HL Deb 12 September 1956 vol 199 cc630-724

2.40 p.m.


My Lords. your Lordships will remember that on August 2 last, when we last discussed the topic of Colonel Nasser's action in forcibly taking over the assets and activities of the Suez Canal Company.. Opposition Parties, both in your Lordships' House and in another place, asked the Government to give an undertaking that they would call Parliament together if events required. or if there was anything definite to report. That undertaking, as your Lordships know, the Government readily gave, and it is in virtue of that undertaking that we are meeting this afternoon.

I have thought, and I hope that the House will agree, that in these circumstances it will be for your Lordships' convenience if I start the proceedings by making a statement on the events that have occurred since we met last, and if I explain, so far as I am in a position to do so, the views of Her Majesty's Government on the issues raised by Colonel Nasser's action in the light of those events. The House will remember the position as it existed on August 2. Only seven days had passed since Colonel Nasser had proceeded against the Suez Canal Company, and the critical situation to which his action had given rise was at that moment still under urgent discussion by the Foreign Secretary, M. Pineau and Mr. Dulles, who had come to London for that purpose. No conclusions to the deliberations had yet been announced, and therefore I was in no position to say anything about further plans. Had I been able to do so, I feel sure that my words would have been received with general satisfaction by the House, for the decision that the three Foreign Ministers reached, as your Lordships will remember, was in full accord both with common sense and with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations. It was to call a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of those countries which were principally concerned with the conduct of the Canal. These were, of course, the signatories of the 1888 Convention, so far as these still existed, and the chief users of the Canal both in the way of shipping passing through and in the way of goods that were carried.

It has been suggested in some quarters that an even wider circle of nations ought to have been invited, but the object of this conference, as we all know, was to produce practical constructive results, and for that purpose I suggest that what was clearly needed was not a vast heterogeneous gathering of nations, many of whom had no personal knowledge or direct interest in the problem, but a smaller body of representatives of countries with personal experience of the Canal. That was in full accordance with the provisions of Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations, which, as your Lordships will remember, states: The parties to any dispute. the continuation of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, inquiry, mediation. conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice. That is exactly what was done with regard to the conference which was called at that time. Twenty-two invitations were sent out and twenty acceptances were received. Only two of those who were invited refused—that is, Egypt and Greece—and all the rest, including Russia, came.

The deliberations lasted seven days, and, at the end of this conference, all eighteen nations, including all the main users of the Canal. agreed on the terms of a resolution which, in the main, was based on the draft which is known as the Dulles Plan, but with amendments by Ethiopia, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. In short, this Plan was as follows—and though I expect most of your Lordships know it, I make no apology for repeating it because I think that it should be in the records of this House.

First, the eighteen countries affirm that, as stated in the Preamble of the Convention of 1888, there should be established "a definite system destined to guarantee at all times, and for all the Powers, the free use of the Suez maritime Canal." Secondly, such a system would be established with due regard to the sovereign rights of Egypt. Thirdly, it should assure, first, the efficient and dependable operation, maintenance, and development of the Canal as a free, open and secure international waterway, in accordance with the principles of the 1888 Convention; secondly, the insulation of the operation of the Canal from the influence of the politics of any nation; thirdly, a return to Egypt for the use of the Suez Canal which would be fair and equitable, and increasing with enlargements of its capacity and greater use; and, lastly, Canal tolls which would be as low as was consistent with the foregoing requirements, and, except for what went to Egypt, would allow for no profit. I am afraid that I have put these main points extremely briefly, but I think they cover the main characteristics of this scheme.

The Plan went on to say that to achieve these results a Convention should be nogotiated with Egypt. This Convention would set up a Suez Canal Board which would be responsible for operating, maintaining and developing the Canal and enlarging it so as to increase the volume of traffic in the interests of world trade and of Egypt. The members of the Board, in addition to Egypt, should be other States chosen from among the States party to the Convention, with due regard to use, pattern of trade and geographical distribution. The Board would make periodic reports to United Nations.

That was the scheme, and I am sure that it will be agreed by everybody that it is a remarkable example of international collaboration for the purpose of trying to find the solution for what I think, in the fullest sense of the term, is an international problem. I am sure that your Lordships in all parts of the House would like me to pay tribute to the notable skill and patience which was shown by the Foreign Secretary, on whom, as the Conference Chairman, fell the main burden for the conduct of a Conference which produced such an impressive measure of agreement.

As your Lordships know, the Conference appointed a committee of five members—Australia, Ethiopia, Iran, Sweden and the United States—uncler the chairmanship of the Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Menzies, to communicate the conclusions and proposals of the Conference to Colonel Nasser. That committee was not empowered by the Conference to negotiate with Colonel Nasser, but they could expound the proposals and elucidate any obscurities there might have been in the report which was being delivered to him. It was hoped in this way that within the broad principles which were laid down by the eighteen nations there would be found enough common ground to justify further joint discussions between the Egyptian Government and those other Governments which had been represented at the Conference. In any event when the Mission had been concluded, the committee had to report back to the nations represented at the Conference from whom they had received their mandate.

I am sure that every one of us owes a deep debt of gratitude to the chairman of that committee, Mr. Menzies, for undertaking what was, inevitably, an onerous and in some cases an invidious task. Every one who knows him will support me in saying that no-one was better fitted both by experience and outstanding ability to perform it, and I am sure that he had the fullest support from the distinguished colleagues who went with him. If then, this committee was not successful—and I am afraid that it was not—we may be sure that it was not for want of patience and persuasive advocacy. But unhappily, in spite of all their efforts, they were unable to move Colonel Nasser to consider any solution which was consonant with those broad principles which the eighteen nations regarded as essential to the proper maintenance and free navigation of the Canal.

That is the situation with which the world, and especially the maritime nations of the world, are to-day faced. That is a situation, I submit, to the dangers of which we in this country, in particular, cannot afford to close our eyes. For, after all, we, the British, are the greatest user of the canal. Our tonnage which passes through the Suez Canal is, I believe, double that of any other nation, and, as the Prime Minister has said, the free passage of this great waterway is essential to our very existence. Her Majesty's Government, as I am sure the House can well imagine, have given most serious and urgent consideration to this problem, which I believe to be certainly the most formidable that has confronted us since the end of the Second World War. Here what I have to say is, I think, of such importance that I hope the House will allow me to use the same words as are to be used, or are being used, by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place.

The House will certainly agree that the 22-Power Conference in London and the mission of Mr. Menzies' Committee represented a very considerable effort to reach a solution by agreement. However, it unhappily failed. In consequence, we have carefully considered, with our French and American Allies, what the next step should be; and we have decided, in agreement with them, that an organisation shall be set up without delay to enable the users of the Canal to exercise their rights. This Users' Association will be provisional in character, and we hope that it will help to prepare the way for a permanent system which can be established with the full agreement of all interested parties.

Though discussions are still proceeding between the three Governments about the details of this plan, I can now give the House this broad outline. It will be as follows. The members of the Users' Association will include the three Governments I have already mentioned—that is to say. ourselves, the French Government and. the Government of the United States—and the other principal users of the Canal will be invited to join. We hope that the pattern of membership will be as representative as possible. The Users' Association will employ pilots; will undertake responsibility for co-ordination of traffic through the Canal; and, in general, will act as a voluntary association for the exercise of the rights of Suez Canal users. The Egyptian Authorities will be requested to cooperate in maintaining the maximum flow of traffic through the Canal. It is contemplated that Egypt shall receive appropriate payment from the Association in respect of facilities provided by her in this connection, but the transit dues will be paid to the Users' Association and not to the Egyptian authority.

We believe that in this way it will be possible to establish a system of transit of the Canal for a substantial volume of shipping. We should thus reduce, both for Europe and for Asia, the economic dislocation caused by Colonel Nasser's arbitrary action. Of course, we realise that we cannot expect that a provisional organisation of the kind I have outlined, designed to meet an emergency, will be in a position to provide for the major developments which are becoming urgently necessary if the Canal is to continue adequately to serve the interests of its users. We also recognise that the attitude of the Egyptian Government will have an important bearing on the capacity of this Association to fulfil its functions. But I must make it clear that if the Egyptian Government should seek to interfere with the operations of the Association, or refuse to extend to it the essentional minimum of co-operation, then that Government will once more be in breach of the Convention of 1888. And in that event Her Majesty's Government and others concerned will be free to take such further steps as seem to be required, either through the United Nations or by other means for the assertion of their rights.

I shall no doubt be asked—

I am till referring to this what I may call the marked portion on which I embarked a few minutes ago—

what are the intentions of Her Majesty's Government about the refer- ence of this dispute to the United Nations. As I have stated, I certainly do not exclude that—quite the contrary. Indeed, it may well be necessary. Meanwhile we have considered it our duty, jointly with the French Government, to address a letter to the President of the Security Council informing him of the situation that has arisen. This letter does not ask for any action at this stage, but it puts us in a position to ask for urgent action if that becomes necessary.

No one, I am sure, will disagree with those last words that I have just used. We are, after all, members of the Organisation of the United Nations, and. by our membership, we have undertaken certain obligations towards it. It is therefore clearly right, I think, that we should bring to its attention a situation so menacing as that created by the arbitrary action of Colonel Nasser, which is contrary to every principle for which the United Nations stands. For, after all, the United Nations Organisation stands not only for the preservation of peace, but for the maintenance of justice and good faith in the relations between nations It is there, in our view, that Colonel Nasser has so grievously erred. He has, by his arbitrary seizure of the Suez Canal Company, not only put in jeopardy the maintenance and free navigation of the Canal, but has undermined that faith in the sanctity of international engagements which is, and must be, the basis of all civilised relations between States.

His defence for his action apparently rests on the assumption—which, indeed, seems to he the whole basis for his policy —that every nation has the sovereign right to nationalise any enterprise within its borders. But, in fact, the whole of this elaborate argument, which he has so laboriously built up, rests, I submit, on an entire perversion of the idea of nationalisation. Nationalisation in its proper sense —as anyone could find out by merely looking in a dictionary—means the transfer of an enterprise from private to public control. It does not mean, and it cannot mean, the transference of an enterprise from international to national control. That, as I see it, is the basic fallacy which underlies the analogy which some people seek to draw between what has been done in this country and what Colonel Nasser is doing now.

The industries which we nationalised in this country were purely our own concern. They were not international in any sense of the term. All that we did here—all that we could do—was to take from those industries their private character. But no-one could possibly say that the Suez Canal was not an enterprise of international scope. If anyone ever had any doubts about that, the fact that twenty-two countries sent their Foreign Ministers to London to discuss its future, and that many more countries complained because they were not invited to the Conference, is surely proof of that. It may, indeed, well be doubted whether the Suez Canal Company was ever a private enterprise in the strict sense of the term. A Company on the Board of which the British, French and Egyptian Governments are represented by directors could hardly, I should have thought, be regarded as either purely private or a purely Egyptian concern.

But, in any case, what Colonel Nasser had done is something quite different from nationalising an enterprise, whether private or not, in the accepted meaning of that term. He has not merely taken from the enterprise its private character, if, indeed, it ever had one the has, if I may coil a rather clumsy but, I think, accurate word, de-internationalised a great international waterway. That waterway has been an international concern in the fullest sense of the word for the whole period of its existence. This was recognised, I think, in the original firmans which granted the concession to the Company. It was inherent in the 1888 Convention. Ever since the Canal was originally built it has been open, as a right, to the commerce of the world. But from now on, if Colonel Nasser has his way, it will be open only to those whom he permits to go through it.

That is a very far cry from nationalisation as we have hitherto known it. It is something, I believe, far more formidable and far more reprehensible. Indeed, the act of a Government which, unilaterally and in defiance of existing Treaties and Agreements, removes by force its international character from an international waterway, is surely contrary to the whole spirit of the Charter as laid down in the Preamble. It partakes of the nature of what we have come to know as aggression. For I submit that aggression does not necessarily mean the crossing of a frontier of one country by the armed forces of another. It can, as we know from events in the world even since the last World War, take many and widely differing forms. But it must, I believe, have one essential attribute which is common to all. It must be, to use the words of the great Oxford Dictionary, an "unprovoked attack". That is the essence of aggression; and, my Lords, what else is this? Here was a Company, quietly, efficiently and legally performing an international function and guaranteed in the performance of that function by an International Convention. Then, with no provocation, suddenly, unilaterally and arbitrarily, its international character has been abrogated, its premises have been occupied by armed force and its funds have been sequestrated. I should have thought. as I have just said, that that partakes of the very nature of aggression.

Moreover, in any case we must not forget that the United Nations Organisation exists not merely for the purpose of suppressing aggression; it exists also, if I may quote the actual words of the Preamble of the Charter: For the establishment of conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising ram treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained. That is the principle to which I think we must all sincerely hope the United Nations will always give their unequivocal support. It is the principle for which we and France are firmly determined to stand to-day. There is no dispute—so far as I know there never has been any dispute—as to who owns the banks of the Canal. Everybody agrees that they belong to Egypt. But the management and control of the Canal were international, and they must remain international in the future if they are to be effectively managed and if the free navigation of the Canal is not to be subject to the changing winds of Egyptian policy.

That was the essence of the Dulles scheme which we and sixteen other nations, including all the main maritime countries, supported. If I am told, to use a phrase that seems to be fashionable to-day, that the doctrine which I have tried to enunciate is colonialism, I would reply that that is all nonsense, and pernicious nonsense at that. It was not thought to be colonialism when the vision of M. de Lesseps conceived the Suez Canal, and when British and French capital poured in to make that vision a reality. That was not thought to be colonialism; it was considered quite all right. It is only now. when the wealth and skill of the progressive Western countries have produced something which the Egyptians could not achieve for themselves that this cry of "colonialism" is raised to justify the Egyptian Government in repudiating their side of the bargain.

In fact, as we all know, the concession to the Suez Canal Company was never something imposed by an exploiter on an exploited; it was a contract between equals from which both sides benefited, and which neither side had a right to repudiate. If the Egyptian present contention is accepted in this case—that it is the sovereign right of every country at will to repudiate any contract into which it has entered—this will be the precursor of a steadily increasing number of others. The whole currency of international relations will be debased, and we shall drift again nearer and nearer the abyss.

The time to call a halt is now. As Her Majesty's Government have said again and again, we would far rather see a settlement by peaceful means, if that is attainable; and, while making every effort we can to get one, the course we followed, first, by sponsoring with the United States and France the Conference of eighteen nations, and, secondly, by bringing the dispute to the notice of the United Nations, as we now have, is proof of this. And so is the action which we took in doing our utmost to persuade the Suez Canal pilots to stay at their posts pending the result of the Committee of Five's discussions with Nasser. The House will have seen in the papers this morning that the Suez Canal Company have now withdrawn their request to their employees to stay at their posts, and left it entirely to them to come to a decision whether they shall remain in their present employment or whether they should leave it. I am quite certain that noble Lords opposite in particular will not complain of this, nor will they suggest that a free workman ought to be compelled to remain at work he has come to dislike, under employers he has come to distrust. It must here, as elsewhere, be a question for the workmen's own decision. If they want to stay, they are perfectly free to do so. If they want to leave that is a matter for them.

Let noble Lords not think that Her Majesty's Government are not concerned to get a solution without force—we are. We have done our best, and we are still doing our best. We should be happy to have a solution which safeguards both peace and the sanctity of international engagements. If we can get both, no one will be better pleased than we shall be. But do not let us assume too readily, as some people seem to do, that you can always get both. It may be that we shall have to choose between them. In that situation, I think there can be no doubt which alternative we ought to choose. We must support respect for international engagements, and for this reason: it is only on respect for international engagements that enduring peace can ever be based. Without that, we should get neither peace nor security; we should get only a steady, dreary deterioration into anarchy.

Such are the circumstances in which Her Majesty's Government and the French Government have thought it right to take military precautions against all eventualities, whether in respect of protection of their own nationals or, if need should unhappily come, in defence of that great principle to which I have just referred. My Lords, respect for the sanctity of engagements, international as national, is the very keystone of civilised life. That is the faith which has always inspired this country, and in that faith. whatever befall, we shall go forward. It is for that that I ask the support of all those in this House and outside to whom international honour and international good faith are dear. In any case, let us remain firm and united, for in firmness and unity, I am profoundly convinced, lies by far the best chance of a peaceful issue from our present troubles.

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, if ever there was any doubt at all as to the need for the recall of Parliament at this present juncture the very grave and important speech of the noble Marquess will have afforded a complete justification; and, indeed, the very large attendance of noble Lords who have come here—presumably at very great inconvenience in some cases, as in my own—affords a further justification arid is an appreciation of the sense of the gravity of the occasion.

The noble Marquess has announced the policy which the Government intend to follow. It puts one in some difficulty in immediately replying to his statement because, quite frankly, it has taken me, and, I imagine, a great many other noble Lords, completely by surprise. All one can do is to give one's first reactions, which may be modified by subsequent closer examination of his proposals or by discussion with one's friends. But my first reaction to what he has said is that the action proposed strikes me as being somewhat provocative action to take, and may well lead to incidents. I do not say that it is designed to create incidents, but it may well lead to incidents, which will have the results which all of us, I imagine, are most anxious to avoid.

I myself would much rather that this matter pursued the course on which the Government started—namely, that of acting strictly in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. The first action of convening a number of interested nations was, as the noble Marquess said, within the Charter and Article 33 and, in my view, was a very proper action to take. The Government were fully justified in convening that meeting in London and I think they are to be congratulated on the response which that meeting had. I should like to join with the noble Marquess in congratulating the Foreign Minister on the way in which that Conference was conducted and also on the very successful issue which resulted from it. It was a remarkable achievement to get eighteen nations of all kinds, types and interests from the different Continents to subscribe to the principles which were laid down, in the first instance, by Mr. Dulles and on which these eighteen nations were unanimous. Moreover, even the other nations, I think, agreed that something; more than reliance upon Colonel Nasser alone was necessary, because they also put forward a proposal for some kind of international consultative body. thus recognising that the control of the Canal was not a matter which could be left to Colonel Nasser alone.

It may be convenient if we review, in the light of present circumstances, the situation which we saw on August 2, and see how far we want to withdraw or modify any of the views that we then expressed. In response to the last words of the noble Marquess, I want to say to him that in this very serious position none of us would wish to disagree with the Government. for the sake of disagreeing. We want to make sure that the measure of disagreement is as restricted as possible and to agree to as much as is possible in the Government's actions. I can assure the noble Marquess that it will not be desire of any of us on this side to treat this matter as a political issue.

Looking back on August 2, I myself took the view, as did a number of my noble friends, that the nationalisation of the Canal was contrary to International Law. I made no attempt to give reasons —I do not think the House was particularly interested. I notice that in the course of this debate we are to have a speech from the noble Lord, Lord McNair, who is an authority on these matters and whose words we shall listen to with great interest and respect. He has already indicated his views in a letter to The Times and I shall be very glad indeed, as we all shall, to hear him elaborate those views. If he is right, it seems to me to put the matter beyond all question that the action of Colonel Nasser is a breach of International Law. There are differences of opinion on the matter, possibly legitimate differences, but I subscribe entirely to what the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said about the nature of the Suez Canal Company and the clear distinction between the nationalisation of an ordinary industrial or commercial concern in one's own country and the nationalisation of a concern of this kind. So I have little or no doubt that the view expressed on August 2 as to the illegal character of the nationalisation still stands.

But, whether that be so, or not, I feel that the view which all of us then held, that it was essential that the fate of the Suez Canal should not be in the hands of one man or one nation, still holds good, and with renewed force. We cannot, and any nation which depends so much upon the Suez Canal for its very life blood cannot, afford to depend upon the whim of one man, upon what are his views as to his own national interest or national politics and as to what his economic circumstances may be from the point of view of the dues which he would charge for passage through the Canal. Therefore we were fully justified in urging that the Canal should be under international control, with whatever safeguards might be necessary, to preserve the dignity of Egypt and her interests. Nobody has suggested that the actual territory of the Suez Canal is anything but Egyptian; but, after all, it is of international interest, and Egypt is privileged to have a water which is of international interest, and we are all concerned that it should be used in the proper way.

I have said that I thought that, in the circumstances, the Government took the right action in convening the Conference, and I should like to join the noble Marquess in congratulating Mr. Menzies on the very patient and tactful way in which he handled his Mission in Cairo. It is certainly not his fault that he did not come back with greater success. Up to that point I can say that we have no disagreement with Her Majesty's Government as to the action they took in order to arrive at an understanding with Egypt. But at that point I am bound to express profound disagreement with the steps they took, from the point of view of military action.

Of course, it is quite right that we should be ready to resist an unprovoked attack against British lives or the threat of an attack against British lives—nobody could complain about that; but we do feel that the steps which Her Majesty's Government in fact took went far beyond mere defensive action. In our view, they were quite definitely a threat, and a threat at the same time as we were conducting these negotiations. It is a challenge to anybody, particularly to a dictator, to be asked to negotiate, on the one hand, and to have threats of military action held out to him, on the other; it makes it difficult for him even to be as conciliatory as he might want to be if he feels that he is acting under duress. Therefore, I feel that it was a mistake on our part to have put up such a great show of force at the very time that we were seeking to negotiate.

Moreover, so far as I could make it out, we never made clear what was the purpose of this great show of military force. Was it purely defensive? I hardly think so, because we used such expressions as "in the last resort". We never explained what we meant by "the last resort". Whether "the last resort" meant that if we could get agreement in no other way we should use force, or what it meant, nobody could understand. At any rate, the Government were extremely vague about it; and that, we think, was not calculated to bring about a climate which would lead to successful negotiations. I should like to ask the Government, seeing that they do contemplate the use of force in certain circumstances: what do they intend to do with this force? Is it their purpose, in certain circumstances, to occupy Egypt? What do they think they can achieve by the use of force?

I do not know whether Her Majesty's Government have ever considered what is the purpose of it all and what they could possibly hope to achieve as the result of the use of force. I would ask Her Majesty's Government very seriously to consider whether any useful outcome can flow from the continued threat of force "in the last resort". We do know that we shall have the whole of the Arab world against us—and we have been spending years in trying to pacify and appease the Arabs. But if anything is calculated to unite the Arabs—and by no means have they been united hitherto—this would be the one thing that would bring them all together, and we should have to contend not merely with Egypt but with the whole of the Arab world.

Moreover, we should not have even our own friends behind us in the use of force. If the Press to-day is to be accepted, President Eisenhower has definitely declared himself against the use of force, and I have grave doubts whether the members of the Commonwealth would be behind us. I believe that we should certainly not have India. I doubt whether we should have Canada or Australia, behind us. So far as the United Nations are concerned, it is quite on the cards that we should be regarded as the aggressors—and it would be a very sorry state of affairs if we were actually branded as aggressors by a majority of the members of the United Nations.

Even more important I believe that we should have public opinion in this country against us. I do not know whether the noble Marquess attaches any importance to Gallup Polls, but they have been remarkably accurate in the past, and I would advise him to look at the News Chronicle Gallup Polls that have taken place and been published in the last two days. The question was asked, "Do you approve of the use of force?", and replies showed that while 34 per cent. approved the use of force 49 per cent. disapproved. Your Lordships may put whatever trust you like in those figures, but they de at least indicate that a substantial section of the community is against the use of force, and the noble Marquess can be assured that the whole of the Labour Party is against the use of force in the circumstances in which he visualised it.


In any circumstances?




Would the noble Lord define the circumstances?


Certainly I will, but will the noble Marquess allow me just to develop my argument, and then I will tell him in what circumstances I think that the use of force would be legitimate? I would ask him also to consider the economic consequences that would flow. We should he destroying the very thing that we are fighting for. We can be quite sure that if ever we went to war in order to preserve passage through the Suez Canal, that would be the very thing that we should lose, because it is so easily capable of destruction. Finally, I would warn him of the danger of a world conflagration. I need not enlarge on what that might mean. So I do ask the noble Marquess to take all these things into consideration and not to talk so lightly of the use of force.


No, no.


Well, I thought he did.




Well, the impression I had—I do not apologise for it at all—is that if we could get our way without force, well and good; but that if we cannot get our way without force, then in the last resort we shall be compelled to use it. If we seriously intend the use of force, then we are embarking upon a most dangerous course and one which is fraught with the gravest of consequences, not only to our people but to the whole world. If, on the other hand, Her Majesty's Government do not really intend to use force and regard this as a demonstration of strength which they feel may have some effect on Colonel Nasser—in other words, if it is really a gigantic piece of bluff—then I am hound to say that I think it is a stupid piece of bluff. It will make us look foolish if our bluff is called, and will tend to encourage us to use force in the last resort, if only to save our own face.

Moreover, it is surely bad tactics if one seriously wants to negotiate. We have always talked about negotiating with the Eastern countries from strength. I remember trying on several occasions to get the noble Marquess to explain exactly what he meant by "negotiating from strength". In the end, his view was that it meant negotiating from equal strength, and that generally we ought not to be put at a disadvantage as regards the Soviet Union and her satellites in negotiating from a strength substantially less than theirs. I fully accept that as a very wise view, but if that is so, surely Colonel Nasser is entitled to take the same view; and he would not be negotiating from strength. It would be we who would be negotiating from overwhelming strength. while he would be at: a disadvantage.

Apart from these, in my view, unnecessarily elaborate military steps which we have taken, have we not rather accentuated the position by permitting the landing of French troops in Cyprus, as if we had not enough trouble on our hands already there? That seems a wholly unnecessary action. There is one other piece of provocation to which I would refer. I believe the noble Marquess has promised that this would be elaborated upon in the course of later speeches—I refer to the withdrawal of the Canal pilots, or the invitation, or permission, for them to withdraw. I believe that it would have been wiser had they been left alone for the time being and given no advice.


My Lords, the pilots are not being withdrawn. Neither the Suez Canal Company nor Her Majesty's Government are taking such action. Up till now, we have begged them to stay, but now they are to be allowed to do as they wish.


My Lords, it struck me as being provocative to be giving the pilots a pretty broad hint that they can go just at this moment.




My Lords, I am sorry if noble Lords do not altogether agree with, or like what I am saying, but I feel it my duty to say what I honestly believe. This is a very grave moment and nobody would thank me for merely saying "Hear, hear!" to everything Her Majesty's Government are doing. If the Government have had nothing at all to do with this matter of the pilots, and it is merely one for the Suez Canal Company, then I believe they were ill-advised to make this statement at this moment. But I imagine that there has been consultation between the Company and Her Majesty's Government. It seems a pity that we should have taken this step while there is still a vestige of hope left that some agreement might be reached.

What ought we to do? In my view, we ought to go immediately to the United Nations. I feel that the formation of the proposed new organisation is a mistake which may lead to trouble and violence and may have the very result we are trying to avoid. We should go immediately either to the General Assembly or the Security Council of the United Nations and abide by their decision. We must also find alternative means of supplying our oil needs from America, and we must be prepared to abandon the Suez Canal, at any rate for a time. That would involve certain hardships on the people of this country, but war would mean even greater hardships; and, after all, let us remember that the Egyptians and the Arab peoples —those in whose countries oil is situated —are at least as dependent upon us as we are upon them. We want to buy their oil, but they want to sell it. It is no good their "sitting on" their oil; they will not get very wealthy merely by retaining the oil in their possession. Nor will Colonel Nasser get much satisfaction from "sitting on" the Canal. In the last resort, those people have to get revenue from the Canal and from their oil, and I believe that if we were to show a certain amount of independence and suffer a certain amount of inconvenience for a time—and I believe that it would be only for a time—we should he in a position to negotiate a satisfactory solution.

The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, asked me whether I entirely renounced the use of force in any circumstances. My answer is that I entirely renounce the use of force as an instrument of policy, but I am not suggesting that in no circumstances should we be entitled to use force. I want to explain to the noble Marquess the circumstances in which I believe the use of force would be justified. We are entitled to resist armed attack against us, but otherwise to act only if authorised by the United Nations in accordance with its Charter. That Charter contains the provision for the use of force. The noble Marquess referred to various Articles. I should like to quote from Article 51: Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. We have subscribed to the United Nations Charter and are committed to it, and we are entitled to resist an armed attack against us. I would not subscribe to the definition of the seizure of the Canal given by the noble Marquess as an "armed attack." I do not think the United Nations Charter contemplated any such view of an armed attack as the noble Marquess has put forward. I believe that we are entitled to use armed force, with the consent of the United Nations; and if we feel that it is justified we should go to the United Nations and ask for its approval.

I feel, as the noble Marquess has said, that moral issues are involved here, issues relating to good faith between nations and concerning the future of our international relationships. But I feel that we ourselves must set an example to the world in the promotion and maintenance of international law through the United Nations Organisation which we played so noble a part in creating. If we, of all people, ignore or by-pass the United Nations Organisation, we shall be doing incalculable harm to the future of the world.


My Lords, I do not like interrupting the noble Lord, but I never suggested that we should by-pass the United Nations. I went out of my way not to say that.


The last thing I want to do, as I hope the noble Marquess knows, is to do him any injustice; but I gathered that what he was doing was not going to the United Nations except to the extent of giving them notice, and taking entirely different action, setting up an organisation and forcing its way through the Canal.


I will quote to the noble Lord what I said. I said: Meanwhile we have considered it our duty jointly with the French Government to address a letter to the President of the Security Council informing him of the situation that has arisen. This letter does not ask for any action at this stage but it puts us in a position to ask for urgent act. on if that becomes necessary. That is all any member of the United Nations can do.


I think the noble Marquess also said that he does not rule out the possibility at some stage of going to the United Nations. I am in a difficulty in that I have not had the opportunity of studying the staternent—I can only go upon my recollection. But I think he did say somewhere that he did not rule out the possibility. One does not wane to play with words, but is it not by-passing the United Nations to take action different from that of going to the United Nations; taking some other entirely different step? At any rate, that is my view of what is being done. It seems to me that at this stage the Government are by-passing the United Nations Organisation, although they do not rule out the possibility of going to the United Nations at some future stage. In the meantime, they have given notice. I believe that we were virtually the founders of the United Nations Organisation—certainly we played a very great part in its foundation—and I feel that it is our duty above all to go to the United Nations at the earliest possible moment, and to put this problem before them.

I realise that there are difficulties. I realise the problem that is before the Government: whether to go to the Security Council or to the Assembly. If they go to the Security Council there is the probability of one nation imposing the Veto. If they go to the Assembly. they may not get the majority that is necessary. I see all these difficulties. Nevertheless. I think that it is the duty of the Government to go to the United Nations to get a decision. Then, if they fail, and the position is not what they would like it to be, there are the other possibilities which I have mentioned—such as that we and our friends should do without the Suez Canal for a time—and I have no doubt that in clue course it would be possible to enter into some agreement.

In my view, all this leads to the conclusion that the real difficulty is that, while the United Nations Organisation is an ideal body, and was designed for the purpose of dealing with disputes, and passes its resolutions, as it did in the case of Israel, unfortunately it is not in a position to enforce them. I should have thought, apart altogether from the Suez Canal dispute, that we might well take a lead in endeavouring to provide the United Nations Organisation with the means of enforcing its decisions. So many of our problems could be avoided if we could secure that. If one of the outcomes of the difficulties through which we are now going should he that we take a lead whoa the occasion comes for revising the Charter of the United Nations (as will he the case within a very short time), and in securing that the United Nations Organisation has the necessary powers to enforce its decisions, then I think we shall have made one of the greatest contributions to international good will and international amity that was ever made in the history of this country. I conclude by saying that we on this side of the House have very great sympathy with the Government in the difficulties now confronting them. It is no pleasure to disagree with them on any issue at the present juncture, but we do feel most gravely that the Government are making a mistake with this demonstration of force. For that reason we may well want to put some Motion before the House at a later stage.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I find myself in some difficulty in having to speak at such an early stage in the debate in reply to a statement which has brought out a considerable number of new points. In the present general situation, as it has developed and as it has been so clearly put to the House by the noble Marquess, it is, I think, suitable and proper that both Houses of Parliament should record their opinions. I should like to express the appreciation of at least noble Lords on these Benches to the Government for recalling Parliament as they undertook to do when we last met. At that time, and, in the circumstances which then prevailed, it seemed right and proper to give the Government a totally free hand in the delicate negotiations which were then being undertaken. I, personally, do not regret our decision to ensure that those who were engrossed in that very delicate and responsible task should not be distracted or embarrassed by any form of Parliamentary criticism or interrogation, and should feel free to concentrate their efforts with the moral support of all three Parties and, I feel personally, of the overwhelming majority of the people of this country.

The stage of primary negotiation has been faithfully carried out, and I should like to join in congratulating the Government on the way in which they have handled the matter, particularly in calling together the twenty-two nations, and on the dispatch with which the work of the committee was done. We now need, as I see it, to indicate to Her Majesty's Government, representing not merely the Conservative Party but the country as a whole, what we consider to be the acceptability or the non-acceptability of the various possible lines of conduct in the immediate future.

The cherished British tradition of open debate, whereby our Parliamentary utterances are recorded and read in all parts of the globe, obviously has some disadvantages, particularly in a situation like this where we are really at one on the general principle—in this case the absolute necessity to safeguard the international character of the Suez Canal—but where we feel also the need to criticise certain courses of action, either potential or actual, in pursuing that general principle upon which we are agreed. It is because this criticism in Parliament can be subject to misinterpretation by those unfamiliar with our British Parliamentary procedure that we, on this side of the House—and I feel that I speak for all Members on this side—are indeed conscious of a great responsibility. I would make it abundantly clear that there is no suggestion of trying to make out of this question any sort of Party capital or of embarrassing Her Majesty's Government in the grave situation which it is now their duty to handle.

It would be idle to describe the situation as other than very serious, as Mr. Menzies has repeatedly described it, and that description implies that we are within the purview of potential war, incredible as that may seem in this age of so-called enlightenment and with the knowledge that war nowadays may lead to the total extinction of human civilisation. In the last hundred years we have been involved in two catastrophic wars through no fault of our own, but due to the policy and philosophy of the German nation; but we have also been involved in two other wars—the Crimean War and the Boer War—quite unnecessarily, in my opinion, because, in general terms, we did not handle the situation very cleverly. In the case of the Boer War, in fact, we forced our adversaries to make a declaration of hostilities. I do not draw any strict parallel here, but I suggest that past experience should be kept well before our eyes.

It was after the First World War, as your Lordships well know, that the cry of "Never again!" arose in every civilised country, with the result that the League of Nations came into being. The tragedy of the ultimate failure of the League of Nations was due, of course, to the unwillingness of several countries to support it from reasons either of aloof isolationism or of militaristic obduracy. And who would maintain that in the present world either isolation or militarism can lead anywhere but to ultimate disaster? After the Second World War, the same cry of "Never again!" rose with even more insistence and, undeterred by the fate of the League of Nations—indeed, realising that such an organisation was more than ever necessary—the countries of the world put their faith in the United Nations Organisation. Surely it is precisely the sort of situation now facing us which is precisely the function of the United Nations Organisation to handle, for the good of the world and for the peace of the world. We cannot now go back to the old order of individual battle and contest. This nation has for so long been in the proud position of being in the very forefront of seeking international peace and international prosperity by international co-operation and not by force of arms. The constant and only difficulty has been the fear that one of the more backward nations, when put to the test, might succumb to nationalistic selfishness and refuse to accept the objective and benevolent decision of the majority.

It would surely be incredible if we, the leaders of this hopeful international conception, should be the ones to take such a retrograde step. I hope that we shall not even consider doing so, even if we are asked to take a line which not only is unwelcome to the present Government and their supporters but which may well be equally distasteful to us all. In this nuclear age, our international responsibility must embrace and include our national responsibility, for the latter can no longer continue to live without the former. It is perhaps because of our past supremacy both in power and in status that we are tempted to look backwards and maintain that when we decide that a certain course is right, everybody else must know that it is right and. it must therefore be enforced. But the levelling-up of national status throughout the world has made it impossible for any one country, even for America or China or Russia, the biggest States in the world to-day, to succeed in a unilateral outlook; and it is essential that we avoid; the pitfall of regarding 1956 in the terms of 1856.

I do not advocate defeatism or escapism: I applaud, like the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, the strong line taken by the Government in making military preparations as they did. It was a realistic preparation which had value, a value which would not have been there had it been merely a sham instead of the real thing. It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has contradicted himself, because this is being done in case it should be necessary to use force as a result of some action which Egypt, in her present mood, might take, in contravention of the United Nations Charter; and by the acknowledged standards of the United Nations and with their backing we should then be perfectly justified in using that force. Equally I deplore the shut-minded rejection by Egypt of the reasonable and constructive proposals of the Eighteen Nations.

But as this matter, as the noble Marquess himself has said, is an international matter, I cannot concede that the heavy responsibility which, without doubt, we have borne for the last one hundred years in respect of the Suez Canal, to the benefit of the whole world, necessarily entitles us, in the conditions of to-day, to a greater say in the future of the Canal than that of the majority of the nations comprising the United Nations. particularly, of course, those who were signatories of the 1888 Agreement. It seems to me that the present impasse is largely one of bluff on one side and of prestige on both sides. I submit and deeply hope that it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that some formula, possibly the one announced by the noble Marquess, may be taken up with the blessing of the United Nations, and which. by setting up some such international body, described neither as "supervisory" nor "advisory", would be able to achieve the safeguards in respect of the Canal which are desired by virtually the whole of the world, while at the same time conceding to Egypt, in spite of what has happened, a position which she would be able to accept with sonic measure of national pride and without that quality of humiliation which, deserved. or undeserved, cannot be a part of the pattern of the modern world.

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, this is the first occasion upon which I have had the honour of addressing your Lordships and I would ask therefore for your indulgence for anything I may say and for your consideration in respect of any errors into which I may fall. In my view, this crisis is something far more vital and important to us, and to the whole of the Western World, than a mere dispute over the ownership and operation of the Suez Canal: it is one further incident, and one most important to us, in the long list of incidents in the cold war for supremacy in the Middle East—incidents which amount to aggression on the part of the Communist, totalitarian world.

First came Abadan, when we were unceremoniously turned out of the great oil-producing industry that we had built up in Persia. We acquiesced, and withdrew. Then came the dismissal of Glubb Pasha from the command of the Arab Legion in Jordan, a great blow to our influence and prestige in a key position in the Middle East. And again we acquiesced. Then came the arming of Egypt by Russia and her allies, about which we have been doing nothing; the stream of hostile propaganda against us on the part of the Egyptian Government. Now comes this seizure of the Suez Canal. Surely there comes a time when we have to make a stand. And surely that time has come now. There should be no weakening in, or deflection from, the policy of genuine international control of the Canal, by which I mean the control and operation of the Canal by an international body, and not merely by Egypt, advised by an international body. If we were to agree to that suggestion, we must admit defeat.

What has been happening in the Middle East since Russia's reversal of policy and decision to support the Arab countries bears a strong resemblance to Hitler's technique in the years before the Second World War. I well remember the occasion when Hitler marched in and occupied the Rhineland. France was in favour of military action to push the Germans back, but in the end she refrained, because we would not support her. I was in the House of Commons at the time, and I recall especially a largely attended meeting of the Conservative Foreign Affairs Committee in Committee Room 14. The question was whether or not we should back France. A minority thought that we should, but the view of the majority was that we should not. The argument was that, after all, Hitler had only occupied what was German territory; that France was unreasonable, and that the situation was not worth a war. We now know that the whole thing was a gigantic piece of bluff on the part of Hitler. He was completely unprepared for war, and if France had taken action he would have been compelled to withdraw.

The same sort of arguments are being used to-day. It is said that Egypt has every right to nationalise the Canal; that she is merely exercising sovereignty in her own territory, and so on. Just as our timid policy at the time of the Rhineland Occupation was one of the crucial factors which eventually led to the Second World War, so I believe that, if the Western Powers allow themselves to be out-manœuvred and agree to compromise in this crisis, it will prove to be one of the main factors which will eventually lead to a Third World War.

In the struggle between the Communist and the non-Communist Powers the Middle East is of vital strategic importance. Russia has realised this, and has been using the Arab States as a camouflage behind which she intends to consolidate her position. The Arab States seem to have fallen into the trap. And, of course, Egypt is adopting her present uncompromising attitude only because she knows that Russia is behind her. Russia is, either directly or indirectly, behind all the subversive movements now troubling the world, whether in Malaya, Algeria, Morocco, Tunis, or even, I believe, Cyprus. The sudden change of Russian policy, when she decided to support the Arabs, having before seemed to favour Israel, must surely lead us to reconsider our own policy in the Middle East. For years the cultivation of friendship with the Arab countries has been the cornerstone of that policy. Yet how easily has it fallen in pieces! The Arabs seem to have no gratitude for all that we have done for them, but have been ready to join the Russian camp, presumably because they think it is the strongest. Ought we not now to reconsider our policy in the direction of a closer association, or even an alliance, with Israel, who would probably be willing to co-operate? At present we seem to be drifting without any very definite Middle Eastern policy at all.

The noble Marquess, the Leader of the House, stated to-day what is the immediate policy of Her Majesty's Government, and, like noble Lords who have spoken before me, I do not feel competent to make any detailed observations upon it. However, I understood the noble Marquess to say that a Users' Association was to be set up, and I believe that he said that ourselves, France and the United States would co-operate in the formation of that Association. What strikes one, on first hearing of this policy is: does it really carry us much further? What can a Users' Association do in Egypt, or in the running and maintaining of the Canal, unless it has the consent of the Egyptian Government? I do not follow—I do not think it was made very clear—how this Users' Association is going to function against a hostile dictator without some form of force. However, no doubt we shall hear in greater detail in subsequent speeches what is the policy of the Government regarding that aspect.

I should like to say a word or two with regard to the submission of this dispute to the United Nations. Obviously, if force has to be used at any time, it is far better that it should be used with the knowledge and consent of the United Nations. But recent happenings in the United Nations do not give us great faith in believing that much would result from such a reference. To take the case of the Israel ships alone, that matter, I believe, came before the United Nations, and either the Security Council or the General Assembly (I forget which body it was) passed a resolution condemning Egypt for discriminating against Israel ships. But nothing was done. I do not see how the United Nations can be a great force for maintaining peace in the world unless, in the last resort, it has behind it some form of backing by force. We are up against a very grave situation. The issues at stake are critical and the decisions to be taken are grave. In my belief, the situation can be saved only if the Western Powers have the courage, in the last resort, to meet this aggression —because it is an aggression—with the same steadfastness of purpose as they met the aggression in Korea six years ago.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, on the last occasion upon which your Lordships' House discussed this matter I was prevented by necessary absence abroad from attending that debate. I noticed that one or two of your Lordships on that occasion inquired whether there was any lawyer in the House who could throw any light on some of the difficult points of law that obviously arose. It therefore occurred to me that possibly, as a lawyer belonging to no political Party and representing only myself, I might say a few words on the purely legal aspect of the matters which concern us. I have very little, if anything, to add to the clear and effective description given to the House by the noble Marquess as to the peculiar status of the Canal Company. One thing one can say with certainty is that it is not a purely Egyptian company. It has been held by the Mixed Court of Appeal of Egypt to be partly Egyptian and partly French and it is understood that certain competent Continental lawyers have expressed the opinion that it possesses an international status or character.

I should like to stress, in particular, a matter to which the noble Marquess referred, and that is the Preamble to the Canal Convention of 1888, because there is one expression in that Preamble which seems to me to indicate very clearly the international character of this company. In the Preamble to that Convention we find this expression: wishing to establish. by a Conventional Act"— that is in fact the Convention— a definite system designed to guarantee at alt times, and for all the Powers, the free use of the Suez Maritime Canal, and thus to complete the system under which the navigation of this Canal has been placed by the Firman of His Imperial Majesty the Sultan, dated the 22nd February, 1866, and sanctioning the Concessions of His Highness the Khedive.… That Preamble seems to me to be one of the crucial documents which throw light upon this very complex affair.

In the next place, I wish to bring to your Lordships' attention certain observations on the subject of these great inter-oceanic canals that were made by the Permanent Court of International Justice in 1923, in a case affecting the Kiel Canal, where the question arose whether or not the neutrality of Germany would be compromised by the passage through that Canal of a ship carrying a cargo of munitions to Poland which was then at war with Russia. Now this is what the Court said about the Suez Canal. It referred to the Suez and Panama Canals though your Lordships know, of course, that the regulations affecting those two Canals are different. It described them as "great international waterways", and then said that these precedents are merely illustrations of the general opinion according to which when an artificial waterway connecting two open seas has been permanently dedicated to the use of the whole world, such waterway is assimilated to natural strait; in the sense that even the passage of a belligerent man-of-war does not compromise the neutrality of the sovereign State under whose jurisdiction the waters in question lie. In this case we are not concerned with the question of the neutrality of the local State. The Suez Canal is a great international waterway, and it has been dedicated permanently to the use of the whole world. That fact is in no way inconsistent with the sovereignty of the local State. The Court pointed out in this case that the right of entering into international engagements is itself an attribute of State sovereignty, so that the international regulation of the Canal by Treaty cannot be regarded as an abandonment of sovereignty by the local State—a fact which the Egyptian Government do not appear to realise.

I have not time to mention any other legal factors relating to the Canal and its nexus with the Company, but, in my opinion, the combined effect of those legal factors is that we are fully entitled to press for the negotiation of some kind of international system or guarantee to secure the uninterrupted and efficient use of this "great international waterway," located, as it is, in one of the most politically sensitive spots and in one of the geographically most important spots in the world. And it is proper that Great Britain, as the principal user of that great waterway, should have taken the lead in such a negotiation.

But I must now turn to a more serious aspect of this matter, which I mention with reluctance and under a strong sense of duty. I am in agreement with the initiative of the Government in seeking to obtain the negotiation of some kind of international system or guarantee for the Canal, but I regret that, as a lawyer. I find difficulty in reconciling the whole of the Government's recent action with the existing rules of law governing the threat to use armed force. I have been puzzled by the massing and display of armed force in the Eastern Mediterranean that we have witnessed during the past five or six weeks. Fifty years ago, yes. At that time, armed force was a remedy of last resort which Governments could use at their discretion in aid of their diplomacy in order to attain the ends which they regarded as essential. At that time the law made no attempt to regulate the occasion upon which armed force should be used and was content to endeavour to regulate the operation of that armed force when it was being used. But during the last fifty years there has been a complete transformation in the attitude of the law towards resort to armed force, as I shall endeavour to show. It is true that a Government is entitled to use a necessary amount of armed force, and no more, for the protection of its nationals in a foreign country and their property and its property, when the local authorities are unable or unwilling to protect them against violence. But, in the present case, I am not aware that our Government have made it clear that the use of the armed force that has been assembled is limited to those objectives. I must say that the speech of the noble Marquess was ominous in this respect, not in what he said but in what he refrained from saying.

Now I must endeavour to sustain that thesis. I pass by the Covenant of the League which placed limitations upon the use of force. I come to the KelloggBriand Pact of 1928, an instrument to which more than sixty States, including Egypt and Great Britain. became parties. By that instrument the high contracting parties agreed two things: (1) that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another; and (2)"— and more relevant— that the settlement or solution of all disputes Or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise between them, shall never be sought except by pacific means. I am gravely perturbed by the second of those provisions. This Pact is not a mere gesture. It was not just a pious aspiration. It is a Treaty. It is a Treaty that has been judicially construed and judicially enforced.

Before leaving the Kellogg Pact I may ask, are we going to invoke a statement made by Sir Austen Chamberlain, then Foreign Minister, sometimes called the British Monroe Doctrine, made three months before we signed the Pact? This statement referred to certain unnamed regions of the world the welfare and integrity of which constitute a special and vital interest for our peace and safety. It continued: Their protection against attack is to the British Empire a measure of self-defence. It must be clearly understood that His Majesty's Government in Great Britain accept the new treaty upon the distinct understanding that it does not prejudice their freedom of action in this respect. There are no "regions of the world" falling within this category which are now exposed to the threat of an attack. This so-called "Monroe Doctrine" has no relevance, in my opinion, to the present case and in no way qualifies our obligation under that Pact not to seek the settlement or solution of all disputes except by pacific means. May I add that the Pact is, of course, entirely independent of the Covenant of the League and entirely independent of the Charter of the United Nations. It stands by itself.

I now come to the Charter of the United Nations. The noble Marquess drew our attention to Article 33 whereby the parties to any dispute which endangers peace shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, and so forth. We have, of course, been following that course and complying with that Article. But what about Article 2 of the Charter, whereby the members of the United Nations agree, in paragraph 3, to settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered", and, in paragraph 4, to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the the purposes of the United Nations. It is perfectly true that Article 51 provides that Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. But there has been no armed attack upon us. The noble Marquess based the policy of the Government upon respect for international engagements. I venture to ask him to include these international engagements within the benefit of that respect.

Now, in order to pursue this question of the control of force by law, I must draw your Lordships' attention to a decision of the Hague Court in the Corfu Channel case where the legitimate and the illegitimate use of armed force came under discussion. The Court held—it was in the year 1949 when the judgment was given —that the British Government was legally justified in sending through the North Corfu Channel in order to affirm the right of passage a flotilla of four ships of war, with crews at action stations and with orders to fire if attacked. Why? The reason was that six months earlier British ships of war had been attacked by Albanian gunfire when passing through that strait. Accordingly, the Court held that Albanian sovereignty had not thereby been violated by the British action. On the other hand, when three weeks later the British Government amassed a very considerable naval force for the purpose of covering the British operation of sweeping mines in Albanian waters the court described the assemblage of this naval force as the manifestation of a policy of force and a violation of Albanian sovereignty, though with heavily attenuating circumstances.

My Lords, the combined effect of these Treaty provisions has completely transformed the legal position of armed force. It is no longer a discretionary instrument of policy but its use is regulated by law. That, I believe, is the view of the use and threat of armed force which is now held in the large group of countries with whom we normally co-operate and whose good opinion we cannot afford to forfeit. In all sincerity and humility, I would beg the Government to reflect upon my attempt to state the present rules governing the threat and the use of force, and to examine and to check it. If they come to the conclusion that I have stated those rules correctly, I think they are also bound to come to the conclusion which I have reached, which is as follows: that so far as the events in the present controversy up to date are known to us, I am unable to see the legal justification of the threat or the use of armed force by Great Britain against Egypt in order to impose a solution of this dispute.

The noble Marquess has told us that our Government has addressed a letter to the President of the Security Council, which fact I was glad to hear. May I inquire whether he has asked the President of the Security Council to put this matter on the agenda, so that it may be discussed? Have the Government taken any steps to secure an earlier meeting of the Assembly so that this matter may be discussed? Would it not be much more prudent for us to initiate these discussions that are about to take place in the United Nations, so that we may go there as plaintiff instead of as defendant? The Charter permits any member to bring these matters to the attention of the United Nations, and—if I may remind the House of one of the distinctive differences between the Charter and the Covenant—the Security Council is in constant session and may meet at a moment's notice. My Lords, I have attended many meetings of the organs of the United Nations in an official capacity, and I think that perhaps I know something of the climate of opinion at those meetings. I do not envy the man who is going to present our case if we are haled before these bodies instead of taking the initiative.

To conclude, may I say this. I have the deepest respect for our Prime Minister; I have the deepest sympathy for him in the grave problems with which he has had to grapple since he took office, and I should hate to say any word which might in the least cause any embarrassment; but I attach so much importance to the maintenance by this country of its leadership as an exponent of the rule of law that I feel that I should be failing in my duty as a Member of your Lordships' House if I did not present these remarks for your consideration.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, the last two speeches to which we have listened this afternoon have dealt with two aspects of the present situation, each exceedingly important but somewhat different. The noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, upon whose maiden speech I am glad to have an opportunity of congratulating him, warned us in grave terms of what he conceived to be the political implications lying behind the present conflict. The noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, to whom no one can listen without the greatest respect and attention, gave us the view of the law in these matters. If I venture to address your Lordships, it is not with any pretension to either of these qualifications; it is merely that, having some concern in the course of my ordinary life with the usage of the Canal, I think it is worth reminding ourselves, as one factor that we should take into account in judging these issues, of the practical working of the waterway and what its interruption or deterioration is likely to mean, in practical terms, to the people not only of this country but of a very much wider area.

From that point of view, the first observation I should like to make is that it is of singularly little practical importance if the freedom of the Canal is assured unless, in fact, the Canal works. No doubt it is most right and proper that the political freedom of the Canal should be assured. No doubt it is most right and proper that those who are attempting to assure it should not themselves put a foot wrong. But if, while these matters are being discussed and debated, the Canal becomes unworkable, the loss to the ordinary person is nearly the same as if those forms were not being gone through. Indeed, it seems extremely likely that from the beginning of next week the operation of the Canal will deteriorate very seriously indeed. Therefore, it seems to me that, from the general good, time is one of the most important things which we should bear in mind.

We all agree that it is essential that a solution should be found. It is almost equally essential that it should be found quickly. We have reason to suppose that the foreign pilots of the Canal will in large numbers decline to serve the Egyptian Authority. and we have heard that pressure is no longer to be exercised upon them to continue to serve in the Canal. I am bound to say, speaking quite unofficially, as one with no connection with the Canal Company at all, though with some slight knowledge of the conditions of operating through the Canal, that I have been astonished not that these pilots should be wanting to go home now, but that they should have been prepared to remain at their posts as long as they have. I think all of us owe them and, in some measure, through them, the old Suez Canal Company, a considerable debt for having made it possible, in very difficult circumstances, for that waterway to go on working as well as it has to date, with very little delay to shipping and performing up to now those functions for which it was designed. But do not let us blind ourselves to the difficulties which I believe, in any circumstances, must be foreseen in the future.

If I rightly understood what the noble Marquess, the Leader of the House, said about what may be called the "Users' Club", it was to be a body which would employ pilots and, presumably, feel able to offer them conditions of security which they do not feel they are likely to receive from the Egyptian Government. Let us hope that that may be so, and that it will work. But it is one thing to say one will employ pilots, and quite another thing to get pilots of the requisite quality and qualifications. The Suez Canal Company has been trying for many years to work in with the Egyptian Government by employing an increasing number of Egyptian nationals as pilots. They have found it exceedingly difficult to recruit even a small number possessing those qualifications without which passage of ships through the Canal may become so hazardous as to block the waterway and make it unusable for a considerable period of time. It is difficult to exaggerate the skill which is required and which up till now has every day been displayed by the pilots and others responsible for the working of the Canal in maintaining the flow of traffic which we have hitherto seen through it. It will take very little indeed to disrupt that.

We well know, too, that if traffic through the Canal is to be maintained in the future, very large development works will be required, culminating, possibly in some fifteen years hence, in doubling the waterway. Without such a development it seems unlikely that it would be able to accommodate the traffic which, in the ordinary course of events, would by then be seeking to flow through it. I make no apology for reminding your Lordships that over 14,600 ships passed through the Canal last year, which, if my arithmetic is correct, is something like forty a day. Rather over one half in number of those, and well over one half in tonnage, contained what is called "dry cargo," general cargo of various kinds. Of those forty ships passing through the Canal each day, some twelve are British, in the proportion, speaking very roughly, of seven dry cargo to five tanker ships, but carrying approximately the same amount of tonnage. In the face of that, I find it hard to agree with what fell from the noble Lord, Lord Rea, when he said that he did not see why this country had a greater interest than any other in the operation of the Canal.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount? I do not think I used quite those words. It is obvious that on the basis of the user of the Canal we have the greatest interest, but what I said was that that did not signify that we had necessarily a greater right to dictate as to the future of an international waterway.


My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, if I misquoted him. Nevertheless I should have thought that on the basis of interest, which carries with it the basis of paying for the services, any waterway, international or national, should have very considerable regard to the views of the greatest user of that waterway. It would be arrogant of the greatest user to think that he should have more influence than anyone else, though should err on the side of that user.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount a question? Is it true, as has been reported, that for some time British ships have been accepting the services of the Canal without paying anything at all for them?


My Lords, I am not sure that I am in a position to give the noble Viscount a comprehensive answer—I can speak only of those ships of which I have personal knowledge. In that case, those which have been in the habit of paying their clues to the offices of the Suez Canal Company in London have continued to do so.


That may be so, but would it be right to say that they paid dues because the office in London was rendering services? The office in London can now render no services, and therefore ships going through the Canal free of any charge have services rendered by the new authority.


My Lords, I do not seek to dispute what I confess seems to be the rather odd logic of that observation. As a user of the Canal, I can only put my hand on my heart and say that at least I pay dues to somebody—to those I believe to be the properly constituted authority to receive them.


Hear, hear!


My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount a question: Are dues not largely in respect of services rendered by the pilots, and who has been paying the pilots?


My Lords, am grateful to the noble Lord for that question, the answer to which may be left to your Lordships to decide for yourselves.

I do not wish to weary your Lordships with many further figures, but I would add this fact. In terms of cargo carried, in 1937 some 27 million metric tons of dry cargo passed through the Canal. In 1955, the figure was some 39 million metric tons; but the quantum of world trade moved by sea was the same in 1937 as it was in 1954. I do not know the 1955 figures, but I imagine that they were not very different. Your Lordships will see, therefore, that, apart altogether from tanker tonnage, the importance of the Canal, relative as well as absolute, has been increasing through the years. As to the oil figures, the tonnage passing through the Canal multiplied by more than ten between 1937 and 1955, being 6 million tons in the former year and some 67 million tons in the latter. I have quoted these figures because we have heard it suggested that if a satisfactory arrangement cannot be reached by any other means, if this country should go to the United Nations and get an unsatisfactory answer there, the only thing we can do is to accept the position and to attempt to get on without the Canal. Clearly, in this matter one can exclude no possibility. If the Canal is blocked as a result of war-like action we shall have to attempt to get on without it, though, if I may hazard an opinion, a blockage by war-like action would be more readily repaired than a blockage resulting from a general deterioration of standards over a period.

Those who use the Canal have declared in public principles for its use which correspond almost exactly with those which were submitted to President Nasser by Mr. Menzies and his Committee. I need not therefore burden your Lordships with any attempt to elaborate on what those of us who use the Canal think should be its future status. That is clear enough. I would only say that, so far as one can judge from hearing them once. I personally welcome the proposals which have been laid before the House to-day by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, if only on the grounds that they are at least an attempt to get something done and to get it done quickly. I started by saying that I believe time is very much of the essence of this problem. It would be unduly optimistic to hope that, pending discussions in the various bodies to whom this question may be referred, the Canal can possibly continue to work so satisfactorily as to remain a major international waterway from the point of view of those who use it. Under those conditions it will be necessary increasingly to attempt to divert ships round the Cape of Good Hope.

The loss in time and carrying capacity which that course involves differs very much according to the voyages on which ships are engaged. If one is going to Australia it is not a very serious matter, but if one is trading with India, while the effect differs very greatly in a variety of circumstances, as between ship and ship. I think it means reducing the available tonnage on that route by something over a quarter. It means one month longer, roughly speaking, for average cargo ships. Or, putting it in a short practical way, it means that a ship will be able to make only three voyages a year. whereas she would normally be expected to make four. The loss in carrying capacity over a period must, therefore, be very great. I have not attempted to work out the arithmetic or to show what, apart altogether from oil, Western Europe, on the one hand, and Asian countries, and in particular India, on the other, will have to go short of if the Cape route is the only one left open.

If this Canal, for whatever use, is closed, those who will suffer will not be primarily the ship owners who may possibly, even, find themselves in the happy position, if I may so put it, of having a commodity in even shorter supply and with even greater demand for it. So their selfish interests, it may be said, will, if anything, gain. Those who will be the sufferers will be the merchants and the traders, and, above all, those whose needs they are seeking to supply. It will be the British workman who will suffer, perhaps, even more than the Indian workman and the Indian peasant. While these matters are being, debated, the people who are going to be in real trouble will be the little men, and there are very many more little men in Asia than in Europe. The people who are going to bear the real brunt of this are not only—and possibly not even mainly—the people of the Western World: the people who are going to suffer are those who hitherto, I am sorry to say, have not been making the most helpful contributions towards a settlement. I do not venture to do more in relation to this statement of policy which we have heard than repeat what I have just said. So far as one can see, it does at least promise possibilities of speedy action. I finish, as I began, by saying that in this problem, perhaps more than any other that we have had before us recently, he gives twice who gives quickly.

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, I confess that in this matter I address your Lordships with some considerable perturbation of mind. It is not a grateful task to utter any words of criticism of one's Government when that Government are engaged in a crisis, such as the present crisis, so fraught with very dangerous issues. In particular, it is no pleasure to criticise a Prime Minister who is carrying such a tremendous burden upon his shoulders at the present moment as our Prime Minister must be carrying. But, remembering the debate which took place before we adjourned, I confess that I detect an atmosphere to-day rather different from that which prevailed on that occasion, because time for reflection has undoubtedly revealed all the difficulties in the way of much that was then proposed by certain speakers. In particular, I think the most powerful and remarkable speech of the noble Lord, Lord McNair, must have given many of your Lordships very serious grounds for reflection. I imagine that the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack will feel it necessary to reply to that speech, and I cannot help thinking that his reply will be one of the highlights of our discussion, one of the most important speeches which will be made in the course of this two-days' debate.

I was particularly interested when the noble Lord, Lord McNair, referred to the Albania case which went to the International Court. I was interested because I have so often thought of that in connection with the glib way in which people recommend referring some dispute to one of these august bodies such as the International Court. In the case of the Albania affair, as far as I recollect, Great Britain was awarded a very large sum of money indeed against the Albanian Government. We have never had one pound of that award and, my Lords, we never shall. That is perfectly certain. The case relating to the use of the Canal by Israeli ships was referred to the United Nations. The United Nations gave a decision to which the Egyptian Government have never paid the slightest attention, and to which they have no intention of paying any attention at all. I merely mention those two cases as a slight warning to those who think that great matters can be so easily disposed of by referring them to some outside body.

I gather from the speech of the noble Marquess in introducing the debate that we now have the latest thoughts of the Government on this mater. It was difficult to follow. As my noble friend, Lord Silkin, said, one wants to have a little time to look at what was said. It was shot at one at rather short notice —not that one blames the Government for that, because the Government are obviously working under great pressure of events. But I am not quite clear why it is hoped that a Users' Association—that, I understand, was defined by the noble Marquess—offers any advance on what has already been proposed or offers any sound hope of a solution. It seems to me that this idea of a Users' Association is rather putting in a different way something that Colonel Nasser has already had put before him and rejected.

Incidentally, may I say that I am sure we all join in the tribute which has been paid to Mr. Menzies for his handling of the interviews with Colonel Nasser. But really the Government can hardly have been surprised at the rejection of the proposals which Mr. Menzies encountered. In fact, I should think that the least surprised man of all was Mr. Menzies, who must have realised that he had been sent in to bat on what he probably regarded as an Old Trafford wicket. The rejection of the proposals by Colonel Nasser was absolutely certain. It was a foregone conclusion.

I cannot at this moment see the relation which would exist between the Users' Association, as proposed by the Government, and the Convention of 1888, or why an offence against the Association would be an offence against the Convention. I may, on second thoughts, be able to see some connection; but at the moment I cannot see any relation between the proposed body and the Convention of 1888. What happens, in any case, if Colonel Nasser rejects the jurisdiction of the Association? It seems to my mind to embody arrangements which he has already most decisively rejected. Is it considered, for instance, that the Users' Association would operate the Canal in face of Egyptian opposition? I really cannot believe that that would be feasible.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Silkin that there was a certain note of menace in the speech of the noble Marquess. Perhaps that is going a little too far, but I think we can fairly say that there was nothing very conciliatory in it. It seems to me very difficult for a representative of the Government to speak in terms of menace in this matter when we know that we have against us the opinion of our principal ally, America, of a great deal, certainly a majority, of world opinion, of some Commonwealth opinion and of a large body of public opinion here, all of which is allied against the use of force in this dispute. It is very difficult to talk in terms of menace under those conditions.

It can, at least, be said that with the passage of time—and this dispute is now many weeks old—the likelihood of the use of force has diminished. I am sure that the advocates of the use of force would agree with me in this, though they would not agree with other things I have said. If force was to be used, it could only have been effective and commanded a wide measure of support had it been employed immediately. With every week that has gone by during which force was not employed, opinion has been mustering against the use of force; and short of some direct act of hostility on the part of Colonel Nasser, an act of hostility which might conceivably stem from this latest instruction given to the pilots, which I think is a very dangerous business, the likelihood of the use of force has diminished and is diminishing as time goes on.

In any case, it seems to me that in this matter of the use of force, the Government have been riding two horses. While undoubtedly in the broadcasts of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, and in many of the statements made by that anonymous gentleman "a Government spokesman", "Government sources" or something of that sort, there was a great deal of talk about the use of force, at the same time the Government were going on with their proposals for calling the London Conference, which clearly was entirely contrary to the idea of the use of force. The Prime Minister and members of the Government must realise this. I remember in my days in the Navy that the lively old gentleman who instructed me in naval history used to give me so many lines to write when I incurred punishment. They were not lines from Latin or Greek authors. I had to write out, perhaps 200 times, the statement that "a Council of War never fights". It was a very good piece of training. It is equally true that an international conference always compromises. There is never much hope of getting a decision out of an international conference. The Prime Minister, with his vast experience, must know that full well. There was an inconsistency between this repeated talk of the use of force if we could not get what we wanted, and the calling of the London Conference.

May I make one remark about that Conference? It is true that we got sixteen nations to go along with ourselves and France in putting these proposals before Colonel Nasser, but I do not believe that any of those sixteen nations would go on and support us in the use of forcible measures to impose that proposal. I get the impression that, having deferred to France and ourselves and the demarche having failed, they are now prepared for almost any compromise and their thoughts are probably turning towards the compromise put forward by the Indian representative as interpreting their collective view far more nearly than the idea of the use of force.

For some mentalities it is an easy thing to talk about the use of force, to teach people "where they get off" and so on; but the advocates of the use of force must be prepared to answer some questions. Are they quite satisfied that we dispose of the necessary military forces for the imposition of force in this matter? Would the war be long? Would the war be costly? Would the war be confined to Egypt? Would the war make the oil supplies more, or less, secure? Above all, would the cause for which we want this war be good in international law? I do not suggest the answers, but I do suggest that those are questions to which the advocates of force must be prepared to give reasoned answers. Their excuse for resorting to force might be that we must keep the Canal open and secure our oil supplies. The immediate result of force, of course, would be to close the Canal and have the oil cut off probably at the source.

Another consideration which weighs in my mind is that all this talk about the use of force and the justification for the use of force rests upon apprehensions: an apprehension that Colonel Nasser might close the Canal, that he might not compensate the shareholders of the old Company, that he might let the Canal fall into disrepair, that he might do all sorts of things that he has said he is willing to enter into an agreement not to do. "Might" is a very bad reason for resorting to armed might. I think it is most important that we should bear in mind that the arguments in favour of the use of force are all based upon apprehension.

To go to war one must have a clear case against Colonel Nasser of having done things. What exactly has he done up to date which the world would recognise as a casus belli? Although it is not our duty to do so, perhaps we might with advantage look at this affair front Colonel Nasser's point of view in one particular aspect. We want to come to an agreement with him, and Mr. Menzies went to Cairo in the hope that Colonel Nasser would agree to the proposals of the London Conference. What would have happened to Colonel Nasser if he had agreed? He would have been out of power the same day, and very likely he would have been dead the next day and been replaced by somebody even more intractable than he is himself. That, I think, has to be remembered. While, naturally, we disapprove of what he has done—and I share those feelings —the fact remains that he would not have lasted a day if he had agreed to these proposals. I certainly do not want to make a case for Colonel Nasser— nothing could be further from my mind.


The noble Lord is doing very well.


I do not know; I cannot see that. I think we should have from Her Majesty's Government a statement of why we cannot negotiate with Colonel Nasser on the basis of the offers he has made. He has made certain offers, but we say that they do not afford any ground for negotiation. Some of these offers seem to me to go a long way to meet our requirements, but apparently we cannot negotiate on them. The only reason I can get for that is that we cannot trust him. That also is what is said over Cyprus about Archbishop Makarios: that we cannot negotiate with him because we do not trust him. Surely it is a new principle in diplomacy that we can negotiate only with people we can trust. We seem to have had considerable talks and negotiations with Mr. Khrushchev—I do not know if he enjoys the unbounded confidence and trust of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Office. As I say, this seems to me to he a new principle indeed.

What is to be done in this situation, which is almost an impasse? I fear that the Government, with all this talk of force, have landed us in a most serious situation. I earnestly hope that the talk of force will riot be revealed as bluff, for if there is one thing that is worse than talk of force, it is to find that the talk of force has been bluff. I feel that there are certain things that should be done. Let me say, incidentally, that in my view at this moment the Government should be giving the most urgent attention to the ideas about alternative routes which have been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hore-Belisha, which I feel have never received the attention they deserve. There must be a vast amount of information of this subject of alternative routes. It is not a brand new proposal, and one would like to hear that the Government have those ideas under the most urgent consideration. With regard to the question of alternative routes, I think the reluctance of the Government to consider it will be overcome by the force of events. As orders are now being given for 80,000-ton tankers—and there is talk of even 100,000-ton tankers—it is clear that an alternative route may become not merely something desirable but a necessity, and that the construction of those large tankers may largely detract from the economic advantages of the Suez Canal.

As to what can be done at this moment, I should like to throw out this idea. I believe that one of our great hopes resides in recognising the new world in which we live, and the surge of nationalism, and in fostering by all means in our power international recognition of mutual interests and universality of treatment in such cases as we have to consider with the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal is not the only essential world trade route. There must not be differentiation between the treatment of one essential route and another. That only produces a sense of inequality and inferiority, and that, in turn, produces restiveness, which, as we have seen, is liable to blaze into an outbreak. Possibly the United Nations could devise some standard system of administering such essential trade routes.

Then again, raw materials needed by the world comprise other things than oil. The world is dependent on many raw materials other than oil, and these raw materials lie in the territories of other countries. My view—and I am sure it is shared by the majority of your Lordships—is that a nation has no right to deny to the world the use of an essential trade route, or the enjoyment of access to the essential raw materials. But the point is that there should be equality of administration in these matters. Until we have such unified administration, I think the nation which owns the trade route or owns the territory containing the raw material is likely to have an exaggerated view about sovereignty. I believe that in a consideration along those lines rests the great hope of avoiding in the future such situations as those with which we in Europe now find ourselves confronted. I am certain that a settlement of this dispute will be facilitated if the Government, without delay, make a formal disclaimer of any intention to use force, outside the sanction of the United Nations, except in face of some quite unforgivable act by Colonel Nasser. I am sure that such a declaration would greatly facilitate the settlement that we all hope to see.

5.18 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down talked about a body of opinion which he considers exists in your Lordships' House, and perhaps outside—what he labelled the "advocates of force". I search to find out who are the advocates of force. I think the noble Lord would find it as distasteful if I said that he was an advocate of surrender as I do, supporting Her Majesty's Government, to hear myself labelled, perhaps, as one of those advocates of force. It was the noble Lord who said that the Government have landed us in this difficult and dangerous situation. It is not Her Majesty's Government who have landed us in this situation; it is Colonel Nasser and his action.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, made some remarks that did not meet with complete agreement on this side of the House, whereupon the noble Lord said, quite rightly, that he proposed to say what he felt. Therefore I am sure he will extend to me the same grace and opportunity if I comment upon his speech in the way of saying what I feel. At the outset, the noble Lord labelled the policy of the Government as "provocative" —that was his word: I took particular note of it. I would label his speech as one which seemed to me to aim at avoiding facing the dangers and the realities of the past weeks, the present and the future. I would describe his speech as a ruthless determination to stop at absolutely nothing, short of ensuring decision.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, showed in such a convincing way, the Suez Canal is vital to our economic life. Its denial would not be just an inconvenience, as it seemed to me the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, made out in saying that we could get along, though with some difficulty, without it. It is an absolutely vital link for the maintenance of full employment which he and his Party, just as much as Her Majesty's Government, are committed to pursue. As I understood the advocacy of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, it was, "No steps beyond reference to the United Nations." Surely, that must mean no action, pending timeless discussion and debate at the United Nations, irrespective of what happens meanwhile. The noble Lord said that we must abide by the decision of the United Nations. But I would ask him this question: Supposing there is no decision. what then? It does not seem to me that the policy he is advocating leads us to a positive solution of the situation.

Meanwhile, Colonel Nasser would be consolidating a position which Her Majesty's Government have made it quite clear we in this country cannot accept: that, while the ownership of the Canal is not in dispute, we cannot accept the position where the Canal is an economic and political pawn in the hands of a dictator pursuing his own particular policies in his own particular country. It seems to me that the proposition put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—accepting, as I am sure he does, that the Canal is vital to our interests—is: "Put Britain's vital interests and safety in pawn to Colonel Nasser; then hand the ticket to the United Nations, who may have neither the wish nor the means to redeem the pledge." That is really what the noble Lord is saying we should do. I submit that we must look at not only the present situation, but also the future dangers, upon which the noble Lord did not touch to any extent.

The noble Lord, Lord Winster, said that our fears of Colonel Nasser were based largely on apprehension. Colonel Nasser is a dictator. I was one of those who, in the years before the war, in another place, made the mistake of believing that we could negotiate, talk to and respect the opinion and the words of dictators. It was the Party opposite who used to twit the Tory Party with being too deferential to Hitler. To-day, it is the Party opposite, and the noble Lord. Lord Silkin, who are far too deferential to Colonel Nasser. The noble Lord said that we were facing Colonel Nasser with a threat; that he was being asked to negotiate under duress. Those must be comforting words to the dictator. What we are doing is preparing the necessary forces, should we have to protect our nationals in the Canal area.


Is that all we are doing?


There has been no military action at all. The treble Lord, Lord Silkin, admitted the need for protection of our nationals against attack. Egypt possesses jet fighters and modern weapons. If we are to be able to protect our nationals, surely we must have comparable and adequate weapons of the modern sort in order to fulfil that obligation. I cannot see that we are being provocative by using modern weapons as a means of preparation for a position which we hope will not arise. but upon which, if it did arise, and there were some terrible disaster to our nationals, Her Majesty's Government would be vulnerable to criticism—and quite rightly so.


I should like to get this clear, if the noble Lord does not mind. Is the noble Lord now saying that the only purpose of our arms is to defend us against attack; to defend the British rights against attack, and for no other purpose?


It is not for me to say what the purpose of the armed force is. All I am saying is that one obvious purpose which alone would justify the present military preparations, is the safeguarding of our nationals in the Canal area. On that, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—I will willingly give way to him —whether he will clarify his remarks upon the Canal pilots. Does he in any way question the freedom of those men to resign now? Does he question the freedom they had to disobey their Company in the past weeks, and to resign, had they wished, or the right, which they undoubtedly have, of continuing to serve under the Egyptian Canal seizure? Surely, unless there is to be introduced some form of direction of pilots, some form of conscription of labour, those men have the absolute right to follow what course they wish. It seemed to me that, running through the noble Lord's speech, he denied them that right. I hope that I interpret his speech wrongly.


You do.


So when the noble Lord made those remarks about the pilots, and said that he regretted that the pilots had that freedom extended to them by the Company, under this new direction, he does not deny that those men have an absolute right to choose for themselves. I am glad we have that position clear, because it was not quite clear from the noble Lord's speech.

Finally. the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. referred to public opinion and the News Chronicle Gallup Poll as showing that Her Majesty's Government have not any great weight of public opinion behind the policy they are following. All of us have recollections of the Peace Ballot, and I do not think it helps to quote public opinion polls. In spite of the vituperation of the Press on the Left, which has conducted a campaign of abuse and misrepresentation such as we have rarely seen in recent years, I believe that there is a great body of public opinion behind Her Majesty's Government—men who do not know much about the Canal issue but who say that Colonel Nasser must not get away with it; men who remember 1936 to 1939, when the dictators did get away with it, and who would support Her Majesty's Government in their determination to see that a vital British interest, without which we cannot exist as a nation, is not used as a pawn for a dictator seeking power and position in his own country.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad to follow my noble friend who has just sat down because I feel, as he does, that the major point of difference in this debate has been the question which some people have described as the use of force, though when I listened to one or two speakers I felt that it might have been more correct if they had been referring to the movement of Armed Forces, which is not necessarily the same thing. That, at least, was the point that was made much of by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and very nearly as much of by the noble Lord, Lord Rea; and the task of commenting upon the problem has not been made any less formidable after listening to the weighty speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair.

I think one can start, however, by asking exactly what is the background of the whole problem. Are we simply talking at the moment about the immediate problem of the Suez Canal, or are we taking into account the background of the problem, which is that, as we see it, Egypt has flagrantly broken one international Agreement, and may do the same thing again? Are we not right to ask ourselves: Since Egypt has taken this action now, and if the present Egyptian Government continue in power, what next? All sorts of things may happen next. Your Lordships and I can all think of them, and I am not going to add fuel to the fire by naming them. But it is quite clear to me that the need to intervene, whether it is by law or by war, cannot be considered solely in relation to this particular state of affairs but must be considered in relation to what we believe to be the general attitude of the Egyptian Government. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye and others have mentioned what happened twenty years ago, at the time of Abyssinia and the time of Munich, and our minds go back to something that was written in the National Review at the time: 'Wait and see' is almost invariably the prelude to 'Too late'. I have been looking at this problem, rather understandably, from the Service point of view, because I have been a Regular soldier, in the same way as others have looked at it from other points of view. One thing that is vital when considering the employment of forces for any purpose whatever is to make sure that, if they are to be used at all, they are used at the right time, because the earlier and the more timely their use, the more likely they are to achieve their supreme object, which is to get what is desired with the minimum casualties and the minimum expenditure of blood and treasure. Therefore, if we are envisaging (and I use the word "envisaging" deliberately) in the future the possibility of using Armed Forces, it is no good waiting until the damage has happened and then expecting to be able to use Armed Forces, if we so desire, to any good purpose. The timing of such a conception would be wholly wrong. That is why one should consider what has actually happened. I put it to your Lordships that what has actually happened is not the use of force but certain movements of troops.

I should be the last person to say anything whatever about the legal points which the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, put to us just now about the movement of troops—I have no doubt whatever that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will be answering that in due time—but it seems to me, as one who is not a lawyer, a strange doctrine that the movement of troops, in our own time, in accordance with what we consider the strategic rights of the country on land, water and in the air, where we have a perfect right to move our troops, is something that we should not do. After all, down history the whole of our British strategy in the employment of our Armed Forces has been based on the idea that far-sighted Governments moved troops to the right places at the right time, and thereby forestalled further trouble, and exercised the pressure which was necessary without bloodshed. That is what I believe Her Majesty's Government are doing now. If so, then I am sure they arc abundantly right.

There are two main criticisms, I think, of the troop movements to date. The first one may describe as saying "What are you going to do with the troops, anyway, when they are there?" I think that was one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Winster—I will come hack to it in a moment, but not for long. Much more of the criticism has been directed at the proposition that the mere fact than troop movements have been made has worsened the background. to negotiations and has created the wrong atmosphere for their successful and positive conclusion.

A certain amount was made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, about the Gallup Poll, and a certain amount more about the Arab League. With reference to the Gallup Poll, I think one can he very much misled by those Polls, because a great deal depends on exactly how the question is asked. If I may talk Latin for a moment in this House, does the question use the word "num" or the word "nonne"? My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye reminded us of the Peace Ballot twenty years ago. If I remember aright, the question we were asked could easily have been interpreted by those who were not very versed in these things as "Do you prefer peace to war?" And so most of us said we did. I am not sure how this Gallup Poll has gone out, but I should hazard a guess that, if another Gallup Poll went out saying "Do you favour strong action by the Government to preserve what belongs to them?", you would get a fairly high percentage of affirmative replies. That is a guess, but I think it is a fair one.

When we come to what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said about the Arab League, there again, I hesitate to speak. The noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, may have something to say on that. But I would not accept it for a moment as a solid proposition on which to found our policy that any success gained by the Egyptians in saying what they want to do over the Canal will bring universal joy to the whole of the Arab League. I should like to hear a remedy proposed by someone more expert.

To deal with the second proposition, that we have set a bad background for future negotiations, I must say that I think most of the arguments that I have heard in the debate so far lead pretty directly to an argument for total disarmament, because they all (or at least the ones I have heard) preclude the use of armed force in any conceivable circumstances except after we have been attacked. And that, as I say, strikes me as being an utterly wrong conception of the use of Armed Forces in a free country. I have not heard a single argument so far for keeping any. Armed Forces at all. It is a great pity and one of the minor tragedies of this Suez situation that we have been deprived of the opportunity of talking about disarmament by not debating the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, before the Recess. I should like to see that Motion reinstated on the Order Paper because I think we need to clear oar ideas about disarmament after listening to some of the things that have been said to-day.

If we feel we have no use for Armed Forces, let us come out flat as protagonists of complete disarmament, and then we shall know where we are. That would not be my idea, because I feel, as I think the Government do, that our forces are there to be used to forestall aggression and, if that is right, they must he moved to the proper places at the proper time. That makes me look forward to the answer that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will give as to whether there is the clear distinction that I see in my mind between the movement of Armed Forces and the use of forces, armed or otherwise. As I say, I have spent a part of my life as a professional soldier, and therefore have read so many cases in military history where we did too little and too late, and so few instances where we were in time and made proper strategic use of the forces we had. Curiously enough, I cannot help feeling that one of the most recent and best examples of the timely use of forces for limiting a conflict may turn out to be that of Korea. It is possible that our friends in the United States may not draw so clear a parallel between the quick use of force to prevent a war all over China and the quick use of force which we may have to use to prevent a conflagration through the Middle East. Anyhow, Korea seems to me to be by far the best recent parallel of the quick use of force to prevent worse happening.

When I say this I want to make it absolutely clear that I am certainly not taking the view that troop movements of any sort are inevitably the prelude to war, or will lead inevitably to war. They will do no such thing. After all, when we are thinking of the character of Colonel Nasser, let us remember that he, too, is a professional soldier, and it is quite possible that in his youth he may have been taught to see some of the arguments that I have produced in much the same way as I have tried to put them. Therefore, he will not. I think, be likely to take a false view of our real object in moving these troops. In other words, and in plain English, he knows perfectly well why we have moved them and will appreciate, I hope, the action that Her Majesty's Government have taken in the employment of Armed Forces as being sound action. I feel quite certain of that.

Far less would I say that if our movements of troops through the Mediterranean do not lead to operations, then those movements will have been futile and will have failed. I think the absolute reverse—they will almost certainly have succeeded in their purpose; and I feel that they will contribute an immense amount by their presence, as a token that this country and France are determined to put an end to policies of piracy. It is my earnest hope, as I am sure it is of us all, that their presence there will influence the course of negotiations on the sound lines that we want. But in the last resort this problem is an economic one. It is to the interest of everybody concerned that the Canal should be working to the good of the users and of Egypt, as a sovereign Power, and for other reasons. Therefore, so much is at stake that one can perhaps hope that in the end common sense will prevail, and that the matter will be seen to be one which requires an economic solution, a commercial solution, and that sovereignty, however strongly it is put forward by the Egyptians, is not really the point at stake. After all, in commercial life—as I say, this is an economic problem—it would be a strange proposition to say that the owner of any property should always, and automatically, be the person to manage it. That proposition would make no sense in business, and I am not sure that it makes a great deal of sense in foreign affairs. I believe that that is the line on which, in the end, the negotiations will go.

As many noble Lords have said, however, it is no good thinking that we have endless time—as if the matter were something like some long law suit, where time does not matter and where all that matters is that the right decision is found in the end. Time does matter, because the right decision cannot be had, as I firmly believe, unless it is had in time. I am sure that everything my noble friend Lord Runciman of Doxford has said is right. I also think that our movement of forces will have a considerable effect on the correct timing of these most difficult negotiations. We have been told by all sorts of people, including the other side, that the use of armed force is wrong. We can discount what people on the other side say. I think we also can discount, to a certain extent, the views of a number of people—Job's comforters, one might call them—who, although sympathetic, have not the vital interest in the working of the Canal that the French and ourselves have. I hope that we and the French will not be left alone in this matter; but if we are, I would not say that we should be wrong in the last resort to "go it alone." We have "gone it alone" before now, and we have not always been wrong.

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, as a soldier I am glad to be able to follow the noble Viscount, and I am most grateful to him for having put this matter of the movement of troops in its true perspective. If it ever came to operations, you cannot just move troops like turning on water from a tap; you have to position them. I think the trouble probably arose because a certain amount of undue publicity (which must have been an embarrassment to Her Majesty's Government) was given by the Press to the movement of troops. That, I think, is to put the matter in its true perspective. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin asks: to what purpose are these troops going to be put? It would, of course, be highly improper if we knew. The last thing that any security officer would wish would be that we should expose potential plans. I think that the more secret troop movements can remain, the better both from the military point of view and from the psychological point of view.

I hope not to delve into the labyrinth of detail in which it is possible to discuss and which surrounds this issue; I want to cling to principles if I can. But I am tempted just to make one reflection on a matter which has been raised—namely, the possibility of a second canal, a matter upon which I imagine the noble Lord, Lord Hore-Belisha, will have something to say to-morrow. Of course it is true that the traffic through the Suez Canal is reaching saturation point. Possibly it is going to be doubled within a few years, and perhaps trebled within a few more years after that, and there is probably going to be room for two canals. Surely the deduction is that if there are two canals there should be one international control over the two in order to be able to direct traffic. The trouble with the second canal, as it has been envisaged so far, is that it is bound to be under the sole control of Israel. and the fact remains. although we may regret it, that no Arab State is going to permit its oil to leave its shores if it is going through a canal under Israeli control. The noble Lord, Lord Hore-Belisha has said. I think, that we should not allow that. How can we prevent it? We are not in a position to dictate to an Arab State as to the disposal of its oil.

My Lords, with that exception, I want to try to stick to the principles. The noble Marquess reminded us of the principle of the respect for the sanctity of international engagements. I should like to put a slightly different emphasis on the same kind of principle—that of respect for the sanctity of international negotiation, which has, of course, been flouted. A lot has been said about Egyptian sovereignty and Egyptian sovereign rights. Well, to-day the world, the family of nations. has its sovereign rights just as much as any of the components, and it is within that context that I think we should weigh till decision, and weigh the decision of which we have been informed, to set up a Users' Association. Possibly results may flow from that decision.

It is not at all an easy matter, and I find myself in disagreement with those of your Lordships who say that. this should or should not be done. It is particularly difficult to decide what is right in connection with the potential use of force. Some say it must be used; others say that on no account must it ever be used. I find both those views wrong, because the results and the effects of the use of force are in themselves by no means clear. There is, for example, in the minds of some people—those who say, "Drop one paratrooper in the Canal Zone and all is lost"—a fixed conviction that such action would lead immediately to a Third World War, and that since a Third World War probably would be a nuclear war, the argument goes, it would he the last war, for there would be no more world to wage war. I do not accept that iconoclastic and tragic view, and I hope to show that, it is quite hypothetical and wishful thinking, wishful in that those who argue on those lines hope it to be true and vet have no real logical arguments to hack their belief. They assume first of all that such a war could not be limited in a geographical sense; secondly, they believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said and as the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, has just reminded us, that the whole of the Arab world would rise in support of Egypt and Colonel Nasser. Thirdly they assume that oil would cease to flow. I am not saying that those people are necessarily wrong in those assumptions but that there is absolutely no certainty whatever that they are right.

I would take first the large question mark which surrounds oil and its possible flow in conditions of war. If it were a matter only of the reactions of Arab Governments, I would say that those Governments probably would not cut off their nose to spite their face. Iraq today is able to envisage future years of ordered planning because of the certainty of the arrival of oil revenue. But I have to acknowledge that the inclinations and better judgment of Arab Governments often have to yield to the irresponsible will of the mob; and the mob is not necessarily ready to count the cost.

There is every indication that some Arab Governments are heartily sick of Colonel Nasser's dictatorship; and the question arises: how much dare they do about it? In any case, I suggest that they would not resent others doing anything about it. I believe they are prepared to watch a kind of shadow-boxing game from the ringside, and to say that force should on no account be used and that they are prepared to name the eighteen nations as aggressors if force is used. But would they still cling to that view if the shadowboxing were ended and the opponents had closed with each other? I do not for a moment under-estimate the power or even the validity of much of the militant Arab sentiment. I do not under-estimate Colonel Nasser's ability to appeal to the bazaars over the heads of Arab Governments. But I do suggest that Colonel Nasser's behaviour for the last two or three months, and particularly during the past month, is by no means welcome to Arab Governments, and that therefore Arab reaction throughout the Arab world is a matter of judging the relationship between those Governments and their people—and that is something completely unpredictable. I may be wrong, but those who say that force must never be used in any eventuality have to prove me wrong, and I believe it cannot be done.

Again, in considering the use of force I would underline what was said by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House: if force is used. it is used to restore a situation which has been created by the use of force. I believe this point is very important, because it is said that if it is armed intervention it represents aggression and therefore is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations. It is arguable that Egypt has already contravened Article 51 of the Charter. The fact that no blood was shed on July 26 because the Company was unarmed does not qualify or alter the conditions of aggression. On the contrary, it seems to me to underline the Hitler technique for which we presume the United Nations Charter was framed as an effective limitation. One searches for an analogy to the use of force. I find an analogy in the Korean War, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, referred. It is quite true that up to a point that war was infectious, but it never devoured the world; and if force were ever used in this present case I cannot see any great enveloping flames of destruction. Rather I can see the extension creeping from one area to another, hateful, sinister and insidious, but perhaps by virtue of its nature always under some control and capable of being adjusted to a changing political background.

If that is true, then, in turn, talk of a nuclear war is quite hypothetical. We cannot visualise the exact circumstances, but one imagines troops on the Canal, and in that particular situation who is going to drop a nuclear bomb? Who is going to risk destroying the Canal which we are trying to preserve? If troops are in Egypt intermingled with Egyptian troops and the Egyptian population, who is going to drop a nuclear bomb on Egypt, where the troops are inseparable from the local population? Certainly none of the Canal Powers is likely to sanction such useless folly.

To return to the principles which we are trying to defend, I believe we are apt to forget that this trouble started when Colonel Nasser announced that he was going to divert the Canal revenue away from the Canal towards building his High Dam. That point is forgotten, and it seems to me that Colonel Nasser is conveniently trying to forget it in the hope that the world will also have short memories. Colonel Nasser may have had second thoughts, but we cannot afford to allow an international canal to fall into the hands of a man who has a first thought that is wrong. Nor can we overlook the fact that the same man has quite recently spoken of building his Arab Empire all the way from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf.

That intangible element in international affairs—confidence—is a very delicate plant: it thrives or withers according to the political morality of the men who have to manipulate it. It can be lost overnight as it was on July 26. When the noble Lord, Lord Winster, speaks of apprehension, I would suggest that it is this loss of confidence which has caused that apprehension, and it is as well if, in noting the essential element of the loss of confidence, we rid ourselves of any delusion that this is a matter of East against West. Your Lordships may remember that when we previously debated this matter, the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, most eloquently drew our attention to a situation in which Western prestige and even Western civilisation itself might be at stake. He stressed that it was up to us to accept the challenge to defend everything for which Europe can answer in human progress. I think we were all profoundly impressed by that particular presentation. At the same time, I feel sure it was not in Lord Coleraine's mind to suggest that this Canal controversy was a matter between a Western capitalist bloc and an Eastern underdeveloped bloc.

There could be no greater misapprehension than that which was so insidiously fostered by the Soviet: that the London Conference represented an alignment of rival interests of Asia, on the one hand, as represented by India, Indonesia and Ceylon, with the backing of the Soviet, against a number of Western Colonial Powers on the other. My talks with Indians in London lead me to believe that they themselves regarded this as a wicked distortion of the truth and it was quite obviously resented by them. I think it is a pity that one of the smaller Powers at the Conference did not remind us that the Soviet, who are now posing as the champions of Egypt's nationalism and sovereign rights, were responsible a few years ago for the complete liquidation of three Baltic sovereign States.

The point I would make is that the principles which we are trying to defend cut right across all alignments of East against West or colonial against anti-colonial. In defending these principles once again, I. ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are alive to the overwhelming importance of an effective presentation of our case: first, to our own people in this country; secondly, to the Arab world; and thirdly, to the world at large. Some of your Lordships may have received, as I did—I imagine that they came to all of us—pamphlets labelled "To all Britons". It was literature sent from Cairo with the rather curious optimism which a statement on the envelope involved. This read: "We cherish your friendship." The significance of this literature is not that we find that particular sort of thing a matter for ridicule— third-form classroom stuff. The point is, that in sending it out the Egyptians clearly do not regard it in that light. They regard it as effective. If they regard it as effective when directed at us, they probably would regard it as effective if directed at them.

I have sometimes thought that we convey the impression that we are lazy in this matter. I was pleased to read. I think it was in yesterday's issue of The Times, that the chairman of the Liberal Candidates' Association had taken the trouble to reply to Colonel Nasser concerning one of these pamphlets. The positive reply, I am sure, is going to be much more effective than some negative protest. Of course, there will be protests from Cairo, but the degree of success of propaganda is measured by the amount of indignation in the protest. I am not asking Her Majesty's Government for any details—it would be improper for the Government to give them. But I should like, and I am sure many of your Lordships would like also, an assurance that something is being done.

Finally, I would emphasise the international aspect of these principles. The proposals we have heard this afternoon, as I see them, without having had time to study them in detail, seem to me to be both wise and skilful. I say skilful in that the onus of aggression seems to me to be now placed on the shoulders of Egypt. The conclusion I think is inescapable: that if international control, as opposed to just mere advice, is to be finally insisted upon, it is not going to he effective without, I do not say the use of force, but I say the readiness to use force. I think there is a legitimate distinction. And in contemplating that very grave prospect, it seems to me a matter of common sense to reflect that it would be far more satisfactory, to put it mildly, if readiness to use force emerged with international sanction and approval, preferably by an actual international decision by the United Nations itself within its own right. It seems to me unfair to ourselves to be always shouldering the major burden of responsibility. How different might the tone from Cairo have been if the movement of troops, instead of being a matter of French and British troops, could have been spread wider and there had been evidence of participation by some others of those eighteen nations who were with us at the London Conference! Then, instead of the venom being reserved for Britain and France, it might have been spread on broader shoulders. We have to admit—and I say this quite objectively—that the movement of French troops, the publicity given to the movement of those troops, is not having a very good effect in the Levant, in countries such as Lebanon and Syria.

I am not sure how specific proposals could fit into the decisions we have heard this afternoon, but, as a start, I would suggest that the Security Council should at the right moment be called on to act under Article 40, which, as I understand it, enables the Security Council to put forward provisional measures aimed at the maintenance of the status quo pending a permanent settlement. And these provisional measures would clearly include the payment of dues from the users of the Canal into a blocked account under United Nations supervision. It would enable pilots to continue to be paid and it would perhaps persuade pilots, if they had left, to return. Such a move would be a great test both for Colonel Nasser and for the Security Council. Colonel Nasser would find it extremely difficult to refuse such a suggestion coming from the Security Council. If he did, I suggest Egypt's position would become untenable.

It is not for us at this stage to explore and debate the various possibilities, but it seems to me to be apposite to remind your Lordships that there is a United Nations resolution, passed by the General Assembly by fifty-two out of fifty-nine votes on November 3. 1950, known as the "Uniting for Peace" resolution. The General Assembly, as I understand, is the sole judge of its own powers, and under that resolution it gave itself power, on a summons of any seven members of the Security Council (nothing to do with the Big Five the veto was by-passed) to take note of a threat to the peace, a breach of the peace or any act of aggression. Any seven members of the Security Council can summon a meeting, in an emergency, of the General Assembly, and it then becomes just a matter of persuading two-thirds of the Assembly of the justice of our cause. If I remember aright, the collective measures were the inspiration of Mr. Acheson at the time, because it became realised that it was only because of the fortuitous absence of the Soviet from the Supreme Council that action could be taken in Korea. The Assembly is entitled to take note of a breach of the peace or act of aggression and it can recommend collective measures which include the use of armed force. That seems to me the kind of machinery that can be borne in mind in relation to future, hypothetical, perhaps, but still potential, developments.

In the past we have been shy of turning to the United Nations in our international difficulties. Certainly these post-war years are littered with failures of the United Nations—evaded decisions and decisions not implemented. In the new international democracy which levels nations down rather than raises them up, some of us find that those nations like ourselves with a thousand years of experience of democracy in operation are apt to feel penalised when we put issues in which we have a major interest to the United Nations. Yet I suggest that a wiser approach would be to regard it as a challenge. We should have many countries behind us. We should have to persuade two-thirds of the General Assembly. with all the eloquence and sincerity which we could command. of the complete justice of the case for international control. But I suggest that it could be done; and if it can be done, as the Foreign Secretary said when he was asked, "What happens now?". it would be for Colonel Nasser to say what happens next.

There is a wider aspect of this matter of reference to the United Nations and the task of coaxing the United Nations into a recognition of those responsibilities. We have led the world in many phases of international history. We led the world in an industrial revolution and in the ideals behind that revolution. We led the world in the abolition of slavery, and in the extension of free democracy and political institutions to others. In all this we have been in the van. When I said that. that was a challenge for us, it seemed to me that here was another aspect of human affairs in which once more we can be in the van: in the conception of bringing collective life and responsibility, courage and integrity, to an international organisation which has been too long a lifeless corpse without a glimmering of its potential powers for international justice and progress among the nations. A great statesman once said of us that we were no longer creators, only acceptors. Here, perhaps, might be eventually our chance to create.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords, let me first of all say that, as an irregular attender of your Lordships' debates, I count myself fortunate to be able to take part in this debate. I have listened with great care to the words that we have heard from experts on International Law, on military affairs and from the Front Bench, and I suppose that I am in the position of being the first of those Jacks-of-all-trades, the Back Benchers, to raise his voice. I can only believe that what I have in mind to say may be of value in that it possibly represents what a large number of inarticulate people have in mind—people who are befogged by the extremely difficult legal questions surrounding what is fundamentally a dangerous threat to our standards of living, to our security and, what is more important, to what we believe should be the future for international co-operation.

I have been trying to find some measure of agreement between those who have been speaking from the other side of the House and those speaking from this side. Perhaps I am making a mistake, but it strikes me that there is a wide measure of agreement that what in fact precipitated this crisis was in itself an act of aggression. I had hoped to hear the noble Lord, Lord Winster, admit that much, but I did not hear him say so. I find it extremely hard to discover any formula by which the seizure of the Canal in the way in which it was done is not to be described as an act of aggression. I believe that the word "nationalization" was used quite deliberately to confuse the plain facts of the case, to muddle the issue. I believe it to be the measure of the Government's patience that the compromise put forward with other nations at Cairo the other day goes so far as to recognise Egypt's doubtful claim to sovereignty over the Canal. I think that people are inclined to forget how doubtful that claim may well be. However, be it said that we have already gone a long way in endeavouring to compromise with Colonel Nasser and his Government.

All that the nations concerned ask is perfectly reasonable: they have asked for a maximum guarantee that the Canal, which is their lifeline, should be kept open for everybody, and in good condition, and that over the years its capacity for traffic should be steadily increased. No other guarantee, it seems to me, can be considered satisfactory, than that the control and management of the Canal should be taken over by a group of what, after all, are only tenants, the main users of this waterway. I have asked myself what possible challenge that can be to the sovereignty and the dignity of Egypt. There is challenge to the dignity of Colonel Nasser, but I beg your Lordships to ask yourselves, "Whose fault is that?" Apart from the manner of seizing the Canal, any reasonable man has only to read the speech of Colonel Nasser on July 16 to come to the conclusion that the method by which the Canal was seized was evidently designed to bolster up the personal reputation of Colonel Nasser at the expense of Western security, and, what is more important still, the principles of international co-operation in which we all believe. Inevitably we can be accused of aggression. But inevitably, too, in defending ourselves, the users of the Canal, Western and Eastern, must challenge Nasser's own position. That is the fault of nobody but Colonel Nasser himself.

Those are the facts as I see them, and on which I personally—and I can speak only for myself—have based my readiness to support Her Majesty's Government in any action that they may consider reasonable to take, even, if necessary, the use of force. For the life of me, I do not see how any Government could have done less than the present Government have done. Any Government worthy of their responsibilities must have clone exactly what this Government have done, and not one thing less.

We are members of the United Nations Organisation, and there is no doubt that the position as to our right of action, on the one hand, and our membership of the United Nations Organisation, on the other, is not an easy one to unravel. But I believe that the facts are fairly clear. I have been interested, in listening to the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, who made a suggestion in which I am not versed. He has made the suggestion that the General Assembly can by-pass the Veto; can come to a conclusion and institute an action. I should like to hear an official view from the Government as to whether or not that is possible. My own view, subject to hearing more on the point. is this. I believe that any conference, and any supra-national body ready to hear and take part in discussions, is usually severely limited in its power of coming to decisions and its power of acting on them; and this is particularly true of the United Nations Organisation.

Let us suppose that this dispute does go to the General Assembly or me united Nations. I believe that there are a limited number of decisions from which a particular action might spring. I suppose that it might provide a solution, a compromise, which both Egypt and ourselves, being too close to the problem involved, may very well have missed. But I take leave to doubt that that would be possible; and I also take leave to doubt that Colonel Nasser has any intention of moving one iota from his present position unless compelled to do so. It might well be that all parties to the dispute, when put before the United Nations Organisation, would be prepared to accept a majority opinion. I ask myself again: Is Nasser prepared to do that? Certainly I believe that we should be. Failing either of these decisions—and, I repeat. subject to hearing more on the suggestion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood—I do not believe the United Nations has the power, in face of the Veto, to implement any decisions that it might take.

Where do we go from there? In my view—it is an inexpert view, but I have tried to think this thing out as logically and honestly as I can—we are left with the probability that the United Nations Organisation may easily express a majority opinion but, in the final event, will be forced to throw the parties to the dispute back to their own resources. I should be the last person to suggest that we should not submit this dispute to the United Nations Organisation, but we must be honest with ourselves as to what the results of such a course would be. I think it is quite inevitable that our own membership of the United Nations Organisation, and our devotion to the cause of international co-operation. make it essential that we should do that very thing. But what I am concerned about is lest the astonishing patience shown by Her Majesty's Government, in face of this brutal act of aggression, should be misread as other than our devotion to the cause of international co-operation, in which we have up to now —and, I hope, always shall—played such a leading part.

The next two points I have to make are points which worry me, because I believe that we stand in grave danger of misleading world opinion, and Egyptian opinion in particular. It may well be that Colonel Nasser supposes that we should do nothing, even if we believed it to be right, without seeking what he might be pleased to call the permission of the United States of America. I hope that the Government will make it quite plain to our American friends that we believe our case to be so clear that, though we may hope for the full support of the United States, we can, and will, do all that we believe to be right, if necessary without them.

There is this other point. I have a shrewd suspicion that Colonel Nasser supposes that a fear by us of Russian intervention may cause us to back down. I hope it will be made quite plain to the Russians, if they are, in fact, thinking of intervention, that, in spite of all the risks, we are not prepared to live in a world subject in the last resort to Russia's will, and always to surrender, due to a fear of Russian intervention. I believe those two points to be of vital importance. I believe it may well be that still, in the back of his mind, Nasser thinks we are bluffing. I should he greatly shocked if I thought for one moment there was any doubt at all in the mind of the Government on these two points. I make a plea that these facts—if, indeed, the Government take that view—should be made plain at the earliest possible moment.

Finally, I think we are in danger of being over-impressed by the shadow of Colonel Nasser himself. We are in danger of being blind to the fact that all over the Middle East, not least in Egypt itself, there are men of wisdom and moderation whose position would surely be hopeless, and in many cases highly dangerous, if we retreated from what is our evident obligation. In that event, I believe that in a year or two few of them would be alive, and those few probably, almost certainly, exiles from their own country.

I am not a "sabre rattler." Other noble Lords have drawn a parallel between events as they are now and events in the late 'thirties. I have refrained from mentioning the fact, other than to pay tribute to those noble Lords who have done so, because I find myself wearily thrown back to those terrible days. I find myself comparing, inevitably, the futility of the League of Nations to handle Mussolini's attack on Abyssinia. I remember believing so well, with the logic of the situation of collective sanctions, that a time would come when force would have to be used, and only those who were cowards would not use it. I remember the dreadful disillusion that came over me when we heard of the Hoare-Laval Pact. It is because I remember that, as all of us do, that I am convinced in my own mind that this is "where we came in" before. I believe that we must see this thing through, with or without the help of our friends, the United States, but after taking the fullest possible measures of presentation of a case to the United Nations, to assure the world, if they need assuring, that our cause is clear and that we believe in it. I believe that we have a duty to perform which may well be unpleasant, but I comfort myself with this thought: that it is a duty as much to Egypt as to the rest of mankind.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, I must say that I was perturbed by the implications of the statement made by the noble Marquess in opening this debate. I believed the military measures taken to be precautionary, in ease British lives were threatened or their freedom curtailed. The noble Marquess seemed to go further in a way which might well be in conflict with the terms of the Kellogg Pact, to which the noble Lord, Lord McNair, referred. I can only say that I should like most sincerely, and with respect, to support the plea which he made so ably.

Perhaps in the matter of troop movements, as the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, has suggested, the publicity which has been given rather distorts the picture. But I feel that we should take to court all possible issues. We should go to the Security Council, not leisurely, but as a matter of urgency. I think we should go to the International Court to contest the legality of the alleged nationalisation. and I hope the Canal Company will join issue in the Court of Appeal in Paris, to which they are entitled to go in the event of a dispute.

Then I should like to make a plea for the separation of what I regard as the two problems involved—the question of international rights and obligations, and the operation and management of the Canal, which I look upon as two separate matters. It is interesting to recall that the 1888 Convention was directed against this country. Our troops were then in occupation of Egypt, and the Convention was designed to prevent the waterway from falling exclusively into the hands of one Power. This safeguard, which was pressed upon us, at the time, and accepted by us, was to extend beyond the expiry of the concession granted to the Universal Canal Company which expires in 1968.

This is our plea to-day. On the necessity for a reaffirmation of the Convention there appears to be no disagreement between the Powers and Colonel Nasser. But what powers of enforcement there should be in the event of a breach is not clear. Surely, this is the first necessity to be cleared up, particularly in view of the violation of the Convention already by Colonel Nasser by interference with Israeli ships. If this matter of international rights and obligations can be settled, then there is the second problem of the operation and management of the Canal. As understand it, the Universal Company is an Egyptian Company domiciled in Alexandria, but declared to be subject to French law, and disputes with the Company, as I have already said, go to the Court of Appeal in Paris. Colonel Nasser's action, therefore, can be challenged in that it annuls the concession and ignores the provisions regarding the application of French law.

I know that the case for the protection of private property, as the current number of the Swiss International Review has pointed out, has been greatly weakened. Even in States where the rule of law is supposed to be respected, private enterprise is no longer protected, and the editor of that review states this month that: Bad conscience, therefore, has prevented both Great Britain and France from placing themselves unequivocably on the standpoint of law. Her Majesty's Opposition have done a great deal to make the position of the Government more difficult in this matter.

I agree with the Government that it is desirable to keep the operation and management of the Canal out of politics. But how are we to do this? If we have a nationalised company, the politics of the country where the company is nationalised are involved. If we have an international company, it seems to me you may embroil the management of the Canal in the politics of many countries, and that is what is making difficult this question of advice to pilots. If it is a private company, and a private company gives advice to its pilots, there are no international repercussions. But if this company, as some claim, is an international company where Governments appoint the directors, then advice to the pilots immediately has international repercussions. So I should like to see the operation and management of the Canal vested, not in a nationalised company or an internationalised company, but in a company formed for efficient business management, technical ability and knowledge, with a board constituted for technical knowledge and ability.

I think this is all the more necessary as this part of the problem, unlike the first part of the problem to which I have referred, is a question not of politics but of business. If we could have a new commercial company, having cleared the position with a new international Convention and having provided in that international Convention what is to be done in the event of a breach, then perhaps something in the nature of the powers of a debenture holder could be exercised over the company operating and managing the Canal. It could well be, as the present Company, an Egyptian company, and it would be perfectly natural that a distinguished Egyptian should be chairman of the company. This is rather on the lines of what I gather was the Spanish proposal at the recent Conference. I ask Her Majesty's Government, before there is too much confusion over this matter, to consider the possibility of a solution on these lines which might provide a satisfactory basis to all parties.

6.41 p.m.


My Lords, I think I should say at the outset, because I do not wish to be misunderstood later on, that I do not think my worst enemies would say that I have a record of appeasement of dictators. In the 1930s I opposed Mr. Chamberlain's policy of appeasement both in this House and elsewhere to the best of my ability, and I had the honour of being included in Hitler's White Book. I opposed this policy because I believed that aggression or threats of aggression were the worst crimes that any nation could commit. I still hold that belief, and that is why I shall say what I propose to say this afternoon.

Our main anxiety on this side of the House is that force shall not be used by this country against Egypt except in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. The speech of the noble Marquess to which we listened at the beginning of the debate I fear did nothing to allay this anxiety. It can be taken for granted, or as almost certain, that Egypt will not accept or co-operate with the Users' Association which the Government and other Governments propose to set up to manage the Canal. This, indeed, may be a seriously provocative action; but if Egypt does not co-operate with this body, the Government, as the noble Marquess stated, will take further action, either through the United Nations or by other means, for the assertion of our rights. We regard this expression of "by other means" as extremely sinister, because, quite clearly, it may be presumed to include the use of force.

The Government claim that their policy since the Canal was taken over has been completely consistent with the spirit as well as the letter of the Charter of the United Nations. I do not think that this claim can pass unchallenged, for the Charter expressly declares—and here I would refer your Lordships to Article 2 (4)— All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force. It is true that the Government have at present refrained from the use of force, but they have certainly given the impression, not only here but all over the word, that they might use force if Egypt did not accept international control of the Canal. Moreover, they have deployed more strength in the Mediterranean than could reasonably be required to protect British lives in Egypt. Such threats of force are certainly inconsistent with the Charter and have also, as my noble friend Lord Silkin pointed out, been bad policy because they have made President Nasser more obdurate and have had an unfavourable effect on a very large section of world opinion. if the Government really believe, as they profess to believe, in the Charter, and have the deep respect for international agreements expressed by the noble Marquess in his speech, why cannot Ministers say now that they will not resort to force in future except in accordance with the terms of the Charter of the United Nations? This is only asking the Government to honour the most important of all the international agreements they have entered into since the war.

What we should like to make entirely plain to the Government is that they would not have the support of the Labour Party or of the millions of Labour supporters in the country if they were to use armed force against Egypt without the authority of the Charter of the United Nations. We on this side of the House do not believe in force or threats of force as a legitimate instrument of national policy. That cynical doctrine of force has led to most of the wars in European history. It will lead to future wars if it ever becomes the settled policy of any powerful nation. But we are not pacifists—some of us are, but the majority of us are not by any means pacifists—and we should certainly not flinch from the use of force in accordance with the terms of the Charter.

According to my reading of the Charter —I am not a lawyer, but I presume an instrument of this importance should be intelligible to the layman—there are three different sets of circumstances in which a nation would be justified in the use of force. The first of these sets of circumstances is this: to carry out the decisions of the Security Council about the use of armed force to resist an aggressor. This was done by us and our fellow members of the United Nations in the case of Korea. The second set of circumstances is for us to discharge obligations undertaken in regional or other defensive treaties, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The third set of circumstances apply when a country is acting in self defence. It is clearly this third set of circumstances, action in self defence, that has the most direct bearing on our relations with Egypt at the present time and in the immediate future.

What constitutes aggression, and therefore justifies retaliation with armed force, is described in Article 51 of the Charter as "an armed attack". This Article dealing with self-defence is extremely important. I will not weary your Lordships by reading the whole Article. I should, however, like to read the first sentence as it seems to me a vital consideration when we are dealing with the justification of the use of force. Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations until the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. This definition of aggression as "an armed attack" is alarmingly different from that of the noble Marquess. According to the noble Marquess, Egypt has already committed an act of aggression against us by breaching an international agreement at the time it took over the Canal. I made a note of the words of the noble Marquess at the time and I think he described this illegality as "unprovoked attack" or "aggression". We do not agree with this view of aggression, and in our opinion it is not in accordance with the Charter. It is very difficult to see that the taking over of the Canal, whether it was legal or illegal, can be regarded as "an armed attack … against a member of the United Nations." The Suez Canal Company is an international company and not even a British company. Surely the right procedure to deal with this matter, which it is alleged by the Government and maintained by many is a breach of international law, should be to refer it to the International Court of Justice.

My Lords, I think we have a great deal of common ground. We all condemn President Nasser's action in seizing the Canal without consultation or consent. We share the concern felt by everyone that our oil supplies depend on his personal undertaking to keep the Canal open and to run it with reasonable efficiency. President Nasser's treatment of Israel proves that he will use the Canal. so long as he continues to control it, as an instrument of Egyptian national policy, and there is this continuing danger of turning the Canal into an instrument of local politics. President Nasser's recent refusal to meet the views of the vast majority of the canal's users may bring traffic almost to a standstill and must be regarded as an example of obdurate nationalism. But none of these actions, wrong, foolish, chauvinistic as they may be, in our view constitutes an act of aggression against this country. Of course, the fact that such art action has not occurred in the past does not mean that it may not occur in the future, and in that event, obviously, we should have to defend ourselves.

But a far greater danger of war lies, in our minds, in the refusal of the Government to give up the use of force if they fail to get what they want by other means. There was no guarantee whatever, so far as I could make out, in the speech of the noble Marquess, that armed force would not be used either without reference to the United Nations or after reference to the United Nations if the decision of that body was unacceptable to Her Majesty's Government. I hope that Her Majesty's Government and the public will pause to consider carefully the likely consequences of an attack by our country, whether in association with other countries or not, against Egypt.

The first, and probably the least important, result would be the effect on our own economy. There would be a complete stoppage of our oil from the Middle East. Egypt would block the Canal, and other Arab countries would sabotage the pipelines that run through their territory. The wider and longer-term consequences of a war of this kind with Egypt would be far more serious. As we all know from past experience, a war often starts as a local war and becomes a general war. We cannot be certain that a war in the Middle East would not spread. Certainly it would unite all the Arab countries, from Casablanca to Baghdad, against us and our allies, and would give Russia the influence in that area that she has been striving recently to obtain. Of course, Russia has already gained considerable prestige in the Arab world by not siding with the majority of the nations at the London Conference; she would gain still further if we had the misfortune to find ourselves in armed conflict with Egypt.

Even more serious than this increase of Russian influence would be the effect on the Commonwealth. I believe that the Commonwealth would be split from top to bottom. Canada would follow the lead of the United States—and President Eisenhower has said quite clearly that force cannot be justified save in the event of (and I quote his words) "some form of aggression" by Egypt. Australia is most sensitive to Asian opinion and would find it difficult to support us. Pakistan has already expressed some sympathy for the Egyptian case Our action would certainly be strongly condemned in India and Ceylon, and these countries might well decide to leave the Commonwealth. This would have a disastrous effect on our Colonies in Africa and South-East Asia.

More serious still would be the loss of confidence in the United Nations as the instrument of world peace. The effectiveness of International Law is undermined if it can be broken with impunity. The League of Nations was discredited because its Convenant was successfully breached by Japan and Italy. The United Nations will go the same way as the League unless its Charter is respected by its member nations and it continues to show, as it did in Korea, that it can successfully stop aggression. We cannot afford, whatever our view of the case maybe, to be regarded by the United Nations as an aggressor nation, and to antagonise world opinion by destroying what most countries still regard as their main safeguard against another war.

The alternative policy to that of the Government is to renounce the use of force and to refer our dispute with Egypt forthwith to the Security Council of the United Nations. This would certainly be useless unless the Government sincerely desired to ask our fellow members to try to make a fresh approach to open negotiations with President Nasser about the Canal. The user nations have certainly tried unsuccessfully, but that is no reason why a further attempt should not be made. The advantages to users and producers of oil of agreement about the Canal are so outstanding that no one could say that a settlement is impossible. Moreover, I believe that President Nasser has moved nearer to our position since the dispute began. Let us, at any rate, adopt a policy that will show by our example that we, as a nation, believe that reason and not force should prevail in international relations, and let us give the rest of the world a lead in this, the right direction.

6.56 p.m.


My Lords, before I proceed to deal with the many and interesting points that have been raised in to-day's debate, I have one pleasant task, and that is to congratulate my old friend Lord Rathcavan on addressing your Lordships' House for the first time. It is almost a work of supererogation to congratulate one who was for so long in the House of Commons and who was Speaker in yet another Legislative Assembly; but I think that all his old friends would like him to know with what pleasure we heard his views and how much we hope to hear him again.

I am afraid that in the remarks which I have to address to you there will be bound to be a certain amount of stressing of the legal factors and dealing with legal points. I do not make a great apology for that, because I think it is extremely important, not only for your Lordships but for the country at large, that the legal aspects of this matter should be put on record and that they may be there for people to see and appreciate. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in the speech which he has just made, was careful not to commit himself as to whether the action of President Nasser was legal or illegal. He suggested that that should be tested before the International Court of Justice. But it escaped his memory for the moment that Egypt has not signed the compulsory clause of that Court, and therefore is not within its jurisdiction.

The first point that I want to make to your Lordships is that the action of President Nasser in purporting to nationalise the Suez Canal Company is a flagrant breach of International Law, and in particular of the international obligations implicit in the solemn Treaty into which Egypt entered by the Convention of 1888. Your Lordships have in mind, I am sure, the preliminary history of this matter, and I do not want to take up your Lordships' time by going through it in any detail; but it is important, when one is considering the Convention of 1888, to have in one's mind the outline of that background. Your Lordships will remember that in 1854 there was the original concession to M. de Lesseps. Then in 1856 a Company was formed with its seat in Alexandria but its administrative and directive domicile in Paris. A second concession gave to the Company further rights and introduced the conception of free passage. Subsequent to that, there was another contract between the Company and the Egyptian Government which was confirmed by a Firman of the Sultan of Turkey in 1866. The Canal was opened in 1869. It was clear at that moment that the Canal was of immense international importance, and proceedings began which culminated with the Treaty of 1888. The importance of that is that the system under which the Canal began and extended was an increasingly international system.

I have put that background to your Lordships, very briefly, in the hope that it may be useful, and it is against that background that I ask your permission to deal with the breach of the international obligations implicit in the Convention of 1888. I am very glad that on this point I have the support of my noble and learned friend Lord McNair. As he reminded your Lordships, one has first to look at the preamble to the Convention which states that the Powers wished: to establish by a conventional act a definite system destined to guarantee at all times, and for all the Powers, the free use of the Suez Maritime Canal."— and I draw your Lordships' attention to the next words— and thus to complete the system under which the navigation of this Canal has been placed by the Firman of His Imperial Majesty the Sultan dated 22nd February, 1866 …sanctioning the Concessions of His Highness the Khedive. In my view, it is plain that the words I have quoted indicate that it was the intention of the signatories to this Convention that the Company to which the concession had been granted by the Khedive was to be indissolubly linked with the "definite system" created by the Convention. It is an integral part of that system, and if anyone doubts this, let him look at the Convention itself, when he will find the Company expressly mentioned in Articles 2 and 14. I am very glad that the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, made that point to-day, as he had already made it in his letter in The Times on Monday last.

As this Convention was introduced in order to complete the system of the concession, it contemplates that the system will continue for the period provided by the concession. Article 14 of the Treaty provides that the engagements resulting from the Treaty are not to be limited—I quote the words: by the duration of the Company's concessions. This clearly indicates that the Convention was based on the assumption that the concession would continue for the full period. It is therefore an implied term of the Convention, which is in the fullest sense an international Treaty, that an end could not be put to the Company's concessions except with the consent of the Powers, and to expropriate the concessionary is in practice to terminate the concession just as surely as to repudiate it directly.

We need not remain in the nineteenth century. The 1954 Agreement between Her Majesty's Government and the present Egyptian Government (that is, in effect, President Nasser himself) contained a clear provision that both Governments recognised that the Canal, although an integral part of Egypt, is a waterway of international importance, and expressed their determination to uphold the 1888 Convention. This is a clear indication that Colonel Nasser had reaffirmed the status of the Company which, as I have shown, it was the declared purpose of the Convention to recognise and establish. In nationalising the Canal, he has therefore not only committed a breach of the obligations implicit in the 1888 Convention but has broken his own pledge, made as recently as 1954. That is the first point.

The second point I wish to make to your Lordships is that it is entirely fallacious to suggest that the Company is a purely Egyptian Company and that the nationalisation is no different from the nationalisation of a domestic industry in Britain. The Suez Canal Company is in law manifestly an international body. It is true that the Company is registered in Egypt, but that does not make it solely or exclusively an Egyptian company. Let us take the tests that would be applied to any company for any purpose. One would consider the locality of its principal attributes, its treatment by the Egyptian Government and the law which the Egyptian Government has always agreed is applicable to its constitution, which my noble friend Lord Grantchester has mentioned. One would then consider whether the Egyptian Government has sought to make Egyptian legislation applicable to the Company and what rights Egyptian Governments, Khedivial, royal or revolutionary, have allowed to be vested in the Company itself. These are severe tests, as any lawyer or international lawyer would agree. I do not shrink from any one of them.

On the first point, the fact is that the Egyptian registration is a formality, and, like so many registrations, is in the nature of a facade, covering an entity which is in foreign ownership and under foreign direction, with directors and general meetings in Paris, and with legal personality under French law. The international aspect of the Company has been recognised by the Egyptian mixed courts. I give your Lordships one fairly recent example—the Hoirs Setton case of February 28, 1946. By the agreement of the Egyptian Government. the law covering the Company is not exclusively Egyptian law, and is certainly not Egyptian law in the context of the present issue. The context of the present issue is that President Nasser has now purported to replace the Company's directing board, the Conseil d' Administration, by an Egyptian authority. This clearly affects the internal constitution of the Company, but by an agreement made between the Egyptian Government and the Company—in fact, it is Article 16 of the Agreement of 1866—made long ago, but never altered, it was agreed that in matters relating to its constitution it is to be governed by French law, and all disputes under that head should be regarded as being subject to the jurisdiction of the French courts. Therefore, under provisions agreed to by the Egyptian Government and never altered, the matter is not one governed by Egyptian law.

I am now coming to what a Legislative Chamber might well consider the strongest point—namely, that Egyptian legislation does not apply to the Company unless the Company agrees. For eighty-four years, from 1863 to 1947, the relations between the Company and the Government had always been regulated by the special agreements, each of which amounted to a reaffirmation of the Company's concessionary rights. So for eighty-four years Egypt never even tried to make its legislation applicable to the Company. In 1947, when the Egyptian Government attempted for the first time automatically to enforce an Egyptian law (it was a Companies Act) on the Company, the Company took the opinion of two famous international lawyers, Professor Gide!, of France, and Professor Sauser-Hall, of Switzerland. Both, after a most careful and full review of all the relevant documents and precedents, advised categorically that the registration in Egypt was not conclusive; that the Company had an international character; that the Egyptian Government was not, in matters affecting the status of the Company or the provisions of the concession, able automatically to make Egyptian legislation applicable to it.

I agree with that opinion of those famous international lawyers. What is far more important, so did the Egyptian Government, for the opinion was communicated to the Egyptian Government, who raised no objection, and must be taken to have accepted the underlying arguments, for the very good reason that it proceeded to deal with the matter in question by a further special agreement made in 1949. The plain moral of this is that if the Egyptian Government, on its own admission of as late as 1949, cannot legally make Egyptian legislation applicable to the Company in particular points of its constitution, it unquestionably cannot do so for the purpose of ending the international character of the Company and so abrogating the concession which the latter possesses.

I want to put these things as shortly as I can, but I think it is very important that they should be stated, and stated clearly. And, my Lords, there can be no doubt from what I have said that successive Egyptian Governments, including Colonel Nasser's own Government, have recognised that the Company has definite rights vested in it which are far more than mere unilateral concessions which Egypt can at any time withdraw. Professor Sauser-Hall, the eminent Swiss jurist to whom I have previously referred, advised some years ago that the contractual relationship between the Company and the Egyptian Government could not be interfered with without a breach of the well-known doctrine of International Law in regard to vested rights. I do not think that any international lawyer could quarrel with that view.

I have seen it stated (and I am sure most of your Lordships have seen it also), as if it were a mitigating circumstance, that the Company's concession provides for the eventual taking over of the Company's assets by Egypt. That was to be in 1968 not now. The assets were to be taken over only on payment of their value, and the Egyptian Government have offered nothing for the value of the Company's installations but have claimed automatic ownership of all the assets. If your Lordships were to look at Article 16 of the Concession of 1866 you would see that at the expiry of the ninety-nine years the Egyptian Government will re-enter into possession of the Canal. on condition in that event"— I am quoting of taking over all the materials and installations utilised for the operation of the Canal and of paying the Company their value as fixed either by agreement or by experts. This gives no automatic right to the assets, but an obligation to take them over and pay their 'value as a condition of re-entering into possession of the Canal. The words "in that event" are significant in showing that there was a possibility that Egypt would not re-enter. That is confirmed by the following paragraph of the same Article, which provides that if the Company should continue for further ninety-nine year periods, the royalty reserved to the Egyptian Government should increase by 5 per cent.

What is most important, and what we should remember in trying to take an objective view of this matter, is that these provisions which I have mentioned imply an opportunity to negotiate or propose an extension of the concession, or, failing agreement, an orderly transfer of the Company's assets and undertakings. In this case the expropriation was done suddenly, arbitrarily and forcibly, with the declared object of using the proceeds for the national purposes of the Egyptian Government. As certain people have tried to find every justification for President Nasser's action, may I make it plain, in a word, that the nationalisation by the Egyptian Government is equivalent to total abrogation of the Company's concession which, as I have shown your Lordships, was confirmed by the Convention of 1888 in such a way as to make any fundamental breach of the concession a breach of international law.

I hope that your Lordships will think it is worth my saying again and especially (I mean no disrespect) after the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, dealing with nationalisation in general, that this is not a real case of nationalisation: it is not a general measure affecting a class of property or an industry. The measures taken here were measures of expropriation having an obvious confiscatory element directed against a particular undertaking which is foreign-owned, financed and administered. A parallel would be for the Swiss Government to nationalise the International Red Cross, on the ground that it is registered in Switzerland. It is part of a plan—as my noble friend the Leader of the House said—to destroy the international status of the Canal. It may seem a comparatively small point, but the compensation is inadequate, ineffective and illusory. It is ineffective because the Egyptian Government have made the payment of compensation dependent on the Company's assets in Egypt and abroad being handed over to them. They cannot have it both ways. Having purported to nationalise the Company they are liable to pay compensation in any event. It is illusory because it is clearly impossible for the Egyptian Government to pay compensation while at the same time adequately maintaining the Canal and financing the Aswan Dam without raising dues and charges to an intolerable extent.

I come now to the Egyptian attitude to the employees of the Company. I have some right to speak, because as Chairman of the Legal Committee of the Council of Europe I had a small part in the coming into force of the Convention of Human Rights for Europe. I find that in forcing the employees to continue in work, at any rate for a period, under the threat of imprisonment, the Government have committed a further illegality. This is not part of a general measure directed to keeping people at work in war or in emergency conditions. This is part of an act in itself illegal, directed against a specific entity. This is a case of forcing employees to give their services to an employer they have never agreed to serve. The new authority has no right to stand in the position of the old Company. Breach of contract of employment is a civil wrong which cannot possibly be met by threat of imprisonment. This is forced labour and amounts to a violation of human rights, as well as a breach of the accepted principle of International Law, by which every country has a duty to afford a certain minimum standard of treatment to foreigners within its bounds.

I have dealt with the Convention, the position of the Company and this purported nationalisation and its circumstances, but we must look further in the matter. The effect of nationalisation or expropriation, particularly in destroying the Canal's international status, is incompatible with the 1888 Convention. After this action, the maintenance and development of the Canal are subject to the prior demands of the Egyptian Government, who have declared their intention to use the revenue of the Canal for their own purposes. It is only necessary to take the declaration of Egypt's object, of financing the Egyptian national project of the Aswan Dam, to see that it is not consistent with the purely international purposes for which the Canal was established and cannot, consistently with the duty of the maintenance and improvement of the Canal, together with the payment of compensation announced, let alone further compensation possibly due, be carried out without such an increase in the tolls and charges as would amount to a serious hindrance to the use of the Canal by shipping on an economic basis. Even without the Dam, it is extremely unlikely that if due provision for maintenance and improvement is to be met, this could be done without a considerable rise in dues.

If this purported nationalisation creates a situation in which a breach of the Convention must occur, or almost certainly must occur, this not only is a further fact in making nationalisation illegal, but also threatens the existence of the Canal. Despite the words of the noble Lord. Lord Winster, to which I listened, in my opinion, if the Canal is to be used as an instrument of Egyptian policy for economic purposes, it is a reasonable assumption that it will he used as such for political purposes also. It could be opened or closed at the whim of President Nasser. The blockade of Israel, which was condemned by the United Nations in 1951 but which still continues, five years later, is an example of what will happen. It may well be said—because every argument is grasped —that the blockade was condoned and that the Security Council are to be reproached for not having taken effective action against Egypt in respect of it. However that may be, surely we are entitled to look at these past events in order to judge how much reliance can be placed on President Nasser's intentions now. I think that that is fair and reasonable.

This is a clear case of an illegal attempt to alter the status of an international waterway. The resultant problems must be considered on an international plane. International physical entities such as the Suez Canal have always had a special position in International Law. If it were a matter of our interests alone, then there would be room for argument as to whether these interests were vital and whether we had a right to protect them; but where it has been declared with all possible international solemnity, in a treaty of eight Great Powers, that there are international interests, as indeed no-one denies, then it becomes not merely a right but a duty to protect them. Obviously this duty falls most heavily on the users of the Canal for whose benefit the Canal was made international and the duty of leadership falls on Great Britain, who is the greatest user.

Let us look at this for a moment from the standpoint of Egypt. Here I am glad ton be in accord with the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair. It must be remembered that every sovereign State is subject to the treaty obligations which it has freely accepted and which impose certain limitations on its unrestricted use of sovereign power. This does not in any way detract from its status as an independent sovereign State. Egypt concluded, and President Nasser accepts to-day, the Convention of 1888, which, as I said, was a solemn international treaty. The sovereignty of Great Britain, too, is limited by numberless treaties.

In spite of the fact that our national interests are deeply involved, in this dispute we have never forgotten our international duties. We have never forgotten that this is an international cause. We immediately took counsel with the United States and France. That consultation gave rise to the London Conference, which was a Conference of all those mostly concerned. The result was that eighteen nations from all over the world declared for international control, and also agreed terms in which the political and economic interests of Egypt were most carefully safeguarded. President Nasser has now rejected the principle of international control, and it is quite clear that it is a condition of any plan of President Nasser that the Canal must not be an international body, working in the interests of users from all over the world, but that the Canal should be available as an instrument of Egyptian policy.

The Government had to take into account—they could not do anything else —that to leave the Canal in the hands of a man whose untrustworthiness has been so often proved would be a threat to our economic existence. So far as I know, nobody denies this. Therefore, I find it difficult to see who then can deny our duty to strengthen our forces. One has to look at what actually has happened in the world, and because I want to be studiously careful in this matter, I should like to put it in the words of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. He said: It might he regarded as provocative if were to retell all the circumstances which could arise in Egypt. I will therefore mention only one. I have not forgotten the appalling massacre of foreigners which took place in Cairo in 1952. Many people of several nationalities, including ten British, were murdered in the most brutal conditions. I was then in charge of the Government, for my right honourable friend for Woodford was on his way back from the United States. It is true that on that occasion the Egyptian Army intervened to stop further bloodshed. Members can judge for themselves how much that action was due to the knowledge that we had a plan to intervene by force in the last resort. That must be remembered; and I must say, in answer to the question that my noble friend Lord Bridgeman was good enough to put to me, that I take the same view as I understand he does: that the movement of troops is not in itself a case of force; it a matter of being prepared for whatever action may ensue.

The noble Lord, Lord Sillkin, suggested that our action in regard to the pilots had been provocative. Again, I want to be absolutely clear that no word of mine is exaggerated. if I can prevent it. Therefore, again, with your Lordships' permission, I will put it in the language of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. He said: I must new make some reference to the question of the pilots. The Company agreed, at the earnest request of the French Government and ourselves, to urge the pilots to remain, first, until the London Conference had taken place, and again, until Mr. Menzies' mission was completed. How little they liked this can be illustrated by the comments of one Swedish pilot. 'I have no intention', he said, 'of going back to Suez as long as the Canal is under Egyptian administration, and the same applies to my sixty colleagues who are at present in Europe.' And he went on: 'I have no confidence in the Egyptians. I was there during the days of terror in 1952. For my part, f hope no sea captains get caught on Nasser's boot'. The Prime Minister went on to say: After Nasser's sudden seizure oil the Canal Company it was only natural that the non-Egyptian staff of the Company should consider their own future very carefully. They were expected to work for a Government to which they owed no allegiance, and the House should not forget that they were threatened with imprisonment by the Egyptian Government if they did not continue with their work. These men have undoubtedly been operating in the most difficult and trying conditions. It was a heavy responsibility for any Government to exert their influence on the International Suez Canal Company to keep these men at their posts, as we did. But when the Menzies' mission came to an end the Government felt they could not any longer maintain this pressure. These men are human beinas, free to choose. They have no security in present circumstances. If they decide to leave Egypt, it will clearly be the responsibility of the Egyptian Government. It is they who have created conditions in which these men have taken the decision that, despite their many years' service on the Canal. and their many personal ties, they find that they must leave. That is a very fair statement of the position, and I challenge anyone, with that in mind, to say that there is provocation.

I thought this would be a convenient time to answer the question—the quadrupartite question. if I may put it that way —put by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. The answer to the first part of the question is that Her Majesty's Government own between 43 and 44 per cent. of the shares of the Suez Canal Company and appoint three directors to the governing board. It would not be in accordance with Her Majesty's Government's settled practice to seek to exercise day-to-day control of the affairs of a Company of this sort, even if our shareholding entitled us to do so.


The noble and learned Viscount said that there were four questions. That is the answer to the first.


I am answering the four together. I am only trying to be helpful to the noble Viscount. Her Majesty's Government had no knowledge of the terms of the contracts between the Suez Canal Company and their various employees. Now the third part of the question. On September 11 the Suez Canal Company Board made public a message to its employees in which it told them that, with the completion of Mr. Menzies' mission, the further period of work called for by the Company a fortnight ago had come to an end. Consequently, all non-Egyptian employees of the Company who had responded to its invitation and declared their loyalty to it were authorised, so far as the Company was concerned, to stop work on either September 14 or 15. The answer to the fourth point of the noble Viscount's question can be given only by the Company.


The purpose of the question was this. The Company consists of shares, of which we hold 44 per cent. or thereabouts. What I was endeavouring to find out was whether Her Majesty's Government took responsibility for the action of the Board, or, at any rate, for the opinion expressed on the Board by their own nominees; because it was said in The Times—in fact. I believe a Foreign Office spokesman said it—that this was a matter entirely for the Company. My first question is: Are not the Government ultimately responsible for, at any rate, the advice given by our directors on the Company?


I do not want to give a debating answer to the noble Viscount. What I said is perfectly clear: that it would not be in accordance with the Government's settled practice to seek to exercise day-to-day control in the affairs of a Company of this sort. Since the Government of which the noble Viscount was so distinguished a member, Her Majesty's Government own shares in a considerable number of companies—many of them will come into mind—and it is the practice not to exercise day-to-day control. I can remember members of that Government announcing in another place that they would not exercise day-to-day control but would leave that to the boards on which they nominated their members. Of course, they have the ultimate sanction of not putting that member on to the Board again, and, if the contract allows, of removing him at once.


I gave notice of these questions because I think they are important. May I ask the noble and learned Viscount this? What are the terms of the employment of these men? Are they due to give six months' notice, or can they walk out when they like? The Lord Chancellor must know that. He has directors on the Company, and he could have inquired as to that matter. The second point is this. Have these men been told—I do not know whether this is true or not—that if they leave the Company there will be a couple of years' money in their pocket? You see, the point of the question is that it is alleged


Order, order!


The point of the question is this. It is alleged that in this controversy there is an attempt at sabotage. My question was to find out whether the Government were able to repudiate any part in that charge.


I entirely repudiate any part in that charge, and I repeat what I said to the noble Viscount—I know it is difficult to pick up an answer as it is given—that Her Majesty's Government had no knowledge of the terms of the contracts between the Suez Canal Company and their various employees. The noble Viscount may take it from me that it was a matter that received attention from the Government of which he was a member—that they would not take the responsibility of answering in Parliament questions relating to day-to-day management of companies in which they had an interest. That attitude has been taken by every Party. Let me say at once that if there is any other point which occurs to the noble Viscount overnight that we can get information on, he has only to ask. I will repeat what the noble Marquess said—that we want to give all the information we can.


I am grateful, and I shall revert to the matter to-morrow.


Would it be possible to find out what the French position is? I think there are sixteen French directors, and one wonders what instructions have been given to these directors by the French Government.


May I say that I will try and make inquiries.


I wonder whether the noble and learned Viscount could tell me this. He was answering a point that I had made. I. agree that his statement is, generally speaking, correct, that the Government do not interfere in the day-to-day operations of a company in which they hold shares; but could the noble and learned Viscount say whether, in this particular case, the advice which was given by the Company to the pilots was given after consultation or not?


As I said, that was a matter for the Company, and the Canal Company made public their message to their employees. What is clear, of course, is that there must have been some consultation in order to indicate to the Company the period of the Menzies Committee. Clearly, the Government must have communicated to the Company and given them some sort of idea how long, in their estimation, the Menzies Committee would take. To that extent there probably was communication. I have not any details, but again, if I can help in any way, I will try.

I have dealt with the position of the Company and I now want to come for a moment to the wider matters that have been raised, and especially to the speech of my noble friend Lord McNair. I do not want to get involved in theoretical arguments on International Law, but I do want to indicate the practical position as I see it, and then to indicate why, in my view, the action that Her Majesty's Government have taken is within the letter and the spirit of the Charter. The noble Lord, Lord McNair, mentioned the Briand-Kellogg Pact, and, as some words of his indicated, I, if anyone, ought to know what was in the Briand-Kellogg Pact. But I remind him that it outlaws war as an instrument of national policy—I emphasise the words "national policy" —and this does not exclude, as I think he would concede, the use of force in all circumstances.

If he will refresh his mind from a work he knows very well, Oppenheim on International Law, Volume page 182. where the learned author, Sir Hersch Lauterpacht, comments on the Pact, he will find there that it is stated that: the fact that the signatories have renounced in their mutual relations recourse to war as an instrument of national policy means that resort to war still remains lawful—(a) as a means of legally permissible self-defence; (b) as a measure of collective action for the enforcement of international obligations by virtue of existing instruments such as the Charter of the United Nations; (c) as between signatories of the Pact and non-signatories; and (d) as against a signatory who has broken the Pact by resorting to war in violation of its provisions. Those are the two points I want the noble Lord to note—that this is a matter limited to an instrument of national policy and subject to these exceptions which I have mentioned.

I then proceed to the Charter of the United Nations. I remind your Lordships, as my noble friend the Leader of the House reminded you, that the purposes of the United Nations include two aims: one, to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, and, secondly, to establish conditions under which justice and respect for obligations arising from Treaties and other sources of International Law can be maintained. These two aims are interdependent. If there is no respect for Treaties the consequences are invariably and inevitably anarchy and war.

Now I come to Article 2, which was quoted by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. In Article 2 the positive words of paragraph 3 must be considered, as well as the negative provision of paragraph 4, which the noble Earl quoted. May I quote them both? Paragraph 3 says: All Members should settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice"— I repeat "and justice"— are not endangered. As the noble Earl told us, paragraph 4 says: 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, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. I comment again that it is an important obligation and duty on us all. There is one clear purpose, which is that disputes shall be settled so as not to endanger justice and the respect for obligations arising from Treaties. We cannot get away front that duty. We may fail to carry out the duty, but the duty remains on us, and the more that we are internationalists, the more we have to find a way to carry out our duty.

I ask your Lordships to follow me therefore in, as I have said, a careful examination of the Charter. The first alternative to the threat or use of force is set out in Article 33 which deals with seeking a solution by negotiation, the course which has been observed in the present case by the London Conference and the Cairo meetings. Your Lordships have heard to-day that there are further steps, namely, the Users' Council, which are being taken still at that stage. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said that this also was provocative. I hope I have shown without serious fear of contradiction that the Egyptian action was illegal in destroying the Company which had the concession and which was a basic matter in the Convention of 1888. The Egyptian Government destroys that Company, an international Company. Is it to be provocative to say, "You have destroyed a lawful company we put a provisional organisation into its place"? Where is the provocation there? That is surely a reasonable method of dealing with people who act illegally against you.

But it does not stop there. They have turned down the Eighteen Nations' proposals put forward by the five delegates. They can still join in this Users' Council; they can still come into it. Why, why, why, must we assume that people will inevitably do what is wrong and apparently conspire to make their wrongdoing a success? We put forward an alternative and it is open to Egypt to join that if she repents of her wrongdoing and takes the right course. But that is action under Article 33. Noble Lords have been looking at the Charter and have sought to criticise us on it. But after Article 33 there is Article 35, which says that the matter may be brought to the attention of the United Nations. Your Lordships heard from the noble Marquess the Leader of the House that a letter has already been sent bringing it to their attention. Then there is Article 37 which says that if what you do under Article 33 fails, then you shall bring it to the Council. We are still working under Article 33 we are still trying to make a success of the procedure under Article 33. I say that there is no fair and reasonable criticism against us for what we have done because we have carried out that procedure.

That is the situation. I do not want— and I do not think it is really profitable —to anticipate failure. But there it is. Action is being arranged now and it may succeed. But I think it is right to go this far. Suppose it fails suppose our action under Article 33 definitely fails. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said to-day I shall no doubt be asked what are the intentions of Her Majesty's Government about the reference of this dispute to the United Nations. That arises under Article 37 when Article 33 has failed. I certainly do not…exclude that—quite the contrary; it may well be necessary. Surely that is the right position when you are acting under Article 33, and that is what my right honourable friend has said in that regard.

Of course, the position in the United Nations is that a resolution in the Security Council—as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, if I may say so, with perfect accuracy—may be vetoed by one Power. The Assembly has no executive power but only powers of recommending. A resolution of recommendation in the Assembly may be blocked by one vote over one-third. That is the position. I say that there should go out from your Lordships' House and from all men and women of good will the hope that, if it does come, if it is necessary, if our action fails, the United Nations will be inspired by the duty of preserving international treaties and obligations, as my noble friend mentioned to-day.

I wish to reiterate what I have already said about the importance of international obligations and international entities. There has been much talk about the rule of law. I welcome it, so long as it is clearly remembered that the rule of law is founded not merely upon the facile assertion of rights but upon the hard fulfilment of duties. When steps for the peaceful solution of problems arising out of the enforcement of international obligations have been taken and have failed in their object, the duty still remains.

May I quote what I venture to think is an arresting passage from a book by one of the foremost international jurists of our time—I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair. will agree with me—Sir Hersch Lauterpacht, now British Judge on the Court of International Justice at The Hague. It appears in the Eighth Edition of the famous book of Oppenheim on International Law. At pages 336 and 337, he says this: It is often maintained that a State, as a sovereign person, can have no legal responsibility whatever. This is only correct with reference to certain acts of a State towards its subjects. Since a State can abolish parts of its Municipal Law and can make new Municipal Law, it can always avoid legal. although not moral, responsibility by a change of Municipal Law. The position is different with regard to the external responsibility of a State. Responsibility in that sphere attaches to every State as an International Person. State responsibility concerning international duties is therefore a legal responsibility. For a State cannot abolish or create International Law in the same way that it can abolish or create Municipal Law. Every neglect of an international legal duty constitutes an international delinquency, and the injured State can, subject to its obligations of pacific settlement, through reprisals or even war compel the delinquent State to fulfil the international duties. My Lords, in my opinion, international obligations apply particularly to international entities, in which I include those on which a certain character has been mposed—such as the Rhineland in 1936, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Ratheavan, or a land corridor or an international waterway. In such instances the international delinquency of the State may injure many, though the extent of the injury done may differ from State to State. Is it not plain that in such circumstances States which are party to the agreement, in the fulfilment of their international obligations, have not only the right but a positive duty to take such steps as may be necessary Ito compel the delinquent to fulfil his international obligations?

Our own history is not lacking in instances of individual men who have stood forth for the rights of others. Take what your Lordships may consider a trite, but it is an obvious, example. Were not the protests of John Hampden against the imposition of ship money made for the common good? Your Lordships may remember Burke's famous speech, where he said: Would twenty shillings have ruined Mr Hampden's fortune? No, but the payment of half twenty shillings on the principle it was demanded, would have made him a slave. I ask your Lordships to-night to consider what is your individual reply to the moral duty. Certainly I hope you will agree with me that the United Nations, should our action under Article 33 not be successful, should take that view of international obligation which does not forget the duties of life.

My Lords, one of the dangers of which I think we are all conscious—the last thing I desire is to attempt to appear to your Lordships as more conscious than those I see around me—in maintaining respect for treaties and their obligations is that the fait accompli, although achieved by the most glaring use of force, as here, quickly acquires a prescriptive right over events and the slothful hearts of men. We must never forget that these international entities, whether they be canals or land corridors, are the landmarks of international achievement in the cause of peace and orderly arrangement of the world. If another part of the world machinery fails to work, I say again, the duty remains of preserving their international character, and no such failure excuses us from our duty.

My Lords, this is a most important matter. I have tried to the best of my ability, and with the forbearance of your Lordships, to put the matter fully, clearly and as dispassionately as I can, and I think it is right that in these circumstances I should to-morrow call on your Lordships to pass this Resolution: That this House condemns the arbitrary action of the Egyptian Government in seizing the Suez Canal; endorses the proposals adopted by the eighteen Powers at the London Conference to ensure that an international waterway so essential to the economic life, standard of living and employment of this and other countries should not remain in the unrestricted control of any single Government; welcomes the sustained and continuing efforts of Her Majesty's Government to achieve a peaceful settlement, and affirms its support for the statement of policy made by Her Majesty's Government to this House on September 12.

My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That this House condemns the arbitrary action of the Egyptian Government in seizing the Suez Canal; endorses the proposals adopted by the eighteen Powers at the London Conference to ensure that an international waterway so essential to the economic life, standard of living and employment of this and other countries should not remain in the unrestricted control of any single Government; welcomes the sustained and continuing efforts of Her Majesty's Government to achieve a peaceful settlement, and affirms its support for the statement of policy made by Her Majesty's Government to this House on September 12.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, in these last few moments, may I propose a hearty vote of thanks to the Lord Chancellor for his excellent address to us to-night?


My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be now adojurned.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Earl Attlee.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.

House adjourned at five minutes past eight o'clock.