolutely right. We left a vacuum, and the failure of the other side of the House and, to a large extent, of this side, what that we did not think of the alternative which we should have put in the place of the vacuum that we were creating. I do not accept from the hon. Member that the choice was between surrender and a clash. There was an alternative—a genuine United Nations policy which too few of us in this country have been prepared to face since 1945. Now we have a chance of doing some thinking about this problem.
§ Mr. J. Amery
The hon. Member has said that the alternative was to build an efficient United Nations organisation, but that is not today—and the crisis is now.
§ Mr. Beswick
Because we have failed in the past it does not mean that we should not now start work which we should have started some years ago. I will try to develop the lines along which I think we should work.
First may I diverge a little. It seems to me that the danger in the present position when things are malleable, when we are still balancing a little, when the issue may come down this way or the other, is that we shall still attempt to revert to precisely the kind of outmoded balance of power politics which have landed us in the present mess. In so far as the speech of the hon. Member for Preston, North had any point at all, he was asking us even now to attempt to get back in the Middle East on the basis of national power. I do not for a moment believe that is possible.
What I believe is possible is that we can have a constructive, dynamic policy based upon the United Nations organisation. I believe that such a policy can ensure stability in that part of the world. One of the most fascinating recent events has been the way in which former 846 unbelievers are now talking about an international police force. It is good to hear that, and I hope that the conversion will last. But what we should be doing now is not listening to the kind of atavistic stuff which the hon. Gentleman opposite put over. We should now be thinking in more practical and constructive terms of the kind of international police force which we want.
We should be thinking of the kind of United Nations organisation we want. The Government have done no thinking in this matter. I put down a Question on 1st August asking what were their proposals for the review conference which the General Assembly last year agreed should be held. I was told then that we had as yet put nothing forward. Why are we not pressing for it to be held? Why cannot we be told in this House what ideas we shall put to that review conference? I admit that there is urgency. If there is, the sooner we start letting the world know, and letting the countries in the Middle East know for what we stand, the better.
We need a United Nations organisation which is something more than a deliberative body. It is not good enough to have merely a Security Council to which we can refer threats to peace. We ought to be able to do something before those threats arise. We want a United Nations organisation which is a functional body, which can not only discuss matters but which can take decisions and actions, an organisation that not only has responsibilities but power to discharge those responsibilities.
It is not good enough for hon. Gentlemen opposite to laugh when we talk in these terms. One would think that their realistic, practical power politics paid off One would imagine that Britain was on the upgrade instead of sliding down, after following the policy that hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to think is a realistic one.
The project of an international police force has been the policy of the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party now for twenty years. It is time that we made a real attempt to put it into operation. For this emergency, no doubt, we shall have to rely upon contingents from the smaller nations. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite not to be too sarcastic about the 3,000 or 10,000 people now gathering in the 847 Middle East. I have seen the arithmetic of this worked out. It is said that 10,000 members of an international police force are to try to keep law and order in a territory of 40 million people. But it is possible for a policeman in a street in London to keep law and order even though he is outnumbered by greater odds than that.
If we have even 10,000 people in that area backed by the moral authority of the United Nations organisation, or even if there be but 3,000 to start with, I think they will be more secure themselves, and will have a greater influence for stability there, than 40,000 or 100,000 of Anglo-French Forces, against whom will be ranged the entire Arab world. Do not let us be too sarcastic about these beginnings of an international force. Let us think more of how we can build upon this start that we are about to make.
Other questions arise which may seem academic to some hon. Gentlemen opposite but we should be thinking about them. To whom is the force to be responsible? Who will order it about, the Security Council or the General Assembly? Are we to tackle afresh the question of the veto? Are we to rely upon a two-thirds majority? These are important questions, but in so far as there is urgency, these are the kind of questions that ought to be discussed now in this Chamber, this week.
There is one other matter which goes alongside the creation of an international police force. I mentioned earlier the disarmament conference, in which I believe we could have reached agreement had it not been for the reluctance of Her Majesty's Government to take a courageous and independent line. Instead we followed the United States of America, and agreement became impossible. I believe that we should turn again to the Disarmament Sub-Committee. Fundamentally this is a question of transferring power from national forces to an international or supranational body. In so far as we succeed in creating even a small international force for the maintenance of law and order, we shall find it much easier to get agreement in the Disarmament Sub-Committee.
There is one other point which few people have mentioned but which we shall have to turn to. I asked a few months ago what Her Majesty's Government 848 were thinking about the proposals for a Middle East oil consortium, which was first put forward to the United Nations organisation by the International Cooperative Alliance. The former Minister of State tended to be a little sarcastic about that proposal. Yet I am certain that sooner or later—and it may be sooner rather than later—this will be one of the most important issues facing us. Even now I wonder if the Minister of State would be quite so confident in tossing aside this question when he thinks of the oil now running to waste in the desert in the Middle East from the broken pipelines.
Tied up with this is the question of an economic plan for the area as a whole. That, again, we should make certain is directly under the United Nations organisation. There must be no repetition of that wretched business of dangling aid on strings which the United States and ourselves tried earlier this year and which ended so disastrously.
What I have been asking for is that we should start to work out now a really constructive United Nations policy. I believe that in this country there are now more people turning to U.N.O. for the defence of our people than ever before. Certainly if we look to the kind of alternative posed by the hon. Member for Preston, North, there is but little chance for us unless we have an effective United Nations organisation.
The operation and management of the Suez Canal may well be another functional practical matter which ought to be placed under the United Nations organisation. There are other problems connected with the narrow waterways which will soon be coming up. The Montreux Convention falls due next year if any one of the signatories requires it, but in any case in two years' time. The independence of Morocco has now opened up the problem of the Straits of Gibraltar, and something will have to be done about the demilitarised zone on the southern coast.
All these are practical problems. They have no possibility of solution if we look at them in the old context of balance of power politics. They can only be solved if we try to solve them within the framework of the United Nations organisation.
§ Mr. Pitman
I agree with the hon. Member that we need to reform the 849 United Nations, but has not my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) showed the alternative stool upon which we could sit? I believe he has shown that very clearly. He has also, by implication, shown that we must not fall between the two stools, which would be the most fatal of all.
§ Mr. Beswick
I agree absolutely. However, while it would be fatal to fall between the two stools, I believe it would be equally fatal to sit upon the stool described by the hon. Member for Preston, North, because its legs are so badly broken.
I take the point that what we now do we should do with some sense of mission, because we believe in what we are doing. The hon. Gentleman repeated in other words something which Mr. Menzies said the other day. Mr. Menzies said that either we must insist on Col. Nasser accepting our solution for the Suez Canal or else we must sit back and call it a day. One thing we cannot afford to do is to sit back and call it a day. I am absolutely at one with the hon. Gentleman on that. We must have some real, dynamic policy. The hon. Gentleman's policy has failed. Let us, then, try the policy of the United Nations organisation, in which so many of our people have shown their belief.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) that we all ought to be thinking about the United Nations organisation, not only in connection with the proposed police force to go into Egypt, but also in connection with other functions that it may have to discharge. If it is to discharge those functions, let us be under no illusion; the Charter will have to be revised. There is absolutely no question about that. I feel it to be of vital importance.
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) said he thought that there was a great opposition in the country to the Prime Minister's policy. I do not agree with him. I believe that, if the Prime Minister went to the country next week, he would get a substantial majority for his present policy. I am bound to say that I felt much the same way about Mr. Neville Chamberlain at the time of 850 Munich. I am not comparing the policies. I am merely saying that it makes it more difficult, believing as I do that the Prime Minister has a majority behind him, to abstain on a vote in support of his policy. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was perfectly right the other day when he said that it is really a most disagreeable thing not to be able to give one's wholehearted support to one's own party on a major aspect of policy. It is a nasty business. It has happened to me previously. It is no fun. Therefore, I crave the indulgence of the House for a few minutes. I must try to explain why I did it. It is bound to be a slightly personal speech, but I shall make it as short as I can; and I hope to have neither applause nor boos in the course of it.
I have long been on the record as saying that this gradual build-up of the Middle Eastern situation to the point of explosion has been caused primarily by our failure to achieve a common policy for that area with the United States of America. That has been the theme of many speeches today. I should like to say, at the outset of my remarks, that I was in Washington last January when the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary made a very sincere and strenuous effort to obtain from President Eisenhower and Mr. Dulles co-operation in the formulation and carrying out a joint Anglo-American policy for the Middle East. They failed to do so. I will not go into the reasons now, but it was certainly not their fault that they failed.
The results—the disastrous results, I consider—almost immediately became apparent. Nasser was built up, partially by us and partially by them, but without any joint consultation. He was supplied with arms. He was also sustained by the promise of a loan for the Aswan Dam, although all the time he was conducting a violent propaganda against the West all over the Middle East.
Worse still, the Tripartite Declaration was whittled down to a point at which it became practically meaningless. It was whittled down, not by us, but by the Americans. They practically emasculated the Tripartite Declaration, which was the best chance, at that time and in default of a fresh policy, of maintaining peace in the Middle East.
851 Finally, and most serious of all, the balance of power in the Middle East was gradually upset by reason of the fact that Nasser was getting arms not only from us but from the Russians, and at the same time we were denying to the Israelis arms for which they were very desperately asking. This is what made the Israelis increasingly desperate.
Some of us in the House asked Questions. On 28th March. I asked the Foreign Secretary:Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the continued deterioration of the position in the Middle East is due largely to the absence of any policy on the part of the West If we cannot persuade the Americans to agree upon a joint policy and joint action, would it not be better to produce a policy of our own?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1956; Vol. 550, c. 2155.]My right hon. and learned Friend replied that he still stood firmly by the Tripartite Declaration. But by that time the United States of America was no longer standing firmly by it; and it was, therefore, becoming increasingly worthless.
There was also a Question on 2nd July, when the Foreign Secretary was asked whether he would now stop the export of arms to Egypt, and he replied:No, Sir. Her Majesty's Government's policy on arms to the Middle East countries, including Egypt, remains as stated in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) on 28th March."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1956; Vol. 555, c. 994.]That was when he talked about the Tripartite Declaration.
Finally, there was the Question which I addressed to the Foreign Secretary on 1st August, after Nasser had seized the Canal. I asked:… whether, in view of the aggressive action taken by the Egyptian Government in respect of the Suez Canal, Her Majesty's Government will reconsider their decision not to allow the Government of Israel to purchase such arms as they consider necessary for the defence of Israel.One of the Joint Under-Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs replied:Her Majesty's Government's policy with regard to arms supplies to Middle East countries is based on the Tripartite Declaration of 1950 which relates to the Arab-Israel dispute.He went on:The nationalisation of the Suez Canal is not related to that dispute."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 1381.]On—[Laughter.] I do not think that is very funny. I think it is alarming.
852 On 6th July I received a communication from the Israeli Ambassador in London, who happens to be a great friend of mine. I dare say that other right hon. and hon. Members received the same communication. It gave a detailed account of the arms which we had been supplying to Egypt—Sherman, Valentine and Centurion tanks, etc.—and also of the arms that Egypt had received from Russia, including 100 Stalin III tanks, 200 T.34 tanks, 150 MiGs and 45 llyushin bombers; and also mentioned that another 50 heavy tanks were coming from Czechoslovakia.
I was deeply alarmed by those figures, especially when the Israeli Ambassador told me that we had refused to give them any Centurion tanks. I saw in this a deplorable worsening of the situation, because the whole balance of power in the Middle East was being upset. I cannot help remarking that the figures given yesterday, relating to the Russians arms that we have found in Egypt, tally almost exactly with the figures given to us by the Israeli Ambassador last July—and that is a long time ago.
I was already desperately worried about this arms situation when the storm broke, and Colonel Nasser seized the Canal. We must not forget that it was really Mr. Dulles who precipitated that action by his sudden withdrawal of the offer of a loan for the Aswan Dam. I am not excusing Colonel Nasser in the slightest degree, but Her Majesty's Government cannot be blamed for Nasser's action; it was the action of Mr. Dulles which caused it. And that, again, arose from the absence of effective cooperation between the United States and ourselves, which is always disastrous, and nowhere more disastrous than in the Middle East.
I should now like to ask for the indulgence of the House to quote one or two things that I said after Nasser's seizure of the Canal. It is because I said those things, and that they are publicly on the record, that I felt I had no option—not being able to explain my position otherwise—but to abstain from voting last Thursday. In an article published on 9th September, I said:Surely our course is clear. We must take care not to put ourselves in the wrong in the eyes of world opinion. If Nasser rejects the Menzies proposals out of hand, a meeting of the sponsoring Powers should be reconvened, 853 and the matter should be brought to the attention of the Security Council of the United Nations. Economic sanctions against Egypt are, in the circumstances, fully justified. They have been used against us, and we are entitled to retaliate in kind. But force should only be used against force.My second quotation comes from the debate on 12th September, when I said:I say that Nasser is a dictator, but I think it could be possible to negotiate with him under certain conditions, and I believe that these may well come about."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th September, 1956; Vol. 558, c. 144–5.]My third quotation is from an article published on 16th September, when I said:What matters more than anything else is, first, that Britain should not put herself in the wrong by using force unless it is used against her, and by failing to take the case to the United Nations if Nasser continues to be obdurate. And, second, that Britain should stand firm by her principles, which amount to an insistence that the rule of law rather than the rule of the jungle shall be applied to the conduct of international affairs.Finally, I made a submission to the Prime Minister on 26th September, in which I said that our primary objective should be to bring Nasser to negotiation, and to obtain sufficient support from the United Nations organisation to compel him openly to flout world opinion if he still refused to negotiate. In my letter I compared the situation in the Suez Canal with the situation in Abyssinia before the war, with which my right hon. Friend had personally dealt; and said that, whereas in the case of Abyssinia we had no real support from the League of Nations, from France or from the United States, today we had massive support—and that the political pressure upon Nasser from the oil-producing countries and from India, who saw their whole economic future in jeopardy, was bound to increase.
That was my view; and it was confirmed by a visit which I made to the Persian Gulf and Iran, accompanied by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster), the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal). I believe they will confirm what I say, namely, that we were enormonsly relieved by the situation which we found there. We found a growing distrust—even an apprehension—of Nasser throughout the oil-producing areas; we found a growing friendliness 854 towards us; and we found that the meeting of the oil monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Iraq resulted in a drastic cut in the money that King Saud had been giving to Nasser for his propaganda, so that the propaganda machine, although still going, was far less formidable and incessant than it had been.
Last, but not least, we found that from Kuwait—the "Aladdin's lamp" of the Middle East and, indeed of the world—oil was flowing, by day and night, into the tankers. There are no pipelines to be cut there; it was just oil flowing five miles downhill into eight tankers, continually, throughout the 24 hours. We went on board and watched the oil come down, gurgle into the ships, and go off to Europe. It was a good sight; and at that time we saw very little to disturb us. I went there thinking that our oil was in grave jeopardy, and came back feeling pretty certain that it was not, and that things were beginning to go better for us.
Now we come to the Israeli attack upon Egypt, which I believe was caused primarily by the arms situation which I have already endeavoured to describe. I do not believe, and will never believe, that there was a cold, long-planned conspiracy between Israel and ourselves and France to do this thing. I do not believe there was collusion, nor do I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Preston. North (Mr. J. Amery) believes there was.
As a lifelong supporter of the Zionist cause I have an implicit faith in Israel; and when my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North said in his brilliant speech just now that he thought that I thought that we should have left it to the Israelis he was quite right. We should have left it to the Israelis. I lunched with one of the leading members of the Knesset on the day the attack was launched, and said "What do you want us to do?" He said, "Leave us alone. We want to clear up the armour which we know exists in the Sinai Desert. It will take us four or five days to do it. I hope that we shall not be stopped, because if we succeed we shall have clarified the position for a long time to come, and the whole position will be easier."
I was therefore very interested last Sunday to read a dispatch from Mr. Philby, who is, perhaps, the greatest 855 living authority on Arabia. Writing from Beirut, he said:If the Israelis had reached the Canal on their own, Nasser's prestige would have suffered a blow from which it could not have recovered. But the Anglo-French invasion afforded him the alibi of the stab-in-the-back variety which Cairo Radio is busily exploiting.I believe quite sincerely that our intervention was ill-timed, and I also believe, with my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North, that it was too slow. For six days the process of "softening up" took place by means of precision bombing, while feet became steadily colder. Lots of feet, many many feet. I can truthfully say, not my feet; but the feet of people who had greater responsibilities than mine at home and abroad.
The late Lord Fisher, quite a remarkable man in his way, who knew something about war, coined two great aphorisms which have come down to us. He said:The essence of war is surprise.His second aphorism was:Moderation in war is imbecility.I believe that is profoundly true.
I have been asked by some of my hon. Friends what I think we ought to have done when Israel invaded Egypt. I have little doubt in my own mind that our right course would have been to have gone straight to the Security Council, and to have refused to brand Israel as an aggressor because she had been provoked beyond endurance, and was terrified, and rightly terrified, largely as a result of the policy of ourselves and the United States. Then we should have informed the Security Council that, unless effective action was taken by it to restore peace and to bring about a comprehensive settlement of the problems of the Middle East, including that of the refugees, we should be compelled to take military action ourselves.
In other words, instead of delivering the ultimatum to Nasser, I should have delivered it to the Security Council; and, if it had become necessary for us to take military action I should, to quote Lord Fisher again, have hit first, hit hard and gone on hitting until we had achieved our objectives. That is the only thing to do when one takes military action. If one is not prepared to accept casualties, it is really better not to go to war.
856 In the circumstances, I do not see how I could have acted otherwise than I did.
There has been a lot of talk about, and some references in the Press to, a letter which was never sent. I want to say to the House—and this is the only other personal point I wish to clear up—that I met the Leader of the Opposition at a dinner last week which was by way of being private. I told him of the anxieties that some people felt about the terms on which we would hand over to a United Nations force; and he told me the terms of a Motion which he had in mind to put down on the Order Paper. In the event, he put down his Motion; and the anxieties of those who were concerned about the terms on which we should get out of the Canal Zone were assuaged, and no letter was ever sent.
But I want to say to the House, quite frankly, that my own concern was not with what I am afraid I regarded as legal quibbles. I really did not think the issue depended on the actual conditions we did, or did not, make about handing over to the United Nations force. Rightly or wrongly, I have been against the general policy; and am on the record as having been so. If I had caught your eye on Thursday instead of tonight, Mr. Speaker, I might have been saved a lot of trouble. If I had been able to make my position clear I would have voted for the Government, most certainly, on what was only a token vote, which had very little to do with the real issue. But if one votes, without explanation, for a policy of which one disapproves, it seems to me that democracy becomes perfectly meaningless, and that one had better get out of the House of Commons altogether.
I am sure I am right about this. It is a frightful thing to have to do, and I know that one has to suffer; but I do not believe people in public life can go on saying and writing things—I do a lot of writing and of talking on radio and television—and then vote, without giving any explanation, for a policy with which they have not agreed. One cannot do that and be honest either with oneself or with the public.
I want to say a word or two about the future. It is being said in Paris that we went to war to explode Nasser and to consolidate the Canal; and have consolidated Nasser and exploded the Canal.
857 That is very French but altogether too facile. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North that we still have it in our hands to make quite a good recovery from this situation. We might not disagree so much as my hon. Friend thinks about the methods. I do not know about that; but, to end on a slightly lighter note, I think that the long love affair between the English and the Arabs is now at an end. It has extended from Sir Richard Burton to Lawrence, through a great many Arabophiles, if I may use the term.
I have listened to Englishmen expatiating on the nights which they have spent under the wide and starry sky, talking about the camel rides which they took in the desert long before the war. But the Bedouins are no longer thinking of camels. They are thinking of Cadillacs. This is a different world. And perhaps it is no bad thing that the tremendous romantic illusion which the English have had about the Arabs should come down to hard reality. It has been a romantic, but for a long time a very one-sided love affair; and has not been returned in kind.
I do not want to be nationalistic in any way, but I must point out that the Scots have never had any part in it at all. They are well understood by the Arabs. The Arabs know why they are there: they are there to make money, and to help Arabs make money. They help each other to make money, and respect and like each other as a result. The Scots have confined their romanticism always to Robert Burns.
The days of political and military influence of the kind which we exercised in the Middle East, and particularly in Arabia, up to the Second World War are now over. The day of the technician has arrived. And I think that here lies a hope. I believe that in conjunction with the United States—I insist on that because we cannot "go it alone," it was lack of Anglo-American co-operation above everything else which landed us in the mess we are in today—we can still get out of the mess.
When my colleagues and I were out in the Middle East, and in the Persian Gulf, we found a very great anxiety on the part of the rulers to exploit the vast mineral wealth of the area, and to enlist the 858 technical skill and the "know-how" to enable them to develop it. They are worried, even in Iran, about how they are to get the necessary capital and technical skill to develop from now on. They want technicians and management in order to improve the economic position of their people.
That would do more for the Middle East than anything else. Here again I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North. I hope he will not be embarrassed if I say I find myself more in agreement tonight with his remarks than in disagreement. It is terribly important that, in this struggle for influence in the Middle East which is about to take place between the Soviet Union and the forces of the West, the West should—I do not say completely win because that would be impossible—be able to do rather more than hold its own. In facing Soviet infiltration, which at the moment is very dangerous, that is terribly important.
Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have pointed out that a growing number of Arabs now think, or are being deluded or propagandaed into thinking, that they owe the cease-fire in Egypt to Marshal Bulganin. The Jordan Government, for whom our taxpayers have to find £11 million a year, have sent to Marshal Bulganin a telegram of thanks for his "noble support." That shows the position which we are now in, and have to get out of. We can do it best by beginning at the technical level and by taking hold, once again, of the hand of the United States of America. If we realise this, and concentrate on economic development, we may yet save the sum of things.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby), especially on this occasion. I quite appreciate his reasons for abstaining.
It has been a useful debate because some hon. Members on the other side of the House are now discussing, not the abstract rights and wrongs, but the concrete question of the success, or failure, of the Government's policy. It is impressive when Tories frankly admit the appalling realities of what we have 859 seen in the last fortnight. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire said one very interesting thing when he referred to Neville Chamberlain and public opinion at the time of Munich. I think he will agree that, on the whole, well-informed opinion was then, as now, against the Government whereas ill-informed opinion was on the Government's side.
There is one other great resemblance, and that is the character of the man in charge. Munich was bad enough as a defeat, but it was even worse because the Prime Minister of the day proclaimed it as a success when he came home saying, "Peace with honour." What put us back month after month was that the ill-informed people could not believe that the Government were deceiving them. The Government deceived them between November, 1938, and the march into Prague in 1939. I am glad to see the Lord Privy Seal come in. He will remember that he was one of the leading Municheers. He remembers the deceit on the people of this country when the Prime Minister and Members of the Cabinet were saying, "It is wonderful we have saved the peace for you."
Of course, ill-informed people like to believe that their country has done well. They do not like to think that their Government can be stupid and blind. The most heartening thing we have is when hon. Members like the hon. Members for East Aberdeenshire and Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) come out and agree with us in exposing the desperate plight we are in as the result of the events of the last fortnight.
Let me briefly sum up once again the present situation. I will assess it in terms not of pretexts but, as the two hon. Gentlemen to whom I have referred have done, in terms of the objectives aimed at by the Government. Those objectives were: first, to regain control of the Canal and to overthrow Nasser; secondly, to activate the United Nations into doing something about the Jewish-Arab conflict; thirdly, to do something to countervail against the Russians; and, fourthly, to show that Britain could "go it alone." That is not an unfair description of the four objectives of the Government. Let us consider them singly.
860 With regard to objective one, the Canal is still in Nasser's hands, and will be blocked for months. As the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire pointed out, thanks to the Anglo-French expedition, Nasser was saved from defeat by the Israelis and now has an alibi. It is the most tragic irony that if we had left well alone and not wanted to join in the aggression, maybe all our objectives would have been achieved for us by the Israelis. But because the Prime Minister could not resist the temptation to get in himself and do something with the French, against Nasser, we saved Nasser from certain defeat. So much for the first objective—the Canal in Nasser's hands and Nasser stronger than before the Anglo-French expedition.
Let us take the next point, and this is a lovely one. We went in, we are now told, to activate the United Nations. I have read with great interest about the United Nations police force. Was it really the intention of the Prime Minister to see to it that British and French troops should be chucked out of Egypt, and small national contingents from Colombia, etc., should be brought in to take their place? Was that the intention of the Prime Minister?
Was it his intention that Colonel Nasser should dictate the terms on which the police force should come in? In the eyes of the United Nations General Assembly we are the aggressors: Colonel Nasser is the innocent victim. If a police force is brought in, the innocent victim has the right to make sure that some of the burglars are not in that police force. The fact is that this is not an Anglo-French police force: it is a police force put in by the Assembly which by an overwhelming majority told us not to go into Egypt and is solely concerned to get us out.
Is it not rather impudent of the Prime Minister to say "I intended to create this United Nations police force. That is why I went in. That is why I mustered the armada and 160,000 men. I got myself land at Port Said in order to get myself ignominiously ejected"? That is what they have told us—that they intended all this. Of course, it is not true.
Let us take this last objective about the Russians. It is said, "The real object we had was to scotch the Russians". I must say that if we wanted to scotch the Russians, it was very odd 861 that we and the French should try to do it on our own. One of the jobs which I should not start doing with the French as my only allies would be to get into a direct conflict with the Russians by methods which put me morally in the wrong, give the Russians the chance of making me the aggressor at the United Nations, alienate the United States and ensure that we and our gallant French allies must go it alone.
To prove that this was our purpose the Prime Minister tells us of a secret cache of Russian arms on Sinai. Look at the confidence that he showed in his claim that his aim was to get the Russians out of the Middle East. There is not one word of truth in it. He decided to occupy Suez in order to prove that Britain could do something on her own without the United States, and all he has proved is that we can do nothing on our own.
We have had to creep back to the protection of the United States. We have been ordered out of Port Said and told to go back home. "Big Brother Ike" says that we are bad boys. He says, "Anthony, I will not even have you to stay. I will just give you a lesson by turning you down until you have been put in the corner for three weeks". Everyone outside this country knows what has happened. It is only the uninformed masses in this country who can be persuaded to share the delusions of grandeur of our Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman still sincerely believes that he has had a grand success, and each time the "success" fails further, he excuses himself by finding another reason why he took the action which he did.
First, he said that he did it to protect the Canal and the oil; and then he did it to provide a United Nations police force, and then to get an anti-Russian drive going. Each week we have had a new excuse with which the Prime Minister can deceive the British people. But the disaster goes on—despite the lies.
I would only say this in conclusion to the Government Front Bench. We have to face the fact that now we are out of the Middle East. The British and French have kicked themselves out of the Middle East. We cannot go on doing this sort of thing for ever and expect to hold our position. We cannot go on dishonouring ourselves by getting on the back of the Israelis and then saying that 862 we invaded Suez to put out a bush fire, when everyone knows that we are lying. We cannot like that without making ourselves ridiculous to the rest of the world.
My own view is that we shall have to ask America to look after our oil interests for us. They have played rather a shrewd game in the last fortnight. They have got their skirts clear of the Anglo-French debacle. I do not blame them. When we said, "We are playing this one on our own," we could not expect them not to play it on their own. Now they have us in their power. We must only hope that they will hold our oil for us in the Middle East. Is it not rather ignominious for the Tory Government to hope that "Big Brother Ike" will forgive us for double-crossing him and look after our oil which we can no longer look after ourselves?
Who can tell me that the Bagdad Pact will be revived? We have had news censored from Kuwait, Bahrein and Quatar and we do not know what is going on, except that there are riots. Does anyone believe that we can win back the Arabs' friendship now.
§ Mr. Crossman
Since we lost it in the previous five years, does the hon. Gentleman think that we can go and patrol the whole area, put troops in there and hold it down and get the oil in that way? That is not possible in the modern world.
The strange fact is that when we have realistic Tory politics, no choosiness about legal niceties in the United Nations and no delicacy about lying, this realism does not pay. Let us face the fact that this "realistic" policy has been utterly disastrous, and that if we had had a little respect for the Charter and for telling the truth, for not deceiving ourselves, for looking, at things honestly and trying to do a decent job we might still be a power in the Middle East. But we have been kicked out, thanks to the stubborn leadership of a weak, vain man who is going to bring this country to further disaster unless we get rid of him soon.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
We are closing tonight one phase of a debate which began on 2nd August. Let me reassure the Treasury Bench that this 863 is not the end and that they will still have many chances to explain and defend what they have done.
May I start by a brief word on Cyprus. The Colonial Secretary said today, as the Government have often said before, that they have to stay in Cyprus because they need it as a base. I replied two months ago—I am quoting HANSARD—that after we grant self-government and self-determination… we can have a base there as safe as the United States bases in this country if we only intend to use it in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th September, 1956; Vol. 558, c. 361.]The Government wanted Cyprus for a Charter-breaking war. They have had their Charter-breaking war, and the British people will never allow them to have another. Therefore, the whole basis of the Government's Cyprus policy has gone. Let them recognise it and make peace without delay.
Do the Government realise that the casualties in Cyprus are greater than they were in Egypt? They have not broken Eoka, as they promised. Fifteen Britons were killed in the last eight days. I appeal to the Government, and I appeal once more to Colonel Grivas: Let Eoka, on their initiative, call a truce; let them do it before Lord Radcliffe's Report is published, and before the debate on Cyprus comes up in the United Nations. I make this appeal on behalf of the whole of our Front Bench and our party and of very many people in the country who wish Greece, Cyprus and Turkey very well.
I now come to the main theme on which I wish to speak, that upon which my hon. Friend has so eloquently spoken, the Egypt War. May I quote something which was said by the Prime Minister when the Charter of the United Nations was ratified in 1945. He said:Law and order, whether national or international, must be founded on truth.".The Government claim to have been defending international law and order, ever since July; but in all their explanations of their policy, truth has been a very scarce commodity indeed. We have had bogus statements of their purposes, bogus versions of the facts and bogus arguments in defence of what they have done.
Let us look at what the Colonial Secretary said this afternoon about the Press of Europe. He tried to make the House 864 and the country think that we had strong support. He quoted Sweden. Swedish journalists told me this afternoon that while some papers used more moderate words than others, virtually the whole Swedish Press has been against the Government's war. The Colonial Secretary quoted the Italian Messagero. I have no wish to say that it is not a reputable paper, but it still belongs to the same family who owned it when Mussolini was in power. He quoted the Journal de Genève. That was purchased in 1932, during the Disarmament Conference in Geneva, by the armament manufacturers of France, the Comité des Forges. Unless I am much mistaken, it still belongs to them. It was strongly anti-British and pro-Vichy throughout the war.
I say to the Colonial Secretary that the Press of Europe is speaking almost with a single voice against the Government's war. By what the Government have said they have so broken confidence that people in every country find it very difficult to believe a word they say. They claim that the purpose of their war was to preserve the peace, but the editor of a leading Conservative weekly journal could write on Saturday last:No inside knowledge of Ministers' minds is required to see that action was taken for two reasons: to wrest control of the Canal from Egypt; and to dispose of Colonel Nasser.When a well-informed, patriotic, non-Socialist observer says things like that, it is time for a Government to give us a larger dose of truth.
The gravest of their distortions—that is why I take it first—has been the Government's argument about international law. The Foreign Secretary argued that under customary international law, we had the right to intervene in Egypt to protect the lives of British subjects and to safeguard the Canal. There are two standard cases in customary international law—the Caroline in 1838 and the judgment of the International Court in the Corfu Channel case in 1949. I hope that another day we may debate them.
The rules established in those cases, and always hitherto accepted, utterly condemn the Government's war. And the customary international law fits the facts of the present case. How did the Government protect the lives of British subjects in Egypt? How did they defend the Canal and our ships? Long before 865 our action started there was not a single British ship anywhere near the Canal—the Government had warned them off—but there were other British subjects in Egypt. There were 150 on the Embassy and Consular staffs, 450 in the Suez base, 1,500 others from the United Kingdom. mostly in Cairo and Alexandria—11,000 British subjects in all.
What did the Government do to protect them? They had exposed them to the grievous peril of Egyptian vengeance, and the Government have often reminded us of the murder of twenty foreigners in Cairo in 1952. They had exposed these 11,000 to grievous peril. They had made no arrangement to get them out. When we asked about the people in the base, the Government could not even tell us where they were. The same is true of the Government's claim that they were protecting the Canal. They said that they must prevent fighting on the Canal. The first headline about our landings ran like this:Red Devils and French paratroops launch assaults in Canal Zone. Fighting at four points.The truth about our intervention was simply this. It was a flagrant violation of customary international law. It saved, and could save, no British lives. It imperilled very many. It brought the only fighting there was on the Canal. It has blocked it, with disastrous consequences, not for us only, but for 40 innocent nations in Europe and Asia, for many months to come.
Let me say one further word about international law. The Lord Chancellor has said that Article 2 of the Charter, which obliges every Member of the United Nations to refrain from the use or threat of force in all its international relations, does not mean what it so plainly says. With all respect, the Lord Chancellor's argument is in the Bethman Hollweg class. It would make the Charter another "scrap of paper." That is why Lord McNair, a former President of the International Court, wrote to The Times last week to say that the Government's action was "illegal" and that in any judicial tribunal a verdict would be given decisively against us.
There is another most disturbing aspect of the Government's distortion of the Charter. It is another blow at the hopes of genuine Commonwealth co-operation in times to come. Again, we need more 866 truth than we have been given. When he made his first statement about his ultimatum, the Prime Minister said:We have … kept in close consultation with the Commonwealth Governments …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 30th October, 1956; Vol. 558, c. 1295]On 8th November, the Colonial Secretary said that it was "quite untrue" to suggestthat there had been a breakdown in the machinery and, even more serious, in the spirit of"—Commonwealthconsultation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 286.]If anything is quite untrue, it is what the Colonial Secretary then said.
There have been three points of maximum danger in the last three months. First, the Government's decision of 2nd August, revealed to the Press but not to this House, to resort to force. Second, the proposal of the Users' Association as an excuse—for that is how the Government meant to use it—for using force. Thirdly, the Government's 12-hour ultimatum to Egypt two weeks ago.
I want to ask the Lord Privy Seal, for we have a right to know, did the Government inform the Commonwealth Governments in advance of any one of these three grave decisions, which involved the paramount issue of peace and war for all the subjects of the Queen? If so, did they get one single answer that gave them even a shadow of support? If, in fact, more messages passed during these last three months than ever before, have the Government gone obstinately ahead with their plan for war, knowing that the Commonwealth was overwhelmingly against them and totally ignoring the many warnings, public and private, which they had received? That is not consultation as the Commonwealth has known it for thirty years. Let the Government read the Balfour Report of 1926. They will see that they have torn the work of generations of British and Dominion statesmen into shreds.
Professor Keith Feiling, an eminent authority on Commonwealth relations, who started in public life by organising Young Conservatives, sums up the Government's policy like this:Ministers have acted as if the Commonwealth were negligible. They have brushed aside its doubts, and taken life and death decisions without consultation. Most unforgivable of all to my mind … has been 867 their treatment of Canada and India. Canada, oldest and most wisely governed of Dominions, our link with America, whose measureless sacrifices for us in two World Wars earned our lasting gratitude…. India has been cold-shouldered…. And what soldiers from Pakistan … will raise a finger for us now? It does not seem beyond the bounds of historical accuracy to describe such a Commonwealth policy as short-sighted, ungrateful, and politically imbecile.That is a Conservative speaking.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The right hon. Member has quoted fairly completely what Professor Keith Feiling of Christ Church has said. Will he quote from the same issue of the same paper what Professor Roy Harrod, also of Christ Church, said, and thereby prove that in this matter, as in many others, people are deeply divided?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
If the Colonial Secretary would look up his own quotations from the European Press, I should listen to him more gladly. I respect Mr. Harrod as a great economist, but he is not a very great authority on Commonwealth relations.
In what the Government have told us about the United States truth has been harder still to find. When he made his first statement about his ultimatum on 30th October, the Prime Minister said:We have been in close communication … with the United States Government…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October, 1956; Vol. 558, c. 1295.]Who could guess from that odd, calculated, disingenuous, deliberately misleading phrase what really happened? After Israel mobilised, President Eisenhower called two meetings in Washington on 28th and 29th October. The 29th was the day of the Israeli attack.
On the morning of 30th October, the Prime Minister told us, there was a conversation between the Foreign Secretary and the United States Ambassador in respect of action to be taken in the Security Council that very afternoon. At four o'clock that afternoon the ultimatum was despatched. At none of those three meetings did our spokesman give a single hint to the United States that an ultimatum would be delivered and war conditionally declared within a matter of hours.
Is that accurately described as being in close communication with the United 868 States Government over what had happened and what was to happen at a most dangerous crisis in Middle East affairs? I still find it hardly credible that the Government should have treated President Eisenhower and the American nation in that way. I am not surprised that the Prime Minister should say at the Guildhall that he would go anywhere and meet anybody. The question is: who will go where to meet him? Again, as with the Commonwealth, there is only one way to start to heal the breach with the United States. It is to prove by words and deeds that we are genuinely loyal to the Charter of the U.N.
There is another subject with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) admirably dealt this afternoon on which more truth is needed. Why did the Washington correspondent of The Times report on 31st October that informed commentators made no bones about saying that Britain, France and Israel were executing a pre-concerted military and political movement? We are not making accusations, we are asking questions.
These are the questions to which the Lord Privy Seal and the Government ought to give a candid answer. First, the Foreign Secretary flew back from the Security Council through the night of 15th October, two days after the Prime Minister had told the Tory Conference that force was not excluded. He landed on the morning of the 16th and went straight to a Cabinet meeting at which the C.I.G.S. was present. He flew on within an hour to Paris with the Prime Minister. They were closeted there for five hours with French Ministers with no advisers present. What happened then?
Second, did the Government know that French troops were massing around Marseilles after that meeting on 16th October? Third, were our Valiant bombers moved to Malta after that meeting? Fourth, what is their answer to the American accusation that the British and French Military Attachés in Tel Aviv and Cairo shut up like oysters and refused to exchange information and opinions for some time before the Israeli coup?
Fifth, why did our Ambassador in Tel Aviv, when he asked for assurances that Jordan would not be attacked, say 869 nothing about an attack on Egypt, an attack which, say the Government, would imperil the Canal?
Sixth, did the Government know that Israeli officers were in consultation with the French General Staff in Paris from 26th October onwards?
Seventh, how do they explain the fact that the Jewish Observer, which is particularly well-informed on these affairs, wrote on the 26th October these pregnant words:France will back Israel unequivocally should the need for it arise. The French might go as far as using their veto power.Eighth, how do they explain the fact that a journalist—I have the original of his dispatch—reported from Tel Aviv on 26th October:This is a tense weekend, potentially the most explosive since 1948. Here is the pattern of things to come as nearly as can be pieced together from this end: Franco-British military action against Nasser; simultaneously Iraqi troops are expected to move into Jordan to provide one more and pretty big headache for the Egyptian dictator.Then he speaks in guarded terms of what Israel would do and says:One cannot help feeling that the Sabbath peace is likely to be rudely disrupted.That was on 26th October, straight from Tel Aviv. That message was never published, for the London editor of his paper thought it too fantastic to appear in print.Ninth, the Government must know of the uncontradicted reports in M. Mendès-Franee's paper, L'Express, that French troops had been issued with occupation currency, Egyptian currency, that French officers were warned for active service at an unknown destination, that French tanks and vehicles were camouflaged with desert colours.
Tenth, the Israeli action—and this is a point which I hope the Lord Privy Seal will take into account, for in my view it is decisive—started from Elath, a few yards from Aqaba where the 10th Hussars are stationed. The Government must have been warned by the 10th Hussars days before that the Israelis were preparing for an attack.
If the Government knew nothing about the Israeli plan, they must prove it. Unless they answer the questions which we have put, they are self-condemned, and the world will judge them by the standards which they applied to the squalid plots by which Hitler and Mussolini 870 ushered in their aggressions in the 'thirties. There is only one way in which they can answer these questions to the satisfaction of the British people and the world. That is by setting up a Select Committee to make a full inquiry into the origins of this war on Egypt, which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has so persuasively proposed. This is a challenge to the Government. Let them set up the Select Committee. If they fail to do so, we promise them that we will do it when we come to power.
In the last three weeks the Prime Minister has been like an impotent and blinded Samson, striving—happily, in vain—to pull down the international temple about his ears. But, alas, he has succeeded in littering the world with the wreckage of British interests which he has damaged or destroyed.
His war on Egypt, said Senator George, was the death-knell of N.A.T.O. The whole British position in the Middle East has suffered a shattering blow—a rupture with Saudi Arabia, the stoppage of Saudi oil to the refinery at Bahrein, the triumph of the anti-British party in Jordan, the total disruption of the Bagdad Pact, hostile demonstrations in Bahrein, Kuwait and Qater against Britain, places from which so much of our oil supplies have come. Our bases in Jordan and Libya are gravely compromised, our immense prestige in Asia has largely gone, and the leadership which we used to exercise in the United Nations will be impossible for many a day to come.
The Government are anxious to repair the damage. They can do it only in the United Nations. For three months, right hon. and hon. Members opposite, including Ministers, have scoffed at the United Nations, at its impotence, its divisions, its delays. But the last two weeks must have shattered some of the false illusions in their minds. "What is the good of taking a serious question to the Security Council?" they used to ask. "It is always paralysed by the Russian veto."
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), in his brilliant analysis this afternoon, showed that when Israeli forces marched into Egypt two weeks ago, the Government, deceiving the House of Commons on the subject, cast the only veto with France against the 871 resolution that was proposed. In casting that veto, the Government clearly hoped that they would paralyse the United Nations until Britain and France could present them with a fait accompli on the Canal—another Hitler technique. But they under-estimated the resource and courage of the other members of the United Nations and their faith in the Charter.
The other members regarded our veto as a disloyal attempt to frustrate the Charter and to cover up our flagrant violation of its fundamental obligation. In a matter of hours they summoned a Special Assembly, where there is no veto and where a decision by two-thirds is binding on every member of the United Nations. They got not two-thirds but 64 votes to 5, or, more accurately, 64 to 2, because nobody attaches value to the votes of Charter-breakers. By a vote of 64 to 2 the United Nations challenged our Government to stop their Charter-breaking, to cease their attacks on Egypt, and to evacuate our forces from Egyptian soil.
For three months, hon. Members opposite have scoffed at United Nations resolutions. They laughed and jeered when we on this side of the House said two weeks ago, as my right hon. Friend said today, that if we had backed the Security Council resolution, instead of casting that first base British veto, the Israelis would have withdrawn from their venture. They laughed and jeered, but again they under-estimated the strength and power of a United Nations Assembly resolution. Hon. Members opposite are still laughing at the United Nations, and the country still listens.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
An Assembly resolution mobilises the informed opinion, the juristic conscience of mankind. It does more—it authorises members of the United Nations to oppose aggression. In the last two weeks, Assembly resolutions have made the Israeli Government, flushed with victory, pledge themselves to withdraw their troops to the line from which they started. Assembly resolutions have halted an offensive by two major military Powers and have made Britain and France withdraw their troops from the land which they had unjustifiably attacked.
872 Will the Suez group laugh at resolutions of the General Assembly after that? The Government—even the Lord Chancellor—are saying that they roused the United Nations to new life and action by what they did two weeks ago. So did the Communists when they attacked from North Korea in 1950. And the Government's method of stirring the United Nations to action has been just the same.
The Government say now that they want a strong United Nations force. When I proposed it a week ago last Wednesday HANSARD records that I was interrupted by shouts of "Oh"—that is HANSARD'S prudish way of registering the loud cries of derision which came from the benches opposite. When I said that a force could be formed from contingents from nations other than the great Powers HANSARD says that there was laughter.
The President of the Board of Trade was one of those who laughed. Now the Government want a United Nations force. All right. They want it strong. All right again. They cannot want it for the Suez area only. They must want it to prevent future wars, not only to stop our own. But if a United Nations force, which we have always favoured, is to play a major part in international affairs, there must be a massive disarmament of the national forces now kept by the nations of the world. That means a revolution in the thinking of the Tory Party. It means a revolution in the present conduct of international affairs.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
We believe that it is overdue. So are the peoples ready. I do not think there is 0.1 per cent. of human beings who do not detest the folly, waste and cruelty of armaments and war.
Last week the peoples looked into the abyss. They had a vision of hydrogen bombs wiping out the cities, the work of thirty centuries of civilised endeavour. They saw their children burned in the hellish conflagrations which the bombs ignite. They saw survivors, for long years and decades, suffering from the fall-out radiation which the bombs must cause. I hope that members of the Tory 873 Party saw those visions too. I hope they will help from now onwards to make our nation a bulwark of ordered law and peace.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
It was originally arranged through the usual channels that we should have a general debate on the Loyal Address, and that meant dealing with home affairs and with the whole content of the Gracious Speech. Accordingly I prepared an oration on those lines, but it has become clear to me that the debate has been concentrated entirely on the Suez question, and therefore I do not propose to spend literally more than two minutes in referring to one or two matters on the home front before I launch into dealing with the general affair which has occupied us the entire day.
On the home front, I shall be making the usual business statements from time to time. We are starting on four minor Bills in the immediate future. The major Bill, the Homicide Bill, will also be taken in the immediate future, and we shall in due course get further with the programme which we have designed for a general reform, not only of our institutions, but of the general progress of our economy. That will be the theme of the Session, which I must warn the House, as its Leader, will be a heavy one, but one which I think will fall within the ordinary compass of what we can manage. We shall attempt to take as many Bills as possible in Standing Committee, but there will be some Bills which will have to be taken on the Floor of the House, in particular the Homicide Bill, and also the Bill dealing with the new customs duties, because that has financial aspects. However, I shall endeavour in the course of this to meet the convenience of hon. Members to the best of my ability.
§ Mr. Butler
It will be taken upstairs in Standing Committee.
I should like, as Leader of the House, to pay a tribute to the new Leader of the Liberal Party before I become involved in controversy, which I should like to do as soon as possible. We have been impressed by the contributions which he has made to our debates already, even when we have disagreed with him. We 874 all look forward to his further contributions in the knowledge that he will uphold and adorn the great traditions of his predecessors in office. We also look forward with curiosity and interest to the effect upon his party's solidarity in the Division Lobby of one who recently was the Liberal Party Chief Whip.
We shall, in the course of conducting the business of this Session, be indulging in a considerable degree of reform in one way and another. I do not propose to follow my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary in his brilliant speech this afternoon on the subject of colonial affairs. That is my answer, in all courtesy, to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker), for the matter was referred to by my right hon. Friend. We shall indulge in the measures of reform in the colonial field which form so large a feature of the Gracious Speech.
We shall also envisage the constitutional reform mentioned in the Gracious Speech. It is intended that proposals shall be put forward, probably initially in another place, as they affect the composition of another place, about the reconstitution of the House of Lords. We shall then have an opportunity of looking at them, giving our view upon them, and considering the future course to adopt. That, I feel, is wise, and I think it fits in with the general mood of this House.
Then there is a considerable degree of reform of local government which we shall have to envisage, in which we shall have to consider not only the reactions of local authorties to the White Paper on local government organisation, but also the reactions to the Government's review of local government finance which we are at present undertaking. This, combined with the Homicide Bill, the Rent Bill and the development of our housing policy on the lines which we have already envisaged, gives us, I think, a programme not only of magnitude but of imagination to occupy us for the rest of the Session.
That is the speech which I had prepared to last half an hour. I shall now turn to the controversial matters which have been raised in the course of the Suez debate, which has, in fact, gone on for yet another day.
The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger), speaking in his constituency at the weekend, said that the only 875 nations left with prestige in the Middle East were the United States and Russia. I myself should take up this challenge. I believe that we have all had an opportunity now, in our party at any rate, of visiting our constituencies. We are impressed not by the observations of the right hon. Member for Grimsby, but by the reactions which we ourselves have obtained. Those reactions are that the Government have had courage to act in an exceptionally difficult circumstance. I assure hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, as I shall not cease to rub in in a few minutes' time, that the position politically in the constituencies is not exactly what they think it to be.
§ Mr. Youngerrose—
§ Mr. Butler
I am sorry; I cannot give way. I must get on, because it is so late. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] I did the right hon. Gentleman the honour of quoting him.
The observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery)—who made a characteristic and straightforward intervention in our debate this afternoon—are true, namely, that the industrial constituencies are even more in favour of the Government than are the others. I, being characterised in certain of the more glorious sections of the Press as of a somewhat academic disposition, find it really remarkable how the ordinary British working man and woman are behind the Prime Minister and the Government at the present time. Not only are they behind the Government at the present time, but we have the inestimable advantage of the words of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) when visiting his constituency. He said:I think it will be shown that our action, although drastic and fraught with difficulties and dangers "—which no one on this side of the House would deny—will prove in the long run to have been right.That is the view of the right hon. Member for Easington and, when backed up by the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), who spoke earlier in our debate this evening, we see that there is a growing volume of support for our action, some even plucked from the benches opposite.
876 The most important observation made by the right hon. Gentleman was that we in this House should not use words which would encourage international gangsters—that is the word he used—to exercise their influence against the British at the present time. It would be a very good thing if the Opposition, led by its leader—who has had the courtesy to inform me that, for personal reasons, he has had to leave the House this evening; which I fully accept—and supported by their vociferous supporters, would do something to introduce a little more patriotism and understanding—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I would inform the Lord Privy Seal that hon. Members on this side of the House deeply resent the suggestion that the Tories are the only patriots.
§ Mr. Butler
The right hon. Gentleman must have a very tender conscience. I never said that. The Tories are not the only patriots. I find that the most patriotic persons are the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman's party who are now supporting us.
I wondered why the right hon. Member for Derby, South had been chosen to speak in this debate. I find that one of his contributions to foreign policy, which I remember since my days as the solitary Minister at the Foreign Office, when I answered him and one or two other hon. Members—including the late Ellen Wilkinson—on foreign policy for many years, was his foreword to a very remarkable book called "Socialism and Foreign Policy", by the Socialist Union. The book includes this extraordinary statement:The British Labour movement is torn by incessant inner conflict on foreign policy, perhaps more than on any other subject.That is what we find to be true when we look back upon the variety of splits in the Labour movement over the last few years, and remember the complaint of Ernest Bevin at Margate, on 29th May, 1947, that he had been stabbed in the back. They are now enjoying a temporary unity in the midst of the perpetual dissension which is a typical characteristic of their own policy.
§ Mr. Robensrose—
§ Mr. Butler
I am coming to the right hon. Gentleman, because I want to answer his speech. I understand that the Daily Mirror, after inquiring today whether I have any guts, a question which 877 it does not seem to have answered, is going to make a statement tomorrow as to who is to be the next Labour Foreign Secretary. I say quite seriously as a House of Commons man that the right hon. Gentleman today made one of the best speeches of his life. That is a sincere tribute in my capacity as Leader of the House.
The position about the Leader of the Opposition, however, is not nearly so satisfactory. My own opinion about the broadcast reply of the Leader of the Opposition to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is that never in the field of political conflict has so large a brick been dropped to such small effect. [Interruption.] His attempts, as some of the Press has said over the weekend, to make appeals to any of us to desert the Prime Minister and our Government at the present time are absolutely useless. The truth is that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends tonight are disappointed men. They had hoped to get a shoal of fish into their net; they had hoped for much bigger fish than they have caught.
§ Mr. Butler
I have been responsible for comparing the Socialist Party to the amours of Romeo and Juliet. There is now showing in London a film known as Moby Dick, and the right hon. Gentleman has seen himself in the capacity of Captain Ahab on the bridge of the "Pequod" with a desire to harpoon Moby Dick. What has happened to him and to the Socialist Party, and what is likely to happen to them in the country, is that in a bitter and choppy sea they are lashed in mortal conflict with the great white whale from Ebbw Vale.
§ Mr. Speaker
If the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Chapman) cannot contain himself, his duty to the House is to leave the Chamber.
§ Mr. Chapman
I have been sitting here all day listening to what has been a magnificent debate, a day of which Parliament can be proud. I think that all of us who have sat here are entitled to have the debate answered. That is all I am saying.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Northfield has his own contribution to make to that result, which is to remain silent while other people are speaking.
§ Mr. Butler
I consider, Mr. Speaker, that the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Derby, South comparing the actions of this Government with Mussolini and Hitler deserve the answer which I have given, and I do not propose to mince words when insults like that are thrown across the House. I will, in answer to the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Chapman) and other hon. Members, attempt to answer some of the points made in the debate. If hon. Members cannot take it, then I am sorry for them.
The first main question was put in a sincere speech, with which I did not agree, by the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). I think that one of the most revolting aspects of our debates on the Suez question has been the attitude of the Opposition that by our action in Egypt we have in some way affected the situation in Hungary. I entirely repudiate that suggestion on behalf of the Government.
We have the truth straight from the horse's mouth, for Mr. Shepilov himself, twenty-four hours before the British note was sent to the Egyptian and Israeli Governments, attended a reception in Moscow and, according to the Daily Herald, said in an interview:Russian troops will withdraw from Budapest only when the rebels in the city have surrendered.I have made it my business to obtain from the Foreign Office an exact chronological description, starting with 23rd October, which indicates that there is absolutely no doubt, as was the case in the Middle East, that the Russians premeditated this action, and I do not believe that anybody really believes anything else.
I should like to add constructively that I am sorry to say that the Hungarian Government have decided not to permit the entry of U.N.O. observers, which is the latest information I can get. I am also informed that the Hungarian Red Cross will gratefully receive Red Cross supplies, and we shall attempt to see that such supplies are distributed. For the rest, I can only say that this is one of the most ghastly tragedies any man or woman could ever have witnessed, I only hope that hon. Members on all sides will 879 confine their horror to the tragedy and not enlarge it into the political field.
The right hon. Member for Derby, South said that the Commonwealth had been torn into shreds. I thought that for two minutes I might give the House the latest news about the Commonwealth which I have obtained from the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. I am glad to say that the Canadian Foreign Secretary, Mr. Lester Pearson, upon whose help we so much count in our present difficulties and whose experience is of such value to us, has said that although their views have not always been the same as those of other members of the Commonwealth this position has not affected friendly relations with those members, and added:especially, if I may say so, with the United Kingdom.I pass to Australia and Mr. Menzies, who has been so much in our counsels. He took the 18-Power plan to Cairo and was more disappointed than any man that it was not carried through. He said:I believe the United Kingdom and France have pursued their intervention not for territorial conquest, not for any purpose of domination, but to produce peace where the world needs peace so that when the United Nations produces an international body in this area, it will not have to fight its way in, but will be in such a shape and in such a position that it may first keep the belligerents apart and then bring them together for a sensible and honest solution of their differences.That was a typically statesmanlike utterance by Mr. Menzies, which the Government endorse. Similar statements of support came from Mr. Holland of New Zealand on 5th November, when he said:I have never been in the slightest doubt that both the United Kingdom and the United States have as their main objective the preservation of peace.That is backed by other members of his Government. We have statements from South Africa and I have a statement from Pakistan by Mr. Suhrawady, whose personal friendship I happen to be able to acknowledge, saying:a situation has been created which, if handled competently, may well render possible a permanent and just solution acceptable to the Arab people.On the subject of Pakistan and the Commonwealth I wish to say this. Mr. Suhrawady added this regarding the Commonwealth 880We are still in it and, if we are in the Commonwealth we are in it … I see no question of degrees.To that selection I may add a statement by Sir Roy Welensky of the Central African Federation, which stated:It was with a feeling of relief that I learnt of Britain's decision to take some firm action.Hon. Members will see that although there have been strains which even those statements do not deny, I do not believe the statements of hon. Members opposite have been justified. I believe that with the United Nations and the Commonwealth we can build up a situation which can be as satisfactory as we can possibly make it. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and Ceylon have all given indications that they are prepared to contribute towards an international force in Egypt. That, I think, is very important news because, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North and others who have asked about this force, I would say that we want an effective international force. We do not insist, for the reason of other big Powers perhaps not participating themselves, of participating ourselves, as the Prime Minister has himself said, but we intend to have an effective force. We intend that the arrangements shall be as satisfactory as they can be to achieve the objectives, namely a solution of all the problems in the Middle East for which we have all been so ardently working for so long.
§ Mr. Crossman
In view of the news this morning from Cairo, is it a fact that President Nasser has said that he would like to make sure that the members of the force are those he agrees with? Is that something that we accept as a condition?
§ Mr. Butler
The answer is that we are working with the United Nations. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I can answer the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), to whose speech I listened, by saying that we are working for a solution which the United Nations will accept and which we, as a member of the United Nations, think is just.
§ Mr. Butler
The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) referred also to the Atlantic Alliance. It is rather important 881 to recall to the House the words used by the retiring Supreme Allied Commander, General Gruenther, in Paris today, that the only thing that would be wrong in the present situation was injudicious criticism inside the Atlantic Alliance which might mislead the Soviets about our determination to use our offensive capacity, and that that could be a disaster. We appeal not only to this House but to the world in general to maintain a common front in the Atlantic Alliance as well as in our own country if we are to avoid a disaster.
One other interesting feature of General Alfred Gruenther's last statement, made in Paris this afternoon, is:I agree that unless the Middle East problem gets solved it will have an adverse effect on our European defence".He says:The enemy has been forced to go round our flank by subversive action and local attacks".That means in the Middle East, and that is one of the reasons why the Government decided that this decisive action was necessary.
I come to some of the points raised by the right hon. Member for Blyth. I cannot give him a final answer on the subject of the broadcast and the pamphlets. That was given in the columns of HANSARD by the Under-Secretary of State for War on the Adjournment a night or two ago. These pamphlets were distributed and the broadcast made to avoid civilian casualties in Cairo and elsewhere.
I want to deny the alarmist and, indeed, ridiculous rumours that have arisen about the nature of the casualties in Egypt. One correspondent abroad has said that something like 7,000 or 12,000 civilians died in the Port Said fighting. This is a gross exaggeration. Probably no military operation has been carried out with more care or regard for civilian life than the present one. The whole operation was planned to minimise the destruction of property and life. Only after the Governor or Egyptian military commander who negotiated a surrender had rejected the terms on orders from Cairo was the bulk of the damage done on the town. The loss of life in Port Said took place after that event. After the resumption of those hostilities our troops had to occupy a certain number of strong points.
In all the operations at Port Said the total Egyptian casualties, both military 882 and civilian, amounted, as far as we know, to: killed, 100; wounded, 540. I am informed that a hospital train has already left for Cairo with 194 casualties. Allied engineers are at work in restoring the normal life of the city with water, electricity and so forth. I am asked to add that we are expecting and hoping, and that we have already asked Sir Pierson Dixon to make representation to this effect, that the British salvage ships, which are, frankly, the only ones in the world which are capable of clearing the Canal, shall be put under the orders of the United Nations and employed in the clearance of the Canal. There is no other action which will quickly enough restore the economic difficulties to which the right hon. Gentleman referred in his speech. We shall hope for developments on that front, but at present I can say no more.
I wish to say a word about reservists, what has been done with reservists recalled for the emergency and the Regular soldiers who have been kept in the Services after the expiry of their engagement. We cannot release all the reservists and retained Regulars at once. Many of them must be kept for some time to do the jobs for which they have been called up. Again, these men are stationed in different parts of the world and the speed with which they can be brought home when their jobs are done will be governed by the ships and aircraft available.
We shall have, in particular, to continue to retain naval ratings in the majority of the categories, but my noble Friend the First Lord informs me that it is the aim of the Admiralty to release any rating, whether previously or in future retained, after a maximum of four months from the date of expiry of his Regular engagement. Within these limitations it is the intention of the Government to start releasing recalled reservists and retained Regulars as quickly as we can without impairing our ability to carry out the tasks which lie immediately ahead of us. No man will be kept in the Forces longer than he has to be. I am sure that I am expressing the feeling of the whole House in thanking, not only the Forces—in particular the Navy—for the actions they have undertaken, but also the reservists for the part which they have performed.
The time is drawing to a close, and I wish to summarise the opinion as I see it on behalf of a united Government and 883 a united party. The right hon. Member for Blyth was bold enough to make up a balance-sheet. On the good side he put the cease-fire and the United Nations' police force. On the bad side he put the alienation of a portion of the world and our economic situation. I have already indicated that a large part of the civilised world and a great part of this country has now realised the motive which inspired my right hon. Friend, who has devoted the greater part of his life to the constructive task of making international agencies work. We had to take immediate action to deal with this emergency. Had we not taken immediate action, it is my own opinion that there would have been a boil-up in the Middle East in any case.
In my view, we took action in time. We have now a great deal of difficulty and danger ahead, both political and economic. It would be wrong that the country should not realise it. In my opinion, we have to stand together to put things right, and we shall do so despite the criticism of right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)rose—
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Edward Heath) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly and agreed to.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:—
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.