HC Deb 20 January 1959 vol 598 cc25-6
45. Mr. Lewis

asked the Prime Minister in view of the fact that the Suez operation involved a contravention of various articles of the United Nations Charter, whether he will now issue a further solemn declaration that never again will Her Majesty's Government commit aggresion or take any action involving Great Britain in armed conflict or war on any incident similar to Suez, without first referring the dispute at issue to the United Nations, unless actual aggression is first taken against Great Britain, any member of the Commonwealth, or countries that have mutual defence treaties with Great Britain; and further, whether he will request the leaders of the great Powers to subscribe to a similar declaration, so far as it affects their respective positions.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

While I do not accept the implications of the first part of the hon. Gentleman's Question, I have some sympathy with his intentions. I think, however, that his proposal goes too far. There must be occasions when action, if it is to be effective, must be immediate.

Mr. Lewis

Is that not an answer to try to excuse the Prime Minister and his colleagues for the action they took at Suez? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the majority of people, not only of this country but of the world, feel that it would be better if all the statesmen of the world were to subscribe to a statement such as this? Why cannot the Prime Minister at least give a lead, not only to the people of this country but to the people of the world?

The Prime Minister

I did not expect the hon. Member to agree with me about Suez, which was, of course, a matter of dispute, but let me give another instance, that of the recent American intervention in the Lebanon and the British intervention in Jordan. There was general agreement that it succeeded in stabilising the position, and, indeed, a general tribute to that fact has been paid recently by Mr. Hammarskjoeld.

Mr. Bevan

What aspect of the Suez adventure is the Prime Minister most proud of—its immediacy or its effectiveness?

The Prime Minister

I was answering what I thought was a serious question. I was giving a reason why I thought that the proposal as it stood could not be accepted. I recall that with regard to the Lebanon the Opposition was in favour of the American intervention, although characteristically it voted against the British one.

Mr. Gaitskell

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain under what circumstances he thinks it would be justified to take immediate action which would not be covered by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations?

The Prime Minister

That is a complicated question of law, and I remember that on the Lebanon and Jordan issue we debated it at some length. The right hon. Gentleman did not quite accept the view of my advisers. I was trying, however, to say whether the proposal raised by the hon. Member in the Question is one that any Government could accept in toto, and I was giving reasons why I thought it could not.