HL Deb 01 November 1956 vol 199 cc1243-365

12.10 p.m.

LORD HENDERSON rose to call attention to the Government's Statement on the Egypt-Israeli situation; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. This debate is taking place in very unusual and grave circumstances. British and French air forces are engaged in operations over Egyptian territory. It may also be that both British and French military forces have been put into their assigned positions on the Suez. Neither side has declared war, and war may not be declared. We have had no news, so far, of any fighting between the ground forces of the two sides, but it will be a miracle if fighting does not soon take place. Perhaps in the course of his speech the Acting Leader of the House may be able to tell us something more about the movement operations which began yesterday morning, and about what has happened since.

Our debate is taking place on a Motion "to call attention to the Government's statement on the Egypt-Israeli situation." That statement was, in fact, a statement of Government intentions. It was made, as noble Lords will recall, in both Houses of Parliament on Tuesday, following what must have been hours of anxious deliberation between, on the one hand, the British Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and, on the other, the French Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. These consultations took place because of the news that during Monday night Israeli armed forces, obviously in strength, had crossed the frontier into Egypt and had penetrated deep into Egyptian territory in the Sinai Peninsula.

The statement told us that these forces had reached close to the banks of the Suez Canal; that the British and French representatives at the United Nations had been instructed to seek an immediate meeting of the Security Council; that the Governments of Israel and Egypt had been called upon to stop all war-like action forthwith and to withdraw their military forces to a distance of ten miles from the Canal; and, further, that in order to separate the belligerents, and to ensure freedom of transit through the Canal by ships of all nations, the Egyptian Government had been asked to agree that Anglo-French Forces should move temporarily into key positions at Port Said, Ismailia and Suez. The two Governments were given twelve hours in which to answer, and they were told that if, at the expiration of that time, one or both had not undertaken to comply with this requirement, British and French forces would intervene in whatever strength might be necessary to secure compliance. I think that is a fair summary of the statement.

My Lords, a potentially dangerous situation has existed in the Middle East for several years. The reason for it, as we all know, has been the implacable hostility towards the State of Israel of all the States gathered together in the Arab League. I doubt whether any State in modern times has been so subjected to provocation, hostility, threats and anxieties about its very existence as has the State of Israel. These anxieties were greatly accentuated by the political intervention of Russia in the Middle East, and by the supply of immense quantities of modern armaments to Egypt from Communist sources. Many appeals were made from these Benches for counterbalancing arms to be provided to Israel from this country, but with little result. More recently, as the Government Statement itself points out, the establishment of a joint military command between Egypt, Jordan and Syria, culminating in the incursion of Egyptian commandos on Sunday night, had all produced a very dangerous situation.

I do not think that any reasonable person can withhold sympathy from Israel in the predicament in which she has found herself for a long time. Her deep and growing anxieties and dangers must have been clear to all who knew the facts, but little or nothing was done to deal with the causes, and Israel saw the ring growing tighter and stronger. So the Israeli Government decided, so we understand, to clean up the bases from which these Fedayeen raids in Sinai were made. We on this side have pointed out, in some of your Lordships' discussions, the standing danger to peace of raids and counter-raids, of reprisals and counter-reprisals, and the difficulty that would arise one day, when a large-scale operation took place, in deciding where the true responsibility for aggression really lay. But whatever the purpose of the Israeli action, I do not think it can be regarded as other than a breach of the Charter and an act of aggression; and I feel compelled to add that the Israeli Government were most unwise in entering upon a course which has helped to produce the extremely grave situation that confronts us all today.

When the Acting Leader of the House was making his statement on Tuesday, and told us that the British and French Governments had instructed their representatives at the United Nations to seek an immediate meeting of the Security Council, I thought for a moment that we were going to take a lead in having the growing threat to peace firmly and positively dealt with. How wrong I was in my expectation was made clear when the remainder of the statement was read. The policy of Her Majesty's Government and of the French Government was not positive peace action by the United Nations, but direct military action by Britain and France. The last two paragraphs of the statement were the really operative parts. There was, first, the call for a cease-fire —and with that I agree. Then there was the call for both the Israelis and the Egyptians to withdraw their military forces to a distance of ten miles from the Canal. What did that mean? It meant that the Egyptian forces would have to go ten miles to the West of the Canal while the Israeli forces would be held ten miles to the East of the Canal.

There are two reasonable assumptions. The first is that the Israelis world be prepared to stop at the position indicated to them, because it would leave them seventy or eighty or more miles inside Egyptian territory. The second is that the Nasser Government would not dare to accept the position indicated for their forces, because it would mean national humiliation and perhaps the end of the Nasser regime. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Israeli Government accepted this requirement while the Egyptian Government rejected it. Nor could there have been any expectation hat Egypt would agree to the occupation of the three key positions on the Suez Canal. The agreed return of British forces apart from Treaty rights does not belong to the realm of practical politics; and all of us, including Her Majesty's Government, know that to be so. What therefore had the appearance of being an ultimatum to both Israel and Egypt was, in reality, an ultimatum to Egypt alone, and the answer could he predicted with certainty. The result was the rejection of the ultimatum by Egypt and the immediate undertaking by Britain and France of the military operation upon which they had decided.

Both in the First and the Second World Wars. Britain went forward on the basis of broad national unity. In the present case of the military reoccupation of the Suez Canal, the full significance, implications and consequences of which have yet to be unfolded, there is not national unity. There is a clear-cut division between Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's Opposition. The division goes far wider than that in this country. The nation is divided. The Opposition are criticised and abused for his division just as they were two months ago when they opposed the use of force on the Canal issue. If am going squarely to face up to that charge. Since the end the war, there has been a fairly broad and consistent measure of unity on foreign policy. On most issues there has been what has been called a "bipartisan" foreign policy. I myself, as I think noble Lords opposite will agree, have been a firm supporter of such policy. It was possible to have such a policy because both sides of the House proclaimed loyalty to the Charter of the United Nations as the cornerstone of British foreign policy. Both sides espoused the cause of the integrity and free co-operation of the Commonwealth and Empire. Both regarded Anglo-American friendship and unity as the indispensable guarantee of the security of the free world. Each of these principles of policy has been violated by the present action of Her Majesty's Government.

There is no authority residing in any Article of the United Nations Charter, or in any treaty, for the forcible entry of British and French armed forces into Egyptian territory. By taking this action Her Majesty's Government have flouted their obligations under the Charter and violated its principles. While Parliament was discussing the Government's statement of intentions, the Security Council was actually in session; but instead of using all their influence and authority at the Security Council to further collective effort to get a cease-fire between Israel and Egypt, Britain and France took the course about which they have so often and so rightly complained when it was followed by the Soviet Union —they exercised the Veto.

This country, under all its post-war Governments, has been a powerful supporter of the rule of law, the peaceful settlement of disputes and the recognition of sovereign rights and independence. It has a fine record throughout the eleven years' existence of the United Nations; but within a few hours of telling Parliament that they were seeking an immediate meeting of the Security Council, the British and French Governments had isolated themselves in that meeting. They twice exercised the Veto They found themselves separated from the United States, with the United States and the Soviet Union on the same side. While Her Majesty's Government were complaining in this House about the past frustrations of the United Nations, they were engaged in frustrating the United Nations by their own use of the Veto. I am sure that very many people in this country felt a sense of shock and shame when they read the news of what had happened at the Security Council. I know that I did, and I cannot but believe that there are noble Lords opposite who were disquieted by the action of Her Majesty's Government.

The shock was felt far beyond our own country. I believe that the United Nations has suffered a serious blow and that the reputation of Britain among the enlightened peace forces of the world has been greatly damaged. But the policy of Her Majesty's Government has also divided the Commonwealth.The Commonwealth is a great force for peace and human progress. It is a great partnership of independent nations working together in equality and unity. There is no unity, however, on the present action of Her Majesty's Government. Australia did not side with us in the Security Council. Canada regrets that Her Majesty's Government had found it necessary to deliver an ultimatum backed by force, and it regards the split in the Security Council between Britain and France and the United States as "most deplorable". The Government of India consider the Anglo-French "invasion of Egyptian territory" as "a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter." We may be sure that both Pakistan and Ceylon will take a similar stand.

Thirdly, not only has there been the deplorable split in the Security Council between Britain and the United States, but there has also been a deplorable split between Britain and United States outside the Security Council. There was no prior consultation with the United States, the third partner of the Tripartite Declaration, which is designed to ensure peace in the Middle East and which has now been discarded by Britain and France. Appeals by President Eisenhower for Britain and France to stay their hand in Egypt have been ignored. There has been an unhappy lack of frankness with the United States Government on the part of the British and French Governments, and suspicions have been created that we have been engaged in collusive action with the Israeli Government.

Thus, my Lords, it is clear that the "go-it-alone action by the British and French Governments has produced disunity at home, disunity at the Security Council, disunity within the Commonwealth and disunity with the United States. It is no use for either Ministers or Government supporters to charge the Opposition with breaking national unity. There is one cause, and it is easily recognisable, of all this division and disunity, and that is the disastrous policy of force adopted by the Government in defiance of the United Nations Charter, without the sanction of any treaty right and in disregard of International Law.

The reason advanced by Her Majesty's Government in justification for the course they have set out on is to protect British shipping and British citizens passing through the Canal and "vital international rights." These are important duties whenever they arise, but the way in which we seek to discharge those duties is also important. I do not know of anything in the United Nations Charter which authorises the action taken by the British and French Governments. There was an admirable leading article in the Manchester Guardian yesterday which dealt with this particular point. It asserted that "nothing in the Charter, or in acknowledged International Law, permits armed intervention in such case."

I have again studied with care the weighty and impressive speech made in the debate on September 12 by the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, whose views to-day we should all have welcomed had he been speaking, and I can find nothing in it that would lend legal justification to the Anglo-French military intervention in Egypt. So far as I can understand the matter, it is an illegal operation. And as for keeping the Canal open to world shipping, it would seem that the military action taken is defeating the very object it was designed to achieve. It would appear from shipping reports that more and more British ships are being diverted to the longer alternative route.

What is clear is that Britain and France have achieved a position of almost complete isolation in the world by their resort to force. To-night the whole matter is to be considered by the United Nations Assembly, where the Veto does not apply. In the light of the discussions at the Security Council, it seems probable that the Assembly will be asked to call upon all members to refrain from the use of force or the threat of force in Egypt, and it may also be asked to condemn the military action of Britain. France and Israel. If a resolution on these or similar lines is submitted, we may be sure it will be carried by an overwhelming majority. That is the unhappy prospect to which Her Majesty's Government's policy has brought us. I would only add that I never thought I should live to see the day when this country would be virtually arraigned by the United Nations for what is perhaps the gravest violation of the Charter.

My Lords, I am sure that all of us must devoutly wish for a speedy end to all hostilities and the withdrawal of the forces which forcibly entered Egyptian territory. In seeking to bring this about, the United Nations are working to restore international respect for and loyalty to the principles of the Charter. But the moral and political influence of the United Nations must be exerted on all nations alike. To end hostilities will still leave acute problems to be solved. Egypt has been guilty of grave provocations to other nations. She has defied United Nations resolutions regarding Israel's right to free passage through the Canal and she has been the leading spirit in ringing Israel with hostile States and in threatening her existence. An end must be put to all that. It will be the imperative duty of the United Nations to act with as much energy for a speedy and just settlement of the problems in the Middle East, including that of a fair international system for running the Canal, as it has shown in dealing with the resort: to force by Britain, France and Israel. 'The causes which led to this unhappy development have to be removed and real peace in the area has to be achieved. That is one of the most urgent lessons the world has been taught by what has been happening in Egypt since the beginning of this week. I beg to move for Papers.

12.37 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, has, as he always does, stated his case with studied moderation. He has not disguised from us that there is in this matter a complete cleavage between the point of view of the Government and that of Her Majesty's Opposition. I do not deny that that is true so far. What I am entitled, I think, to doubt is whether the complete division between Her Majesty's Government and the Opposition reflects an equal division of opinion in the country and that view I shall hope to sustain during the course of my remarks.

During this crisis the House has been kept informed by statements which I have made in this House, and the noble Lord himself gave an accurate summary of the events until, I think, to-day. The position to-day is this: the military operation which was foreshadowed if either side refused the United Kingdom's request to stop hostilities has begun. Our object is to employ the minimum amount of force on purely military targets, and certain military airfields last night were engaged by the Royal Air Force. The military operation will proceed until the present conflict between Israel and Egypt is stopped. That is our sole aim, and the sooner Egypt follows Israel's example and accepts our request the less destruction there will be. Neither Cairo nor Alexandria nor any other town in Egypt has been bombed. The people of this country should know that all these spectacular statements put out from Egypt today are false. They are gross and barefaced lies. And, in a different context, we have had to suffer and endure that distorted propaganda over many months.


Would the noble Lord say whether it is true that Almaza airfield has been engaged by the Royal Air Force?


The military airfields have been engaged. So far as the details are concerned, if noble Lords opposite would not mind waiting until the Lord Chancellor speaks he will then be in a position to give them a clear picture of the exact airfields which have been engaged. Almaza was one. I believe.


Almaza is in Cairo.


The Lord Chancellor will be able to tell the House. No targets involving the civilian population have been selected. The airfields selected have been airfields with military aircraft on them.

When I spoke in the debate on Foreign Affairs in your Lordships' House on March 27 this year, I remember saying to your Lordships that there had surely never been an action more reckless of the peace than the offer of Soviet arms to Egypt and their acceptance by Egypt. Until then the balance of strength between Israel and Egypt had been—albeit precariously—preserved, and, though it was never a satisfactory state, there was a truce in this war between Israel and Egypt which had never officially ceased. After the arms deal, tension throughout the Middle East became taut. When Egypt seized the Suez Canal Company, that tension became stretched to the limit. And now it has snapped. Her Majesty's Government have long foreseen that a situation like this was likely to develop, and indeed that it was almost inevitable; and it was precisely because we foresaw the inevitability of something like this that, in face of all critics (let me remind your Lordships), we mobilised strength in the Eastern Mediterranean sufficient to fulfil the basic duties of any Government—that is, to protect their citizens, to ensure the safety of their property, to uphold international rights and to maintain the sanctity of treaties, because the sanctity of treaties is the only foundation for civilised community living.

The House is familiar already with the background of the Suez Canal dispute. Now when we are charged with breaking the peace, perhaps I might remind noble Lords opposite and critics outside of this fact: that throughout the two months, the long two months, from the end of July to the end of September, and indeed until now, of the Suez Canal dispute, the United Kingdom has scrupulously conformed to the requirements and the procedure of the United Nations. And during all that time we were in continuous touch and consultation with the United States of America. Indeed, I do not believe there can ever have been a time when one country has shown more consideration for the views and wishes of a partner. Time and again. we went out of our way to take into account the American point of view and to seek to meet it, and we sought to reconcile the needs of Egyptian sovereignty with the needs of many nations. Noble Lords opposite cannot have it both ways. At that time, I remember, they said we were clinging to America's coat tails. They must sometimes allow us to have a policy of our own.

I will not retrace these months of exchange of view and of negotiations, but I would remind your Lordships that even when eighteen nations, the chief users of the Canal, and no doubt many others, were agreed that the solution to the Canal dispute was international control, neither the intervention of the United States of America nor that of the Security Council was able to induce Colonel Nasser to accept that solution. I reject the charge that we have given way to impatience. In this matter of the Suez Canal our life is at stake. We carried patience to the limit; and when the Israeli attack broke we were still engaged in trying to find a solution which would at once reconcile Egyptian sovereignty with the needs of the world for the free passage of this vital waterway.

In the early days of the dispute with Egypt, Mr. Gaitskell reminded us of Colonel Nasser's ambition. I will not take up the time of the House beyond reading one quotation [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons. Vol. 557 (No. 205) col. 1620]: We cannot forget that Colonel Nasser has repeatedly boasted of his intention to create an Arab empire from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf. The French Prime Minister, M. Mollet, the other day quoted a speech of Colonel Nasser which he rightly said could remind us only of one thing—the speeches of Hitler before the war. For many months now the sort of thing with which in the old days we were only too familiar has been going on; the appeal to the mop, the propaganda and the hate, accompanied by the boasts of power. And delay in the matter of a settlement of the Suez Canal dispute has apparently confirmed Colonel Nasser in his possession until he has felt free to indulge in further reckless ambitions.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. I am not here to defend, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government or anyone else, the Israeli action. But Colonel Nasser has, during these last few months, taken every opportunity to taunt Israel with the fate which awaits her at his hands. Israel—and I think this has been too often forgotten in recent hours—accused Egypt of aggression before she attacked. The United Kingdom has been careful not to condone Israel's attack, but we were not prepared, on the present evidence, to dub her an aggressor. Egypt has never ceased publicly to proclaim that she is at war with Israel and always will be. She has never ceased to boast that she is organising Israel's destruction. An Israeli ship, as the noble Lord said, is forcibly held at the mouth of the Suez Canal and she is forbidden to use this means of communication.

The latest link in the encirclement—and the noble Lord was perfectly right, I believe, in selecting this as the real cause of Israel's outburst—was the appointment by Colonel Nasser of an Egyptian Commander-in-Chief for the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian Armies. That was the immediate cause of Israel's break for freedom. In these circumstances Her Majesty's Government cannot, on present evidence, put all the blame on Israel. The Prime Minister has explained the Government's reaction and the objectives of their action: first that hostilities should cease; secondly, that both combatant.; should withdraw from the Canal Zone.


May I ask the noble Earl one question? When he says that, does he mean that the Egyptian Army should all withdraw to the west of the Canal Zone?


Ten miles either to the east or to the west of the Canal, so that there shall be a sufficient area in which hostilities cannot take place anti damage the Canal physically. And we have requested that the war should be stopped. Therefore, our action is a policing action pending a final settlement.

The Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, have raised three main criticisms. The noble Lord says that the United Kingdom should have held up action pending judgment by the United Nations. He rightly said that the United Nations Organisation has been the cornerstone of the policy, not only of Her Majesty's Government but also of the Opposition. In that way we have a bipartisan foreign policy. I hope that that still holds. We did refer the flatter to the United Nations. The criticism is that we did not wait. But is it any use to disguise from ourselves that the United Nations machinery has fatal defects in the case of an emergency like this? Time and again it has proved itself deliberate, slow and inconclusive, and time and again the Soviet Veto has frustrated a decision. If the Communist nations, or their friends, decide to prevent the machinery of settlement from working, is there no collective redress for a member of the free world? If a dictator, seeking to dominate another country, does everything short of physical aggression to bring that country to its knees, are we merely to wait until it is strangled?

Further restraint and tolerance, a desire for peace and the willingness to make concessions, have merely fed the appetite of the greedy. I think that if there is any lesson that this country and the free nations have learned as a result of two world wars in this twentieth century, it is the ways of dictators. Eighteen years ago, in 1938, almost to a month, I stepped out of an aeroplane with Mr. Chamberlain on our way back from Munich. The Prime Minister of Great Britain in those days had gone to the limits, honourably. to try to find a peaceful solution of a dispute. Standing here, as I do to-day, I cannot help but remember and learn the lesson of those times.

When it became clear that war was to be fought across the Canal, the United Kingdom at once thought that it was its duty to stop the fighting. On what legal foundation does the United Kingdom's action rest, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, asks. I am not an international lawyer and my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is to follow later in the debate. But I should have thought that there was nothing. either in the Charter of the United Nations or in the Tripartite Declaration. which absolves the Government from the duty of protecting their own people and their own property and of upholding international treaties. If we had failed to take the necessary steps to do any of those things, then indeed we should be worthy of censure.

Then the noble Lord says that we have not consulted the United States. I have partly dealt with that by saying that during. all these months our consultations could not have been closer. Nor is it for the Opposition to chide. But the truth is that until now—perhaps these events will change it—there has been a different emphasis in the foreign policies of our two countries in relation to the Middle East. The Middle East, in general, is economically essential to the United Kingdom; it is not economically essential to the United States of America. In particular, the Suez Canal is the lifeline of the United Kingdom: the United States is independent of it. We have accepted those differences and we have tried to minimise them, and it is fortunate that this is one of the very few areas of common concern where we do not see eye to eye with the United States and cannot always wait for the concurrence of the United States before we act. Perhaps now that a country like the United Kingdom, which I think can claim is respected by world opinion as a country pursuing liberal policies, has been driven to force to preserve our life and to stop fighting in an area which is vital to us, the United States will better understand our concern with this area.

In regard to the Commonwealth, I can truthfully say, because I have been responsible for our relations with the Commonwealth countries, that up to the time of the Israel accusation and attack upon Egypt there had been a continuous flow of information and consultation between the Commonwealth countries and Her Majesty's Government. It is too early to say what the final reaction of the Commonwealth countries will be. Of course, they are shocked by the use of force. That is not surprising—so are we all.


My Lords. as the noble Earl has dealt with the consultation with Commonwealth countries, for which as a Minister he is responsible, may I ask him whether any of the Commonwealth countries were consulted, and whether any were informed before the decision was taken to send an ultimatum to Egypt?


My Lord, I can easily answer that question. I was about to do so. I was saying that until the point of the Israel accusation and attack, there was a continuous flow of information between Her Majesty's Government and the Commonwealth countries, as there always is; but when the attack developed there was simply no time for consultation, although the Commonwealth countries were informed before the Prime Minister's statement of what the British Government had in mind.


My Lords, may I interrupt to say that it came up "on the tape just before I entered the House that Mr. Menzies had made a statement to the House in Australia that Britain was perfectly right in doing what she has done. So we have a genuine opinion there.


My noble friend has taken the words I was about to read out of my mouth. Mr. Menzies has just told me that I can read this to your Lordships. This is a report of what he said: On the question whether the United Kingdom was at fault in not having consulted other British countries in advance, he said that the answer to this question seemed to him to be that she was not at fault at all. The circumstances were those of great emergency. Hostile armed forces were approaching each other and extensive combat was imminent. In that combat vital interests in the passage of the Canal were quite likely to suffer most serious damage. The Canal was an international waterway with guaranteed freedom of passage for ships of all nations, but that guarantee would cease to have much value if the Canal itself became part of a theatre of active war. There was literally no time to be lost if any action was to be taken to keep combatants out of the Canal area and afford it proper protection. Effective consultation (and he said 'effective' because a mere form of consultation would have been quite useless) would plainly have occupied considerable time, and the position might have fallen into irretrievable disaster. There remains the last accusation with which I should like to deal: that force, and particularly the use of force in the hands of the British Government, is a shocking instrument. That is the accusation which is levelled at us by noble Lords and by the Socialist Party. It is a shocking instrument. But an occasion may arise when there is no alternative. It cannot he wrong to use force in the defence of law and justice, because without justice there is no life left for the free. The noble Lord says that our prestige and our reputation have been damaged in the world. Where would our reputation be if we failed to stand on the side of justice? In the Middle East there has been a vacuum; for eight years there has been a condition of suspended war. The action of Her Majesty's Government is what Mr. Menzies describes in his speech as a police action; an action of holding the pass; of keeping the peace pending a permanent settlement, which everybody hopes can be underwritten by a United Nations Organisation equipped in future to guarantee that justice shall rule the world, particularly in this area, which has been one of turmoil and turbulence for so long. It is on the defence of justice, and the need to keep the peace of the world, that Her Majesty's Government, with all the risks attendant, have intervened, because we believe that by doing so we avert much greater disaster.

1.3 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Home, in opening his speech, referred to the speech of my noble friend Lord Henderson as a speech of studied moderation. I feel that we on this side of the House can return the compliment and say that, with all the difficulties which confronted the noble Earl, he, too, has stated his case with moderation. We always listen with great respect and attention to what he has to say, and although we cannot, on this occasion, agree with him, we can assure him that we disagree with regret.

This debate is in no sense a debate on whether we should support Israel or Egypt. The noble Earl, to a considerable extent, based his case on the iniquities of Egypt, and particularly of Nasser. If we had to judge between the two, then, on emotional grounds and on grounds of justice, I should have no hesitation in saying where I stand; and I believe that many noble Lords in all parts of the Rouse would take the same view. We have to recognise that Israel has acted after very great provocation which has existed over many years. There has been the refusal on the part of the Arab States even to recognise her existence. There has been the constant assertion that they are still in a state of war. There have been continual raids, latterly almost nightly, resulting in loss of life and property. There have been the hostile alliances; the increase in the armed strength of the Arab States, with the Soviet Union using these States as pawns in their diplomacy; and there has been interference with Israeli shipping through the Suez Canal.

Throughout this period I think we must recognise that Israel has acted with a considerable degree of restraint. But there does come a time in this imperfect world—and we have to face it—when people can exercise restraint no longer: and though we ought not to condone the invasion of Egypt by Israel, we can understand the circumstances which have brought it about. Therefore, in my view —and to this extent I have great sympathy with the view of the noble Earl opposite—the use of the term "aggression" to describe Israel's conduct, though it may be technically correct, is one which should be used with considerable circumspection. Nevertheless, I must express my own regret that Israel should have placed herself in a position where such an allegation can be made against her by so many countries in the world.

But where do Her Majesty's Government stand in all this? How does it come about that they have suddenly become the champions of all this injustice against Israel? They have never raised any protest against any of the provocations which have taken place in recent years, or taken any step which even appeared to recognise that such provocations were taking place. Until the nationalisation of the Suez Canal, they never once referred to Egypt's defiance of the United Nations in refusing to permit Israeli shipping through the Canal: they merely accepted and tolerated the situation. We have now used it as part of our case against Egypt; it is a convenient stick with which to beat them, and a justifiable one. The same applies to France: it was not until the occasion arose that the question ever came to the forefront.

Therefore, I would say to Israel, in all friendliness, that if Codlin happens to be the friend of the present, and not Short, it is simply that for the time being it happens to suit the supposed interests of Britain and France. But it is not long since it appeared to Israel that we were prepared to sacrifice them and their territory in favour of our policy to support the Arab States. Hitherto, we have gone a long way in siding with the Arab States ostensibly against Israel; and the Prime Minister suggested that, for the purpose of peace, Israel might well sacrifice part of her territory. Moreover, at the time when the peril to which the noble Earl, Lord Home, referred. when the Arab countries began to be armed by the Soviet Union and by Czechoslovakia, we refused the request of Israel for further arms. Therefore for us to come forward at this moment as the champions of justice, seeking to protect the weak against the strong, and the innocent against the guilty, sounds, to my mind, a little far-fetched. So I am sure that Israel will not build too much on the apparent temporary identity of interests between ourselves and France, on the one hand, and themselves, on the other.

It is for all these reasons that, unlike my noble friend Lord Henderson. I do not accept the possibility of there being any collusion between England and France on the one hand, and Israel on the other.


if my noble friend will allow me to intervene, I did not say that that was my view. I said that this was a suspicion which had been created—a very big distinction.


I beg my noble friend's pardon. I do not associate myself even with that suspicion. While deploring what has happened, this debate is for the purpose of discussing the action of Her Majesty's Government. As I have said, we listened to the noble Earl with great respect and attention. but I remain convinced that the action taken by Her Majesty's Government is wrong in principle; is contrary to International Law, and contrary to the best interests of this country and to the cause of international peace. I want to be perfectly candid with the House—I say this with the deepest personal regret, for reasons which will be obvious to the House. But I do not believe it is even in the best interests of Israel that we should put ourselves in the wrong in this way. Therefore, I feel it necessary to associate myself with my noble friend in condemning the action of the Government under a number of heads.

First, as to the use of force. This is undoubtedly a violation of the Charter. The extraordinary thing is that we took the matter to the Security Council—and the Government are to be complimented on having done so with the greatest urgency. But what is the use of taking an issue to a tribunal for its decision and, at the same time, without even waiting for that decision, taking matters into our own hands? At the time when we issued the ultimatum to Israel and Egypt we had not even heard the decision of the Security Council. It does appear that we had no serious intention of abiding by the decision; that, although we have all along determined that we would, as an act of pacification, bring the matter before the Security Council, we have all along decided to act in the way in which we wanted, whatever the Security Council may decide.

We have also acted in violation of the Kellogg Pact. The noble and learned Lord. Lord McNair, who made such an impressive speech on the occasion of the debate on the Suez Canal, pointed out, think, in unanswerable terms—and I do not think the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor attempted to disagree with, him—that we were bound by the terms of the Kellogg Pact, under which we had abandoned the use of force as an instrument of policy. If that be so, then I fail to understand how we can feel ourselves justified on this occasion in using force as an instrument of our policy. My noble friend Lord Henderson referred to the fact that there had been no consultation with the United States of America or with the Dominions. My noble friend Lord Ogmore is going to deal with the question of the Dominions, but I should like to say a word about the Unites: States of America.

The noble Earl, Lord Home, I think a little unfairly, twitted us with saying, on the one hand, in connection with the Suez debate, that we were not bound always to agree with the United States of America, and on this occasion complaining that we had acted in conflict with their views. But that is not our complaint. We take the view, of course, that we are entitled to disagree with the United States of America, but as partners in this particular question, and as co-members of the Tripartite Declaration, we surely ought to have consulted them and obtained their views. At least we ought to have informed them of what we were proposing to do. But we did neither. We neither informed them nor consulted them, and it is not surprising that President Eisenhower, in his broadcast last night, and the American people feel rather sore at the way in which they have been treated. I should be the last to deny that on occasions the American treatment of this country has not been all that we might have wished for. Their vacillations over the Suez Canal have been notorious, and have given rise to considerable embarrassment to this country, but that is no excuse for failing either to notify them or to consult with them as to what: we were proposing to do. I would say that if, at the end of the day, after consultation, they had disagreed with us, then we should have been perfectly entitled to take such action as we thought right, always having regard, of course, to the propriety of the action we were proposing to take.

In addition to failure to consult with our friends, we have set practically the whole world against us, so far as I can judge. The noble Earl has referred to Australia—and I am glad indeed that we have one friend. But I cannot find any nations which agree with the course that we have taken, not one. I should be most grateful if the noble and learned Viscount would tell us whether any other nation supports the action that we have taken. We find ourselves virtually isolated on the Security Council with, ironically, the United States and the Soviet Union on the same side. It may be that that may be the best outcome of what has happened: that we have brought international peace closer by getting an understanding between these two great Powers. But it has also put us in the invidious position of having had to exercise the Veto for the first time since the creation of the United Nations. Now the meeting of the Assembly has been summoned and, as my noble friend Lord Henderson has said, the probabilities are that we shall be treated as having committed an act of aggression—a matter which must be a source of humiliation to this country.

Finally, we charge the Government, one of the main pillars of the United Nations organisation, with having inflicted irreparable damage to the structure of that organisation in which we and the world have placed so much hope. My noble friend also referred to opinion in this country, and the noble Earl rather doubted whether the opinion as evidenced in Parliament was reflected in the country. He gave no reasons for his doubt. I do not know whether he has any evidence to indicate that the country is behind the Government rather than behind the Opposition. If he counts the numbers of newspapers, no doubt he may be right, but unless there is evidence to the contrary, my own view, from such information as I have, is that the country is very strongly united, and not behind the Government. I am not prepared to say it is evenly divided—but I do not think the point matters. The fact remains that this country is embarking on something which may well result in a minor war, and possibly a major war. The Government ought to have the whole country absolutely behind them. Even the noble Earl would not suggest that that is the case.

What justification is given for the Government action? Here I would say that I should be the last to suggest that the Government have acted entirely without any justification whatsoever. Of course the Government have acted in good faith and with the desire to do the best they can. It is no part of my case, at any rate, to impute motives of any kind. I do suggest, however, that they are profoundly wrong and misguided in what they have done, but certainly not in their objective. They have talked about urgency and the slowness of the Security Council. I must recognise that the Security Council is not the most fast moving instrument that I have heard of, nor is it in a position to enforce its decisions where there is strong resistance to those decisions. We must recognise that. But is that a justification for taking the law into our own hands? That makes it all the more necessary that some action should be taken that so far we have not shown ourselves very enthusiastic in doing: in strengthening the Security Council, in modifying the Charter and in ensuring that decisions of the Security Council are capable of being enforced. But I see no justification in this urgency for acting on our own responsibility.

The noble Earl made the case that British lives and British property were endangered. Assuming that that were so, is not that the case with the subjects of all other countries whose ships are passing through the Canal? Would not that give equal justification for the owners of every ship whose nationals are passing through the Canal to take similar action? If there were a Russian ship. a Polish ship or a ship of any other nationality, would not those nations equally be entitled to come down and land on the Canal to protect their nationals? Is that the kind of law which the noble Earl is suggesting is correct in these circumstances? I would submit that, even if that were accepted, our action is not calculated really to protect the lives and the property of our nationals. With all the need for urgency, it is quite impossible to act instantaneously. In fact, as my noble friend has said, we have diverted our shipping, and the only danger was to ships that happened to be in the Canal at the particular moment when the trouble arose. By the time we were in a position to act, those ships could easily have moved into safety. By diversion, there would be no other ships in the Canal. So I really fail to understand the exact purpose of our action.

If, in fact, we were afraid that bombing would take place and that the lives of our nationals would be in danger, then we were already too late. The ultimatum gave "twelve hours". There was some time before our aircraft were actually on the spot and we were already too late. In fact, there was not really all that urgency, because the Israelis had not reached the Canal, and I do not know whether they have even reached the Canal so far. So I cannot think that that in itself affords a justification. Then the noble Earl referred to the desirability and the importance of bringing hostilities to an end.


That was the real purpose.


That was the real purpose. That must be judged by whether it could possibly be regarded as likely to be successful. Did the noble Earl and Her Majesty's Government really believe that Egypt would accept an ultimatum? It seems to me unthinkable to imagine that they would. The only effect of giving them an ultimatum, it seems to me, is to exacerbate the position and make it more difficult. Far from bringing hostilities to an end, in my view it has had the very opposite effect, not only of making hostilities more likely but of bringing us and France into them as well.

The noble Earl told us that there was legal justification for what the Government have done, but he did not actually say what it was. He referred it to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor. Unfortunately, the noble and learned Viscount is making the last speech and, if we should, as is quite unlikely, wish to disagree with him on a question of law, it would be difficult for us to do so. So it is a great pity that we were not informed in the course of the debate what the legal justification might be. We are in this difficulty. Speaking for Her Majesty's Opposition, I should like to say that while we propose to oppose the policy of the Government in every constitutional way open to us, it is not going to be, and cannot be, our business to frustrate the course on which they have embarked. One can only ask that the Government. having taken a wrong step, should withdraw from that step at the earliest possible moment. But I feel that this crisis may have beneficial results in the long term. As I have said earlier, it once more illustrates the urgent need for devising an international instrument which will work and be effective, which can work quickly and whose decisions can be quickly implemented. If only we can apply our minds to creating such an instrument, then perhaps this crisis will not have been in vain.

Then we have really to reorient our Middle East policy. Up to now, it has, in my view, been based upon appeasement of the Arabs. We have tried to appease them to an almost humiliating extent. It certainly seemed to me humiliating when we were claiming that the Anglo-Jordanian Treaty was still in force at the time when the Jordanians had actualy rejected that Treaty in their election. We have to think again as to what is to be our policy to the Arab States in the Middle East. There must be an end of appeasement. Finally, we have to see to it that this trouble, this running sore in the Middle East, is ended by a comprehensive settlement. I know the difficulties. I know that the Arab States have refused to recognise Israel or to sit at the same table with them. It makes it exceedingly difficult to arrive at a settlement. Nevertheless, I think that if the world had taken this position in hand much earlier and had acted more promptly and energetically, we should not have arrived at the decision that we have.

We feel that. in all the circumstances, we must show our opposition to the Government by dividing on the Motion, and we propose to ask the House to do so. Nevertheless, we hope that out of all this turmoil and disruption good may come in the end, and that we may in due course arrive at a peaceful settlement and a peaceful state of affairs in the Middle East.

1.31 p.m.


My Lords, those of your Lordships who. after consideration, have found that they cannot agree with the recent policy of Her Majesty's Government must have done so with heavy hearts and a sense of heavy responsibility that they find it necessary, in face of the obvious perils of disunity at such a stage in the national position which is so grave, so delicate and fraught with such danger.

When we last debated this matter in your Lordships' House, some of us who were inclined to oppose the Government were most anxious not to do so if we could possibly avoid it; and your Lordships may remember that it was at the very last lap of that debate that the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, supported by a rather apt intervention by the most reverend Primate, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, made it possible for many of us to support the Government as we wished to do, because even then the crisis was not far off. In the last war, in cur darkest days, it was probably the unity called forth by Mr. Winston Churchill (as he then was) that really kept us going and saw us through. Unity is an invaluable quality which one hesitates to touch upon when the country is in a time of crisis. One does not want to rock the boat, but there are times when the boat has been given such a list to one side or the other that a certain amount of rocking which might put it back on an even keel seems to he a moral responsibility.

My Lords, the question of aggression in the part of the world which we are discussing has been touched upon by several sneakers, and will be again. In principle, I should like to leave that particular point to my noble friend Lord Samuel, who has such experience and wisdom of affairs, particularly in that part of the world. But I would just say this. It seems to me that there is a certain amount of contradiction in the position as expressed both by the noble Lord. Lord Henderson, and by the noble Earl the Acting Leader of the House, when they talk about "no declaration of war on either side." The noble Earl mentioned that a truce was existing, but later said that there had never ceased to be a condition of war between the two States. I think it is recognised and accepted that Egypt has made it perfectly clear that she considers herself at war with Israel, and has been for a very long time, with the object of liquidating Israel. In that case, it seems to me that, in the course of a war, if one side attacks another side it can hardly be called aggression. I should not like to take any decision at this stage about aggression. That seems to me to be in the nature of a matter of secondary importance, so I will leave it for the present.

The point is: did we do right, from the point of view of expediency, in what we have done in the last two days? I am inclined to think that, on the whole, from the point of view of expediency, Her Majesty's Government did right. But, as things have turned out, and with the knowledge that has come to us since then, I cannot help feeling that, on the contrary, there was a moral wrong in taking the action and continuing the action which is now afoot.

A lot of new information has been forthcoming since Tuesday, information which I think must influence the opinions of many of us as to the correct and incorrect attitude of the Government. Views which we took two days ago do not altogether hold good to-day. One thing that hurt me personally, as a politician, as a Member of your Lordships' House and as a citizen of this country was that this country, which has taken such a paramount role in international thought and collective security in conceiving the League of Nations (though it failed), and in supporting the United Nations, being the leading civilized, oldest supporter of this great conception, has now fallen so low—I put it in that way deliberately—that to a great extent it has sabotaged the great value and great idealism of that organisation. However one looks at it, it seems to me that we have invaded a foreign country without justification, and without any known precedent, and have followed the course which we have condemned so completely in other dictators, other countries and other war-like people when they have taken similar action. We claim that we had a Tripartite Treaty which entitled us—indeed, obliged us—to take this action. But when there is a Tripartite Treaty and only two of those who subscribe to it take action, I fail to understand what the word "tripartite" means.

We took the extraordinary decision, as it seems to me, of putting this important matter before the United Nations, which met, your Lordships may remember, at four o'clock on Tuesday, and at the same time—with the other hand, so to speak —we issued an ultimatum, at about five or five-thirty, saying that we must have a reply within twelve hours. That seems to me to show not merely that we have lost faith in the rapidity of action of the United Nations—that is a well-known factor—but that we took a cynical view that it would either not act at all or, if it did, would give a judgment against us. I cannot see the point of view, the attitude of mind, which, having put a grievance to a court of justice and asking it to decide, then takes unilateral action behind the back of the judge. It seems to me that that is what we have done. But what is almost more important—


We certainly did not take any action behind the back of the United Nations, because we referred the matter to the United Nations and notified them of what action we were going to take.


I accept that from the noble Earl. There was no action in the military sense, but apparently we decided to do something which would result in a further decision, irrespective of the judgment of the United Nations. But now, as noble Lords have said, we have done the worst thing of all. We have sacrificed throughout the world a great deal of the confidence which we held, in spite of various actions taken by various Governments at various times which may have interrupted it slightly. To me this seems the biggest blot on our national status for many years past.

The noble Lord. Lord Silkin, pointed out—and I agree with him—that we should ignore the suggestion that there is some form of collusion between Her Majesty's Government's action and Israeli interests. I think we should all support that and should try to clear our minds of that sort of insinuation, which probably has no basis at all. I believe it is thought —and this should be said—that the Socialist Party are possibly making Party capital out of a national crisis in order to come into power. I hope that we can agree that that probably is an equally unworthy motive, at least among the vast majority of the Socialist Party. Much as I disagree with the action of Her Majesty's Government. I should be sorry to see a Socialist Party in power. At the same time, I am very sorry to sec a Conservative Party in power. It seems to me that the Government deserve censure, and therefore must accept censure by those who consider that they are genuinely in the wrong. I am not speaking in any partisan way. It would have been my dear wish to support Her Majesty's Government in such a vital matter as this; but as things are, and as it has been put by the noble Lord. Lord Henderson in particular, I feel that the only thing I can do is to support him in his Motion to-day.

1.40 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to intervene for a very brief moment in this debate. I speak emphatically as a supporter of Her Majesty's Government. Her Majesty's Government have made perfectly plain what are their two short-term objectives. They are, first, to stop the fighting and, secondly, to safeguard the Canal and ships passing through it. I describe those objectives as "short-term", particularly with reference to the words used by the noble Earl who is leading the House about the long-term objectives, which include, of course, the preservation of the sanctity of treaties. I do not desire to offer any observations on the speeches of the three noble Lords who have spoken from the other side of the House except to say that I am profoundly thankful that none of those three noble Lords associated himself with the imputation of unworthy motives to Her Majesty's Government. While I am grateful to those noble Lords for that, perhaps I may say, without disrespect, that I could wish some of their colleagues in another place had been equally restrained.

The only object of my few remarks is to try to make a constructive suggestion. It seems to me that, above all things, this is a moment when constructive suggestions are needed. We must all be very conscious of the prospect of the meeting of the United Nations Assembly this very afternoon. What I am deeply concerned about is: what is the United Nations Assembly to do? I feel that discussion on merits at this particular moment, when conclusive evidence is insufficient on all sides, will be both futile and fruitless. I believe that such a discussion, if embarked upon now, would do nothing but emphasise the divisions which exist between us, and not only between us and neutrals but between us and some of our clearest friends. I believe those divisions to be fundamentally far more apparent than real, and that that applies to the division between us and the United States just as mach as to the division between us and the Commonwealth, our own family.

One good instance of how these misunderstandings will be cleared up has already been given by the noble Earl in his quotation from the speech which has come from Australia. Fundamentally, civilised people all want what we want—that is, to slop the fighting and get a permanent settlement in this difficult part of the world; and I am confident that when the motives of Her Majesty's Government are properly appreciated their actions will then be appreciated too. More especially, I believe that will be the case when the effectiveness of those actions has become apparent, and that is a thing which we all earnestly wish will shortly come about.

What the the objectives of the United Nations? They are precisely the objectives of Her Majesty's Government, and I believe that there is something which the Assembly could do about which they would be unanimous. I believe there are two things: first, the Assembly might well call on both of the combatants, Israel and Egypt, to disengage themselves. Such a demand would not involve any question whatever of Egypt retiring to the west of the Canal. Secondly, the Assembly might call on Britain and France similarly to withdraw the moment that disengagement has been accomplished; and I believe that to be entirely in accordance with the policy of Her Majesty's Government. I am perfectly certain that that is what the Government intend. Once the safety of the Canal is secured, once the combatants are disengaged and war has been stopped, the police measures will have been successful and can be given up. That is what I should dearly like to see the Assembly do. I believe it would be wise and it would give the best chance of success, both in the immediate crisis in which we are engaged and in the permanent settlement of that difficult area of the world.

1.46 p.m.


My Lords, when we debated Suez during the Recess ventured to say a word about the strategic situation as I saw it, and to say that the precautionary movements of troops then being made might well have been made with an eye to future developments. As my noble friend the Acting Leader of the House said just now, those developments have occurred, and perhaps in the context of what has happened such matters as the recall of reservists may now be seen in a rather different light from that in which they appeared to some people at that time. I intend today again to confine myself to the strategic aspect. I will not touch on other aspects but will leave those to other noble Lords who will be following in this debate and who are more qualified than I am to discuss them. After all, the problem of the free international use of the Suez Canal in the whole context of Middle Eastern affairs can now be seen even mere clearly than it could have been a fortnight ago.

The facts are that now the use of the Canal is endangered. not only by the action of Egypt, which we debated on a previous occasion, but by the actual threat that the use of the Canal will be, and indeed is being, impeded by a shooting war taking place on the spot. This shooting war is not only dangerous to the Canal, for if someone does not act at once, it will set alight a conflagration which, I have no doubt at all, will spread to the whole of the Middle East. So once again the time factor is the paramount one, and this is the point where my views, for what they are worth, principally diverge from those which have been expressed by noble Lords on the two sets of Benches opposite. This question of the time factor is the main argument against those who think that no action should have been taken without the sanction of the United Nations or without the support of the whole of the Dominions or the approval of the United States.

I want to stress that point, because I feel certain that many of us on these Benches, and certainly I myself, would at once have agreed that, if time had been available, it would have been right to do all those things. But, by now, the situation itself and our recent experience of these negotiations both point the moral that time is not available; and I believe that those who think otherwise will come to that conclusion if they attempt, as I do, to try to work out the actual time which it takes to intervene in any way and with any prospects of success in a matter of this kind. There comes to my mind a rhyme about a man who was defending his right of way and was killed in doing so. The rhyme ends: He was right, dead right, as he walked along But he's just as dead if he'd been wrong. That would be our position if we followed some of the advice which has been tendered to us from noble Lords opposite. We are dealing with a situation in which the shooting has actually begun. I do not want to follow those people who would try to decide whether or not the Israelis were at fault in making their recent move. On that matter I agree entirely with what was said just now by the noble Lord, Lord Rea; and, in fact, if we were to attempt to make a considered decision on this point we should have to go back and grope about in the twilight of all that border fighting in the Egyptian-Israeli quarter which has been going on for many months past. It is no good doing that to-day. because it does not affect the position that the fight is on, and that only a matter of hours—not days, but only hours—were available to Her Majesty's Government to intervene in order to hold this fight in check.

From the practical point of view, that is to say, from the point of view of what measures were available to stop the fighting in a matter of hours, there was. I think, only one way to do it; and that way was that the air over the theatre of fighting should be controlled by somebody whose concern it was that the fighting should stop. I am glad, my Lords, that Her Majesty's Government have decided to make their first effort in the air. It does not seem as though any ground forces have landed yet, and I devoutly hope they do not do that. After all, to use our power is to apply the doctrine that we must all apply in situations of this sort—namely, the doctrine of minimum force. But here, in practice. the only two Governments who were in a position to apply air power, which. as I say, I am sure is the right thing to apply, were the British and French Governments. No-one else could have done it in time. It is possible, as the noble Lord. Lord Silkin, said, that other people might have wanted to do it, and it might have been to other people's advantage to do it. But they were not there and could not do it.

So, my Lords, I feel that this action was the right one, to circumscribe the area of fighting and then to stop it; and I that anyone who says that our action was not in conformity with our subscribing to the Kellogg Pact and all the other things is interpreting the matter in a very narrow sense indeed. We think that this responsibility belongs alone to the two Governments concerned, because in the time it could not have been carried out by anyone else and could not have been carried out in any other way than the one the two Governments have chosen. They alone had the information necessary to judge what should be done in a situation which, as we all know, was very obscure and was changing from day to day, and even from hour to hour.

Now, my Lords, let us try to look ahead for one moment, and to look ahead on the lines of what was said just now by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh. If, as we hope and as I venture to think, our action has the effect of deterring both Israel and Egypt from further hostility, then the way will be open for all the peaceful means of realising a settlement which will be available once fighting has stopped, but which certainly will not be available while hostilities are continuing. We can go back to them—and the sooner the better. And if our action, our rescue operation, is successful, then the Prime Ministers of Britain and France, I am sure, will have earned the thanks, and not the blame, of all the free world. in any case, that is our hope to-day, and that is our prayer.

I would say only three things more. The first is that now, once the die is cast, it is absolutely vital that the plans which Her Majesty's Government have made should be resolutely taken through. Secondly, as my noble friend the Acting Leader said just now, however the matter may appear on editorial desks or in legal chambers, I believe—as I know that other people do, on the opposite side of the House—that the Prime Minister's action will be approved and that, when the fog lifts and the true factors are known, many more of the ordinary people will be found to support the Prime Minister than some people believe at the moment. Lastly, let us never forget who is the real enemy in this matter. He is not to be found in this country, or in France; he is to be found only in Egypt and amongst those people who are responsible for the policies which it is Her Majesty's Government's duty to combat.

1.55 p.m.


My Lords, as my noble Leader, Lord Silkin, has intimated, I propose to deal mainly with the probable effect on Commonwealth countries of the Government's actions. May I say first that the noble Earl, Lord Home, who is Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, has asked me to tell the House that he is sorry he cannot be here to hear my speech, which is dealing with the subject with which he is particularly concerned, because he has a very important meeting, I think at Downing Street, at 2 o'clock, and is therefore unable to be present. Of course, in the circumstances, none of us would expect the noble Earl to be here.

The Government's case rests on these facts: first, that their action is designed to bring hostilities between Egypt and Israel to an end: and secondly, to safeguard vital international and national interests. The Opposition's view is that this action is in clear violation of the United Nations Charter; that it affronts the convictions of a large section of the British people; that it divides the Commonwealth that it strains the Atlantic alliance and that it gravely damages the foundations of international order. It is on the division of the Commonwealth, as I said, I want to speak in particular.

The action of Her Majesty's Government has been sudden, and there is no doubt that it has confused public opinion both here and in the Commonwealth overseas. That may be seen from the Press reports that are coming through and the various statements made by leading men, and by the comments upon those statements in the Press of the various Commonwealth countries. As my noble Leader said, we know Her Majesty's Ministers to be honourable men, and we know the Prime Minister in particular to be a man of great experience. The noble Earl, Lord Home, has himself told us today that he was concerned in important events leading up to Munich before the Second World War. Therefore, they are people whom one would expect to be concerned with the probable results of their actions.

It is very hard—I find it very hard, and I am sure other noble Lords find it very hard—for us to appreciate quite why they have taken this action in the way they have. Although the noble Earl, Lord Home said that he was convinced and he had reason to believe that the opinion in this country was in favour of the Government's action, he failed to produce any evidence whatsoever for that belief. Although these are only conjectures, it is my belief that most people in this country, and still more most people in Commonwealth countries, feel as I do. That is to say: why have these men, who are honourable men, men of great experience, taken this extraordinary action? Nothing we have heard from the noble Earl, Lord Home, this morning has in any way made clear to us their real reasons, the important reasons which have led them to the course of action they have taken.

I accept right away, and I am sure many people in the Commonwealth also accept right away, the duty of Her Majesty's Government to protect the lives of our nationals wherever they may he. I also accept the right and the duty of Her Majesty's Government to protect vital international and national interests; and for these purposes, I agree, they have the right to make the necessary consequential movements of their Armed Forces. We all know—and we have said it on this side of the House—that great provocation has been given by Colonel Nasser to us and to other nations using the Canal, and that even greater provocation over the last few years has been given to Israel.

In these circumstances, I do not expect the United Kingdom Government to cling to the coat tails of the United States. I think that the United States has behaved abominably for years past in respect of the Middle East. Indeed, I would say that much of the trouble in the Middle East could be put firmly on the plate of the United States. I do not need to elaborate my various reasons for that; they arc well known to your Lordships. One of the last occasions on which the United States acted badly was when, at almost a moment's notice, they cut off the economic aid to Colonel Nasser for the Aswan Dam. That was bound to have a most devastating effect in Egypt and they ought to have known it. As I have said, I accept all these propositions. But the question, to my mind, is not whether the British Government should have taken action—of course they should—but whether the action they have taken is the right action. That, I think, is the first proposition we have to examine.

The effect on the Commonwealth of this action—which has been roundly and, in my view, properly condemned by my noble friends, and into which I do not propose to go at any length for that reason—has been confusing and disturbing.. It has been the object of all nations in the Commonwealth and of all Parties in this country to support the United Nations and to act in conformity with other Commonwealth nations. But, as the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, knows only too well, the Security Council of the United Nations is not a World Government and the Assembly is not a World Parliament. I think a good deal of confusion has been engendered upon that point, and some people have been inclined to think that both these bodies are what they are not. But the United Nations does have a great moral effect, and therein lies the importance of taking issues to it. It is not that one can hope for any action as a result. All one can hope for is the influence on world opinion and for moral persuasion of the mass of the nations which are represented there to bring them to one side.

With regard to previous conflicts, we have had experience since the Second World War with Korea. The United States on that occasion were able to obtain the support of the United Nations. largely, of course, by accident. It so happened, as your Lordships will remember, that when they brought this matter before the Security Council, Mr. Malik had walked out. They were able to rush a Resolution through the Security Council and to act upon it. They never afterwards managed to do anything of that kind because Mr. Malik had walked in. And they tried to use the Assembly of the United Nations in a way in which I assume Powers are now trying to use it—namely as a substitute for the Security Council, because there is no Veto in the Assembly. I was a delegate to the United Nations at the time of which I have just been speaking and I remember that there were grave doubts whether what was done was in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. But these are developing institutions and it was thought that as there was a complete breakdown in machinery and the war had been started, the armed forces could not be held in suspense, and therefore some other arrangements would have to he made. The precedent of that time, the precedent of Korea, is now obviously being used by the nations.

My position—I hope I may be excused for referring to it, but I think it has a slight bearing on this matter—was that of a delegate from the United Kingdom to the Assembly in 1950 when these matters were discussed. I was specially charged with liaison with other Commonwealth countries. I had a good deal to do with the efforts which took place at that time, in particular, to get all the Commonwealth countries to act, as it were, in unison. it was not always easy to do that, but we did, in fact, obtain substantial unity, and for the first time in history a Commonwealth Division was formed, and it was sent to Korea. That was a tremendous step forward. For the first time, Canada sent men who formed a part of the Commonwealth Division. India—a country which at the start was very dubious about the desirability of these matters—sent ambulances. As I say, chat was a great step for her.

At that time I used to see almost daily Sir Zafrullah Khan. Sir Benegal Rao, Mr. Lester Pearson, Sir Percy Spender, Dr. Donges and their colleagues and officials, and discuss with them the various matters that were arising and the attitude that we and the various other Commonwealth countries should take on those important subjects concerning Korea and Formosa. We frequently had meetings at which Mr. Bevin would preside, and after he left Mr. Kenneth Younger would preside. We were in almost hourly contact with these delegates and we knew exactly what was in their minds, and finally a more or less common policy was threshed out. Almost daily it shifted in emphasis. but nevertheless it was threshed out in discussion. We would never move without taking the other members of the Commonwealth with us. We would not go forward unless they were by our side.

Going back further to 1914 and 1939, in both those wars the Commonwealth countries—they were originally Dominions, of course—were at our side when we went to war. They were there with us, shoulder to shoulder, and they fought with us to the end. What is she position now? Noble Lords have men- tioned it and I will not stress it again. In the Security Council we find Australia abstaining and Britain and France using the Veto. Australia and Belgium both abstained. Australia is one of the most loyal friends, we have. Belgium is the country for whom we went to war in 1914, and she has been an Ally of ours before and since.


My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting? I only wish to remind him that Australia has now come out completely on the Government side. That is the position at the moment. No doubt others will change their minds in a few days.


My Lords, I listened with great interest to the noble Lord. it was a very valuable, intervention. In fact, this is a point which I am going to make, and on this question of Australia he reinforces; what I have to say. Australia in the Security Council abstained, and yesterday, according to The Times, Dr. Evatt questioned Mr. Menzies in the Australian Parliament on this matter. Mr. Menzies said that the present situation had arisen suddenly and reports were confusing. According to The Times, he said that the situation was very fluid and dangerous anti he made no further comment. But we have been enlightened by the noble Ertel. Lord Home. this morning. The noble Earl has told us in a forceful and, I thought, a very able speech, thas the Commonwealth was shocked—hat was the word he used: "shocked".

The noble Earl also told us that the other Commonwealth countries were informed, but were not consulted, after Israel's action. He said that there was no time for consultation. Obviously Australia had not been consulted, as we know from what Mr. Menzies said in the House in Australia. Why was there not time? Are there no High Commissioners left in London and in the capitals of the various Commonwealth countries? Is the cable service no longer in operation? it takes a very short time to inform and consult with these countries. I had a year at the Commonwealth Relations Office and I know very well that consultation takes only a short time. And even if it did mean a little delay, they could have been consulted in spite of the delay. I think it is of the utmost importance, when we take any action which is bound to affect the Commonwealth, as this does, that we must give them full information and have full consultation with them; otherwise the Commonwealth idea, to which we are all pledged, means nothing and is a danger instead of what we all want it to be, a safety belt.

What were the reactions in other Commonwealth countries—first, in India, a vitally important country at this stage in world affairs, with great moral influence throughout the world, especially in the East? They have issued a statement condemning both Israel's attack and the ultimatum of the United Kingdom and France as flagrant violations of the United Nations' Charter, likely to lead to war on an extended scale. The Times, in its report this morning, says that Commonwealth circles in New Delhi are gravely concerned at the threat imposed by the new developments to India's relations with the West and were embarrassed, not for the first time in recent months, by an almost complete lack of official guidance. Canada, as your Lordships have heard from my noble friend this morning, did snot know that action had been taken. Pakistan, it is said, has been sounding out other Baghdad Pact members and some Opposition papers have suggested that Britain and France were behind Israel's attack. In Colombo, Opposition circles and leaders of the Moslem minority condemn the Anglo-French moves. As yet we have not heard much from South Africa, except that the South African Government knew nothing about it, as we have heard from the noble Earl this morning; and they have made no statement.

It is only fair to say, and I am sure that the noble Earl would like me to say, that it is too early to say whether the Commonwealth countries are going to support us or not. But for the case I am making I do not think that that particularly matters, because the point I am making is that no action should have been taken until the Commonwealth countries had been informed and consulted and, if possible, their approval obtained. Whether they approve or not later on is of secondary importance for the case I am now making. Whether they finally come to support us or not, the Government are much to be condemned for not having take the Commonwealth countries with them in this important matter.

What the effect on the Colonies will be I do not know. I think that it will be potentially dangerous. for this reason: that most of the countries which are approaching independence are content, for a time, even with the fullest self-government, to leave their foreign affairs and defence in the hands of the United Kingdom Government. That is so in the case of Malaya and the Gold Coast and possibly that will be so in the case of Nigeria—we shall not know until after the Nigerian Conference, but I think that the minds of the Nigerian Ministers are moving that way at the moment. And why is this so? It is because up to now they have felt confident that the United Kingdom Government have great experience in these matters, are wise in international affairs and would act only in accordance with the obligations of the Charter and in conformity with the decisions of the United Nations. But will they do so in future? All of them have been fascinated by the idea of the Commonwealth as a group of States of equal status one with another, acting in harmony one with another, under the Headship of the Queen. Can they think so any longer? He would be a bold man who would forecast exactly what impression this is going to have upon the colonial territories which are approaching self-government and, at a later stage, independence within the Commonwealth.

It is easy enough to say that we know that the Government should not have taken the action that they have taken; but what do we do now? I find that that is an extraordinarily difficult question to answer—first of all, because we have very few facts. This morning the noble Earl the Secretary of State said that the details of the movements of troops and the attacks that have been made on Egyptian positions would be given by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor in this debate. We are always delighted and eager to hear anything that falls from the lips of the noble and learned Viscount, but we suffer under the disadvantage that the noble and learned Viscount speaks last and leaves those of us who are intervening before him in a difficult position, because we do not know whether this is a probe in force, a police action, or the first stage of a full-scale war; whether there has been great resistance on the part of the Egyptians, or anything else, In the past it has been said that it has been difficult to achieve security. I must say that in the present circumstances the Government have shown themselves extraordinarily security-minded, to such an extent as to make it difficult for your Lordships to carry on a real debate upon what they have done, because we are left so much in the dark.

Where do we go from here? Undoubtedly we shall be condemned as aggressors by the Security Council or, rather, by the United Nations Assembly. I presume that some such resolution will be tendered there. We shall have a disturbed and divided country. We shall be unsupported by some of the Commonwealth countries, although there may be some exceptions, and all of them will be ruffled at the way they have been handled. We shall be unsupported by our other Allies except France. We shall he engaged in a confused and maybe long-drawn-out war and the Middle East may well go up in flames. I think that these are extraordinarily dangerous and difficult matters with which to deal. This is probably the most dangerous situation in which we have found ourselves since 1943. I wish I knew how we could get out of these difficulties: I confess I do not know. Noble Lords on this side of the House. and I am sure noble Lords on the other side, feel profoundly disturbed at these events, in which we on this side have had no part. I only trust that, by God's guidance, a way will be found out of these difficulties, a way which we can all approve.

2.20 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord who has just sat down will forgive me if I do not follow him in his rather gloomy prognostications. However. I should like to endorse the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Home, and the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who said that the spirit of the speeches from the Opposition, and the moderation with which they have stated their case to-day, at least give one great hope that, although apparently the two sides are in disagreement on a fundamental point, there is hope that at some time we may be able to get closer together. I might add that, good and helpful as sonic of those speeches have been. I cannot help a feeling that they would have been even more helpful if only one member of the Opposition had been able to tell us something of what they would have done in this situation. As life goes on, one tends increasingly—or I do—to divide one's political friends into two classes: what I may call the "responsibles" and the "critics." By the "responsibles," I mean those who would be prepared to have their proposals put into practice, and be prepared also to stand by them. By the "critics," I mean those who think they have the right to sit on the sidewalk and criticise what other people do, merely putting up what I might call "bright ideas."

As I listened to the noble Earl, Lord Home, I could not help being impressed at the extent to which he and his colleagues have had to face the really hard facts of the situation. One need not stress those facts at length; we debated at least some of them in your Lordships' House only a short time ago, and I suppose that almost daily we discuss them amongst ourselves. The noble Earl stressed the effect which the taking over of the Suez Canal by Colonel Nasser must have on our standard of life, on our economic survival, and on our political survival. too. He spoke of the effect of the invasion into which Israel has been provoked. I do not think any of us could have listened to the statement made yesterday by the noble Earl, Lord Home, about the movement of troops, without realising how close we were—arid, it may be, still are, or, at any rate, certainly would be if British and French troops were not available to prevent it—to having the area of the Suez Canal as an active battleground. Her Majesty's Government have had to face the wider danger of general hostilities breaking out in the Middle East. That is a danger that is certainly not decreased by Colonel Nasser's professed and widely published ambitions, as clearly published as any of the ambitions of Hitler. I suppose that on most of those points there is a good deal of agreement.

Now I come to the real point of the division of opinion. I would put it this way: that the Government have had to face in their minds the danger of allowing: us to be the prisoners of ineffective peace machinery. Both in the last debate on Suez and, to some extent, in this, although to a lesser degree, there has been an underlying suggestion in many of the Opposition speeches that there is here a conflict between those who believe in the rule of law and those who do not.




I believe that to be a complete travesty of the facts. After all, nationally. we all know where we are: we have our police; we have our law courts and our judges; and we have our defined system, more or less. of what is right and wrong. But internationally—and I do not think this fact is sufficiently faced—that system just does not exist. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin. mentioned this point, and I am sure that we all welcomed his suggestion that the sooner we can apply ourselves to the problem of building up some more effective machinery for dealing with cases of this character, which really demand short-term police action, the better. But certainly, up to now, the machinery has failed. Nobody made that clearer, when we debated Suez earlier in the summer, than the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair. If we are to accept his interpretation of the Charter of the United Nations, I do not think I should be going too far in saying that that Charter is a Charter for every Mossadeq, every Nasser and every pocket dictator to do as he likes, relying on the restrictions, the discussions, the delays and the Vetoes inherent in the present machinery of the United Nations Organisation to give them time to establish the position achieved by their aggression. Let us at least agree that we are all equally anxious and determined to evolve a rule of law. But where no adequate machinery exists. individuals and nations must ensure their own survival, the safety of their ships and of their citizens, and. indeed, we have the duty laid down in the Charter itself of ensuring justice as well as peace.

Perhaps I may turn for a moment to the last great difficulty or hard fact that Her Majesty's Government have had to face—it has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and also by the noble Earl, Lord Home. There is no doubt that, for good or bad reasons, our closest friends and Allies, the United States, have not felt themselves able to be as vitally interested in this problem as we are. We may explain that partly by the fact that this is Election year there, and partly by the fact that they are a long way off and Suez is not of such direct importance to them. But I welcome, as I am sure all noble Lords do, the fact that hardly a single word—though I believe the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, did say something—has been said in this debate against the United States. I am glad of that, because, whatever we may feel about the present disagreements, we are fundamentally together and we must be. We have to recognise that we cannot always agree. I believe strongly that only if this fact is faced is there any hope of satisfactory friendship with any individual or nation. Incidentally, it may well ultimately prove to be all to the good. if the United States come to realise that we are a friend, a strong and virile nation able to make up our own minds, and not a satellite. That, however, is by the way. The real point I am trying to make is that the disinterestedness of the United States, undoubtedly tended all the more to drive us into feeling that we had to take action, either on our own, or with France.

What do all these points add up to? Surely, that the alternatives that faced Her Majesty's Government were either to let the Middle East drift steadily into chaos—possibly with a resulting world war, but certainly chaos in the Middle East—or for someone, at the appropriate moment, which was immediately, to cry, "Halt." And that is what Great Britain and France have done. Now that they have taken this line, I believe it is quite unnecessary to express the hope that, whatever criticism there is, nothing will cause Her Majesty's Government to weaken. They have nailed their colours to the mast, and they will get the worst of all worlds unless they keep them there until they have achieved their result, which may well include giving U.N.O. time to function on a long-term basis—a task which most of us would agree they are highly fitted to operate.

By all means let the Government make it clear, as the Prime Minister has done, and as my noble friend Lord Home did to-day, that these operations are temporary; and the more temporary they are, the better. I think I am right in saying that the noble Earl made that quite clear to-day (perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong) when he said that our actions will persist (I think these were his words) only so long as hostilities persist. But do let us tell the world, and tell it loudly, what we are doing, and why. I say this because I believe that we sometimes have a national tendency to think that, if we do the right thing, everybody else is going automatically to sit up and think we are wonderful.

In face of criticism and abuse, Great Britain and France are performing a task which, if such a thing as an adequate peace machinery existed, it would have to perform. Do not let us apologise for that; let us be proud of it. It may be, as I think the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, said, that politicians and lawyers may dig their way into Charters and other legal documents and say that in their considered opinion we are wrong. But I myself, speaking as a layman, believe that there are millions of people, not only in this country but throughout the world, who will sigh with relief at the thought that someone is prepared to stand for justice and good behaviour. Whether they sigh with relief or not, they will certainly benefit. I repeat: let the Government say this, and say it loudly. Now that we are engaged on certain operations of force, success depends, first and foremost, on the successful organisation of the work of our forces. In the long run, however, we have to prove to the conscience of the world that we are right. Therefore, I close by saying that I hope Her Majesty's Government are giving full attention to their present (to my mind) frequently inadequate and unsatisfactory machinery for stating our national case and objective, not only to our own country but to the world.

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, earlier in the debate to-day my noble friend Lord Rea stated the reasons why he, for his part, could not support the Government in their present policy. I think those reasons are conclusive; I share them and have been obliged, regretfully, to come to the same conclusion that he, to his regret, had to come: that on an occasion of great national emergency it is impossible for us to give active support to the Government of the day. The situation is confused, surprising and, indeed, one might say, topsy-turvy, for, owing to the action of the Government, President Nasser, who is a typical military dictator, full of arbitrariness and belligerence; whose book is as frank a statement of his ambitions as Hitler's Mein Kampf, and whose speeches are almost an echo of those of Mussolini, is now made to appear in the eyes of the whole world as the victim of a wanton aggression, and his people as a small nation, entirely innocent, who are made the objects of attack by two powerful military nations, their airfields destroyed and their ships, when they come in their own waters into the neighbourhood of our warships, sunk. Yet all the time, through the whole of this long controversy. Colonel Nasser has been flagrantly in the wrong—with one exception, the matter of the Aswan Dam.

He was in the wrong, because, eight years after the cessation of hostilities, he persists in declaring that Egypt is at war with Israel. In speech after speech, and in article after article, he makes it plain that—and these are his own words: Egypt refuses to admit the existence of Israel. He justifies, by being in a state of war, maintaining a blockade, against the trade of Israel through the Canal. And, while we and all the countries of Europe and the world are loudly proclaiming the absolute right of all nations to transit through the Canal—and Colonel Nasser proclaims his willingness to agree to that principle—no ship belonging to Israel is permitted to pass the Canal; and, not only that, but through the important international waterway of the Gulf of Aqaba, acces. to which is of vital importance to Israel, since it opens up the whole of the markets arid supplies of Asia and Africa. An Egyptian battery, situated in that international waterway, fires shots across the bows of an Israeli ship that comes forward, and prohibits their passage.

Furthermore, in the poignant matter of the Arab refugees from Palestine, whose plight arouses the heartfelt sympathy of the whole world, hundreds of thousands of them left their own homes and lands when the Arab armies invaded Israel on the foundation of the State. They were asked by their leaders to withdraw ill the expectation of coming back in a few weeks, not only to recover their own lands but all those of the Jews. These refugees have been made a plaything of by Arab League politics. No effective steps are taken by any of the Arab countries to find them homes, and while the Israel Government have again and again offered to pay full compensation for the lands and houses which they had abandoned, and which were subsequently occupied by the refugees from Germany, the Arab States will make no agreement of any kind and will not even discuss the receipt of any payment of compensation.

On another matter they are equally in the wrong. As all your Lordships who are acquainted with the conditions in the Middle East are aware, water is the vital factor in the development of all those lands, and great efforts have been made by the United Nations to arrive at a full development of the water supplies from those rivers and their fair division among Israel and all the States abutting. The other countries have refused to accept the plan prepared by American engineers and agreed to by Israel, because it provides that Israel should share in those waters. They will not discuss even whether it is fair or unfair. They will make no agreement of any kind, and the sufferers are the refugees who might have been settled on irrigated lands.

Furthermore, the later developments have been that Colonel Nasser has appointed an Egyptian General as commander-in-chief of the armies not only of Egypt but of Jordan and of Syria, avowedly with a view to attacking Israel and destroying its work. Many of your Lordships have visited Israel, and all who have been there realise that the constructive work that has been done there—agricultural, industrial and, above all, cultural —is worthy of the highest praise and ought not in any circumstances to be offered to destruction. Furthermore—and this the final coup in the whole matter—the Egyptian Government, although purporting to be a civilised Power, has avowedly organised its gangs of saboteurs, called Fedayeen, who start from their own Egyptian military bases and carry out outrages in any part of Israel. murdering farmers in their fields, blowing up vehicles by concealed mines, holding up omnibuses and shooting all the passengers. Last week alone it has been officially stated that there have been twenty-four casualties. And this goes on indefinitely. All these matters had to be taken into account before the recent action of the Israeli 'Government against the bases of these Fedayeen.

I would ask your Lordships what you think the Israeli Government ought to do in order to meet these murderous onslaughts. The police cannot cope with them. These men come from the South in the night or in the day; they assassinate the farmers in their fields; as I have said, they commit their outrages and they go forward, not on their tracks where they may be discovered, but right through to Jordan, not far away, where they disappear. The police cannot cope with them. Reprisals which have been undertaken as a penalty are forbidden and regarded as improper and a brutal form of penalty. The United Nations Commission condemns reprisals but does nothing to prevent the crimes.

All these circumstances account for the fact that the initiative lately was taken by the Israeli Government. The Times, in a leading article when the incursion against the desert bases was first announced, wrote at the beginning of the article: Let it be said at once that the provocation to Israel has been great and deliberate. It has been found intolerable. I think that, wisely, Her Majesty's Government and. so far, the United Nations have not endeavoured to define who is the aggressor in these later events. Indeed, one party declares that it is in a state of war with another party, even eight years after the termination of hostilities, and the second party says, "Well, I take you at your word. If you are at war with me, if you are blockading access to my ports, if you are sending, as an act of war, saboteurs into my country, I will take you at your word. If you are making war, you must expect to be attacked." That is the reason why I, for one, although I disapprove of violence, cannot condemn offhand the Israeli Government as being an aggressor and in breach of International Law when they attack across their own frontiers to the neighbouring or distant centres from which these saboteurs make their incursions.

That being the general situation—I am a strong partisan of the United Nations and always have been—I am bound to say that I think the United Nations (that is to say, the nations composing it) have been greatly remiss in proclaiming freedom of transit through the Canal as a vital principle, while they have done nothing beyond issuing some years ago a mild rebuke to Egypt, which publicly and avowedly is in breach of that International Convention. I would extend that also to the case of Aqaba. What have they done with regard to the saboteurs? Nothing. All that they do is to condemn the incursions and attacks on neighbouring military or police installations belonging to Jordan or to Egypt.

I have never criticised the present Prime Minister since he acceded to his difficult office, and I am loth to do so now, but I am bound to say that I think it was a speech made by Sir Anthony Eden some time ago on the question of the Middle East which has proved a great strain as foreshadowing a great danger to the people of Israel. He said that the time had come to arrive at a settlement: of the situation in that part of the world, and that it should take the form of reopening the question of the present armistice lines. That was understood to mean that the present frontiers of Israel. which had been settled after the Arab attack of five nations on Israel had been defeated, should be reopened and the line reverted to what it was prior to that time.

—That might involve—I do not say necessarily would involve—that Israel would be deprived of the new city of Jerusalem, with all its institutions, which she has built up on the outskirts of the old Jerusalem. It might also mean that she would be deprived of a large part, or even the whole, of the vast expanse of what is now desert country to the south, all or most of which could be redeemed, as in the case of other desert countries. Some part of it already has been redeemed, and to it Israel attaches the greatest possible importance with a view to the future. That speech of the Prime Minister caused great alarm and almost despondency, and has been the cause of the greater and stronger rearmament of the Israel people, who are making great sacrifices to maintain an extremely powerful army because they are determined in no circumstances whatever to consent to such a readjustment of their boundaries.

Again, the Prime Minister, in dealing with the immediate issue of the Suez Canal, started off, if I may say so without disrespect:, on the wrong foot. His first speeches said that we were bound to take action with regard to the freedom of the Suez Canal and its efficient management, because it was a matter of life and death for us that we should get oil supplies freely and regularly through that Canal. In the first place, I think that that is an exaggeration; it is not a matter of life and death. If the Suez Canal had never existed, or if some earthquake were completely to destroy it, it does not mean that the whole economic life of this country would be brought to a standstill. As a matter of fact, a technical movement is now being undertaken to provide for the transport of oil in enormous tankers of the size of the "Queen Elizabeth" or the "Queen Mary", which it is considered would afford as cheap and, in the long run, as quick a passage as smaller tankers passing through the Suez Canal. Therefore, I do not think it is a question of life and death. Although our interests are concerned, it is also our interest to keep the peace of the world, and it is to our interest to keep collective security. All these things are national interests as well as transit through the Canal.

Nevertheless, it is of great importance not only to us but to Europe and to other countries as well—India and others—that the Canal should be properly managed and in good hands. Again, Colonel Nasser is to be condemned as being entirely in the wrong in the way in which he suddenly nationalised the Canal and refused to accept the recommendations of the eighteen Powers which had met in conference. He was in the wrong; but, on the other hand, he has been ready to enter into negotiations, and, thanks to the devoted efforts of the Government of India, it may be that we were just on the point of coming to a settlement (which might not he perfect, but at all events would he better than nothing), on the management of the Canal and some accommodation between the Egyptian Government and the Users' Association.


I do not want to interrupt the noble Viscount, because everybody listens with great interest to what he says. But there is no foundation for the suggestion that we were on the point of coming, to a settlement over the Canal issue. Really no progress had been made.


I am sorry to hear that; it is not what the public had been led to believe. But there was no reason to suppose that the outstanding points, which could not have been very numerous or important, would justify what is in effect a declaration of war. So I still hold to the point that we ought to have made further efforts, and, even if we could not get 100 per cent. of what we desired, if we got 70 or 80 per cent. it would be better than a situation such as the present.

My Lords, I think the Government should make it more plain than it has yet been made in the course of the debate—perhaps the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor will do so when he replies—what it is precisely that we are now fighting to obtain: not in general terms or ultimate objects, but the immediate purpose. We are told it is to protect the Canal from being interrupted and to safeguard the lives of British subjects in that region. But who is going to interrupt or attack the Canal? The Israelis have no intention of establishing a base on the Canal. They never intended to do so; they intended to destroy the frontier posts from which they themselves are being attacked, and no doubt to make a threatening demonstration towards the nearer frontiers of Egypt. But they could never have imagined that they could establish themselves in perpetuity on the Canal, hundreds of miles away from their bases and in the centre of a population, strongly hostile, of some 20 million inhabitants with considerable armaments.

Nor would they have the smallest interest in interrupting or blowing up the Canal or doing any damage to it. That would only set everyone against them and they would gain no benefit from it. So it certainly is not the Israelis who are likely to threaten the Canal. Indeed, when they were called upon to stop ten miles away they immediately agreed to do so, and to stop fighting, provided that the Egyptians would do the same. It is not the Egyptians themselves who are likely to interrupt or to stop the Canal. They are profuse in their undertakings to prevent:interruption, and certainly since their nationalisation the Canal has not been interrupted until now. It is only since the incursion of the British force there that ships going through the Canal have in fact been diverted and kept away from it. We are told that the purpose of our being there is purely temporary. The Prime Minister emphasised, underlined and repeated the word "temporary". What is meant by "temporary"? What are we waiting for on the line? For what purpose are we reoccupying the Base? Are we likely to achieve any result merely by that occupation? Meantime, world opinion is undoubtedly turning against us, and I think that the people of this country are not ready to slip into a war which may be prolonged—for it is very easy to get into a war, but it is often much harder to get out of it. The opinion of the Commonwealth is very much divided. India strongly protests, and the other Asiatic countries in the Commonwealth are showing no signs of support. The President and, so far as can be judged. public opinion in the United States is strongly against us, and, above all else, the United Nations is being completely alienated too.

The noble Earl, Lord Home, speaking this afternoon, repeated the assurances that this country's policy was based upon loyal participation in the United Nations. If I remember rightly, in many of the Speeches from the Throne on the opening of Parliament—King's Speeches hitherto and now the Queen's Speech—there have been paragraphs to the effect that the Sovereign's relations with various countries were friendly and that the foreign policy of this country was based upon the principle of the United Nations. Yet now we find that France and ourselves are almost isolated in the Security Council. Whilst we have been protesting for years against the practice of the Russian Soviets in vetoing the decisions of the Security Council whenever they were disagreeable to them, we are now doing the same. Furthermore, we are making the strongest efforts to prevent the Assembly of the United Nations from even discussing the subject. I think yesterday or the day before our representative there said that if the Assembly insisted upon discussing this question it might have the gravest consequences. What is meant by the "gravest consequences"? What consequences can there be? What can we do, unless it means that we should withdraw from the United Nations? I am quite certain that this country would never permit any Government to do that on any such grounds as this.

It is to be hoped then that this temporary occupation of the Base and these acts of open war between ourselves and Egypt will indeed be brief in duration. What is meant by "temporary"? A year, months or weeks? It must depend, no doubt, on events. What events? The world ought to know what we mean by "temporary"? and what will be the conditions that will bring our occupation to an end. For I am sure that the people of this country will not permit that they should he held up to obloquy throughout the world even if, in substance, in many points, we are in the right.

On an issue of this kind we older ones will remember, though the younger generation does not, how the same situation arose in South Africa sixty years ago. Then we slipped into war when the matter was brought to a climax by a declaration of war, not by us but by the Transvaal. We do not want to be again in a position such as we were in during the Boer War, and if this Government persists there will he such a reaction of public opinion in this country as will have, for them, catastrophic results.

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Viscount. Lord Samuel, ended his speech with a series of questions which, to my knowledge, are pressing themselves upon the hearts and minds and consciences of a vast number of citizens of this country. What the answer to those questions may be, if there be an answer, I do not know; and I am not going to attempt to-day to explore those questions or to see what kind of answers I can give. For many reasons I want to say very little. The obvious reason is that when matters come to such a perilous pass as this, full of confusion, passion and distress, any attempt to isolate and express a Christian judgment upon them must be full of danger that it may, in fact, only increase the confusion and release all kinds of misunderstandings. Yet it is demanded of me and of my office that I should make an attempt, very briefly, to isolate from all other considerations what may be the peculiar and limited Christian judgment on this matter. What I say, I say with fear and trembling.

The only helpful thing that any one of us can do at this moment is to stick severely to the single point of immediate relevance. Most of the troubles in this world arc clue to the fact that people will not stick to the one point that has to be dealt with, but bring into consideration, and therefore into confusion, every other conceivable related point. The single point is that Israeli troops are deep in Egyptian territory, and that the British and French Governments, with the sincere desire to limit the struggle, arc in process of sending their own troops into Egyptian territory. The only question that we, as a responsible nation have to ask ourselves is: Are we doing the right thing by the highest and wisest standards that we, as a nation, know?

It is perfectly obvious that all other parties to this dispute and to this situation have done wrong things—whether we begin with the seizure of the Canal by Colonel Nasser, whether we go on to Israel and the Arabs, to the indeterminate course of American policy, or whether we go on to the United Nations: all, in one way or another, have added to the confusion by their own mistakes, short-sightedness and shortcomings. Some of them have done so out of good will, others out of; but they are all in it. What about ourselves? The only question that we have the right to ask is: Are we now doing the right thing?


Arid in the right way.


And in the right way, certainly. Are we doing the right thing and in the right way? Here, surely, we are wise, for it is mere common sense, to see what other people think of us. We cannot ignore the fact that the President of the United States thinks that we have made a grave error. We cannot ignore the fact, which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has mentioned, that world opinion on the whole, or almost entirely, is convinced that we have made a grave error; and we have to accept the fact that, whatever the arguments may be on the other side, there is a strong case for saying that our action is a contravention of the spirit and the letter of the United Nations Charter. I am not saying that there is not a good argument on the other side, but merely that there is a very strong case for that view. It is the simple fact that this policy has not commended itself anywhere except in France and to the Government side of this country. It has produced the heartbreaking spectacle of the British Government in the Security Council vetoing a motion when, on the other side, there were the United States and Russia—and when Australia abstained from voting.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the most reverend Primate, but as he was not here may I say that at an earlier stage of the debate, I quoted a speech by Mr. Menzies giving full approval to the action taken by Her Majesty's Government.


My Lords, that does not remove the fact that Australia refrained from voting in the Security Council, which is the only point I was making. I am sticking merely to objective facts. and if Australia now wishes that she had not abstained it is an interesting point.


It is rather significant.


Why did Australia abstain?


My Lords, at that moment we had the heartbreaking spectacle of the British Government vetoing a motion which was supported by Russia and the United States, while Australia abstained. If Australia is now trying to mend its heart that is another matter; but it has produced a total political cleavage in this country, and something far worse than that—of this I am sure. It has produced a perplexed people, perplexed and alarmed; often people who have nothing to do with Party politics and who. I may say, hate what happened in another place in this matter. Every person whom I meet—and I meet people who touch this nation in many quarters and of many kind—says: "We simply do not know what this means."

The point to which the Christian conscience must acutely address itself is whether or no we are standing to the spirit of the United Nations Charter. Talk about our vital interests is not the main point, any more than (if I may say so) talk about the vital interests of Israel, on which the noble Viscount spoke, is the main point. It is not. Talk about international interests in general is beside the point, since under the United Nations Charter, we, like every other nation, have bound ourselves in honour not to claim to be judges in our own cause nor to presume to constitute ourselves the sole guardian of the interests of other nations or sole guardians, with France, of international order. It is impossible to feel that on this field we are on secure ground —again I speak from such contacts as I have had. Most people seem to me to feel sure that here we are standing on slippery ground and not on secure ground: and even if the Government could prove that we are, in fact, standing on the letter of the United Nations Charter, that would not really satisfy any of the spritual challenge of this day and hour with which we are confronted.

I do not wish to say more. I trust that I have said enough to show what I know to be the fact: that Christian opinion in the country, Christian opinion of those whose duty it is to concentrate on that one aspect, is terribly uneasy and unhappy. I suggest that even those most convinced that the Government have taken the right action would be wise to give heed not only to this uneasiness in the country but to the hostile reactions which the Government's action has evoked in all parts of the world. It is said that nothing succeeds like success, and I saw in one paper the view that, if this comes off, all will be well. But in this case, even if the Government's action does succeed, in separating the combatants, it will leave a legacy all over the world which temporary success can never obliterate, a legacy which will cause us to be regarded for years to come as all that our worst enemies have been saying about us for many years past.

Is there nothing, my Lords, that can be done? I look at the bare situation, and I speak as a fool, knowing none of the details of these things. Our call was to Israel and to Egypt to withdraw ten miles from the Canal, and the request was declared to be for the sole purpose of protecting the Canal. The simplest, the most obvious, the most imperative way of securing the safety of the Canal is that Israel should withdraw within its own borders. Then the temporary situation is saved and the Canal is no longer tinder threat.

Can we now, as a nation, led by the Government, make a new proposal? Objectively regarded, Egypt is at present within her own borders. Israel is out of bounds, and the British and French Governments propose to be out of bounds also. The immediate task is to bring everybody back within his own rightful place, so that nobody is trespassing. Can we say to Israel that, if they will withdraw their forces within their own bounds, France and ourselves will not intrude ourselves into Egypt? And can we say to Israel that the whole world is demanding that, both of Israel and ourselves, and that therefore we are willing to do it? With that standstill arrangement we can securely say, taught by this terrible experience, that all the statesmen of the world will Olen see to it that Israel shall not suffer for its obedience or longer have to live under continuous threats.

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think there can be anyone in your Lordships' House, or, indeed, in the country, who is in any doubt whatever about the gravity or the danger of the situation in which we find ourselves. On October 29, Israeli forces crossed the frontier of Sinai and penetrated deep into Egyptian territory. We know now, as presumably the Government knew then, that two columns were advancing directly on the Canal in the vicinity of Suez and Ismailia. In those circumstances, Her Majesty's Government. in agreement with the French Government, took the action which we are debating to-day and which is the subject of a Motion of censure in another place.

The question we must have all have asked ourselves is: can the action of the Israeli Government be properly regarded as an act of aggression? That was the sense, if not the wording, of the resolution proposed by the United States in the Security Council which was vetoed on October 30. I do not believe, however, that the position is as simple as that. The Israeli Government's action cannot be looked upon in isolation. Against it must be set the whole series of acts and statements of provocation which have been made by the Egyptian Government in the past few years, including the open threat to exterminate the Israeli State. 'There can be no doubt, I think, that had that action not been checked, it would have led to fighting on, around and over the Canal and even, possibly, to an inva- sion of the Nile Delta. In those circumstances, Her Majesty's Government, with the French Government, took action to halt and localise hostilities. Had they not done so, we might now well be faced with a conflagration in the Middle East which might have led, in turn, to the out- break of a Third World War. That is a fact we must always have in our minds, and this action which was taken was, therefore, essentially preventive and of an emergency nature.

Both my right honourable friends, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, have made it quite clear that the presence of British and French troops in this area is purely temporary and that we intend to withdraw them at the earliest possible moment. It was argued here today, and in another place, and indeed elsewhere, that we should have awaited a decision of the United Nations before taking action. I think we all know, in our hearts, especially those of us who worked for many long hours and days inside the United Nations itself, that whatever action might have been taken by the Security Council would not in itself have been such as to prevent the continuation of hostilities or prevent the risk of a general war. Nor would it have safeguarded the free transit of ships through the Canal or the lives of our merchant seamen, engaged in those ships. So, my Lords, world peace, the security of the Canal and the safety of our ships and men, demanded immediate action; and that action was taken by Her Majesty's Government, and thank God that they did so!

The United Nations, as at present constituted, is not a perfect or an infallible instrument. The very existence of the Veto presupposes the possibility of situations arising in which, with the great Powers not in agreement among themselves, no action is possible, and that is the situation which would have arisen here. Thanks to Soviet intransigence the military arrangements which were to have put "teeth" into the Charter, were never carried out, and example after example could be given of cases where the Soviet Veto has been employed to prevent action. Who can doubt that had the Soviet representative been taking part in the deliberations of the Security Council in June, 1950, they would have vetoed the United Nations resolution on Korea and the military steps subsequently taken in the name of the United Nations? Who can doubt that had such a Veto been given, the United States Government at that time would have proceeded on its own to support the South Korean Government against aggression from the North? Not only that, but on that occasion President Truman himself ordered the United States forces into action, without waiting for any decision on military action to be taken by the United Nations Security Council. That action on the part of President Truman was accepted without any question by the then Labour Government of this country.

A great deal has been made by the Opposition in another place of the point that we should not have acted without the United States, but should have taken action under the Tripartite Agreement Apart from the fact that Egypt never recognised that Agreement, and would no doubt have been quite unwilling to agree to accept the presence of British, French and American forces, that very Agreement was intended to function outside of, and irrespective of, any decision by the United Nations. That declaration was drawn up when the Labour Government wore in power here, and the Labour Party are now questioning the action of Her Majesty's Government in not dissimilar circumstances. It is clear that had we acted on that declaration to-day —as was certainly suggested in the speech of the member of the official Opposition winding up last night —we should have done so outside the Security Council.

As I see it, my Lords, in this situation Britain has four aims which we are seeking to pursue. The first and foremost is to preserve peace. If, by speedy action, Britain and France have prevented the outbreak of a general conflagration, with the real danger of its turning into a Third World War, I believe that they will have earned the gratitude of mankind. Our second aim is to safeguard the security of the Canal, freedom of transit, and the safety of our ships and our men. Our third objective— paradoxically, one may say, in present circumstances—must be to demonstrate and maintain our friendship with the Egyptian people and, indeed, with the Arab peoples as a whole.

Here, I would say. it is essential to differentiate between the Egyptian people and their present Government, and particularly Colonel Nasser himself. By a whole series of actions, ranging over the past two or three years, Colonel Nasser has proved that his aim is not merely to destroy Israel but, by fomenting trouble throughout the whole Arab world, and by playing off East against West, to make himself the undisputed dictator over territory ranging from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. In spite of the outbursts in the Egyptian Press, and the clatter of a noisy minority in that country, I do not believe that these aims represent the real wishes or the views of the Egyptian people. From my knowledge of them, the mass of the Egyptian people are peace-loving and they desire only to seek to improve their present lamentable standards of living. I doubt very much whether they support Colonel Nasser even in the situation as it exists today. I am told, on good authority, that the present Egyptian régime, with its Police State. is hated by the people as a whole and that they would be only too glad to see its disappearance.

The fourth objective of Her Majesty's Government must be to preserve the existence of the Israeli State—to get the Arab nations to recognise that Israel is there to stay. I do not think that anyone, either in your Lordships' House or elsewhere, would disagree on that point. But we must face this fact—and the Israeli people and Government must face it too. I will not pursue or develop the point —that, ultimately, Israel, with its tiny population and its small territory, can exist and prosper only with the good will of its neighbours. In the long run, they must secure that good will, one way or another.

I trust that I am not being overoptimistic in expressing the hope that, once the present immediate crisis is over, steps may be taken, with the great Powers acting in harmony in the Security Council and the General Assembly, to work out a permanent settlement for the Middle East. The present situation, tragic and perilous though it may be, may prove to be the turning point in this unhappy affair, which has bedevilled the whole situation in that area for the past nine years. Ever since that, to my mind, ill-starred day. September 26, 1947 (I am not seeking to make any Party point here), when the representative of the British Government at the General Assembly stated that his Government were not prepared to undertake the task of imposing the United Nations resolution on Palestine by force, and that in the absence of a settlement the British Government must withdraw their forces, nothing but war, tension, incidents and crises have succeeded one another in the Middle East. Some of us who have lived for many years in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East may remember only too well a rather unpleasant ailment which is known as a "Nile boil". It is a complaint which, goes on and on, apparently interminably, until one day it comes to a head. Then it can be lanced and it disappears. I wonder whether, perhaps, in this tragic situation to-day, something of the same sort may not turn out to be the case in the Middle East.

I reserve until the end of my speech an issue which has caused me personally great distress and pain. That is the temporary—I underline the word "temporary"—estrangement and misunderstanding between ourselves and the United States Government. With my close affiliations with the United States, and my implicit belief in the Anglo-American Alliance as the very basis of world peace, it could hardly be otherwise. But the very fact that I have so many friends and relations over there emboldens me to speak quite frankly.

On Tuesday next, the people of the United States will elect a new President. In these culminating days of the Election campaign, this Middle East issue—with the oil interests, on the one hand, balanced against the Jewish vote, on the other—could very easily become the football of electoral manœuvres. That is why I believe that no American Government, of any Party whatever, however much they might, in fact, sympathise with the motives of the British and French Governments in taking urgent and effective action in this matter, could have associated themselves with this task or, indeed, refrained from criticising. I think we were right to recognise that and to go ahead on our own, taking our own decision. I do not for one moment accept the allegations of the Opposition —not in your Lordships' House, but made frequently in another place—that the action of Her Majesty's Government and the French Government was taken in this matter in order to secure by other means the control of the Suez Canal which has been the subject of such acute controversy in recent months. It is quite a separate issue, and it is only due to the fact that it has been so much in our minds recently that we tend to connect the two issues.

My Lords, through a set of fortuitous circumstances, quite unconnected with the Suez Canal dispute, Britain has now been given an opportunity, not of her seeking, to take a leas in events in the Middle East. I am proud that Her Majesty's Government have assumed that leadership, with all its very heavy responsibilities. I believe that, contrary to what has been stated by the Opposition in another place. and in spite of the inconveniences and hardships which it may cause them, this is the view of the vast majority of our people. I have some reason for thinking that that view is held not only in Conservative and independent circles, but also among Socialists as well. I could only wish that there could be complete unanimity of thought and action in Parliament and in the country on this subject. But as that is not so I feel hound, with al respect and modesty, to express to Her Majesty's Government my admiration that they have not allowed themselves to be in any way deflected from their purpose. It seems to me that in this way they are showing a clarity and breadth of vision, and a willingness to put national before Party advantage, for which they deserve the gratitude of us all.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I shall be commendably brief because most of die points that I wished to make have already been most admirably stated by the noble Lord, Lord Colyton. I speak fully in support of Her Majesty's Government. Like many other noble Lords during the past years, I have been a consistent and active supporter of the Atlantic Alliance and have considered it to be, with the British Commonwealth, the main bulwark in the defence of the free world. The action of Her Majesty's Government. and of the French Government therefore comes as an especial shock to all those who ardently wish to maintain the integrity of that Alliance. All of us who have friends in Canada and the United States must feel shaken by the present events. We must remember, however, that there is no provision in the United Nations Charter, or in the North Atlantic Treaty, which precludes the kind of police action which the British and French Governments have now taken to separate the two protagonists in this conflict and to protect the Canal. If I may be allowed a simple analogy, if two policemen, one English, perhaps, and one French, were standing at a street corner, and observed two men fighting in a lifeand-death struggle farther down the street, should these policemen stand idly by and refer the matter back to their headquarters to get police to come from miles away before taking action to separate them?

However strongly we may wish to maintain the integrity of the Atlantic Alliance—and that is of paramount importance—in this case I do not see how else Her Majesty's Government and the French Government could have acted. They are acting. in fact, on behalf of all the nations of the free world which use the Suez Canal, even if it has not yet been practicable to obtain the approval of all these countries. There is certainly an analogy here, so well expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, between the remarkable action that President Truman took at the outbreak of the Korean war. Someone must take the lead, as President Truman did then. Now it is Britain and France who have done so. It is indeed good to know that we have resumed our leadership in the world. Here are France and Britain standing together, in the spirit of the Franco-British Alliance.

Having visited the Middle East four times this year, I should also like to say one word about the reactions there to present events. I cannot believe that this Anglo-French action will alienate our true friends in the Middle Eastern countries. Our enemies there, of course, will become even more vituperative, but they will abuse us whatever we do. There is not much to lose in that sector. On the other hand, our friends will be greatly reassured that we are not abdicating our rights and influence in that part of the world. Therefore, as a strong supporter of the Atlantic Alliance, and with a number of friends in the Arab world, I none the less support the action taken.

There is little more I would wish to say, except that I hope that the United States, Canada and our other friends and Allies throughout the world may be brought to see our point of view; and that if, as I believe, the operations undertaken are successful, the policies of Her Majesty's Government will be fully vindicated. The Opposition's contention that this matter should be left entirely to the Security Council of the United Nations or to the Assembly is utterly futile. Everyone knows that no solution satisfactory to any party could be achieved by that means. It seems to me, however, that, in addition to active and continuous consultation with the Commonwealth, there may soon be an advantage to be gained by Britain and France explaining fully their point of view in a closed meeting of one of the regular meetings of the North Atlantic Council in Paris. I believe that full discussion within the cadre of the Western Alliance will be necessary.

In any case, in this present crisis, we must bend all our efforts to re-achieving unity within the Atlantic Alliance. The achievement of the maximum possible amount of political unity within it is indispensable. The Alliance must not be allowed to crack up on the airfields of Egypt. The future of that Alliance is an even wider issue than that of the Suez Canal, and all our efforts must now go to filling in the dangerous cleavages which. we must admit, have appeared in it. There has been exasperation on all sides. Let us now, with cool heads, carefully and earnestly explain to our Allies why we have acted as we have done, and not allow the folly of the Opposition's attack in another place to move us from our line of action. I am glad to see that already this morning some responsible opinion in the United States—I understand Mr. Adlai Stevenson himself—advises that the British and French action in this matter should not be judged too hastily. This is most reassuring, as is also Mr. Menzies' statement. Let us therefore carry on and implement our plans. Wise men will ultimately come to see the long-term wisdom of our action.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, the Motion we are debating was moved by my noble friend Lord Henderson and supported by my noble friend Lord Silkin in terms of characteristic moderation and fair-mindedness—in fact tribute has been paid to this from the other side of the House. But I feel that the Motion is worded in vague terms and is not directed to any specific point. It seems to me to be a Motion of that type which we so frequently debate, a Motion which is put down in order to provoke a debate, usually of a most useful character, and then, in the end, is withdrawn. I feel that this is a Motion of that kind, one which will go far to clear the mind of the Government on several of the points which have been spoken about. If it were pressed to a Division, I do not see that any useful purpose would be served by dividing on it— in fact. I feel that a Division might prove something of an anti-climax, from our point of view. For that reason, I should not take part in a Division, though the fact that I abstain must certainly not he taken to imply that I approve of the policy of the Government which has led up to the distressing situation with which we find ourselves confronted to-day. In fact I may have wearied your Lordships at times in making it perfectly clear how strongly I disapproved of those policies. Like everybody else, I am saddened and distressed by the hazardous situation, and I earnestly long that, even at this time, some honourable solution may be found for an honourable way out of the situation with which we are confronted.

There are only three matters to which I wish to refer, and I shall be brief, because I realise that there are a number of other speakers to come. First, I should like to support as strongly as I can the forceful and important remarks mace by my noble friend Lord Ogmore on the fact that the Commonwealth was not consulted about the policy decision which Her Majesty's Government have taken. I cannot accept the excuse put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Home, that there was not time to consult the Leaders of the Commonwealth. Here we are, landed in a situation which, quite conceivably, may spread into a disastrous war, in which the Commonwealth will be involved, and we are told that there was not time to consult the Commonwealth Leaders.

What was the urgency? What was the nature of the information which led the Government to believe that the danger of an attack upon our shipping in the Suez Canal was so urgent and pressing that there 'was not time to take another twenty-four hours in order to consult the Leaders of the Commonwealth? Was it perhaps that they were rather apprehensive as to the replies that they might receive from some of the members of the Commonwealth? We gave Israel and Egypt l2 hours, expiring at half-past four in the morning, to make up their minds and to give us an answer about this ultimatum—for it was an ultimatum that we were putting before them—yet we could not find time, it is said, to consult the Commonwealth Leaders to find out what they thought about it. To my mind, that is one of the most inexcusable things that Her Majesty's Government have done in dealing with this situation.

The second thing I want to say is about something that has already been referred to in the debate. I see that a correspondent in the Daily Telegraph, in a despatch from Amman, says this: Arabs here are convinced that the Israeli thrust on Egypt was inspired by Britain and France as a ruse to recover control of the Canal under the pretext of landing forces to intervene between the belligerents. That story has already been repudiated from both sides of your Lordships' House this afternoon. It is a shocking thing to suggest. My differences with the Government are wide and deep upon an immense variety of subjects, bat I should never suspect this or any other British Government of soiling their hands with such a plot and an intrigue as that. I mention it because I deeply deplore that in speeches in another place colour has been given to that rumour, and given, I regret to say, even by ex-Ministers. I think that is most deplorable.

The other thing I want to mention has reference to America. it arises from another passage that I see in the Daily Telegraph this morning, of remarks attributed to the President of the United States. He is reported to have said: In all the recent troubles in the Middle East there have indeed been injustices suffered by all nations involved. But I do not believe that another instrument of injustice, war, is the remedy for these wrongs. I think it would help if the President of the United States were to tell us what he thinks is the remedy. My noble friend Lord Henderson, in his speech, said that this situation in Egypt had been boiling up for eight years. During those eight years every attempt has been made to solve it by peaceful and reasonable schemes, and America has contributed her efforts in that respect. But all these efforts have totally failed. I think that after these eight years it is a little late for the President to come forward and say: "But, you know, we have to find a remedy for all this". He has not been President of the United States for eight years; nevertheless, I think my criticism holds that it is rather late in the day to talk about finding a remedy when after eight years of trying to find it we have totally failed to do so. I think we must make some allowance for the President. who is confronted with an election. He won his first election largely, if not mainly, on the cry. "Bring the boys home from Korea": and he may well feel that it would not be appropriate to fight this election on the cry of "Send the boys to Egypt". As I say, I think it is only fair to make allowance for that.

The other matter to which I want to refer, speaking about America, is this. I feel that, with all his many virtues, the Secretary of State, Mr. Dillies, must be a most difficult man for our Prime Minister and our Foreign Secretary to deal with. I follow American news very closely, and I have over a long period found that the two great difficulties where Mr. Dulles is concerned are: first. that it is often difficult to understand what he means; and secondly, that in the long run, it frequently turns out that he did not mean what he said. And it is not I alone who make these criticisms, because I can assure your Lordships that they are widespread in the United States in the most reputable newspapers and by men of great standing indeed. They. his own countrymen. find these two difficulties in dealing with Mr. Dulles, so I have considerable sympathy with our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary when they have to deal with him in such involved, complicated and tortuous matters as these affairs of the Middle East have been.

I have only one last point to make, and it has reference to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. He concluded his speech by saying to my noble friends who had spoken from this side: "What would you do?" I always think that that is rather a cheap remark, which bears some relation to the old question: "Have you stopped beating your wife?" I have no doubt that Conservative speakers, when in Opposition, have had it addressed to them by members of the Government, but that does not do away with the fact that I regard it as not a very worthy remark. After all, if you consider such a situation as that with which we are confronted to-day, you will find that it has been led up to over months and months by a series of actions and a series of decisions taken by the Government, about each of which, I feel sure, the Opposition have proffered their advice, none of which advice has ever been taken. In addition, the Government act upon information which is not available to the Opposition. So when you address to the Opposition the question: "What would you do?" you are asking them what they would do although they have not been consulted and their advice has not been taken about a whole series of actions, and when they are not in possession of the information which Her Majesty's Government have had to act upon.

To my mind, a quite fair retort to that question of, "What would you do?". is the old answer: "I will prescribe when I am called in." But what has happened on more than one occasion—although doctors, I know, would not admit it—is that a second opinion has been called for when the doctors who previously had charge of the case have let the patient get into such a condition that no doctor living could save him. I think that is the answer to the question of the noble Earl, Lord De La War. We will prescribe if and when we are called in, but we may find it the case that the patient has been so mishandled that not even another Government will he able to rescue the situation.

3.51 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to support the action which Her Majesty's Government have taken, I shall detain your Lordships for only a few moments. I shall hope to define the terms under which such action has been taken. and I shall hope to show that not only was that action justified but, indeed, it was an obligation. Three reasons have been advanced for taking action: first, the protection of British lives; secondly, the protection of the Canal; and, thirdly. and perhaps more obliquely, action under the Tripartite Declaration of 1950. I see no profit in assuming in our mind which of those three reasons took precedence in the mind of Her Majesty's Government. Indeed, to argue out the precedence of one reason over another is perhaps to lead to confusion.

My view is that collectively they present an overwhelming case for action to be taken. Take the first point, the protection of British lives. There is a precedent for that, and experience has shown that if action is not taken then, indeed, grave risk occurs. As to the second point, the protection of the Suez Canal itself. I would clam that those who have opposed this action ignore entirely the time factor. Thirty years ago, when it took three or four days for an army to travel the Sinai Peninsula from the borders of Palestine up to the Canal. and when such movement would have been preceded by a mobilisation which would have been under public scrutiny, one might in those circumstances have argued that to refer it to the Security Council and have a discussion would represent sonic reality. But to-day, when a modern army can, within twenty-four hours, move from the border of Israel to the Suez Canal, and when Egyptian forces are on the Canal already as an invitation to create a situation of war on and around the Canal, then, indeed, to think that resolutions passed thousands of miles away in the Security Council are going to be effective in protecting the Canal is. I suggest, to think in terms of a fool's paradise. Only immediate intervention on the Canal itself can, as I see it, prevent the Canal from being surrounded in a war situation and prevent ships from being sunk, and can uphold the terms of the 1888 Convention.

As to the third point, the execution of the 1950 Tripartite Declaration, it is true that Egypt never recognised that Declaration, and I presume that that is the reason why no specific reference was made to the Tripartite Declaration in the Prime Minister's speech on October 30. But we were told that President Eisenhower called for a tripartite discussion in Washington on October 28 when it was first known that Israel was mobilising, and that during October 28 and 29 the Israelis crossed the frontier. Immediate action therefore became imperative, with or without United States acceptance, if the situation was to be brought under control. May I remind your Lordships of the kind of language which the Prime Minister used? On, I think, more than one occasion he speaks of "separating, the belligerents", and Sir Pierson Dixon, before the Security Council, was more emphatic when he said: The United Kingdom was well informed and it had adjudged that the danger of a major clash between Israel and its neighbours was greater than at any time since the signing of the Armistice Agreement. There, surely, is just such a situation as the Tripartite Guarantee was framed to cover.

May I remind your Lordships of the wording of that Guarantee? It says: The three Governments, should they find that any or these States "— that is, Israel or the Arab States— was preparing to violate frontiers or armistice lines, would, consistently with their obligations as members of the United Nations, immediately lake action both within and outside the United Nations to prevent such violation. Now I suggest that if ever those conditions for action have existed, they could not have been more apparent and obvious than was the case three days ago.

The circumstances in which we were asked to take action under the Tripartite Guarantee I have always been shrouded in some mystery. There has always been doubt arid difficulty as to how to know who would be the aggressor; how we would sort Out the situation; how we were to define an aggressor, and so on. Here was the one occasion when, if ever this Guarantee applied, its application could be regarded as valid. It is therefore in amazement that one notes that one signatory to the Guarantee, the United States, has adopted this attitude of opposition. I ask those who oppose action to be regarded as falling within the Guarantee to answer this question: if the circumstances for action under the Tripartite Guarantee did not exist on October 30. will they define when such circumstances do exist and, indeed, will they say what constitutes those circumstances? If the circumstances do not exist now, then that Guarantee was a farce, always was a farce, and should never have been signed. The Guarantee, always contemplated the use of force and action to be taken. Therefore, if that action under the Guarantee is contrary to the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations, those who regard it in this light should have said so a long time ago.

We have found some curious combinations against us in these last few days. Both President Eisenhower and The Yugoslav resolution at the Security Council have specifically spoken of action taken against Egypt, and the familiar Article 2 (4) of the Charter is quoted: All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State. I suggest that to regard this action as action against Egypt is a complete misrepresentation. We have emphasised that action is temporary. There is no challenge to Egypt's territorial integrity or her political independence. I would ask our American friends to recall the words of an American, and judge this matter in its perspective. Walter Page, writing to President Wilson many years ago, said: I once heard you say it took twenty years to recover from your legal training—from the habit of mind that is bent on making a case rather than on seeing the large facts of a situation in their proportion. I suggest that it is in failing to see those facts in their proportion that we should equally fail in our obligations to international justice and permanent peace.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, I intend. as usual, to be quite short, but there are certain questions that have arisen out of this debate on which I should like to give your Lordships a different point of view. The question of time urgency has been raised on various occasions. I want your Lordships to consider this. Supposing we had done nothing. I wonder what the position might have been, even to-day, after a very few days. It must be remembered that there were about £50 million worth of ships in the Canal, with. I suppose, a few thousand people, and there is no doubt in my mind that, as things were progressing in that area, there would have been a battle royal going on between the Israelis and the Egyptians across the Canal. In my view it is a most dreadful thing to think that here we are, again faced with the necessity of saving the world from a major disaster. We have saved the world against aggressors on three occasions. First, we had to deal with the Kaiser, in what is described as the First World War; then we had to deal with Hitler, and now we have a very much smaller, but still very dangerous person, Nasser.

I should like to mention one point that is continually cropping up—the most reverend Primate mentioned it—that the Colonies and the Dominions are not supporting us. It is now quite clear that Australia is: Mr. Menzies has made a forcible statement in that direction. I have no doubt that our own people in other parts of the world and Empire will. on consideration, take the same line, or more or less the same line, as Mr. Menzies takes. Noble Lords on the other side of the House, Members of the Opposition in another place, and some people throughout the country have been shouting at us in the last few years. "Oh, yes: there you are again, being dragged by the nose by the United States." Surely to goodness on this occasion that cannot be held against us! We have acted quite properly on our own for something we consider to be right and the only thing to do in the circumstances.

Let me take India. What right has India to talk, remembering the terrible situation in Kashmir and the way they have behaved in that area? Nearly everybody, certainly on the Opposition side of the House. and the most reverend Primate, has said. "I am bound to say that I do not know what I should do self." That is not very helpful. I remember that on many occasions in the Press and here, I asked a similar question with regard to Munich. I asked the critics of what took place at Munich what they would have done if they had been in the same position. But I have never yet had an answer.


What you did.


Does the noble Lord wish to interrupt? It is curious how the opinions of some people changed. The Opposition, of course, as we know, were very critical of us on this side of the House because we did not support Israel. Now they, or some of them at least, from what I have heard, seem to be suggesting that we should do something to help Nasser. Certainly, Mr. Gaitskell began well, but in the latter stage of his political oration on this subject he appears to have forgotten completely our country's interests and, indeed, the world's interests. If only this House to-day could speak with one voice! I am just imagining Nasser, reading the debate in the other place yesterday and that in this House to-day, being rather cheered by certain things that have been said in both Houses. Could we not, somehow or other, to-day—I believe we are going to divide on this dreadful subject—bury the hatchet, and look at this question with a total disregard of Party politics? Because I am afraid that this is developing into a Party political question.

Then there has been some criticism of the fact that we did not again go to the Security Council or the United Nations, particularly in regard to Israel. For dealing with the question of Israel's ships being banned going through the Canal they were quite hopeless. The Security Council could take no action and were no good at all. What was the good, at a critical moment like this. of our trying to get them to do something that would influence Nasser? Israel has complied with our request. There was something that I have in mind to mention in your Lordships' House which has never been denied: that there is an appalling concentration camp in Egypt run by Nasser in the same way as Hitler ran such camps in Germany. That is the type of man we are up against. For goodness' sake, let us "wash out" expecting anything decent, expecting any fair dealing from a man of that description. We have an enormous responsibility, not only to our own people but to the world, to work as hard as ever we can for straight dealing and conformity with the law and order of International Law.

I wish the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, were here for a moment as I want to refer to something that he said. I was distressed that what I may term my erstwhile colleagues should be going, apparently, to vote against the Government. That is what I gathered from the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. I hope that the only noble Lord on those Benches will go out, find the noble Viscount and try to persuade him to vote with a heart which is strongly in favour of straight dealing and is always tackling the wicked man when he is against the interests of our country and the interests of the world. I most heartily support the Government in the action that they have taken.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, as I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, talking about the Tripartite Declaration, I could not help wondering why his criticism was not directed against the Government rather than against us, because we are most anxious that the Government should reaffirm its adherence to the obligations undertaken in the Tripartite Declaration and that it should consult its partners about the action that might be undertaken. The Government refused to do this. The Government have by-passed the Tripartite Declaration just as completely as they have by-passed the Charter of the United Nations.

I speak this afternoon with a greater sense of sadness and anxiety than I have ever felt before in addressing your Lordships—and I have addressed your Lordships more often than I, and I daresay sonic Members of your Lordships' House, would care to remember. Whatever may be said in criticism of the Government—and a great deal has been said and will be said—and whatever the Government may now do, if it does anything, to alter its course, I believe that the use of force against Egypt has already done irreparable harm to our influence and prestige in the outside world. It has also, I fear, lessened the prospect of maintaining international peace by respect for treaty obligations. The extent of this damage will become apparent only in the course of time. I think, further, that any unbiased person—by "unbiased person" I mean any person who is not completely blinded by Party loyalty—who considers the likely consequences of the Government's action in Egypt, cannot fail to be appalled by the risks that they are taking and by the dangers to which the country will be exposed. Even the Government's strongest supporters, if they consider the prospect in a dispassionate fashion, must feel some anxiety about the future.

Of course, it is difficult at this stage of the debate not to repeat what has already been said, and my noble friends have made it perfectly clear why we differ from the Government on this vital issue. But as I have just returned from a visit to a part of North Africa where war between the Arabs and Europeans has been going on for the last two years. I should like, if I may—because this has not been said as yet this afternoon—to, say something about the attitude of the French to Egypt, and to draw some tentative, but possibly profitable, conclusions from their experience. I think there is no doubt at all that Egypt has been supplying the insurgents in Algeria with a great deal of army and other military equipment. We saw in Algiers Harbour one of the ships that was used to convey this equipment, and other ships have passed and have not been intercepted by the French Navy. This material support has, of course, been aggravated by the incitement to violence and moral encouragement broadcast from Cairo to the Moslem population of Algeria, and this has added tremendously to the difficulties of the French Administration in restoring order.

Whatever our views may be about French policy, I think that this continuous provocation and interference in French domestic affairs has certainly given France a far better reason than any we can put forward for desiring the downfall of the Nasser Government. I think the experience of France in Algeria shows the enormous military and financial effort required to keep order in a large country where most of the Arab population is hostile or indifferent to the Administration. At the moment the bulk of the French Army, 400,000 men is being pinned down by about 15,000 guerillas at a cost of something like £1 million a day. Is there not a serious risk that we may find ourselves in a somewhat similar position in relation to Egypt? I ask the Government this question—I do not know whether they can reply, or whether they have made their plans and, if so, whether they can divulge them—what do we do if Colonel Nasser does not capitulate, but continues, after we have occupied the key positions in the Canal Zone. to harass our forces—in other words, if he indulges in the familiar technique of guerrilla warfare? Is it not possible that we also may be involved in a long-drawn-out guerrilla war, and have to police Egypt to prevent acts of violence and sabotage against our troops and our property and installations? I wonder whether the Government have counted the cost to this country, in men and money, of controlling another country when everyone's hand would be against us.

Moreover, we should not be dealing with Egypt alone. I know it is untrue—and I need not labour this point—that there has been collusion. But the impression we have given the Arab world of helping Israel will place even our best friends on the side of Egypt. Their support for Egypt, whatever form it may take, may spread the war or interrupt our oil supplies, and, in that event, increase enormously both the military and economic difficulties with which we should be faced. This is one matter to which perhaps the Government might direct its mind and about which they might give the House some information at the end of the debate.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl for a moment before he leaves that topic? Would he say whether or not he is appalled at what might happen if Nasser is let alone and is allowed to continue these things that he has spoken of—the stopping of Israeli ships, the interference with the French and the seizure of the Canal? Is not the noble Earl appalled at what an example that may set to other people of the same complexion?


The noble Lord will appreciate that I was dealing with what in my view we should not do. But I do not want to be negative, and I certainly propose to say what we should do and what we could have done, although I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Winster, that it is impossible for the Opposition to do that in more than broad outline. Like so many other speakers. I am particularly saddened—I feel this rather especially acutely because my noble friend Lord Ogmore and I have been connected for many years with different Departments concerned with the Commonwealth—at the rift that our action has caused between us and our fellow members of the Commonwealth. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Winster, that it was extremely regrettable that we were unable to inform and, indeed, to consult with our Commonwealth partners before the decision about the ultimatum was taken. I think that the few hours that would have been necessary for an exchange of telegrams on a Prime Minister to Prime Minister level—which is the way these things are dealt with—would have meant only a very slight delay, and might well have given us Commonwealth co-operation.

I regard this machinery of intergovernmental consultation as, in these days, the lifeblood of the Commonwealth. We are undermining the very existence of the Commonwealth by ignoring this machinery in the formulation of decisions that obviously vitally affect every other Commonwealth country. if the Government really believe in their case, as I am sure they do, they should have tried their best to get the support of the other Commonwealth countries. As it is, we appear to have failed to secure the approval of any country other than Australia. I cannot recall any previous occasion when a policy of this importance has failed to find more than one voice in the Commonwealth to support it. I must say I was astonished to find that even in little New Zealand, where feelings for the "Old Country" are so warm, and which hitherto has always taken our lead, the Prime Minister has expressed regret at our action in Egypt.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, but he should understand that we have kept the Commonwealth fully informed right up to the last second. The only thing we could not do was consult, because time simply did not allow it; but they were certainly informed of the situation. We could not consult on the last emergency because there was not time. When the noble Lord says that the Prime Minister of New Zealand has said that he regrets that there is a difference of opinion between the United Kingdom and the United States, so do we. I have said so to-day. The New Zealand Press arc strongly in support of the United Kingdom attitude.


My Lords, the noble Earl said "the last second"; surely a second is rather a short time.


My Lords. I do not think the noble Lord quite understood me.


My Lords, I must still emphasise that I deeply regret it, and I believe in all our history it is the only time that we have not been able to consult the Commonwealth before going to war. What I regret more than anything else, in the long run, is the setback to the United Nations, because the best safeguard for peace, in the long term, is the acceptance by all countries of international obligations which prevent them from using armed force to further their national interests. Such obligations were accepted by the signatories to the Kellogg Pact, the Covenant of the League of Nations and, of course, the Charter of the United Nations. Disregard of these obligations by the Great Powers has led to one war after another in the last thirty years. Before the last world war it was Japan, Italy and Germany who violated the Covenant of the League when they attacked other countries and overthrew their Governments. Their successful aggression discredited the League of Nations: it could neither prevent nor stop aggression by a powerful nation. Now we are doing the same thing, certainly in the eyes of the outside world. By attacking Egypt in violation of the Charter of the United Nations, we are taking the first step in discrediting the United Nations, which stood up so splendidly in Korea. What security is there for any small country in the world if great Powers take the law into their own hands?

We shall oppose the policy of Her Majesty's Government, as my noble friend and leader Lord Silkin has said, by every constitutional means at our disposal. We believe that most of our fellow countrymen, when they know the facts, will disapprove of what has been done in their name. We also believe that we are speaking for all people, in the Commonwealth and outside, who condemn aggression. I am sure that that is the attitude of the ordinary man and woman who respect the example we have set, in times past, in our international conduct.

One further thing: I hope that Her Majesty's Government will take very seriously the plea made by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop for the withdrawal of the invading forces to their own territories. That, surely, is the first step in putting an end to one war and stopping another. I understand that Her Majesty's Government have two objectives—to stop:he war and to protect British lives and property—but that to stop the war is their main object. If that is so, surely this is the obvious and simple step to take. I am sure it will have general approval from my noble friends. I must not presume to speak for noble Lords on the Liberal Benches. I feel fairly certain, however, that such a step would have the approval of both Opposition Parties, and I hope it would appeal to reasonable men in any Party as the simple and straightforward way of putting an immediate end to hostilities in the Middle East. The next step. clearly, is to work out between the Great Powers a permanent settlement in the Middle East. But the necessity at this moment is to stop the war, and I commend the suggestion of the most reverend Primate, if I may venture to do so, as the most constructive proposal put forward for that purpose in the course of this debate.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, my words will be brief. When I indicated that I wished to address your Lordships I did not know—none of us knew—what we have since learned, partly from the announcement of the Foreign Secretary last night, partly from what my noble friend Lord Home has said to-day, and partly from other sources. about the actual engagement of British Air Forces on military targets in Egypt. In the present circumstances, I shall not make the speech I should otherwise have made. I shall limit myself to a few remarks that bear upon the choices of policy which are now open to us or which may be likely to be open to us in the near future. I shall say nothing in criticism or appraisal of what Her Majesty's Government have already done, and I hope that I shall say nothing which, even if millions of others said it. would in any way reduce the chances which Her Majesty's Government may have of attaining their stated objectives.

My first preliminary remark is that I am not among those who think that the signatories of the United Nations Charter can never use force except when specifically enjoined by the United Nations so to do. The Charter itself contemplates action in emergency, without, or before, reference to the Security Council. Moreover, as I argued in another context in September. my own view (which I do not think has been seriously disputed by any legal authorities) is that if the United Nations fail to arrive at a valid decision, through for example. the interposition of the Veto, then signatory members are free to act as they would have been had the Charter not existed. I am not going to argue tonight whether I believe those conditions are satisfied in the present case. Perhaps the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will deal later with that point.

But, of course, within the area of what is legally permissible there remains the question of what is politically desirable and morally right. Here again, I am saying nothing about the past; I am going to speak only about the future. I wish to express the earnest hope that Her Majesty's Government will take every possible step and seize every possible opportunity to repair the damage that has been done, and to reduce the strain upon our unity within our own country, and the Commonwealth. I am not now discussing who is to blame for the fact that damage has occurred. Her Majesty's Government should, I urge, strive to restore the solidarity of the Commonwealth. the continuance and full effectiveness of our Alliance with the United States as a principal partner, and to repair damage to our relations with past and potential friends among the Arab countries and to our relations with the vast part of the world at present uncommitted on the principal political issue of the post-war world.

In relation to that objective, I want to make two suggestions. One is that we should, without any question of hurt pride or other such feelings, welcome any opportunity that may occur for utilising the good offices of our friends who are not parties to the present action—the United States, for example—in helping to resolve this present situation. Incidentally, may I say that I thought the reference to the United States by my noble friend Lord Colyton was not very well-timed. In the week before the great Presidential Election, President Eisenhower has, I think (as I believe all who have heard or read what he has just said will recognise) spoken and acted with great political courage and spoken to us as a sincere, if candid, friend. I trust that if there should be an opportunity for the utilisation in this situation of the good offices of such friends as America it will be at once welcomed and used.

The other suggestion I want to make is that the Government should define more clearly and closely what was meant when the Prime Minister said that this intervention was "temporary." Here. I heartily welcome what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said a little earlier. We went in, on this occasion, not for the purpose of dealing with the long-term problem of the management of the Canal: we went in because actual hostilities between Israel and Egypt were threatening the Canal, our ships on the Canal and British lives; and also, apart from our own special national interests, to do our best to stop hostilities. Those were our stated purposes. I hope that they were our only purposes. I am encouraged to think, from some words that my noble friend Lord Home used a little earlier to-day, that the Government may be able to say a little more than they have yet done in defining what our purpose is, what is the limit of our purpose, and the condition upon which our temporary intervention will cease. Of course, a precise date cannot be given. But what are ale events on the occurrence of which our action may stop and the processes which were previously in operation. of negotiation combined with economic pressure, may be again left to deal with the long-term problem of the management of the Canal? If a clear answer could be given to this question. —and perhaps the Lord Chancellor may be able to say something later this evening—it would make a great difference, I think, to the impact of our action and our policy upon all parts of the world, on our partners in the Commonwealth, on our partners in the Alliance, on Arab countries and on the uncommitted world. I appeal, therefore, to the Government if it is possible to say more than they have done so far on the definition of "temporary," as they have used the word in this context.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, I cannot help feeling that a spectator to this debate may have come to the conclusion that it is Colonel Nasser who has mounted a massive invasion into the territory of Israel and whom we are condemning as the aggressor and the invader, rather than the other way about. From the tone of Lord Home's speech, and others, one cannot help asking oneself what is the object behind our action. Is it to displace Colonel Nasser from his position in Egypt, or is it genuinely to safeguard our shipping through the Canal? Because Egypt has not been stopping our ships through the Canal. The flow of traffic has continued since nationalisation in a remarkable way, in spite of all the warnings from the Canal Company that it would not be possible.


Not from the Company, I think. I think the Company were very careful. were they not?


I thought from quarters, circles, close to the Company. We had every hope that the six-point agreement on principle which had been reached by the United Nations was going to produce an acceptable compromise.

What has brought about this situation is this massive Israeli mobilisation and invasion. I am sure that there are rights and wrongs on both sides, but surely Israel, when it refused recently to co-operate with the United Nations Joint Commission in the investigation of these border incidents, put herself somewhat in the wrong. Our experience is that the person who will riot co-operate with the umpire has probably not too good a case on the merits. It seems clear from what has been said by prominent Israelis that they have seized this present international situation, the American Presidential Election and other things, to bring matters to a climax; and they have given substance to the fear which all the Arabs have had that Israel now has a population that cannot be supported within its limited area. It keeps going at the moment through great and generous gifts from the United States and from German reparations; but eventually those gifts may end, and then Israel will be driven by population pressure to go outside its present boundaries to seize more land to support its population. That has been the genuine, sincere fear of all the neighbouring Arab countries: that Israel, because of its population problem, was going to seize land and not retire. If we were thinking solely about the Canal, would it not have been right to put pressure on Israel to retire within her own borders? I am sure that if we had let it be known that there might be a naval demonstration off the coast of Israel, and possibly a blockade, they would have gone back very quickly, and then no danger to the Canal would have arisen at all.

I think we can also criticise the form of this ultimatum. Did we really expect that it was an ultimatum which Egypt could accept, either in its timing or its contents? If, when we were fighting the German invasion in the Western Desert, at the critical moment, the Egyptian Government had said, "There is a danger of this war hurting our citizens and our communications; the British Army must evacuate a zone twenty miles on each side of, say, the Alexandria-Cairo road." should we conceivably have been able to accept it? If, as the noble Earl, Lord Home, said in answer to my question, it might have meant Egyptian troops remaining to the East, would they be left there fighting without support if this invasion continued, or would convoys have been allowed to cross the demilitarised zone? One could not help feeling that it was a badly-phrased ultimatum to secure the objectives which were proposed.

We may accept—I am sure we all do—what the Government have said, that there is no question of collusion between Israel and ourselves. The trouble is going to be that the Arab States will not believe that and what many intelligent Jews are worrying about is that this situation will make the Arab States feel that Israel is a Western strategic pawn which we can move if it suits us in connection with other disputes. This is entirely wrong, no doubt, but that is thee grave danger, and one which may produce harm to Israel itself in settling down eventually, as we all hope it can and must, as a member of the Middle East community. I think that going in with the French at this moment is not likely to produce the effect for which we might wish in the Arab world. We might perhaps note what happened shortly after the French seized those five rebel leaders. Those who think that the Arabs understand only force might look at what happened in Morocco, where the French used overwhelming force, and yet. because of the pressure of guerrilla warfare and the economic strain and world opinion, they had eventually to evacuate.

In my view, it is a great tragedy that we are separated from America in this matter. As one who is descended from Americans on both sides, perhaps I can say certain things to America and tell them that they should consider more the British point of view as to American diplomacy in the Middle East during the last few years. American diplomacy there has not shown the co-operation and good will which it has shown in other parts of the world. We have had an American Ambassador in Cairo who was more or less anti-British. working to diminish British influence. We have seen the way in which the American oil companies took advantage of our trouble in Persia to get a bigger share than they would otherwise have had. Americans should remember that no-one is cleverer than the Arab at playing the far foreigner off against the near one. We saw that in Syria in the war. We saw how extremely smart they were in playing the British off against the French, and how they seriously convinced the French that the British wanted to take over the Lebanon. I used to say to my French friends: "My dear chaps, look! Here we are giving up an empire of 350 million people in India. What on earth should we want the Lebanon for?" So astute can the Arab mind be in playing off one against another that there was this ridiculous suspicion between two countries in the Middle East.

Americans should beware. The leaders of the great oil companies are very correct, but one finds that the junior ranks of Americans allow themselves to fall very easily for this type of disruptive propaganda put out by Arabs who want to play off one against another. I hope that America will look at the beam in her own eye in the Middle East before she comes out too strongly in attacking us. I think it is a tragedy that these things should have happened now because they have diverted attention from Eastern Europe. where the Russian position has been beginning to crumble in a remarkable way and where world opinion was having its effect. This action has had the extraordinary effect of bringing America and Russia together against Great Britain. It sounds hard to believe that the case is really as had as that.

But whatever criticisms we may make of the British Government's action, they have taken it. What is the right policy for the future? It seems to me that the British Government must formulate immediately the terms they are trying to enforce. the lines of Middle Eastern negotiation and settlement. It will be no use either Jews or Arabs saying: "We are not going to give an inch of ground, or give up anything at all." It has got to be a question of give-and-take. Our only hope of getting world opinion back on our side is to produce an outline of terms of settlement so that people of reasonable and neutral opinion will see that there is something to be said for the action we have taken. I hope that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor. when he replies to the debate, will give the House some idea of the lines on which the minds of Her Majesty's Government are working with regard to an ultimate Middle Eastern settlement. I am afraid that most of us—certainly it is the case with myself and my friends—are extremely worried about what has happened in the past. We hope and believe, however, that good will now come out of this if something really constructive is put forward.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I intend to make only a short intervention in this important debate, but as I support the action of Her Majesty's Government, I thought it my duty to rise in my place and say so. I have listened not to the whole debate but to several speeches. and it has struck me that there has been an atmosphere of unreality about some of them. War broke out on October 29 in the Middle East and the causes and the back history are extremely complex. In my evaluation of the situation it is clear that whatever the tactical outcome of the struggle of the Israeli forces and those of Egypt, in the long run and in the shorter run (I think in the shorter), the whole of the nations in the Middle East will become involved. Since Russia and her satellites have supported the Arab cause, in my view, considering the forces available and the manpower, it is only a matter of time before we see Israel struggling for her very existence against a combination of the Arab Powers.

I have never been a Zionist. I have no particular partiality for those who profess the Mohammedan faith or for those who are adherents of the Jewish religion, but I do say that both the United States and Great Britain. rightly or wrongly. have created the State of Israel. Could they therefore stand back and watch that creation destroyed? I think not. Arc we then to wait until there is an alignment of great Powers on either side, inevitably leading to humiliation or to a third world war? That. I believe, is the situation as it is to-day. It is idle to try to assess who is immediately responsible for the present situation. When Colonel Nasser seized the Suez Canal—as is acknowledged by all Parties, quite illegally —the Leader of the Opposition in another place, in a speech delivered, I think, on August 2, said that if Colonel Nasser got away with this. his next target would be Israel. That was widely read. I expect it was read and pondered in Jerusalem Does it lie in the mouths of Her Majesty's Opposition, when a warning of that character has been given, to say to the Israeli Government: "You must wait. until you have been attacked"?

Israel is a little country with very small room to manœuvre on her borders. She has a population of perhaps 1,500,000 and she is surrounded by 30 million hostile Arabs. I submit that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, no Party in this country has the right to say to "You must wait until you have been attacked". You may say, of course, that Israel should have relied on the United Nations. A great deal has been said about our duty to observe the Charter. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in his speech gave us some very interesting information about Egyptian intrigues in Algeria. I have already referred to the Egyptian seizure of the Suez Canal.

All these are examples of international lawlessness. Are the United Nations to be used, to be manipulated, by small Powers, to gain their objects, and is lawlessness not to be visited by retribution or those confusions remedied? Nothing has more degraded the currency of international affairs in recent times than the fact that Colonel Nasser was able to seize the Canal illegally and so far no remedy for the seizure has been offered. It is not a question of preserving the prestige of the United Nations because, alas! I fear that a great deal of its prestige is already lost. Surely our duty is to look at the underlying situation, which is that if no Power intervenes in the Middle East, the course is set for a general conflagration and a third world war.

When the Charter of the United Nations was drawn up, did any of the nations then contemplate that its terms laying down international relations would become the plaything of American internal politics? if that is the case, then nobody cart doubt that nothing has given Colonel Nasser more encouragement than the Republican Party's slogan, "Peace with prosperity". Colonel Nasser was a shrewd judge and took his opportunity. Therefore l say that, whether or not the general opinion of other nations is with us—and I cannot follow the most reverend Primate's argument that that, so to speak, is an equation with Christianity—


My Lords, I never said any such thing. I said that any wise people, judging themselves, would take account of what their friends and other people thought of them. That is just a piece of common sense. not Christianity.


My Lords, I do not want to misinterpret the most reverend Primate, but he started off by saying that he was evaluating the situation from a Christian point of view.


Your Lordships will remember that I came to a point when I said that what the Christian conscience must seize upon was our relation to the United Nations Charter and how we stand with regard to that. That was the point which I specially said the Christian must consider. There are several answers to that, but at least I put forward one.


My Lords, the impression that the most reverend Primate gave is that world opinion is in some way connected with Christian opinion. I listened to the most reverend Primate's speech and he must allow me to debate it. I cannot accept that the Charter of the United Nations is in itself a part of the Christian credo.


My Lords, I am sorry to rise again, but I never said that the United Nations Charter was part of the Christian Faith. I said that we had pledged our word and our honour to stand by the United Nations Charter. I thought we had.


My Lords, we are talking here about the Christian credo and about political affairs and what is right in political affairs. There are certain connections between the two, but I think that the most reverend Primate, speaking with all his authority as leader of the Church of England, ought to be particularly careful not to confuse the Christian ethic with the to and fro of political life.


My Lords, if the noble Viscount will read the debate, he will see that I was extremely careful to do just that one thing.


My Lords, I hope that the most reverend Primate will re-read the debate and he will see, in all fairness, how easily he would give the impression, speaking with all the authority of the leader of a Christian Church, that the Government are guilty of some unchristian act, and I deny that absolutely. I believe that one of the virtues of the Christian religion is courage, and courage very often means doing things that are unpopular. The fact that what we are doing now is unpopular—I admit it—does not deter me in the slightest, and I am afraid that I cannot accept the implied rebuke from the most reverend Primate.


My Lords, I am afraid we are going to keep this going for a long time. What I said was that it was my business to isolate the particular Christian point, apart from all other questions—that is, leaving aside political conditions or self-interest or anything else. I froze on the point that we are committed by our own words to the United Nations Charter. That is a perfectly right thing for me to say as a Christian, and, as one with a Christian conscience, I ask how far we are sticking to our pledged word.


My Lords, I am grateful for the intervention of the most reverend Primate. Perhaps he has redefined his point, but I still maintain that in his speech he said that there was a grave danger that the Government would be condemned from a Christian standpoint because they were doing things that were unpopular. The Charter of the United Nations is a man-made affair and is admitted by all to be imperfect. If it has been manipulated in the interests of lawbreakers, the Charter suffers and international relations and the whole currency of international conduct suffer. If we waited until the full procedure of the United Nations was carried out. can anybody say, using his ordinary common sense, that the conflagration would not have spread? I believe that it is our duty, first to the United Nations and then to the whole community of nations, to see that this terrible difficulty in the Middle East, this struggle of interests and races, is brought to rest as soon as possible. For that reason, I commend the action of Her Majesty's Government.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, like all speakers at this time in the debate. I do not propose to make the speech I might have made earlier, because so many of the things that one would wish to say have already been better said. Nevertheless, I feel that there is one aspect which might be mentioned, seeing the length to which opposition to the action of the. Government is being carried —that is, tile outlook of the ordinary citizen of this country who has no claim to expert knowledge. I would claim to speak in that capacity. After all, there are millions of us, and it is upon our support, ultimately, that the Government: must rely in any action they take in an emergency of this nature. What is it that we citizens expect of our Government? We expect them, apart from the normal duties of government, to defend the interests of their nationals; to see that their lives and property arc defended; and to see that, as a nation, our reputation and our position in the world, which is founded upon certain principles for which we stand, is properly upheld.

Speaking as an ordinary citizen, l would say that during. the past few years we have seen many sacrifices to the cause of peace and to unified action amongst the nations. We have seen the retirement from the Sudan and from Egypt. the seizure of the Suez Canal, with no apparent contingent—I hesitate to say punishment; shall I say action, to put in practical form the displeasure of the United Nations. Now we come to a position, which the Government have told us they foresaw might arise, in which immediate action must be taken or no action at all. This House does not need to be reminded, because it is full of noble Lords who have themselves held positions of authority. that "there is a tide in the affairs of men," especially those in positions of authority and bearing national responsibility; and action which is not immediate is often valueless. That, I take it, is the position in which we have been placed in recent days. The ordinary citizen is, of course, confused and shocked —indeed we all are. But we should never forgive a Government who were confused. It is their duty not to he confused; it is their duty to act.

I personally, with all my doubts, could ask questions, as could others who are ordinary citizens, but we necessarily lack that information and knowledge which only the Government can produce. In a situation like this. when our Government have taken action, while it is appropriate, perhaps, to ask questions and to express misgivings, in my view— and again, I think I speak for millions of fellow-citizens of ordinary knowledge in this country—it is not appropriate to carry one's doubts, in fact to carry one's ignorance, because one does not know all the facts, to the point of presenting the world with the spectacle of a disunited nation. Disunity at such a moment may sacrifice all the things for which we are all fundamentally agreed we stand.

The noble Lord who opened this debate said that an end must be put to Egypt's provocation of Israel. That is all very well—of course it must. But how is it to be done? We have seen utterly ineffectual attempts made through the United Nations. I should be the last to throw unnecessary stones at the United Nations, but in its present stage of development it does not provide effectual machinery for taking action. It comes down to this: that words can never be a substitute for action. I suggest that we are drifting into a position in which many of us seem to think that words are a substitute for action. And theories are never any use when face to face with incontrovertible facts which have to be dealt with at once and on the spot.

I have said that a united nation is needed in face of an emergency like this, and I am confident that, whatever may be the view of the. Houses of Parliament. in the nation itself there is a large majority of ordinary citizens, like myself, who, in spite of doubts and misgivings in some respects, are prepared to trust the Government. Is it not part of our system of democracy that we choose a Government and put into their hands the duty and responsibility of acting for us, which involves taking action, even though they cannot previously acquaint the nation with the issues at that moment at stake? They must take the action, and then ask for support. which they almost invariably get. That is why I feel there is a certain amount of unreality about a debate such as this. The responsibility, after all, is that of the Government; their decision is the one that must be taken immediately; and it times of doubt, I feel that, if we examine our own feelings, we know in our own hearts that it is only the Government who can take that decision.

Much has been made of the alleged disunity created in the Commonwealth. I personally do not believe it. We have had the answer of Australia, and in due course we shall have the answers of the other members of the Commonwealth. As soon as the issues have become plain in all their dreadful verity. I am sure that we shall get the support of most of the remaining members. It may be that members of the Commonwealth of the status of India will not give their support. because we know that Mr. Nehru has taken certain high-minded attitudes over the use of force. If I may say so, without wishing to give offence, it is often easy to be clear-sighted at a distance, but apparently when it comes to home affairs, when it comes to, say, Kashmir, some of those principles do not seem to have been observed with such unfaltering conviction. I believe that we not only have the support of the bulk of the citizens of this country but that, when these issues become plain, we shall probably have also the support of the bulk of the citizens of America.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords. my reason for intervening is because I arrived back last night from the United States. and five days on a ship gives one the opportunity to reflect on many of the leading articles one has read in going about the United States, and on the many conversations one has had, some with people of no little commercial importance, though I make no claim to having spoken to anybody of political or diplomatic importance. First of all. I should like to associate myself—I could not have said it in anything like such happy words—with what the noble Lord who has just sat down said in his admonishment of the disunity which is being shown by some of the Opposition speeches. For myself. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, presented his case with great moderation, and for that we must be indebted to him. However, I was puzzled to know on what authority he claimed that the action taken by the Government did break a Treaty. I hope that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, when he comes to reply, will deal with those points, because, in spite of the fact that we all heard him make a clear presentation of the angle of International Law on September 12, I was impressed, speaking to many businessmen in Canada, by their presumption in alleging that Egypt had broken no treaty or in any way offended any Inter- national Law. It is a misfortune that there is insufficient presentation of the British case.

My noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh laid emphasis on the fact that there was probably, and indeed actually, an exaggerated impression given of disagreement between the United Kingdom and the United States of America. I am glad that I landed back to hear the personal reminiscences of the noble Earl. Lord Home. in relation to Hitler; and it was quite impressive that in leading articles in newspapers in the United States one saw much reference to the similarity between Nasser's action and that of Hitler. One sometimes wonders whether the British Information Services, with all the money that is voted to them by Parliament, do their job effectively—and I hope that that matter may be the subject of a discussion in this House some time early in the course of the new Session.

The noble Earl, Lord Home, emphasised the unity of the Commonwealth. Surely, generally speaking, on this and on other matters, we cannot, for purely doctrinaire reasons, abandon our position while the security of the whole of the near East, and probably the whole of the Western World, is at stake. It seemed to me that the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, paid insufficient tribute to the fact that there was unity on the part of Australia and New Zealand. As for Canada. we all know they have a political eye on Quebec, and a pronouncement by Mr. Lester Pearson on a situation like this must be made "with his tongue in his mouth"—I suppose the proper thing would be to say. "in his cheek". Nevertheless, he does have it in his mouth, and it sometimes stops him from saying the right thing.

The remarks of the noble Lord. Lord Ogmore, reminded me of an occasion when I was speaking to an American whom I heard laying down the law with emphasis and conviction. He would have it that the Aswan Dam was on the Canal, and that the two were physically related. I repeat that the Opposition speeches have been regrettable. If they were repeated verbatim in the Arabic Press in Cairo at the present moment and throughout the Arabic world, as being representative of British opinion, it would certainly not be helpful. I would go further. Can we not consider the effect of many of these speeches, published, as they are, in Central Europe, where peoples are struggling to regain their freedom—something which certainly the Opposition support entirely? It is absurd to continue to permit the Soviet Union to assume the position of the friend of freedom and the leader of nationalism. More steps should be taken to expose the fraudulence of this position. Surely, to leave the anti-colonialism issue, which we hear so much about, insufficiently answered, is to play directly into the hands of the Soviet Union.


Would not the noble Lord agree that a debate of this kind. in these circumstances, is the finest tribute one could have to democratic freedom?


My reply to the noble Lord is that free expression of opinion in advance of action is a different thing from what is needed in getting behind the Government when a crisis arises.


But that is exactly what the Soviet Union have been saying right the way through.


I will not disagree with what the noble Lord has said, hut I find it difficult to associate that with the Soviet Union. Does the noble Lord dispute what I said about the Soviet Union? Because I understand that they are representing themselves as the champions of freedom and have the hypocrisy to proclaim in the United Nations that we are opposing freedom and are breakers of the peace, when their soldiers are slaughtering innocent civilians in Hungary and elsewhere. What hypocrisy! I am glad the noble Lord gave me the opportunity to emphasise it.

On a visit to the United States one is reminded how high a place platform speeches in this House occupy in that country. They are published throughout the United States. Many noble Lords are familiar with the United States, and they will agree that at times some remarkable speeches get published in the Western part. I spoke with a great number of people during the weeks I was there, and I was surprised how frequently people said, "If only treat Britain and France had moved in quickly and occupied the installations the moment Nasser used aggression there would have been a howl of criticism, but it would have been over in eight days and everybody would have been thankful that such a situation had been happily solved." There is perplexity at the handling of the situation by Mr. Dulles and at the many inconsistencies. We all know the necessities of Election Year, and a situation of this kind is exaggerated and over-emphasised for election purposes. As your Lordships know. the Election takes place on Tuesday, November 6. Many noble Lords will have been present in the United States on Election Day. and will know how it works. How could it be expected, four days before the Election, that the United States would make any statement other than a disapproving one? But that is not to be taken seriously. I am sure my noble friend Lord Halifax will agree that one thing that is certain about the United States is that nothing succeeds like success. Right or wrong, you have got to succeed.

Before I sit down, I wish to say one more thing. I have lived a great deal of time in the United States, and I am married to an American. I say nothing offensive about the United States. But supposing this had been the Panama Canal. What would have been the action by the United States? On the ship coming across, I took the opportunity to turn up the Encyclopœdia Britannica to refresh my memory of what happened when Theodore Roosevelt acted in the Panama Canal. It will be in the minds of many in this House, but I am certain that it is not in the minds of an enormous number of leader writers in the United States, although. of course. in our country they are all well-informed. The Encyclopœdia Britannica states: Columbian troops landed at Colon intending to cross the Isthmus and engage the revolutionists, bat they were stopped by Marines from the U.S. cruiser "Nashville" on the ground that, under the Treaty of 1846. the United States had guaranteed to keep the Isthmus open, and civil war would close it. Meanwhile on November. 13th a Panaman representative"— the Encyclopœdia Britannica is doubtless correct, although many of us would have said "Panamanian"— was received at Washington and Panaman independence was formally recognised.… The haste with which President Theodore Roosevelt recognised the revolutionary government was the subject of criticism and the payment to Columbia in 1923 of 25 million dollars was taken in some quarters as acknowledgement of culpability, even though officially it was in settlement of claims for use of Columbian property. I end with this additional quotation from the Encyclopœdia Britannica: The Treaty between the United States and Columbia in 1846 allowed the United States the right of transport across the Isthmus with a guarantee by the United States of the sovereignty of Columbia on the Isthmus. I think those are interesting reminiscences to bring up at this stage, and I hope that they will commend themselves to sonic of Her Majesty's Opposition.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, this debate has gone on long enough for most of what needs saying to be said, and therefore I will be very brief. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, does not seriously contend that, in a nation which has so long had the privilege and honour of a free Legislative Assembly, those who do not think the Government are right when they have taken action must remain silent or be branded as traitors. If he says that. then what is the use of Parliament? That seems to me to assent to the basic principles of dictatorship and authoritarian government. I am sure that upon reflection the noble Lord will not main-fain the position which he seems to have taken up to-day.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt him, I must seek his indulgence, having landed only last night from America. Not having read the papers, I am under the impression that for several days there has been much discussion, but that within the last forty-eight hours Her Majesty's Government decided on definite action. Therefore, we are no longer in the stage of discussion; we are in the stage of action. I must ask the noble Lord to accept that there is a marked difference between those two.


There is this difference: that the action which has been taken is, we think, wrong action. I myself would not say that it has been taken for the wrong reasons but I think the action which may have been taken for the right reasons is the wrong action. Surely it is our duty in this House to examine not only what has been done but what results are likely to follow from it, and if we find ourselves in a difficult or, as I believe, an indefensible position, to try to find some way of remedying or mitigating the wrong that has been done.

It seems to me that the best thing to do at this stage in this debate is to make the most earnest entreaty we can to the Government to explore the suggestion made by the most reverend Primate. It seemed to me that he was speaking for all reasonable and right-thinking people when he begged the Government to examine the situation which they have created, or which has been created, and to find a way out. For I wonder whether noble Lords will agree with me when I say that, looking back over the pages of recent history in the Middle East, we may well find ourselves not the victors in a sharp. small encounter. but bogged down in a long guerrilla warfare when the origins will be forgotten and when the civilised world will regard us as invaders and aggressors, which indeed we are not but which we shall certainly be judged to be. This is a serious thing, however right or wrong the causes may be, if we solidify the Arab world behind Nasser and against us. That may well be the result of this, in my view. ill-considered and wrong action.

It is said that we have gone into this to separate the warring parties and primarily to maintain traffic in the Canal. but is this report which appears on the Exchange Telegraph tape in the Lobby true: that our bombers have sunk a ship which has now blocked the Canal to all traffic? Because, if that is so, it is a pretty serious comment upon the action which we have taken. I believe that we have no right to call upon the Israelis to withdraw into their own territory unless we are prepared to offer to do the same. If we are prepared to make that request and to back it up with that offer on our part. there may be a means of finding our way out of this situation.

There is another, to my mind, very important consideration, and I should like to ask the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor whether he will deal with it when he comes to reply. We have not declared war upon Egypt. We have invaded the territory of Egypt without any declaration of war. What is the position, in international status, of our soldiers or airmen who may be shot down in that territory? They are not soldiers engaged upon a lawful warfare. They may be bandits, they may be spies, so judged. What is their position if they are captured? I really think the Government must answer this. It is a serious thing that at this very day Great Britain may be, and will be, arraigned before the Assembly of the United Nations and branded aggressor. It is a very serious thing that a large part of the Commonwealth finds itself entirely unable to support us in this matter. It is a very serious thing to listen to the voice of President Eisenhower this morning, condemning the action which we have taken.




I have given some part of my time and energy to do what little I could to cement the relations between ourselves and the Americans. I know the people well. It will he a long time before they forget or understand this situation. I beg the Government seriously to consider and explore the proposals which the most reverence Primate has made. it is the most practical and the most charitable contribution. that has been made to this debate. I beg the Government to consider it.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, I am not going to intervene— indeed, I think most of us would hesitate very much to intervene—in the slight controversy that took place a few moments ago between the noble and gallant Viscount. Lord De L'Isle, and the most reverend Primate. but I think there would be a better understanding of the position of those who are critics, and very deep critics, of the Government if it could be appreciated what: the United Nations means to the people of this country. There is a moral aspect. but it goes the whole distance between a deep and, if you like, religious feeling right through to the question of pure self-preservation. Because, unless there is international order of some kind—I am not talking of a kind of Government—brought into the affairs of the world, a world which contains the atom bomb and the tremendous possibilities for human destruction which exist, unless somehow we can get some sort of order and control. it is quite certain that sooner or later civilisation is doomed. That thought really is the background of the reaction of the people of this country—there is no doubt about that.

The use of force outside the inadequate but the only international organisation which exists at the present time was a shock to our people. It was on that point that the debate last September turned, on the use of force. It is not a pacifist view. It is that there has grown up in the country, and in many other countries too, a concept that, if one can have a private war when one is strong enough to wage one. and if that is to be permitted in the world, there is certain to be chaos. Hence the pressure to consult the United Nations by all sorts of people who use the United Nations a great deal and who realise all the difficulties connected with it. We were wrong to use force except with the concurrence of the United Nations or some collectivity of the free world.

There is no need to repeat the grounds for that feeling. Any private war was to the people of this country an unwanted war. It had its risks. As I say, there was the atom bomb behind. Were we to start a private war of that kind. we would be the first country to insist that we must retain the right of judging in our own affairs. For my part. I cannot help feeling that the risks involved have been rather underrated and have attracted less attention than they would have done had they not been, as it were, overlaid by the very rapid movement of events.

I wonder whether the Lord Chancellor would give us some indication whether he believes that in this sort of war, perhaps under the plea of saving lives or of shortening some military operation. we should be the first country to use tactical nuclear weapons. Are we going to introduce them into the Middle East? Is there any reason why we should not? Is there any thing that the Government can say to set at rest that kind of suspicion? We all remember the argument in our previous debate. That argument, as it were from the common sense point of view, was fortified when we came to examine the legal implications. The debate was a very restrained affair, and the Government committed themselves to refer the issue to the Security Council if circumstances allowed. With some misgivings, those who had been critics of the Government accepted that as substantially, and with intent, meeting the feeling that was at the back of their minds. The noble Earl. Lord Home, says that the issue was so referred; but equally the noble Earl says that we have made no progress on the Canal question. I think that that is an overstatement and is not a view that we need to take. First of all, the principles were agreed, were accepted and had the support of all the countries on the Security Council except Russia and Jugoslavia.

But is it also quite certain that there would be a failure in regard to getting a solution to this issue through the United Nations? That is certainly not what President Eisenhower said this morning. On the contrary, in reply to the suggestion of the use of force, he said: We insistently urged otherwise, and our wish prevailed—through a long succession of conferences and negotiations for weeks and months, with participation by the United Nations. And there. only a short while ago, on the basis of agreed principles, it seemed that an acceptable accord was within our reach. He may have been right or the noble Earl may have been right, but at least there is confidence there —the issue was not finished. In that connection. may I say how glad I was to hear my noble friend Lord Samuel remark that really it is an exaggeration to say that this issue is a matter of life and death for us. That is a gross exaggeration. and it is not something upon which we should run immense risks in order to get a settlement tomorrow morning. The cost of a war, if it should develop, is in any case infinitely disproportionately high compared to such material disadvantage that we might suffer.

But the present issue is a different one. I quite accept—and I think the whole House accepts—that what has happened is not a subterfuge merely to get our way about the Canal. The Government have made it clear that they regard this occupation as something temporary. and I think they are entitled to ask that we should accept their bona fides on that issue, and also the view, again put forward by the Deputy Leader of the House in reply to a speech from the Opposition, that the primary purpose was to stop the fighting—I think quote his words correctly.

But here exactly the same point arises as arose in September. Is it for us, alone. to act as self-appointed policemen—and incidentally judge. too? The answer that a large part of this country gives is that we should do that if, and only if, we have the support of the United Nations. It may be said that the Government accept that view and that they have referred the matter to the United Nations. But what sort of reference is it when, at the same time, you announce that you are taking action. and when the action prejudges anything that might happen in the reference to the parties concerned? The only excuse which might be pleaded for that, although it has not been specifically pleaded in the House to-day so far as I have heard. is that the Government should command our support because last September they had provided for an emergency. I think we should all agree that this is an emergency. But is it possible seriously to argue that it is an emergency of such a kind that we could not allow the Security Council, to whom it has been referred, a sufficient number of hours to consider the matter?

Furthermore, surely the Government is much open to criticism, such as has been levelled to-day, about the fact that they vetoed the proposition put forward by the United States, and which, unless I am mistaken. was almost identical to the one which has just been mentioned by the most reverend Primate. In other words, his proposal is that we should think again and accept that resolution. I personally entirely agree. We also vetoed the suggestion that the matter should be taken to the Assembly. The only possible comment on that is surely that it is a most astonishing and staggering diplomatic feat in so short a time to get the United States and Russia into the same lobby and to ensure that two of your best friends abstain.

My Lords, in pressing this case for the United Nations and for acting on our belief that these matters should be collectively determined, we are not blind to the difficulties of these international institutions, no matter what they may be. These organisations are inadequate for many purposes. But it is easy to criticise them, while sometimes forgetting that they consist merely of the component nations, and that these institutions will be what the nations will make of them. The greatest task before the world at the present time is not to think out some new institution, but to make the existing ones work.

At this moment it would be most inappropriate to develop that theme, although there is a great deal to he said on it; but I cannot let this discussion pass without saying that, in my personal opinion, Her Majesty's Government—and I am afraid it is true of both Governments—if they had looked forward. could have carried forward the development. power and authority of those international institutions which exist in the world field, and in regional fields, had they more forcefully endeavoured to develop those institutions. I, too, like the last speaker, have come back from three weeks in Strasbourg and three weeks in New York, including attendance at the first meeting of the Security Council on this question, and I have seen some of the defects of organisation. I do not know what would be the noble Lord's opinion, but in the United Nations I gathered from many of those who think most about it that one of the difficulties of the operation of the United Nations is that, whereas there are several very powerful groups—the United States, the Soviet Union. the South American group. the Arabian group and the Asiatic group —there is no European group and it is only this country which could have created one. This is the only group of countries which does not hold a regional meeting. Obviously, I cannot develop this theme but there have been grave defects in relation to both the international world-wide organisation and the European organisation.

In conclusion, I revert to the point with which I started. I associate myself with all that has been said about the moral aspect of this issue. We cannot exaggerate the gloom, embarrassment and shame that has been aroused in the hearts and minds of millions of people in this country in the last two or three weeks. For that reason, if for no other, I shall feel in any circumstances compelled to vote against Her Majesty's Government at this moment.

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, there are in your Lordships' House many experts on international affairs, but I suppose there is no one. unless it be the noble Lord, Lord Strang, who speaks with more authority than the noble Lord, Lord Layton, who has just addressed your Lordships. Certainly I do not think that anybody, whatever his point of view on this question, can have failed to be impressed, and perhaps influenced, by his remarks. There have been a number of speeches to-day strongly critical of Her Majesty's Government: five speeches already from our own Front Bench, besides speeches from other distinguished noble Lords, such as the noble Viscount Lord Samuel, and one or two speeches from Benches opposite, which implied, and sometimes actually stated, a point of view that cannot have been welcome to Her Majesty's Government. I hope, therefore, that I shall not detain your Lordships too long. I must first express my apologies to the House and to the noble Earl the Acting Leader of the House, in particular, for not being here to hear his remarks. As he knows, this debate was, quite rightly, arranged at rather short notice, and I could not be present to hear his speech.

During this debate there has been a certain amount of talk, and very relevant talk, about bipartisanship in foreign policy. I think some noble Lords went much too far — the noble Lord. Lord Barnby, for instance, who argued, in an interesting speech. that. in effect, we ought to keep quiet on this side, however strongly we disagreed with the view of Her Majesty's Government, rather than allow any misunderstanding to reach foreign countries, or, rather, to prevent any full understanding of our point of view reaching foreign countries which might endanger the position of Her Majesty's Government. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, spoke to the same effect. I sympathise with some of the remarks made about bipartisanship. It would, of course, be much more satisfactory if we could provide a united nation behind the Government at this time of great difficulty—and I do not think anyone on this side will underestimate the difficulties of Her Majesty's Government. It would be absurd for any noble Lord, wherever he sits, to do so, and I do riot think that either on this side or anywhere else we have fallen into that trap this afternoon. No-one has got up to suggest that there is some magic cure and that, given a little common sense, good will and study, the whole problem could be disposed of.

I cannot, in my experience, remember a more difficult situation, taking it all for all, than that with which Her Majesty's Government have been faced this week—I say that without reference to the question of whether wiser steps could have been taken earlier. In that situation, the natural instinct of noble Lords on this side of the House is to go a long way in trying to find justification for the policy of Her Majesty's Government. We do appreciate the position. A good many of us have been in office, and may even shortly find ourselves in office again. We realise that Britain to-day, in relation to the largest Powers. is not as strong, materially, as she was. The amount of our influence depends almost directly on the amount of unity behind the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government. The House knows where we place the blame, but at the moment I am not concerned with that point. It is certainly a sad thing that the gap beween the main Parties in the State has widened even since we started these debates in the last two days.

Having been present at the Labour Conference, when I read of the Conservative Conference and found the leaders of the two great Parties had been loudly applauded by their supporters in stating completely opposing points of view, I felt that that was something which was not going to bring consolation to the man in the street. I agree with the noble Lord who said to-day that the man in the street would like to see as much unity in foreign policy as possible. But I do not think noble Lords opposite, certainly not the most experienced noble Lords, would, on reflection, argue that there is a duty on the Opposition automatically to support Her Majesty's Government in every major problem. We should be betraying our own trust, which is as considerable as that of anybody else, if, when we thought Her Majesty's Government were pursuing an evil course, we condoned it, or appeared to condone it. I think we all know each other well enough to know that when I refer to an evil course" I am not speaking in a personal sense about any noble Lord or any member of Her Majesty's Government. When I say "evil course" I am not thinking primarily of the diplomatic ineptitude which, on the face of it, has been revealed.

It has been said that to have united Russia with America against us is itself surely a feat that would secure an Omega mark in any diplomatic examination. It would have seemed incredible a few weeks ago to expect that, however stupid their advisers were, they could land us in that predicament; and to have split the Commonwealth is something on which no one is going to offer any diplomatic congratulations. Nor do I think it would be quite honest to say that this is simply a diplomatic failure. I think the failure is one of foresight and statesmanship. But even if we are dealing only with:errors of judgment of that kind—and very far-reaching and dangerous they may be—I believe that the Opposition will always hesitate a long time before voting against Her Majesty's Government in a moment of national crisis.

We feel. however, that there is a deeper issue, which has been brought out in the debate this afternoon in another place, and for that reason I know that I can speak on behalf of all my colleagues; and I hope I am not saying something embarrassing, and certainly not patronising, if we say that we pay deeply respectful tribute to the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury for his magnificent speech this afternoon. I am not going to come between him and the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, who has placed himself behind the most reverend Primate —with what purpose I cannot tell; he has moved from his customary position. I am not going to come between those two eminent Members of the House. They are both very quick on the draw, as we saw, and I have no doubt that I should be shot down in flames very early in any cross-firing.

The most reverend Primate surely made one thing abundantly plain: that his criticism of the Government, or one very severe criticism, is that they have given their word to honour the Charter of the United Nations. We shall all concede—certainly the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, who is, I know, a most strict man in his religious observance will concede—that it is a Christian duty to keep one's word. As I understood the main burden of that part of the most reverend Primate's observations, it was that we were breaking a Christian duty because we were not honouring the spirit of our obligation to the United Nations.


May I say one word in my defence? I was extremely careful not to judge anybody. What I said on that matter was that we were not on secure ground, and were even on slippery ground. I did not go further than that. I did not accuse anybody of having broken his word.


I think that, now that everybody is on record, the point will be clear to posterity, if not to everyone in the House at the moment.

My Lords, we feel that the course the Government are taking is in violation to the spirit of the Charter of United Nations. I am not going to involve myself, as I did last time, with arguments about the fundamental attitude of our Conservative friends to the United Nations. I am not going to get bogged down in that kind of discussion. I am simply speaking to the facts. I am not going to attempt—I should be ill-advised. to do so with so many lawyers in front of me and behind me—to argue the strictly legal point. There is a view strongly held that the Government's action is illegal, contrary to International. Law, and, therefore, in a legal sense is wrong. The Lord Chancellor may give us another opinion, and no doubt the lawyers can argue it out. I have been advised that it is, strictly speaking, illegal. Others say that one needs to know the facts more fully before one can offer an opinion on that point.

Now, my Lords, let us ask ourselves whether any of us is happy about the attitude we have taken up, in the light of our obligations under the Charter of the United Nations. Certainly we have not pursued a course the Government could have welcomed. They could have adopted it only in the last resort, and with reluctance. We raise an issue in the United Nations. Before the Security Council has had time to deal with it, we send out an ultimatum and say that we are going to make war unless it is responded to in the way on which we insist. We veto the resolution brought. forward by the United States and try to prevent discussion in the Assembly of the United Nations. I say. deliberately, whatever may be the precise legal position, we have gone behind the back of the United Nations in our action. We have acted in a way calculated to bring that Organisation into contempt and certainly do it damage for many years to come.

The question that arises is: what can be done about it? I think that all of us must wish to study the practical suggestion made in the very thoughtful speech of the most reverend Primate, which has been supported by the noble Lords, Lord Listowel, and Lord Wilmot of Selmeston from these Benches: the suggestion that we should say we will withdraw if the Israeli forces withdraw behind their own frontier. The most reverend Primate attached that to a constructive solution of the whole situation, and in that constructive solution I should myself venture to think— and I believe the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has already made this point —that the United Nations themselves might well supply an International Police Force to preserve the peace. I feel that if that particular solution could be arrived at, good could well come out of the evil course followed by the Government. It is no good pinning one's hopes in one's speech to something which may be impracticable, but that idea, as a solution, is one which will appeal. I think, to most Members of the House.

Another practical suggestion, in the not only very interesting but very careful speech by the noble Lord, Lord Salter, was the suggestion that Her Majesty's Government should make it absolutely plain what was meant by the "temporary" occupation. They should make it plain beyond all doubt that we were embarking on this invasion for the reason stated, to keep the Egyptians and the Israelis apart; that we were not going there to achieve the purpose, our own legitimate purpose, if you like to call it that, of trying to secure the international control of the Canal. We were going in for what I might call this week's purpose and not the purpose discussed in earlier debates. I feel that if the noble Viscount the Lord Chancellor who is to wind up, would say something about the word "temporary", he might do a little, at any rate, to relieve the anxieties arid cares of many, not only in this House but in far wider circles; and it may be that other practical suggestions will emerge.

But I am bound to say that, whatever solution can he found (and we must all hope that this disaster can somehow or other be turned to some benefit to mankind; we can never despair, never say that some occurrence that has been allowed to happen in the world must, on balance, necessarily do harm, however much we condemn it) whatever outcome may be extracted from this situation, we on this side must make it plain, now and for all time, that we condemn utterly the action of the Government as a violation of the spirit of the Charter and therefore tending to undermine what, to many of us, is the main hope of world peace.

These arguments are of course arguments within the family. There is an actual war going on between our country and Egypt. There is the metaphorical war between the Parties in this country—I count it as a disaster comparable to the actual war taking place. We regard the Government as having been faced with an exceptional difficulty, but I would say that they have made a blunder of exceptional magnitude. With the noble Lord, Lord Layton, we hang our heads with shame, and we shall go into the Division Lobby as part of the exertion to persuade Her Majesty's Government to forsake this evil course, a course whose end no man can foresee and whose outcome for good none of us can anticipate at the present time.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, I think it would be convenient if, before I came to the arguments in my speech. I gave the House two pieces of information which have been foreshadowed earlier in the debate. 'The first is a statement about the military situation in Egypt based on the most recent information available to me. Last night, bombing attacks were made on four Egyptian airfields. Almaza and Inchass, Abu Sueir and Kabrit. First reports show that bombing results were accurate. There was some heavy and light flak but no damage to our aircraft. One aircraft was intercepted by a night fighter but no damage resulted. Ground attack aircraft, shore and carrier-based, carried out attacks on a total of nine Egyptian air-fields early this morning H.M.S. "Newfoundland sank the Egyptian frigate Domiat" approximately 80 miles South of Suez.

My Lords, we have no direct information about Israeli-Egyptian operations. Reports indicate that the Israeli attack is on two axes. In the south paratroops are holding the high ground twenty miles east of Suez, supported by a brigade. A second brigade is reported further to the east. To the north the Israelis claim to have over-run the Egyptian position at Qasseina with an armoured brigade. Reports indicate that Egyptian armoured units which were deployed west of Cairo began to move eastwards on October 31. This force includes one armoured group of up to two armoured regiments, both light and heavy anti-aircraft units, and infantry in armoured personnel carriers. It was moving eastwards along the Cairo—Suez and Cairo—Ismailia roads.

The other matter upon which I promised to give information to your Lordships was the question of prisoners. The position is as follows. There has been no declaration of war by us, but the Geneva Conventions apply to any state of armed conflict. We have received a formal inquiry from the President of the International Red Cross asking whether we will ratify the 1949 Conventions which we have already signed. We are replying that although certain legislation is required before we can ratify the Conventions, Her Majesty's Government accept the Conventions and have every intention of applying their provisions should the occasion arise. The Egyptian and Israeli Governments have both signed and ratified the Conventions and we shall consider ourselves entitled to receive from them the treatment provided for by the Conventions.

Having dealt with these questions, may I try to answer the debate which has continued for the last six hours? In my reply, I shall try to answer the main criticisms made of Her Majesty's Government, and in doing so I shall seek to co-ordinate the different arguments used on these main points. But I ask your Lordships not to draw any wrong conclusions from my meeting the critics on their own ground. That is the function of a closing speech. I am not here to apologise for the action of Her Majesty's Government but to defend it and to commend it to your Lordships with all the power that I can. It has been suggested by some noble Lords that there is no legal justification for the action that we have taken. In my view we are completely justified. May I, therefore, first give the grounds of our justification and. secondly, demonstrate why our critics are wrong.

The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, both said that we had acted in breach of the Charter. On the other hand, my noble friend Lord De La Warr expressed fear as to how the position of the Charter might limit or compromise our action. The position is that the combined effect of the Pact of Paris, the Charter of the United Nations and the General Assembly's "United for Peace" resolution of 1951 is that force may lawfully be used or threatened only, first, with the express authority of the United Nations (that is, of the Security Council), and, secondly, in self-defence. But self-defence undoubtedly includes a situation in which the lives of a State's nationals abroad are threatened and it is necessary to intervene on that territory for their protection. As a matter of interest, it is recorded that the United States of America intervened on no fewer than forty-six occasions in some eighty-six years.

Now the tests of whether such intervention is necessary under customary international law are, first, whether there is an imminent danger of injury to nationals; secondly, whether there is a failure or inability on the part of the territorial Sovereign to protect the nationals in question. and, thirdly, whether the measures of protection of the intervener are strictly confined to the object of protecting those nationals against injury. It has been argued that there is a great distinction between the protection of human lives and the protection of property. That is not a proposition to which I would give absolute concurrence. I take the view that if really valuable and internationally important foreign property is in danger of irreparable injury, through the breakdown of order, entry by a foreign State for the sole purpose of securing the safety of that property is excusable. I take the view that, since we can show that the blocking of or interference with the Canal for a considerable period would cause—and here I disagree with one or two of your Lordships—irreparable damage and suffering to a number of nations, for which it would be difficult to see adequate compensation being afforded, our intervention is also justified by the danger to the Canal.

We have therefore three good grounds of intervention: the danger to our nationals (for example, to those at Ismailia); the danger to shipping in the Canal, which shipping carries many hundreds, at least, if not thousands, of people in their crews; and the danger to the enormously valuable installations of the Canal itself and the incalculable consequential effect on many nations if the Canal were blocked.


My Lords, I hesitate very much to interrupt the noble and learned Viscount but I should like to—


My Lords, it is very important that I should give a clear exposition of the legal position and I shall be glad if the noble Lord would wait until I have given it. There has been considerable discussion on this point and I think it is right and proper that I should state the position as I understand it.

The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was inclined to take a more optimistic view of the possible damage. There is no one for whom I have greater respect, after a friendship of forty years, and I ask the noble Viscount to corsider the tide of modern war—guns, planes, all the unpredictable consequences that may result. He would be a rash man who, after battle had been joined, would say where it will stop. That is the position. As a Government, we requested that the threat of these dangers should cease. Our request was refused, with the clear indication from Egypt that they would resist any British or French measures. Although the measures of protection which we are entitled to use are limited to what is necessary for their purpose—namely, the protection of our nationals, shipping and the Canal installations—they must clearly also be proportionate to the resistance offered to them. If the Egyptians say that they will resist with all their land, sea and air forces any attempt at intervention. then we are entitled to use such forces as will defeat that force which the Egyptians threaten to deploy.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin. raised the question of the Pact of Paris, the Briand-Kellogg Pact, as one of the matters which he thought !night affect the legality of this action. In my view, it is absolutely clear that the Pact of Paris does not forbid the use of force in self-defence, including the particular form that I have mentioned. That was universally agreed at the time when the Pact was signed. In the negotiations leading. to the Pact of Paris, several countries made a declaration emphasising that self-defence is a natural right inherent in every State and was untouched by the Pact. As I indicated when I last addressed your Lordships' House on this subject, the mischief stated in the Preamble is the promotion of national interests by recourse to war. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, said in the last debate, Great Britain made a declaration that in certain regions of the world the conditions of peace were her special and vital interest and that their protection against attack was to the British Empire a measure of self-defence. I hasten to assure my noble friend that I am not using that declaration any further than to underline the words that I have just read. The United States, for their part, declared for the right of countries to use force in self-defence from attack or the invasion of their territories, and for the countries attacked alone to decide for themselves the circumstances in which force would be justified. That declaration was made by Mr. Kellogg himself.

The next point, which was argued before your Lordships on the last occasion, is that if Article 51 of the Charter makes provision for self-defence in special circumstances, that was the only applicable rule. Again it is essential to remember that the right of individual self-defence was regarded as automatically excepted from both the Covenant of the League of Nations and the Pact of Paris without ally mention of it, and clearly the same would have been true of the Charter of the United Nations had there been no Article 51. As your Lordships well know, Article 51 was not inserted in the Charter for the purpose of destroying the individual right of self-defence, but for the purpose of clarifying the position in regard to collective understandings for mutual self-defence, particularly the Pan-American Treaty, known as the Act of Chapultepec. These understandings were concerned with defence against external aggression and it was natural for Article 51 to be related to defence against attack.

I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, if he wishes to pursue this matter, that Article 51 must be read in the light that it is part of Chapter VII of the Charter and concerned with defence against grave breaches of the peace. It would be an entire misreading of the whole intention of Article 51 to interpret it as forbidding forcible self-defence in resistance to an illegal use of force not constituting an armed attack. In my view, it is equally clear that Article 51 does not cut down the customary right by restricting forcible self-defence in cases where the attack provoking it has actually been launched. I think that every one of your Lordships will appreciate that if that were done it would be a travesty of the purpose of the Charter, to compel a defending State to allow its opponent to deliver the first fatal blow. The same applies to the form of self-defence with which I am dealing to-day. That is the legal position. If the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, wishes to ask me anything, he can ask me, now that I have come to the end of my explanation.


My Lords, it is difficult to follow the argument of the noble and learned Viscount about preserving the right of free passage through the Canal in the light of the news that the first material effect of our intervention is to block the Canal by bombing and sinking a ship in the Canal.


My Lords, I can only say that I have not received confirmation that that is the position. As your Lordships will have seen, I have been on the Woolsack the whole afternoon, except for the minimum periods necessary for human sustenance, so I have not been able to make full inquiries; but I have made inquiries and I have no confirmation that that is the effect of the sinking of the ship.


My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount referred to the attacking Power against which we have to exercise self-defence. Who is the attacking Power?


My Lords, I said that self-defence extended to the protection of nationals on someone else's territory. In that case, we have the right to intervene and use force in that territory to protect our nationals. Then the second point arises—I hope I made this clear; I intended to put it entirely fairly—first, we make a peaceful landing; then, if the Power into whose territory we are going says that they will resist with all their force, the force which we have the right to use is automatically extended to that sufficient to repulse the force threatened.


Which is the attacking Power in this case?


In the case that I have mentioned, the person who threatens to use force in answer to a profferred peaceful intervention.


Here is the Canal; here are our nationals here is our property. There is an attack upon them which you have to resist.. Who is making the attack?


I set., now. The most reverend Primate is asking me a question of fact.




Then I will deal with that. The threat of force is made by the person who refuses to stop the hostile operations that are threatening the people and the installations. really must be allowed to continue—perhaps after just one more interruption.


Who is this attacking Power in this case?


I should have thought the most reverend Primate might have guessed that for himself. It obviously Egypt, who has refused to stop.


This is terribly important, and perhaps I might ask the Lord Chancellor this. Where does the operational force originate? should have thought that the attacking force, whether you like it or not, was Israel. Is that not so?


Yes. I explained the law, and I was going to proceed to the facts. But in applying that to this case, our nationals, our ships and the Canal itself are in danger from the conflict between Israel and Egypt. We then. with, I believe, complete moral propriety and rightness, ask them both to stop the conflict which is threatening our nationals, our ships and the Canal. The most reverend Primate really must not interrupt again.



The Israelis agreed to stop hostilities and to retire. but Egypt refused, and indicated that they would use force to prevent the steps which we proposed for a peaceful stoppage of the fighting. That is the sense in which I used it. Perhaps now the most reverend Primate will allow me to continue my speech.


May I say this? I entirely accept everything I hat the Lord Chancellor has said. I was not criticising it nor attacking it. I was merely asking a question: where did the force originate? That, he says, is Israel; and that is all I wanted to establish.

A NOBLE LORD: No; he did not say that.


The most reverend Primate has, I am sure entirely unintentionally, sought to confuse two situations. There is the first situation, which attracted cur peace-making intention, which was started when Israel crossed the border. Then there is the second situation, which I have been at sonic pains to explain, when the Egyptians refused our peaceful measures. I hope that I have now made that clear.


I merely said that there are two states, one and two. You omitted to mention the first. I have now inserted it.


I am always happy to have the co-operation of the most reverend Primate in making a speech. I have always said, both in public and privately, that he is one of the best speakers in London, and I am sure that any speech of mine will be greatly improved by his interruptions.


I hope the noble and learned Viscount will allow me to make one point. I fully appreciate that he is trying to explain a difficult point of law, and I do not think it is altogether fair for him to be cross-examined in the course of his argument. But I do want to say that. in my view, this is a great straining of the doctrine of self-defence. I think we should go on record as saying that, I should like to ask the Lord Chancellor this question. On his own doctrine, would it not have been justifiable for us to intervene long before this present crisis arose'?


The doctrine that I have put forward is an old and well-established doctrine. It was established at least 100 years ago in the case of the "Caroline", which was a matter discussed between the United States and ourselves. The foundation of the doctrine was accepted as "imminent threat to your nationals". The doctrine arises, and that form of self-defence becomes legal, when the imminent threat is made. I hope I have made it quite clear that that is the doctrine on which I am standing.

The most reverend Primate put his assertion in a wider form. He was not disposed to say that we were wrong in law. But then he put the moral problem: that, even if we were right in law, were we within the spirit of the Charter? If the legal position is as I understand it is, there is then a duty to protect the lives of your nationals and property, with the limitation, as I say. that it must be internationally important property. I do not find the escape from that duty an easy matter. and especially so when the only way of carrying out that duty is to halt a war that is in its commencing stages. The most reverend Primate said: "Who are you, a British Government, to assume that responsibility for policing the world? Who are you to take the risk of that protection?" I say, with all humility, but at the same time with that sense of duty which every member of every British Government would have, that if the British Government did not assume that responsibility they would be failing in their duty, not only to this country but to the world. I cannot see how you can minimise the loss of the lives of British people: and certainly so long as I am a member of a British

Government I shall never minimise my duty to see that British people are protected from such dangers. It is a difficult point, but the most reverend Primate will not misunderstand me if I put it to him in the form of this question: "When are you entitled to wash your hands?" That is one of the fundamental problems. All that has been said to-day, every difficulty that has been raised, is enormously increased and multiplied if that question is answered wrongly.

Let me say one word more on the allegation of the noble Viscount. Lord Samuel. and, indeed, of the most reverend Primate, too—I have indicated the point—that nothing has happened. in fact, to endanger British or French nationals. Again, I find it difficult to see the basis of the suggestion. The Israeli advance was directed towards Port Said and Ismailia. Ismailia, of course, is where many of our nationals are. It was clearly an advance towards the Canal. The advance was approaching the Canal, and troops were in its neighbourhood when the French and ourselves stated our requirements. As I have said to your Lordships before, when battle is joined it is impossible to say which way it will roll. It is impossible to say when air attacks may become necessary. The Canal itself might be used in operations, and might be blocked. These facts constitute a real danger to shipping in the Canal and those in the ships, to our nationals and to the Canal itself.

If I heard my noble friend Lord Home correctly when he quoted Mr. Menzies, I think Mr. Menzies' words were that the position might have fallen into irretrievable disaster. Again, if innocent people were to be in danger of being killed, what would any of your Lordships have said to a British Government who did not deal with that situation? I ask your Lordships to put that question honestly to yourselves, and if your Lordships say that you would have done nothing, then you must accept the logical consequence, which is that justice goes by the board and the security of ordinary people is lost. Again I say—I do not want to be melodramatic about it—that if any of your Lordships are prepared to accept that risk, I am not; and I would not be a member of a Government who would.

That is the position, and I want (I hope that this will help and not arouse the most reverend Primate again) to say this. It is alleged, and therefore I should like to make the point quite clear, that although this position might justify our rescue operations, it does not justify an attack on Egypt. I think that has been one of the lines of criticism. I entirely reject the conception that we have attacked Egypt. We have—and I repeat it—intervened to protect our people, our ships and the installations of the Canal. As my right honourable friend explained on Tuesday in another place—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Commons), Vol. 558 (No. 2141, col. 13471]—and I quote his words, as I have been asked to deal with this point: …the purpose of that intervention is to seek to separate the combatants, to remove the risk to free passage through the Canal, and to reduce the risk, if we can, to those voyaging through the Canal. I have explained that and, as I say, I do not believe that if the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, had been a member of a Government he would have been prepared to let British people he in that danger.

My right honourable friend prefaced his statement by an exceedingly important declaration. He had been asked whether British troops and other troops would be withdrawn once the present hostilities ceased. He said [col. 1347]: Of course, that will be so; certainly. It is our intention that they will be withdrawn as soon as possible. The last thing that we want is an enduring commitment of that kind —the last thing. I have indicated to your Lordships why the forces must be proportionate to the resistance offered, and that is the answer both to the speech and to the interjection which the noble Viscount made a moment ago. If the Egyptians say that they will use all their force, which includes their bombers, then we are entitled to deal adequately with the force threatened.

Let me take a simple example from intervention as it occurred in less difficult days. In the ordinary way the intervention happened. Many of the forty-six interventions of the United States of America began by the landing of marines in order to protect American nationals. But supposing the landing of the marines was met by bombardment from shore batteries. Then, of course, these batteries would have to be engaged. If they were met by aircraft. then the aircraft would have to be dealt with. That is how the extent of the force remains proportionate to the objective that is being carried out.

Towards the beginning of this debate I think it was made clear that the motives of Her Majesty's Government are not being questioned in this House. I am glad that that is so, and therefore if I do not deal with that aspect of the matter the House will not hold it against me, because I should not detain your Lordships on a matter which is not in issue between our critics and ourselves. I have stated what our object is, and I think that in the circumstances it is unnecessary for me to go back over the happenings of the last few weeks, as I should have done with pleasure had that been a more live issue in the debate.

I was asked one question by both the noble Lord. Lord Henderson, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. with regard to the Tripartite Declaration, and I think it would be useful if I dealt with that point. The Egyptian Government have taken the stand that the Tripartite Declaration is a unilateral Declaration giving rise to no contractual obligations and giving the three Powers no right to interfere. A Government-controlled Egyptian Press has said that. Egypt wants no foreign troops on her soil to defend her. It is worth remembering that Egypt insisted that, under the Treaty of 1954, the United Kingdom should have no right to reactivate our base in the case of an attack by Israel. As the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, indicated in his most interesting speech. if you look at the Tripartite Declaration as a whole, and apply the test of the most reverend Primate, the separation of the combatants seems an admirable way of carrying out the spirit of the Declaration.

It is said—and I think this is the next part of the criticism it logical order—that we should not have taken any action before a decision was come to by the Security Council. The basis of our action, as I have said, was the threat to our people, our skips and to the Canal itself. An imminent threat of force, and the protection of these people, ships and the Canal must be a paramount consideration. Nothing but immediate action could guarantee the safety of the Canal and of these people. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has pointed out this afternoon, Israel and Egypt are locked in conflict in the area of the Canal. The first and urgent task is to separate the combatants and to stabilise the position. That is our purpose. If the United Nations were then willing to take over the physical task of maintaining peace in the area, no-one would be better pleased than we. Surely that is the reasonable way. Let us separate the combatants and then, if the United Nations will take over the task, we shall be very pleased. I think that is a fair approach to the problem as I see it and as I have stated it. Before that position can be reached, there must be police action to separate the belligerents and to prevent a resumption of hostilities.


My Lords, I really do not understand the Government's position on this matter, because the noble Earl, Lord Home, said that Egyptian troops could remain either to the east or to the west of the Canal. If they remained, as they would be entitled, to the east in the Sinai Desert by the Canal, they would be going on fighting and there would be no question of the separation of the combatants.


Surely the noble Viscount. Lord Astor, can give no guarantee—I have dealt with that point more than once—as to where the conflict will be. The difference between us is that I think it is a paramount duty that we should take that police action and separate the combatants. I must be allowed to say that that is my view and the view of Her Majesty's Government.


My Lords. I hate to interrupt the noble and learned Viscount, but he said the question is to separate the combatants. If, as the noble Earl. Lord Home, said, the Egyptian army, under our proposals, could remain on the east of the Canal in the desert of Sinai, there would be nothing between them and the Israeli army. They would still be fighting with each other in the desert and in no way separated one from the other.


What is the noble Viscount asking the Egyptians to do?


My Lords, perhaps I may intervene for a moment. The first condition was that hostilities should cease altogether and then they should withdraw at least ten miles each side of the Canal, to sterilise the area from fighting. The first condition was that hostilities should cease. We cannot guarantee that. That is the condition.


I am grateful to my noble friend because he has cleared up the misunderstanding from which the noble Viscount suffered. The first point and the essential point is the ceasing of hostilities and the separation of the combatants. That is the position and I think that what I have said about our readiness that the United Nations should take over the job as soon as the conflict is settled is important.

I have been asked—the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, devoted his speech to this point—about the position of the members of the Commonwealth. As he very fairly said, it is too early to make a final assessment of the Commonwealth reaction as a whole, but it is immensely heartening to learn this afternoon that Her Majesty's Governments in Australia and New Zealand believe that the action taken by us was right. I welcome, too, the statement of the noble Lord. Lord Malvern. that the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland will be behind the Mother Country, and the support which Sir Roy Welensky has declared for us. Mr. Menzies has stated that in the Australian Government's opinion Great Britain was correct in proceeding upon her own judgment and accepting her own responsibility. Mr. Holland said that he and his Government have full confidence in the United Kingdom's intentions in moving forces into the Suez Canal Zone.

I want to say only a word about consultations. It is the fact, as my noble friend said, that there has been continuous contact and consultation for months between Her Majesty's Government and the Governments throughout the Commonwealth. In sudden emergency created by the clash of arms there was no time to consult before action had to be taken, as Mr. Menzies himself put it, to keep combatants out of the Canal area and afford it proper protection. Again, to use Mr. Menzies' words, there are instances like the present one in which events move too fast for normal processes. I do not think that I could give the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, an answer in more weighty words than those of the Prime Minister of Australia.

Noble Lords have mentioned the position of Anglo-American relations. For many years there has been close co-operation in all fields of policy, but there are no treaty commitments, and each country has at times followed an independent line of action. Thus, the United States pursued an independent policy over China and Formosa and felt unable to support our negotiations at Geneva which brought peace to Indo-China. These divergencies and disagreements are not fatal to the practice of co-operation between our two countries, which is, I am quite sure, necessary to both of us and in which we both believe.

We are well aware that no lasting settlement in the Middle East or elsewhere can be obtained unless the United Kingdom and the United States collaborate closely. But if our policy of co-operation is to succeed, it must be on a two-way basis. We are still entitled to hope for American support in our attempt to prevent the frightful consequences of a major clash in the Middle East and the possible destruction of one of the world's lifelines. It is essential that our friends in the United States should not misconstrue our action as a reversion to the old concepts of colonialism. On the contrary, we regard it as a chance for constructive work in our common task of strengthening the line against Communism. We hope that after an opportunity for calmer reflection our friends in the United States will realise that our action has been emergency "fire brigade" action, designed to minimise the damage, and that we are animated by the same purposes as themselves, although at present we may appear to be employing different means.

It has been said, also, that the Government's action in stating the requirement of Tuesday will prevent Parliament from having an effective say or securing national unity. I have really put the answer to that. I do not want to repeat it over and over again, but it is our view that there was a situation requiring immediate action, and that no Government could refrain from taking action. To refrain would be to abdicate from the first duty of protecting its subjects and international obligations.

I think the next line of criticism was that the ultimatum was so framed that compliance would have been unduly unfavourable to Egypt. Well, the main point is our first requirement that hostilities between the two nations should cease. As I have said. it is from hostilities and the unpredictable results of fighting that our people, ships and the Canal must be protected; the danger area is the area of the Canal. it is surely right that both should agree to withdraw out of range of 25-pounder guns from the Canal. I said "should agree to withdraw". I repeat "agree", because we never suggested that the withdrawal should be completed within the time limit of twelve hours. What was necessary was that both Powers should agree to do so.

As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in another place, the circumstances in which this unhappy conflict arose must be dispassionately examined and debated. it is interesting to note that early in the debate the noble Lord, Lord said that we should be circumspect in using the word "aggression." although he was inclined to indicate that he thought it technically existed. As I understood the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, he would not have admitted that the aggression was on the side of Israel. I only quote that because I think all your Lordships will agree that those views came from two highly respected members of your Lordships' House, and I am putting the intermediate view, as I said, that the circumstances should be dispassionately examined and debated.

My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, gave us the circumstances from the Israeli point of view with great force and eloquence, and it is enough for me simply to summarise what they are. Within the last few days the situation deteriorated, and we saw a joint military command established for Egypt, Jordan and Syria; we saw also the renewed raids of the guerrillas, culminating in the incursion of an Egyptian commando on last Saturday night. As I said, it is significant that in the 1954 Treaty the Egyptians insisted on the provision that the United Kingdom could not re-activate the base in the case of an Israeli attack, presumably because they did not want our moderating influence there. Moreover. Egypt has long been in breach of the United Nations resolution to allow Israeli ships to pass through the Canal, and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, gave us in graphic language the pronouncement which Colonel Nasser had made.

More recently, Egypt was, as I demonstrated without contradiction in your Lordships' House during the debate in September, guilty of a breach both of her obligations under the 1888 Convention and of International Law by her arbitrary expropriation of the Company. But having said that shortly, I venture to remind your Lordships of this point. In that debate I spoke to your Lordships, I am afraid at length and with some force, as to the dangers to the world if countries abandoned their duty of seeing that international agreements were kept. This Israeli action is just the sort of thing that is bound to happen if the sanctity of international bargains is forgotten, and justice is postponed to a short-term case.

I am well aware that there are those, both in this House and elsewhere, who disagree profoundly with the action taken by Her Majesty's Government. I have no wish to question their sincerity or their motives: on the contrary. I know that most of them are both patriotic and sincere. But let it not be thought for a moment that the Government have not throughout been perfectly well aware of all the dangers and difficulties involved. Far from it. All the arguments which have been used, and all the fears which have been expressed by our critics were most carefully weighed before any decision was taken. Her Majesty's Government have acted as they did for a very simple reason—in spite of all these arguments, they think that what they have done is the right thing to do. And, after all, it is the Government who are answerable to the nation for the conduct of our affairs, and it would be an abdication from their responsibility if, convinced as they are of what is right, they did not do it, merely because others who do not share that responsibility happened to disagree.

It is one of the tragedies of world politics that ever and anon the receiving sets of foreign statesmen seem attuned to receive only the words of those who criticise and not of those who have both to formulate a policy and to carry it out. On these occasions they seem utterly to fail to realise that just because the people of Britain are tardy to resent pin-pricks and slow to rouse, when they have come to the conclusion that they have had enough, it is then an occupational risk, which the people of Britain calmly accept, that they should maintain that view, if necessary alone in the world. That point clearly comes when British lives, ships and an international necessity for the livelihood, not only of this country but of many other nations, is threatened by force. My Lords, we have this consolation, however: that these views, slowly formed, and that determination, reluctantly arrived at, have invariably been proved right by history, and that those who criticised us in the time of trial have been the first to applaud us in the hour of success. It is my earnest wish that those who differ from us to-day will think again of these lessons of history and keep them in mind, and will find it possible to join us in securing a speedy peace and the long-term security of a troubled quarter of the world.

7.1 p.m.


My Lords, I think it will be agreed that this debate has been carried on in a sober and serious atmosphere in discussing the very great issues that have been before us. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has defended the policy of Her Majesty's Government with great skill and persuasiveness. I listened to his clear legal interpretation of the position, but I must confess I found myself very confused, and if we had more time there are certain points that would have been worth raising to clarify the position. All I will say is this: the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said that we on these Benches disagreed profoundly with the honest policy of Her Majesty's Government. We started with profound disagreement and I must say, at the end of the debate we still have profound disagreement. In those circumstances, instead of rising to ask leave to withdraw the Motion, I must press for the Motion to be divided upon.

On Question: Whether there shall be laid before the House Papers in regard to the Egypt-Israeli situation?

Their Lordships divided:—

Contents, 30; Not-Contents, 82.

Coventry, E. C'horley, L. Ogmore, L.
Jowitt, E. Colwyn, L. Pakenham L.
Listowel, E. Darwen, L. [Teller.] Pethick-Lawrence. L.
Lucan, E. [Teller.] Faringdon, L. Rea, L.
Harmsworth, L. Rochester, L.
Astor, V. Harvey of Tasburugh, L. Sherwood, L.
Samuel, V. Henderson, L. Silkin, L.
Kershaw, L. Simon of Wythenshawe, L.
Amulree, L. Layton, L. Wilmot of Selmeston, L.
Archibald, L. Macpherson of Drumochter, L. Wrenbury, L.
Boyd-Orr, L. Morrison, L.
Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.) Furness, V Grantley, L.
Goschen, V. Grenfell, L.
Sutherland, D. Hailsham, V. Hampton, L.
Long, V. Hankey, L
Cholmondeley, M. Margesson, V. Hawke, L.
Reading, M. Ridley, V. Hore-Belisha, L.
Ruffside V. Howard of Glossop, L.
Beauchamp, E. Waverley, V. Killearn, L.
Bessborough, E. Leconfield, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Balfour of Burleigh, L. Lloyd, L.
Carlisle, E. Barnby, L. Lyle of Westbourne, L.
De La Warr, E. Birdwood, L. McCorquodale of Newton, L.
Fortescue, E. [Teller.] Blackford, L Mancroft, L.
Gosford, E. Broughshane, L. Melchett, L.
Halifax, E. Bruntisfield, L. Merriman, L.
Home, E. Cawley, L. Milverton, L.
Howe, E. Chesham, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Inchcape, E. Colgrain, L. Palmer, L.
Limerick, E. Colyton, L. Rennell, L.
Lindsay, E. Conesford, L. Rochdale, L.
Malmesbury, F. Cottesloe, L. Salloun, L.
Onslow, E. [Teller.] Croft, L. Sandford, L.
St. Aldwyn, E. Denham, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L
Selkirk, E. Dovercourt, L. Stratheden and Campbell, L
Swinton, E. Ebbisharn, L Teviot, L.
Winrerton, E. Ellenborough, L. Teynham, L.
Fairfax of Cameron, L. Thurlow, L.
De L'Isle, V. Fraser of North Cape, L. Tweedsmuir, L.
Falmouth, V. Gilford, L. Wolverton, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.