§ 3.8 p.m.
LORD RENNELLrose to move to resolve, That in any new arrangement with Egypt it is essential for this country to maintain a position which is consistent with our commitments and responsibilities. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper, or rather the wording of it, is inspired by a remark made by the great Lord Cromer, the founder of Modern Egypt. He said:
A great nation cannot throw off the responsibilities which its past history and its position in the world have forced upon it.
What are the commitments and responsibilities referred to in the Motion which is the subject of the debate in your Lordships' House this afternoon? To my mine, they fall into two categories. The first is the Suez Canal and what that means as an international waterway—and I will come hack to that. The second is the Nile Valley and Nile water, and what that means.
§ In speaking, as I propose to do, on the Suez Canal and the Middle East Base in that neighbourhood, I want to touch only on what that means to a world that is at peace. or more or less at peace. I do not want to raise the military implications of the Middle East Base—no doubt other speakers will do so. To my mind, however, what transcends in importance every other subject in Egypt and in the Middle East is the Suez Canal itself. It has practically no parallel or analogy in the world, except possibly the Panama Canal, and there is a vast difference between the two. They have this in common: that they are a link in international traffic and international world trade. But the Suez Canal, from that point of view, is vastly more important than the Panama Canal.
§ When the Panama Canal was first conceived by de Lesseps, who built the Suez Canal, it also was conceived as an international waterway which would remain open to the whole world for ever. De Lesseps and the original company did not: finish the canal: it had to be finished by the United States of America; and it is worth pausing a moment to contrast the handling of affairs relating to the Suez Canal and the handling of affairs relating to the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal, when it was built and completed by the United States, was, in fact, annexed by the United States; and the Panama Canal Zone became the sole responsibility, militarily and otherwise, of the United States, who proceeded to fortify it, garrison it and govern it. In view of the strategic importance of the Canal to the United States, I think that few Members of your Lordships' House would quarrel with that decision. But it was not the original conception.
§ The Suez Canal, when it was completed, was of paramount military, strategic and economic importance to this country—more so then, probably, than it is now. We maintained a garrison in Egypt, it is true, having assumed responsibility for the reorganisation of the Egyptian Government as a Government under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire; and we still have a garrison there. But we never annexed or even internationalised the Canal Zone, which remains an integral part of Egypt. In the course of the years which have elapsed since those early days the Canal has been kept open to those who wished 191 to pass through; and it is perhaps worth while to remind your Lordships that at a time when Egypt was under the suzerainty of Turkey, neither the Turkish Government nor the Turkish representatives in Egypt, nor the Egyptians themselves, showed any desire, or made any move, to close the Canal, even during the Italo-Turkish War of 1911 and 1912. It will be within your Lordships' more recent recollection that even during the period of sanctions against Italy over the Abyssinian war the Suez Canal was not closed to Italy. The Canal was never closed on those occasions, or on occasions since, to the legitimate passage of people who could get there, including neutrals of all countries during the two great world wars, thanks to the police force which we kept in that country, which kept it open. The Suez Canal was more important to us than the Panama Canal was to the world, or perhaps even to the United States.
§ May I remind your Lordships that the Panama Canal, in the last year for which figures are complete—that is to say, from July, 1952, to June, 1953—had 8,700 ships transiting. The Suez Canal had 12,000. During that same period, the Panama Canal carried 36,900.000 (say, 37,000,000) tons of cargo. The Suez Canal carried 83,900,000 (say, 84,000,000) tons. Of the ships passing through the Canal to-day, approximately 30 per cent. are under the British flag. Probably the next highest, and perhaps even the highest—it is difficult to say—after that are United States ships, not necessarily under the American flag. A great deal of American tonnage, as your Lordships know, sails under the flags of Panama, Colombia and Liberia. One of the principal users of the Canal, in fact, is the United States, for the very good reason that the United States, like ourselves in this country, has come to depend more and more on the oil wells of the Persian Gulf, Arabia and Iraq. It is possible that one of these days pipe-lines from those areas to the Mediterranean coast will substantially diminish the oil traffic through the Canal, which amounts to about two-thirds of all the shipping tonnage that goes through.
§ Nevertheless, so far as we can see, the value of the Canal as a means of communication for international trade must 192 go on many years after all of us have passed away. The effort to keep that Canal in condition, requiring as it does the most highly trained technical organisation possible, staffed from countries all over the world, needs above all for its effective maintenance and its effective operation the security of the personnel there. Without that security, families of nations from all over the world are unlikely to want to go on living there —indeed, the occurrences on the Canal in the last two or three years have already had the effect of causing premature resignations of people who, for fear of what may happen, are asking for their pensions, to go home before their time.
§ The first break in what might be called the neutrality of the Canal has occurred within the last few years, when the Egyptian Government have applied sanctions against Israel in the administration of the Canal. That first break in what might be called the neutral and the impartial administration of the Canal is one which can easily go a great deal further; and it requires, I submit, a police force which is not subject to the control of a fickle and mercurial Government to ensure that that neutrality is preserved. The second event, which perhaps is a small one but which has a distinct bearing on what I have said, is the evidence which has been produced in the Press of the trial of Serag ed-Din in Cairo. As a defence against the charge of corruption, Serag ed-Din boasted of the effort which he had contributed to stirring up trouble on the Canal at Ismailia and elsewhere; and he went so far as to claim credit for a plan to mine a ship in the Canal, effectively to block it, so as to put pressure on us.
§ I do not want to make too much of an incident like that. Serag ed-Din does not necessarily represent the Government, or any other Government, in Egypt; and a loud-mouthed speaker does not represent or mean a Cabinet, or even a shadow Cabinet. None the less, it is evidence of the way in which for only too long minds have been working in Egypt. That alone seems to me to justify the maintenance of a police force there to secure, not only for us but for the world generally, what the Canal was intended to be—the greatest international waterway and means of communication between India, the Far East and the Antipodes. Happily, 193 with modern methods of communication, we ourselves are less dependent on the Canal than many others. Transport by ship to Australia round the Cape is only a few days longer than through the Car al and down the Red Sea. As is well known to your Lordships, passenger communication is now substantially, and will inevitably be increasingly in the future, by air; and it will be possible to overfly Egypt and all its troubles. But there are countries, including the United States, with its oil interests in the Persian Gulf, and India, with its vast trade in raw materials for Europe, which are intimately dependent upon the maintenance of that waterway as a free communication to all who conic. I believe that free communication can be maintained only by an effective police force.
§ The second group of responsibilities and commitments which are referred to in the Motion which stands in my name, are those which affect the Nile Valley as a whole. The Nile is a problem for Egypt, but the Nile is not an Egyptian problem. Egypt depends entirely on the waters of the Nile, but Egypt depends on the water which comes down from the Sudan, as the Sudan depends on the water which comes down from Abyssinia, from Upper Egypt, from the Upper Sudan (which is substantially a different country from the Lower Sudan, and inhabited by different people) and, finally, Uganda and the Great Lakes. This question of the Nile and Egypt, aid, I submit, our responsibilities and commitments there, involve the recognition by all the inhabitants of the Nile Valley from, end to end, that the Canal cannot be the responsibility of any one Power or any one nation. Both we individually, and communities as a whole, are never independent of each other; we are all interdependent. As Egypt is dependent upon the Sudan and the Sudan on what goes beyond it, so we are dependent on the trade and the relations which we have with the Nile Valley, and they with us. There is no such thing in the world to-day—probably there never has been—as any country or any community being independent of everyone else; it just: does not happen any more.
§ With your Lordships' permission, I want to say something which is perhaps personal. My friends in Egypt are, and 194 have been, numerous. It is said that if you have ever drunk of the waters of the Nile you will always go back and drink them again. I am told—I have no distinct recollection of it—that I first drank the waters of the. Nile when I was six weeks old, and I have been there, back and forth, ever since. I have had some of my best friends in Egypt, and am one of those who have always liked the Egyptians. I have been happy there; I have got on with them, I think. I do beg of all my friends in Egypt, and all those people who live there, to accept what is so painfully obvious: that they are not, and cannot be, independent about what goes on, above stream and below it. I believe that the Nile Valley, or Eastern Africa, can be run only as a partnership between all the many people involved: and among those people are ourselves.
§ I do not believe—I never have believed—that all the agitations which, unfortunately, have been the common form in Egypt for the last twenty years, becoming growingly aggravated, necessarily represent what the Egyptian people really think. It has been the experience of all those who have had to deal with Egypt that agitations against us are notoriously the product of the political bankruptcy of any Government which is in power. It has always been the last resort, when that Government has felt that it can no longer carry its majority or its authority, to turn on the tap of propaganda which, illogical as it may appear (and I suppose that all human politics are to some extent illogical, but nowhere more so than in Egypt), reflects a sort of veneer of emotion, but does not reflect, as I believe, the true feelings of people in Egypt. Nevertheless, with the effect that it has on public opinion in this country and elsewhere, it inevitably has a damaging and difficult influence on efforts to work out what is obviously an extremely difficult problem. The experience which we have had in the last few months has been substantially aggravated by that veneer of emotionalism which I would beg the Egyptian Government to call back under control. We have done what we can to make agreements possible. We went a great deal further than some of us, either in this country or elsewhere, thought it was proper to go in the Agreement over the 195 Sudan; and that went a great deal further in result than perhaps we expected.
§ To me it seems strange that in the offer made to the Sudanese about their political future, only two effective alternatives were offered: one was independence and the other was a closer link with Egypt. Why was the third course of an Anglo-Egyptian-Sudanese condominium not offered as another possibility? Having regard to the position of Egypt, and trying to put oneself, as far as one can, in the place of an Egyptian, it is apparent that an independent and a possibly hostile Sudan was a solution which could not be acceptable. The condominium which was instituted in the Sudan after the last decade of the last century was perhaps a brilliant, and a brilliantly successful, practical solution. Is it not one that might have been continued? Is it not one that might have been offered as a possibility? The responsibility for that, to an undue extent, lies at the door of Her Majesty's Government.
§ In effect, what has been the outcome? The outcome has been an intensification of the vilification of this country in Egypt, of incident after incident, which I know, as your Lordships know, cannot conduce to better relations. It is idle for certain Egyptian leaders and politicians to say: "You know I have to say these things. I do not really mean them. I have to say them because that is what is expected of politicians here." If the Government in Egypt to-day are strong enough to make a new Agreement, they are strong enough to give leadership to the people of Egypt. Unwillingness to do so must throw doubt on the ability of the Government to maintain themselves without the propaganda on which other Governments have attempted to base their strength, and must also create doubt, which is widespread, I believe, in your Lordships' House and in many other parts of the country, of either the ability or the willingness of the present Egyptian Government to carry out an Agreement after it has been entered into. The first principle of an Agreement involves two parties being willing and able to implement it. Do Her Majesty's Government believe that the present Egyptian Government, whom they have recognised onlyde facto—as the noble Marquess told us 196 in June last—and to whom node jurerecognition has yet been accorded, are able and willing, in the face of the symptoms, in the face of the propaganda which they are individually carrying on, to make an Agreement? It is that doubt in many people's minds, including my own, that leads me to wonder whether the present moment is the right moment to continue discussions preliminary to an Agreement.
§ Having tried to outline the reasons for this Motion, and the commitments and responsibilities, as briefly as I am able, and without going into further detail, I must come to the last part of what I am going to say, which is: where do about from here, if you feel as I do about it? It appears to me that there are, in fact, only two courses open. The first is to maintain the status quo, with a garrison on the Canal and a great Middle East Base, until such time as spirits are more reasonable in Egypt, and they can assure us that they are willing to enter into an Agreement which takes account of facts, of our necessities and of other people's necessities as well as their own —the other people's necessities that I have outlined in what I have said previously. The second course is to clear out. I have no doubt which course I should like to see followed—that is, to maintain the status quo and wait for things to quieten down, if they do, and not to try to negotiate an Agreement which, if negotiated, would be negotiated with people who are under the stress of violent emotion and who, on the evidence available to us to-day, do not appear likely to play their part in maintaining an Agreement.
§ The alternative of a compromise solution is not one which commends itself to me, and I believe it will commend itself little to most of your Lordships. The compromise solution is one that has been aired in various parts of the world in the Press. It is progressively to remove the troops we have in Egypt and to leave the Middle East Base with, it is said, a body of some 4,000 unarmed technicians —with what security for them?—and, for our own strategic purposes and those directly connected with the defence of Western Europe and the Allies of the N.A.T.O. group, to maintain a military force, in bits and pieces, scattered about in the neighbourhood of the Canal, such that no one piece without the other would 197 be an effective military force. The second course, to clear out, means, to my mind, the removal and the dismantling of the Middle East Base within the period when the existing Treaty comes to an end in 1956, say, in about two and a half years' time. That, to my mind, means removing the Base, taking away everything which is worth removing, and in no circumstances leaving an unarmed force of technical people at the mercy of a Government which may he fickle and may institute the so-called "police measures" advocated by Serag ed-Din—namel", sending into the Canal Zone so called policemen in order to agitate. What guarantee is there that, in those conditions, either the technicians or the Forces would be safe?
One alternative, I repeat, seems to me to be to clear out, and to begin clearing out now. The first alternative, as I have said, is to come to an agreement about the maintenance of troops on the Canal and the Middle East base, for the purposes which I have tried to describe, and that involves an Agreement with a willing party on each side of the table, and a party on the Egyptian side of the table which is willing and strong enough to carry it out. I have no doubt, in my own mind, which of the two alternatives I should prefer. I am fully aware that my argument involves the discontinuance of negotiations in the present atmosphere and in the present frame of mind. May I remind your Lordships of what is perhaps relevant at this moment and in this debate, that we are not willing to exclaim, as Mark Antony did to the Queen of Egypt:
I have offended reputation, A most unnoble swerving.
I should not like to see anyone in this country a party to clearing out and abandoning responsibilities and commitments we have inherited from the past, and which we cannot rightly hand over. May I add that I hope never to have to say of this country, as also mark Antony said to the Queen of Egypt:
O, whither has thou led me, Egypt? See How I convey my shame out of thine eyes By looking back what I have left behind 'Stroy'd in dishonour.
I beg to move.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, a good deal has been said in the political world about a Government difficulty and a Government crisis. The Prime Minister is reported to have told his own supporters that in times when a Party is in office with a small majority those who hold strong views, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, does, must be prepared to make concessions in the interests of the stability of the Government. That is not the case to-day. Perhaps noble Lords have noticed that in another place a Motion was put down yesterday by a number of Members of Parliament—to wit, 100—pledging themselves to support the Government in their present policy of attempting to make a reasonable settlement with Egypt. So one argument that cannot prevail is that if we do not concede what the noble Lord asks we are in some way endangering the life of the Government. That cannot he the case because the Government are assured of an enormous majority should it put the issue to another place, which, of course, is the governing body.
I listened to the noble Lord's speech with great attention. It was majestic and, of course. sincere, but it was a speech that was at least fifty years out of date. The only thing Egyptian about it was the Egyptian night in which the noble Lord's mind appears to dwell. He spoke as if the existence of a convenient trade route gave anyone the right to take it. He spoke as if the fact that the Nile ran through several countries gave an outside country the right to dominate it. Finally, he spoke as if we could make no agreement in any case with the Government of such a country, proceeded to say that we must 20 on as we are, and added, I thought rather optimistically, that we must wait until things quieten down.
I have put down a note to mention moral issues but I will not do so, because it will probably embarrass this debate; instead, I will take up the practical difficulties of what the noble Lord proposes. He says that we must stay in Egypt. If so, we must have a police force. How many? Has the noble Lord any idea? It has been found that to maintain our position there requires a force of 80,000 soldiers. Does the noble Lord agree that 199 that is the right number when he talks about adequately maintaining our police on the Canal—although it has little to do with the Canal? How many does the noble Lord mean? It is no good criticising the Government unless you have some practical plan to put in the place of their policy.
Then, if we have a force there, and have a Base there, I would ask: is it of any military value? Of course, I am standing in the presence of the greatest living British soldier. No doubt he can explain this, but even Field Marshals have to work with civilians in uniform when war comes, and as one who has been a civilian in uniform I think I am entitled to express an opinion in these matters. What is the value of this Base which requires 80,000 men to maintain it in peace, with none over to fight the Russians? That is what I cannot understand. What about the communications, the sweet water canal, and the food supply? I do not know what the population of Egypt is, but if there are, say, 19,000,000 Egyptians all sabotaging our efforts, is this Base of any value at all? What about this wonderful dump, the area of which, I am told, is eighty miles by twenty miles? I should like to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, on this point. I think that even an American pilot could hit a dump like that. I wonder what is the value of it. If it is going to be defended, who is going to defend it? Is it going to be defended by aircraft, or by antiaircraft artillery: and if the latter, are they going to be left behind? There are no answers to these questions—merely a rumbling in the Conservative back woods. There is no intelligible idea brought forward as an international policy.
These are not merely difficulties that have occurred over the last year. They occurred after the First World War. I remember that General Bulfin had the task then of clearing up all the mess of sabotage that existed all over Egypt—and I remember how difficult and how costly in casualties that task was. I have heard soldiers say that if we want to have a strong point in Egypt—and there is no nation since the time of Napoleon which has not coveted a strong point in Egypt—it would be much better to send an army to take it when we want it rather than 200 I attempt to maintain this absolutely indefensible mass of troops all the time, of no practical value and at an enormous cost—I think it cost about £60 million a year.
These are my ideas about what might occur. But we are not working in a mental vacuum; we are working in a world of realities. We have had all this before. This little tragedy was played out last year. At the beginning of the year we had the encounter of Centurion tanks in Ismailia. It is good country for tanks, sandy and flat, but rather hard on the Egyptians, if armed only with sticks and stones and rifles. But the Centurion tank is the best way of exhibiting "firmness." The tanks pushed down to a village somewhere down Suez way. Later, in Ismailia, there was a police force, together with a force of auxiliary police, about 600 out of the 700. They were attacked by tanks in a building called the Bureau Sanilane, and after two hours of hard fighting, a number of men, mostly armed with rifles, emerged. Forty-four were killed. We could not have a better example than that of the type of firmness for which the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, asks.
What was the result? And what did it advantage us? What was the sequel? There was a police strike. The auxiliary police said that they were not going on when they were not supported; and when Cairo was burned, the police looked on. All this is on record in the Press. The sack of Cairo resulted in the revolution—in the dismissal of Farouk and the setting up of a military dictatorship under General Neguib. The setting up of the military dictatorship and the defection of one who was supposed to be one of our greatest friends, Abdul Rahman, resulted in the loss of the Sudan. Now it is this military dictatorship, unquestionably backed by unanimous public opinion, which demands certain rights for their country.
I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, this question, as he has great experience of civilian administration after a war. It was contemplated in January, 1952, I think, or 1953, that we should set up an administration in Cairo and take over Cairo. The Times said:Plans are being developed for an advance into Cairo should conditions there deteriorate still further.201 The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, must address his mind, in his reply, to how some of the questions that are being put will fit into his great plan for firmness and waiting for things to quieten down. If things do not quieten down, is he going to recommend the occupation of Cairo? Does he think that we can reoccupy Cairo and retain undimmed the position we hold in the world? What will be the effect on India; and what will be the effect on Pakistan? Supposing you are engaged in a war with fellow Moslems in Egypt—a bloody war it would be—will Pakistan stand by idle? I do not say she would take action, but I am sure she would be sympathetic. Do you suppose she would stay in the Commonwealth under conditions of that kind? All this talk about the link with the Empire is out of date. The link was with India when we held India and Pakistan. Now, we do not hold India and Pakistan, but they are members of the Commonwealth. The effect of using violence on the Egyptians at this moment would be to alienate the largest, and, as I think, two of the most important, elements in the Commonwealth.
But as we are talking practical common sense, let me ask who will support us in. this. Does the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, say that American opinion will support us? There is not a trace of it—not even on that silly plan—of all the silly plans that ever existed—to set up a Turkish, French and American international force in order to please the Egyptians. When we remember that Ibrahim Pasha nearly took Constantinople, and that Mahomet Ali "kicked out" Napoleon, to think that by bringing a few French and Turks back we could please the Egyptians, was a masterstroke of absurdity; but we shall get no help front the United States. However much we should like to live in the twilight of the Kipling age, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, does, we cannot do it. We are now living in 1953. Our Viceroys and proconsuls used to think that they were great fellows, and could manage things; and they have all written books about it, most of which have proved inaccurate. All they had to do was to ring a bell and a battleship emerged from Malta. But the battleships are not there now, and they cannot emerge. These proconsuls were sitting o iron horses not of their own making. The fact is that we 202 must take the world as it is. Certainly, to go back to the old conception of force as a means of ruling the people is impracticable; it is also morally wrong. The best dispatch, in my opinion, of the many dispatches on Egypt, was written by Mr. Bright in July, 1882, to Mr. Gladstone, on his resignation. He said:I cannot accept any share of the responsibility for the acts of war which have taken place at Alexandria. I cannot say to what they may lead, and I know not to what greater wrong and mischief they may force the Government.As I say, in my judgment, that is the best dispatch that was ever written on Egyptian affairs. In the end, morality will win. It is a peculiar thing, but it always does win. It won in India; it won in Ireland, and it will win in Egypt. But let us "base ourselves on reality." The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, must answer some of these practical questions as to how, in practice, this policy of firmness is going to work out.
That is one side of the question. I may he asked: "Have you anything practical of your own?" It is easy, particularly in this House, to laugh at anyone who indulges in speculation, and especially at anyone from this side of the House; but I think if we look back we can see where we went wrong in our Egyptian policy. In 1919, at the end of the First World War, we liberated the Arab world. A little later we liberated the Indian world; and the British influence in Asia to-day is greater than ever it was before, because we were the instrument of their liberation. But when we liberated the Arab world, what happened? The noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, was down the Red Sea at the time when the revolution was taking place against the Turks, and I rather fancy he was in a ship next to ours. We liberated the Arab world, and put Feisal on the throne. In fact, at that time it was to be a united Arab world. But what did Lord Curzon do with Egypt? He subjugated. Egypt, and declared that it was part of the British Empire, because we took it from the Turks, of whom nominally it had been a protectorate. And when Zaghlul asked permission to lead a Wafd delegation to London to meet his Lordship, he was packed off to Malta. He, Sidky, Mahmoud and other people on whose goodwill we subsequently had to depend, 203 were put in a British gaol. That was the beginning of the Arab movement in the Arab world. That was where the mistake was made. People had got into the way of trampling on Egypt, and thought that the best thing to do was to continue trampling on Egypt.
If I may digress for a moment: Egypt is a small country, but Egypt is a proud country. The record of the dynasty of Mahomet Ali is a remarkable record. I mentioned the fact that Ibrahim nearly took Constantinople. His achievements in Syria were majestic. As a matter of fact, in the last war we fought against the Russians—I put this in to please noble Lords opposite—the Egyptians took part on the Turkish side in the trenches at Plevno and even sent troops to support the Emperor Maximilian in Mexico, which was French Indo-China in those days. Ismail Pasha had rather modern views on finance and introduced the Welfare State in Egypt rather before its due time. They are a proud people. But all you did was to say that they were part of the Empire, and a Protectorate, until Lord Allenby declared that it was impossible, and that you could not go on. You gave them independence, and you reserved the four points that constitute the independence of any State.
If you look back—and I can look back over that country; it is fifty years since I first climbed the Great Pyramid—you will see that the failure was one of moral conception. We should have seen that the Arabs were coming forward, and British policy should have been gradually to lay aside the policy of arms of past generations, and to take up the policy of the spirit of emancipation. If we had been friendly with the Arabs, then most of the problems of the Middle East would have been solved. But instead of that, we hung on to this antiquated notion that somehow we had to have a strong point somewhere in those parts and the Foreign Office played the Arabs and the Israelis the one against the other, which has been a devastating failure. But the idea was that we had to keep a hold in the Arab world in Egypt. We could not let go there. All we could do to please the Arabs was to be a little harsh with the Israelis.
Let me tell you, my Lords, something said to me by a famous diplomat—he is 204 dead now, so let no one ask me his name. He said, "You know I am a churchwarden and I have to read lessons in church. When I read that passage about the ransomed of the Lord shall return. it sticks in my gizzard. "He went on," As a matter of fact the Old Testament has been a disaster for British policy in the Middle East." The truth is that, had we had enough foresight to see what could be done, not only should we have inherited the same sort of moral strength that we now have in South Asia, but we should have done something to solve the Arab and Israeli problem.
I want to say a word about this matter, because I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, said about the Canal and the blockade. Friendly as I am with the Egyptians, I say quite clearly that you cannot make a Treaty with Egypt if you are going to make her stronger to pursue a vendetta against Israel. As a matter of fact, there is not a hard way out: you could let the blockade fade away; you could have the list of contraband made so small that it did not matter. Certainly under the Tripartite Agreement of 1950 you could not do anything to increase the arms of the Arabs without correspondingly increasing the arms of the Israelis. But what a ridiculous thing it would be to start a little arms race in the Middle East in order to equalise the mistakes in your policy! Can we have peace? We have to go a long way back for this, and certainly it is impossible at present. The most we can hope for is a sort of armistice and quietness. The real thing would be to try to go back to the conceptions of Weizmann and the Emir Feisal thirty years ago. I do not want to worry your Lordships with a number of extracts, but there is the famous letter written in 1919 from the Emir Feisal to Dr. Weizmann in which he says:We are working together for a reformed and revived Near East, and our two movements"—that is, the Arab movement and the Israeli movement—complete one another. The Jewish movement is national and not imperialistic. Our movement is national and not imperialistic; and there is room in Syria for us both. Indeed, I think that neither can be a real success without the other.That letter was written a long time ago, but if that spirit could be recaptured, 205 what a wonderful victory it would be for peace in the world and for understanding in the Middle East!
The Jews have never suffered from the Moslems. It is not the Moslems who have persecuted the Jews; it is the Christians who have persecuted the Jews. The Egyptians have never persecuted the Jews. Neguib himself has shown a most remarkable tolerance, especially in the difficult circumstances of the day, towards the Jewish subjects in Egypt. You may call this theorising, but at the same time, I am perfectly certain that it is the only way in which British influence—to which we attach so much importance—can be used for the good of the world. I recognise the glorious Gladstonian rotundity of the noble Lord's Motion. I could not make out what it meant. It is going to be accepted by the Government, and no Motion which is accepted by the Government can possibly have very much meaning. I was hoping that this debate would invite the Government to pursue their course and lead us towards something which will be a real and just peace in the Middle East.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, speaking in support of the Motion, in spite of what my noble friend who has just sat down has said, I want to insist that in an) future negotiations on the Suez Canal Zone Her Majesty's Government should pursue a much more robust but not less friendly attitude than hitherto. I want a policy more consistent with the proper discharge of our commitments and responsibilities in the future than in the past, and consistent also with our position as the head of the Commonwealth and as one of the leaders of the free world. Before I come to that, if I may make a slight personal explanation, I want to say that my remarks do not reflect in any way on any of the distinguished public servants who have been faithfully carrying out, under considerable difficulties, the Government's policy in Cairo. Secondly, I want to say that I am not speaking as a director of the Suez Canal Company or on behalf of that company, or that I have any authority to speak on their behalf. As the President of the company has frequently said publicly, the company takes no part: in political questions, and its relations with the Egyptian Government are governed by statutory instruments which were brought up to 206 date in the Agreement of 1949. I speak, then, solely on my own responsibility as a Cross-Bench Peer with more than fifty years of varied experience of Egyptian problems in their British, imperial and international aspects, and I rely solely on public sources of information.
As a sincere friend of Egypt, with many Egyptian friends in all grades of the population, and as a firm believer in Anglo-Egyptian co-operation, I deeply regretted, and still regret, that on assuming office General Neguib and his colleagues felt constrained to treat this country as public enemy number one instead of Egypt's most sincere friend, as I believe we are. But they were in a difficult position, as heirs to formidable problems, including a violent anti-British agitation, and they had few assets or resources to back their negotiations. So not long after receiving British de facto recognition, the General and his adherents started openly and without any concealment to shout us out of the Canal Zone by repeating every day, ad nauseam, the stale old slogans of the Wafd: "Immediate, total and unconditional evacuation of the British Forces," with threats of forcible expulsion if we did not go voluntarily, and war-like preparations, including the formation of commandos under German Nazi officers. Reiteration is the secret of conviction, and this method of cold warfare made great progress. The statements were never contradicted, and before long public opinion, and even our own friends in Egypt, began to think that the story was true.
That was the situation which confronted me when I visited Egypt last January. The British Forces were indignant—some furious. They said some very harsh things about those responsible here, which I shall not repeat to-day. I felt that there must be some explanation, but I was not reassured by a brief visit to Cairo. The Sudan negotiations were continuing without the least apparent realisation that all the time all over Egypt, from the Upper Nile to the Delta, from the Western Desert to Sinai and Gaza, public opinion was being poisoned against this country. The most fanatic elements in the population were being whipped up to danger point, and the pitch was being completely queered for the coming negotiations on the Suez Canal 207 Zone. A more humiliating prelude to a great negotiation on vital national and international interests it would be difficult to conceive. It was an attempt on Egypt's part to get a settlement by what Mr. Lloyd George at the Paris Peace Conference called "public clamour," which he never would stand for. The Egyptian negotiators, by their slogans, inhibited themselves from any give and take: it had to be a very one-sided negotiation.
Just before I left Egypt, General Neguib publicly took an oath to the constitution which began in this way:Oh God, thou lovest the strong and detesteth feeble charactersand ended with an appeal for "Unity, Discipline and Strength. "Obviously, that was not the man, for all his amiable qualities (to which I can personally testify), to deal with on a basis of appeasement. I felt I had to do something; and on arrival home I reported to Ministers that we were heading for catastrophic disaster. That was my first warning. Some protests were made against Egypt here in Parliament, and by others in Cairo; but naturally they had very little effect without a sanction. I felt then and I feel now that negotiations ought to have been stopped, for a time at any rate, or else transferred to London—as has happened again and again, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, will remember.
Soon after that, the Prime Minister took charge of the Foreign Office owing to the Foreign Secretary's illness; and there was an immediate improvement here and in Egypt. Very reassuring in his speech in another place on May 11 (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 515, col. 886) were the references to… the duty which has largely fallen upon us, and us alone, of safeguarding the interests of the free nations in the Middle East and also of preserving the international water way of the Suez Canaland the observation thatif agreeable arrangements can be made to enable this latter service"—that is to say the Canal—and also the solid maintenance of the strategic base to be discharged by agreement with Egypt, it would mean great saving of our men and money.208 Even more heartening was the absence, apart from a laudable desire for a large reduction of numbers, of any hint of the withdrawal of the whole of the British fighting forces and also his advice (col. 888) that… we may await the development of events with the composure which follows from the combination of patience with strength.If we had acted on those precepts, I think the situation would have been very much better now. But alas! the Prime Minister also fell ill, and during the Recess, when the Parliamentary watch-dogs were scattered, the situation seemed to drift. We seemed to be on the verge of dangerous concessions on points of principle. Once more, on September 5, I felt constrained in the public interest to warn the Ministers of catastrophic disaster approaching. That was my second warning. The consternation of other people interested in this question was as great as my own, and was reflected in the correspondence and leading articles of important newspapers and magazines, at the Conservative Conference at Margate and, a little later, in Parliamentary debates in another place. Your Lordships will see in a moment why I had to make this rather long digression.
I come now to the results of the talks, so far as we know them. The object of these so-called "informal" talks was not to prepare a Treaty but only to establish some agreement on principles as a basis for a formal Conference to draft a Treaty. But, of course, if you agreed on principles and they were embodied in the Treaty, it would be exceedingly difficult to get away from them. We got very little information from Her Majesty's Government—practically none —on the trend of these discussions, and public relations officials gave the impression that their function was to conceal rather than to inform. I cannot help thinking that that was a mistake, because, whereas the Egyptians have tried to whip up tremendous public opinion against us, our public were not sufficiently informed to express themselves until comparatively recently, so that the Egyptian negotiators would get the impression that there was not much public opinion behind our negotiators.
I come now to vital interests. I do not think there is any doubt about those. Here I differ a little from the noble Lord, 209 Lord Rennell, but I take these vital interests from the Prime Minister's speech on May 11: the international waterway of the Suez Canal, including of course the shipping using it; the strategic Base, and the British personnel left behind to look after that strategic Base if and when the Fighting Forces are evacuated. I will examine those briefly in turn, but as a preliminary general observation I would say that under the proposed principles, owing to projected evacuation of the Fighting Forces these vital interests would be completely at the mercy of the present or any future Egyptian Government be it totalitarian, as at present, Communist, fanatical or some middle-Party or combination—which would probably be as good as anything.
I turn to the vital interests individually. Lord Rennell has already given a great deal of information about the importance of the hundred-mile Suez Canal through the Desert and the Lakes, and I can only dot the "i's" and cross the "t's," if he will allow me to do so. For the purpose of comparison, the 86 million tons net of shipping which passed through the Canal in 1952 compare with the 78,250,000 tons net which entered United Kingdom ports in 1951. That is to say, the traffic passing through the Canal is actually a little greater than the whole of the shipping using our ports. Thus has been fulfilled Lesseps's visionaperire genibus terrain— to open the earth to the nations—and that peaceful function is still the most important. But I would add that in 1952 númerous naval units, large and small, and transports to and from the various theatres of war carrying 237,000 troops, mostly British and Allied, traversed the Canal; and, of course, the huge quantity of oil is also of great strategic importance. But, beyond that, I do not want to go into the strategic question because it might overload my speech. We might with advantage deal with that one day in one of our debates on Defence. As Mr. Donald Anderson, Chairman of the General Council of British Shipping, has repeatedly insisted:A carefully maintained and properly managed Suez Canal is vital now and always to British shipping and British trade to the East"—and, I would add, to international trade.
In the endless struggle with gales, fogs, sandstorms, the ever-trickling sands, 210 breakdowns of steering gear and the human element, in order to secure a safe and speedy passage for ships whose size, draft, tonnage, and number is always increasing, the indispensable need is security for the personnel engaged, European and Egyptian, including pilots and experts and their wives and families, offices and communications of all kinds. They must have security. That security has in the past been ensured in the last resort by the British Forces stationed in the Zone. How necessary that is, as a deterrent and for actual protection, was strikingly demonstrated exactly two years ago, when the forces of disorder, under Egyptian Government stimulus, broke loose. Egyptian police protection failed, the Egyptian Army, for understandable reasons which it would take me some time to explain, stood aloof; and, but for the presence and efficiency of the British fighting Forces, the European quarter of Ismailia, where most of the people connected with the working of the Canal live, might, and very likely would, have suffered the fate of Cairo. Rooms which usually occupied out there, for instance, had bullet marks in them when I got back last year. Traffic through the Canal would unquestionably have ceased. I could explain that in great detail but, again, I think it would overload my speech. Then, of course, there is the incident of the mine which occurred at that time, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rennell.
For emergencies of that kind, the reported heads for a Treaty, given the withdrawal of the whole of the fighting Forces, make no effective provision. Neither do they provide any safeguard against an extension of the interference already exercised by Egypt over ships and cargoes destined for Palestine and other nations with which Egypt might be in dispute: it might be Great Britain, over the Base or the Sudan; or France over her North African Territories, or something Of that sort. Another contingency which is not provided for is that at some future date an Egyptian Government, under some unpredictable internal or external pressure—and in that part of the world there are a great many internal and external pressures—might seize and occupy the Canal before the end of the concession in 1968. Their motive might well be the same as Mossadeq's, namely, 211 aggressive nationalism and to obtain the whole of the proceeds instead of the large part to which he was entitled.
Perhaps it will be argued that the provision, said to be included in the heads of agreement, for a declaration by Egypt of responsibility for maintaining and discharging her obligations under international conventions for securing free use of the Canal is appropriate and right. However, it is less important than it seems at first sight, because Egypt has for years been bound by the Constantinople Treaty of 1888 to preserve the free liberty of the Canal for the ships of all nations at all times, in peace no less than in war. In fact, this unilateral declaration, in evil hands that might be in charge, could serve as a pretext for seizing the Canal and its installations, nominally in order to facilitate her task. We cannot shut our eyes to such risks when we recall that only two years ago Nahas Pasha, in tabling the decrees abrogating the 1936 Treaty, cited eighteen precedents for unilateral denunciation of treaties, several in recent times.
Now I come to the strategic Base. The reported heads of agreement do not offer any better security for the £300 million strategic Base, provided out of the pockets of the hard-pressed British postwar taxpayers, than for the Suez Canal. If the Suez Canal is exposed by the withdrawal of the British fighting Forces to grave risks, so is the Base in equal degree, since the guarding of the Base is to be entrusted to the Egyptian Army, if reports are correct. It is also difficult to believe that it can be maintained in an efficient state. According to reports, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, has mentioned, some 4,000 British technicians will be employed for seven years or so to overlook and supplement —I do not know whether it is 40,000; it used to be 60,000—Egyptians. Like the rest of the Egyptian population, these 60,000 men will have been exposed for months, if not years, to this intensive and uncontradicted propaganda that we are a degenerate nation, and so forth. They will have seen our fighting Forces shouted out of the Zone and they will not forget that Egyptians who had served in the British Forces have been sentenced to death and other severe penalties. I ask your Lordships, what prospect is there for good teamwork in such conditions, especially 212 as, according to common report, there will be a divided command, an Egyptian Commander-in-Chief and a British Technical Director? The prospect of friction will stand at a premium, and what incentive will these Egyptian workers have to maintain the Base in a state of efficiency for a foreign State which has been decried? Even the safety of our technicians will not be secured, not even if they are allowed to have small arms, because the Egyptian Army will have tanks, artillery and aircraft. Our technicians will be merely potential hostages in case of trouble.
I ask a crucial question: would the occupants of the Government Front Bench, or would any of your Lordships, he happy to see a son or a grandson serving in those conditions, particularly if times were disturbed, as in fact they are disturbed? Can the Government hope to obtain competent volunteers for this service: and, in default, can they order men to undertake it? Is it not certain also that, even if the Egyptian Government accept this obligation in order to get rid of our fighting Forces, they will repent of it when they realise that responsibility for the Base destroys the neutrality for which, rightly or wrongly, they yearn? In fact, they are always pressing this point of neutrality. They could even use the same tactics towards the Base as they used towards the rest of the story: this cold warfare, this shouting campaign and all the rest of it. I suppose we shall be told that these and other risks will be safeguarded by arrangements for the return of the Forces in case of emergency. I am afraid the only emergency which has been mentioned in the public Press—there may have been other references, of course—has been a major international emergency, and there is understood to be a difference of opinion still as to the conditions.
All that discussion, however, seems to me to be sheer waste of time until someone has given an effective answer to the Prime Minister's comment on a similar proposal in Parliament, in 1946, which, with your Lordships' permission, I will read (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 423, col. 774):The Great Power with whom we shall be in dispute would, of course, say to the Egyptian Government, 'We should regard any movement into the Canal Zone of British Forces 213 as an unfriendly act.' Can anyone suppose that the Egyptian Government, confronted with this situation and not desiring anyhow to have British troops or air forces in the Canal Zone, will not refuse permission for us to reenter …? Can one imagine the British Government in such a situation, when the dread issue of peace or war in a renewed world struggle, may be hanging in the balance, forcing the issue…? It is a positive act, an act which will be widely regarded and denounced as an act of aggression, …an act destroying the last hopes of peace…I have never been able to discover an answer to that, and I have asked a great many people. Well, my Lords, return in the eventuality of some hostile action by Egyptians, or some failure on their part to restrain the forces of disorder, would obviously be even more impracticable. I think it worth mentioning, that in making the same criticisms on our with drawal from the Southern Irish ports in 1936, Mr. Churchill described it as an "improvident example of appeasement." That is exactly what some people are saying of our present policy.
Another defect in the prospective heads of agreement bearing on the same issue of withdrawal is that they do not provide against the danger which was so strongly felt by the late Mr. Ernest Bevin, and expressed in a speech in the same series of debates, if not: in the same debate, as Mr. Churchill's quotation in 1946, which, with your Lordships' permission, I will read. Mr. Bevin said this:There must, not be a vacuum. If the Egyptian Government try to force a situation in which there is a vacuum—meaning that we have gone and that there is nothing there for security instead, regional defence or any other organisation—to that I can never agree…As I understand it, the prospective arrangements would provide a permanent vacuum. While we were wrangling with Egypt or the United Nations as to whether our forces are entitled to return, our enemy could have landed sufficient troops by air to put both the Canal and the Base out of action, and maybe to occupy the whole Zone. There must be enough British or equivalent armed forces to stiffen their Egyptian comrades in resisting air attack and, until Egypt has settled clown, to deter the forces of disorder. I am sometimes told that none of these things would happen if we withdrew, because there would be no more difficulties with Egypt. We should be living in a fool's paradise if we believed that. Just think of all the possible sources of friction that remain—the position in the Base, 214 the Sudan, the possible threat to Palestine—recently mentioned very forcibly in another place. Pan-Arab, and even Pan-African, ideas have been hinted at in recent Press correspondence and, above all, there is the complicated eternal political position in Egypt, which, as my noble friend Lord Rennell has said, has been the bane of most earlier negotiations, as your Lordships can find if you study the words spoken in Parliament to explain them.
Now I come to my conclusions. Appeasement is too great a gift to Communist and other hostile propaganda. Any sign of weakness or retreat is seized on and spread all over the world. The results of Palestine, Abadan and the rest, however inevitable our actions were at the time, are a factor to-day in the situation in Egypt and the Sudan, in Kenya, Malaya, British Guiana, and in the unrest in many parts of the Colonial Empire. After the final evacuation of Abadan on October 1, 1951, a writer in the Egyptian Wafdist newspaper Al Balagh (at that time the Government newspaper) commented:This is an example that we must follow in our struggle with the British. It is only the weak whom they oppress. Their prestige in the East is finished.I have shown how faithfully Egypt has followed that advice. I have two or three other quotations to the same effect. This propaganda is widespread, and it is a natural thing for Communists and critics to act upon it.
If we cannot hold the lifeline of the Empire and Commonwealth until we can vet a better settlement, what can we hold? By evacuation, far from concentrating our forces elsewhere for better training facilities or amenities, far front solving our manpower problem, or our political problems in the Middle East or elsewhere, far front saving money, our forces will b e scattered more and more all over the world to stop the rot. We shall not be worth while as an Ally. We shall deserve the fate of Akhnaton, the pacifist Egyptian Pharaoh, of whose reign his biographer records:In the space of a few years Egypt had been reduced from a world power to a petty State, from the richest country known to man to the humiliating position of a bankrupt kingdom.That is not my idea of a policy for the Elizabethan Age in Coronation Year. We must study more closely the firmness of our predecessors, of whom I can give a 215 long list, in very similar circumstances. I could mention also a long list of Prime Ministers of the Dominions who have recorded the importance they attach to the Suez Canal, up to and including the meeting in June, 1953, when the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth recognisedthe international importance of the Suez Canal and of the effective maintenance of the military installations in the Canal Zone.I noticed that on August 11 Dr. Malan, in the South African Assembly, reflected the same idea when he said:We have undertakings in the Middle East, and it is essential for us that the Suez Canal should remain open.My Lords, the time is not ripe for a sudden withdrawal of the whole of the British fighting forces. We must be absolutely firm on that. Reduction, I agree, is infinitely desirable, though I know the difficulties. But it must be gradual, tested in stages by trial and error. For the moment, the talks should be suspended and the offers we have made withdrawn. When Egypt has become sufficiently stable to justify de jure recognition, and realises that we too have a public opinion which insists on the fulfilment of our international commitments, and when she adopts a genuinely friendly attitude, a fresh start can be made. A friendly attitude is the essential point. We shall never get anything until we get that. Even if we have to wait a bit, I feel that it will be worth waiting for. It may not necessarily be very long, but in the meantime we shall have to continue, as so many British Governments have had to do so many times, to stand on the Treaty of 1936, with such gradual reductions of forces, unilaterally I suppose, as from time to time may be deemed safe.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, it is with great trepidation that I venture to address your Lordships for the first time. I venture to do so on this important topic only because it was my fate during the war to spend nearly two and a half years on the banks of the Suez Canal, on the staff of the Admiral who dealt with all problems of the maintenance and functioning of the Canal, of its defence against possible land, airborne, mining, bombing and other attacks. I think that in the speeches one has heard about the Canal there is sometimes shown a slight lack 216 of appreciation of the help which we received from the Egyptian Government and people during the war. I can speak from personal experience of how we got it, from the Military Governor at the top, through the Egyptian police, right down to the constables, the Frontier Force, the customs, the telephone and telegraph services, the railways, the junior Canal Company employees of Egyptian nationality, and the labour of the docks. Unless we had received their active and friendly co-operation—as we did in full measure—we should never have been able to maintain the Middle East campaign.
When the most serious attack of all came, the mining of the Canal, my particular job was to spot where every mine fell—quite a task on a dark night, along a canal extending over a distance similar to that from, shall we say, London to Birmingham. And if we did not spot accurately where a mine fell—and once or twice we did not—a ship was blown up and the whole function of the base came to an end. At first we had the Brigade of Guards on this job. They could be spared for only a short time, however, and the job was then taken over by the Egyptian army. They went at it enthusiastically; in fact they were so keen to shoot down Italian machines that we had to take away the rifles from half of them, to make sure that they would spot the mines, rather than shoot at the machines—and, be it remembered, they were supposed to be neutral. After some months I worked out statistics relating to the percentage of accurate reports received, and I found that the percentage of accurate reports from the Egyptian Army was exactly the same as the percentage from the Brigade of Guards.
The whole anti-aircraft defence of the Fleet at Alexandria was dependent upon the Egyptian Army, though they were supposed to be neutral. We all had the happiest relations with their forces, and I feel sometimes that the British Government and British historians have been somewhat unappreciative of the help and co-operation which we received from Egypt in the war, and the good will which was shown to us. It is tragic, from the point of view of people like myself, who enjoyed throughout those very difficult days the helpful co-operation of Egyptian Government officials and personnel, to see this lamentable deterioration in the 217 very places where we used to go unarmed—except, perhaps, for a 12-bore gun with which to shoot snipe. When one remembers the good will and prestige we had during the war, I could follow Lord Rennell in quoting from the same play of Shakespeare:O, wither'd is the garland of the war.Why has this deterioration in the British position occurred? The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, and the Government of which ha was a member, must accept great responsibility for some of the developments—though some preceded that period—and if I venture to go back in history it is not to apportion blame, but to see what we can do now to remedy the position. After Alamein had been successfully won, lack of imagination was shown in not getting our troops out of the citadel at Cairo and the Kasr-el-Nil barracks, and there was slowness in getting our troops out of. Cairo and back to the Canal Zone. Then, as I have said, there was our lack of appreciation of Egyptian co-operation in the war. But, above all, there was the lamentable story of Palestine, the disastrous wobbling of the British Government of that period, and our desertion of our responsibilities to tie local inhabitants, whose rights we were pledged to observe under that Mandate, and the desertion of our responsibilities for the Holy Places of Christianity which we left to be fought over.
I find it hard to understand how Lord Stansgate can talk about morality. I have never been able to see the morality of the policy of getting out and allowing the peoples there to fight it out. There was a lot to be said for a policy in Palestine of partition and compulsory transfer of population. There was nothing to be said for getting out and allowing this ghastly refugee problem, to be created, which has since bedevilled our relations with the whole Middle East. We did not win the affection of the Jews: they felt that they had won in spite of us. We did not win the affection of the Arab world: they felt that they had lost in spite of what they thought were our pledges. Incidentally, if we are talking about the Treaty, the 1936 Treaty pledges us to go to the help of the King of Egypt if he is ever involved in war. I did not notice that Lord Stansgate and his Government rushed to help King Farouk during the Palestine Campaign.
218 We have suffered a loss of face with the Arab world, which has since felt that in the eyes of the United Nations possession is nine points of the law; that, no matter what Count Bernadotte and Doctor Bunch or other arbitrators said, whatever Israel could manage to grab, they could hold on to; and that their influence in Washington was great enough to prevent them from being pushed out again. Now, one million Jewish refugees have been pushed into Palestine, and nearly a million Arabs have been pushed out, leaving a refugee problem as big and as severe as before, only more concentrated, and involving a people less organised, less rich, and probably less public-spirited in their readiness to help each other. There lies the danger of Communism in the Middle East. Israel may be as Left wing as they like, but so long as they depend for their food during ten months of the year on private and public subscriptions from America, they are not going to go out of the Western camp.
I venture to suggest that our relations with the Arab world are the crux of the matter, and the Suez Canal problem only a part. Our aim must, be to get strong, settled, united and prosperous Arab nations. We must go back to the war conception of dealing with this region as a whole. One of the tragedies of the Palestine episode was that it meant the virtual break-up of the Arab League. Now we have tile ridiculous situation of Kuwait with more money than it can spend, and Jordan with no money but all the refugees. Her Majesty's Government must take some responsibility for this return to parochialism. During the war we had the Offices of the Minister of State and the Middle East Supply Centre, which dealt with the area as a whole, and did economic planning, for the area as a whole. What happened? It was killed after the war by the Socialist Government. I do not blame them; of course, it was the Foreign Office who killed it, because the Foreign Office loathe all regional organisations. They always have done and they always will. One cannot blame them; they are intelligent, conscientious chaps, and they like to make a decision in their own rooms. If a decision is made either below them in Cairo or in a supranational organisation in Luxembourg, they cannot help feeling that it is notbeing made as well. So we whittled down our 219 entire regional organisation, and a minor official of the Ministry of Health replaced a member of the War Cabinet. If we are to tackle this refugee problem and win back the good will of the Arab world, I venture to suggest seriously to the Government that they should consider again having a Minister of Cabinet rank on the spot to view that important area as a whole.
They should also revive the Levant Consular Service in some form. Nowadays the Foreign Office like the all-purpose, utility diplomat, who can go anywhere and do anything; who can be First Secretary in Paris, Commercial Secretary in Caracas or Resident in Aden. But in an area like the Arab world, the advantage we had in the past of having specialists who spoke the language fluently, understood the people's mentality and background, was very great, and we saw how, in Iraq during the war, there were times when the all-purpose diplomat got into trouble and the Foreign Office had to send for the Arab specialist again. We made a great mistake in abolishing that trained corps of Middle East specialists, and the Foreign Office might well think over that again. They must also make sure that the people they appoint in the Middle East, if we are going to try to revive our prestige by policy rather than by force, should be people of strong personality. It is not always the clever bureaucrat and scholar who makes the best person in the Arab world, but the man of outstanding personality and presence. If we get the machinery right, then we can tackle the refugee problem over the years. Once we have done that, the main obstacle to good relations with Israel, and good relations between this country and the whole Arab world, will have been taken away. Once we have done that, we can look forward to peace with Israel, though perhaps the Government of Israel will have to accept that they must give some compensation for the loss of private property. They are receiving compensation from Germany for the evils done to private Jews, so they also might give compensation for the hardship inflicted on private and in offensive Arabs who have lost their ancestral homes in the Middle East.
If we are to adopt this policy of reviving our prestige, it is essential that we should maintain the closest co-operation 220 with the United States. In the war we saw the lamentable results of the divergence of French and British policies in this area. They diverged at the top and at the bottom, and both the Jews and the Arabs were remarkably skilful in playing off the French and the British, one against the other. They will do the same with the Americans and ourselves, unless at all levels we maintain a close co-operation on the formulation and execution of our Middle East policy. I think that with our experience of President Eisenhower during the war we may hope for loyal co-operation.
I apologise to your Lordships for having diverged from the point. Returning to the Canal, I feel that previous speakers have been inclined to confuse the Canal Convention with the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty was to safeguard the Canal against outside attack. It did not give us the power to station troops on the Canal to see that the Egyptians obeyed the letter of the Convention. These are completely different things. I know that we can prolong the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty by various devices in the text. But are we in such a strong legal position when, in fact, we have 80,000 men there, and the Treaty allows us only 10,000? Can we afford to sit and wait? There is no maintenance in progress on all the buildings and barracks in the Canal Zone. No roofs are being repainted; no gutters repaired. No money is being spent, and there is a deterioration of buildings and equipment and of morale. Are we quite sure that, with a hostile Egypt, we could keep the Canal working? From my humble experience in the war, I venture to doubt it. Is this Base, perhaps, like Singapore, a base which would have been good in the conditions of a previous war, but having little relation to the tactical and strategic necessities of any war in the future? In the end, Singapore fell, because its water supply had fallen into hostile hands. Every drop of water in the Canal Zone comes from the Nile, and it could well be diverted or tampered with in various ways. Do we believe that if a Russian ship left a delayed action atomic mine in the harbour of Port Said, we could continue to keep the Canal going? I cannot help believing that there are some grounds for thinking the Canal Zone might be as dangerous a trap as Singapore proved to be in the last war.
221 If we had been convinced that the Canal Base was the answer to our strategic problem we could have kept it oily if we had gone out after the war in an all-out, pro-Arab policy. We did not do that, and the time for that is past. I feel that the Government are right in pursuing these negotiations. I am not suggesting that they should give everything away. We have many cards in our hands, financial and commercial as well as strategic, in making a deal with the Egyptian Government. But when the noble Lords, Lord Rennell and Lord Hankey, say that we shall gain by waiting, I am not entirely convinced. What Government is likely to succeed that of General Neguib? So far as I know, there is no Jacobite movement to restore King Farouk. I cannot see the discredited and rather corrupt politicians of the last régime being brought back by popular acclaim. What is left?—Communists and the more extreme Moslem Brotherhood. Surely General Neguib's movement, with all its faults of inexperience and extremism, is still the best hope of pulling Egypt out of the corruption, out of the social disparity of wealth, and out of the population problems. And a movement so strongly based on the Moslem religion is not likely to feel the attractions of Communist atheism. Whilst I support the Government's policy, may I conclude by saying how sad it is for those of us who knew these countries and loved the people, and who have so many happy memories of them, to see this deterioration in our relations, and by expressing a hope that next year we shall re-establish not only a sound Treaty but also the good will which ought never to have been lost.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, by a happy accident of the batting list, it falls to my lot to congratulate the noble Viscount who has just resumed his seat upon his maiden speech. He spoke from a great fund of experience and intelligence. As regards his experience, I have heard naval officers of high rank under whom the noble Viscount served in Egypt say what great value they attached to his services: and as regards intelligence, anyone who has enjoyed the friendship of the noble Viscount has never been under any doubts. I am sure I am voicing the opinion of all your 222 Lordships when I say that we hope his experience and intelligence will frequently be at the disposal of this House in future debates. I should like to say a few words about the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate—that vivacious and impressive speech. I would only ask him to look at one point again. If he were to do so, I think he would find that Mr. Dulles has shown himself much more in sympathy with our position in Egypt, and with our difficulties there, than a good many people seem to imagine.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
Perhaps the noble Lord will permit me to interrupt. I have no doubt that that is so, and hope that we shall remain on good terms with the Americans. What I asked was: When the tanks go imp action again, as they are going in a few months' time, are the Americans going to help us?
§ LORD WINSTER
I am not so pessimistic as is the noble Viscount about the tanks going into action again, but I am sure from what Mr. Dulles has put on record that we shall enjoy considerable sympathy from him in whatever may be the future in Egypt. In one of his wartime speeches Sir Winston Churchill said that he had not assumed the office of Prime Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. Well, the Canal Zone is not the British Empire, but I hope that the Prime Minister has no thought in his mind of coming out of a position which is essential, not merely to the British Empire, but to the free world. At the present moment we get a lot of advice upon how to run our affairs. For instance, Mr. Nehru is very free indeed with his advice to us, as well as, so far as I can see, to the rulers and Prime Ministers of every other country in the world. But I wonder whether Mr. Nehru appreciates what would be the possible economic results to India if the passage of the Suez Canal were not completely secure.
I do not think the present position can be fully evaluated without a glimpse backwards at the record, though not, perhaps, so far back as fifty years. I feel that there are two essential points to remember. The first is that our position in the Canal Zone rests upon Treaty rights which are legally unassailable; and the second is that when in 1922 we declared the British Protectorate over Egypt at an end, there were four reserved 223 points, and two of them were the security of the communications (including the Suez Canal) of the British Empire, in Egypt, and the defence of Egypt against foreign aggression. I do not think we can judge this situation properly unless we keep those two points fully in mind. In fact, the record shows that we have adhered closely to them up to this time.
To go back as far as 1924, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald said:No British Government could divest itself of all its interest in guarding the Suez Canal.A little later, Sir Austen Chamberlain, when speaking to Sarwat Pasha, said that these reserved points—that is, the points I have mentioned—wereso essential that every British Government in the future, whatever its complexion, would be obliged to insist upon them.And, in fact, subsequent British Governments have done so. To move on a little to 1946, Mr. Ernest Bevin was then the Foreign Secretary, and he agreed to discuss with Egypt a revision of the 1936 Treaty. But he said that the lessons of the Second World War emphasised—and these are his words:the essential soundness of the principles underlying the Treaty"—that is, the Treaty of 1936. In the same year, the then Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, I do not want to say weakened but, I think, modified that attitude a little by offering to withdraw all British Forces andto settle in negotiation the arrangements to make possible mutual assistance in time of war.I would read that as implying a willingness to evacuate the Forces before discussing the arrangements for possible mutual assistance.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
Is the noble Lord going to continue and read the Treaty to which the Labour Government of that day was a party, which provided for evacuation, under which all the troops would have been out by 1949?
§ LORD WINSTER
The noble Viscount speaks from a vast store of knowledge, but I am dealing with only one point, and that is, an apparent willingness to withdraw the Forces before discussing possible mutual assistance. I am not criticising it, but merely quoting the fact. In the 224 same year, however, Mr. Herbert Morrison revealed that we had acceded to an Egyptian request for a decision on withdrawal preliminary to the study of the future of the Anglo-Egyptian Alliance. I am coming to other things that Mr. Herbert Morrison said, which, I think, reveal how firm and good he was on this subject; but that is what he said at that time. Thereupon Mr. Attlee said that if the matter broke down there was still the 1936 Treaty on which he was prepared to take his stand in negotiations. Some remarks of Mr. Ernest Bevin have been quoted, about our not agreeing to come out of Egypt and leave a vacuum behind; and remarks made by Mr. Churchill, which really amount to saying that if we once evacuate all our Forces from the Suez Canal there will be no chance of our re-entering the Zone. Those two statements have been quoted by my noble friend Lord Hankey, and again, I feel, they are of great importance and are two essential points to remember in discussing this matter.
I said I would quote other remarks made my Mr. Herbert Morrison, and I have great admiration for what he said. His words were:The presence of British troops in Egypt is not a purely Anglo-Egyptian problem. We are a Power bearing responsibilities in the Middle East on behalf of the Commonwealth and the Western Allies. We have assumed a great burden to make the world safe for those countries. We invite Egypt's partnership as an equal in this common effort.Those words were not only most generous to Egypt, but they emphasised what I think is the essential point in this matter —namely, our international responsibilities in this affair, which, in my view, should be placed even above the strategic problems about the Base, and so on. To my mind, that is the essential point. Then again, in 1952 the Conservative Government followed exactly the same line, and said that they regarded the 1936 Treatyas remaining in force and intend fully to maintain their rights under the instrument.It will be seen that in the past we have most clearly asserted that we will not withdraw from Egypt leaving, as Mr. Bevin said, a vacuum behind us, and that if Egypt would not be reasonable in spite of the generous offers made to her we would stand on the 1936 Treaty—a statement which I can only interpret as meaning that we would remain in Egypt.
225 We must see how these firm words tire upheld by what the Government do today, when these negotiations appear to be drawing towards their conclusion. Of course, what is done will be done over the head of Parliament. The noble Wryness, Lord Reading, in replying to Questions yesterday, said, quite rightly of course, that the constitutional practice is that the Government conclude a Treaty and then it is brought to Parliament far ratification. I asked the noble Marquess whether he could quote a case under that procedure of a refusal by Parliament to ratify a Treaty. One Treaty with Egypt, over the Sudan, has, of course, been presented to us without prior consultation. Are we going similarly to have an agreement with Egypt over the Canal presented to us without any opportunity of discussing its terms?
To get this matter in perspective, I think we might look a little more closely at what Mr. Morrison said, as Foreign Secretary, on this subject. If I may sty so with respect, I think that what he said is of the greatest credit to him. He tock a very good stand indeed—I say that in no patronising spirit, but merely as a statement of the opinion I hold. He went to the Foreign Office in 1951, when the position was regulated by Mr. Bevin's declaration of 1950 that:The British Government would rest on the 1936 Treaty until it was changed by mutual consent.Now Mr. Bevin had said that he hoped to give the Egyptian Government final proposals for a settlement of the defence question which, he said, would provide for mutual respect and equality—you cannot go very much further than that—and guarantee the defence of the Middle East, and he hoped to present those proposals to the Egyptian Government within a short space of time. Most regrettably, Mr. Bevin's health broke down and there was a change of Ministers. As a result of this change Mr. Morrison got into the saddle, and these proposals were not presented until April, 1951.
The proposals embodied these things: first, to start a withdrawal of our troops within a year of signing an Agreement—, that, to my mind, is a great advance upon agreeing to withdrawing our troops before, discussing an Agreement—and to complete the withdrawal by 1956. The Canal 226 Zone was to be controlled by an Anglo-Egyptian Control Board. The words used were, "in accordance with British military policy" and with British civilians performing essential duties. The readmission of British troops to the Zone, with all the necessary facilities, was to take place—,these were the words:In the event of war, of imminent menace of war, or apprehended international emergency.These proposals were based on the principle that we could, not agree to any arrangement prejudicial to our ability to contribute to a successful defence of this region against an aggressor, which would be possible only if tie Base were kept immediately available in war. That, surely, is not standing for a purely British interest; it is standing out for something of vital concern to the free world.
These reasonable and, in fact, generous proposals were rejected by the Egyptian Governmentin totoand in detail. Upon that happening, Mr. Morrison defined British policy in Egypt to the House of Commons in what I think were very fine words indeed. He said that the presence of British troops was no longer only an Anglo-Egyptian affair; we had responsibilities on behalf of the Commonwealth and the Western Allies—and indeed, that is true. Our position in Egypt is not an affair of "John Bullism"; it is an affair of geography. Napoleon went to Egypt long before the Canal was dug. Why was the Battle of the Nile fought? It is geography which determines the importance of Egypt in these matters.
As Mr. Morrison pointed out, Egypt is a bridge between two continents, and a vital link in sea communications between the Eastern and the Western hemispheres. Remember also that Egypt is an inevitable objective for an aggressor in the Eastern Mediterranean or in the Levant. Mr. Morrison said in his speech:She can no more stand alone in the defence of her territory than we can in the defence of our country.He said that he wanted:Egypt's partnership as an equal in a common effort to make the world safe.The reply of the Egyptian Government was a threat to abrogate the 1936 Treaty. New proposals on the lines indicated by his speech were presented, offering Egypt participation as art equal in a Middle East 227 Command. Five days before those proposals were presented, and although the Egyptian Government had been warned that they were on their way, Nahas Pasha tabled the unilaterial abrogation of the 1936 Treaty. At that time there was a General Election here, but in spite of such outrageous behaviour, offending every canon of diplomatic procedure, the new Conservative Government said that they were still willing to negotiate. They could hardly have bent backwards further—not that I for one moment criticise them for doing so. I think that fact does show the spirit in which we have approached this matter. Let us bear in mind that we are not endeavouring to defend, or defending, selfish British interests in Egypt alone. It is an international interest. The International Convention at Constantinople in 1886—
§ LORD WINSTER
I am sorry; I am adrift by two years. I thank the noble Lord for the correction. The International Convention guaranteed freedom of passage for all nations at all times, in peace and war. That guarantee may be to some extent intertwined with our strategic affairs and I do not say for one moment it is not. I say it is the predominant interest, and our Governments have shown it so. The international side of the matter was emphasised by the Prime Minister in his speech of May 11, this year. He said:The duty…has fallen on us, and us alone, of safeguarding the interests of free nations in the Middle East and also preserving the international waterway of the Suez canal.Indeed, we have done that. During the riots of 1952 and the bestial violence which accompanied them, only the British Navy kept the international traffic through the Canal going. Throughout its history the Canal has in fact been kept open thanks to the presence of British forces. Even apart from that, experts have agreed that the Egyptians alone could not operate the Canal.
I hope I have not quoted at too great length, but I think the facts I have quoted are essential to an understanding of the situation. They are all, I believe, completely fundamental to the point. At this time, however, all who are concerned 228 with British responsibilities and our interests in the Canal Zone are living in a state of considerable anxiety. Since Neguib seized power, he has consistently demanded that every British officer should quit the Zone. All I have heard, to my dismay, has left me under the impression that evacuation has already been conceded in principle, and that the only points left at issue concern how many European technicians may remain: for how long; who shall control them, and whether they may wear uniform or dungarees and "sneakers."
May I ask the noble Marquess one question: have the Dominion Governments been consulted at all stages on this matter? If we are to withdraw from the Zone, I fear that, following our retreat from Abadan, the blow to our world prestige will be a very heavy one, and there will be no minimising it. The concession under which the Suez Canal Company operates the Canal expires in 1968; but if British forces are withdrawn, that Company will replace the British forces as a target for abuse. The campaign will at once start, an agitation for terminating the Company's concession. Neguib will then be in a position —if he is still in office—to levy toll on the world's trade. Abadan was bad enough, but it was, at any rate, mainly a British concern; the Canal concerns the world. I have no doubt that to get British forces withdrawn Egypt will promise anything; but history does not show that Egyptians have any great respect for Agreements which have ceased to be convenient to them.
Neguib has not been asked to do anything derogatory to Egypt's dignity. On the contrary, he has been invited to assume joint responsibilities which would give Egypt a world status to which, perhaps, her past history, and especially her past military history, do not entitle her. It is a very brittle and difficult situation, but do not think we have much to fear, provided that we are firm and at the same time, as we always have been, perfectly reasonable. I do not think that Neguib's position is very strong. He reminds me of the story of the little dejected-looking man who was seen following up an unruly mob during the French Revolution. A friend said to him, "Whatever are you doing in this?
229 Why are you here?" He answered," I must be; you see, I am their leader, "I feel at times that Neguib's position gets more and more like that.
But although, as I have said, I view these events with some dismay, I do not view them entirely without hope, since I saw some words which were used by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury—whose absence through illness to-day we all greatly regret. In speaking to the Conservative Party at the recent Conservative Conference at Margate, after warning his hearers that he could not say very much on the subject, to my great surprise he went on to make what I regarded as some extremely significant remarks. He defended the retention of the 70,000 troops in Egypt on the ground that (I am quoting from the report in the Daily Telegraph, which is usually so accurate in these matters, but if there a slip I apologise in advance to the noble Marquess):…in the view of our military advisers, that was the minimum with which we could maintain our position if faced by an unfriendly Egypt. This problem is different from Abadan.Lord Salisbury went on:…there was a point beyond which we could not go. If the Egyptian Government cannot come so far to meet us we should have to face the necessity of a permanent continuation of the present position.Those words seem to me to be quite inconsistent with any idea of evacuation of our forces from the Canal. I have always noticed that the noble Marquess, though he speaks firmly and strongly, never stretches his arm out any further than he has authority to do. On this occasion, moreover, his words were specifically endorsed by the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Eden. If I were called upon to give advice to the Government I should say, "Go back to Mr. Bevin: you are not going to come out of the Zone leaving a vacuum behind." In that connection, I would bear in mind the words of the Prime Minister, that:Once out, you will not be able to get hack, whatever the crisis.I would go back to Mr. Morrison and his very generous remarks and proposals. I would reaffirm those, and I would stand by what Lord Salisbury said when he was speaking at Margate.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CROMER
My Lords, it is with considerable qualms that I rise to address you for the first time. I do so in the hope that the indulgence to newcomers for which your Lordships' House is well known will be extended to me in full measure, for I shall surely need it. I thought it appropriate that the first occasion on which I rose to address your Lordships should concern Egypt. We have had little information on the purposes or the progress of the negotiations which are taking place in Cairo. Therefore it may be hoped that it is not too late for the considered opinion of this House to be taken into account before the negotiations reach their final stage. In newspaper articles which have been published in this country—and there is little else to guide us—various suggestions have been made as to what terms will be acceptable to both sides. Which of these suggestions are most likely to be correct, if any, I should not care to guess; but in most of these articles it seems to be assumed that British troops will be withdrawn from the Canal Zone. This impression may be due to the reticence of those responsible here who, by their silence, have allowed inspired leakages of information in Cairo to take more than their fair share of publicity. This would not be the first time that such an occurrence has taken place in the long history of Anglo-Egyptian negotiations.
I would remind your Lordships that British intervention in Egypt, both civil and military, was most reluctantly entered upon. It was only on the insistent request of the Khedive that Her Majesty's Government appointed a Commissioner to the Egyptian Commission of Public Debt in 1877, from which grew British intervention in Egyptian civil administration. Again, it was only when Egypt was in an almost complete state of anarchy after the mutiny of the Egyptian Army—and not the first mutiny at that—that British troops were landed in support of the Khedive and defeated the mutineers.
During the period of British occupation of Egypt, from 1882 until the end of the First World War, Western ideas of Government and administration were gradually introduced and superimposed upon what was a backward Middle East country. Until this time it should be remembered that all the positions of 231 authority in Egypt were occupied by other than Egyptians—for the most part, by Turks. It was, therefore, necessary not only to introduce a new system of administration and government but also to educate and train sufficient Egyptians to make the system work. It is one thing to transplant Western ideas and systems which suit the Western mind and temperament to a Middle Eastern country and to install sufficient European officials to make them work according to the Western idea of how they should work; it is quite another thing to educate and train sufficient of the indigenous people of the country for them even to want to put Western ideas into practice, let alone to instil in them the ability to make them work.
Gresham's Law certainly applies in political thought. Debased popular ideas will always tend to supplant the sounder but less popular principles, and this is particularly so in a case where the educational standard is very low. There is, after all, a constant conflict of this nature in the highly civilised democracies of the West, in spite of the firm foundations on which the political edifices of the West are built. Where a large superstructure is erected on shallow foundations in sand, when the scaffolding is removed the building will start to slip before it eventually tumbles. In Egypt, the complaint is made that the scaffolding was not removed quickly enough and that, in any event, the contractors have left some of their equipment in the garden. Of course, this argument is not based on facts. It was, as has been mentioned this afternoon, Great Britain that freed Egypt from Turkish suzerainty, and it was after the Egyptians had failed to agree to the proposals of the Milner Mission who, by unilateral declaration, declared Egypt an independent sovereign State.
In spite of British recognition and appreciation of Egyptian aspirations for complete freedom, it took from 1919 to 1936 to negotiate a mutually acceptable Treaty and this probably would not have been possible, even then, had it not been for Egyptian fears of Mussolini's intentions in North Africa. Had British influence been withdrawn in 1919, as Egyptian extremists wanted, it is not improbable that the Egyptian question, in more or less the same form as it was known in the 232 latter half of the last century, would have been recreated. If nothing else was learned during the years between 1919 and 1936, the one lesson which stands out is that it is quite impossible to come in haste to any satisfactory arrangement with the Egyptians. The Treaty that was signed in 1936 was, as your Lordships are aware, signed by the leaders of the Government and by the leaders of all the chief political parties in Egypt, and was ratified by a freely elected Egyptian Parliament with an overwhelming majority. In spite of this, the 1936 Treaty was unilaterally denounced. Today, there appears to be a suggestion that British troops should be withdrawn with the right of re-entry in certain circumstances. In view of the renunciation of the 1936 Treaty which, I should remind your Lordships, had wide popular support in Egypt—to such an extent, in fact, that on the news being announced of its signature, British troops were cheered in the streets by the Egyptian populace—surely it is not possible to rely on any arrangements which may now be made with a revolutionary Government contingent upon the most indefinite circumstances.
The terms of the Treaty of 1936 are well known to your Lordships, but I am surprised that the point has not been brought out so far that the Treaty does not expire in 1956: it is perfectly specific in the Treaty that it conies up for review, and there is a large body of opinion in this country which does not seem to be aware of that fact. In Article 8 of the Treaty, although the Suez Canal is described as an integral part of Egypt, it is also described as a universal means of communication and as an essential means of communication between the different parts of the British Empire. I should like to remind the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, that, although he may not consider India and Pakistan as part of the Commonwealth to-day, our friends in Australia and New Zealand are not to be disregarded. Until such time as both parties agree that the Egyptian Army can, by its own resources, defend the Canal against an aggressor, then, as we know, British troops have a perfect right to be in the Zone. Surely, it cannot be said that the Egyptian Army is to-day fitted to defend the Canal against the only major Power who might wish to attack it.
233 It is fashionable to-day to say that, in this age of air transport, the sea communications of the Suez Canal are not of the same importance as in years gone by. To a limited degree that argument certainly may be true, but the noble Lords, Lord Rennell and Lord Hankey, have both produced figures which portray very graphically the enormous importance of the Canal in communications to-day. In this connection, it should not be forgotten that the Canal was built by French inspiration and for the most part with French money, in the face of considerable opposition from Her Majesty's Government of the day; and when Great Britain decided to intervene in Egypt, she assumed responsibility for safeguarding the Canal. To make any agreement with Egypt affecting the Canal without prior consultation with the French Government would be highly irresponsible.
In 1936, it was considered that 10,000 troops and 400 pilots, together with an appropriate number of ancillary personnel, were adequate to safeguard the Canal against aggression. To-day, it is reported that there are between 70,000 and 80,000 British troops in the Canal Zone. I think it is agreed by everybody that it is impossible that such numbers of troops can be maintained there indefinitely. But surely this should not be necessary. British troops are not in the Canal Zone in time of peace to defend the Canal against attack by the Egyptians. We want the Egyptians as our partners in the defence of the Canal against an aggressor. In fact, far from wishing to violate Egyptian sovereignty, we want Egypt to play more fully her part in international affairs which, after all, was always the ultimate aim of British influence in Egypt. Egypt's refusal to accept the 1951 proposals was, I consider, an indication of her political immaturity, and showed that as a nation she had not yet learned the lessons which the Pashas, as individuals, had most unwillingly had to learn: that privilege carries with it responsibility. The leaning towards neutrality which is reported in The Times to-day is another indication of complete unreality.
In view of the international character of the Canal, it is of course, logical that the responsibility for the defence of the Canal should be placed on an international basis under which Egypt, as 234 would be her ambition, would play a full part. Until Egypt comes into an international organisation such as N.A.T.O. or a Middle East Defence Organisation, I am of the opinion that Her Majesty's Government would be failing in its responsibility if the British troops were withdrawn from the Canal Zone. British troops are in the Canal Zone as of right, and we should be failing in our duty if we threw over our responsibility for the empty satisfaction of being able to say that we had reached an agreement with Egypt.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, I deem it a very special pleasure to be allowed, I am sure on behalf of the Whole House, to congratulate the noble Earl on the thoughtful maiden speech which he has just delivered. He bears an honoured name, and when we think of the past connections of our country with Egypt we have reason to be proud of the list of names of men of our own race and stock who rendered immense public service to Egypt. Baring and Boyle, Wingate and Allenby, Lloyd, Russell Pasha, and Lampson— there is a list of names of men who outside our Island have contributed all that they could towards the progress of the Egyptian people. I am particularly glad that the noble Earl made the reference which he did to the Treaty of 1936. It was signed not only by the leaders of every Egyptian Party, but also by a long list of British names, in order to show that it was an Agreement reached with the full assent of representatives on both sides. I entirely confirm his account of the effect of the Treaty. I signed it, at Mr. Eden's request—and I never signed a document of which I was more sure that I understood its meaning and effect.
I rise, not for the purpose of joining in this general debate, but merely to raise two points, to each of which I hope the noble Marquess who speaks for the Foreign Office may make some reply. The first point is this. I read in the public Press that our Ambassador to Egypt is just returning there, and it is indicated that he is likely to take up again the discussions in which he was previously engaged, and carry on a certain negotiation. The topic of negotiation is said to be the settling of certain preliminary points, and in some quarters this is sharply distinguished from negotiating 235 the Treaty itself. I want to put this question, and I hope the noble Marquess will be good enough to consider what answer he can give: what is the purpose of negotiating what are called "preliminary points," in order, I presume, to reach agreement, unless these points, when agreed, are to enter into the Treaty itself? Take, for example, the discussion as to whether there should be 4,000 technical people left in Egypt, and whether they should wear uniforms. That, I believe, is regarded as one of the preliminary points. Supposing that the discussion on this preliminary point is carried forward and agreement is reached, is not the inevitable effect that the decision on that point becomes part of the Treaty itself? Therefore, I get no comfort from being told that the Ambassador is not at present engaged on behalf of the British Government in negotiating the Treaty but only in adjusting certain preliminary points, because I cannot see how that preliminary discussion and negotiation is related to the Treaty which it is said at present is not being negotiated at all. If my noble friend the Marquess of Reading can explain this to me and satisfy me, I shall be grateful.
The other observation I venture to make is of a very general character. I would venture to put to the noble Marquess this question: is not the real lesson of the history of diplomacy in the last fifty or sixty years that, whereas in the old days when a State entered into a Treaty the obligations of it were regarded as being like commercial obligations, which bound the parties, a great change has now come over the scene? I recall having read that in 1872 there was an award in an arbitration between this country and the United States of America, which was called the Alabama Arbitration. The award was against this country, and was for the payment of over three millions of money. Mr. Gladstone in that day insisted that we must pay, and the reason we must pay was because this country had entered into a bargain with the United States and we were bound to stand by our bargain.
If I go back in my own memory to the first days of the first German War, I recall that vast numbers of citizens in this country supported the Government in their determination to go to war. Why? 236 Because they felt that this country was a signatory to a Treaty, and they were not prepared to repudiate a "scrap of paper." That was the old tradition, and I think upon the whole it was well observed by the practice of our country. In international affairs the proposition was truly asserted. The international law used to teach (I dare say it is in the books now) that a Treaty bound, because pacta sunt servanda—promises are to be kept. And the practice in the old days complied with the Biblical declaration about:He that sweareth unto his neighbour, and disappointeth him not: Though it were to his own hindrance.That was the ancient view of contracts made between State and State. Does not the noble Marquess think that in this last half century the sense of obligation has been frittered away? It may well be that the originator of this new view was Hitler himself. If Hitler made a pact of nonaggression with his neighbour, it was always the kiss of death, for he regarded the making of Treaties as a mere matter of policy.
Lord Winster referred just now to Abadan. I had responsibilities in negotiating the Treaty with Persia which was broken by the Persian Government. That Treaty contained a clause which bound the Persian Government, by its own signature, neither by its Parliament nor by its Executive to seek to nationalise the oil installation. That Treaty was ratified by the Persian Legislature. It was shamefully disregarded later on when it suited Persia. It appears to me that, unhappily, we have reached a position where the fact that something is promised in a Treaty is no sort of guarantee that the promise will be carried out. This observation of mine has a bearing on this question, because, I understand, we are invited to accept proposals for the withdrawal of British troops because the Treaty we are going to sign with Egypt will contain a promise that we are to be allowed to go back. I am afraid I regard such a promise in such a Treaty, whatever Government makes it, as open to some question. I referred just now to the "Alabama" case and how we paid the money. There was a subsequent arbitration with Albania, in which we claimed that they had no right to strew mines in the Corfu Channel and blow up our destroyers, and the award was in our favour. Has Albania paid?
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
I therefore feel that it is dangerous to build upon promises which are so easily disregarded. The present Prime Minister, I believe, has pointed out, in this very case of Egypt—I think the noble Lord, Lord Hankey quoted it—that Egypt would be in the greatest difficulty in fulfilling such a promise. Suppose some major Power, at the time, was threatening war, and suppose that Egypt was willing to keep her promise and let us go back: what would happen if the major Power informed Egypt that they would regard the readmission of British troops as an unfriendly act? Those are the considerations which make me anxious as to what is now going to happen. I put the greatest confidence in the Prime Minister and Mr. Eden, and their colleagues. But the value of debate in your Lordships' House is that, when we are filled with a reasonable anxiety, we should state the reasons for that anxiety, plainly and firmly and courteously. Those are the reasons why I am anxious about this situation, and why I am glad that my noble friend, Lord Rennell, should have raised this debate to-day.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
Before the noble and learned Viscount sits down, since he has emphasised—and we agree with him—the importance of the plighted word, would he make any observation on the fact that we plighted our word to restrict our troops to 10,000 and we are now occupying Egypt with 80,000?
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
I do not want to discuss that, but I think that the plain meaning of the Treaty of 1936 is that we are not required to leave the situation there when the Treaty itself expires, but that a new Treaty should be negotiated; and the number of troops now there, I presume, are there because it is felt that to discharge our other obligations under the Treaty such a force is needed. I do not offer an opinion on a military question, but I hope it is the case, and I believe it is the case, that my country is observing its Treaty obligations as I wish other people would observe theirs.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
May I draw the noble and learned Viscount's attention to the Treaty? It states quite plainly that the force which the King Emperor can maintain in the vicinity of the Canal 238 shall not exceed a land force of 10,000 men. The noble and learned Viscount speaks about keeping our word; why do we not keep our word in this matter?
§ LORD KILLEARN
May I perhaps intervene upon that point? Is no regard to be paid to the attacks on British subjects and property in Cairo? Such attacks undoubtedly must call for reinforcement of our Forces. Surely, whatever the limitation in the Treaty, there is full justification for reinforcement of our Forces when there has been deliberate attack on the life and property of British subjects.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
What the noble Lord is saying that the situation is such that we should invade Egypt independently of the Treaty, in order to protect our nationals.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ LORD VANSITTART
Like the noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down, I intervene in this debate because my anxiety exceeds my reluctance but in view of the thoroughness with which the ground has been covered already. I shall be extremely brief. I wish to confine my remarks to one point, which carries rather further something which the noble and learned Viscount has said. One essential point is that this proposed new Treaty should be considered in direct conjunction with the Sudan Treaty. In the Sudan Treaty we went far to mollify the irreconcilables. I fear, quite frankly, that we may have compromised the progress achieved in over fifty years by the finest and most selfless body of men in the world—the Sudan Civil Service. I fear that we may have let down the Southern Sudanese, because these primitive tribes know very well that they are not fitted to hold their own with the scheming politicians of the North, and they would have liked us to stay on for quite a considerable time, at least for ten years afterwards. I am afraid, also, that the Sudanisation of the whole administration in three years may prove to be a chimera, because the men are not there, and no miracle can make them.
Anyhow, those concessions were made, and what was the result? The Egyptians 239 flouted and violated that Treaty at every turn. The Foreign Secretary himself has given some particulars. Her Majesty's Government have protested, I think twice, but certainly once, without the least effect, because the tricksters had never the faintest intention of keeping their word. We have had one lesson. Are we going to court another with our eyes open? Doubtless we thought that acquiescence in the Sudan would bring sweet reason in Suez. But it has brought nothing of the kind. It has brought a snarling Anglophobia which goes so fat as to hang and imprison for life those who have served their turn to us. I see from this morning's newspapers that "the Dancing Major" has even made violent anti-British propaganda out of our attempt to help his sick son. The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, alluded to what I might call the "Jelly boys." Until quite recently I thought that they were the sort of safe-blowers whom the Lord Chief Justice condemned to thirty-nine years in jail; but the Jelly Boys occupy a much superior social position in Egypt. The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, mentioned that an ex-Minister had pleaded as a virtue that he had been concerned in endeavouring to blow up a British ship, in order to block the Canal, but he omitted a significant feature, which was that when the ex-Minister had said that, the presiding judged bobbed up and said, "Look here, you are not going to get away with that. The real ' Jelly Boys ' are me and my mates in the present Administration; and don't you forget it." I think your Lordships might also be unwise to forget it.
In the face of all that—and this is my chief apprehension—we are being asked to trust again. I cannot recollect offhand any parallel situation in diplomatic history. I have known heaps of broken Agreements—in fact, in dealing with totalitarians, I have never known anything else; and this is a totalitarian régime in Egypt: there is no doubt of that. What I have never seen before is a dupe doing what we have been doing over the Sudan Agreement, asking, in the full process of dupery, in mid-market and at midday, to be deceived again. I should like to refer to what the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, said in relation to Hitler, and in that connection may I recall a phrase that I used over 240 and over again in the thirties?—that those who ask to be deceived must not grumble if they are gratified. That, I fear, may prove to be our experience. I have never believed in concluding Treaties when we know in advance that they are going to be broken. These are not Treaties they are traps. Therefore I feel that there is a great deal of force in what the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, said, when he suggested that the negotiations might at least be deferred until there is a little better evidence of good faith and good will. I do not intend to detain your Lordships longer, because you have already heard so much wisdom of others; but I think that point is at least worth bearing in mind.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, the hour is getting late. I think your Lordships will agree that it has proved very desirable to have this debate on Egypt, rather than submerge the issue in a general debate on foreign affairs, as was originally suggested. Apart from anything else, it means that we cannot be told later on that we were slow in putting forward our point of view and our objections. For as we know, our Ambassador is on his way to his post, and Parliament does not meet again until January 19, so I am sure your Lordships will agree that it is a good thing that we have this opportunity of making, our views clear before we depart for the Christmas holiday. I spoke on Egypt in the foreign affairs debate on April 23 last. I still adhere to what I said then—that is, in paraphrase, that a friendly Agreement with Egypt is highly desirable, but not at the cost of sacrificing anything which is vital to us; nor should it be at the dictation of the other party. From what we have seen in the newspapers (and they are our source of information—almost entirely from the Cairo end, may I say) it is not negotiation but dictation which we are experiencing.
§ LORD KILLEARN
The terms which apparently, according to the Press, we are engaged in discussing. The reason I cannot put them specifically is that we at this end have not been told what they are.
241 There are three main points in connection with this question of Egypt with which I should like to deal. The first is that there is astonishing ignorance about the date of the termination of the Treaty. It is astonishing how few people realise that the Treaty does not automatically lapse on December 22, 1956. It does nothing of the kind. It is true that it has been denounced, but we have denounced the denunciation, so to speak—we have said that we disregard it; we do not admit it. The terms of the Treaty are perfectly clear. No doubt your Lordships have them in mind. I have a copy of the Treaty here, but I do not propose to inflict the whole of it on your Lordships. I will put its contents shortly. The first Articles establish the alliance. Article 8 establishes the conditions under which our troops are in Egyt without the infringement of Egyptian sovereignty. The Annex to Article 8 lays down how many troops we can have there: 10,000 land forces and 400 pilots; together with the necessary ancillary personnel and apart from civilian personnel—clerks and so forth.
Article 16 prescribes how the Treaty is to come up for revision after twenty years by mutual consent and the way in which it is to be revised. I would call your Lordships' attention to the all-important proviso to that Article, which says:It is agreed that any revision of this treaty will provide for the continuance of the Alliance between the High Contracting Parties. …So far from the life-span of the Treaty coming to an end automatically in 1956, the actual text provides for the continuance of the Alliance in some form or another at the end of the twenty years. I know well that the Treaty is not necessarily the final word: but at the same time I think it is very unfortunate that the general public have not the foggiest idea of when this Treaty does or does not expire and, entirely misunderstanding the situation, are firmly convinced that it naturally and automatically expires in 1956. It does not. I am sure that is correct, though I am not a lawyer; I think that will be borne out by other and better authority.
Bearing on this point, I have been looking up my papers, and I would remind your Lordships that in 1947 Egypt 242 took the Treaty to U.N.O., in the hope of having it modified, or abolished. We were represented by Sir Alexander Cadogan. I should like to quote from this small volume I have here, which I commend to your Lordships. It is Information Paper No. 19 published by Chatham House, entitled "Great Britain and Egypt 1914–51." From page 102 I take this summary of what Sir Alexander Cadogan said before the Council. He pointed outthat the 1936 Treaty could legally be revised before its expiry in 1956 only by the consent of both parties. The Egyptian argument that the removal of the Axis threat to peace had altered the circumstances of the Treaty was an invocation of the rebus sic stantibus doctrine which would find no support in any international tribunal.As for the assertion that the presence of British troops in Egypt was contrary to the United Nations Charter, the wording of the resolution of 14 December, 1946, which Egypt had invoked had made an exception for the presence of armed forces by consent 'freely and publicly expressed in Treaties…consistent with the Charter.' He"—that is, Sir Alexander Cadogan—demonstrated by a series of quotations that the Treaty had in 1936 been almost unanimously welcomed in Egypt; and the rule pacta sunt servanda"—to which the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, has just referred—was a primary principle of international law.Then, later, Sir Alexander Cadogan spoke as follows—this is the official report from U.N.O., are it is worth quoting, as it is of some interest. He said:Nokrashy Pasha replies that the Security Council must not be ' stymied by the legal rights of the parties.' it "—that is the Council—must put aside Treaty rights whenever the party to a given Treaty says that it dislikes its obligations enough to be ready to allow its people to create a menace to the peace rather than accept them. Egyptian politicians have been stirring up feeling against the Treaty with the deliberate intention of gaining their wishes. It is they who are creating the threat to the peace if there is any.Those remarks apply with full force now. As your Lordships will remember, the Egyptian appeal to U.N.O. in 1947 was talked out, so I need not refer further to that matter.
I feel that I have adequately covered the Treaty position, and I will get on to my next point, which is the question of the reliability of the other side—what I 243 might call their credentials or reliability. The example of bad faith (there is no other term for it) over the Sudan has already been brought up by the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart; in any case, it has been fully covered before Parliament by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I am going to put to your Lordships what, so far as I know, is a new point in connection with the 1936 Treaty itself. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, and I were both signatories to that particular document, as also was the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, who is not present to-day. I make bold to say that no one who signed, negotiated, or had anything to do with that Treaty had any other idea in mind but that, in the event of war, each country should come to the assistance of the other as a co-belligerent. There was no doubt about that.
First of all, with whom was that Treaty signed? As the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, has said, it was signed with a properly constituted, properly elected and fully representative Egyptian Government. It was countersigned, if I may so put it, by the heads of every Egyptian political Party. Yet what happens? War looms up. The Egyptian Prime Minister is kept fully informed of developments, of threatening danger, as, of course, he should be. Then the time comes when war is on us. What happens?—I speak here with personal experience, because it was I who had to do the job. The Egyptian Prime Minister comes along, and what does he say? He says, "Well, yes, but there are certain points we should like clarified"—Home goes a telegram: "They are making these difficulties. Can I meet them? The answer is," Yes, certainly. "The telegram comes in very late at night, as I remember well. It was at Alexandria. I walk down the long hotel corridor to the room at the end where the Prime Minister is. I say to him: "Excellency, I have brought you the assurances you want." He says: "Well, I have just had a telegram from London." When I express some surprise, he says: "I have just had a telegram from London describing a conversation between the Egyptian Ambassador and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 244 in which the Egyptian Ambassador elaborated the advantages which would lie in the neutrality of Egypt, as thereby Egypt would be able to serve as a bridge between you and the Americans." I was considerably taken aback, but I said: "Anyhow, that does not really affect the matter: I have brought you your assurance." To "cut the cackle" (if I may use a vulgar term), the Egyptian Government were abdurate, and Egypt did not come in as a co-belligerent. That is historical.
The point of the incident I have put before your Lordships is this. We are now dealing with somebody who has no constitutional authority, so far as I know; whose régime, so far as we can judge, has gone back, within six months, or less, on an Agreement which they signed. Yet Her 'Majesty's Government, apparently, are going to sign with them something which seriously modifies our existing Treaty rights. Even with a properly constituted Egyptian Government, look what happened. In such conditions are we wise in going ahead and dealing with the present regime? The facts I have given to your Lordships are quite accurate, and are on the official file. My point is that even a fully constituted, properly elected Egyptian Government, backed by all the political Parties, still goes hack on its word. That is irrefutable, and it is not a good augury. Of course, on the question of the actual position, all we have is from the newspapers. On the other hand, it seems generally agreed that there are three particular points at issue at the moment. One is the right of re-entry—I believe a horrible word "reactivation" has been used. That has been dealt with earlier in this debate, and, in the words of the Prime Minister, already quoted by Lord Hankey, I should think fully disposed of. I believe there is jibbing over whether war involving Turkey should be adequate or not. Then there is the question of the duration. I am told it would be for seven years, but I do not know whether that is right or wrong. Lastly, there are the 4,000 technicians who apparently are not to be uniformed and not to be fully armed.
I do not want to abuse the patience of your Lordships, but you will remember that our policy was outlined as long ago 245 as 1924 in that well-known dispatch—might I perhaps quote it to you?—from Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, writing as Foreign Secretary to the High Commissioner in Cairo. He said:It is no less true to-day than in 1922 that the security of the communications of the British Empire in Egypt remain a vital British interest and that absolute certainty that the Suez Canal will remain open in peace as well as in war for the free passage of British ships is the foundation on which the entire defensive strategy of the British Empire rests. The 1888 Convention for the free navigation of the Canal was an instrument devised to secure that object. Its ineffectiveness for this purpose was demonstrated in 1914 when Great Britain herself had to take steps to ensure that the Canal would remain open.Then comes a phrase already quoted:No British Government, in the light of that experience, can divest itself wholly of its interest in guarding such a vital link in British communications. Such security must be a feature of any agreement come to between cur two Governments, and I see no reason why accommodation is impossible given good will.Contrast that with the terms we are commonly reported to be now considering.
I devoutly trust that Her Majesty's Government will not commit themselves to the proposal to leave 4,000 unarmed or semi-armed technicians. I have just had a letter from a British resident of long experience and knowledge, and I cannot refrain from reading an extract because it does bear on this question. He said:Whatever the terms of any Treaty with Egypt, and if and when any Egyptian Agreement is reached, unless we are physically present (i.e., troops) there is virtually no prospect of the terms being carried out. The fact that an attack on Turkey is not acceptable as a case for re-occupation shows how utterly unrealistic they are. To hope that 4,000 technicians will be allowed to maintain the Bas, to our satisfaction is an absurdity. I need not describe to you"—he knows that I know—the procedure and methods likely to be adopted by the Egyptians to make the situation impossible. You will probably agree that in a very short time the 4,000 would find themselves unable to cope and we should have to withdraw them—possibly even rescue, them—no doubt after we had perforce delayed action long enough for the Base greatly to deteriorate. It would then be a matter for abandoning the Base or rescuing it.I saw another eminent member of the British community in Egypt the other day, and he said the same thing. It is not encouraging.
246 Your Lordships may well say: "It is all very well to get up and talk like this, but what course would you suggest?" That is a very natural question. I personally still hanker for the proposal to set up in all good faith a Middle East Command under N.A.T.O. It was a thousand pities that Nahas Pasha so summarily threw that down and trampled on it. I should still have had hopes that we might have got something of that kind, something which would save Egypt's face and if you like, save our face, and establish what we want in the way of adequate security. It may be that we have gone too far. But that would be a way out. Short of that, I should be tempted to announce that we were going to get back gradually to strict Treaty limits as regards numbers, and that if, in the meantime, there, were attacks—well, as the Prime Minister said in another place the other day, if the troops are attacked they know how to hit back. That is how I feel about it.
Let me conclude. There are times for nations as well as individuals to take vital decisions, when it is a question of deciding between the natural instinct to prefer a quiet life and a resolve to stand on your rights and take the consequences, believe this to be one of those occasions, for in my view what is at stake is not only our whole position in the Middle East but our position in Africa and our position in the whole world.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, this has been a most interesting and, indeed, remarkable debate—remarkable by reason of the fact that we have had two of the best maiden speeches I have ever heard. No one listening to the orators would have had the least idea that they were not accustomed to debates in our House, although I think it was Disraeli who said that persons who succeeded in one House nearly always failed in the other. I am happy to think that we shall hear both these noble Lords on many occasions dealing with matters such as this hi the charming way they did.
I do not intend to keep your Lordships for more than a moment or two, but I thought it might be useful if I stated—although my noble friend Lord Stansgate has already stated quite plainly—what is the position of the Party with which I 247 am associated. I propose presently to initiate a few propositions in order to find out whether there is any difference between the view which the Government are taking and the view which we are taking. At the present moment I do not think there is. Much has been said about the dreadful conditions of to-day. Of course, it is a most deplorable thing that, instead of this strict observance of the principle pacta sunt servanda, it is only too common to find that they are not observed. That is a most deplorable feature of modern life. It happened occasionally in ancient times, too. That being so I ask: So what? Are you then going to say, "Treaties are no good; do not let us bother about Treaties any more. Let us bestride the world like a Colossus and then we shall be all right." But the trouble is that to bestride the world like a Colossus takes a great deal of money and a great many soldiers. To my mind, we have got to be realistic about this matter, and the prime merit that I found in the maiden speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, was that he was being completely realistic.
What, then, are we to do? Are we to base ourselves in Egypt on a situation which we have arrived at by agreement with the Egyptians, or are we to base ourselves on a situation arrived at by force, whether they like it or not? Do be realistic and consider which it is to be. I find it a little difficult myself. It is not possible to place reliance on the Treaty, because the Treaty said quite plainly that the number of people we may station there was not to be above 10,000, and we have got about 80,000, because, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said at Margate, it was found that that number was necessary to maintain ourselves safely there. It is a little difficult to rely upon a Treaty which says that the number must not be over 10,000 when you have got 80,000 there.
I find it difficult also to rely on the proposition that the Treaty does not come to an end. The provision in Article 16 is like an Agreement to make an Agreement in the future. Therefore, what is the position of Her Majesty's Government? I think it is this. It is a mere platitude to say that the peace and 248 security of the Middle East is of the utmost importance to us, to the Commonwealth and to Western defence. That is obvious. I believe in trying to be a realist and I believe that that peace and that security can best be secured at present by friendship and co-operation between Britain and Egypt. That seems to me to involve that a Treaty, an Agreement, should be negotiated between the two Governments, taking care of certain points. The first point, I think, should be this: that the Base itself and the stores it contains should be satisfactorily maintained and carried on, though for this purpose it is not necessary to continue the presence of British armed Forces. Indeed, if we are realists, we must recognise that in present circumstances, the presence of these troops is a dangerously unsettling factor, causing feelings of resentment and hostility on the part of the Egyptian people. It may be deplorable that that should be so: I think it is deplorable; but if we are realists, we know that that is a fact. I think we shall probably find that Egypt is quite unwilling to extend the right for these troops to remain there.
What, then, must we do? We have to secure, so far as we can, that in case of war or imminent danger of war, we must have immediate and effective reactivation (that is the word, I suppose, one must use, though I know how horrible it is) of the Base secured. There must be a plain statement that the right of passage for all ships of all nations on their lawful occasions through the Suez Canal should be guaranteed. And, lastly, the Tripartite Agreement made in 1950 between the United States of America. France and the United Kingdom, the object of which was to secure the maintenance of peace between Israel and the Arab States, should be reaffirmed. But, as my noble friend, Lord Stansgate, has said, we must be careful to see that the balance of defence forces between Egypt and Israel is not disturbed so as to constitute a new threat to Israel, thereby endangering the whole peace of the Middle East. Believing, as I do, that those are the broad principles which Her Majesty's Government are going to try to secure, I have to tell them that if they go on these lines which I understand they are taking, they will have the support of Her Majesty's Opposition.
§ 6.35 p.m.
THE MINISTER OF STATE, FOREIGN OFFICE (THE MARQUESS OF READING)
My Lords, this debate on the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, has, I feel, been of considerable interest, and, I cannot help thinking also, of considerable enjoyment to a certain number of noble Lords to whom it has brought some degree of restoration to full health from the disabilities under which they have been suffering in the recent past. It has enabled them to get off their respective chests a weight of repressions and inhibitions, the departure of which I trust they will soon find greatly to their benefit. There have been two notable maiden speeches, as the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, said: one from a noble Lord whose title to speak for the first time on a Motion of this kind is best designated by the title which he himself bears; and the other from a noble Lord who has occupied a place, and has had great experience, in another place and who is now, obviously, going to bring to the debates in this House much valuable counsel and experience.
I am greatly obliged to the noble and learned Earl, for the speech which he has just delivered. I think there is little, if anything, between us on the main lines of the subject. The debate has at times ranged rather wide—and I think it was right and inevitable that it should. In my view, it would be wrong to look at the problem that we are discussing to-day, merely within the narrow limits of a discussion on Egypt itself, or within a limit which is perhaps less narrow, the context of the Middle East. It is a mush wider problem than that; it is part of the problem of our relation to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; it is part, indeed, of the world-wide pattern of our commitments and of our responsibilities. It is in that light, and not in the more parochial atmosphere with which it has been surrounded by some noble Lords, that I suggest we should look at and discuss this subject.
I think it is true to say that one of the main preoccupations of those concerned with foreign policy in these days is a preoccupation which may not have been equally present to Foreign Secretaries, and their assistants and coadjutors, in the more spacious and wealthy days of the past. To-day, one of the main problems of all foreign policy in this 250 country is to match our resources and our responsibilities to the greatest advantage; and that test is one which we have endeavoured to apply in arriving at the lines which we are following, and propose to continue to follow, in regard to this particular subject. We have at the moment a considerable number of men under arms—larger, suppose, than any number we have ever had before in peace time. We have men in Malaya; we have men in Kenya; we have men in Korea. We have men in Germany and elsewhere overseas though not engaged in active operations. We have a considerable force in Egypt. There, we have 80,000 men. Is it not obvious that, both on economic and on strategic grounds, it would be to our advantage to reduce the numbers of those men and the consequent expense involved if—but only if—we can do so by means of an Agreement which meets our essential requirements?
I go back for a moment to the quotation from my right honourable friend the Prime Minister's memorable speech of May 11, in which he referred to this particular topic and said (OFFICAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 515, col. 886):Naturally, we do not wish to keep indefinitely 80,000 men at a cost of, it might be, over £50 million a year discharging the duty which has largely fallen upon us, and us alone…He went on:If agreeable arrangements can be made to enable this latter service and also the solid maintenance of the strategic base to be discharged by agreement with Egypt, it would mean a great saving of our men and money.So, obviously, it did; and although that was six or seven months ago, the situation has not materially changed. We should still wish for; an Agreement, provided still that we can get that Agreement on satisfactory terms. It is, I think, important that at this stage we should be quite clear, and your Lordships should understand, what it: is that we are at present endeavouring to do. My noble friend Lord Rennell who moved this Motion devoted a good deal of time—though not by any means an excessive amount—to an interesting study of the situation with regard to the Suez Canal, and also with regard to the question of the Nile Waters. We are not, in the discussions which we are having with Egypt at the moment, trying to revive the Suez Canal Convention. We are discussing the Suez Area base. We are 251 attempting in those discussions to try to find out, by comings and goings and talks in the normal way, whether there is sufficient agreement between us on the fundamentals of the problem of our future relations to lead us to think that we can get a Treaty which would be satisfactory to us and equally satisfactory to the other side—because it is no good having a Treaty which is satisfactory to one side only. Those preliminary conversations, of course, are often—it is by no means unique—the most difficult part of the negotiations. Whether that proves to be the case in this particular instance, time may show.
My noble and learned friend Lard Simon found himself in some difficulty in understanding what was meant by the talk of "Heads of Agreement." It is not, I think, a matter of such difficulty to follow, because what we mean, and what we are trying to do, is, as I say, to start by seeing whether we can arrive at what I think is not unknown in similar circumstances in law as "Heads of Agreement": agreement on the main principles; and if we can get to that stage, then it will be necessary to fill up the inevitable gaps which have been left in dealing with those agreements alone, and to pursue the matter on different lines until, at some stage, it takes on, as we hope, the actual form of a Treaty. There is, I think, nothing sinister or very difficult to understand in the particular procedure which has been followed, a procedure which was followed, if my recollection is right, at the instance of the Egyptian Government, who said that they would prefer to conduct the negotiations on that basis, rather than have a more formal full-dress discussion in the early stages. That is what we have done and, with certain interruptions, we have been making progress.
There has been an hiatus now far some time, but the Ambassador is on the point of returning—I think, in fact, he has actually returned now—and we shall see whether it is possible to resume. The return of the Ambassador leads me to this slight digression. Two noble Lords have made some capital out of the fact that our recognition of the Egyptian Government is, so far, only de facto and not de jure. If it is any satisfaction to them —I am not sure that it will be —I may say that with the return of the Ambassador who will then present 252 his credentials, that will constitute a de jure recognition. The Egyptian Ambassador here has already presented credentials, so that the mutual steps will then be complete.
The noble Lord who opened this discussion pleaded, although he realised the expense, in men, materials and money, of keeping a large force in Egypt, for what he called the maintenance of a police force. The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, also made some reference to that idea. It is one which appeals to a certain number of people, but if it means keeping the present number of people for the Base as it stands, and if the Base as it stands is not considered as usable, or likely to remain usable, with a smaller number, then I cannot understand what part in the defence of that area a police force—which must anyhow be a skeleton force, compared with the forces that we have now—can play.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
I did not suggest that the noble Viscount did. I said that he made some reference to what my noble friend Lord Rennell had said in his opening speech. These negotiations on the basic position have, as I said, been going forward. I do not propose to-day, although reference has been made to them on a somewhat speculative basis by a certain number of noble Lords who have spoken, to enter into any of the details of the terms which are being discussed. I think that at this stage of the negotiations it would be unwise and improper so to do. That does not mean that I have any fears of revealing anything that is being discussed. It simply means that, when you are negotiating, it is an act of folly to disclose everything that is being talked about, because you bring all sorts of outside complications in and make the whole matter more difficult.
I confess, having listened to a number of noble Lords' speeches during this debate, that I was rather surprised at the sort of suggestion which came up time after time: that in some way, if we entered into these negotiations, we should be weakening British prestige in that part of the world. I should have thought, and I should have imagined that noble Lords would have taken the same view, that British prestige was reasonably safe in the hands of the present Prime Minister, the 253 Foreign Secretary and the Minister of Defence; and I confess that with me that argument carries very little weight indeed. The Base is a very large organisation and it would be a mistake, if we needed it again in time of war, to wait until that war arrived before we did our best to make some arrangement to take it ever again. That has been the basis upon which we have been proceeding with these negotiations. We must know in advance what the position will be if a moment comes when the Base has to go through that ugly-sounding process of being reactivated in time of war.
A number of your Lordships have taken up points with which I will try to deal very briefly in passing. The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, was disturbed because no offer was made to the Sudanese of some new form of condominium which, as I understand, should be an Egyptian-British-Sudanese combined condominium. One reason why no such suggestion was made was that it was reasonably clear, long in advance, that the Sudanese would never have looked at it. It is the express wish of all Sudanese to have their own representative institutions, through which they themselves should gradually assume control of the government of their own country and decide for themselves on their own future, and any suggestion of reestablishing even a tripartite condominium would surely have been regarded by them as a retrograde and not a progressive step. The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, dealt with much of the history from fairly intimate experience of a great deal of what had happened. There is only one passage in his speech upon which in particular I should like to take him up, and that was where he talked about there being nothing more colossal than the failure of our policy in the Sudan. I think one should be perhaps a little restrained and hesitant in talking about the "colossal failure" of our policy in the Sudan. All that the elections which have just taken place have done has been to set up a Legislature in the Sudan. What comes later, and at any time in the three years that the Sudanese so command, is the step which will lead to self-determination.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
Would the noble Marquess allow me to say that what I meant was that the candidates who stood for us were defeated, but the candidates who stood for Egypt were victori- 254 ous—and I have not the least doubt that the presence of the Lincoln bombers in Kenya made its contribution to that result.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, if I may suggest it, it would perhaps he wiser not to talk yet about the candidates who stood for us and the candidates who stood for Egypt, but about the candidates who stood for different parties of Sudanese who have their own future to work out when the time comes. I think the noble Viscount was also concerned with the position of Egypt in regard to Israel. That is a point which we have to keep very much in mind, and that we fully recognise. But, again, what we are discussing here is the problem of the Suez Base, and although I agree that it might have repercussions on a wider scale, still we are not for a moment forgetting that that tripartite declaration to which this country and the United States and France put their names is in existence, and that that is not only a guarantee of the position but is also a prohibition against an arms race being entered upon. We have every intention of seeing that that agreement is preserved from both these points of view.
Some of the speeches which have been made this afternoon have dwelt upon our departure from Egypt and have suggested that the whole area will be left unprotected, that there will be nothing and nobody there and that we are thereby abandoning our rights and our duties. My Lords, why assume that even if we did, by agreement, move out of the Canal Base, it means that we are going to disappear from the Middle East? If we moved out, one of the objects might well be to redeploy our forces. I have said nothing, and I do not think noble Lords would find anything elsewhere in any other speeches on this subject, to indicate that the intention is to surrender either our international or our Commonwealth obligations in that part of the world and to move right out of that area. Yet a number of noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon have seemed to indicate that they thought that that was the next step. I think the noble Lord, Lord Winster asked me a question in regard to the position of the Dominions. The Commonwealth Governments have been kept closely informed of the course of these negotiations, and indeed, from time to time, certain of them have offered 255 advice and counsel in regard to the matter to which we have always been very glad to listen.
One or two noble Lords took up another line. They said: "You are only appeasing the Egyptians. All that is going on is that you are being dictated to in Egypt." They are taking the line that we were out only to conciliate the Egyptians. My Lords, if we had been content to appease (whatever that word means in that context) or to be dictated to by the Egyptians, we could presumably have done that last April, when the discussions began. But, as it is, we have continued these discussions from April until now, with various intervals when relations were a little chilly, and we have continued them because, although we wanted to get agreement in the end, if we could get a proper one, we were not prepared either to appease, or to be dictated to by, the Egyptians; and to say now that all the negotiations have shown is a desire to appease is surely a complete contradiction of the position. I think I have dealt with the first of the points raised by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, as regards the Heads of Agreement. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, I thought dealt very effectively with the second point.
A number of noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have said that we ought to stay where we are at all costs. Others have said: "You have chosen the wrong moment; you ought to wait until a suitable moment occurs; you ought to break off your negotiations for the moment, and wait patiently until the time comes when you can resume negotiations with the Egyptians in a better atmosphere, when the Egyptians have become more friendly and amiable and forthcoming." I wish I felt that that was a probable happening. For my own part, so long as the present situation continues I am afraid that I do not see that change in the relations coming unless we come to some satisfactory agreement with the Egyptian Government. And in the present circumstances, to wait for the situation to improve seems to me, unfortunately, to mean waiting for something that is not very likely to occur.
There is, of course, in many of the countries of the Middle East, at the present moment, an outbreak of what we 256 are often tempted to call "nationalism." It is epidemic in some of those countries, and we hope that it will not become endemic. However little we may like it, however poor an opinion we may have of it as a force, we cannot disregard it. We cannot treat it like a tiresome insect, which can be brushed away with the hand, and go on our way undisturbed. It must be treated seriously. We cannot just attempt to stamp it out by violence or other means. We do not consider that it would be right, or indeed possible, to take the line of trying to suppress a movement of this kind or forcibly to eradicate it. Therefore, we hope that, if we arrive at the kind of Agreement which we have in mind, we shall produce a situation in Egypt not dissimilar from situations which we have produced by following not dissimilar policies in other countries. We once had a Mandate over Iraq. We have gone from Iraq, which is now an independent country; but still our relations with that country are of the friendliest. We made an undertaking during the war with Libya. Libya is now an independent country, and we have recently had the gratifying situation in which she has, of her own free will, as an independent country, entered into an arrangement with us. The making of those arrangements is a great deal firmer assurance for the future than any of the, perhaps, more obsolete methods which some people might, from time to time, wish to adopt.
It is said that it is impossible to enter into an agreement with this particular Government of Egypt. It is said that they have done this, and that they have done that. Certainly we have had some unattractive experiences of their activities in the recent past, and I must just pause to say this. I saw a report, to which some reference has been made to-day, in which it was indicated that one member of the Egyptian Government took the view that we had allowed a British doctor to treat a child of his only as a matter of subtle policy and intrigue. My Lords, whatever the limits nationalism may attain, medicine, fortunately, remains international; and if it was possible for a British doctor to attend to that particular child, it was willingly done in the name of science and humanity, and not obscurely done as a matter of subtlety and intrigue.
257 The whole of the basis upon which we have acted is, as I have said, that it is a better policy to try to conclude an Agreement with the existing Government of Egypt. Although we have had to make protests about the Sudan elections, it is worth remembering that this was the first of all the Governments with which we have tried to deal in recent years that had sufficient sense of realism and courage—although there had been agitation in Egypt in the very recent past, and, indeed, expressed determination not to consider any conditions which did not recognise the Sudan as part of the Kingdom of Egypt—to say: "We are not going to persist in that determination," and to say, at a later date, "We should like to discuss the question of an Agreement with you on the Canal Base." If we are going to carry on our international relations, we have to do it by means of agreement. I suggest to your Lordships that in discussing the earlier stages of this Agreement we have been and are fully justified.
May I now, after various digressions, come back to the actual Resolution which is upon the Paper. The noble Lord who moved it drafted it no doubt intentionally, in very wide terms—so wide that although I may, and indeed do, disagree considerably with the content of a number of speeches which have been made in support of the Resolution, I can accept it in the form in which it stands upon the Order Paper. Indeed, to reject it, might be taken to imply that Her Majesty's Government do not propose to maintain, in regard to Egypt, a position which is in our estimation, "consistent with our commitments and responsibilities." whereas the maintenance of such a position has been, is, and will remain, the essential basis upon which our discussions with the Egyptian Government proceed.
But I would add this. The fact that I accept a Motion of this very general kind, will not hereafter entitle anyone, in this House or elsewhere, to seize upon some aspect of the situation which he may, in his own mind, choose to regard as one of our commitments or responsibilities, and to assert that, by accepting this Motion, I have agreed to accept any and every individual view of what is or is not consistent with our commitments 258 I and responsibilities, and, therefore, essential to the maintenance of our position. As I think the House will agree, it is not for individual noble Lords, or others, to interpret to Her Majesty's Government their various versions of these commitments and responsibilities. It is the duty and the task of Her Majesty's Government to come to their own conclusions as to what those responsibilities and commitments are, and to take what action they consider necessary to uphold them. If an Agreement is ultimately reached, it will be one which, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, is consistent with those commitments and responsibilities, and it will then be for Parliament to say whether it accepts that view. I think it is scarcely necessary for me to add that in all their dealings with this matter Her Majesty's Government will be vigilant, zealous and resolute in safeguarding what in their judgment constitute the vital interests of this country and in discharging their manifold obligations to the free world.
§ 7.11 p.m.
My Lords, at this late hour obviously it would be out of place to comment on the many interesting speeches that have been made, whether I agree with them or not. Therefore I should like to say only this: that, for my own part, I accept fully everything that the noble Marquess has said in accepting the Motion. It can be the responsibility only of Her Majesty's Government to determine what their responsibilities and commitments are and how they can best be incorporated in whatever arrangements are come to in Egypt. I should like to leave this debate and this last day in your Lordships' House this season on the note which was echoed in the remarks of the noble and learned Earl and very much brought out in the remarks of the noble Viscount. Lord Astor, of how much most of us realise the value of the friendship of Egypt. We appreciate the services that Egypt has rendered to our cause and hope that whatever the negotiations and whatever the outcome of them, they will contribute to the renewal of those friendly relations which we have had in the past.
§ On Question, Resolution agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twelve minutes past seven o'clock.