§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order), on the Motion moved yesterday by the Lord Chancellor: to resolve, That this House condemns the arbitrary action of the Egypian Government in seizing control of the Suez Canal; endorses the proposals adopted by the eighteen Powers at the London Conference which would ensure that an international waterway so essential to the economic life, standard of living and employment of this and other countries would 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.
§ EARL ATTLEE rose to move, as an Amendment to the above Motion, to leave out all the words after "House" and to insert: "while condemning the arbitrary method employed by the Egyptian Government in respect of the Suez Canal Company, and resolved to support the legitimate rights of the users of the Canal, deplores the refusal of Her Majesty's Government to invoke the authority of the United Nations in the 728 dispute; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to refer the dispute immediately to the United Nations and to declare that they will not use force except in conformity with our obligation under the Charter of the United Nations; and to refrain meanwhile from any form of provocative action." The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am sure we are all fully seized of the serious issues which we are discussing to-day. I have had some experience of these matters. We had the experience over Persia, where we had, not an international agreement but an agreement, torn up. I am well aware of the temptation there is to think one could obtain a solution by force. We could not do it in the case of Persia, because we were bound by our obligations under the United Nations. We regret that we are unable now to support the Government, not from any factious or Party reasons but because we believe that the course they are following is fraught with the gravest danger to peace, is dangerous to the position of Britain in the world and endangers the whole position of the British Commonwealth.
§ There is no disposition whatever on this side of the House to support the action of Colonel Nasser. It has been represented in some quarters that if one criticises the Government one is. ipso facto, on the side of Colonel Nasser. That is entirely false. We do not approve of the action of Colonel Nasser: and in our view he is an imperialist dictator. We can say that, but I am bound to say also—though I may be accused of addiction to the diplomatic usages of the past—that I cannot feel that it is a very good thing. if you think you are going to negotiate with someone, to tell him that he is one of the worst people in the world and that you cannot trust a word he says. I think that is a fault of the new diplomacy over the wireless.
§ The first issue that arises is this question of breaches of International Law. The Lord Chancellor was at pains to explain at some length his view that Colonel Nasser's action was a breach of International Law. I do not think that we in this House needed much convincing of that. Perhaps what the noble and learned Viscount said was intended for external consumption. Personally. I am content to rest on the judgment of Lord McNair. I also had a feeling that the Lord Chancellor stressed that point so 729 much because he did not much like the pronouncement of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, as to the position of this country and its actions of the past few weeks in the light of International Law. I thought Lord McNair's speech most impressive and his statement that the Government, in their assemblage of armed force, were guilty of a breach of International Law deserving of our very serious attention. I am not an expert in these matters, but I am bound to say that I was not in the least convinced by what I considered the rather special pleading of the Lord Chancellor. However, I am sure my noble and learned friend Lord Jowitt will deal fully with the matter.
§ I entirely agree about the importance of upholding international obligations. It was stressed by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House and by the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord. Chancellor. But you cannot uphold the sanctity of International Law by committing breaches of it yourself. Two wrongs do not make a right. I found the speech of the noble Marquess disturbing, as I did the speech of the Prime Minister in another place. when read it. Throughout these weeks there has been in the background all the time a kind of vague threat of using force, a rather ostentatious moving of troops, suggested to be for the protection of our nationals but always with a kind of thought behind it that there may be other things for them to do. And this did, I think, amount almost to a threat. Coupled with that has been reluctance up to now to use the machinery of the United Nations. I am well aware that under the Covenant it is open to us, and our right, to use other methods of conciliation. But there seems always on the part of the Government an attempt to put everything before going to the United Nations. Our view is that that is where this quarrel should go.
§ There have been attempts to draw an odd kind of comparison between this and some of the controversies of the pre-war years. It has even been suggested that we on this side of the House are appeasers. As a matter of fact, our position has been precisely consistent, both before and after the war. We were always endeavouring to support the authority then of the League of Nations and now of the United Nations Organisation as against unilateral action, whether 730 it was unilateral action under the Hoare-Laval Agreement or whether it was unilateral action by one of those States today. It seems to me that the Government are in effect laying themselves open to the charge of taking upon themselves the use of force without the sanction of the United Nations Organisation. They seem reluctant to act through the United Nations. I am well aware of the difficulties of going to the United Nations, of the trouble about the Veto and all the rest, but it is of supreme importance that we should not do anything to lessen the authority of the United Nations Organisation. And if we say that we will not go there because we are afraid that we shall not get a verdict, we are in effect sapping the whole foundations of the United Nations Organisation.
§ As has been said already in your Lordships' House by my noble friend Lord Silkin, and in another place, we are entirely with the Government in their endeavours to get some conciliation in this matter. We think the assembly of nations was a good thing. I think myself that it might have been wise to have included one or two other States, particularly Yugoslavia but that is a comparatively minor matter. I think that there has been a good attempt. We all owe our thanks to Mr. Menzies and his colleagues for their efforts. But I cannot think even now that the way of conciliation is entirely blocked. I cannot think that the gulf is so great that it cannot be passed.
§ That brings us to the initiative of the Government, in company with France and, so I understand, the United States of America, in forming this new organisation. I do not think that this can be regarded as a method of conciliation. Frankly, I do not much like our going forward in this matter with France. I have a great respect and affection for our French friends, but it is a fact—and it is no good blinking the fact—that in Africa and Asia to-day France is regarded as the last protagonist of the old colonialism, and therefore it is unfortunate that we should go forward in association with them. They are also considered, rightly or wrongly, to be merely concerned with their position in North Africa, rather than with the upholding of International Law.
§ Then there is the United States of America. I am always willing to go forward wherever possible, but you want to 731 be very sure where you are. I am told that this plan (I do not know whether it is true) originated with Mr. Dulles. In my experience I have had plans that were put forward by one part of the American Administration, and when one tried to implement them one found that they had not been fully considered, or were turned down by the Senate. And with no wish whatever to say a word against the United States of America, I think one must bear in mind the difficulties they have in their Constitution; that their Administration is far less master than is the Government of this country. Furthermore, that they are always in a great difficulty in making any positive commitments in election year. I have had long experience of dealing with elections coming on of one kind or another, and I know how difficult it is to get any real, firm agreement. And I am bound to say that there was some discrepancy between the Dulles Plan and America coming in on this new plan and the words of President Eisenhower with regard to the use of force. Some pertinent questions have been asked about what is really intended by the United States in this matter.
§ The next point I would make is: why could not this plan have been put forward by all the eighteen nations? Why is it put forward by three, with the others invited to follow on later? I would far rather have a wide action than a narrow action in this matter, because the fact remains that it does look as if one or two big Powers are trying to dominate the whole scene. That does not look quite like the upholding of International Law, for which we stand. Then I would ask: are we sure that we have the Commonwealth behind us? I have not heard yet what are the reactions of Canada, or of India, or of Pakistan, and I do not know yet what has been the result of the talks the Cabinet are having in Australia. It is very difficult to go forward with a plan like this unless you are sure where you are with our friends in the Commonwealth.
§ Then we come to the new plan itself. I may be very inexperienced, but I cannot quite understand the new proposal of the Canal Users' Association. What is it supposed to do? Apparently you set up an organisation the functions of which are to collect the dues. Then the 732 ships are supposed to go through the Canal. So far as I can understand, the Canal is still left entirely in the hands of the Egyptians. I thought that all the stress was on the need for seeing that the Canal was properly kept up and properly developed. I am bound to say that if I were Colonel Nasser, I might have accepted this plan. It seems to me to give him complete sovereign power to open and close the Canal and he has all the collection of dues done for him. But suppose he does not accept it, what happens then? A ship comes along with its pilot. What happens if they say, "No, we do not accept your pilot. You must have one of our pilots." What then? I think we ought to hear from the Government what they expect to follow. It is so easy to advocate a course of action without following up the other steps.
§ Here we come to one of the gravest questions of all, one that has not really been faced. Both the Prime Minister, in another place, and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, here, have talked about the alternative of using force. Have they worked out what that means? We all remember that in the days of long ago there was the bombardment of Alexandria. That is not a feasible proposition to-day. Do they mean to occupy the Canal Zone? Do they mean to overthrow the Government of Colonel Nasser? Because you must consider just where you are going. Suppose you were to enter into the Canal and occupy the Zone, you might have just the same kind of opposition you had in other places where you occupied them against the will of a people. I doubt whether you would get a puppet Government—I think it would be too risky an occupation for anyone to take up. What are you going to do? Are you going to stay there and run Egypt? We have not been told the least thing about this use of force.
§ I think it is almost as bad to have this plan, of which we know so little, as to have the uncertainty that has been hanging over us for weeks, in which there has been a kind of threat to do something, though we do not know what it is. I do not think it was wise to have such a great parade of troops sent to Cyprus, and particularly to send French troops there. The Government seem to have managed, rather ineptly, to set the whole of the Middle East against us; they 733 almost go out to unite the whole of the Middle East. I do not shoulder them with complete responsibility, but the fact is that we have hardly a friend left in the Middle East.
§ One has to think seriously of our position in the world. Here I come back to the principal theme—namely, that in these days Great Britain's influence in the world depends far more on moral leadership than on force. The old days of Gladstone, or the noble Marquess's grandfather, when we had an overwhelming navel force in a world where sea power ruled. have gone for ever. We are not now in a position suddenly to send the Fleet somewhere. Our influence depends on moral force; and our moral leadership depends on a respect for the rule of law. Despite all the arguments of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, I cannot think that he was convinced when he tried to suggest that, somehow or other, by this action we were upholding International Law and ideals of justice. I want our country to remain as the great moral leader in the world.
§ Then, our strength rests largely on the Commonwealth. which comprises not only people of European stock but also people of Asia. The facts one has to remember are the growth of Asiatic consciousness—that is one thing; and it goes for India—and also the awakening of Islam—arid that affects Pakistan. We hear a good deal about Colonel Nasser wishing to make for himself a great Empire and to be dictator of all the Arab world. I am afraid that the kind of attack which is being put up now helps him in those views. It is a great mistake to think that you necessarily destroy a person's position by attacking him—often you make him. In the political life of this country, I see people abused by every newspaper. The result is that they attain immense popularity. If you attack Colonel Nasser you may raise him up to a position where he is regarded not only as the hero of Islam but the hero of the darker-skinned races against the white. That would be a great disaster.
§ We come back to what can be done. Our view is that it is not enough to say that, when all else fails, we may apply to U.N.O. There has not yet been a proper application to U.N.O. We demand immediate reference of the matter to 734 U.N.O. That is the forum of world conscience. It is not ideal, but it is all we have to prevent us from slipping back into a welter of anarchy and war. I beg to move the Amendment to the Motion.
Leave out all the words after (" House ") and insert (" while condemning the arbitrary method employed by the Egyptian Government in respect of the Suez Canal Company, and resolved to support the legitimate rights of the users of the Canal, deplores the refusal of Her Majesty's Government to invoke the authority of the United Nations in the dispute; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to refer the dispute immediately to the United Nations and to declare that they will not use force except in conformity with our obligation under the Charter of the United Nations; and to refrain meanwhile from any form of provocative action.")—(Earl Attlee.)
§ 3.6 p.m.
My Lords, I think some of your Lordships must have listened with pain to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. He said that he had great experience in these matters, and no-one will deny him either that experience or a most notable part in forwarding the interests of Britain in the past. However, I think it is relevant to ask ourselves what constructive contribution his speech has made to the settlement of our difficulties. It is true, of course—and nobody would allege to the contrary—-that the noble Earl is not a supporter of Colonel Nasser. Such a suggestion, which the noble Earl thought it necessary to repudiate, would occur to no-one. But that Colonel Nasser must derive aid and comfort from that speech is beyond dispute.
The noble Earl, having on previous occasions enjoined on us the necessity for working with our friends abroad, thought fit to complain that we had worked with France on this occasion. France happens to be governed by a Socialist Government, and it is rather a high price to exact for the noble Earl's difference of opinion with M. Mollet that he should repudiate the co-operation of our great Ally. The noble Earl said that he would be willing to go forward with the United States, wherever possible. What a picture of allied solidarity to present to an aggressor at this fatal hour!I earnestly deplore that 735 speech, because I think it has been unhelpful.
The noble Earl spoke of the reluctance of Her Majesty's Government to use the machinery of the United Nations. But the Amendment to the Motion does not speak of any "reluctance" to use the machinery of the United Nations; it speaks of the blank "refusal" of Her Majesty's Government to use that machinery. Why put down a vote of censure in these harsh terms and come here and put a gloss upon it? The noble Earl spoke also of the British Commonwealth and, unable to point to any division in our ranks, he even asked Her Majesty's Government whether they had inquired of Australia what her attitude would be. My Lords, Mr. Menzies has played the most notable part in helping us out of difficulties. Surely, he is the person who could have addressed Her Majesty's Government upon that subject, and would it not have been courteous, at any rate, after the great services he has rendered, to await his return to Australia to hear what he had to say?
It is true that the noble Earl has experience of Abadan, and he has cited that precedent, if it be a precedent, this afternoon. Others also have experience of Abadan, but none had a closer contact with those events than Mr. Morrison, who was Foreign Secretary at the time. I am afraid that Mr. Morrison, rather than Her Majesty's Government, must deserve the censure of the Party of which he has so long been Deputy Leader, for his views were completely out of accord with the speech to which we have just listened. Mr. Morrison "pooh-poohed" the United Nations. He said that he had experience of the United Nations dealing with Abadan, and he went On to say [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 557 (No. 205), col. 1666]:I say to the United Nations that if it wishes—as we would wish it—to become the great moral authority of the world and the great decisive instrument, it must stop dodging vital international issues.For months past we have been listening to a complaint that the United Nations have done nothing to insist upon Israeli ships going through the Canal. How, then, are we to expect them to insist on our ships going through the Canal? And that is presumably what Mr. Morrison has in mind when he talks of the United 736 Nations dodging vital issues. Mr. Morrison went on to say:If our Government and France "—because Mr. Morrison is more friendly towards France, I am glad to see, than the noble Earl, Lord Attlee—and, if possible, the United States "—he, in his broad-mindness, would consent to work with the United States, without qualification, in these matters—should come to the conclusion that in the circumstances the use of force would be justified, then I think that it is up to each honourable Member of this House "—that is the other place—to tell the Government whether we would support them or whether we would not. For my own part, in principle, if, after an elaborate and proper consideration the Government and our friends"—that is, France and the United States—come to that conclusion, I think that in the circumstances of this particular case it might well be the duty of honourable Members, including myself, to say that we would give them support.That is a speech made by a right honourable gentleman who has been a colleague of the noble Earl in the most influential position outside the first position in the Socialist Party, for many years. It does not express the attitude of Her Majesty's Government, who have never threatened to use force in any circumstances, and it would be a salutary restraint upon the lips of the critics of the Government if they reserved the word "provocative" for the actions of the man who is threatening the safety of Britain and of the whole commercial world.
I say—and I say it with deep regret—that the performance of the Socialist Party on this occasion is deplorable. Mr. Gaitskell went so far yesterday as to say in another place that the alternatives before Her Majesty's Government were the use of force or "the greatest diplomatic climb-down in our history" [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 558 (No. 206), col. 24]. It would be no greater exaggeration here to say that, in the case of the Socialist Party, we are in the presence of the greatest political volte face in our history. I ask the House to bear with me (for this is a matter of life and death to Britain and the whole Western world) while we examine what is at stake. What a difference in attitude between what we have heard to-day together with what 737 we heard yesterday in another place, and what we heard when we were first challenged by the seizure of the Canal!On August 2, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who always speaks so competently and soberly on all matters, expressed the attitude of Her Majesty's Opposition, and Mr. Gaitskell expressed it in another place. What did they say? They denounced Nasser in no unmeasured terms. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, this afternoon said that it was preposterous, or words to that effect, to speak of Nasser as Mussolini or Hitler. He said that that was not the way to conduct a successful negotiation—to describe your enemy as a dictator. That is exactly what Mr. Gaitskell did. He said that Nasser was a reincarnation of Hitler and Mussolini in this matter.
§ EARL ATTLEE
May I point out to the noble Lord that I was talking of the relations of Governments. It has always been open for independent Members of either House to say what they like, but I suggest that it is not the best way of diplomacy for the head of a Government or a Foreign Secretary to indulge in that kind of thing.
I have always thought it better, in circumstances of great importance, to call a spade a spade. If a man is a dictator, it is no good speaking of him, for diplomatic reasons, as a high-minded representative of a democracy. If his actions resemble or are modelled on those of his less for tunate totalitarian predecessors, I should conceive that he could not be otherwise than proud of the comparison. However, that is, after all, a small matter. With the indulgence or latitude which the noble Earl says should he reserved for the Opposition or non-members of the Government—this man was described by Mr. Gaitskell in the horrific term of, "dictator". His actions were likened to those of Mussolini and Hitler.
Having denounced him, these two spokesmen of the Party—because they took exactly the same line, naturally—went on to say that, in their opinion, Nasser was guilty of an illegal act. And not only that he was guilty of an illegal act, but that the manner of his performing the act was also an illegality. They then went on to say—these were the words of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—that in i he circumstances they "cordially 738 welcomed the statement of Her Majesty's Government." The statement of Her Majesty's Government in essence was that, speaking for Britain, we would not tolerate the control of this Canal being in the unfettered hands of Nasser. It was also made plain that we would rest content with nothing less than international control of the Canal, the reason being that unless we did so insist there was nothing to give us protection or to preserve our standard of life in the future. That policy was given what was called a "cordial welcome" by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin.
Then he went on to say—rightly, as I think, because a bi-partisan foreign policy is the best weapon with which we could confront our external enemies—We welcome the discussions that are taking place.That is, he welcomed the course taken by Her Majesty's Government in consulting with the Foreign Minister or Prime Minister of France and with Mr. Dulles of the United States. He did not take the view expressed by the noble Earl this afternoon on this or any other matter. He said that he welcomed this common action with France and the United States and he hoped it would go further—not, your Lordships will notice, to the United Nations. He hoped it would lead to a larger conference of all the maritime nations—that is what the noble Lord said and that is what Mr. Gaitskell said—and they hoped that Egypt would be invited and also that Russia would be invited.
The reason why the noble Lord, Lord Silkin wanted Russia to be invited, he said (and Mr. Gaitskell said the same in another place), that was in 1946 she—that is, Russia—took the view that an international control by the nations concerned, through a United Nations Agency was essential. Russia took that view in 1946. She did not take it in 1956 because, as everybody knows—not being a member of the Government I may speak candidly about these countries—she adjusts her views to her immediate interests and to the attitude which will cause the greatest trouble at the time. She did not take the attitude that she wanted this worked through a United Nations Agency. But Russia was invited and came: Egypt was invited and did not come, and the conference, I recommended so sagaciously by my noble 739 friend Lord Silkin, took place. He wanted this conference to take place partly with a view to creating a world opinion—and all this was before any mention of the United Nations. The matter was not to go to the United Nations; it was to go to a conference; and he said we should certainly bring—
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
A very unusual thing is taking place. A debate in another place is being analysed and answered by a Member of this House.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
I bring a point of order to the notice of the Leader of the House. I understand that it is quite irregular and will, I am afraid, result in your Lordships' speeches being examined in the same hostile spirit in another place. That has always been forbidden because we desire to avoid a clash of opinion between the two Houses.
§ LORD HORE-BELISHA
As my noble friend Lord Cherwell beside me says in language which I know is familiar to the noble Viscount, Il n'y a que la verité qui pique, which, being translated, means that obviously the noble Viscount and others feel the force of what I am saying am analysing—
§ LORD HORE-BELISHA
My noble friend—for he is my noble friend—does not appear to realise that I am quoting from a speech made in this House. I am quoting from a speech which defined the attitude of Her Majesty's Opposition on a previous occasion. I am amplifying it because one can only be authoritative by saying that in another place the Leader of the Party said exactly the same thing. The two speeches are practically identical except perhaps that, being in this House, I ought to say that that of the noble Lord. Lord Silkin, had all its usual grace and charm; but the points are 740 exactly the same. My noble friend was advocating that any control commission which might be set up as a result of this conference should be a United Nations Agency. That was what was said. He went on—because there were other points of agreement, and very few of disagreement—to approve the economic action of the Government against Egypt. This was the policy enunciated on that occasion. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, made a very short speech. He identified himself with that policy and he said:We support the Government in whatever action is necessary provided that we act within the sphere of International Law.
§ LORD HORE-BELISHA
Nobody is suggesting, surely, that anything that has been done by Her Majesty's Government is outside the sphere of International Law. It was the policy enjoined upon Her Majesty's Government by the Opposition. It was carried out to the letter. The conference which they recommended took place. Mr. Menzies took the proposals to Nasser. The proposals contained the recommendation that the Board to be set up—it is all in the White Papers (Cmd. 9853 and Cmd. 9856)—should be a United Nations Agency, should be brought into relationship with the United Nations on the lines of the International Bank and should make periodic reports to the United Nations. In addition to that, Her Majesty's Government have referred this matter, as we were told yesterday, to the United Nations.
§ LORD HORE-BELISHA
Nothing more than that was asked by the Opposition; not even that was asked. I point this out to my noble friends opposite: that they have been at pains to stress that Britain is not alone concerned in this matter. There are eighteen nations who have acted together in this matter and not one of them has asked for this matter to be debated in the 741 United Nations. We and France are the only two Powers who have gone to the United Nations with the information that this dispute is in progress, and we have acted, therefore, hitherto entirely in accordance with what has been suggested to us by the Opposition.
§ LORD HORE-BELISHA
It seems a shame in the eyes of history to make a breach in the domestic front where there is in fact so much agreement. But we are not here dealing with a theoretical question and merely with principles of international justice; we are dealing with the day-to-day livelihood of the British people and of the Western world. The Canal has to be run. We cannot wait while there is a long process of adjudication for running the Canal. Surely nobody in the Opposition would expect that. Accordingly, Her Majesty's Government have taken action to protect this country, and other countries have been associated with us. A number of pilots are leaving their posts. That is entirely, as is admitted, within their discretion. A number of administrative officers are leaving their posts. We should be confronted with a complete breakdown of the Canal if we took up a purely negative attitude and said, "While the United Nations is discussing this we shall do nothing about it."
We have to see that the Canal operates, and, accordingly, a Users' Association has been established with France and with the United States. What is wrong about that? Egypt is invited to co-operate. If she co-operates, well and good; the matter is settled, at any rate temporarily. I really cannot see why we should divide this nation and revive again the cry of "Whose hand is on the trigger?" and suggest that Her Majesty's Government are acting provocatively and trying to manœuvre us into a situation—all that was stated in another place—in which we could make another war. There is not the slightest foundation for that charge. The noble Earl objected to the movement of troops, and he quoted another speech to say that this was in breach of International Law. But Mr. Gaitskell, speaking for the Opposition in another place, said that any Government would take some action. He said: 742I do not object to the precautionary steps. I think that any Government would have to do that "—
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL. (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, the last thing I want to do is to interrupt the extremely interesting speech of the noble Lord. As the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, questioned me a little earlier, I would say that I believe the noble Lord may paraphrase, though he may not quote, what is said in another place.
§ LORD HORE-BELISHA
I preferred to be accurate, but if that offends the noble Viscount opposite, I quite understand. I will parenthetically say that he always brings much entertainment to us not only by his own speeches but to the speeches of others, in most of which he participates gaily, and I am grateful. However, if I may paraphrase it, the official attitude of the Opposition was that the movement of troops was justified. And whose movement of troops was occupying the attention of the world? —the Egyptian Minister of War has prided himself on this. The movements were, first of all, those of Egyptian troops and aircraft; and the Egyptian Minister of War claimed that he was ready to the last gaiter button. What a neglect of duty if Her Majesty's Government had not done what was necessary in those circumstances!
My Lords, I feel that Her Majesty's Government have acted rightly and skilfully in defence of the interests of this country; but I do not think that we should delude ourselves that we are going to reach a satisfactory and permanent solution of this question by political or diplomatic means. It will be for the business men and scientists to give us the solution of this problem. What we need is something of that vision which inspired de Lesseps and Brunel, and, in the political field, Disraeli. They found solutions relevant, to the era when our motive power was dependent upon our own indigenous resources and a great commercial system was built up upon coal. To-day again we need imagination, and we shall get it.
I do not want to ride a hobby horse, and particularly to ride my alternative Canal. All I should like to say to your Lordships is that, after I last spoke upon this subject, a Member of your Lordships' 743 House told me that his grandfather, in the time of de Lesseps, had surveyed the Mediterranean-Akaba route, and he had the plans and he found it an entirely practicable proposition. That is all I say about that. The Iraq Petroleum Company is talking now about making a pipeline by-passing Syria. So there is some solution to be found in alternative pipelines. There is a partial solution to be found in super-tankers. Here, it is necessary that we should have the terminals, and I am glad to see that the British Petroleum Company is making another large terminal here. Of course, with the tankers we use to-day it is now more costly to go round the Cape than to go through the Canal. but, in view of the height of the Canal dues, it is not more costly if tankers of 80.000 tons are used. Then, perhaps, there is an economy. I am glad to see that in Britain some very large tankers are being built—in fact, more large tankers are being constructed here than anywhere else in the world. That is a possible help towards a solution. I understand that the Americans have a Committee which is examining ways of increasing the flow of supplies to us from the New World and of giving us dollar assistance in the event of our being deprived of our Middle East oil supplies, in whole or in serious part. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, can tell us about that. Undoubtedly, there are illimitable resources of oil in the world, both potential and probable, which have not yet been exploited. There is also. of course, atomic energy.
Therefore, as it seems to me, we can say to Colonel Nasser that in the long run he is going to be the loser, for human ingenuity is never beaten. Spain lost her position in the world through taking the view that gold and power were good things in themselves and through failing to use fruitfully the resources which nature had given her. Let Nasser take heed. We are not without alternative means, and if he persists in this conduct, not only will he not get his Aswan Dam but no one will invest in Egypt; and if the Arab world follows his suit, no one will invest in the Arab world. There are other sources and resources open to mankind, and I think that we should look to them. In the meanwhile, I think the Government have done what a Labour 744 Government ought to have done, and I hope would have done, had they been in office. I think it is a shame to make a breach in this nation and to let the people believe that our action is intended for war. We ought to have national solidarity. The Government have secured international solidarity among eighteen nations, at any rate, and it is a pity that the only gap in our armour should take the form of this vote of censure.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, after the disagreements which have marked some of our recent moments in this House, I should like to begin with something on which we shall all be agreed—a reference of gratitude for the admirable speech with which the Lord Chancellor ended our proceedings last night. For myself, I accept without question, as I think we all do, the whole of the first half of that speech—his description of the Suez Canal as international. I think that it is clear that there are a good many parts of the world which ought to be regarded as international rather than at the will of one particular small ruler or dictator. I need not discuss these other possible parts; and I think we all accept this for the Suez Canal. I personally, as I am sure do all of us, accept also the judgment passed by the Lord Chancellor upon Colonel Nasser as a man who is thoroughly untrustworthy. I hope that nobody who has anything else to do at all will feel bound to spend time in examining alternatives put up by Colonel Nasser for dealing with the Suez Canal problem.
But when I come to the latter part of the Lord Chancellor's speech, the part leading to the Resolution which we have before us, committing us to approval of the whole of the speech made by the Leader of the House, with deep regret I find myself unable to give the same assent. I notice that in the other place, quite unknown to me, the members of my Party, the Liberal Party, are proposing an Amendment to leave out the two final sentences of the Resolution that we have before us. I rather hope that we shall agree to leave out those sentences and in due course, also, a great deal of the Amendment moved by the official Opposition. I shall end by a few suggestions on that point.
On the Resolution asking us to approve practically the whole statement of policy 745 contained in the speech by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House I am in this difficulty. Listening to every word of that speech, and writing down certain striking phrases from it, at some points I felt very unhappy. There was a moment when, having described some of the mis-demeanours of Colonel Nasser, the noble Marquess the Leader of the House declared [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 199, col. 639]:The time to call a halt is now.The noble Marquess went on to say It may be that we shall have to choose between peace and the sanctity of international agreements". I want to ask: who are "we" for that purpose? I would remind the noble Marquess the Leader of the House that he went on immediately afterwards to explain, as one of the possible purposes of our troop momements, not the defence of British citizens against murder but the purpose of deciding between peace and the sanctity of international agreements. Does not that all come really to using force, which means making war against Egypt, in order to ensure our view as to how the Suez Canal should be managed? I find it difficult to avoid any other conclusion. I wish I could do so, and I hope that before this evening is finished I shall be able to accept a different view; but it did not sound like it.
In case my interpretation is not wholly wrong may I go on to argue that no rational person can propose a war upon Egypt and a military occupation of Egypt for the sake of maintaining the international character of the Suez Canal. Just think of the possibilities of that war upon Egypt by us or by any allies with us to-day!The first possibility is the destruction of the Canal itself in the whole process of war. The second possibility is a third world war affecting all of us; and at the end of it, assuming we are successful in our war upon Egypt, we shall he sitting down there, in charge of the Canal, among a people permanently hostile, enslaved by us for a purpose which they have rejected. I suggest that the idea of going to war with Egypt—and that is what using force means—in order to internationalise the Suez Canal is the way of madness.
Are there no alternatives? I suggest that there are two at least. Instead of the use of armed force against Egypt by any 746 one nation, or group of nations, there is the obvious and essential course of direct reference to the United Nations. In spite of the ingenious explanation put forward by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor for the delay in the taking of that simple and immediate step by Her Majesty's Government—and why we should not take that step—I want to say at once that, while we all know what the United Nations is like, and how it is governed by a Veto in the Security Council so that we cannot count upon any good, positive result, in my view we ought to try the United Nations and go through all the necessary motions of invoking it for the settlement of this international dispute.
I come to a second positive alternative —a serious exploration of alternatives to the Suez Canal as a means of passage of goods and ships. I use the word "serious" with reference to some of the remarks made by the Prime Minister in another place yesterday. The Prime Minister then made some perfunctory reference to this idea as being not really practicable, and went on to explain that the building of large oil tankers would take several years and that the longer sea haul would raise the cost of living in Britain. Well, with the Suez Canal stopped while we are conducting our war, would it not take more time to get our supplies? And with a war going on, would not the cost of living rise in other ways? It seems to me that the use of feeble arguments of that kind, about loss of time and raising the cost of living, show that the Prime Minister and his advisers have not considered with the care it deserves this positive alternative of using other routes for the traffic of goods and ships. I was much impressed, as, I believe, were many others in this House, by the very different approach to this problem that was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, as a shipowner who knows what are the problems of moving things about the world. I wish Her Majesty's Government would invite all shipowners to come together and sit down and give their considered judgment as to how long it would take to get an alternative route for a certain amount of the traffic that goes now through the Suez Canal; how much it would cost and how the difficulties could be overcome.
747 I have a further suggestion to make on that point. Is this not a matter on which, above all, we ought to bring the United States into consultation, alliance and friendship with us? After all, the United States are the people who could carry us over the first five years of difficulty. There will be difficulty if whether through war or for other reasons, the Suez Canal is not fully used. The United States have committed themselves to the Menzies plan and are really committed to helping the world in its difficulties. I would make an appeal to them to help us in these difficulties for the next five years. That would be the alternative to asking them to help us by coming into a war—a thing which they will not do, anyhow. If it were made clear that we and other nations were making not a frivolous ruling-out investigation of alternatives to the Suez Canal as a means of moving goods about the world, but were taking that matter thoroughly seriously, there is nothing that would more certainly bring Nasser to his senses and his heels. That, economic force, not military force, is the way to get the Suez Canal back into general use again.
I want to conclude by two negatives and two positives, to which I should add an appeal for the agreement of the leading Members of this House. My two negatives are: clearly, we should decline to accept anything less than the Dulles-Menzies plan for international control of Suez Canal operations. We should not waste our time in talking to Colonel Nasser or any of his friends upon the conditions which he has laid down. Secondly, we should decline to go to war with Egypt by our own decision, and to enforce acceptance of our plan or any other. Those are the negatives. Now for the positives. Let us refer the dispute positively, at once, to the Security Council. Let us make it clear (this is where I am deeply moved by what the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said about the responsibility that rests upon all nations who understand the sanctity of international relations for using force if needs be to support it) that if the United Nations needs force to take action which it decides to take we will render our share of that force; we will face that responsibility. In other 748 words, whatever force may be needed, under the directions of the United Nations, to maintain the Suez Canal as an international waterway, or to maintain other elements of international agreement, we are there and ready to provide it. I come to my other alternative. Let us explore practically and immediately an alternative to the Suez Canal for world traffic and appeal to the United States to help us and the world in overcoming transitional difficulties. I press that last proposal, both for its own sake and because it seems the most hopeful way of bringing Nasser to his senses, if he has any.
May I end with a different appeal, an appeal to the Government and to the principal Opposition to find a way of agreement between the Motion of the Government and the Amendment put forward by the Opposition? It is not only speeches which are normally improved by being shortened: the process also rather improves Motions and Amendments. I have been through the Motion and the Amendment without putting a single word into either but striking quite a number of sentences out of them. I have made them into something which I should be proud to have published as the considered and agreed judgment of the people of Britain. Let us try to avoid ending this debate without anything agreed, because I do not believe that we are really disagreed. I hope that the Lord Chancellor will allow me to hand him my improved Amendment to his Resolution and the Amendment of Lord Attlee and that he, with others, will consider it.
§ 3.54 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHICHESTER
My Lords, the speeches to which we have already listened have underlined the gravity of the crisis with which this nation, and indeed the world of nations, is faced, and we must all desire that our nation should be united in its attitude to this crisis. All serious citizens realise the responsibilities and the difficulties; nor is there any difference of opinion that Colonel Nasser's action is not only arbitrary in a high degree but a breach of his pledged word as well as highly damaging to British interests and the interests of very many other nations. I have no hesitation in condemning Colonel Nasser's action very definitely and very 749 strongly. But I believe that only a solution through the agency of, and by direct reference to, the United Nations can be both morally satisfactory and lasting.
I am not opposed to the use of force in all circumstances, but before the use of force can be contemplated two questions have to be considered: first, the necessity of its use as opposed to peaceful methods; secondly, the authority under which force actually comes to be used. In yesterday's debate—for my absence from which owing to inevitable engagements I apologise—there was a most valuable discussion on the question of the legality of Colonel Nasser's action, particularly on the point as to whether or not it was a breach of International Law. Like other Members of your Lordships' House, if it is not impertinent for me to say so, I find myself in wholehearted sympathy with the opinion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair. Also there was a valuable discussion on the meaning of "acts of aggression" and "a breach of the peace" as those terms are understood in a technical way in the United Nations Charter.
I believe that the question of the legal relationship of the Suez Canal Company and the Egyptian Government and of the Egyptian. Government and the British Government is by no means a simple question. The Report issued only a few days ago by the Royal Institute of International Affairs, on Britain and the Suez Canal—a very valuable and objective Report as it seems to me—makes this and other matters rather plain. It says:An examination of the agreements…shows the extreme difficulty of fitting either the Canal or the Company's management of it into the convenient pigeon-holes of national sovereignty or international agreement.And, again in this style of objective reporting. this Report speaks of the Canal Company as occupying a position of peculiarly difficult character, peculiarly designed, the Report says, to awaken nationalist suspicion. It is a quasi-national body, negotiating on equal terms with nations and operating in the interests of international commerce. It is a very complicated situation, from both the legal And the administrative points of view.
The Report goes on to remark, concerning the Canal, that it has an anomalous position as it has always been emphasised in the agreements signed by 750 the British Government that the Canal is an integral part of Egypt; also it is an international waterway in which many other nations are concerned. Then I call attention to this phrase:It might be held, however, that so long as the Canal 'were maintained as it now stands, at its present level of efficiency, the Egyptian Government: would be fulfilling all the obligations which might lie upon it.I only mention that, without comment. It is said that a great wrong has been done and a crime has been committed. It may be that it is undesirable and a waste of time to take advantage of Article 36 of the Charter, which says that as a general rule legal disputes should be referred to the Permanent Court of International Justice. On the other hand, when we come to an act of aggression or a breach of the peace, there is a particular obligation set out in the Charter which gives the determination of the fact to the Security Council. Article 39 reads:The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall he taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.In the opening of his speech, the noble Marquess the Leader of the House very properly remarked that up to the present time the action taken by Her Majesty's Government has been in strict conformity with Article 33, in which the parties to a dispute are invited, if they can do so, to settle disputes by conciliation, arbitration or (I underline this) "other peaceful moans of their own choice." The proposals of the eighteen nations were, as we all agree, a valuable contribution to those peaceful means, and it was hoped by many that negotiations would follow on a not too inflexible pattern. But those negotiations have broken down, and it is with the next step that the speeches made in both Houses by the Leaders have been concerned. The original signatories to the Convention. the present users of the Canal and the United Nations are all involved. Obviously, as the Government have said repeatedly, it is the desire of everybody that there should be peaceful negotiations, and everybody will he behind the Government so long as their action is within the terms of Article 33—namely, the use of whatever peaceful means they might prefer.
751 But the proposal which the Government bring before Parliament to-day is a proposal which is beset with certain difficulties. I would humbly suggest that there are two sides with regard to the workability and fitness of that proposal which have to be considered. It is a proposal for the formation of a Users' Association. So long as the Users' Association is a voluntary body, holding a watching brief and competent to give advice—though I know that that is not sufficient—perhaps there is a great deal to be said for it; but when it comes to the exercise of certain functions which are proposed, a two-fold difficulty arises. It is proposed that the Users' Association should undertake the responsibility for co-ordinating traffic through the Canal and for exercising the rights of the Canal users. The first question which seems to me to arise, if the act of undertaking responsibility for exercising users' rights is to be pursued, is the relation of this to the territorial integrity of Egypt on the one hand, and to the duty of the Egyptian Government for the defence of the Canal on the other. I am told that this duty belongs to them. The Report to which I have referred says:By the signature of the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement on the Suez Canal base of October 19, 1954, which terminated the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of Alliance and secured withdrawal of all British Forces from Egyptian territory, it is to be assumed that the political responsibility for the defence of the Canal, except in the circumstances which provided for the reactivation of the base under Article 4, passed into the hands of the Egyptian Government.I should like the Government to consider this question carefully—it is not a purely theoretical one: what would be the legal and the moral position of the Users' Association and the power which belonged to them if they did not secure the co-operation of Egypt, and assumed control of the Canal, which is an integral part of Egypt, in the face of paragraph 4 of Article 2 of the Charter of United Nations: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 "?Or if the Powers behind the Users' Association took from Egypt their responsibility, if that responsibility is, as I have quoted, for the defence of the Canal? It seems to me that in this aspect of the case 752 the proposal to set up a Users' Association which has executive and controlling authority has very grave risks—this, quite apart from any incident such as might occur through an act of the Egyptian Government themselves. We must consider how we should defend the action of the Powers involved if a member charged the Powers involved with an infringement of Article 2, paragraph 4. of the Charter. It is not a question of the use of force, as such, but of whether or not the use of force has the authority of the United Nations behind it.
Up to the present moment, as I have attempted to say, Her Majesty's Government have been acting thoroughly inside the terms of Article 33. But it is when those "other means" are brought in, as a menace—a remote possibility maybe, but anyhow a possibility of the future—that it is so disturbing. The noble Marquess, the Leader of the House, quoting the Prime Minister, said that in certain circumstances, if there were interference or an incapacity for taking the action proposed with regard to the exercise of the users' rights, we should be obligedto take such further steps as seem to be required, either through the United Nations or by other means for the assertion of their rights.Few people would quarrel with taking further steps through the United Nations. It is the contemplation of further steps, apart from and independently of the United Nations, that is so troubling.
I am in agreement with those who urge Her Majesty's Government and the other Governments concerned to take the whole matter now, by direct reference—not simply information—to the United Nations. I know that such action may be highly inconvenient and may involve a considerable delay, but the present position has more alarming possibilities if it is pursued. And the present position with regard to the use of the Canal is damaging not only to us, but to President Nasser. He may be mad—I will not indulge in epithets for a description of his temperament—but it surely cannot be very long before (as happened in the Persian case) President Nasser wakes up to the extreme damage done to Egyptian interests, if he persists in his policy.
We must all be very happy that the United States, France and the United Kingdom are together at this moment. It 753 is, as has been said from the other side of the House, extremely doubtful whether the United States means anything by that phrase "other means" when it comes to taking forcible action. But it would be far more satisfactory if the action which these three Governments, whatever it may be, had behind it the whole power and authority of the United Nations; not, I know, unanimously, but had behind it the opinion and judgment of the Security Council or the Assembly—and I know that there is a great difference between the two.
I think we roust take a long-term view of the right thing to do. We may be thwarted and frustrated with regard to this immediate grave crisis, but more than the present crisis is involved: it is the future of United Nations, even its existence, that is at stake. Reference was made in another place to the days before the Second World War, when aggressive acts were taken and the necessary steps from us did not follow. But one of the reasons why those necessary steps did not follow was because Britain and France tried to do it alone and avoided consultation with other great Powers. What is disturbing now is that with this new climate of opinion we are losing the respect and the great confidence of Asia and Africa. As the noble Earl, Lord Atlee, said, the moral leadership of Britain is really its greatest asset. I believe that to act by other means than the means of the United Nations would be detrimental to our interests, to our position in the world and to the whole of our importance in these great, new, undeveloped but rising territories in Asia and Africa.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ LORD VANSITTART
My Lords. I congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the way that they have handled this crisis so far. I do not think that they could have clone less, and I am glad that they have done no more at this juncture, because I do not think there is yet sufficient ground for the use of force, and I have always felt from the very start that we should do well to exhaust our orthodox remedy by recourse to the United Nations. The moment of going, of course, must be for the Government to choose, but we should have to go without illusion. We all know very well that the Security Council is paralysed by the 754 Soviet Veto—they have exercised it nearly eighty times. The Assembly is a body divided into blocs: the Arab bloc, the Communist bloc and the Latin-American bloc, and I suppose that now we shall have the eighteen countries bloc; and we all doubt whether we should get action or impartiality from such a body. Therefore, it may be said that by having recourse to the United Nations we are dodging a vital issue into a blind alley. Nevertheless, I think it is a legitimate tactic.
But we need not leave it in a blind alley. In particular, we should have nothing to do with the doctrine which proclaims that nothing can be done without the consent of the United Nations, because that would put a premium on anarchy; it would be a safe conduct to any malefactor and would enable every rogue with Russian approval to do just what he liked. The rest of us would have no remedy, and that would he to defeat the very purposes for which the United Nations were founded. Therefore, I think Her Majesty's Government have been wise to take their precautions. There has been some criticism of them from the Opposition Benches, but, if I recall aright, they also sent warships to Abadan, and I thought that that was a very legitimate precaution. We must remember that only a few years ago British subjects were being disembowelled and roasted by the mob in the streets of Cairo. Surely, we do not want that to happen again, and we must guard against any risk of it.
My chief grievance against post-war Governments has been that they have not done enough to safeguard British subjects. Many years ago, when I was still foolish enough to make many speeches—to which, of course, nobody ever listened—I made a long speech in this House asking whether it was safe to be British, and I answered, "No, of course it is not." There are some people who still say so. But if they would only follow the Cairo radio or, indeed, the whole outpourings of the Eastern Press, they would see that this Egyptian rabble rouser is highly dangerous to human existence, and they would recognise in him a naked aggressor without even the loin cloth of pretence. Give him a little more licence and he will set the whole 755 East alight, beginning with Israel, just as surely as success was Hitler's fuel.
Quite clearly, Nasser's aim, after destroying the Jews—and note again the parallel with Hitler—is to unite all Arabs and Africans against the West. He has given perfectly clear notice of this: it is quite unmistakable. On the very day that he seized the Canal he said that Arab nationalism had been set on fire from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf. What more do you want? I hope the West will sit up and take notice a little more quickly now than it did in the 'thirties. In 1936 Hitler seized the Rhine. The whisper went around at once, "Why should not a man do what he likes in his own country?" You know the consequences. When Nasser seized the Canal the same whisper started again. We are told that there is disunity in the country. Of course there is. Of course there was disunity then, and that was the whole trouble. That is precisely why many countries were destroyed, 30 million lives thrown away and Britain reduced to a second-rate Power. That was the consequences of disunity. Cannot everybody see now that 1936 was our last chance of avoiding disaster in Europe, and that 1956 is our last chance of avoiding it in the East?
Some years ago Sir Winston Churchill said, "I have not always been wrong." May I, at long last, say this, because I am profoundly grieved to see great national and international issues like this taking on the shape of a Party struggle? I have worked hard and faithfully for all your three Parties; I did my utmost for you all. Perhaps you will allow me very humbly to give one more warning, and that is that if we persist in disunity we may lay up for our people another terrible price such as we have paid in the past. I hope to God we shall avoid that! I hope we shall refuse to go on being chivvied by blind mice. Even the farmer's wife rounded on them in the end. I hope we shall drop the policy of cold feet in a hot climate. I hope, too, that this Government—indeed, any other Government—will be firm and resolute to defend British interests against the encroachments of any dictators.
I repeat that I do not think that the moment for force has yet come. But I fear that it may, because Nasser exudes 756 megalomania with every word and from every pore. That is why I venture to conclude with a suggestion which might perhaps secure our legitimate objectives and, at the same time, ease the qualms of noble Lords on the Left. It arises thus. You all know the methods of police States, of which Nasser's is one. They always think that they can bolster themselves with spy trials, and they pick their victims and soften them up. Quite plainly, they pulp them: they pulp them to extract a confession, as juice is extracted from a lemon, and that is what has been going on in Egypt. I do not say there is physical torture, but you know all the other methods. I said long ago that Petkov would be the last man ever to be able to resist. The Russians started that game in 1933. You all remember the case—or many of you do —and I said that if they were allowed to get away with that, then no foreigner would be safe in Russia again. So I persuaded the Government—a reluctant Government—to clap an embargo on trade with Russia until those men were out—and they were out very quickly.
Now I recognise, of course, that there have been great changes between 1933 and 1956, but I should have thought that if the pressure of one country on an enormous country like Russia could be effective, perhaps the joint pressure of twenty or twenty-five countries on a weaker country like Egypt might produce results without recourse to bloodshed. I hope, in any case, it will be tried, because these poor victims deserve it. All nations should join with us in the effort, because other foreigners will be equally unsafe and already Italians have been roped in. I do not expect the noble Marquess to give me an answer to-day, but I hope at least that this policy will be considered, because it might have a double effect. At any rate, before I die I should like to see again a day in which it is safe to be British.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, I speak purely as an individual, with that sense of freedom which comes from having no official position, to express my own personal point of view. Speaking for myself, I confess that I regret that at the present time the country appears to be so hopelessly divided. I am sure that it would be much better for 757 us if we could all speak together and follow one common policy. Of course, in a democracy you cannot expect people to do that, if it involves a refusal of what they believe to be essential rights. Speaking for myself, I have no complaint whatever against what the Government have done down to this point. I thought that the conception of the twenty-two Power Conference was very sound. I thought that getting Mr. Menzies and the particular composition of the Five Power Mission was really a brilliant piece of inspiration. I have many times been opposed to Mr. Menzies in the courts, and I know the power of advocacy that he has. You could have lied no one better. I have no doubt that the scheme was expounded and put forward with all possible skill. In my belief, the scheme was an eminently reasonable scheme, and I do not think that anything much less than the scheme which Mr. Menzies put forward could possibly be satisfactory.
So far, as I say, I have no complaint at all. Neither have I myself any complaint whatever, so far as I know the facts, on the issue of the pilots. This year, in January and again in March, I passed through the Suez Canal, and on both occasions I was in a fortunate position in that I was authorised and was in fact spending my time on the bridge. I therefore spent many hours on both occasions talking to the pilots. You have two pilots to take you through each way, so in fact I spoke to four of them, three of whom were British and one Dutch—though I did not find that out until afterwards; his English was so perfect that I thought I was talking to an Englishman. In those days (it was, of course, before the seizure of the Suez Canal) the situation of the pilots was getting difficult. They all told me that. They were all wondering how long they would stick it out there. The social position in which they were placed was awkward, and their apprehension of what might come to them was awkward, too. I am not at all surprised to hear that the non-Egyptian pilots have decided to come home. If it had been the fact that positive advice had been given to the pilots to come home, I should have thought that deplorable; but in the situation as it is in Egypt to-day I think a Government or the Company would take a very serious responsibility if they positively advised those men to 758 stay. I think the only course they could take was to say, "Well, you must decide for yourselves what line you want to take." As I understand—I speak for myself alone—that is the line that has been taken. There has not been positive pressure to get those people to come away. If so, I think that that is right.
The noble Lord, Lord Hore-Belisha, enjoyed himself thoroughly, and I enjoyed his speech too, though I am not sure that, until he got to the end of his speech, he made any very constructive suggestions. At the end I thought he did. It behoves us now not to get bogged down in Party controversy, but I want to try to explain, as clearly as I can, what I think is wrong at the present time, and why I am concerned about the position. For better or for worse, in this Year of Grace we live under a wholly new system, not at all the system under which we were brought up when this country, by its strong right arm, would see that international justice was carried out. I am not suggesting, let me make it quite plain. that the Government is modelling itself, so to speak, on Hitler, or that the noble Marquess who leads this House is qualifying as an embryo Hitler, or that he likes war any more than any of us do—obviously not—but I do say this. Having, for better or for worse, entered into those international obligations, we must adhere to them. We must do nothing which would enable anyone to point the finger of scorn at us and say. "You, too, are breaching your obligations."
Of course, I accept the fact—the noble and learned Lord. Lord McNair, the Lord Chancellor and the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, have all stated it—that there can be no question that Colonel Nasser, by his condact, is in breach of his undertaking. Moreover, he knew that he was in breach, because he took this action as a counterblast to the American decision not to finance the building of the Aswan Dam; and, as the Lord Chancellor, I think it was, said yesterday, he fact that Colonel Nasser had been in plain and obvious breach with regard to the passage of Israel ships through the Canal for some five or six years showed that he was a man on whose word little reliance could be placed.
When I have said all that, what disturbs me, oddly enough, is passages in the speed of the noble Marquess who 759 leads this House, because underlying that speech there is the plain implication, as I read it, that we may resort to force without going to the United Nations. I want to make that quite clear. At the bottom of column 635 of yesterday's OFFICIAL REPORT, in a passage which the noble Marquess told us was very carefully considered—indeed, he read it, contrary to his usual practice—after discussing the new arrangement about the Canal Users' Association, he said that if Nasser does not accept that he will be again in breach of the Convention of 1888, and went on: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 "—that is quite all right—or by other means for the assertion of their rights.These "further steps", observe, are not to protect British nationals who. I agree with the noble Lord. Lord Vansittart, may suffer terribly. They are not for that purpose. For that purpose they might be justified under the United Nations Charter because you are entitled to take steps to protect your nationals; and if you are entitled to take steps to protect them. surely you are entitled to take steps to see that this does not happen to them. Here. however, the further steps are "for the assertion of their rights".
At Column 640, the noble Marquess makes the position absolutely plain. as one would expect of him. He says, truly:We have done our best,and adds that he would like to havea solution which safeguards both peace and the sanctity of international engagement.…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.As I understand it, that can mean only that if we have somebody who is in breach of an international engagement, we ourselves can resort to force to assert our rights. It seems to me that that follows necessarily from what the noble Marquess said, and I readily agree that he would not do so lightheartedly or in-advisedly, or without realising the terribly serious consequences.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It does not say that it should be done without recourse to the United Nations.
§ EARL JOWITT
If I have put it too strongly, I am sorry. The noble Marquess made it perfectly plain that he reserved to himself the full right contemplated of going to the United Nations; and, so far as that goes, I have no quarrel. But, as I read his speech he did say or imply further, that he might, without going to the United Nations, use force in respect of a breach of an international obligation. That is a statement of doctrine. I am trying not to make a speech which is the least tinged with Party feeling. If I had known that the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, was going to be here. I should not have come down from Scotland but, not knowing that he was going to be here. I felt that I ought to come down to say, in effect, though in not nearly such good language as he employed, what he said. As things are today, I do not believe we have the right to use force without recourse to the United Nations to assert our rights or in support of our claims.
I look at the Kellogg Pact—it was quoted, I think, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, in his speech. It contains two clauses. The second of those clauses, as he rightly said, is the more relevant one. The Lord Chancellor did not in terms refer at all to the second clause. In the first clause, the clause which says that the signatories renounce war as an instrument of national policy, the Lord Chancellor commented on the use of the word "national". The second clause is in these terms—and remember that both Egypt and ourselves are parties to this Treaty:We pledge ourselves that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts, of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise between us shall never be sought except by pacific means.That is the agreement or treaty which, for better or worse, we entered into. Reading the speech of the noble Marquess, who is as peace-loving a man as anybody in this House, I ask myself: 761 Can I square that speech with that clause of the Briand-Kellogg Pact? Frankly, I cannot, and I humbly express my concurrence with what Lord McNair said.
It may be that the wholly unjustified seizure of the Canal by Colonel Nasser was an act of aggression, though I myself am far from sure that that is so. But do not, for goodness sake!let us act on the assumption that it was and, assuming that it is an act of aggression, take remedies which would be appropriate under, I think, Article 51 if there were an attack by armed force. The word "aggression", the fact of aggression, is exceedingly difficult to define. It is impossible to give a definition of "aggression", and that. I venture to think, is why, in Article 39 of the Covenant, the fact of aggression has to be determined not by one of the parties to the dispute but by the Security Council.
I beg your Lordships because, quite inevitably and naturally we feel strongly about what has happened, that this country should not put itself in the wrong by taking steps which the noble Marquess has left open, and find ourselves branded before the International Court as the aggressor. To my mind, that would be a situation which would be quite deplorable. I hope Lord Vansittart will observe that I am not saying anything about what should happen after we have gone to the Security Council or the United Nations; I am saying merely that, before anything else takes place, we must go there. When we have done all we can by way of peaceful settlement, we must go there; and we must not contemplate the use of force in support of our rights.
I remember a somewhat analogous case during our Party's term of office, when the Russians were blockading Berlin and the problem arose as to what we were to do. We did not go to war but we managed, by an air-lift, to provision Berlin. As we know, when the Russians saw that we could do it and that we were going to continue to do it, the Berlin blockade was lifted. I very much hope that we shall, though at great cost (because I realise this is a vitally important thing for us), in some way tide over the difficulty and manage in this matter with the help of America, which surely should be given.
762 I therefore say that I cannot square (I hope I am putting it moderately) the implication of the speech of the noble Marquess with the obligations that we have undertaken under that Pact. Further, I could not contemplate the use of force without going to the United Nations as anything other than a breach of our obligations tinder the Charter. I look at Article 2, sub-clauses 3 and 4. The first sub-clause says:All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.Sub-clause 4 says:All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.My Lords, to this instrument we have set our hand. It may be right or it may be wrong; but that is what we have done. That is the undertaking we have entered into. That is the new conception of a new world for which we hope, and though reference to the United Nations has often proved unavailing, yet I believe that, on balance, it is much better for us to adhere to the bargain which we have made than to try, because we find ourselves faced with grave peril at the present time, to undertake a different course. Therefore, I beg Her Majesty's Government to alter their outlook and to make it quite plain that, after they have exhausted all the peaceful means possible under Article 33, of whatever sort they may be, then the proper course is to go to the Security Council, Thereafter we can consider the whole position. If they take any other course, then I think that they are putting themselves entirely in the wrong.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ LORD BAILLIEU
My Lords, may I join with many other friends in welcoming the maiden speech of Lord Rathcavan yesterday. We were glad to hear his voice and his views, and I join with those who express the hope that he may come among us often again and give us the benefit of his wisdom and experience. May I also, I hope without impropriety, join in the tribute to my distinguished fellow-countryman, Mr. Menzies. The job was unsought. The invitation to him to undertake it was a high tribute to the man himself, and his acceptance of that task was a reflection of his natural courage, of his 763 devotion to the interests of this Commonwealth and Empire and the wider unities of the nations, and also of his profound belief in the justice of our cause and in the basic fairness of our proposals. I join with the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, in everything he said. I feel that in the report which Mr. Menzies issued of his mission we have the best story extant to-day of the basic difference between our own proposals and the views of President Nasser. President Nasser insisted that the control and management of the Canal should be directly under the jurisdiction of Egypt which I gather to be in flat defiance of the 1888 Convention.
May I also venture to remind this House that the safety, the solvency, the security of the people of these Islands rests upon the continuing leadership of the British people in this Island. This seems to me to require the development of national policies that cannot be planned in vacuo. They must rest on a broad agreement with the Commonwealth and with those other nations like France and the United States with whom we cherish an underlying identity of purpose and resolve. It also implies that on issues affecting the life and safety of the nations the great parties of the States should constantly seek the widest common measure of agreement.
It seems to me, following the course of debate here and in another place, and the movement of opinion generally, that there is broad agreement on the objectives of policy—namely, that Egypt is definitely in breach of her obligations in violently, arbitrarily, and with full use of force, expropriating the Suez Canal Company. I think it is agreed by all concerned that this action must be resisted, and that ways and means for the full restoration of some effective system of international operation of the maintenance and development of the Canal must be found. All Parties have, I think, united in support of the Dulles proposals, and in paying tribute not only to the way that the issue has been handled to date by Her Majesty's Government but in the work of the Menzies Mission. But in recent weeks and days there has been a growing and, as I conceive it to be, a highly dangerous cleavage of opinion, culminating in the debates in this House and in another place. This has been a difference on ways and means, not on the objectives of policy.
764 Shortly stated, this difference seems to rest upon the insistence of the Opposition on at once taking the issues with Egypt before the United Nations; their demand that Her Majesty's Government should formally abjure any use of force, except as authorised by the United Nations; and their criticism of certain preliminary military measures as highly provocative. Whilst I respect all those who utter those opinions, I have my reservations. We must remember that here we are not moving alone, but with Allies, and that any reference to the United Nations must, or should, be taken in conjunction with them. Her Majesty's Government seem to me to have cleared the way for just such a reference by the letter which has been sent to the President of the Security Council.
I fear that a declaration of the kind that has been sought from Her Majesty's Government would be finally and irrevocably to surrender to the pretensions of Colonel Nasser and would make a mockery of our devotion and our efforts to maintain the rule of law over a generation or more. For, as we know, all law and all national policy must rest upon an adequate basis of force, both physical and moral; and it seems to me that not to hold force in reserve, either to resist its further use by Egypt or to restore our just rights, would be a weak and untimely abdication of our duty. No-one wishes to use force, least of all, I conceive, this Government and the men who lead it. No-one does in any of Her Majesty's Dominions; no-one does in this House or in another place. We are all far too close to the memories of two World Wars. We must not, and we do not, prefer the use of force. We must not and we do not, promote the idea of force. But we must not, and in my view if we are honest with ourselves we cannot, exclude the use of force to secure a just respect for law.
For these reasons I believe that the steps taken by Her Majesty's Government to place our country in a better posture of defence were the very minimum they could take consistent with their responsibilities. After all it was Colonel Nasser who resorted to force and to do less than we did would have heartened our enemies and shattered the confidence of our friends and would have been a weak refusal to face the facts of a very grave situation. So I venture to say to our leaders that within the framework of such 765 a policy based upon such principles it is their prime duty as I conceive it to concert a national policy which will be understood and fully supported by the mass of opinion, here and overseas. We cannot permit the division of opinion here on ways and means to continue without grave danger to this Realm and Commonwealth. Twice in a generation we have rallied together from all Parties in the State to confront and overthrow the tyranny of strength. We are new confronted by the tyranny of weakness, holding a world to ransom by playing upon our divisions and our fears. If Nasser were to succeed it would be due to the failure of our leadership of all Parties, and of public understanding, here and abroad, of the moral and material challenge to our future well-being.
We should continue with our policy of firmness and patience, in the hope of achieving a peaceful settlement. Such a policy may take time. It will cost money; it will involve sacrifices, but it will be cheaper than any precipitate resort to arms. It will teach some salutary and overdue lessons to many in the East and the West who think of the issue to-day in terms of Western gain, Western exploitation and Western advantage, and who fail to realise how closely allied to, and interdependent on, Western skills, Western capital and Western consuming power is the whole vast area east of Egypt. We, as a nation, should suffer by the increasing economic stringencies arising from the slowing-down of the passage of the Canal, but in my view the whole of the Arab world, and what lies beyond, will stand to lose much more. This salutary lesson, which perhaps can be learned only by time and patience, having once been absorbed, may serve to keep in check within the confines of the rule of law the aggressive actions and policies of those who, like Colonel Nasser, threaten the livelihood of their own peoples, as they disrupt the peace of the world.
And arising out of the present conflicts there is, too, a lesson for the Western World—that is, that whatever settlement we reach to-day with Egypt, whatever may be the planned development of the Canal to meet growing demands, we must, here and now, concert alternative means for the movement of oil and other products from the Middle East, the Persian Gulf 766 and beyond. Failure to do so would leave us in mortal peril. It is not too early to start upon a planned development of ocean transport, supported by the vast resources of the N.A.T.O. Powers and pressed forward and vigorously supported by our full productive, technical and financial resources. Such a policy would soon bear fruit in lessening our dependence on the Canal and in giving greater flexibility to our economy. I see that the noble Lord. Lord Geddes, is due to speak, and I hope that he may feel disposed, from his intimate knowledge of that particular issue, to tell us his own views.
Finally, may I remind noble Lords that this is not an issue between East and West, as Nasser has tried to present it. One has only to look at the composition and agreement of the Suez Conference and the Menzies Mission to see what a distortion of truth this is. May I also draw the attention of noble Lords to the Supplement written by Mr. Menzies in his Report? He says:One remarkable fact about our discussions both inside the Committee and with the Government of Egypt has been that representatives of five nations nom five different Continents have been able to work together in such harmony and with such unanimity. I am greatly indebted to my colleagues who have brought this about. Their energy and steadfastness have been a great strength for me upon whom a good deal of the oral argument devolved. From first to last we were all sustained"—as the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, just reminded us—by a belief in the justice and fairness of our proposals.This country, in the great moments of its history, has been sustained by great leadership—supported by a remarkable unanimity and harmony of public opinion. We have chosen at these great moments to die on our feet as free men, rather than to live abjectly on our knees. From this has sprung the energy and steadfastness which have helped to carry this country. and the Coalitions of which it has been a leading member, to final and complete victory in two World Wars. So I venture, with all sincerity, in this solemn hour of crisis, to say to our political leaders, of all Parties, that their first and inescapable duty is to restore the underlying moral unity of this people, to unite the nation in agreement, not only on objectives but on ways and means. This done, we shall go forward in unity, with honour and with success.
§ 5.3 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTER-BURY
My Lords, I shall be as short as I possibly can. A certain amount I can take for granted—for instance, that Colonel Nasser has been guilty of what is, in effect, whatever it may be in law, an act of aggression—offensive, destructive of all the restraints of International Law and an immediate threat to our economic welfare and, indeed, to our economic existence. I can take it for granted, secondly, that no nation can face a more searching test of its national wisdom and character than to meet such a challenge. I should like to take it for granted, thirdly, that the burden of responsibility resting upon the Government acting for us all is almost intolerable, and they deserve our utmost sympathy. In one respect, to which I shall return, the Government have exposed themselves to a great deal of criticism, but apart from that, I would say, as the noble and learned Earl said just now, that the Government seem to me to have acted so far with great patience and great restraint, and have shown obvious anxiety to seek by all means possible a peaceful settlement and have, with great wisdom and right-mindedness, shared the burden of their responsibility with other users of the Canal!the twenty-two nations of the London Conference. It will be tragic if, as a result, there is in Parliament a Vote of Censure which, though defeated, will reflect a divided nation. Not only will it be tragic, but it will gravely and vastly weaken our own just cause, and, in effect, it will largely paralyse our power to bring good out of this evil situation.
Where have the Government exposed themselves to criticism? First, by their military precautions. It is, I think, quite impossible to prove by argument whether these military steps have done more harm than good or more good than harm. It is altogether reasonable in itself that the Government should take such precautions if it was clear that they were precautions only. But they were obviously open to misunderstanding; and the manner of them, and all that was said about them, made it certain that they would be misunderstood. And, of course, it was also certain that Colonel Nasser would exploit the making of them for his own advantage. Fortunately, as I think, it is possible even now for us, if we will, to remove most, if not all, of the damage 768 due to that misunderstanding. To do that we shall require help from the Government and from the Opposition, each going as far as they can to find unity. And, if I dare say so, I feel that the Opposition have been somewhat pitiless in their criticism of the Government on this and similar points.
A more serious criticism than that made on military precautions is the criticism that the Government will not rule out the use of physical force in the last resort. And may I, following the example of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, substitute for "physical force" the word "war"—because it means war, and nothing else. I have noticed in the papers a lot of talk about what should be done in the last resort. Every kind of periphrasis is used except the word "war". But let us face the fact that any use against Egypt of physical force is war. I believe that the gap between the Government and the Opposition is, in reality and in substance, so small that, with good will on both sides, it can be bridged—indeed, I would say that it must be bridged. That is the first necessity, if we are to play any profitable part in this dispute at all. And I would say that it would be a shame on Parliament if we cannot somehow recover complete unity as to the next steps, even if we cannot go much further than that.
A divided nation, on a fundamental point like this, is necessarily weak and ineffective. In particular, I believe, it is quite unthinkable that in any circumstances the Government should go to war against Egypt without the general support of the whole of Parliament or, in an emergency, of the leaders of all Parties. If they did, it would be a catastrophic thing to do. I believe that if we do not try to look too far ahead, agreement between all Parties is not difficult. The Opposition want the matter at once referred to the United Nations and the use of physical force openly rejected. The Government, I think, really intend and want precisely that same thing; but they wish, as a Government, to be prepared for all eventualities, and therefore insert at every point a saving clause. So the Prime Minister and the noble Marquess in this House speak of taking such further steps as seem requiredeither through the United Nations or by other means for the assertion of our rights.769 I can add nothing to what the noble and learned Earl said, but this same point has been referred to again and again. I appeal to the Government to look again, and to see, whatever their intentions may be, what these words convey. Surely they convey that it is accepted that war is a possible alternative to be adopted without going to the United Nations, I do not believe that the Government would ever do that, but their words carry that meaning, and the Opposition rightly resist the possibility of any such alternative action. So, I believe, does the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor— I am sorry that he is not here to check me. He believes precisely what I am saying, for yesterday he claimed, quite rightly, that everything done so far conforms to Article 33 of the Charter. I agree. Even the Users' Association conforms to the Charter. I do not know that it will be very effective. I rather doubt whether it is wise. It can create more difficulties than it might solve but, so far as it goes, it is unexceptionable. It is an entirely legitimate thing for the users of the Canal to get together to do the best they can to protect their own interests. I do not call it in itself provocative, saving the fact that anything we do would be regarded by Colonel Nasser as provocative.
The noble and learned Viscount went on to say [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 199. col. 720]:But after Article 33 there is Article 35,…Then there is Article 37, which says that if what you do under Article 33 fails, then you shall bring it to the Council.I had hoped to hear the noble and learned Viscount say, "And this, of course, is precisely what we shall do." But it was exactly at that point, for understandable reasons, as I said, which have governed the Government, that the argument falters. The noble and learned Viscount, quoting the Prime Minister, then said:That arises under Article 37 when Article 33 has failed. I certainly do not exclude that —quite the contrary it may well be necessary.What the Opposition are asking is that the Government, instead of saying, "may well be necessary," should say, "will, of course, be done." That is the issue. If the Article under which all the present operations are included fails, then the words the noble and learned 770 Viscount quoted will apply, and under Article 37 appeal to the United Nations will be made. If that could be said, it would at one blow, as I think, unite the Opposition and the Government. It would do something far more important. It would bring, as I have seen in the last few days, relief to a vast number of citizens who are perplexed, unhappy, uneasy and. frankly, frightened about what may happen. Is it too much to ask the Government to go that far and to say that if everything now done under Article 33 fails, then Article 37 shall be operated and reference will be made to United Nations'?
The trouble, of course—let us face it—is that the United Nations is still a very insecure instrument for the upholding of International Law. It may be indecisive. It may be dilatory. It may give a decision against our own interests. If it is indecisive or dilatory, of course we have every right to reclaim our freedom to take our own course of action. If it fails to act as umpire, then we have every right to proceed on our own. If it comes to a decision which we approve, we can take steps, with other nations, to see that that decision is implemented, just as happened in Korea. If it comes to a conclusion unacceptable to us, I would say, frankly, that it is our duty to accept it—our duty before the world, our duty before the law and our duty before moral claims; for it is a rule of every occupation that you obey the umpire, whether you agree with him or not. But our case is so overwhelmingly strong that I have not the slightest doubt that it will not be an adverse decision, especially when we remember how many nations have already been associated with us in all the steps we have taken. To pursue the argument still further, I am prepared to say that every nation, like every individual, has the right to rebel. If the conclusion were so against our rightful interests that we could not sit down under it, we should still have the right to rebel, but that would be possible only if the nation were absolutely united behind us and a large number of other nations were ready to associate themselves with us. However, that is looking far farther ahead than we need to look.
Cannot we all agree, for the sake of our unity and effectiveness, for the sake of the cause we are upholding, on the Chancellor's ladder (if I may so call it) 771 of Article 33, Article 35 and then, without doubt, Article 37. I have put down on paper here a suggestion of what the Government might agree to, what the Opposition might agree to and what I believe everybody else might agree to. I put in a proviso of importance—namely, provided that Colonel Nasser takes no further action which by the general voice of Parliament would require the use of physical force. That is important, because it saves us against things which might occur and which we cannot foresee, and it puts the responsibility then not on Government but on the whole of Parliament; and that would always mean the association of other nations. I suggest, then, these words as a basis for agreement.
Provided that Colonel Nasser takes no further action which by the general voice of Parliament (or, in an emergency, of its leaders) would justify the use of physical force, the Government will use only pacific means to safeguard our rights under International Law, and if they provide no solution "—that is not quite so fast as the Opposition want to go, but cannot they slow down their demands in order to get t agreement?—will refer the whole matter to the United Nations. In the meantime, subject to the aforesaid proviso, the Government will not employ any act of physical force "—let us say, "war"—against Egypt.That statement seems to me to be near enough to the proper wishes of the Government and to the proper desires of the Opposition, near enough to the realities and necessities of the situation, to enable an agreed end to this debate and a policy on which the whole nation can unite. As I have said—and I want to say it again—we must be united to be in the least effective in the situation which confronts us. The noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, said that same thing; and the noble Lord, Lord Baillieu, has just said it, too. We must be united. Then let us unite.
I do not want to repeat arguments used, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, made a speech of profound weight. He said—and do not let us forget it—that fifty years ago Governments were free to use armed force, at their discretion. But that is no longer so. Arguments drawn from before the war arc completely out of date and completely irrelevant. We are midway—let 772 us see where we stand, and let us have no talk of cowardice, appeasement or putting it off—in a risky and hazardous attempt to substitute collective security for the separate actions of individual nations, by making U.N.O. the ultimate umpire and the guardian of law and justice. We have been pursuing that path for ten years. We have been imploring other nations to accept it. We have been saying to Jordan and to Israel that it is a precept they must obey.
The noble and learned Lords, Lord Jowitt and Lord McNair, have argued, as I think irresistibly, that we cannot depart from this precept without breaking the bond that we have given, never to use physical force of our own initiative, without first going to the United Nations. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack emphasised passionately that it is the duty, as he said. "of us all" to uphold International Law, and his implication was, even by force. But who are "us all"? I ask that in the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, asked, "Who are 'we'?" Not a nation by itself. "Us all" must mean many nations. We decided once and for all, when we entered into these Pacts, that we should never claim to be our own judges in our own case. And we must, in honour of our word, obey that to which we have pledged ourselves.
I pray that together, unitedly, Government and Opposition each giving away something in order to come together, we may agree to pursue the path I have suggested, with a proviso which guards against emergency; an undertaking only to use pacific means, and if they fail, then to go to the United Nations at once. I cannot see any objection, in principle, to that course. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, ended his speech with these words:In any case let us remain firm and united.My Lords, the tragic thing is that we are not now united. I have suggested that we first recover our unity, and then will follow the firmness which only unity can give.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ LORD SALTER
My Lords, I am happy to follow the most reverend Primate, because I cordially agree, subject to certain further points I shall attempt to make a little later, with the appeal he has made to Her Majesty's 773 Government and, through them, to the other Governments associated with them, to refer this dispute, at the appropriate moment, and before using force, to the United Nations. I also agree with him as to the disaster it will be to us and to the world if our voting on Motions and Amendments gives to the world and to President Nasser the impression that we are a profoundly divided nation.
At this stage, I think it is more froth-able to discuss not the past but future procedure and policy, starting with the Users' Association which was announced to us yesterday. As to the past, I will say only a few words. That President Nasser's action is inadmissible in International Law, and inconsistent with the generally accepted code of international conduct, has, I think, been amply shown, both by the Lord Chancellor and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair—indeed, it is also recognised in the speeches of the Opposition leaders. But, as Lord McNair said, improper action on Egypt's part would not in itself justify force or the threat of force except as enjoined or allowed under the United Nations Charter. Just what our obligations under that Charter are I will discuss in a moment. In the meantime, let me say this.
I do not allege that Her Majesty's Government have acted inconsistently with their Charter obligations. In many respects, it is obvious that our diplomacy has been both correct and skilful. 'The London Conference deserves all the praise it has received. The Menzies' Committee was well conceived and conducted. The participation of the United States in both this and the new Users' Association is of the greatest importance. And I would add that a precautionary movement of troops was both prudent and permissible. All that is true. But it is true, also, I think, that some things said, and some things not said, in these last six weeks and in these last thirty hours, have caused genuine and not unreasonable anxiety, both at home and in friendly countries, as to our future intentions.
Those who have been abroad, either on the Continent, or, as I have been, across the Atlantic, will, I believe, agree with that statement. I would urge Her Majesty's Government, if they can, to make it clear now, beyond doubt, that they will not use force except in con— 774 formity with our United Nations obligations. I do not intend to imply blame for what they have done or have not done up to this moment; and in so far as it might have been desirable to go earlier to the United Nations, I do not suggest that the sole or even the primary responsibility rests upon us. We are acting, and have to act, with other Allies. However, I do suggest it is of the utmost importance that it should be made clear that we should never use force except in the cases and under conditions prescribed or allowed iii the United Nations Charter, by which we are bound.
It is not enough in itself, I suggest, to have informed the President of the Security Council of the situation. That might or might not be a prelude to a reference of the dispute to the Security Council. It is not enough, I suggest, for the Prime Minister to say that the Government may act either through the United Nations or by other means for the assertion of their rights, or that the Government do not exclude reference to the United Nations. I am bound to add that the noble Marquess the Leader of this House did not go even so far as that, and (I say this with deep regret) I share some of the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, and the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, as to a possible interpretation—though I hope largely removed by the interjection of the noble Marquess—of the latter part of his speech yesterday.
The setting up of the Users' Association now, in my view, makes an explicit assurance on this question more important and more urgent. True, the inclusion or America is an immense and, it may be, a decisive factor. May I say, incidentally, that in all our Middle East problems the essential condition of success, in my view, is that America should be with us and be known to be with us. That applies to Cyprus, to Israel, to the present case, to the Baghdad Pact, and to all our problems in that part of the world. That may, of course, have the result of sometimes modifying or restraining our action. That may sometimes be salutary. After all, in other parts of the world, the rôles have been reversed, and our influence has been exerted in moderating action in areas which had a more direct and primary interest for our great Ally than for ourselves.
775 I hope I may assume that the addition of America to the Users' Association means that in any action we take, through that Association, or otherwise, we shall be acting in full concert with America, and under conditions which mean that we accept the joint responsibility for consequences that may result from that action. May I add this? The Users' Association will, I hope, as I am sure the Government hope, have an adequate membership. The three members already announced are only the beginning. I hope it will enlarge itself to something like the twenty-two London Conference members, or possibly an even wider membership. I hope, too, that it will enlarge its functions beyond those mentioned yesterday. The users defined their goal at the London Conference. It is surely now opportune for them to concert their steps towards that goal. These may include many forms of collective or co-ordinated economic action, both economic assistance and pressure; help to those who may suffer most from the reduction, or delay, or from increased expense of their imports. These are only a few examples. Consideration of alternatives, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hore-Belisha, by sea, by new canals or new pipelines, is among the dozen or more purposes that might be usefully considered by that Association.
The reason why I say that the setting up of the Association makes a declaration of policy in regard to the United Nations more urgent, is this. We must clearly contemplate the possibility of a ship presenting itself with a Users' pilot and being debarred passage. Let us be clear that in such a case the first action must be, not the use of force but reference to the United Nations or, possibly, on some points, to the International Court. May I summarise what this means and the overwhelming case for action on these lines? The objectives of our policy are, of course, first, to preserve the Canal as an effective international waterway, and, second, and more important, to prevent Egypt's action having disastrous consequences throughout, and even beyond, the Arab world. To achieve this second purpose, it is, I suggest, equally necessary that President Nasser should not achieve a dramatic success by our surrender, and also that we should not act in a way that alienates the Arab world and the uncom 776 mitted world, or divides us at home or in the Commonwealth, or from our Allies. If we are to avoid this later danger it is, I suggest, essential that we ourselves should strictly observe the rule of law, which means acting in accordance with the Charter.
What does this mean? First, under Article 2, and Articles 33 and the following Articles, we must, as the most reverend Primate has said, after trying, as we are now doing, to secure a peaceful settlement, refer to the United Nations before using force, except in the closely defined case—not likely to be here relevant—where immediate force is specifically permitted. Secondly, the case having been referred to the Security Council, we must not act against a valid decision by that Council. It is, of course, said, and said truly, that such a decision is not to be expected because each of the great Powers has a veto. Yes. But reference to the Council will have brought overwhelming gains. We shall have kept the law. Our case being a good one, we may expect, especially with the advantage of appearing as plaintiff and not defendant, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord McNair, yesterday, to secure the public support of almost all—perhaps nine out of eleven—of the members of the Council. If your Lordships fear a political bias which would deprive us of justice, I would ask you to consider in detail the actual membership of the Council and the record in regard to this dispute of each of the member States.
Lastly—and this, I think, is a point of great importance that has not so far been sufficiently considered—if, as is likely, the United Nations fail to give a valid decision through the Veto, we have not abandoned our right to use other means, including both economic measures and even, in the last resort, force—though I am not implying that I think the use of force would, even in that case, be necessarily desirable. But we shall not have abandoned our right to use force by going to the Security Council. On the contrary, we shall have freed ourselves from our present obligations which bind us not to use force until we have resorted to the Security Council. We shall, in that case, and in that way, have the inestimable advantage of enlisting the support of other countries, both material and moral, which we should otherwise have alienated. The price is only a period of 777 delay and the loss and inconvenience we may suffer during that period.
But is such a delay, on balance, to be regretted? Surely, this is eminently a case where we should play slow; where we should play for time, and even pay for time. Is it a bad thing that all those concerned should have time coolly to calculate the consequences? Is it a bad thing for the world to have time to reflect calmly on the intrinsic merits of our case during a period when we are obviously and scrupulously observing our Charter obligations? Is it a bad thing that the Arab oil-producing countries, after their first fevered reaction to a challenge of colonialism, should have time to reflect coolly on what a serious disturbance to the sale of their oil might mean to them—, time for each of them, Iraq and Saudi Arabia among them, to consider whether they really want to come under a new dictatorship? Is it a bad thing that President Nasser himself should have a further opportunity of making some new financial calculations? Lastly, is it a bad thing that the large part of the world which uses the Canal, either for its ships or, like the Continent of India, for the passage of its imports and exports, should have time to calculate what the future management of the Canal is likely to mean to them? For those advantages a temporary inconvenience and loss is, I suggest, a small price indeed to pay.
I do not myself doubt that the Government will, in fact, act in conformity with their Charter obligations, and I cannot support the Amendment which deplores their refusal to refer to the United Nations—partly because they have not refused. I do not know whether or not the best moment for that reference has yet come, and I do not know that the decision at this stage not to refer to the United Nations is primarily our own decision rather than that of our principal Allies. But I do suggest that it is of the utmost importance that we, in concert with our Allies, should make it quite clear that, before there is any use of force, we will comply with our specific obligations under the Charter. I am confident that the Government and their Allies will so act, but I do think that at this time, when we are engaged, and must be engaged, in making an immense diplomatic effort to ensure the sympathy and support, moral and material, of the world, the Arab world and the uncom- 778 mitted world. To ensure unity in our own country among ourselves, it is of the utmost importance that we should make it clear that we are not playing with the idea of using force in breach of our engagements under the Charter. I therefore beg to add my appeal to that which has been made so much more authoritatively and eloquently by the most reverend Primate who has just spoken.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, I shall not immediately fellow those who have spoken lately, with whom I am rather out of sympathy in a great many respects, but I shall comment on some of the things they said in the course of what I have to say. Most of your Lordships know that I am a director of the Suez Canal Company. I have been associated with Egypt for over fifty years and there is not one problem of Egyptian defence, the defence of the Canal or the modern politics of Egypt with which I am not acquainted. I know every inch of the Canal. I have spent hours and hours standing behind the pilots learning what could of the problems. But to-day I am speaking solely on my own responsibility as a Cross-Bench Peer and for no one else at all.
I think that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House began his brilliant speech yesterday three years too late. 'The story began in 1953 when we were being shouted out of the Suez Canal zone. On December 17, 1953, in a speech in this House containing warnings of certain consequences, of all the consequences of the proposed military evacuation of the Suez Canal zone, I included the following [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 185, col. 210]:Another contingency which is not provided for is that at some future date an Egyptian Government, under some unpredictable internal or external pressure…might seize and occupy the Canal before the end of the concession.I also warned the Government on the same occasion that they were heading for a catastrophic disaster and that evacuation was a gamble on the good faith of a dictator which might lead to another Munich. It was neglect of these and other personal warnings by people who knew, two of whom were sitting beside me on the Bench just now, that was the cause of the present crisis. The Government of 779 that day and the Parliament that supported it, which included. I think, certainly in this House the Opposition, must take the responsibility.
I do not recall these things for my own glory. I hated saying them at the time and I hate to repeat them, but memories are short and I feel that if I do not remind your Lordships of them you may refuse again to listen to warnings that I am going to give to-day which are equally important. If that was the cause, the pretext for the aggression was the refusal by the United States Government of the offer of financial aid in the construction of the Aswan Dam on which Egypt laid great store. I must say that they had a great deal of justification, with Colonel Nasser's acceptance of Communist revenues and skilled personnel. Nevertheless, it was the pretext for Nasser's coup, and the United States Government bear the responsibility. I myself regretted it most deeply. During practically the whole of the present year I have had opportunities to study not only the Canal problem in relation to Egypt but also the High Dam project, and I had reached a very definite conclusion that our troubles with Egypt could best be solved by taking those together. That, of course, has been put out of the picture for the present by what has happened, but I am perfectly certain that eventually a solution will be found by a combination of these two problems which I could show, if time permitted, are really one problem.
I have taken the cause and the pretext. The occasion of the flagrant aggression—because I think it was a flagrant agression —was skilfully chosen by Nasser at a time when the U.S.A. were in the throes of a Presidential Election, when France was in difficulties as a result of troubles in North Africa fomented from Cairo, which were also foreseen by the critics of 1953, and with Great Britain unready. So he struck the decisive blow at the decisive point at the decisive moment. Of course, it was prepared. Why were not we? But that must keep for another occasion. I must say that, unless our response when we have gone through the interminable international procedures now involved is equally decisive, no great international or national enterprise will be safe from the attacks of predatory tyrants.
780 Her Majesty's Government's first reaction was beyond praise. It was quoted by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House yesterday. I think it cannot be quoted too often.
No arrangement for the future of this great international waterway could be acceptable to Her Majesty's Government which would leave it in the unfettered control of a single Power which, as recent events have shown, exploits it purely for the purposes of national policy.In addition to that, the movements of ships, troops and aircraft and the calling up of reservists were well timed, in my opinion, and responded well to the mood of public opinion at that moment. Sivis pacem, para bellum.
I have the gravest doubts about the criticisms that I have heard in the latter part of this debate. I am sorry even to have to venture to disagree with the most reverend Primate and with the noble Earl who has left his seat. In my view, these inhibitions on taking prompt action require to be overhauled. They must be overhauled. When you think that we live in the atomic era and that if some nation perpetrates an aggression we have got to go through all these endless formalities with all kinds of other nations, and eventually with the United Nations, which never decides anything, long before we have done we shall find that the other nation has exploded a hydrogen bomb over London and destroyed the whole capital. With that situation as a real possibility nowadays, you have to modify these arrangements. I am not urging any immediate action, but I suggest that these arrangements ought to be overhauled at the United Nations. By their action and by their statement, the policy of Her Majesty's Government now and hereafter must be judged.
Unfortunately, from that point to this day the story is not so good. No less than forty-nine days have passed since Nasser's coup. While we have been caught up in the paralysing meshes of international entanglements. Nasser has had seven weeks in which to get experience and to consolidate his position; he still has unfettered control over the Canal, and looks like being there for some time, I am afraid. During those seven weeks the Government had to put pressure on the Company of which I am a member, to keep their pilots and officials in their places. Therefore. Nasser has had seven 781 weeks to dig in and to get the "know-how" of running the Canal. That is a serious commentary on the Government's initial statement. During this period we ran the whole gamut of international bodies. There was a short two-Power conference which lasted only two days, a three-Power conference and a twenty-two Power conference. With the exception of Great Britain and France, and perhaps some of the Dominions, not one of those Powers would move a man or a ship or an aeroplane to come to our aid if the matter degenerated into serious business as it very easily may.
Now it is proposed to have yet another body. We have had a two-Power conference, a twenty-two Power conference and a five-Power committee going to Cairo. Here, I must join in the tributes to Mr. Menzies of whom I saw something when he was in London (he is an old friend), and for whom I have the highest admiration. He was exactly the right man to do the job, and he did all he could. But running right through all these organisations and committees, as described in the White Paper, is that thisinternational Suez Canal Board should be responsible for operating, maintaining and developing the Canal, and enlarging it to increase the volume of traffic in the interests of world trade and of Egypt.I rubbed my eyes when I read that. T had come straight back from a meeting of the Board of the Suez Canal Company and had spent the night in the train. I asked myself: "What have I been doing these last ten years, going to Paris week by week to the meetings of the Suez Canal Company, if it is not just to help in carrying out this exact function for which you want to set up a new organisation?" Of course it is exactly what the Suez Canal Company is doing. Nobody could say that we have done it badly. We have done it 'very well. The Prime Minister's broadcast on the eve of the Conference, the Foreign Secretary's speeches at the Conference, the speech of the noble Marquess yesterday, the international Chamber of Shipping, British shipping and American shipping, have all testified to the efficiency of this 100-years old company.
Almost in the same sentence as he praised the Suez Canal Company to the skies, the Leader of the House proposed 782 to demolish it. I ask myself, why do you not retain what is good and replace what is bad? There is no need to replace the Suez Canal Company; it is a perfectly good affair, as I shall show in a moment. But there is a real need to replace Article 8 of the Suez Canal Convention of 1888, which provided a sort of arbitrary body, a high level body which was supposed to settle the difficulties, but which never met. I am not quite sure why, but I think it never met because there were always internal difficulties. My noble friend Lord Killearn is going to speak later and he might possibly be able to throw some light on it. But it was a dead failure and it would be a valuable thing if, instead of messing about with the details of the Suez Canal, the Conference had provided for that contingency.
The curious thing is that the desiderata laid down in the eighteen nations' proposals for the Suez Canal Board are all realised 100 per cent, in the day-by-day working of the Suez Canal. Just glancing at page 11 of the White Paper I. quote from paragraph 2, which reads:Such a system which would be established with due regard to the sovereign rights of Egypt, should assure:—(a) Efficient and dependable operation, maintenance mid development of the Canal as a free, open and secure international waterway in accordance with the principles of the Convention of 1888.I really do not think I need develop that because it is 100 per cent. realised by the Company—1888 is practically our Bible. Then there is sub-paragraph (b), which reads:Insulation of the operation of the Canal from the influence of the politics of any nation.I have been in the Company for 18 years, but never yet have I known any discussion about the politics of any nation. It is quite true, as in other nations, that the politics of Egypt have undergone great vicissitudes: there has been a change from a kingdom to a republic. Every Government by their legislation affect a company living in their country, but the company does not interfere or have anything to do with the legislation; it just conforms.
Then, sub-paragraph (c) readsA return to Egypt For the use of the Suez Canal which will be fair and equitable and increasing with enlargements of its capacity and greater use.783 That is what we are always doing. The Treaty of 1949 made a number of provisions, including greatly increased emoluments for Egypt, and there was another in 1956 just before this blow fell. We had just paid into banks in Egypt £10 million out of £21 million which would have been spent in the next few years, to be invested in Egypt in order to help the Egyptian exchange. Such things are going on all the time. Regarding keeping "tolls as low as possible," I really wish the Conference had asked the views of the shipping communities, the International Chamber of Shipping, American shippers and our own shipping people questions about that matter. We discuss these tolls with representatives of the International Chamber of Shipping every year. At that time all the facts are put on the table and are at their disposal and agreement is reached on tolls.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but does he wish to convey to the House that none of this very important information to which he is referring ever came before the Conference?
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question with which I shall deal in a few moments, and perhaps he will not be surprised at the answer. I ask permission of the House to speak on one other quality in addition to those I have mentioned, which is almost peculiar to the Company—that is, the Canal Company has an extraordinary esprit de corps running right through the whole concern from top to bottom. There is an extraordinary loyalty which reminds me of my own corps, the Royal Marines, though other noble Lords would speak of the Guards or whatever their regiment was as having the same spirit. But it is something very exceptional and one can see it peeping out very strongly in the articles by pilots that have been published in some papers. Again and again they testify to their loyalty to the Company. One can see the quality again in the loyalty of the non-Egyptian staff in Egypt in carrying out the Company's orders, insisted on by the British and the French Governments, to remain at their posts in almost intolerable conditions; and if time permitted I could give innumerable examples of a personal character from my own experience.
784 I need not labour the point about the Company being international, because the noble Marquess the Leader of the House made the point yesterday with far more eloquence than I can command; but I was rather concerned to hear that the members of the Users' Council were to be chosen by Governments from the principal users. The noble Marquess did not say whether the principal users would be decided on the basis of shipping tonnage or goods, but I think geographical position also conies into it. I have noticed, climbing up the list of users which I get every month, that Russia is coming rather high, and I believe there would be great difficulty in an international committee in keeping Russia out. I do not think that the communisation of the Suez Canal Company would he advantageous, either to the personnel or to the shipping using it or to the Egyptians; but I think there is grave danger and I believe there are other great weaknesses in this arrangement for an international committee.
Let me ask your Lordships a test question: Does anybody on the Government or Opposition Front Bench, or on any Bench, believe that a new international Suez Canal Board, improvised by this Conference or conjured up by the prospective Users' Association, can conceivably do the difficult job better than, or as well as, the old Company, which alone in the world possesses the experience, the material resources, the loyal and skilled personnel, and the "know-how"? It seems to me a most extraordinary thing that the Conference should have fallen into that error.
That brings me to the procedure of the Conference and to the point just mentioned by my noble friend, Lord Teviot. I think the House ought to know how the Conference fell into making this decision to entrust the Canal to an improvised and inexperienced body. It was because the Suez Canal Company were never allowed to give any evidence or to make their case in any way before the Conference. At an early stage the very able President and the Secretary-General of the Company came to London and offered help, and needless to say they were kindly and hospitably welcomed; but the President returned to Paris without any connection being established and, in fact, the Company had no connection 785 whatever with the Conference while it was on. Monsieur Georges-Picot, the Director-General, remained, and I gave him all the help I could. Both he and I were sought out by other delegations, but he had no status in the official machinery of the Conference.
Here I must mention a matter of which I have given notice to my noble friend who is to reply. An August l4, immediately after the opening of the Conference and the appointment of its President, an official letter was handed in at the Secretariat-General stating the Company's case in writing arid asking that it might be circulated to the whole Conference. Days elapsed before its receipt was even acknowledged, with apologies for delay and a promise that it would be circulated; but to the best of my knowledge—and I have made many inquiries—that promise has not been carried out.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, as this point is rather out of the current of the rest of the discussion, it might be of advantage if I tell the noble Lord that the letter was circulated by the Secretary-General of the Conference to the head of every delegation present at the Conference.
§ LORD HANKEY
The Conference began on the 14th. It is a very curious thing, but I asked several delegates and officials who were looking out for this document about the matter. One of them was actually sitting next to me at the Suez Canal Company Board, and he had been concerned at the time when it was drawn up. I asked him whether he had ever seen it in circulation and he said: "No; I have been on the lookout for it". Another even more distinguished person gave me the same answer. He was very much concerned about it. I think that this is a matter which must be looked into a little more closely. At any rate, the company certainly never had an opportunity to make this case before the Conference.
786 So the Conference, most of whose members knew very little about the Suez Canal Company, though many of them were interested, was quietly shepherded into this well-nigh hopeless scheme of a new International Suez Canal Board. Why do I say it is well-nigh hopeless? Not only because of its intrinsic defects—it really has not got any of the apparatus; it does not know the personnel it has not got the "know-how"—but because Nasser, after his refusal to yield to the powerful persuasiveness of Mr. Menzies' group, stated definitely in public that he would never accept it. And if that is the case I think his people are behind him. I am afraid so. That means that the whole population would refuse to work the scheme. There would be strikes and every kind of obstruction.
If your Lordships want to know the real reason why the truth was concealed from this Conference, I would refer you to the following extract from an article by the Washington correspondent of a leading newspaper published on September 11:For internal reasons it was always difficult for the United States to appear to be aligning itself with colonialism or imperialism. The Cairo discussions have helped to insulate the Canal dispute from these two emotional concepts and bring to the fore the problem of assuring free and equitable operation of the Canal.In the Conference circles it was put in rather rougher language which I will not quote. I think that the mistake of condemning the Suez Canal Company unheard was very serious, and I once more warn the Government that it is gambling on a dangerous experiment which is not calculated to ensure that the Canal will not remain in the unrestricted control of Egypt. But I believe there is still time to rectify that mistake.
The first thing that will have to be done after this affair is over—as I say, I think it is going to be a very long time—will be to get the Canal started up when you have it free from the unfettered control of a single Power. It may be that by that time the Canal will have deteriorated very appreciably. There is only one authority in the world that can start it up again—namely, the Suez Canal Company. And with its usual foresight, as your Lordships are aware, the Company has made provision for the maintenance for a certain period of the non-Egyptian personnel now leaving Egypt and which 787 consequently could, at the right moment, get together again. I venture to suggest that the new Users' Association mentioned at the end of the speech of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House should be instructed to ask the Suez Canal Company's advice on two points: one, how best to start up the Canal again when the trouble is over, and, two, whether and in what respect it would be willing to modify own structure and methods if necessary to meet the desiderata of the International Conference. I can assure your Lordships that if you approach them you will find no recrimination and tremendously keen help. One thing I can tell you, with the utmost confidence and certainty: that neither the proposed Suez Canal Board nor the Users' Association—nor even the Suez Canal Company—can get ships through that canal without Egyptian cooperation or military occupation. I shall not follow that further, because it would bring me into much larger political and military aspects of this matter with which I have no time to deal to-day.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
My Lords, there are about another twelve noble Lords who wish to speak, so it is suggested that we sit through dinner. Dinner can be provided here, but it would be convenient if those noble Lords who want it would let Miss Hoath know.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, it is very hard to have to speak in competition with the seductive offer that has just been made by the noble Earl, but I shall do my best. It seems to me that in this debate perhaps the best and most helpful speech we have heard yet was that just made by the noble Lord, Lord Hankey. I remember the noble Lord's war book, and in the First World War I had the privilege of being associated with him. He has rendered great public service during his lifetime, and I think he has never rendered better service than he has by his speech to-day. I will come back to that shortly, but I should first of all like to ask your Lordships to have less unction in your debates. It is sometimes very difficult to stomach when you are aware of the history of the Suez matter. When you think how we opposed the Canal, and of how we would not join in the 1888 Convention; when you think how we stirred up the Porte to 788 put every obstacle in the way of de Lesseps, and how we demanded special rights for our position, to listen to all this talk of the Canal coming under the sole control of one dictator being a thing no honest man could bear stirs one's inside in a most unpleasant way. After all, we are all accustomed to a little banditry—we belong to the British Empire. But banditry should not be preceded by a prayer meeting.
I will take first the point made by Lord Hankey in his interesting, constructive and helpful speech. What is there, in that speech, that would prevent the present Suez Canal company from being the property of Egypt but controlled and managed as it is to-day? That is the nub of the whole business. I am going to come to that because that is what is stirring the Arab world their freehold rights. But before I come to that I must ask the noble Lord whether he cannot clear up this business about the pilots. We understand that the pilots, on the word "go", were all to be withdrawn. I remember that M. Georges Picot made a speech (I can give the reference) in which he said, "If we withdraw the pilots we can wreck the company."
M. Georges Picot pointed out that the company is now in a position to use the loyalty of the employees to paralyse the Canal at any time it chooses: but, he said, the Government do not want them to do that. That is what we want some light on. I asked the Government what is happening financially about these pilots. Are they being paid? And I was dealt with in the haughty, businesslike way the noble Marquess adopts.
§ THE EARL OF WARWICK
My Lords, the noble Viscount is on difficult ground. I feel that anything of that nature would bring the same answer as a question about our difficulties over here between labour and employers. I think that it would be invidious of the noble Viscount to pursue this any further.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
That may be so. I do not want to discuss what is rather a parallel than an absolutely relevant point. But I should like to know who is paying the money to the pilots to come home and do nothing. That is a question I asked the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, and also the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, who said in effect, "I know nothing about 789 the pilots", and added, "The Government of which you were a distinguished member (I hope Lord Attlee took notice of that) did the same thing, and I might as well ask what salary was paid to inspectors of the Potato Marketing Board." But this is a vital thing in one or two ways. You are trying to wreck the show and make it impossible for Colonel Nasser to win by time.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
I will give way willingly; I have never failed to give way when asked. First of all, the pilots come home and apparently are put on paid leave. They are vital. I believe the French arc more numerous than the British.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
They are not? But they are both important. I believe there are also some Greeks and Danes. But, as M. Georges Picot says, they can paralyse the operation of the Canal. That is a very powerful thing and we should know something about it. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor replied: "How can I tell you? I do not know what contracts there are. I know nothing about it." Well, does he know anything about it? Can he tell me who is paying the paid leave of the pilots while the Canal is being paralysed? That is the point.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, I do not think that there is any harm in my answering this question. At the outset, like all the rest of the personnel—and there are a great many more people than pilots involved in this—the pilots were very anxious, and I can tell your Lordships that some of us were very anxious, too. I had been in Egypt shortly after the troubles of 1954, when there had been a great deal of shooting. Pilots had been shot at driving to and from their work and women did not dare go out of their houses. They were not allowed to cross the bridges to buy cake for tea. It was a very serious business in many ways, and the people in Egypt had that memory, as I have. I remember that in Cairo two people of mine in another concern with which I am associated, the Nile Insurance Company, had been in the 790 Jockey Club when it was destroyed, and I had heard innumerable stories of the uncomfortable time our people had in the Canal Zone too. Naturally, the wish of the Company was to get the pilots home if they wanted to come home. That is all the policy of the Company has been.
Certainly there has been no deliberate policy of putting pressure on Egypt by that means, though in fact, if you had withdrawn them, I think the whole thing might have been over by now. When the pilots came home on leave they were given certain dates and the dates were prolonged owing to Mr. Menzies' mission. Eventually the date by which they could come home if they wanted to, so far as the Company was concerned, was prolonged to September 15, and they are coming home now. Of course, the Company goes on giving them their pay. As I said in the course of my speech, the Company is maintaining them on full pay for periods varying from one to three years, so that we can get them hack when we can restore the Canal. But there is no "nasty stuff" about it. if I may put it in that way.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for this information. But the money with which the Company is paying the pilots is a diminution of the dividends which should be paid to this country. Every year a paper called Finance Accounts—not the Finance Bill—is laid before this House, and in these Finance Accounts your Lordships will find how much money we have received from our dividends from the Suez Canal Company. Therefore it is a valid Parliamentary point to ask how the money is being controlled and whether or not this House would approve the withdrawal on pay of a number of pilots up to long periods and for most laudable motives of friendship but to the ruin of traffic through the Canal. And when you see that Egypt is pushing convoys through so far as possible, with one exception which I will come to in a moment, and when you see that Egypt has observed the 1888 Convention, while M. Picot says that when we withdraw the pilots—and they are withdrawn on full pay—it could make the operation of the Canal collapse, you begin to wonder who is disobeying the 1888 Convention, which guarantees the free passage of the Canal to the ships of all nations. This point I must he cleared up.
791 I should like to ask this question, which I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, can answer but which I think the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, can: who is going to pay the expenses of the Users' Association? Is it going to be on Parliamentary Votes? It will cost something. I suppose the famous Conference from which the Suez Canal Company, the only people who knew anything about it, were rigorously excluded, is on the Foreign Office Vote. As regards this new contraption that we heard of for the first time yesterday—the "Users' Club" or whatever it is called—who is going to pay the expenses of that? Perhaps the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, can tell me. I would willingly give way. Perhaps he might give the information to the House. But first of all I would draw the noble Marquess's attention to the fact that the Canal money is public money and, presumably, the Users' Club comes under the control of Parliament.
There is a second way in which we are proving to Colonel Nasser that time is not on his side. The first thing was to take away the best pilots. The next thing was to tell people not to pay. When I asked the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, this question the other day, he said, with a certain amount of glee, "We pay the money to the people we have always paid." But suppose the people getting the money are not rendering any service. If a ship goes through the Canal—it does not matter if it is a British ship or not—we say, "Pay in London," knowing very well that payment in London is blocked. The Egyptian Government cannot get it. So Colonel Nasser—this wicked fellow—permits the ship to navigate the Canal, pays the pilots out of Egyptian money, out of the Egyptian pocket, and takes no dues—and he is the man who is breaking the 1888 Convention!We have taken away the pilots; we have "bagged" the money that belongs to the Canal Company; and Colonel Nasser is charged with being the man who is breaking the Convention of 1888.
§ LORD HANKEY
I do not think it is right to say that we and the French have taken away the pilots. We have given the pilots the right to go if they want to go, if they feel that they are not working under proper conditions. They are still 792 under contract to us, not under contract to Egypt. Most of them prefer to go, except, as somebody said, the Greeks.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
Yes. I think it is possible that we may find that conditions will be made so favourable for them that they will go back—at least I hope so. In the meantime, do not let us have any mistake about the facts: namely, that the hindrance to the 1888 Convention at the present time comes from us. Certainly it comes from us. Two noble Lords contributed brilliantly in two languages to the debate a little earlier. Perhaps they will tell me how they harmonise the disappearance of the most experienced pilots with a desire to keep the Canal running. That is a matter that I do not understand. Another thing that I do not understand is, who is getting the dues? Where is that money going? Suppose a ship goes through and the owners say they are accustomed to paying in Paris or London, and they pay in London, and the Egyptian officer says: "Very well; I will take that as a receipt". He does not get the money; Egypt never gets the money. Who does get the money? Does the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, consider that as not relevant to the debate? Somebody gets the money. Does the Canal Company get the money?
§ LORD HANKEY
The Suez Canal Company gets as much of the money as it can. It ought to get it all, in our opinion, but we get as much as we can. Money paid in London goes to our account, but, as the noble Viscount has said, it is frozen. Money paid in Paris would be collected there. A good many of The American ships, I believe, are paying in Egypt. Your Lordships have probably read the curious letters they send accompanying it. And there have been some ships that have got through without payment, although there are ways and means of dealing with those.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
All this is very peculiar finance: you collect money for services you do not render and give it to pilots whom you put on full pay on retirement. That is the finance of the Suez Canal Company at the present moment. It is not at all satisfactory. It is really no good for the Government to say, or for the Lord Chancellor, with all his august authority, to say that we must 793 not mention a thing like that; that we never did it in our Government with our numerous Boards. People are talking. They are saying that this is the way we are going to get Nasser out. The Times said something about the economic squeeze: deprive him of his revenue, freeze his assets, take away his pilots and he will soon learn reason. Is that the way to get this problem settled? A good deal of light has been thrown on it by the debate this afternoon, and I hope that we shall hear more from the Government sources, because they are able, as large shareholders in the Canal Company, to exact, either from the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, or this new Users' Club. wherever it lives, and whoever it is, all the information that is required.
I leave that point, because I do not dare to speak for too long. This Users' Club is going to collect the dues. They will say to somebody: "We will provide you with a pilot when you turn up at Port Said." Maybe the Egyptians will say: "If you pay, he is a good pilot, and we will let him go through." I should not have thought that that was very good organisation to do it in that way. Then he will say: "I have paid to the Users' Club and I have here my card of membership." But the Egyptians may say: "Yes, but we are rendering the service now and we are maintaining the Canal. The Users' Club does not live here but in Kensington—the pilots practise on the Round Pond. You are rendering us no service. Why should we let you through? "Hitherto, apparently some have got through without paying, as the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, has said.
This is the dangerous thing. We are asked in the Resolution to-day to endorse the statement made. I find that very difficult to accept. What do we know after the eloquent speech? It was not a statement or anything concise, but it had this in it: that the Users' Club was going to take charge of the shipowner and was going to take his money in London and guarantee him a safe passage through the Canal. Suppose he arrives at the Canal and somebody says: "You have not paid. We will not let you go through." What do you do? Then the Government use force if necessary. How they do it I have not the faintest idea. I do not know if the lock gates at Port Said are shirt—I have not been there for some time. But 794 do they shove the gates open and push the ships in? The whole thing is not thought out. One clear point in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, was that this thing is a cockered up thing by five people who met together and have now dispersed to the ends of the world without leaving a proper plan behind them. The dangerous thing is, that if somebody gets thwarted, the Users' Club, there is the possibility of a shot being fired.
The third point about the Users' Club is this. What is the position of the United States about it? It seems very difficult to understand. My noble Leader, Lord Attlee, said that this time of the year is a difficult time for Americans, and I read a longish article in The Times headed (in The Times the headings are not the news but the politics) "United States to Join the Plan." You say: "Right, I need not spend any more time on that; I will turn to the crossword puzzle." But if you read on, you find not a word to that effect. What it says is this:It will exercise on behalf of the users the rights which are theirs under the 1888 Convention,Nobody has ever disputed that. The 1888 Convention, which I say we refused to sign, provided for the agents of all the countries to come and see that the job was done. Who stopped them? We did. We were there in 1888 and we called but one meeting of the agents. If you could put the 1888 Convention on its legs and make it work, with the good will of Colonel Nasser and the expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, and his Company, then you would have something of a working Kind. But if you say that the Users' Club is to be provided with a gun, and in the absence of Parliament a shot may he tired, then I cannot understand that. One point about which I did not agree with the most reverend Primate, if I may say so respectfully, was when he said that unity is everything. Justice is everything—not unity.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My point was that you cannot get justice unless you have unity first.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
I could not possibly subscribe to that: I am a Nonconformist. Will the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, in his reply, say whether if the Users' Club, this highly decorative body, find that when they have taken a 795 due from a ship, and the ship goes to the Canal and cannot get through, they will guarantee that before they send an armed guard for the ship they will call Parliament together? I believe the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, asked that. He said that it could not be done without Parliamentary control. But I read in this Motion an assent to the assertion that this policy has the approval of Parliament, and therefore the Government can go ahead without calling Parliament together. That is a point that must be cleared up. If we can be given an assurance that Parliament will meet before the Users' Club gets busy, then we shall have got some way forward. That is all I want to say on that point.
The other point—your Lordships will not be pleased with it, but it will be brief —is this. I love Egypt, and I love the Egyptians; and they have been very badly treated by us. They have been made the washpot of Europe: British and French jealousies, fighting over their plains. Who cared about the fellahin? We governed well when we governed and had Lord Cromer there; we governed justly when we governed. But it was always the bondholders who counted. I have been reading little books about this. Lord Milner's book says that in the 'eighties 60 per cent. of the revenue of Egypt went to the bondholders. It is said: "We must not have the Canal in the hands of one Government". But that was de Lesseps idea. I understand that his idea in distributing the capital was to get many countries interested, and Egypt was to be primarily interested. The Khedive—he was not the Khedive then; I suppose he was the Pasha—had an enormous share, and had 15 per cent. of the profits. He was the governing figure up to the time when Disraeli scooped the pool one Sunday and bought up his shares. But why? What did the Pasha have to do with the money, the money which was Egypt's property in the Canal? He had to give it to pay the foreign bondholders, and Egypt lost her 15 per cent. of profits in the same way in order to make her budget balance. Sound finance is very unpopular now, but in the 'eighties and 'nineties it was highly thought of. Lord Cromer was a man who was going to make the budget balance. He said 796 in his second book that he considered two things his triumphs in Egypt: one a balanced budget and the other telling Abbas II where he got off. Those were the two achievements of his policy. All this is in the minds of the Egyptians. Look at it from their point of view.
Two things I forgot to mention at the beginning. In two ways Nasser has broken the law. It was not Nasser, of course, but King Farouk who forbad Israeli ships to come through. It was the King's Government who did it. When the Foreign Secretary made a speech the other day he said that one of Nasser's crimes was that he had expelled King Farouk. Is it British policy to restore Farouk? "Shall we join the ladies?" is that our latest? Why did he say that? Because passion must be worked up against this man. It is not only the question of the Canal; it is that Colonel Nasser is too big for his boots. Why are Pineau and Mollet so keen? It is not the Canal they are thinking of; they are thinking of Morocco, Tunis and Algiers. "Here is a man who is getting too big, and we will make the English join us and put him in his place."
§ LORD KILLEARN
With respect. you can hardly blame them. I hold no brief for the French if they feel like that. but it is a natural sort of fear on their part.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
Entirely. No one understood firm action better than the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, when he sent the tanks in in 1942 to put Farouk in his place. If we are going to engage in the laudable task of assisting the French in putting the Arabs in their place, let us know it. But do not let us pretend it is in the cause of keeping the Canal open.
The two things I was going to mention were these. Farouk's Government stopped Israel's ships going through the Canal. That was continued by the régime of Neguib and Nasser. Neguib himself from time to time showed surprising signs of friendship for the Jews. I remember at one time the talk was that he had gone into the Mosque on a Friday, and they said, "You must have made a mistake General; this is not a synagogue." That is all very good. But the Users' Club, the Canal Company and the Government should say here and now to Colonel Nasser, "You have broken the law. Here is the 1888 Convention which you have 797 broken. Here is a ship called the 'Tangia ', loaded with cement, and you have kept it for five weeks messing about in the Canal. That ship has got to go through." If they did that they would vindicate the law, and would show that the 1888 Convention is in fact a reality. The other thing I would mention in passing is that we have to think of the effect of this massing of arms on the relative strength of Israel and Egypt, and the 1950 agreement. Is it possible for the Government to argue that Israel has the strength to defend her soil?
Finally, about this dreadful act. Twelve years hence the Canal becomes the property of the Egyptian Government. Nasser has anticipated by twelve years the rights which are bestowed upon him by Article 10 of the Concession. The Lord Chancellor made a most brilliant forensic speech yesterday, and he convinced everyone. In fact, so great was his enthusiasm that the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen and Temair, there and then moved a vote of thanks to him and carried it unanimously. But the Clerks forgot to put it in the Minute. We enjoyed a little of what is called "Rock 'n' roll", which shows how flexible and charming the procedure of this House can be. But the Lord Chancellor said that this is a breach of international law. He never put that point to the eighteen or twenty-two countries. It was never mentioned in the document after the Conference had risen. I do not think that Mr. Menzies could have got unanimity on the point in his Committee of five. I have no doubt the Lord Chancellor is right, but why cannot he put that point which he made so vividly, effectively and convincingly yesterday, to the International Court? He says it is because Egypt has not subscribed to the optional Clause. Nasser, in his speech, challenged him to do it. I say that the first thing we could do to help our position in world would be to put this issue of the illegality of the premature entry into this property before the International Court.
How does Egypt feel about it? Egypt is a poor country. Her people are half starved. Their families are increasing, and there are now about 20 million people with a low standard of life. All the time they have toiled and have had one great asset: they had their geographical position. That was the one asset they 798 had, just as we have tin and rubber from which we get dollars. Said Pasha entered into a contract to let their country for 99 or 98 years to a Company. The Company did well year after year, and the volume of trade and passengers increased. Money was made, and it went into the coffers, quite rightly, of the concessionaires. But in Article 10 of the Concession it was promised that at the expiration of that Concession the Egyptian Government would take the place of the Company and enjoy the rights without reservation:The said Government will enter into full possession of the Canal and of…all the establishments connected therewith, the indemnity to be allowed to the company on the relinquishmentThat was the assessment of the value of the property. I should like to ask the Government whether they admit the validity off this heritage belonging to Egypt. Do they say that in 1968 the Egyptian Government would enter lawfully into possession of this great asset which has enriched so many, and which belongs to Egypt? That is the nub of the whole thing, and all this talk about its being international cannot cover the act that the Egyptian people were selling their birthright, given the agreement made with them 98 years ago. If the Government would say now that this is an interim arrangement, and that the Users' Club will own it for twelve years and that is all, but they are not taking away Egypt's freehold, then I think we could do something for the appeasement of Egypt and for our own honour.
§ LORD HANKEY
If the House would permit, I could throw a little light on this. So far as the Suez Canal Company is concerned, we have always recognised that the end of the Convention comes on November 17, 1968, unless there is agreement to continue it under some modified form or otherwise. The Company has gone as far as this. In 1949 they concluded an Agreement, which I took part in negotiating, for the Egyptianisation of the Company. They have already gone a considerable way. Among the workmen class there is a very high percentage. Among the other classes, except in the very high and responsible posts where great experience is needed, the Egyptians have risen quite high. It is an odd thing, but I was told the other day by one of our officials who is out 799 there that none of these people who have been trained and put in rather high posts have been promoted by the present Egyptian Government. Those men always told me that they were regarded as collaborateurs, in the French sense—that is to say, collaborating with the enemy. I myself told the Minister of Finance this story and said, "They are not collaborateurs; they are collaborators in the best sense of the word, all of them, and are doing their best for the Company, and are your main hope for the future.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
That confirms me in my belief that the good work done by the noble Lord and his Company has always been bedevilled by the differences between Egypt and Britain and the occupation lasting too long. If that were out of the way and the expert assistance of the Canal Company were available, and the good will of Nasser were won by a frank recognition of Egypt's right to the freehold in the Canal, then I think you might he at the end of your difficulties. This is a moral issue; it applies not only to Egypt. Everybody who has got something which the world thinks is necessary finds speeches made about its being "by Divine Providence that that thing is needed and therefore we must have it." They are getting anxious about it. There is no difference between a pipeline and a canal. A pipeline is only an embedded canal. Why should not the Lebanon, in their turn, nationalise their pipeline? They give a concession and they will stand by it, but if they are to be told that at the end of the concession somebody will get up and say, "We are sorry but the world need requires that we should take what you have got", that will do more to unite the oil-bearing countries and the Arab countries than anything in the world.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
Has anybody ever said that at the end of the concession they shall not have it?
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
No. The most reverend Primate is helping me very much. If the Users' Club is going to come to an end in 1968 and then Article 10 of the Concession is to be valid and the 800 Egyptian Government enters into the full possession, the freehold possession, en plein droit—those are the words of the Concession—if we are going to say that, then I think we are a long way forward. But what they arc afraid of is that all these organisations that we are bringing in are trying to rob them of the one little precious asset that they have which might raise them from a starving race into a prosperous peasantry. That is the case, and if any parts of it can receive the attention of the noble Marquess when he comes to speak, I shall be grateful to him.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, when I heard the first part of the noble Viscount's speech, I began to think that he must have lost a lot of money in Suez Canal shares. He seemed so concerned with the economic situation. I hope that is not true but it would appear that he had —perhaps the noble Viscount will give me his attention. I am sorry that the noble Lord who kept on referring to "our attack" apparently on Nasser and his regime has gone, because I was going to refer to various remarks made during his speech. We have not attacked Nasser. We have done nothing whatever that could be described as an attack on Nasser and his régime. I am sorry the noble Lord is not here. I should like him to explain what he meant by that. When he returns, perhaps I shall have an opportunity of finding out what he meant.
The Agreement that was entered into by ourselves and the Egyptian Government was carried out and honoured by us, as noble Lords know. We carried it out, but the present Egyptian Government have not carried out their part of it. We carried out our part of it because we never envisaged a change in maintenance, installations or ownership of the Canal. If we had known, when the proposition was put up to us, that that was going to happen, we should never have evacuated the Canal Zone.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
I must interrupt the noble Lord. It is a most amazing thing. He is talking as if the evacuation of the Canal—will he allow me to continue?
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
The noble Lord is talking as if the evacuation of the Canal zone were a sort of prize given to 801 the Egyptians. It was a contract entered into by the Conservative Party.
§ LORD TEVIOT
I am not going into who did it, but it was a definite arrangement between this country and the Egyptians that if we evacuated the Canal Zone, then things would continue as they had in the past—the maintenance, installations and freedom of access through the Canal. We have carried out our agreement but they have not done so. The appalling thing to-day, one of the things that must be worrying every noble Lord in this House, is the fact that, whereas in the old days, with the individuals of the world, their word was their bond, that does not now apply. That is why we are getting into these troubles at the present time.
Abadan has been mentioned. It was a most regrettable incident which damaged our prestige. The noble Viscount who has just sat down began to talk about who is going to pay. I do not know that anybody has paid for the frightful losses owing to the Abadan incident. Who has done that? It must have come out of the hands of the shareholders. I am quite certain that one battleship and a hundred Marines, right at the beginning, with people with "guts" behind the Government, would have settled the whole thing in five minutes. Here we have this unilateral action on the part of the Egyptian Government which automatically invalidates the Agreement which we have honoured. I have already referred to that. I will put this point to your Lordships. Has any noble Lord gone into a piece of business where he may have sold something to somebody else or entered into an agreement with somebody else to do certain things? If one side does not comply with the bargain, does not that wash out the whole thing?
Certain people in this country have suggested to me that, in view of what the Egyptians have done in this case, we should be perfectly justified in reoccupying the Canal Zone base. I do not agree with that view now, but that is the sort of thing that is in the minds of a great many people; they think it would be a perfectly legitimate and equitable thing to do. If anybody is a brave man the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, is—I know it, and I have great admiration for him. If he had been at 802 Alexandria the other day, listening to that bombastic speech of Nasser, I wonder whether he would have taken the line that he has been inclined to take since this crisis has been in the picture? I do not think he would. I think that he would have taken a very strong line in antagonism to Nasser. Nasser did this without notice. That brings me, just for one moment, because the noble Viscount mentioned it in a question yesterday, to the matter of the pilots. As the noble Viscount is aware, the pilots were definitely urged by the Company to remain on until the result of the discussions that took place between Mr. Menzies and his Committee and President Nasser were known.
During this debate there has been mentioned something that touches me greatly —namely, the question of appeasement, and references to the appalling conditions of the 'thirties. Who then, to a great extent, were responsible for our unpreparedness?—the peace balloters. I can remember before the First War, in which the noble Viscount opposite and I took part, that our men were refused access to the schools in the London County Council area to drill and prepare themselves for what Lord Roberts at that time thought was a certain war. I have never forgotten that—one does not forget. Then again, we only just—this is not laughable to me. I do not know whether the noble Lord opposite took part in that war, but I did and our unprepared-ness was most unpleasant.
§ LORD SILKIN
Since the noble Lord has appealed to me. I would only say that I do not think his remarks are particularly helpful.
§ LORD TEVIOT
I am quite certain that what the noble Lord said yesterday, and the content of many of the speeches that have been made, particularly on that side of the House, have been most helpful to Nasser and not at all helpful to us. With regard to that unpreparedness, it was only with the greatest difficulty, and due to the heroic efforts at the Battle of Britain, that we managed to get through and win. I have always wanted to find out from those who were against what happened at Munich what they would have done in these circumstances. I have never yet had an answer from one of them.
803 What has been offered here? We have offered to be the tenants of a landlord, that landlord being Nasser and his Government. I am afraid that noble Lords on both sides of the House have been inclined at times to dwell on the subject of force and war, and on that side of the House in particular, on the subject of the people of the country not being behind the Government, and that the Arab States will be alienated from us and all that sort of thing. I do not believe one word of it. I believe, as has been my experience, that the people of this country are solidly behind the Government, that they should stand up for the rights of the people here and do everything they can to avoid war—which they are doing. With regard to the Arabs, we know that they produce and we buy. I am quite certain that in a short time we shall find the Arabs saying to themselves, "This is no good to us. We have lost our business or a part of it", and instead of having a luxurious time they will find themselves having a bad time.
Then, I have heard mentioned the question of the people of this country. Nobody in more keen for the Government to stand up to the situation than the old soldiers of our day, and also those of the last war. I happen to have landed at Khartoum, on the Nile, on the day that the Battle of Alamein started, and I saw the great Egyptian nation lift not a hand to help us when our men were going up in their thousands to protect the Egyptians and to drive Rommel back We lost thousands of men in that operation. Have we had any recognition for that? Not one word of recognition or gratitude. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, spoke yesterday about ships going through the Canal and not paying their dues. I am director of a shipping line. We had a couple of ships going through, I think, on Friday and Saturday, and I believe that the captains were perfectly right to pay the dues where they had always paid them. Everything is in a quite chaotic state at the moment, but they are paying all right, and I am quite certain that the Egyptians will get what they are entitled to in payment.
Now a word with regard to this preparation— this army, as it has been called. How could we not do something? what 804 have we had? We have had this massacre in the Jockey Club, already referred to this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, when various people were killed and others ill-treated by the Egyptians. It is perfectly ridiculous to suggest in regard to this "army", or, rather, this partial mobilisation, that we should not be prepared, should something of that sort happen on a big scale. Nasser is most bellicose. What would noble Lords opposite say if we had no means of protecting our own people and property?
Now I come to another question. Here we have a Canal which, as has been said over and over again during the debate, is vital to our interests. It is vital to the welfare of the people of this country: their standard of living is dependent on it. The waters of the Nile are vital to the lives of the people of Egypt. The head waters, the sources, of the Nile are in British territory. Supposing we had said to "Master" Nasser: "We propose to divert the Nile and put a little fertility into the Sahara and Ethiopia where it is badly wanted, so that we shall not be able to let you have the amount of water you used to get", I wonder what he would have had to say. This seems to be an exactly analogous case. Let us have no more of this nonsense about colonialism. I wonder what Russia calls Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Roumania and Eastern Germany. What is their answer there, while they are shouting about colonies? And while India is shouting about colonialism, what about Goa and Kashmir? Such talk is absolute nonsense, and we ought to ignore it altogether. There is no doubt whatever that if Nasser has his way he is not only going to wreck and ruin an enormous number of people in Western Europe but he is going to wreck completely the interests of the Arab States; and one day, quite soon, he will find out that they have realised that.
I will say one word in regard to the legal side. I listened with the greatest interest to the noble and learned Lord. Lord McNair. As a layman I know nothing about the law, of course. Then I listened to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, and I came down 100 per cent. on his side, because I could understand what he was talking about. I could not entirely 805 understand what Lord McNair was talking about—he was somewhat "over my head." The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack was a little "over my head" too, but I understood what he was getting at. If I could not manage to understand the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, it was no doubt my fault and not his.
I should like to say a word about unity, in view of Mr. Gaitskell's attitude. He was all right in the beginning, and his Party seemed to be following; but now the position is quite changed and I fear that the "Peace Ballot" mind of the Socialist Party has got to the top. I see great difficulty in agreeing with their point of view on this very important question. Of one thing I am quite certain—the organisation which the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, refers to as the "Users' Club" is something which gives President Nasser a chance to alter his mind. He has "fallen out" with the existing state of affairs, and I feel that here there is something new about which ire might say: "Here I see an opportunity to negotiate with these people." I wish to give my full support to the proposal for the Users' Association mentioned yesterday by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House. I hope that, as a result of this step, we shall get a better understanding and that President Nasser will realise that he now has something on which he can "bite" so that we can come to a solution of the difficulties from which we are both suffering.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, there are nine other names on the "batting list," and obviously the hour is getting late and your Lordships are getting hungry. I had not originally meant to speak at all and would not have done so: but purely fortuitously I received this very morning a letter which seemed so interesting that I thought I might read it to your Lordships as being of topical interest, and I propose to do so later. Meantime, in the course of this debate one point has been mentioned which leads me, before reading the extracts from that letter. to refer to an earlier matter which arose principally, I fancy, out of the admirable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, about the arrangements for the safety and security of navigation on the Canal when we got out in 1954. I have very vivid recollections 806 of that affair because I took one view, some of my good colleagues took the same view and others took another view. We were overruled and our troops were got out. I am not going to challenge that decision now: but at that time it was borne in on some of us, and especially on myself, that we had certain inherited obligations in Egypt under the 1888 Convention for the safe and secure navigation of the Canal.
We felt so strongly about it that in October, 1954, several of us wrote a joint letter to The Times. I believe that it was a pretty good letter and if any of your Lordships need a little light reading, you might read that letter sometime. At the same time I put a Question on the same subject in this House. It is always boring to have old things brought up, but if I may say so, without immodesty, this is one of the rare cases of wisdom before, rather than after, the event. It sounds conceited to say that, but it is true. I asked a Question and a supplementary, and though the supplementary is the pertinent one I am afraid that I must inflict the main Question on your Lordships first, to make things clear. The Question which was put on July 15, 1954, and appears in the OFFICIAL REPORT for that date (Vol. 188, col. 1087) was:To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they consider that in the terms of Article 8 of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, the Egyptian Army is now in a position to ensure by its own resources the liberty and entire security of the Suez Canal.That Question drew from the noble Marquess the Minister of State, who I understand is to reply tonight, the following Answer:My Lords, as the noble Lord is very well aware,"—which was rather "a nasty one," suggesting that I ought to have known better than to ask the Question—complex and delicate negotiations are at present proceeding between Her Majesty's Government and the Egyptian Government for a settlement of their differences in regard to the Canal Zone. In those circumstances I am sure that the House will understand if I say that. in the interests of these negotiations, I am nor prepared at this stage to make public the opinion of Her Majesty's Government on the issue raised in the noble Lord's Question.I followed that up with a supplementary question in these words (col. 1088):My Lords, in thanking the noble Marquess for his reply, which the House will fully understand, may I put to hint the following 807 supplementary question: Whether the possibility has been studied of adapting our direct and inherited obligations under the Suez Canal Convention of Constantinople of 1888 into some form of effective—and I emphasise the word effective '—international guarantee of the free navigation of the canal in time of peace and of war?That supplementary question drew this reply:My Lords, I am afraid that what I said in answer to the noble Lord's original Question must apply with equal force to the supplementary. I think it would be highly undesirable if we were to imperil the progress of these negotiations by discussing these matters at this moment in your Lordships' House.I put it to your Lordships, looking back, as we do to-night, that it would perhaps have been rather wiser, shall we say, had Her Majesty's Government taken that question a little more seriously. After all, what is all this present pother about now? Precisely the point specifically raised in my supplementary question two years ago. It is unusual that one happens to be right in advance. Now, my Lords, I was not proposing to take that specially to my credit, but I think it was a great pity that at that time we were "brushed off." We are always apt to be "brushed off in replies from the Front Bench on matters concerning the Foreign Office. I am not the only one who has said that. Others have said the same thing. We are getting accustomed to that sort of treatment.
However, I did not put my name down to speak to-day in order to raise this point: I put my name down because I received a letter this morning which was about other things. And it is only because the point was brought up in Lord Hankey's speech about arrangements now being made that I have brought it up now. I might add en passant that I personally should be very grateful, and I am sure many others of your Lordships would also, if we could know a little more about this Users' Club, or whatever it is called, which has been suggested. It seems to me that the formation of such a body is probably a very ingenious thing, but it seems rather vague. As I listened yesterday in another place I thought: "This is probably terribly clever and a very good thing, but what precisely does it mean?" Nor do I yet know what it does mean. Does anyone else know?
808 It bears on a point which I imagine the Minister who is going to wind up will speak to. For it bears very much on what Lord Hankey said. What have the present Canal Company done that is wrong? We are seemingly abolishing that Company, and are going to insert in its place an odd body whose functions we do not know and who certainly do not, and cannot, know the technical matters and functions of the Canal. It would be most helpful if we could be told something more about this. I do not say this from the point of view of criticism—on the contrary, on leaving your Lordships' House last night I said: "Thank God we have got action at last!" But what is the action?ߞthat is what I am puzzled about. If it could be explained, either in the Press or in some other way, just what this organisation is and how it is going to work, it would be very helpful and illuminating. My inclination is entirely to back it. I shall certainly vote for the Government if it comes to going into the Division Lobby tonight.
Now I conic to the point about which I rose to speak. I know that your Lordships do not like long quotations, but it happens, as I have said, that I received a letter bearing on this subject this very morning. It is not easy writing and I have had some difficulty in reading it. It comes from a man who has spent a large number of years in Egypt—I will not mention his name, but the letter is at the disposal of any noble Lord who would like to see it. As your Lordships know, however, there are reasons why it is better not always to say who your correspondents are. I will now read a few excerpts which may provide a little light relief for your Lordships after the rather heavy materials which we have had to browse upon this afternoon.
My correspondent writes:I know we have to consider world opinion, but world opinion will not help us much if Abdel Nasser gets away with his last coup.The writer then talks about some publicity which he is going himself to do. He may be writing an article or so to show what in his view Nasser intends doing after his Canal coup—that is, of course, assuming that he gets away with it. The writer goes on:Russia will not go to war for him, but Russia will do everything to keep Abdel Nasser 809 as a thorn in our side. Few would believe me in April, 1953, when I said that the junta—that is, the Egyptian military Governmentwas completely involved with the Soviets. His plans"—that is, Nasser's plans—include (1) general oil nationalisation; (2) blackmailing the Sheiks of Bahrein, Kuwait, etc., into subsidising Egyptian industry and the dam; (3) picking a quarrel with Ethiopia, in order to take control of the Nile so that the Sudanese will be at his "—that is Nasser's—mercy in order to establish himself opposite the Yemen.My correspondent goes on to say that he has just been in the Yemen and thatNasser is sending agents everywhere. En the Ahram "—that is one of the well-known Arabic papers published in Cairo—of the 11th July, the names of 1,664 Egyptian ' teachers ' are published with their destinations covering twenty-three other African and Asian countries, in addition to what he already has. I have spent six months in Libya and have watched the hundreds of Egyptians corning in as officials in the Government and for other purposes … I saw one of the camps where Algerian guerrilla fighters are trained by Egyptians. One of Nasser's next actions will be the confiscation of all our key installations in some form or other as part of the nationalisation of Egyptian industry.My Lords, I was going to stop there, but a passage comes now which, at the express request of Lord Vansittart, I propose to read. It is in connection with the arrests of these so-called "spies", and Lord Vansittart begged me to read it. The writer says:It is positively disgusting. all this arresting business of British subjects. I am told 'that Nazi methods are used to force these men to make confessions—even by using special injections of drugs. He has three German advisers at work for him secretly in the interior. AI arc well-known ex-Nazis.There follows a lot more which I will not inflict upon your Lordships. It happened that that letter arrived this morning and I thought that it would interest this House.
There are just one or two other matters that I should like to mention before I sit down. Of the arrests I have already spoken. Now as to possible forms of pressure. Various suggestions as to forms of pressure of all sorts have been mentioned. One has been called "water pressure." This, of course, is a question relating to the water of the Nile. You 810 cannot deflect the Nile, but you can do other things if you are going to be really "tough." It is a commonplace that the Nile is the jugular vein of Egypt. It is a very enthralling study—the question of the various reservoirs of the Nile along the course. I am not sure whether your Lordships know that for only three months of the year does the Nile water run directly into the sea. For the other nine months the whole of the water of the Nile is penned in reservoirs. "dished out" in feeders and eventually, after use, into so-called "drains"—you can always tell a drain because there is usually refuse or loose herbage floating upon it; they look otherwise Like ordinary irrigation canals. For nine months of the year Egypt lives on the water which has been impounded in these barrages. admit that this is not a thing that we can lightheartedly or possibly do at all. It happens that at this moment it is the season of the high Nile, during which the dams and sluice gates are open all the way up the river and the water rushes down, unimpeded, and out into the sea, so that this, the summer, is not the time when one could be really "nasty" if one wished to be so. Now I do not know if I may say so within the precincts of your Lordships' House. but if one were to "pull the plug" at the wrong time—that is, at the time when the water would normally be impounded in all the reservoirs—and the reserve irrigation water —went "swooshing" down over the country, it would finish off Egypt. That is beyond dispute, and it is probably a comparatively easy thing to do. I am not suggesting that we have reached that stage or that we ever shall, but you never know; and I should like to know—perhaps the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, could mention it—whether that question of water pressure has been studied.
The reason I now mention this idea is that, after all, we had two years' full notice. We signed the Agreement to get off the Canal in October, 1954, and this Canal crisis broke in August, 1956. Apparently it caught us absolutely and completely "bending." Yet if there was one thing on which the betting was 100–1 on, it was that after we had got oil the Canal, the Canal Company would he the next target. It was as sure "as eggs is eggs", if I may use a common expression. And what had been done in this interval 811 of two whole years? What are General Staffs for? What are pigeonholes and studies for? When the thing hit, it so happened that the King of Jordan was dining at No. 10. The Press told us the lights were on until the early morning; everybody was rushing about, and yet, seemingly, nobody did a thing. I was told —I should not have heard, but one hears these things that it would take a full month before we could do anything. If that was so, surely somebody is blameworthy? We had two years of comparative peace before the obvious thing came down on us like a ton of bricks and we apparently had not done a thing to prepare for it, dead certainty though it was. That seems to me most peculiar and very shaking.
Only one other thing I would mention to your Lordships which, so far, nobody has referred to in this debate—to wit, the extremely important matter of insurance. I know nothing about it, but I presume that every ship using the Canal is insured and that shipowners have to pay a premium; and presumably that premium depends on the conditions of adequate pilotage and so on. I cannot see Lloyd's risking a ship worth, say, £2 million. Many of your Lordships have been through the Canal, and know that if there is a variation of half a foot, the ship is "for it". There is, in the nature of things, little steerage way. The work of the Canal pilots is accordingly most highly skilled. One cannot just say, "Be a pilot", and even if one could, I imagine that nobody in his senses would insure such a ship. I merely suggest that this subject of insurance might usefully be discussed, together with that of pilotage, already under such active discussion.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, we have been debating the Suez Canal crisis for more than ten hours and I think it is extremely unlikely that a Back Bencher is going to say anything new or anything that your Lordships have not thought of already. I should like to say at once that I am in full support of the policy of Her Majesty's Government. One of the reasons my support is so wholehearted is that I see that the Government are determined to uphold inter. national law. I speak as one of the under forty-five years-old Members of your Lordships' House—I think I am the only 812 person under forty-five who has spoken to-day—and though I speak only for myself, I think it is possible that my views are shared by others of my age and younger. I would say that all of us, of all ages, had great hopes of the United Nations Organisation. May I remind your Lordships of what my noble friend Lord Linlithgow said last night in a moving and sincere speech? He said to your Lordships rather sadly:I not this where we came in before?I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Marquess. As I see it, this is exactly where we came in before, and exactly where we shall come in again until the United Nations Organisation is made an effective organisation.
I am certain that noble Lords on the other side of the House and on this side share the determination that if possible we should not use force, but I cannot see that any Government could tie its hands absolutely and say that in no circumstances will it use force. The suggestion is made that we should appeal to the United Nations Security Council. May I remind your Lordships, with all respect at this late hour, for we have been talking for a long time and perhaps we may have strayed a little from essentials, of the words of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor in his (if I may say so without impertinence) remarkable speech of last night [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 199, col. 721]:
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.I pray that we also will be inspired by the duty to uphold international obligations. It may well be that to do so it will be necessary to have recourse to force. I feel that what I have said is perhaps easier for a humble Back Bencher to say than for anybody else in your Lordships' House. No one dislikes the idea of force. of war, more than I do; but I would much rather that we fought, if fight we must, than go down shuffling off the responsibilities on to a United Nations which we are perfectly certain is going to take no action at all.
§ 7.39 p.m.
My Lords, the point has already been developed in this debate that the crisis which has been created by Colonel Nasser's action was in any event likely to confront us in 1968. A conservative estimate of the oil traffic from the Middle East indicates that the present rate will be more than doubled by 1965, and that that figure will again be doubled by 1975. The present Canal will be quite inadequate to carry such a load, and until two months ago there was a question, as yet unsolved, whether Western civilisation should invest vast sums, perhaps in return for an extended concession, in either duplicating or greatly enlarging the Canal, or alternatively to assume that it would be maintained at something like its present capacity to handle the passenger liners, the dry cargo ships and the smaller and older tankers, and instead to expend those sums on other means; for example, a pipeline or additional ships for the Cape route to carry the additional traffic. Part of the answer to this problem lay in the vitality of what the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, yesterday described as "that delicate flower, international confidence". It seems to me that on July 26 Colonel Nasser crushed that flower, and, to that extent, has helped towards a solution of this problem. For, whatever may be the outcome if the present troubles, he would be an unwise investor who would place vast sums of new money under such an unstable political control. Moreover, by showing his hand now, instead of waiting until the end of the concession, when the increased traffic and adjustments to world trade would have been much more onerous, I believe that, from his own selfish point of view, Colonel Nasser has made one of the great mistakes of history.
The Canal was conceived and built in the very early years of the steamship era, in a day of ships of 1,000 tons and 1,000 horse power. Even as late as fifteen years ago a 15,000 tons tanker was thought to be too large for normal use, and he was regarded as a daring shipowner who took the risks—such as a fracture—with a ship of 25,000 tons. The maximum draught for ships in the Suez Canal to-day is about:35 ft., and those who have been planning new tonnage have been working on the assumption that within the next two or three years the operating draught will be 36 ft. In terms 814 of ships, that means that it is almost impossible to design a tanker over 40,000 tons which can carry a full cargo through the Canal. The risks of building a hull of such a size have, until the very recent past, been thought to be unacceptable.
It has long been known that there is a size of ship which could carry oil around the Cape more economically than it can be carried through the Suez Canal by a ship restricted by the Canal dimensions. Based on present Canal dues and transit times, for a voyage from the Persian Gulf to the United States a ship's economic size is approximately 65,000 tons; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hore-Belisha, has said, for a voyage to North-West Europe its size is of the order of 80,000 tons. Within the recent past tankers of 84.000 tons, and even one of 100,000 tons, have been provided. Therefore, now, and only now, the economical ship for the Cape route has become a reality, arid it is now no longer true to say that the Canal will always be an essential link in the chain of oil supplies to the Western Hemisphere. Weigh those words, my Lords. We have heard too much of the "lifeline of oil supplies" in regard to the Canal. Temporarily it is true, but in the long term it is no longer true that the Canal is the lifeline of Western civilisation. The big ship has been created and can now trade more economically around the Cape, and we find ourselves back in the position where our forefathers were one hundred years ago. The Cape route will be the normal route to the Middle East for the biggest ships which can carry oil.
To build these large ships—which I hope I have shown have now become essential—there are required quantities of steel greatly in excess of anything that at present seems likely to be available. One of the great shipbuilders of this country has recently said that, though he had the facilities to build several tankers at a time of 80,000 tons or more, to do so would consume so much steel that on present availability his other berths would have to stand idle. The same point is illustrated in another way by the fact that a tanker which could be put economically on the Cape route erected in the United Kingdom to-day would not come into service until 1962. While I do not by any means dissent from any of the plans announced by Her Majesty's Government to deal with the immediate 815 position, I urge that we should now face the probability that for years to come it is unlikely that there will be any major increase in the size of the Canal, and we must therefore strive vigorously to make or acquire greatly increased quantities of steel and so enable our shipbuilders to build the ships which have now become necessary for the Cape route in the foreseeable future.
§ 7.46 p.m.
My Lords, I count myself lucky at my position in following the noble Lord who has just spoken, since he is extremely knowledgeable in these matters where shipping is concerned, and my own knowledge of the matter is restricted. 1 was glad to hear him say that the supply of oil through the Canal could be, and probably would be, diverted to other routes. I open my remarks with those words because I feel that the whole of this question which we have been debating for the last two days is really more one of prestige than a question of oil supplies, important though that is. There is a lot of difference between a thing's being of great importance and its being vital.
The only reason why I have intervened in this debate is because I returned in the early hours of yesterday morning from China, after three or four weeks in Communist China, coming out through Hong Kong, where I was able to spend a few days. I can assure your Lordships that in those parts of the world this issue of the Suez Canal is watched not only daily, but hourly, by everybody: not only by the British in the Colony of Hong Kong, but by the Chinese as well. And the Chinese in Red China, with such Press as they have—and it is not much—giving coverage of the story every day, are most interested in it, and I doubt whether the subject of oil is uppermost in their minds.
We have heard to-day and yesterday a number of points put forward by Labour Members of your Lordships' House, one of which was that a Gallup Poll which was held lately seemed to show that a majority of people in this country were opposed to the line which the Government have seen fit to take. I should have thought that the Gallup Poll would have died at the time when Mr. Truman was 816 re-elected as President after a Gallup Poll had given Mr. Dewey a ten-to-one chance at the Election. One would have thought that that would have been the end of Gallup Polls, and I am sorry to see that it was not. A more misleading way of discovering public opinion has never yet been invented. It is a matter of how the question is put, and it can be so put that you can produce an answer of your own selection quite easily—and I should say it probably has in this case.
To turn to the question of "the use of force", this phrase has been used by one speaker after another. What exactly does it mean? At what point do you use force? We have heard about "sabre rattling". That is an expression used much in the Press lately, in another place, and in your Lordships' House. Since when has reasonable strategic deployment been sabre rattling? The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, mentioned this yesterday, and looking round the House at that time I saw no fewer than three ex-First Lords of the Admiralty in your Lordships' House, quite apart from the present First Lord. Since when has the reasonable movement of the Fleet, which has always gone on, so far as I am aware, been considered sabre rattling?
The late Secretary of State for Air has also been in your Lordships' House to-day. As far as I know no movements of squadrons have ever been queried in the Press or by anybody else, or looked upon as menacing or threatening. But the moment the Army moves anybody, the Press are on it at once. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to the "ostentatious movement of troops." What did he mean by "ostentatious"? If the Press like to give it coverage, certainly everybody knows, but it is nobody's fault that the Press should see fit to do this. Ostentatious movement of troops "I thought was a particularly unfortunate expression in that connection. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, also referred to the use of the term" dictator. "He said that it should not be used, and that if you want to do business with a man you should not use a term of opprobrium. I am not convinced that the term "dictator" is a term of opprobrium. If anything, in Portugal President Salazar, who is certainly a dictator, is an exceedingly popular man, and runs his country extremely well. We are not complaining about the power held by this or that 817 leader in a country, but how he exercises it. That is what we are concerned with in this case.
I should like to refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, who spoke from his enormous experience in these matters. The realism which he introduced into his remarks came to me as a refreshing change. One only wishes that Members of your Lordships' House and another place half his age would speak with that amount of realism and force. The noble Lord put the case, which has been argued in your Lordships' House to-day, that the similarity between the position to-day and that of 1936, when Hitler marched into the Rhineland, is not in fact an analogy—historians could possibly find differences —but generally speaking the attitude, the atmosphere engendered by that type of action, is exactly the same. I agree with the noble Lord that the day Hitler marched into the Rhineland he not only impressed the country and the world but his own great General Staff, which is a much more important: matter. Up to then they had been against him. After that, they were for him, because they saw that the bluff worked. It could be that a similar situation is developing to-day in another part of the world.
We have had much talk of the legality of what is going on. The legal experts in your Lordships' House have given their views at great length, and they are interesting to those of us who understand these matters, but less interesting to those who do not. It seems to me that one of the people least interested in the legality or otherwise is Nasser. He has done a certain thing for a certain reason, and it is now for us either to take a firm line or to let him have what he likes. There is little point in playing cricket with somebody who has never heard of cricket. because it is unprofitable—it does not get you anywhere. I do not think Nasser is interested in the legal aspects of this matter.
The last thing I have to say is this. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, in his speech to-day used the words:Labour do riot oppose the Government for any factious or Party reasons.But yesterday evening, as I went into the House of Commons, I heard these words—I wish to quote only a line or two, and as the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, is not here to stop me perhaps 818 your Lordships will allow me to do so. This gentleman said that if the Tory Government can keep the country out of war they have such a good case to put up before the people that a great deal of Labour Party propaganda will be needed to keep the Tories out of office at the next Election. If that is not Party politics, I should like to know what is. Later on the sonic gentleman stated:I will fight the Government on this issue. I will take the fight down to the docks".If that is not a threat, I should like to know what is. But if the gentleman in question or, for that matter, the Labour Party think that considerations of that sort will divert the present Prime Minister from doing what he considers his duty to the British Empire, the Commonwealth and the civilised world, in my view they are mistaken in their man. What I am saying is my own view. I understand that a little later in the debate my noble friend Lord Layton will be speaking briefly and giving the views of the Liberal Party. I have merely made a few points of my own, and I am grateful to your Lordships for listening to me.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, I venture to address your Lordships only because during the war I spent two and a half years in a humble position on the staff of the Admiral commanding the Suez Canal area. By the end of those two and a half years I knew every kilometre of the Canal. I have also been in the closest possible touch with the Suez Canal Company, and have seen the great difficulties under which they worked and their great technical achievements. I think it is right that from this House there should go out a tribute to the Canal Company, a model employer, under whom every Egyptian wanted to work and who were technically efficient and far-slighted. It is only right to pay tribute to the pilots, who are a magnificent body of men and who rendered a wonderful service for the Allied cause in the war. Once I was sent down single-handed to receive a large liner at the time the French gave in, and the liner was manned entirely by French Canal pilots who did a most wonderful job on our side.
I want to look at this problem from the humble point of view of somebody who knows a little about the work of the Canal to see whether this scheme of the Users' Association, so far as it was 819 explained to us by the Lord President yesterday, is a practical one. This Canal is 100 miles long. There are only certain places along it where convoys can pass, where one lot of ships tie up and the others come by. The timing and coordination of these convoys is the most delicate matter in order to get the volume of shipping through. Ships coming through at night have to pick up special searchlight equipment provided by the Canal Company. The traffic control, rather than merely the pilotage, is the key. This depends on the traffic office at Ismailia, which is in touch with signal stations every ten kilometres along the Canal. These signal stations report any untoward incidents; any ship getting across the Canal, which happens fairly frequently, and the right time for ships to move. This traffic control produces the tugs which go along and rectify any mistake that may have arisen. There is also the continuous problem of silt in the Canal, which has to be worked on by dredgers. operating under the Canal Company.
The right comparison of the Canal is not that of a road, but a railway. It is not a road 100 miles long, where you put your own drivers in the cars going through and let them somehow find their way along a difficult route: it is more like a single-track railway, with sidings, with a vast volume of trains which can work only if there is this highly technical co-ordination of traffic control. It seems to me that the idea that ships should arrive with their pet private pilot at Port Said, and expect to go through, is completely impractical unless there is the active co-operation of the guards and the traffic control. The Egyptian Administration has only to withhold, perfectly passively, that cooperation to make this scheme an entirely impractical one. It is exactly as if. when the railways were nationalised in this country, some private users thought they would run a second lot of trains on the G.W.R. There would be nothing but smash-ups and trouble.
This new scheme will not work, therefore, unless either we have the co-operation of Egypt or we are prepared to occupy, take over and run the whole land installations which make the Canal work. I do not see the Egyptian Government giving the visas to do this. If they withheld the co-operation, the only thing to 820 do would be to take the Canal area by force. But we know that you cannot isolate the Canal zone from the rest of Egypt. In the first instance, every drop of water that is drunk on the Canal comes from the Nile by the Sweet Water Canal. Whoever is in control of the Nile could cut off the water supply of the Canal at a moment. If you took over, you would have all the problems of civil government, of internal security and of trying to get the essential Egyptian labour and co-operation to make this work. If the Egyptians merely withheld their labour and their administrative services, the whole thing would break down.
What is the next stage—an advance to Cairo, kicking out the Egyptian Government? I am sure the British Army can do it, but then we are faced with the reestablishment of the Protectorate which was given up in 1920, with the same type of guerrilla resistance that we have seen in Cyprus and which has gone on in French North Africa. Perhaps Colonel Nasser in Damascus would be a far bigger nuisance, as the head of the free Arabs, than he would ever be in Cairo. Some of my friends who are greater experts on the Middle East believe that a policy of force is the only thing which impresses the Arabs. I may be wrong, but I think the people who say that are many years out of date. The French tried it. They used force on the most extensive scale in Morocco and Tunis. And it failed. They have been trying to use it in Algeria, and again it is failing. So I do not think this policy, if carried to its logical conclusion, is at all a practical one.
That is the purely local problem. What of the international implications? The real problem of the world to-day is that there are the democracies on the one side, and Communist Russia and China on the other, with a great uncommitted world, from Siam to North Africa. It is the way the world is going to swing on which the fate of the world will depend. Lord Vansittart's comparison with the 1930's is not entirely valid—for this reason: that, while Germany was a real menace in itself, having the machinery, the iron, the steel and the technology to be a real concrete force, none of these Arab countries is in itself capable of being a real aggressive force. They have 821 not the industry, the iron or the steel. Most of them, especially Egypt, have severe food and population problems. But they have the potential of the oil, seven-eighths of the world's oil reserves, and that is placed in strategic areas on which the aerial communications of the free world depend and which, if that goes over to the other side, really changes the entire strategic position, to our detriment. I think that Arab nationalism and Moslem nationalism is a real thing that cannot be ignored or laughed off. It will not disappear before a display of force. In the years after the war we gave up trying to keep the East on our side by force, and we tried to bring it by persuasion into the Western camp. We shall lose the whole uncommitted world if we arouse Arab nationalism arid Eastern nationalism against us and throw them into the side of the Communists.
I believe that, if we got into a shooting war with Egypt at this stage, we would risk losing a great amount of the uncommitted world. I think that, while this is a false path, we have many other cards in our hands that we can play. Our basic objective, surely, must be to isolate Colonel Nasser and Egypt from the rest of the uncommitted world, not to make their hero. The importance of the Suez Canal has tended to be slightly exaggerated. If there had been an earthquake and the whole thing had caved in a month ago, it would have been a great inconvenience, but it would not have meant the death of this country. I have been in touch with friends in the shipping world and in the petroleum industry, and I gather that by a redeployment of our tankers, using half on the Caribbean route and half round the Cape, the problem is solvable. That was deployed in a paper far from Socialist, the Financial Times. It would certainly cost us less in dollars than a war, with all the dislocation that it would involve.
The Arabs are odd people. There are some very moderate leaders in many of the countries, like Iraq and Jordan and elsewhere, but there is this undercurrent of nationalism among the young which can be turned against us. We must give help to those moderates and not rouse that undercurrent. If we merely divert our shipping to the maximum possible, Colonel Nasser will rapidly be left with 822 a wasting asset. He will have no revenue, no surplus, no talk of a High Dam, no foreign exchange. He will then have his own countrymen turning on him. We had the example of Mossadeq. We applied that strategy to him, and where did he finish? He was put in gaol by his own people. If we divert our shipping away from the Canal, we shall soon find the countries of the East saying to Nasser, "Look what a mess you have landed us in!" All the oil-producing companies of the East would find their revenues, their development plans, going down and getting into a great mess. India would feel at once the difficulties of the extra charges of exporting and importing round the Cape. There would be great pressure from the East on Egypt to come to a proper settlement.
By those non-violent and perfectly legal methods of diverting our shipping and putting on financial pressure, we can get the uncommitted world on our side and against Colonel Nasser. On the other hand, if we follow the logical lines along which this idea of the Users' Association may lead us, we may lose the uncommitted world and we may largely split the Commonwealth. I do not know whether noble Lords read the survey of Australian opinion in the Manchester Guardian yesterday. It quoted the Melbourne Herald as follows:From Australia's point of view the issues involved arc tremendous. The loss of 2i direct route through Suez would be a serious blow to us, but if we were to join in any military action against Arab countries at this stage it seems almost inevitable that the whole of the work that we have put into developing Asian good will will be swept away with ore stroke. That. for Australia. would be far more serious than the loss of Suez. communications.Therefore, let us have the Users' Association, Put let us not attempt to make it an operating body. Let us make it a negotiating body, to negotiate terms as the situation develops; then we shall get world opinion on our side. That, I believe, is the correct way to avoid what I think makes technical nonsense—this idea of the Users' Association appearing with their pilots, trying to go through with no traffic control. It might also well be political disaster.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ LORD COLERAINE
My Lords, my mood this evening is very much what I fancy, if we could see into each other's hearts, is the mood of all of us: the 823 mood that was so well expressed by my noble friend Lord Ballieu and by the most reverend Primate, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. Whatever dangers we stand in—and I believe that the dangers are very great indeed—they have been immeasurably increased by the appearance, at any rate, of disunity which has developed so sadly in the last few weeks. Like my noble friend and the most reverend Primate, I do not believe that this division is very real, and like them I believe that it can be halted, and that it has got to be halted if we are to survive, and indeed if Western civilisation is to survive, this crisis.
It seems to me to be a very odd thing about this debate, as it has developed, not only in this House and in another place but outside Parliament altogether, in the Press. that there should be so great a disposition on the part of those who are doubtful about the wisdom of the Government's policy to claim for themselves an absolute monopoly of enlightenment, of common sense and even of humanity. I am not surprised that noble Lords opposite insist so strongly upon the importance of maintaining the rule of law and asserting the rule of law in an international affair. I am not surprised that they warn us of the danger of accepting the law of the jungle, because if we do the jungle is likely to overwhelm us. I am not surprised that they insist upon the subordination of national sovereignty to an international system. I am not surprised by this, because I feel it all so passionately myself. What does surprise me and, if I may say so, shocks me, is that they are so ready to believe that Her Majesty's Government take a different view. I do not understand how anyone in this House or outside it—the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, if he does—can possibly believe of a Government of which the present Prime Minister is the head that it can be careless of the obligations that are due to an international society. That seems to me to be absolutely inconceivable on the record. Whatever views noble Lords may take of the idiosyncrasies of the Tory Party. of the weaknesses of a Tory Government, I do not see how they can possibly believe that a Government not merely presided over but so clearly led by the present Prime Minister would do anything to 824 weaken the rule of law in international affairs.
Surely one thing has been evident right from the start of this crisis. The whole aim of Government policy has been to substitute an international system for a national system and to subordinate the idea of national sovereignty to the idea of the international law. Sometimes, listening to the debate and reading leading articles in the newspaper, one might suppose that it was Her Majesty's Government which was insisting on the importance of national sovereignty and Colonel Nasser who was denying it. One might suppose, indeed, that it was Colonel Nasser who had summoned the Conference of twenty-two nations and Her Majesty's Government who had refused to attend. I find it difficult to understand the objections which have been voiced in some quarters of the House to the Users' Club. It does not seem to me to be anything like as dangerous as my noble friend Lord Astor suggested it was. It seemed to me that the most reverend Primate was nearer the mark. The Users' Club is surely nothing but another opportunity given to the Egyptian dictator to reach a settlement within the framework of the United Nations. There is no element of provocation in it that I can see. The dictator may brush it aside. It will be unfortunate if he does, but the responsibility for that is not the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government.
There has been a great deal of talk about sabre rattling—my noble friend Lord Windlesham referred to it in the very interesting speech which he made. But before we allow ourselves to become the prisoner of phrases of that kind, is there not one simple question that we might ask ourselves? When the burglar alarm is sounded, who is the criminal? Is it the citizen who sounds the alarm? May it not possibly be the burglar? I would go so far as to say not only that the attitude of Her Majesty's Government and the French Government has been right throughout, but that if they had not in fact adopted that attitude there would be no question to-day of international control of the Suez Canal—once again national sovereignty would have asserted itself over the rule of law, and the resulting resolution of the Assembly of the United Nations (for of course there would have been one by now) would have 825 joined the resolution on Israeli ships in whatever pigeon-hole is reserved for resolutions of that kind in that gorgeous palace on the banks of the East River in New York City.
I have said that the difference between Her Majesty's Government and the Opposition is not as deep as it seems. I believe that to be true, but I also believe that there is a difference. If your Lordships will bear with me I will attempt to define it, because when we do define it I believe it becomes apparent that the difference is not so deep; nothing like as deep as would, for example, justify the kind of leading article that has appeared recently in the Manchester Guardian, leading articles which seem to me to be inspired by no rational calculation but simply by malice and spite against the Prime Minister. I believe there is a difference but I do not believe that it is such a fundamental difference.
I say at once that in my own view and, so far as I am concerned, the difference between noble Lords opposite and myself, as those noble Lords have expressed their view, in fact concerns the United Nations and the function that the United Nations can perform in this crisis. It is not a difference in the sense that noble Lords opposite believe in the United Nations and I disbelieve in it or that noble Lords opposite want to make it work and that I do not want to make it work. For my part, I am absolutely convinced that it is essential to maintain and indeed expand the prestige and authority of the United Nations. But I am convinced of something else, too: that Her Majesty's Government, just as much as noble Lords opposite, believe in the United Nations and hope and seek to make it an effective factor in this crisis. The difference between us, I think, is simply that we on this side, or at any rate I, believe that if too much responsibility is put on the United Nations it will break down, physically and morally, so far as to be incapable.
I do not want to remind the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, of anything from his past that he would prefer to forget, but he and I were once colleagues in the same Administration, he a very senior Minister and I a junior Minister. I do not think the noble Earl will think it offensive of me if I say that together we had a good deal to do with the early 826 days of the United Nations, before the war ended and before the San Francisco Conference. I would imagine that in those days the noble Earl would have shared my view of the possibilities of the United Nations Organisation. That view, roughly speaking, was that the United Nations Organisation was not, and was not designed to be, a unitary, federal world government. It was, on the other hand, a collection of independent foreign States who undertook certain obligations to work together to maintain peace and security in the world. At that time it seemed to me, and I think it must equally have seemed to the noble Earl, that an organisation of that kind could work at 100 per cent. efficiency only if there was broad agreement among the great Powers. If there was no such agreement, if there was serious division among the great Powers, then the United Nations could not be relied upon as a wholly effective substitute for the, until then, prevailing system of international politics.
I may he putting into the mind of the noble Earl. Lord Attlee, ideas which he did not have, but I believe it is fair to say that when he himself was Prime Minister he must have held the view which I have tried to express, because, after all, that was implied in the foundation of N.A.T.O. and everything that N.A.T.O. stood for. As I understand it, the only reason why N.A.T.O. was founded was that the United Nations did not and could not operate at 100 per cent. efficiency in the light of the Russian attitude, and so measures had to he taken, in a sense outside the United Nations but in the real sense within the United Nations, to buttress the structure of world security and world peace.
That seems to me a precise analogy with what has been happening in recent weeks and with what Her Majesty's Government have been seeking to do. Within the framework of the United Nations the Governments of the United Kingdom, France, the United States, and fifteen or sixteen other countries, have sought to create in the Canal area a system of security which would be more effective than a divided United Nations could possibly be. Following from that, it seems obvious to me that there is no real possibility of the United Nations functioning effectively in this crisis except on the condition that Powers like ourselves, the French (I do not share the 827 poor opinion of the French held by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee), the Americans, and countries like us who really believe in the new idea of an international society, are prepared to take responsibility upon themselves. Otherwise I believe the United Nations cannot possibly deal with a crisis of this kind.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge—with much though not all of whose speech I found myself in agreement—who said that we should guarantee to take our share of any measures that might be necessary if the United Nations decided on certain action. I do not believe that that is enough. I do not consider that it is necessary only that we who really believe in an international society—ourselves, the French, the Americans and the remainder of the eighteen nations—should just take a limited commitment to do our share and no more. I believe it is essential for us to realise that this is a responsibility which we must shoulder wholeheartedly if the operation of the United Nations is to be effective. And I am sure of two things. I cannot speak for Her Majesty's Government, but I am sure that they have kept within the framework of the United Nations and that they will continue to do so. I am sure that the line which they have taken so far has been absolutely right.
A lot has been said—I have said some of it myself—about mistakes made before the war. It has been said of those mistakes that had they not been made it would have meant that the war might have been avoided. I do not want to go into the question now of appeasement, Danegeld and so on. But there is one point upon which, if we look back honestly upon what happened, I think we must all agree. Noble Lords opposite would say, no doubt, that the Conservative Government of the day did not take the League of Nations sufficiently seriously. I thought at the time that the Conservative Government did not take it sufficiently seriously and I said so. I would say, looking back, that the reason they did not take it seriously was because they knew that very little reliance could be put upon it. But on one thing I think there can be no dispute, and that is that in the public mind, irrespective of Party, it was felt that the League of Nations was used for the purpose, above all else, of 828 shouldering off disagreeable responsibilities and putting them on to some outside body which would bear all the responsibility and all the disadvantages if any there might be. And it seems to me—as I say, I am not trying to be provocative; I do not want to be provocative—that there is a tendency among some critics of the Government to treat the United Nations in the same way. They say, in effect, "Let's put our burdens upon it, then we shall be free to shorten hours, develop the Welfare State and have a grand old time "—or whatever it may he. If that is what happens to the United Nations, then the United Nations will go the same way as the League, and the United Nations will become as discredited as the League was.
It seems to me that in our thinking on this general problem it is necessary to clear our minds at any rate about one thing. Is this a problem about the Suez Canal? In form, that is what it is: it is a problem about the control of the Suez Canal. But in reality I do not believe that that is the real problem. The real problem is not how to control a canal but how to control a dictator. It seems to me that one of the grave weaknesses of the policy of the Opposition Party, the policy of the Labour Party, was expressed inadvertently by Mr. Gaitskell in another place yesterday afternoon when he said, in effect, that the purpose of referring the problem to the United Nations was really to gain further time for further negotiations. If the problem is a problem of controlling a canal, that makes sense. But if the problem is a problem simply of controlling a dictator then, as Lord Beveridge, I think, indicated in his speech, it is surely nonsense. You cannot negotiate with a dictator of the nature of Colonel Nasser. You can state to him as fairly as possible, as politely as you can, as reasonably as you can, the conditions upon which he will be permitted to enter the international society. But you cannot, in my submission, negotiate with him about that. From the nature of the problem, there are limitations set upon the field of negotiations. But they are not limitations set by Her Majesty's Government or the French Government; they are limitations set by the dictator himself.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
As the noble Lord has again referred to me, may I take the opportunity of referring to what he 829 said about a previous remark of mine concerning taking our fair share in giving force to the United Nations. I most gladly accept his comment as a definite improvement upon what I said. If I had talked with him before I spoke I would have said what he has said.
§ LORD COLERAINE
I am very much obliged to the noble Lord; we must have some more talks in the future.
There was one point in the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, which impressed me very much and which I thought was capable of a different construction from that which he put upon it. It was when he said that if our action against Colonel Nasser was too severe there was a danger of his becoming the hero of the darker-skinned races against the white. That is a danger, but I should have thought that the danger would be enormously intensified if Colonel Nasser were allowed—in the vulgar phrase—to "get away with" what we all, I think, really accept in our hearts to have been a blatant, visible and undisguised act of aggression. If that happens I have little doubt that he will become the hero of the dark-skinned races against the white, and, I think, deservedly so.
My noble friend, Lord Astor, spoke a great deal, and with much force, about the uncommitted nations and how the whole purpose of policy ought to be to get their support. I agree that it is extremely important to get the allegiance of the so-called uncommitted nations. But I am not certain that you will necessarily get that allegiance by running off to them, because I think that if they form the opinion that we are on the run they will keep us on the run. Lord Astor talked about alternative methods of dealing with the Egyptian dictator, and subjecting him, subjecting the whole Arab world, to financial pressure. I am not sure that that would necessarily achieve the desired result. Because politics is not only a matter of financial inducements—life would be much simpler if it were, and I think our American friends have found that out—or of financial disabilities. It is still true, whether you are committed or uncommitted, whatever the colour of your skin may be, that strength ma integrity count for a very great deal.
I have spoken at far greater length than I intended and I apologise to your Lordships. I have only one further comment 830 to make. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said that the Government had embarked on a dangerous course. I agree. The Government have embarked on a dangerous course because the world is in a highly dangerous condition. Whatever we do now, whatever we could have done from July 26 onwards, presented its own particular danger. This is a dangerous position. Any policy by any Government must be a dangerous policy, but there is surely one thing upon which we can all agree and it is this: dangers do not become any less if we run away from them or try to push them aside or lock them in the cupboard; they become greater.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ LORD LAYTON
My Lords, it is late and we have listened to many speeches. There have been remarkable speeches among them, but I think that the lawyers have carried away the palm. Certainly the speeches of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, and of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor yesterday and, to-day, that of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, have unquestionably helped to clarify our minds and to sharpen up the position in which we are placed; and the most reverend Primate made good use of the effect that had been produced by that clarification. Twenty-four hours ago there were many things I was burning to say, but they have been said several times and much better than I could say them. Therefore, I have left my notes on the Bench and rise only to express what noble Lords sitting on these Liberal Benches wish to happen to-night and what we are prepared to do.
The speeches we have heard have served not only to clarify the situation but also to indicate a surprisingly greater degree of unity than might have been supposed from reading the Motion and Amendment on the Order Paper. I am certain that we all feel not only that the problem we are facing to-day is of great importance but also that unity is important. I am not quite sure whether that comes before justice or not. but certainly it is of the greatest importance. The debate has tended to show a certain agreement on certain important points—first, the international character of the Canal anti the extent to which the situation in Egypt is proving international and involves us all in obligation, and secondly, the question of the use of force.
831 I am certain that the reason there has been such an evolution of opinion in two different directions in the last few weeks is the instinctive concern and fear in the public mind of the possibility of what, for shortness, I would call private war. I think that to-day's debate, following the expositions of yesterday, has brought out that that is the common background to our thinking. We are obligated, with certain very limited exceptions, not to resort to war on our own decision. Private war is "out." I am certain that that is the instinct of the people of this country. It is not merely a legal matter. It is not merely that we are pledged not to go to war and, therefore, are in honour bound not to do it, but we believe that, in the nature of things, there is no future except in a world that accepts the rule of law.
It may be thought that we can get away with limited wars, but it is not worth while in this debate, at this time, to argue that question. When we remember how many wars started that were to be over in three months or six months, or were to be limited in this direction or the other, the answer seems to be clear. Since the Great War closed, we have had two localised wars. I looked up the figures this morning, and found that the war in Korea cost 1½ million casualties on the Allied side alone, and that the other "little war" in Indo-China cost 200,000 casualties on the French side—that is without either of them developing into a greater war.
Another impression that this debate has left in my mind is that so little has been said about "lighting matches in the powder magazine" the danger of a world conflagration. It is assumed that we do not risk an atomic war. Can we go on assuming that private wars will remain private wars, and that next day somebody else's private war can be carried on? Can we always assume that? I think that that is the sort of uneasiness that is in the public mind.
On the other hand, we on these Benches feel that at this grave moment it is most undesirable that we should show all the signs of a Party wrangle. We wish that there should be a united front on a common policy, which is so near; yet we do not find in either the Motion or the Amendment something that expresses our desires and on which we can vote unitedly. Many of us have much 832 sympathy with the Labour Amendment when itcalls upon Her Majesty's Government to refer the dispute immediately to the United Nations and to declare that they will not use force except in conformity with our obligation under the Charter of the United Nations.But in the light of this debate, it seems strong language to speak ofthe refusal of Her Majesty's Government to invoke the authority of the United Nations …It is true that there has not been a reference to the United Nations so far, but the words may be used to imply a censure of the Government because it is not the intention to refer this to the United Nations and there is some other plan that is going to side-step the United Nations.
We can interpret this debate as our own minds dictate, but certainly the speech of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor showed that he, at all events, in the Government, most profoundly desires—and nobody questions his sincerity in the slightest—to move certainly and sure-footedly to the United Nations, in the profound conviction that private war, in the sense that I have used the words, is "out." In the light of the statement that he made, from his position, some of us are prevented from accepting the words of the Labour Amendment as it stands.
On the other hand, we cannot vote for the Government's Motion as it stands, and in particular because of the phrase which refers tosupport for the statement of policy made by Her Majesty's Government to this House on September 12.The most reverend Primate, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, has already referred to this matter. The motion implies support for the statement made by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House thirty hours ago. Rightly or wrongly, we believe that that statement leaves a gap for private war that is much more widely open than we feel, and I think the country also feels, is in the interests of the nation. We cannot leave it as that. But, as I have said, we very much desire to avoid the appearance of a split, and in saying that I am only repeating in other words what has already been said from the Bench opposite. If the Government Motion stands as at present we shall abstain. On the other hand, if the Government speaker, in the final speech made from the Government Front 833 Bench, can give an interpretation of Government policy, and can assure us that they will refer the dispute to the United Nations under Clause 37, and will not use force except in accord with oar international obligations, then we shall he glad to vote for the Government.
§ 8.54 p.m.
My Lords, it is the first quality of a speaker to enjoy his own speech but I cannot pretend that I rise with any special pleasure tonight to speak, from a strong sense of duty, on what, as it stands, amounts to a vote of censure on the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government in a most grave matter. We have listened, as one would expect, to a number of distinguished speakers. From our own Front Bench and from other Benches the House has been addressed this afternoon by an ex-Prime Minister, an ex-Lord Chancellor, and the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, with a long and, in his own way, unique experience of Egypt. And yesterday the main case, from the point of view of the Labour Party, was unfolded with special authority by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. In the circumstances I know that other speakers will not expect me to reply in a systematic or detailed way to the many important points that have been made.
We have, I am bound to say, listened, among those speeches, to two which will, I suppose, arouse special attention for a long time to come. I suppose that we all cherish in our own minds certain speeches as the great speeches of our time. Some of us think of the speech of the late Lord Keynes on the American Loan. But it' a greater speech has been made in the experience of Members of your Lordships' House than that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, it has not been during my ten years' membership of this House. I know that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has won many triumphs in this House, but he will not mind my saying that for once his main argument was completely defeated. The ease that he relied upon, obviously after great consideration, was the legal point of view; he relied on the argument that we must stand by law. The noble Marquess appealed to Caesar, and the highest international lawyer in this House, and I daresay in the world, the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, repudiated the main line of his argument.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I still maintain my argument, in spite of what, if I may say so respectfully, the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, said. What he said was that we were bound by certain obligations into which we had entered, which, as I understood him to say, we could not evade. But the effect of his argument was that there were circumstances in which, under International Law nowadays, nobody could deal with somebody who offended against the law, and there was no recourse which could be had. If that is true, then I feel that nations who feel a duty to uphold International Law must have the right to presume their own freedom of action
The noble Marquess hat omitted the question of whether the remedies have been exhausted or not. I do not want to repeat the whole speech of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, who supported the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, on the question of law, but it was argued strongly by Lord Jowitt that the noble Marquess, in the course of his speech—and my noble and learned friend quoted passages—was reserving the right to take action which, according to the highest opinion of any international lawyer in this House would be contrary to International Law. I must be allowed, at any rate. to offer the opinion that the argument of the noble Marquess for once was destroyed by the argument of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair.
We find a sharp division of opinion. I think it is not too much to say that the country is split wide open. At times this morning, talks in two great Parties ranged solidly and bitterly against each other. I do not think one can question the fact. do not agree with noble Lords who said that the gap is perhaps not as wide as it appeared—it may or may not be, and I do not offer an opinion on that—but, on the views that have been expressed so far from the other side, however they may be modified later, one is bound to take note of this great divergence. I share the opinion of those—the most reverend Primate, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury among them—who regard this as a tragic situation, from which no-one can get any kind of pleasure, that our great country should at this moment 835 be so deeply divided on the highest level. I do not find it altogether surprising.
The noble Lord, Lord Hore-Belisha, delighted us all. Apart from the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, he was one of the few speakers who produced any laughs, and I think that in two days' prolonged speaking we must be grateful for that. If I sometimes make a joke, I am accused of smelling of the Oxford Union. The noble Lord, Lord Hore-Belisha, was one of the most distinguished Presidents of the Oxford Union, and I thought his speech in the highest tradition of the Union manner. I think the bust of Lord Curzon at the Union would have smiled down on him had he been speaking there. But I am bound to say that the noble Lord, in what he quoted from speeches here and in another place, was even more selective than we usually are.
He talked as if there had been general agreement in this House when we discussed this matter at the beginning of August. Without going back over that ground, I must refute the idea that there was this agreement, though I note that noble Lords opposite were ready—as I thought over-ready—to find it. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, for unselfish reasons, has had to withdraw, but I have given him notice that I should quote him, merely because I think he represented the point of view of the elevated Back Benches opposite. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT. Vol. 199 col. 610]:What we are saying is that the Government should be firm.…We are all agreed that that is our desire. It is an easy thing to say, but no one has a right to make such a request of the Government unless he is prepared to back the Government if they are driven to the use of force.…Having said that, I do ask the Government to be firm, it possible in concert with the United States of America. But if the United States of America will not come with us, I trust that we shall not allow ourselves to be deflected from our right policy.If I recollect rightly, that statement, or his speech in general, was loudly applauded. In other words, he was prepared to go to war (because I agree with the most reverend Primate in saying that these words should not be covered up) even without the United States. That, clearly, would not be any kind of United Nations war. That statement was loudly applauded.
836 The noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, informed us in the same debate that he doubted whether he had ever listened to a debate in which there was a greater unanimity of opinion. There was a general feeling among noble Lords opposite that the whole House was solidly behind this "tough" policy, as illustrated by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. I ventured to intervene to say that I could not go along with them at the kind of pace they were going. When the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, spoke (and this I feel the noble Lord, Lord Hore-Belisha, might have referred to), he used these words (column 617):If we allowed this to be a purely British move, or even an Anglo-Franco-American move, we should lay ourselves open to the charge of carrying on what is regarded as an old Imperialist tradition.…So a very clear warning was issued by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, the ex-Prime Minister in that debate.
Column 617 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for August 2. I am only saying that to refute any suggestion that the line of our Party has changed, either here or in another place, since that debate.
§ LORD HORE-BELISHA
The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, is one of the fairest, as well as one of the most skilful and kindly of debaters. He said that I had been selective. I should be very ashamed if I had misrepresented any speaker. I read with extreme care the speech of the noble Lord. Lord Silkin, and likewise that of the right honourable gentleman, the Leader of the Socialist Party in another place. I do not think I selected anything that was unfair. I took textually everything that they had said, and it was, surely, a complete approval of the Government's policy. There may have been small points of difference here or there, but the intention of the speakers, surely, was to approve the policy of the Government as announced, of establishing an international control of the Canal and of having a general conference, every item of which has been carried out by the Government. I do not think I selected anything. I did not intend to select anything unfairly.
Of course, the noble Lord would never intend to be unfair, but we have all got to select: we can take only a few sentences in any case. But it was my duty, in view of this eloquent argument by the noble Lord, to make it plain, by one quotation among many, that no change has, in fact, occurred.
But that is not the main issue we are concerned with this evening. I thought it right to say that in view of the criticism on the other side. The last thing I wish to do is to exaggerate differences; I would far rather underestimate differences than exaggerate them. We can agree. I think, after hearing the noble Lord, Lord McNair, the noble and learned 'Viscount the Lord Chancellor, and other speakers, that it is fairly clear that Nasser has acted in an illegal fashion. I think we can satisfy ourselves on that point. It was not so clear a month ago. The lawyers obviously had to look into it fairly carefully, but I think we can now, at any rate, avoid further controversy round that particular issue. Speaking for myself and, I think, perhaps many of my colleagues, I would agree with the noble and learned Earl. Lord Jowitt, in paying a tribute to the work done at the London Conference. We cannot evaluate all the details of that scheme, but I have no criticism on the Resolution and I think one must agree that it was a considerable diplomatic end. Where one is criticising, I think it is only fair to give credit where credit is due.
It is when we come to the method by which it is sought to induce Egypt to accept these arrangements, and the attitude to any alternative situation that would arise if Egypt did not accept them, that a sharp difference occurs. There are four points of difference stated in the Opposition Amendment. I need not run through them seriatim—we can take them as read. But I will touch on one or two points, merely to repeat what has been said already, without claiming that these in themselves would afford material for a vote of censure, which is a very grave step when our country is facing a large emergency.
I am not going to deal to-night—it has been dealt with thoroughly already—with the Users' Association. The proposal does not attract me. I am rather sorry 838 that we were not given more time (I suppose there was not much time available) to study it before the debate. It seems to: is to be provocative, rather than helpful, but as The Times says, the proposal is not clear yet. I do not know whether it will be clear at the end of the debate. I think we all share a disquiet, on legal and other grounds, about the scale of the massing of the forces. I am not going to be involved in a controversy over that. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, is very expert in that field and he argues that the forces were I the minimum required. As I am not in possession of any inside information, I should not like to challenge that information. but I am bound to notice that the noble Lord, Lord McNair, considered that if you are trying to negotiate with a man, to put a pistol as close to his head as that, even to protect yourself, in case he hits you, is regarded by all international lawyers as a highly dangerous step.
It may be argued, too, that the matter should have been taken to the United Nations more promptly, and I have that feeling also. But that again could he rectified, and I am bound to say that, speaking as one person, I had thought, when I approached this debate, that we should be told the Government were taking it to the United Nations at once. I think most of us expected an announcement of that sort. But the failure—I must call it the serious delinquency—of the Government is, in my view, a twofold failure, and one which entirely justifies the step we arc taking. There is the failure to say definitely that they will take the matter to the United Nations—I say all this, of course, subject to the possibility that the noble Marquess. Lord Reading, will be able to help us on this side and in other parts of the House where there are grave anxieties. I said there were two memorable speeches. There was also a memorable speech by the most reverend Primate. It may be hat his suggestion, or those of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, will evoke from the noble Marquess a statement which will relieve anxiety on some of these points.
But I am afraid it is my duty, as I have not been given any information as to anything the noble Marquess will say, to ask if he will not be in a position to modify seriously what was suggested by the noble 839 Marquess who leads the House. Secondly, there is this failure to declare that the Government will not use force, except in conformity with our obligations under the Charter of the United Nations. I think we gained a fairly good impression yesterday of the attitude of the Government. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, quoted passages in the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, which aroused in me, and, I think, in others, the greatest disquiet—I need not quote them again. But after the intervention of the noble Marquess, I think it right to interpret the announcement of the Government with regard to the use of force in this way.
As we understand it, the Government consider that Colonel Nasser must be compelled to accept an international system; if possible he should be persuaded to do that without the use of force, but that the Government must reserve the right to use military force, even without recourse to the United Nations, if necessary alone or in company with the French. If I am misinterpreting the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, I am sure the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, will put me right, but that is how we understand it: that they reserve the right to do something which, in our view, is flagrantly illegal. As that is the position, I am afraid we cannot possibly have any lot or part in the policy of the Government until it is at any rate re-defined.
Most of us are not lawyers. I do not know whether the House feels that we are mistaken in taking the findings of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, as sufficient guidance. I should think very few people would wish to question his authority, although eminent lawyers sometimes differ. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, supported him, and as regards the most powerful and deeply felt speech of the Lord Chancellor, I should have ventured to say, with great respect, that that particular point was evaded by the Lord Chancellor. I do not think that he offered an opinion on the particular point I am discussing, as to whether one is entitled to use unilateral or bilateral force, even when one is attacked, without recourse to the United Nations. I am not aware that the Lord Chancellor gave any ruling on that point. Therefore, we must take it that the legal opinion is as stated by the noble and learned Lord. Lord 840 McNair. I am told that in another place an eminent lawyer in the Conservative Party has given some opinion to the same effect, but I should not like to speak with much competence as to that.
That being so, we consider that the Government are reserving a right to do something which is contrary to international law. if the noble Marquess can relieve our anxieties, well and good, but I am bound to tell him that what I call the two-fold failure of the Government seems all of one piece. There is the failure, as it seems to me, to recognise the modern view of international law, which undoubtedly, it seems to me, restricts our freedom of action since the emergence of these international institutions; and, coupled with that, there is this sluggishness—the noble Lord, Lord Layton, does not like the word "refusal the word we have used—this "reluctance" or "sluggishness", at any rate, up to the present to go to the United Nations. If I am asked why the noble Lords opposite should be ready to interpret the law in this way or, at any rate, to set aside the interpretation of the law as given by the most authoritative lawyers, and why they are so reluctant to go to the United Nations, I am afraid I am bound to say something which will cause a little offence opposite.
We on this side do not consider that noble Lords opposite believe in the United Nations in the same sense as we do. The noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, said that he and his political friends believed in it as much as we do. They believe in it, but they refuse to operate it or use it to the same extent and as readily as we should. Therefore, whatever they may feel about the possibilities of the United Nations in the year 2000 A.D., in the year 1956 they have not the same belief in its possibilities as is possessed on these Benches. Talking privately—for we all have friends in other Parties, and not only for the last few days but for the last few years—I think that they sometimes discount our belief in the United Nations. They doubt if we are serious. I must assure them that we are. I am speaking now not as one unimportant person but as representing, for the moment, the millions who take our view of things, not only those in the Labour Party but also many distinguished international experts, members of the Liberal Party and, no doubt, 841 some Conservatives. There is this tremendous difference: that the Conservative Party on the whole regard the United Nations as a visionary idea, something to be worked for. They regard it as a visionary idea but as something which cannot come to our assistance to help to save peace at this juncture; while we believe it is the main hope of the world.
§ LORD COLERAINE
Would the noble Lord allow me to ask him this question? Does he believe that the United Nations, in the light of the policy of the Soviet Union in the last ten years, can be 100 per cent. efficient for these purposes? Can it really be the institution which it was designed to be at the end of the war?
If I am asked if any institution is 100 per cent. efficient, the answer is, clearly, No. The noble Lord will forgive me for saying it, but that does not seem to be the most difficult of questions to answer.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am the only person in the House who actually signed the Charter and I do not accept what the noble Lord says. I believe in the United Nations. I think you muss look at it realistically.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, whose posture at this moment is just that in which we wish to see the keeper of the Navy and whom I congratulate on an elevation which was long overdue, which reflects the greatest credit on those who appointed him, says "Hear, Hear!" to these observations of the noble Marquess. I am afraid that this personal appeal does not weigh with me as much as it should. The noble Marquess says. "I signed it". The noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, says, "Surely noble Lords on the Labour side must agree that any Government presided over by Sir Anthony Eden will not fail in its obligations." I admire the noble Marquess and I have a considerable regard, though I do not know him very well, for the Prime Minister. But I am rot talking in terms of personalities; I am judging by results, and at this juncture the Conservative leaders have not given clear evidence that they believe in the United Nations. That is our opinion. 842 It is there that the noble Lord has failed to convince us that this belief is genuine.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I must say this to the noble Lord. I think the most reverend Primate was much fairer to the Government than the noble Lord is. There, is nothing that the Government have done up to now that has not been in strict conformity with the Charter. We acted throughout as we were directed to act under Article 33. The noble Lord is perfectly entitled to say that the last proposal which has been put before us, the proposal which was announced yesterday, was not what he would have put forward; but it is put forward under Article 33. The noble Lord is not entitled to say that there is anything that we have done yet which is not in full conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Will the noble Lord tell me what we have done which is riot in conformity with the Charter?
The noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, expressed anxiety yesterday about the massing of troops. I wondered whether that was in conformity. If the noble and learned Lord expresses anxiety, I am at least entitled to say that anxiety can legitimately he felt.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I have asked the noble Lord a definite question. What have we done which is not in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations?
If the noble Marquess wants a straight answer, he can have it. He has failed to take this matter to the United Nations when it was his clear duty to take it there.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
But is there anything in the Charter of the United Nations which says that a member of the United Nations may not use Article 33 before it proceeds to other measures?
The noble Marquess reserves the right to break internatioral law. That is what he has done, 843 if he wants it. The noble Marquess reserves the right to break international law. He said it in his speech yesterday.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Lord has evaded the question. In his earlier remarks he said that the Government had not acted in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations. That is not true.
I am in the recollection of the House, but the noble Marquess will not find that I said that. I was saying it was an opinion that could be held, but I did not say, to the best of my recollection, that the Government had acted against the rules of the United Nations. I have in mind what I said. I never said—
Let me answer. The House is always out to be fair. I am accused by the noble Marquess, who has not withdrawn the accusation. I had hoped that in view of his large majority he would feel it safe to withdraw the accusation—but he has not done so—that I made a statement which I have not made. I am quite ready to allow him to remain in his position.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, may I intervene to say that a great number of us here care for nothing but the restoration of unity between the two Parties upon this matter, and it cuts me to the heart to have a dispute going on like this about whether or no the Government believe in the United Nations. We can only trust to action, and it is wrong to get a dispute on the motives and beliefs that are behind this action.
The noble Marquess will agree that he has interrupted me at least half a dozen times, and I cannot feel that I have caused any stirring up of feeling in regard to whether the noble Marquess has said that the Government believe in the United Nations. I can only say that if one is repeatedly interrupted by a great Leader it is impossible for one to carry on. I shall, I am afraid, adhere to my very simple statement, although noble Lords may not believe it, that there can be a genuine 844 difference in this—a deeply felt difference. I am afraid that it is because there is this difference that we are pressing this matter tonight.
§ LORD HORE-BELISHA
Could the noble Lord tell us, at what stage the Government have diverged from the course of action which he would have recommended? When did they fail to show respect to the United Nations—at what stage?
They diverged from it yesterday, in referring to their right to break international law. If that is not plain enough, I do not know what is.
It is a breaking of international law, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord McNair, yesterday.
Some noble Lords may regard it as nonsense, but I was asked a question and I have given an answer.
My Lords, we have those deep convictions, and I return to the point at which I would gladly have remained, with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop. If the noble Marquess, even at this late hour, is able to relieve anxiety, if he can say that all that I have told the House to-night is a complete misunderstanding of their position, if he can say that the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, misunderstood the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury yesterday, he will not find us stiffnecked or fanatical; he will not find us desiring to divide the House. We have not had a Division on foreign affairs in this House since the war, except on one occasion when we were dealing with the Bonn Treaties, and on that occasion I diverged from my Party. So the noble Marquess can believe me when I say that I regard bi-partisanship in foreign policy as an ideal for which much must be sacrificed. But one cannot sacrifice principles. We may be mistaken. It may be that the noble Marquess can prove that we are mistaken. But if he cannot do so, reluctantly, without any pleasure and heavy heartedly, we shall go into the Division Lobby, because we believe every Member of this House has only one thing more precious than his life, and that is his 845 conscience. If we do divide the House to-night, I hope that the vast majority who will no doubt vote us down will realise that the conscience is at least as strong on our side as it is on theirs.
§ 9.24 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, at, the end of a very lengthy debate I confess that I regret the speech which the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, has just made. To challenge other people's convictions, to compare your own with other people's consciences, particularly after the speech which the most reverend Primate made at an earlier stage of this debate, does not seem to me to be very helpful in regard to producing a conclusion.
I do not wart to interrupt the noble Marquess because I feel that, on the whole, interruption has been carried far enough. But I certainly did not suggest that our consciences were more sensitive than those of noble Lords opposite; I said they were at least as acute. If that is to be called a comparison between consciences, suggesting that ours are more refined than those of noble Lords opposite, although the noble Marquess is trying to pick a quarrel he will not succeed in finding an opposite number.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
The noble Lord in his speech referred to my noble friend Lord De La Warr as an elevated Back-Bencher." I am not at all sure that I do not prefer an elevated Back-Beecher to a depressed Front-Bendier. But may I come to the more relevant parts of the noble Lord's speech, in which he said, I think with hope, that much of this debate had been taken up with two questions?
The first question, as he put it, was the failure of the Government to say definitely that they would take this matter to the United Nations; and secondly, the failure of the Government to declare that they would not use force except under the authority of the United Nations. Both these matters have been dealt with at some length from the time when my noble Leader opened this debate, and I do not propose to elucidate the already lucid. But perhaps I might just add these further words in relation to both those topics. As I am replying on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, they represent, of course, the views of 846 Her Majesty's Government on these two points. As my noble Leader has just said, in the course of certain discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, in our view throughout this matter we have been acting in strict conformity with United Nations procedure. For the past seven weeks we have been following the course enjoined by Article 33 of the Charter, to seek, first of all, a solution by negotiation, inquiry, mediation or conciliation. These efforts have not yet succeeded; but, equally, they have not yet been completed. We have now taken the further step, jointly with the French Government, of informing the President of the Security Council of the situation which has arisen. I his action was taken in conformity with Article 35 of the Charter, and it enables us to act rapidly in any submission to the Security Council.
The real difference between us is, I think, not so much one of substance on this issue as one of timing. Noble Lords opposite have asked that the question should he submitted to the Security Council immediately. But I would remind the House that we are not handling this problem purely by ourselves— we arc dealing with it in consultation with the United States, with France and with a number of other countries; and it is, I believe, in accordance with the wish of all Parties in this House that we should proceed in harmony and in concert with these like-minded nations. We must therefore, as a Government, ask the House to allow the Government to judge, in the light of their continuing consultations with the other Governments concerned, what is the best moment at which it may become advisable to have recourse to the Security Council. Our letter to the President of the Council which was announced yesterday is surely sufficient indication of our intention.
§ LORD SILKIN
Before the noble Marquess leaves that point, can he go just a little further and say that we will go to the Security Council at the right time—that is, obviously, before going to war?
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, what I have said I must adhere to: that in the light of continuing consultations with other Governments concerned, Her Majesty's Government must 847 choose what is the best moment at which it may become advisable to have recourse to the Security Council.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, may I intervene for a moment, for I think this is so deplorable. I saw the point of the noble Marquess on what is the right moment and he must be the judge of that, in connection with his Allies; but could he not say definitely, here and now, that the Government will not resort to war unless and until they have gone to the Security Council?
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, that is the other point to which I was just coming. The second point raised in this debate, and again presented to the House by the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, was one which has been asked by a number of speakers. Substantially it may be put in this form: would Her Majesty's Government give a pledge not to use force except after reference to the Security Council? That is the point which the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, has just made. Frankly, if such a pledge or guarantee is to be absolute, then no British Minister could give it from this Box. I think the most reverend Primate answered that when he said he assumed that Her Majesty's Government wished to he protected against all eventualities—I believe that that was the phrase he used.
No one can tell what the actions of Colonel Nasser will be, either in the Canal or in other parts of Egypt. The duty of protecting British lives and fulfilling British obligations is certainly one which every British Government must retain. I would, nevertheless, give this reply: that it would certainly be our intention, if circumstances allowed—in other words, except in an emergency—to refer such a matter to the Security Council. But I repeat that Her Majesty's Government must be the judges of those circumstances. That is a duty which the Executive cannot share, either with Parliament or with any other body; and I should hope that Parliament itself would feel that that was the only sound doctrine.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTER-BURY
My Lords, may I ask the noble Marquess to read again those precise words.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, I believe the words which the most reverend Primate wants are these: It would certainly be our intention if circumstances allowed—in other words, except in an emergency—to refer such a matter to the Security Council.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, may I ask the noble Marquess whether he can be more precise about the meaning of the word "emergency"? Does he mean that as the equivalent of self-defence, as defined in the Charter of the United Nations?
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, I should have thought that the definition of an emergency was a matter which neither the noble Earl nor nor probably any other. Could, for this purpose, define. Having pledged themselves to that, the Executive must decide whether in a particular case an emergency had arisen. I certainly could not possibly attempt to define within the narrow limits of a few words what an "emergency." in that context, meant.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords. would the noble Marquess allow me to ask him a question which is deliberately intended to help him and not to put him into difficulties? When I was speaking on the use of force, all I urged was that we should undertake not to use war for the purpose of getting control of the Suez Canal. Would the noble Marquess see any difficulty in assenting to that?
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, I must leave it to the noble Lord to apply to any individual case the words which I have used in general: to refer such a matter to the Security Council if circumstances allowed—in other words, except in an emergency. That seems to me to be quite a wide and generous interpretation of our intentions, and I should have thought it would give satisfaction to most noble Lords opposite, as I trust it may to the most reverend Primate who took so active and valuable a part at an early stage in discouraging the extension of any gap between the two Parties.
Passing from those two main questions, may I deal, very briefly, with one or two others? The main burden of the debate has fallen upon the two points with which I have already dealt, and in which I have endeavoured to give your Lordships the view of Her Majesty's Government. In 849 the course of this debate a good deal has been said about provocation. I do not want to go into that in any detail, except to say that I believe we have given remarkably little provocation and received an exceedingly great amount; and that, all things considered, we have been extremely reticent, patient and restrained in our dealings with these matters.
There is one particular aspect with which I want to deal—the question of the pilots. There is a suggestion that we have taken some provocative action in causing the pilots to withdraw in order to put the Canal out of action, and thereby confront Colonel Nasser with an insoluble difficulty. That charge is utterly unjustified. We did not encourage the resignation of the pilots. We certainly strongly represented to the Suez Canal Company that no action should be taken by them with their employees which would in any way imperil either the London Conference or the subsequent Menzies Mission. Surely in the interests of everyone we were right in doing that. The Company interpreted that general appeal by telling their pilots that they should remain in their positions until the time came when either success or failure had definitely followed upon the Menzies Mission and the situation would be crystallised one way or the other. At the instigation of the Company the pilots overcame their not unnatural reluctance to stay on, and complied with that request, though I do not doubt that, left to their own volition, most of them would long since have departed.
On the other hand, it would not have been fair to suggest that prolonged pressure should be exercised upon them. With the unhappy failure of the Menzies Mission the Company concluded that the moment had come, not when we should urge them to go—for that we have never done—but when it should be left to them to decide freely, on their own behalf, whether they remained or resigned. Her Majesty's Government felt justified in assenting to that view. As I said earlier this afternoon, in another context, these men are free agents. The Egyptian Government, even if they purport to nationalise the Canal, have. I hope, no power to nationalise men.
It was said that our attitude towards Colonel Nasser had been based hitherto only upon apprehensions which might never be realised. Well, the reprint in 850 The Times of yesterday of the speech which Colonel Nasser made on July 26 gives in fairly concentrated form ground for a certain number of apprehensions, and the kind of propaganda which has emanated over the past months from Cairo—the Egyptian broadcasts, the "Voice of the Arabs "—has certainly done nothing to minimise those apprehensions. Certainly, the pilots' apprehensions must have been real enough, for they have had hanging over their heads ever since July 26 the threat of imprisonment if they failed to continue to work for this new Egyptian Canal Authority, with whom they had never had any contract of service of any kind and to whom they owed no allegiance of any sort. Surely that kind of measure is only too good a cause for apprehension.
Nor is it, after all, only we timid people in this country or in this Government who have had apprehensions. There were sufficient apprehensions to bring to this country representatives of twenty-one other countries from all over the globe in order to concert a policy for dealing with the situation, the dangerous situation, which in the view of practically all of them had been created in Egypt. One of the strangest arguments and one of the most ingenuous that keeps on confronting me when people talk about this is that which says: "Oh, but Colonel Nasser has kept the Canal open all this time". Surely nobody in his senses would have expected even Colonel Nasser to close the Canal during this crucial time when the whole discussion was going on about what the future of the Canal was to be. It was obviously entirely to Colonel Nasser's advantage to prove himself to the world for that limited period a monument of competence and reasonableness. And if he has not entirely succeeded he has at least made what was no doubt a very prudent effort.
We have been asked why we did not negotiate with Colonel Nasser on the basis of offers he has made. Is not the more pertinent question: Why did he not offer to negotiate with us before he took this drastic action over the Canal? Why did he not attend the London Conference to discuss the position with the others present there? Why did he not suggest to Mr. Menzies and his colleagues when they were there that he had these other ideas, which he preferred to make known 851 a day or two later by circulating them to all and sundry who would read them? There is much more that could be said on this matter, but a great deal of time, thought and attention has already been given, and I want to cut down anything I may have desired to say to a minimum. I hope, from that point of view, that noble Lords who have raised issues during this two-days' debate and have not had an answer will forgive me if I do not select their particular queries for individual attention at this stage of the debate.
I want to say just this one thing more. There have been questions raised about this Users' Association, and I think it was perhaps a pity that in both Houses those who made the first speeches for the Opposition leapt into the breach armed to the teeth with the word "provocative", though that word is beginning to get a little dulled by frequent use. The point of the organisation of the Users' Association was this: that Colonel Nasser, by his action, his unilateral action, had destroyed the international character of the operation of the Canal, and there must, therefore, be some sort of organisation of users to take the place of what had been destroyed.
The pilots, to whom I have already referred, were not willing to work for the Egyptian Board. Therefore there was the risk of the traffic through the Canal breaking down. It was right, therefore, to make the effort to set up some organisation which would be able to retain their services, keep them at work and keep their experience at the disposal of owners of ships passing through the Canal. And although dues were to be paid to the organisation the intention certainly is that Egypt should receive proper payment for the facilities made available. There are difficulties—I do not pretend that there are not. But the scheme is in an early stage. It is intended to be informal in character. It is intended to be provisional in duration until something more substantial and permanent can be set up. But it is an ingenious attempt, I believe, to bridge the gap and to continue the Canal in efficient work during an interval until a more permanent scheme has been produced.
I have dealt with the view of Her Majesty's Government towards the two 852 main points and some of the other minor points. Whatever view we may take about the question of the United Nations, about the question of consulting the Security Council before any warlike step is ultimately arrived at, I think all your Lordships will agree, in this context, upon one thing: that in this vital issue of the Canal we all, and all those who share both our anxieties and our responsibilities in regard to it, must spare no effort to avoid either stalemate or stranglehold.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ EARL ATTLEE
My Lords, I had hoped that we might have had a statement from the Government which would be sufficiently satisfactory to enable us to withdraw our Amendment. But in both Houses of Parliament statements were made which were understood by all to mean that the Government left it open for the use of force in order to get what they considered necessary—they called it "the upholding of international law"—without first going to the United Nations. I had hoped that we might have had something perfectly clear and distinct on that matter. We have not had it. Therefore, if the Government nut their Motion to the House we shall have to press our Amendment and vote on it.
§ 9.48 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTER-BURY
My Lords, the noble Marquess expressed the hope that I should be satisfied by what he said. Might I be allowed to say just a word relating to my own vote, in the same way that Lord Layton referred to that of the Liberal Party? I am extremely grateful for the obvious trouble which has been taken to try to make some further statement by the Goyment which would allay some of 'our anxiety. I could not possibly vote for the vote of censure. It is frankly, to my mind, ungenerous, in view of the fact that the Government have shown the greatest possible care and restraint and. so far as their actions go, have been well within the terms of the Charter. I want to vote for the Government, if possible, but I find that as the Resolution stands at this moment I cannot, because the last part endorses the statement of policy made yesterday—that is to say, it endorses just those very words that have been causing the acutest possible anxiety.
853 Is it possible to add to the Government Motion, after the words "September 12" the words "September 13", which would cover the statement of the noble Marquess. Lord Reading, tonight? I understand the extreme difficulties in getting any modification of a Government statement of policy at short notice, especially when other Governments are involved. I believe that the Government have honestly gone as far as, at short notice, They find it possible to go, though it does not go far enough to satisfy the Opposition. I am sorry to say. It does, however, go far enough to enable me to take the rest on trust, for I believe that what the noble Marquess has said means that, save for emergencies—and no one can doubt that they may arise—the Government will use only pacific means, and if they begin to fail will go without doubt to the Security Council. In that trust and belief I shall vote for the Government, if the words "September 13" can be added to cover this extra statement.
§ LORD SALTER
My Lords, may I associate myself with what the most reverend Primate has said? I made a similar point in my speech earlier, and I am sure that it would greatly help people who think as I do if that small addition to the Motion could be made. May I add the fact that of course the Charter of the United Nations itself contemplates action in emergency without prior reference to the Security Council?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I. should like to say immediately that we shall be very happy to accept the Amendment to the Motion proposed by the most reverend Primate. The statement which I made yesterday was intended to cover the position, and if it had shortcomings, I am sorry. But I hope that the elucidation which has now been provided by my noble friend Lord Reading has put the matter in a clearer perspective for many noble Lords who were still in doubt. If that is so, then the Government will be happy to accept the proposed Amendment of the most reverend Primate so that the two Government statements can be read together.
My Lords, my noble friends on these Benches feel the same slight disappointment as the most reverend Primate that the Government 854 were not able to go further, but the ingenious suggestion of the most reverend Primate, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Salter, does, I think, make it possible for us, in spite of our disappointment, to follow the Government. particularly with the idea of showing some unity and of supporting them as far as we can, though I hope that very soon they will be able to give us more. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has convinced me that he has certainly filled that lacuna, that gap that we felt existed yesterday after the first speech of the noble Marquess who leads the House.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, since we are all out of order, perhaps I may say a word. I hoped that it would have been possible to part this evening without a Division. One simple way of achieving that is for the Government to withdraw their Motion, and I see no inherent difficulty in their doing so. With the great part of it we are in. agreement. My own difficulty, and the difficulty of some of my friends, is in affirming our support for the statement of policy made yesterday. If the most reverend Primate were to move an Amendment substituting "September 13" for "September 12," that might be a different matter: but it is the statement of policy made yesterday which worries us. Since we want unanimity, is there really any need to have a Resolution of this kind passed at all? As I say, with the great part we are in complete agreement, and the speeches that have been made on all sides of the House would indicate that we arc in agreement. Cannot we leave it at that?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I suppose we are all out of order, but this House has very broad rules of order. I should very much have liked to meet the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, but it seems to me difficult to go beyond what we have done. He is worried, and it is clear from the Amendment that the Opposition are worried, about certain things. The Amendment:deplores the refusal of Her Majesty's Government to invoke the authority of the United Nations in the dispute.…I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, would agree that the statement that my noble friend Lord Reading has made to-night goes far to remove his anxiety in that matter. There can be no 855 doubt what the implications of that statement were—at least, I should have thought, to any thinking man.
Then the Amendment:calls upon Her Majesty's Government to refer the dispute immediately to the United Nations and to declare that they will not use force except in conformity with our obligation under the Charter of the United Nations.…My noble friend said, quite rightly, that no Government could give an absolute guarantee, and I do not believe, though I am open to correction by the noble Earl. Lord Attlee, with his long experience, that any Government have given an absolute guarantee of that kind. What we have said is that we will not use force except in emergency: that is to say, we do not use force as an instrument of normal policy; but when some emergency arises, then we reserve the right—and I think every Government must reserve that right in an emergency—to do so.
Having gone as far as that, and I can assure noble Lords opposite that I have done my utmost all this afternoon and evening to try to find some form of words that would make possible unanimity of expression in this House, I feel sad that they are not able to support the Motion as moved by the Government or to withdraw their Amendment. They might say that they did not feel able to accept the Motion in its original form without the explanation given since. but explanations have been given and I had hoped very much that they might have removed the difficulties.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, may I ask a question? If, in an emergency, in the circumstances described, the Government feel obliged to use force, will they call Parliament together beforehand?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I do not think any Government could give this absolute assurance. After all, it is an act of the Executive, and I have always understood that the Executive take responsibility for that, and it is for Parliament to turn them out if they do not agree. I do not think that it is by any means a tradition of our country that approval must be sought beforehand. In an emergency, action may be an immediate necessity, and that action the Government must take. No 856 doubt they would call Parliament together, but it might he necessary to take action before Parliament was called.
§ EARL ATTLEE
My Lords. may I ask the noble Marquess this question? Surely it is in conformity with the United Nations Charter that in a state of emergency one has the right of defence or attack. The point is that one is not entitled to use force to insist on one's own will outside the United Nations altogether. I cannot see the difficulty. I understand that a statement has been made in the United States of America saying that force will be used only in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTER-BURY
My Lords, cannot the noble Earl accept the phrase of the Government, which is entirely with the Charter: "save in emergency"—and the noble Lord. Lord Salter, said that the Charter provides for emergency the Government will not use force before going to the Security Council?
§ EARL ATTLEE
My Lords, there is no need for the words. "save in emergency", unless there is the intention to act outside the Charter of the United Nations.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
I am not yet clear about what the noble Marquess said. An emergency of a few hours—that one understands. But the question is: in such a situation, will Parliament be called together? That was done in 1914 in similar circumstances. If the noble Marquess could give that pledge, that would be some safeguard.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
As I say, I do not think any Government can give any absolute guarantee that they will not, in an emergency, take immediate action if necessary.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I have not the slightest doubt that if we were obliged to take action of that kind. Parliament would be immediately called. But I do not want the noble Viscount to be under the misapprehension that we 857 should not take action in an emergency, if it were necessary, without first getting the approval of Parliament. I must be absolutely clear about that.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
My Lords, the Question I now have to put to the House is that
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided:—
§ Contents, 18; Not-Contents, 145.857
|Attlee, E.||Archibald, L.||Lawson, L.|
|Jowitt, E.||Boyd-Orr, L.||Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Burden, L. [Teller.]||Pakenham, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Crook, L.||Pethick-Lawrence, L.|
|Darwen, L.||Quibell, L.|
|Stansgate, V.||Haden-Guest, L. [Teller.]||Silkin, L.|
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Elibank, V.||Glyn, L.|
|Falmouth, V.||Grantchester, L.|
|Kilmuir. V. (L. Chancellor.)||FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Gretton, L.|
|Gage, V.||Gridley, L.|
|Salisbury, M. (L. President.)||Goschen, V.||Harmsworth, L.|
|Hailsham, V.||Harvey of Tasburgh, L.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Hampden, V.||Hatherton, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Kemsley, V.||Hawke, L.|
|Reading, M.||Knollys, V.||Hayter, L.|
|Leverhulme, V.||Hore-Belisha, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Margesson, V.||Hylton, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Monsell, V.||Jessel, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Ridley, V.||Killearn L.|
|Brooke and Warwick, E.||Runciman of Doxford, V.||Kindersley, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Samuel, V.||Layton, L.|
|Coventry, E.||Leconfield, L.|
|Craven, E||Sheffield, L. Bp.||Lloyd, L.|
|Crawford, E.||Luke, L.|
|Cromer, E.||Ailwyn, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Dalhousie, E.||Astor of Hever, L.||Melchett, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Baillieu, L.||Merriman, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Bennett of Edgbaston, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Fortescue, E. [Teller.]||Birdwood, L.||Milne, L.|
|Gosford, E.||Brand, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Grey, E.||Broughshane, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Bruntisfield, L.||Mowbray and stourton, L.|
|Hardwicke, E.||Burnham, L.||Newall, L.|
|Home, E.||Carnock, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Howe, E.||Cawley, L.||Rathcavan, L.|
|Iveagh, E.||Chatfield, L.||Rea, L.|
|Lonsdale, E.||Cherwell, L.||Remnant, L.|
|Macclesfield, E.||Clitheroe, L.||Rennel, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Coleraine, L.||Rennel, L.|
|Morley, E.||Colwyn, L.||Rochdale, L.|
|Munster, E.||Conesford, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Onslow, E. [Teller.]||Congleton, L.||Romilly, L.|
|St. Aldwyn, E.||Cornwallis, L.||Russell of Liverpool, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Cottesloe, L.||Salter, L.|
|Selkirk, E.||Croft, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Shaftesbury, E,||Denham, L.||Sinha, L.|
|Stair, E.||Derwent, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Stradbroke, E.||Digby, L.||Strang, L.|
|Woolton, E.||Dinevor, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Dovercourt, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Astor, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Stratheden and Campbell, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Foley, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Bridport, V.||Forbes, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Camrose, V.||Fraser of North Cape, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Crookshank, V.||Freyberg, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Geddes, L.||Walsingham, L.|
|De L'Isle, V.||Gisborough, L.||Wolverton, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ the original Motion, with the addition of the words "and 13th", be agreed to.
§ On Question, Resolution agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes past ten o'clock.