§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ THE EARL OF HALIFAX
My Lords, all your Lordships listened with the closest attention to everything that fell from my noble friend below me when he introduced the Motion to us this afternoon, and with nearly everything that he said your Lordships will either have agreed or disagreed, according to all the influences that operate on all our judgments. But there was one observation which fell from the noble Marquess with which every one of your Lordships, wherever he sits, found himself in the sharpest disagreement. That was the observation that my noble friend made in that part of his speech which went right home and touched on our hearts, when he anticipated that he would never again hold office in any Government. I am quite sure that all your Lord-ships would deplore it if that turned out to be a true prophecy, and I shall, with the majority of your Lordships, hope that circumstances, time and events may so conspire together as to make my noble friend, in that respect at least, a false prophet to whom the people need not too seriously listen.
I wholly agree with the noble Earl who leads the House in hoping that this may be the last Suez post-mortem. Post-mortems are never very agreeable things, and although these debates are entirely consonant, of course, with the rôle and duty of Parliament, I think that, on the whole, we shall be glad when we have seen the last of them. It was quite evident from the fashion in which my noble friend introduced the Motion, that a debate such as this was bound, from its inception, to carry somewhat of a double character. It was bound to deal to some extent with the causes that have led up to the action that he deprecates having been taken by Her Majesty's Government, because it was impossible to judge whether that action should or should not have been taken without reference to what had gone before and which, in the judgment of Her Majesty's Government, made it necessary.
I do not doubt that every one of your Lordships, wherever he sits, is conscious of what my noble friend who leads the House emphasised when he talked about 1180 the feeling of frustration that is general at the present position. I do not myself believe, with respect to him, that it is possible for anybody to bring out anything but a pretty gloomy balance sheet as a result of all that has happened in the last ten months. Even though it may be hoped that there is some sign to-day of a declension in Nasser's popularity and power; and even if, as it may also be hoped, there is an improvement in certain directions in the Middle East, I should like to be convinced, as I am not convinced to-day, that those things are the direct consequence of the action taken by Her Majesty's Government. In my view, it would savour of wishful thinking to assume that the declension in Nasser's power or popularity has yet represented any positive regain of British influence in the Middle East. This sense of frustration and irritation, I suppose, comes from the feeling that, the way things have gone, we have finished by getting the worst of both worlds. The fact that we have suffered, as we have, from the failures and the defections of friends may be true, but it does nothing to relieve our own lacerated feelings.
As I see it, looking over the whole picture, public opinion has been, and to some extent still is, confused over the whole affair. One of the reasons for that confusion, I think, is that, while this sense of irritation and frustration is almost universal, it arises in different quarters from widely different reasons. I imagine that there was general agreement, if I may speak perfectly bluntly, outside Her Majesty's Government that their handling of the United States and the Commonwealth during the critical days before the Port Said landing left much to be desired. But there has never been anything like the same unanimity of opinion upon the other principal criticism that was made by Her Majesty's Opposition, that of the moral loss inflicted by the use of force, in contradiction of the spirit, as they maintained, if not of the letter, of our commitments to the Charter of the United Nations. I say that for the same line of thought as was evident in the admirable speech which the noble Earl who leads the House made to us a few minutes ago.
I happened to be at San Francisco for months with my noble friend Lord Salisbury, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, 1181 and Sir Anthony Eden, working on the Charter of the United Nations. We all lived with the Charter, night and day, as it slowly but steadily, through many setbacks and many delays, took shape. I am sure that my noble friend below me would agree that there was no question that we asked ourselves more insistently than what might be the effect of the Veto on the future which we were trying to predict and protect. It was obviously impossible then to make any complete answer; and the nearest that anybody could get to the answer was that if the great Powers were agreed, anything would work; but if the great Powers were not agreed, no paper scheme, however perfect, would redeem the loss. And that is, of course, at the heart of what my noble friend who leads the House put to us this afternoon.
Since then, it has, of course, been obvious that the great Powers are not likely to agree and, therefore, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cherwell, has more than once pointed out to us in this House, that no plan of running the world by way of majority voting or abstract notions of equality was likely to be very convincing, continuous or successful. The shape in which the feeling of ordinary people has crystallised, as I see it, on this side of the business is not, therefore, so much one of condemnation of disrespect shown to the United Nations—for this was obviously a very blunt and imperfect instrument—but rather that those who decided on military action, and abandoned it a few days later, could hardly, as we saw it, and see it, have thought out fully the conditions of a successful issue from the venture on which they had embarked.
Everybody can make his own guess at which was the cause of that sudden change of plan. The sharp Party division excited here; the official reaction in the United States; the normal opprobrium that the world so hastily attached to the appearance of an insult to the United Nations; the pressure of finance—whatever the cause, it was to many of us the main ground of difference with Her Majesty's Government that those difficulties should not have been adequately measured and foreseen so that we might have avoided the discredit of a course of action which we could not, in fact, carry through.
1182 My noble friend Lord Salisbury said just now some very strong words about the secret of a strong foreign policy. He said that a strong foreign policy, to be successful, had to be consistent and had to be a policy for which people (the noble Marquess will correct me if I am misquoting him) were prepared to make sacrifices. No doubt, all that is true. But there is another condition too, I think, and that is that no foreign policy is likely to be very successful unless, in fact, you and the people you lead are strong enough to support and carry it out. That seems to me to have been the element that was lacking. Therefore, that miscalculation once made, everything else—the frustration, the getting the worst of both worlds, the humiliation of Colonel Nasser's present terms—seems to me to have been in natural and unavoidable sequence. There is an old French proverb which, as my French accent is not impeccable, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to render in English. The proverb is this:He who wills the end wills also the means.I think it is equally true that he who condemns the end must equally condemn the steps that made the end inevitable.
My noble friend Lord Salisbury was a member of the Government that took those steps, and if he was, as no doubt he was, a convinced believer in that action, I should have thought that the right time for him to resign was when those gears were put into reverse; because, as I see it, that was the moment which decided that Colonel Nasser would be able to get himself transformed before the world from an aggressive gangster into a kind of injured innocent. That was the time. But since he did not resign then, I am bound to say, with all respect to my noble friend, whose judgment I nearly always admire and follow, that I cannot see what is gained now by an attempt on his part to find fault with his late colleagues for making the best of a bad job.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Only on a question of fact, what was the exact moment which the noble Earl had in mind?
§ THE EARL OF HALIFAX
The exact moment I had in mind was when the military action was suspended and we ceased fire; when we began to come back, and all the rest of it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If the noble Earl would do me the honour of reading my speech of December 11, he will find out exactly—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
—what I said. I will not trouble the House with it now, but if he would like to wait until the end of the debate, I will tell him then.
§ THE EARL OF HALIFAX
I am afraid that I did not hear that. With all respect to the noble Viscount, I am not sure that whatever he is likely to say on this matter, has every relevance to the point I am trying to make; I will judge better when I have heard what he has to say.
A comparison and contrast may, of course, be made between the terms that were propounded at the Security Council last October and the terms set out now by Colonel Nasser, to which, under protest, Her Majesty's Government have advised shipowners and shippers to accede. I suppose it is probably fair to say, as I think was hinted the other day in the Prime Minister's speech, that if anybody but Colonel Nasser had put forward his terms, they might have been judged to merit some discussion. As it is, we are generally agreed that they are unacceptable but, none the less, under protest, are to be accepted as a temporary measure.
It is obviously right to use any means that we can (I was delighted to hear what my noble friend said from the Front Bench) to press Colonel Nasser further towards the acceptance of what I may call the Security Council Principles; and it may well be—and here I agree also with my noble friend—that, as time goes on, there will be means that do not exist to-day of putting further pressure upon him in that direction. Nevertheless, to my mind, that is a different thing from saying that Her Majesty's Government are wrong to-day to advise British shipping in the sense that they have.
1184 I do not quarrel, therefore, with their decision; nor, I understand, does any country of the Commonwealth, and I see very small advantage in making the present position more gloomy by "cutting off my nose to spite my face". When I have but few cards in my hand, and when everybody in the game knows that I have but few cards, there seems to me to be strict and stern limits to the bluff that it is profitable to put up. I venture to suggest that such fundamental weakness is not to be cured and overcome, either by resignation in this House or in another.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I must interrupt the noble Earl. He seemed to imply that I resigned on this issue. That is not so.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
My Lords, on a point of order, we on this side of the House should like to take part in this interesting conversation, which seems to be conducted entirely sotto voce.
§ THE EARL OF HALIFAX
It is a most enjoyable debate. I was not able to hear everything that fell from the noble Viscount opposite. But with regard to the question the noble Marquess asked me, I had based myself, perhaps wrongly, on the observation that he made when the Suez statement was made, when he said that he regarded these terms as almost "unendurable". In my own mind, perhaps wrongly—and if so I apologise to him—I had supposed from that that if he had not resigned on one thing he would have resigned on another. If I am wrong about that, as I have said, I apologise.
§ THE EARL OF HALIFAX
My Lords, that was not all I had to say. For the rest, I was basing myself upon some observations that I read, and which were made in another place by Lord Hinching-brooke. I observe that in one debate that took place in another place he said that he thought the situation demanded resignation or resignations, and that this 1185 would do much to restore honour, and the rest of it. That is really what I had in mind, and why I said that I did not think the situation could be so easily cured.
My Lords, may I now come back to what is really the kernel of my thought on this particular matter? How often over the last few weeks there must have come into our minds the wise observation of Bishop Butler—was it not?—who said:Things are what they are; the consequences are what they will be. Why then should we deceive ourselves?Therefore I would judge it futile on all grounds—political, economic and financial, to refuse to use the Canal, even on terms that admittedly leave much to be desired. But I would add to that judgment two not unimportant riders. First, as the noble Earl said to-day was the policy of Her Majesty's Government, I would do everything in my power, while working for the more acceptable settlement, to promote those developments that might make me less dependent upon the Canal and upon Colonel Nasser. Secondly (this point has not so far been mentioned in the debate, so far as I have heard), we should give Israel all the support in our power in the matter of securing passage through the Canal for her ships—and I am delighted that such support has already been announced by Her Majesty's Government. I shall be greatly surprised if, with patience and persistence, the forces of peaceful suasion that it may be within the power of the United States and the British Commonwealth, acting jointly, to exert, do not make that question a good deal more tractable than it may appear to-day.
For the rest, my Lords, I hope that, when Parliament has concluded these debates, it may decide to look forward, rather than back, and that present differences on these issues, whether between the political Parties or within the Parties, may yield to the prior importance of all countries coming again to know that this nation can, on international affairs, speak with a single voice in the councils of the world.
§ 4.35 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, I hope that I may begin by asking the House to accept an apology, because it so happens that, this debate having 1186 been arranged at fairly short notice, I have an engagement tonight from which I cannot extricate myself. I therefore trust that those noble Lords who follow me, especially my noble and learned friend the Deputy Leader of the House, will absolve me from any discourtesy.
My Lords, I suppose that there has been no more wanton and foolish manifestation of hyper-nationalism in the world than the destruction by the Port Said mob of the statue of de Lesseps at the entrance of the Suez Canal. Here was a man who, by his courage, vigour and determination, overcame a great deal of opposition and obloquy, not least from this country, and made an immense contribution to the welfare of Egypt. His offence now is that he was so misguided as to be a Frenchman and not an Egyptian. Although the statue may have disappeared, I am told that the plinth remains, and on it is still to be deciphered the Latin inscription "Aperire terrain gentibus"—" To open the world to the nations."
That terse inscription surely exactly embodies the whole purpose of the 1888 Convention for the preservation of the free navigation of the Canal and for ensuring that the shipping of all countries should not be interrupted even in the event of war. That great international instrument and great international doctrine has survived the hazards of two wars, and was sternly maintained in 1935 in face of great pressure upon the League of Nations to close the Canal to Italian troop and supply ships during the invasion of Ethiopia. It was left to the Government of Egypt to violate that doctrine quite a number of years ago, and to follow up their original violation in a mood of injured insolence last July by the nationalisation of the Canal.
It was exactly the principle underlying that inscription and that Convention that was the inspiration of the words used by Sir Anthony Eden to which my noble friend Lord Salisbury has already referred: that the Canal must not be left under the unfettered control of any one country. It did not stop there, for, after all, that principle was again singled out amongst the Six Principles decided upon by the Security Council in October last, when it laid it down as one of the acceptable terms that the operation of the Canal must be insulated from the politics of 1187 any one country—a phrase which, if my memory is right, owed its origin to the ingenuity of Mr. Dulles.
That was, and is, the position. I think that however many veils of conditions and qualifications people may wish to hang over the basic principle, we must not let that recollection escape us: that in all this matter we have to come back to that essential principle of the freedom of navigation by all countries of the Suez Canal. Until that principle is not only asserted but effectively guaranteed, the Egyptian Government may have got their dues but we shall not have got ours. I say "effectively guaranteed" because, after all, this is not a matter of yesterday. My noble friend referred to the Israeli shipping. That situation has now obtained since 1949. The fact remains that those ships have been prevented from going through; and although, no doubt, the position was exacerbated by the fact that they were Israeli ships—since the mere existence of Israel was anathema to the Egyptian Government—nevertheless, if it be Israeli ships yesterday and to-day, it may just as well be British or any other ships to-morrow and the day after.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, from that not unimportant point of view, we cannot afford to turn away our eyes. It is a matter of great moment. The whole position has now been before the country for a long time and has been meticulously dissected in debates in a series of post-mortems. Like other noble Lords who have already spoken, I would hope that this may be the last one. It has been my task to take part in and to bear some share of the responsibility for expounding and defending the policy of Her Majesty's Government in a number of debates on this subject. The position as I see it now and the immediate decision come to by Her Majesty's Government which has evoked this debate is one which, in my view, is inescapable.
For my own part, I cannot understand how it can be argued convincingly that we, in the economic position in which we find ourselves, could afford the luxury of splendid isolation in regard to the user of the Canal by our ships when our competitors were availing themselves of all the advantages of time and distance which 1188 the Canal was originally designed and carried out to provide. The Prime Minister has said that this decision marks only a stage; and I, and I believe all of us, profoundly hope that that is true and that that stage will not be allowed to crystallise into permanence; because we have not yet re-established the basic principle to which I have referred.
My Lords, I believe that the present position that we have adopted in deciding to support the French in bringing the matter back to the Security Council is right, although one is bound to say that experience of the Security Council in this matter hitherto has not been overwhelmingly reassuring. But I am not satisfied that we have all the time in the world to handle the matter. I observed a statement in the Press this morning, made, I believe, by a spokesman of the Israeli Foreign Office, that Israel was proposing to send a ship through the Canal "at the appropriate time." It is for Israel to judge whether she takes that action and for her to judge what the appropriate time may be. I say no more on it than that. But that same statement contained another indication. It said it might be that Egypt would take the matter to the International Court; and even in the presence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, I want to say a word about the position of the International Court in the whole of this affair, because the suggestion that that Court should be brought into service in some form and used to promote a solution of these difficulties has been considerably canvassed in various organs of the Press and in different countries.
There is this to be said about the International Court: it is one to which, of course, every member of the United Nations has the right to belong; but that does not mean that the jurisdiction of the International Court can be compulsorily imposed upon an unwilling member of the United Nations unless that member has already declared that it will accept compulsory jurisdiction. It would be not uninteresting to know whether Egypt has made that declaration. The position is that if Israel were to bring the matter before the Court, Egypt would not be obliged to present herself before the Court or to argue her case unless she had accepted the compulsory obligation.
A position which we ought to bear in mind is this, too. Suppose the International Court pronounced a judgment 1189 which was unfavourable to Egypt. How many of us would have confidence that, in those circumstances, the Egyptian Government would be prepared to accept that judgment? After all, ever since July, 1951, there has been a finding of the Security Council which Egypt has flatly refused to recognise and upon which she reserved her position even when it was pronounced; and although we often point out in the course of discussion that the Security Council condemned Egypt over her interference with Israeli shipping in 1951, we do not always remember, perhaps, how specific and cogent were the terms in which that condemnation was couched. The members voting were this country, France, the United States of America, Brazil, Ecuador, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Yugoslavia—eight for the resolution. There were none against and only three abstaining—China, India and the U.S.S.R.
Your Lordships will remember that the Egyptian claim is, and always has been in regard to this position (and here I am dealing in general terms, with no particular reference to Israel but referring to the whole condemnation), that she was forced, or at least entitled, to take these actions because they were taken in defence of Egypt. What the Security Council found on that was that:The practice of interfering with Israeli shipping cannot, in the prevailing circumstances, be justified on the ground that it is necessary for self-defence.That is a complete rejection of the main Egyptian contention on this point. The other finding of the Council was in very stern language. It called upon Egypt:to terminate the restrictions on the passage of international commercial shipping and goods through the Suez Canal, wherever bound, and to cease all interference with such shipping.While that was directed specifically towards an Israeli situation, at the same time it is general in its application. That, I think, we ought to bear in mind in pursuing this matter further before the Security Council.
About the position of the International Court I only want to say this further word. I am not quite clear what action the International Court is supposed to take. If it is only an advisory opinion that is required—an advisory opinion on a matter of fact—it will not be of very much value. Moreover, it is rather a strange situation if the Security Council 1190 is now going to ask the International Court for an advisory opinion on a matter of fact which was the basis of the decision it took some six years ago and has repeated on various occasions ever since. I confess that I find it difficult to see where the law appears in this matter; it seems to me outstandingly a question of fact which ought to have been dealt with by the Security Council.
I would call the attention of the House to this point. Supposing the International Court does pronounce a judgment against Egypt; supposing the not very unlikely sequel that Egypt rejects that judgment and fails to act as prescribed, Article 94 of the Charter deals with the situation. It states:If any party to a case fails to perform the obligations incumbent upon it under a judgment rendered by the Court, the other party…—that is, the party having successfully got a judgment from the Court which the guilty party refuses to carry out—may have recourse to the Security Council, which may, if it deems necessary, make recommendations or decide upon measures to be taken to give effect to the judgment ".So you have gone round a complete circle—starting from the Security Council, and coming round, by devious and prolonged methods, back to the ultimate goal of the Security Council from which you started. That is why, without the least disrespect to the International Court, I venture to doubt whether reference to that Court in these particular circumstances is likely greatly to advance matters.
There remains, of course, the Security Council. One of the tragedies of the post-war years is that the United Nations has failed to unite the nations. We have gone on, perhaps inescapably, at the United Nations with countries taking a subjective view based on their own immediate national interests, rather than a more objective view which would be framed in the United Nations outlook. It may be that this is inevitable in the circumstances. We cannot forget, however, that over the whole of the deliberations of the Security Council there broods the shadow of Russia with the Veto always poised in its hand. I have heard it said by not a few people (I think it was said by the Leader of the Opposition the other day in a debate in another place) that the time has come when we should recognise the arrival of 1191 Russia in the Middle East and come to an accommodation with her. That, again, seems to receive the assent of some part of the Front Bench opposite.
What is the position? Russia is not in the Middle East because she desired to do commerce with Egypt: she is there as the result of a deliberate policy of intrusion, in order that she may, so far as possible, interfere with and discredit every move made by the West. One cannot simplify the world to-day to the point of saying that Communism is the whole source of subversive and disturbing movements which affect the peace and tranquillity of the world. None the less, it is the dominant factor. If anyone doubts that, let him put to himself the test question: What would happen if to-morrow the Russians declared, in circumstances which gave some probability that that declaration would be maintained, that the doctrines of Communism were from now onwards an export reject; that they would be retained for the delectation of the people of Russia; that they would be no longer put into circulation for the benefit of the people of other countries? If that declaration were made, it would transform the world overnight. I realise that the possibility is, in the circumstances, sufficiently remote, and I put it only to point a test of what I had in mind. It may perhaps be permissible to make a suggestion to Mr. Bulganin in the words of a couplet of Dr. Johnson's:Deign on the passing world to turn thine eyesAnd pause a while from letters to be wiseBut it is, I fear, too deep in the ethics of Leninism for us to hope that anything of that kind can take place—anyhow for the time being.
But what are we being asked to do if we are being asked to make an accommodation with Russia in this sphere? Many of your Lordships will have seen a statement by the Prime Minister of Iraq, only a few years ago, on the subject of his fears of the effect of Communism on the people for whom he is responsible. Your Lordships will realise that the dynastic quarrel which has persisted for so many years between Saudi Arabia and Iraq has been greatly mitigated, if not altogether expunged, by their common fear of Communism in their countries. 1192 There is, again, Lebanon. There are, moreover, the Rulers of the Gulf Straits and, going further North, Iran and Turkey. Does anyone imagine that we are going to be able to make any accommodation with Russia, of a satisfactory kind in that part of the world which would not involve the destruction of the Baghdad Pact. That is a price which I, for one, should be wholly unprepared to pay. It would be, I think, too great a sacrifice of the interests of those who, even though they may not always be prepared to collaborate with us (at least in their less balanced moments) understand our position and share many of the doctrines which are of such vital importance to ourselves. Therefore, it seems to me that it would be in many ways a betrayal of their position if we were to set about attempting to make an accommodation with Russia in the Middle East. We must go on making every effort that we can to bring back, with the assistance of all those who agree with us, a state of affairs in which, above all, we can once again establish this principle of the sanctity of passage through the Canal.
My Lords, I should hope, in spite of all that has been said, in spite of all that may still be said, in spite of the immediate acerbities of this particular controversy, we may in the future, in endeavouring to come to a solution which will be of lasting benefit to us, and not only to us but to all those who share our views and partake of like interest, move towards it, not alone but with the united support of other parties in the country, who will give to our efforts their combined and compelling strength.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ LORD BIRDWOOD
My Lords, my first duty is to apologise to the noble Viscount the Deputy Leader that I shall be unable to be present at the conclusion of the debate as I have an appointment with a national charity this evening. When I knew that the noble Marquess was going to raise the Motion on the statement of May 14 this month, my only fear was that a statement which should be strictly confined to the immediate issue of the Canal would spread out and spill over into the surrounding confusion of the Middle East. So far we can congratulate ourselves that that has not been the case: but I say with respect, that 1193 my pointed criticism and my quarrel with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is that he did do just that, as he attributed the Middle East crisis not to the events of October 26 last year, but to those of October and November last year, and that was, I think, entirely to distort the origin of this quarrel of ours over the Canal.
I have always held that the Arab world received scant justice from the world when the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which promised a National Home, ended up by the creation of a national State; and it is against that background that I have in this House on several occasions contributed to debates covering the Middle East. But the time has come, it seems to me, when we can perhaps isolate our difference with Egypt over the Suez Canal from the enduring problems, and that is why I now intervene in this debate. Egypt was, in fact, never included in the area in which Arab independence, was promised after the First World War. Nevertheless, we had to accept as a fact that Egypt was accepted by the Arab League as the official focus of all their interests. Now, quite suddenly, Egypt's position in the Arab League seems to be open to doubt, for the first time for several years, and I feel justified in approaching the Suez Canal problem as an isolated problem and judging the situation on its merits.
When the noble Earl, Lord Home, on May 14 repeated in this House the statement by the Prime Minister, my first reaction was that Her Majesty's Government were "trying to get it both ways": on the one hand the Canal was to be used, and on the other the status quo ante was still to govern the situation. I do not dispute the decision to refrain from advising shipowners not to use the Canal. I have come to the conclusion that one cannot dispute the wisdom of the decision, all the more so, perhaps, when one studies the statement of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, in his capacity as President of the Chamber of Shipping. I have come to the conclusion that in all the circumstances the decision was inevitable. But because, in certain circumstances, a decision is inevitable it does not seem to me that one should resist the trend; and it is because, as I see it, certain Members of another place have revolted against the trend that I think 1194 the time has come to see what should be the next step. A general trend is something which can surely be distinguished from a decision which is thrust upon one in certain circumstances; and so I ask what the next step can be.
The Prime Minister, in another place, said that this is not a satisfactory settlement, and the reason is that it is not a settlement at all; it is a unilateral declaration by Egypt which can be changed by Egypt at will. In particular, the most fundamental of the Six Principles, which said that the Canal should be isolated from the politics of any country, has not been met. I join with the noble Marquess in deploring the shameful way in which an international agreement has been torn up; and it is in some bewilderment at this late moment in the story that I venture some comments on the legal aspects of the case, as it seems to me that perhaps they have not yet been sufficiently exploited. If I attempt to follow the noble Marquess who has just commented on the position of the International Court I do so with some trepidation; but in fact I am hoping to comment not on an application to the Court regarding the right of Israeli ships to go through the Canal, but on the actual status of the Canal itself.
Now I am told that if the question of the status of the Canal could be put to the International Court, it would, in fact, probably support the view that the Canal is not French or international but is Egyptian. But it by no means follows that for that reason the nationalisation of the Company, as decreed by the Egyptian law of July 26 last year, is lawful, because we then enter the sphere of the rules of International Law which govern private property, and, as I understand it, those rules are extremely obscure.
Your Lordships will remember that when we debated this matter in August last year, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor drew our attention to the fact that the Preamble to the Convention of 1888 linked that Convention indissolubly with the Firman of 1866 which governed the Concession; so that when the Convention of 1888 was signed, it was signed in the firm belief that the Concession would be honoured and would run its full course till 1968. That view was supported by the noble Lord, Lord McNair.
1195 Now we hold that the 1888 Convention has already been broken. But Egypt—and this is where I may be enlightening the noble Marquess—as I see it, on April 24, in paragraph 9 of her unilateral declaration said that she was ready to take any differences regarding the 1888 Convention, any quarrels over its application, to the International Court. This is what the Egyptian Government said:Differences arising between Parties over the interpretation or application of the provisions of the Convention of 1888 shall be referred to the International Court of Justice if they have not been solved by other means. The Government of Egypt shall take the necessary steps to accept the decisions of the International Court of Justice, which are binding according to the provisions of Article 36 of the statute of that court.My point is this: that, so far as I know, Egypt has not yet accepted the compulsory clause of the International Court and is still, therefore, not within the jurisdiction of the Court. That position was put to the Security Council by Sir Pierson Dixon the other day, and so I ask this question: should we, or should we not, now insist that the Security Council hold Egypt to her promise in this matter?
In all humility I ask, what is the next step that we should take? Apart from all the legal pros and cons of this case, there is surely no need to be prisoners of our doubts about the legal interpretation. The fact is that for eighty-seven years the nations of the world used the Canal in the belief that it would pass to Egyptian ownership through a rational smooth process governed by the various concessions. Surely there is all the difference between such a gradual, and indeed amicable process of transition, leading to a completion in 1968, and the sudden and shameful blow we received in 1956. It seems to me incredible that there is anybody who is willing to support the Egyptian case. The nations of the world are not intended to be slaves of the law at the expense of international justice, and it would be a sad day, if through a recognition of a nation's right in law to nationalise the Canal, we should ever reach the point when no nation would dare to sign an international bilateral understanding with another nation—because, as I see it, that is exactly where this process leads to.
I pin my faith on the statement made by the noble Earl the Leader of the 1196 House on May 14, when he gave us the assurance that the Six Principles laid down by the Security Council would be adhered to at all costs, even though, in the interim, we might have to keep the Suez Canal Users' Association in being. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 203 (No. 67), col. 641]:…it is through the Security Council…that we should endeavour, in every possible way, to secure the Six Principles, so that a unilateral declaration may be turned into a permanent agreement.Since then, France has taken the initiative. We all know how the Security Council can fail—we have had our attention drawn to that this afternoon—and it is tempting to shrug one's shoulders and say, "Here is one more failure round the corner." My own feeling is that we have reached a very critical stage in the evolution of international affairs, a stage when we have either to make or break the United Nations. We have to take a decision some time, one way or the other, and in these circumstances the wise thing seems to be to work the Security Council to death; to work it so that it will either prove itself or break down. In this case, it has to satisfy the Users' Association that any formula that is produced will be near enough to the Six Principles to permit us to pass from an interim arrangement to a permanent agreement. If that fails, then, I repeat, the day seems to be very near when the great Powers will have to get down to discussing ways and means of regulating the United Nations system—which might envisage anything from revision of the Charter to abolition. If, every time we meet, we are to be up against this frustration, it would be much better to put the clock back and not meet, but to try to rebuild the world on a framework of regional arrangements.
I have one other comment—that is, that it would surely strengthen our hands in the United Nations if it were understood that we and the French could state our views before the Security Council not only on our own behalf, but also on behalf of those other members of the Users' Association. There was a passage in the noble Earl's statement on March 14, which seemed to indicate that that was the position. It would be reassuring to hear that the Users' Association are still regarded as an effective and active body, still exercising their right of negotiation from an agreed and common 1197 approach. So I ask: What is the position of the Users' Association to-day? We all know that a team of eleven is something much more than the sum total of eleven individuals, and I ask: what measures are being taken to hold the team together? I have added these comments not in a spirit of commendation or censure, but only in a spirit of inquiry, because I believe that that is a spirit that is going to be most helpful to the future development if we are to secure our rights under the Suez Canal arrangements.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ LORD JEFFREYS
My Lords, it is with a sense of sadness that I rise to support my noble friend's Motion; sadness because I was proud of the greatness of our country, proud of its achievements and its position in the Middle East and its influence for good both there and elsewhere. Now I am sad because of our ignominious climb down in regard to the Canal Zone. Our action in the Middle East, though belated—and it was belated—was based on sound policy, not only on account of Nasser but because of the danger of Russian penetration in Egypt. Our mistake was the great failure to go on in spite of the United States and the United Nations. What I believe nearly all of us want to know is: Is this process of slither to go on?
We have made a series of mistakes, beginning with Abadan. Then we should have insisted on the Canal being passable by shipping of all nations, including Israeli shipping. Then a grave mistake was made in evacuating the Canal Zone. It was probably due to United States influence, particularly business and oil influence, that we were squeezed out of Abadan and subsequently out of the Canal Zone. No doubt we have many individual friends—I repeat, individual friends—in the United States; but the United States State Department's action has been definitely hostile to us, and United States business influence has been anything but friendly. Then there is U.N.O. which, influenced by the United States, has been very far from friendly indeed.
In the opinion of many of us, the Government should recognise the seriousness of the situation and the humiliation which is involved in it. There is the maltreatment of British nationals in Egypt, which has been very serious, and, in addition, there are the charges that 1198 are being made against four of them. The Government should take the opportunity of taking the strongest possible attitude regarding this matter. So far, Nasser has scored heavily; and in the East "Nothing succeeds like success". It does not matter whether a policy is right or wrong, just or unjust, if it succeeds and its author "gets away with it". The converse also holds good: if you try and do not succeed you are thought to be no good and a failure.
Our attitude towards Nasser should be one, I do not hesitate to say, of utmost hostility, particularly financial hostility. Not a sixpence of frozen sterling should be paid to Nasser. From those credits, British subjects who have been robbed and expelled should be compensated. There should be no help, financial or otherwise, to Nasser, and any help by the United States should be regarded by us as being an unfriendly act on their part. There should be no question of assistance to improve the Aswan Dam, nor of any other use for Egyptian purposes of the upper waters of the Nile. It is probably too late now, but we should have dealt with Nasser as we dealt with Arabi; that is to say, by the use of armed force. The position now is that we may be cut off not only from the Persian Gulf, Aden and East Africa, but also from Malaya, Hong Kong, India, Australia and New Zealand. The historic central position of our Navy in the Mediterranean is a thing of the past. Is there any Government proposal for improving the situation?
Then there is the question of our relations with France. The British decision to accept American advice over Suez has put France in a very difficult position. Part of our difficulties is due to our having prematurely recognised the Neguib-Nasser régime. Any obligations we may have had towards a legitimate Government in Egypt were certainly not applicable to a revolutionary one. We have heard a good deal of nonsense talked about Nasser's right to nationalise the Canal. I suggest that he had no such right. The Suez Canal Company is an international company. The Canal was constructed by foreign, and largely French, skill and enterprise across a barren strip of desert which in those days had practically no inhabitants. A very large shareholder in the company is Great Britain. I wonder what the United States' reaction would be if there were a proposal 1199 to nationalise a company in which they were a large shareholder.
Then there is the matter of the Sinai Peninsula. This does not, I suggest, belong to Egypt, either by right, or by law. The old boundary of Egypt ran from Suez north-eastwards to Rafa. A very close watch on Suez and the Canal could be maintained if the Sinai Peninsula were taken over by Great Britain, as I suggest it might well be. The Gulf of Aqaba could, in that case, be kept open by us. Then, surely, Her Majesty's Government should try to rally all Canal-using nations against Nasser, and should make it known that there will be no financial help for Nasser of any kind. If necessary, I suggest that we should blockade Egypt both from the Mediterranean and from the African side—that is, of course, only if Nasser is completely hostile and if we can get no concessions of any kind.
Surely, Her Majesty's Government should act. It is action that is required, and we should not sit down either under United States' or United Nations' direction. If they do not like our action, let us resign from the United Nations, which is, in any case, completely useless and powerless. The United Nations Organisation is a conception of a former President of the United States who, like many other Americans, knew nothing about the world outside the United States. The United Nations include many petty and semi-civilised States, but all have equal voting rights, which is a hopeless state of affairs. No nation takes any notice of the United Nations if it does not pay it to do so, or if it is inconvenient to do so. One has only to recognise the action of the United States as regards the Panama Canal Zone, and her action against Guatemala; one has only to realise the action of Nehru against Kashmir, and last, and the worst case of all, the action of Russia as regards Hungary. Nobody takes any notice whatever of the protests of the United Nations. We want to be friends with the United States, but not dependants, and, still less, obsequious servants. If they want to be friends, they should endeavour to see our point of view, and work with us, and not merely we with them. I hope that we are going to see some Government action, and strong action, as regards affairs in Egypt, and particularly our relations with Nasser.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My noble friend Lord Halifax said that he found in the public feelings of frustration and irritation. I think he is entirely right there; but I would add that, wherever one goes round the country, one finds a feeling of deep humiliation. Having said that, however, one need not in any way connect that with condemnation of the actions or the policy of Her Majesty's Government that has led up to this situation. Every noble Lord who has spoken in this debate has started off by saying that he hoped there would be no more post-mortems. Each noble Lord has then spread the corpse upon the table, has taken the knife and has done a pretty good dissecting job; and my noble friend Lord Halifax wielded his knife with such skill that I think he exposed every vital organ of the political corpse.
The only probe I wish to make is this. If one has to search for criticisms of the actions of the Government—and whether one is an opponent or a supporter, all of us search for the weakest points, in order that we may learn our lessons for the future—I would say that the criticism to be made is that at the end of phase I the Government relied too much on the immature and the ineffective. They relied on immature American support, moral and practical; on an America which is immature in political matters in the Middle East, where successive British Governments have during the last twenty-five years been the only Power that has tried to support that rather crazy structure. Then they have relied too much upon the ineffective, in the form of the United Nations Organisation, which has certainly not measured up to the responsibilities which its supporters and advocates hoped it would. From those two criticisms we undoubtedly have lessons to learn for the future. The chief lesson, it seems to me, is not one which we shall debate to-day, but one which is appropriate for consideration by your Lordships' House on some future occasion—namely, the reorganisation and strengthening of the United Nations, which, as my noble friend Lord Halifax said, was founded in San Francisco in 1945 in the hope of creating a better world; though, unfortunately, as subsequent events have shown, that has not come about.
1201 The only other little probe I would do in the post-mortem relates to the, to me, rather unctuous rectitude of the Party opposite, who seem to disclaim all responsibility and claim all wisdom—" hindsight ", I believe, is what the Americans call it—in respect of the Suez situation. Noble Lords opposite and their Socialist Government must bear their share of the responsibility. They were in power in 1951, when Egypt defied the 1888 Convention and forbade the passage of Israeli ships. I grant that nothing has been done by the United Nations since that time, so that successive Governments must equally share the blame. But do not let noble Lords opposite say they are pure in heart because of that.
If I may interrupt the noble Lord, surely he cannot say that the responsibility for what occurred last year must be equally shared. That is, if I may say so, a travesty of the usual attribution of responsibility.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
Shared between the two. I am not allocating exact proportions. What I am saying is that to come and say, "We have no responsibility; our policy has been right; our forecasts have been right, and our actions in the past have been entirely pure ", is a political hypocrisy which does not go down in the country.
I gather that the noble Lord has retracted the word, "equally" which he used just now. He is now apparently anxious to give us the impression—will the noble Lord allow me to finish? He has been kind enough to give way to me, and I will lapse into silence in a moment. He now wishes to give the impression that he has withdrawn the word "equally".
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
Not at all. I used the word "equally" as meaning "both"—both sharing a responsibility, not necessarily in equal proportions. I do not think noble Lords can avoid their share of responsibility. In the words of my noble friend Lord Salisbury, the Opposition "bolstered up Nasser's prestige." There was the deplorable visit by a member of Her Majesty's Privy Council to Nasser, and also the visit of Dr. Summerskill, which I think as a nation we deplore, even though some sections of her Party may approve. 1202 Enough of the post-mortem, so far as I am concerned. I should like, for a few moments, to turn to the future.
My noble friend Lord Salisbury put this question: What can be done to build up the future? What does the future hold, and how are we prepared to deal with it? It seems to me that there are two possible broad approaches. First, you can believe in accommodation with Nasser, and that, having gained his purpose, he will respect the obligations, which he says he is going to do. I think there is a danger of the United Nations Organisation drifting into the position that where what is a temporary and unsatisfactory position may become a permanent settlement. The second alternative is that you can believe that Nasser is a dictator, with all that that implies in terms of distrust and chicanery, and that he is right to use any means to retain his position. I must say it is an extraordianry position that he has attained, with a Navy that surrendered, an Army that did not fight and an Air Force that would not fly. Yet here he is, riding high politically. If you believe in the latter alternative, as I do, that you cannot deal with this dictator, you must prepare your policy accordingly.
Then we come to the next question: What should be our policy? We cannot "go it alone ". I do not believe we can rely on going to U.N.O. in its present state. Here, if I may be allowed to say so, I come to the one point which I felt was inadequate in the speech of my noble friend Lord Salisbury. Not one mention was made by him of the Commonwealth. I should like to see us try to "go to it" as a British Commonwealth and Empire unit. As world political and economic troubles surround us, we see to our cost, as each situation arises, the lost years of opportunities for closer links in defence, economics and politics with the Commonwealth. I know that I shall be told that the Commonwealth Prime Ministers are coming soon, and that we are all very close and friendly. I do not believe that is enough. I believe that, so long as there exists in U.N.O. the American bloc, the Afro-Asian bloc and the Western European bloc, we should try to get a British Commonwealth bloc (excluding those parts of the Commonwealth that are already committed to the Afro-Asian bloc), which would have 1203 a tremendous moral influence, as well as material power, in the councils of the United Nations.
It seems to me that we have never tried to act together with what I term a "full head of steam" in the Commonwealth. With regard to defence, there are rumbles of discontent about the cohesion of Commonwealth defence. Economically. I must say that we do it very half-heartedly. I am always reading Ministers' speeches on how much pride they take in assuring Europe that we are good Europeans; and we have the Strasbourg Assembly and the project for a Free Trade Area. Why not let us take the offensive, instead of the defensive, in Commonwealth affairs, and hear Ministers' saying that we are good Commonwealth men, rather than giving a priority to saying that we are good European men? Why not have a Commonwealth Assembly like the Strasbourg Assembly? Why not have greater stimulus for trade? If we tried to combine more closely in the Commonwealth, I believe that we could talk to Nasser, both directly and through the United Nations, with a Commonwealth voice, which must be much more powerful than a single British voice.
We could shape as a Commonwealth policy, and not as a single unit, a policy that would avoid dependence on the Canal in the way of ships and docks. We would seek justice for British nationals, not as a single unit, but as a Commonwealth unit. We would seek to make treaties—and that is one of the tasks we have to tackle with the Arab countries in the future—so as to ensure supplies of oil, apart from their transport. We would try to do that as a Commonwealth. We could as a Commonwealth enter into the unsettled question of Israel-Arab relations. We could as a Commonwealth approach U.N.O., and reproach U.N.O., for its own impotence.
My plea is that it is not too late, but that there is little time remaining for a big Commonwealth effort. Mr. Shinwell, in another place, made a most remarkable speech the other day. I am not allowed to quote him, so I must paraphrase his speech. He said that people talked about this country being no longer a great military Power, and he agreed that it was not. He said that no country 1204 could be a military Power in the nuclear age, but he did say that, when it comes to our economic potentialities, associated with the Commonwealth of nations we are still a first-class country with remarkable possibilities. He said that he disliked intensely this denigration of our country, and that it can do us no good at all. Commonwealth matters are not Party matters. They rise far above Party, and I believe this is almost the last chance we shall have of trying to make a Commonwealth unity. But if we make the effort, we can approach the Suez problems, the Israel-Arab problems, in a way which has a prospect of success far greater than if we try to "go it alone," and not as the centre of the Commonwealth.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I think this debate has been about equally divided between recrimination about the past and disagreement about the future. As my noble friend has just said, post-mortems may be very unsavoury things, and perhaps they may become even more unsavoury as the corpse becomes less capable of being resuscitated. But our dislike of post-mortems or of recriminations should not allow history to be falsified, and it should not allow the understanding of the grave dangers which face the free nations—which faced them last year, and still face them to-day—to be obscured.
In the debate on Suez in another place last week, it was reiterated—and it is still widely believed in the United States of America, and also by some people in Great Britain—that last October the British Government entered into some kind of conspiracy with the Israeli Government, in order that we might have an excuse for imposing our own particular solution of the Suez question by force of arms. That is still widely believed in the United States and here. It seems to me that the really serious thing about this kind of rubbish is not so much that it may reflect discredit on one particular British Government—because all Governments are bound sometimes to be misunderstood—but rather that it reveals the kind of ignorance, which may very easily be fatal to peace, about what was going on then and about what is going on now in the Middle East.
1205 Long before October, it had been known that Egypt intended to attack Israel. Colonel Nasser, of course, had frequently said so himself, but Western public opinion paid very little attention indeed to what he was saying. It was also known that large quantities of Russian and Czech arms were being supplied to Egypt. That was stated by Sir Anthony Eden more than once in another place, but again Western public opinion took little interest in it. What I do not think was ever officially stated by the British Government before the military intervention—and I wish that it had been stated more plainly long before—was that the Russians were training a force of, I believe, some 50,000 volunteers, who were to be sent to Egypt and Syria in the event of war, so that the Egyptian soldiers, who are not at all good at using the Russian weapons or, indeed, at using any kind of weapons, might be assisted by Russian soldiers who could use them without involving Russia in belligerency.
The basic fact about the present Middle Eastern situation is this: that for some time it has been, and it still continues to be, the main object of Russian diplomacy to create a war in the Middle East between the Arabs and the Israelis. The reason the Russians want to do that is that they think that, once this war starts and becomes general, it will then become very difficult for the more moderate Arab Governments to survive, and that the strength and enthusiasm of Arab militarist, nationalist feeling will be so great that nationalist Governments, favourable to Communism, will be established throughout the Arab world, either under a military empire under Colonel Nasser—so long as he remains useful to Russia—or under any other leader who may equally serve the purposes of Russian policy.
That, I think, is the basic fact about the Middle Eastern situation at the present time, and although this was not at all clearly appreciated by Western public opinion last October, it was well understood by the Israeli Government. In the middle of October, the Government of Israel had come to the conclusion that Western foreign policy was too weak and too divided to give them any effective aid against aggression. Your Lordships will remember that, at the beginning of October, there had been a 1206 general election in Jordan which, by an overwhelming majority, returned a pro-Communist Government to power. That Government immediately announced that it was going to integrate its military plans with those of Egypt and Syria and to place all three armies under one single command.
The Israeli Government decided that the only hope of survival for Israel was that Israel should act on its own before the Russian volunteers were ready. They knew that the Egyptians would not be able to fight very well against Israeli troops without the aid of these volunteers, and it may well be argued that, if Great Britain had done nothing, if we had allowed the Israelis to go on, destroy the whole Egyptian Army, capture all the Russian war material and occupy the Suez Canal Zone, we should now be in a much better position than we are. But the British Government took the view that, even if we waited for a week or a few days, the Russians might act, and the purpose of the Russian intervention would not have been to stop the war; it would have been to extend it.
In your Lordships' debate on December 12 last, at which I was unable to be present, my noble friend Lord Home quoted from a broadcast which had lately been delivered by the Egyptian Commander-in-Chief, in which he stated that on October 29 the armies of various other Arab countries, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, were actually beginning to move and that, when British intervention took place, those orders were countermanded. So that we did stop the war at that moment from becoming a general one. I am certainly not questioning the good intentions or the sincerity either of the Labour Opposition or of the Government of the United States in taking the line against the British Government which they did at that time. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, suggested that, even if the Opposition at home had taken a different view, it would not have had the slightest effect on the policy of the American Government. I do not know whether or not that is so. All I know is that, during November and December, all the American newspapers were filled with large headlines and long verbatim reports of everything which had been said here by the leaders of the British Opposition, showing how right the Americans were and how wrong the British Government 1207 were, while very little space was given to British Government speakers.
I myself have always believed that if we had gone on, if we had delayed our acceptance of the "Cease fire" of November 6 by another forty-eight hours, if we had taken possession of Suez and had cleared the Canal speedily by British warships, we should not have made ourselves any more unpopular than we did, and our opinions would have been treated with respect, instead of being treated with contempt, by our American friends. I think it might also have been possible that, when the United Nations had come in, their attempts to retrieve the situation in these circumstances would not have been quite so futile as they have, in fact, been. But I quite understand the reason why the British Government decided to stop on November 6. Their reason was precisely because the object of our intervention was not to impose our own settlement of the Suez Canal question by force; the object of our intervention was to stop a general war in the Middle East, and that object was successful. The Government have got very little credit, either here or abroad, for stopping a war in the Middle East, although I believe that their action in doing so was of vital consequence to the free world and to the Western Alliance. My anxiety that that should be recognised is not so much to do credit to the Government; it is rather because I do not think that the free West, the nations of the free world, can succeed in preventing war unless they have a proper understanding of the causes which are threatening peace.
Since our abdication, as it really was, to the United Nations and the United States, it seems to me that the United Nations have carefully and systematically done everything possible to put everything back as it was so that this war may start all over again. Your Lordships may perhaps have seen the report in The Times of yesterday from their correspondent in Syria, who states that the Syrian Army has become entirely Russianised; that large quantities of Russian and Czech-war equipment are being accumulated in Syria; that there are many hundreds of Russian and Czech instructors in the country, and that these things are openly admitted and spoken to by Ministers in the Syrian Government. It is also believed that in Egypt the amount of 1208 Russian and Czech war material which has accumulated in the last three or four months is about equal to what it was before the outbreak of hostilities last October.
Communist policy has suffered one serious setback. The war party in Jordan has overplayed its hand in trying to dethrone the young King, and they have been defeated partly by the resolution of the King himself and partly by American gunboat diplomacy. American gunboat diplomacy is shockingly immoral when it is used by Great Britain to protect the oil supplies of Europe, but it is perfectly respectable when it is used by the United States to preserve the institution of monarchy in the kingdom of Jordan. Another possible setback that Communism may have received—I do not know—is that the King of Saudi Arabia appears suddenly to have woken up to the fact that Colonel Nasser is not a monarchist. Now that this idea has got into his head, I think it will very likely stick there. But I am not sure that the Government's view is correct, that Colonel Nasser's prestige and standing, which has been so sedulously enhanced by the United Nations, has fallen quite so low as we hoped. We still have this same danger to peace—the possibility of an outbreak of war supported by Russia.
What we all want to do, in all Parties, is to establish peace and prosperity in the Middle East, because peace and prosperity in those countries is of primary interest to the free world from every point of view, including that of oil. Perhaps the most important thing that we have to try to do is to solve the question of the Palestinian refugees. So long as these refugees remain supported only by occasional doles, without permanent occupation or homes, in a state of wretched impoverishment, kept where they are by the hope that they will be resettled in Palestine when the Jews are driven into the sea, they will continue to be the strongest possible incentive to the spread of militant Arab nationalism; and so long as this situation continues it will be politically impossible for the moderate, more peaceful, Arab Governments, whom it is in our interests to support, to appear to be less anti-Jewish than the Arab nationalists. It is not humanly impossible that these refugees should be found work 1209 and homes outside Palestine. It is perhaps the particular moral responsibility of the United States that something should be done to that effect, because it was due to the United States interference with the Labour Government's policy under Mr. Bevin, and their insistence on setting up the sovereign state of Palestine, that this terrible refugee problem was created.
Then there is the settlement of the Canal question. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said that there were two separate crises in the Middle East: the crisis of the Canal and the Israeli crisis. He spoke only of the Canal, and we all greatly wish that he had gone on to say something about the other crisis too. But I wonder whether the noble Marquess was altogether right in drawing this distinction between them. I do not believe that Colonel Nasser seized the Canal because he wanted to get more revenue; he could have got far more revenue by not seizing it. I think he seized it because he wanted by so doing to whip up Arab nationalist enthusiasm for Egyptian leadership and to strengthen the military position of Egypt in preparing to invade Israel. It was like Hitler's seizure of Austria or Czechoslovakia—only a comparatively small, preliminary stage in the campaign of aggression which was contemplated. Of course, Colonel Nasser is of no account and would be of no danger by himself, but he is of account and he is a danger to peace as the tool of Russia. In my view the seizure of the Canal was not carried out for economic reasons, but primarily for military and political reasons, which are very closely and intimately connected with the Israeli crisis.
I think that now, in the present circumstances, the Canal question can be solved only by the United Nations. We always said that it could be solved only by international agreement. I am sure only of this: that it will never be solved by weakness, by giving in to injustice. That is why, as the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, pointed out, the position of Israeli shipping is now so very important, because the Israelis, who have obeyed the decisions of the United Nations, have been persuaded to give up all the advantages which they gained in their effort to preserve their own security. They have withdrawn from Gaza and Aqaba on the strength of assurances from the United 1210 Nations or the United States that they would be justly treated. Now, if Israeli ships are going to be denied the use of the Canal, we cannot possibly blame Israel for acting on the assumption that Western assurances are unreliable and therefore not to be trusted, and, what is perhaps even worse, we cannot blame the Arabs for acting on the assumption that Western diplomacy is contemptible and therefore need not be regarded. You will never achieve a satisfactory solution, either of the Canal question or of the Middle East situation as a whole, by giving in and trying to appease the forces of Arab nationalism.
Finally, my Lords, and perhaps most important of all, we must endeavour to bring about closer accord between the foreign policies of ourselves and of the United States. I think that is even more important than the forming of a Commonwealth bloc which my noble friend suggested. It is of paramount importance that we should act well in accord with the United States. I was therefore glad and most interested to hear my noble friend Lord Home say that, as a result of the Bermuda Conference, a new unity had been born between us. I was particularly glad to hear him say that, because, as your Lordships and as my noble friend will remember, the communiqué issued after Bermuda stated that, although we had agreed on a large number of questions, we had not agreed about the Middle East. Therefore, I hope we may take it from what my noble friend said this afternoon that, although we may not have achieved complete agreement, we have at least less disagreement than we had before, and that perhaps final agreement may be in sight; because I think that most of the reverses which the free world has suffered in the Middle and Far East and everywhere else since the war have been due to this shocking lack of coherence between British and American foreign policies. It seems of little use to have these military arrangements for co-ordinating our fighting forces, if our foreign policy is completely divided and unco-ordinated.
It always seems to me that Britain and America in their foreign policy are like two partners at bridge who are both dealt very good cards but whose systems of bidding and methods of play are so completely different that their opponents, who have very much worse cards, always win. 1211 It is often said about the Middle East that American interests are not so closely concerned as ours. So far as the supply of oil in peace time is concerned that may to some extent be true, but American security is vitally concerned in maintaining the strength of Western Europe and a strong N.A.T.O. alliance. It is to the vital interest of America that her Allies in Western Europe should be strong. If sources of oil in the Middle East were to fall under Communist control, not only would Europe be economically starved in peace time, but in war time Europe would be useless as a military ally. You cannot fight a war without oil. It is therefore to the primary interest of the United States, as well as to ourselves, that we should both reach some kind of settled agreement in principle on our Middle East foreign policy. If that were to fail and Russian policy were to succeed, then North America would be left isolated in a Communist-controlled world.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, we have just listened to a most illuminating speech, replete with wisdom and sound advice, and I look forward to reading it tomorrow in Hansard and studying it rather more closely, because it was full of sound analysis and obvious knowledge of the Middle East area. I do not propose to follow into all the aspects of that very difficult problem, tempting though it is to do so, except to say, first of all, that I agree very much with what the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, has said. But I trust your Lordships do not think that the present lull in the Middle East is anything but a lull, for it can be nothing more than that. Owing to the intervention of an outside Power, and the attitude of the King of Jordan, we have for a spell comparative quiet. I doubt greatly whether that will last; I rather feel that we shall again be faced with extremely difficult and complex problems which will be extremely hard to meet as and when they arise.
I had not meant to get drawn on to the high political side of this debate except to say, in regard to the actual words of the Motion before the House, that I felt when we accepted the decision to withdraw from Port Said that we must surely have realised that the decision had certain consequences; that the ball was placed 1212 at the foot of Nasser. I am not arguing whether it was right or wrong—personally, I supported the policy of Her Majesty's Government, though I said that it was the right policy at the wrong time in the wrong place. But we should not have shut our eyes, when we withdrew, to the almost inevitable consequences of that withdrawal.
One consequence must be that Nasser could more or less do what he liked about the passage through the Canal. I do not see that we can get past that. I dislike as much as anybody this complete surrender over the terms on which we go through the Canal, but unless we could have got a complete boycott—which I wish we could have done—I cannot believe that it was wise, sensible or even sense to have only a partial boycott of the Canal. I do not see that we could have done anything else than we have done. It is a horrible surrender, but what else can we do? We cannot penalise our own shipping, nor, so far as I know, have the Government any legal power to stop ships from going through the Canal; and if other national shipping goes through we can clearly do nothing to stop it.
But, having said that, I would add that, like several other speakers during this debate, I very much hope that there will be no question of "bolstering up" this wicked man, and no repetition of the absolute folly of the Aswan Dam. I am completely baffled as to why we ever did that. I know that the Americans went in first, and that we joined, and that when they and we withdrew from that scheme our action gave a pretext for the Canal affair. However unwillingly we may use the Canal, do not let any of us now help Nasser. It is that of which I am afraid. For strange things do happen. It has always struck me as odd that we should have rushed in on the Aswan Dam as we did. I have never seen that action argued on its merits. I trust that we, and not only we, but others also, will have had an object lesson and that we shall avoid such mistakes in future.
The real reason why I rose to speak today was to touch on something quite different, which the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, covered very adequately early in the debate—I refer to the plight of these unfortunate people who have been driven out of Egypt as a result of our policy. There can be no question that came as a result of our policy. Whether it was 1213 wise or unwise, one result was that these innocent sufferers were driven out. I had hoped that we need not necessarily have talked about this at all to-day, but could have had another day on which to raise it as a separate subject, for it deserves a separate day to itself on which it would not be submerged into the high political sphere. But the matter has been raised in a debate in another place, and I should hate to be told afterwards that we let it go by default during to-day's discussion, for that is certainly not our intention.
I say that all the more because to-day, May 23, is the day on which the financial discussions begin in Rome. We do not know what they are about or their precise nature, but I am very apprehensive about these claims of our evicted nationals. I know that the claimants themselves, too, are very apprehensive. The fear is that their claims will be flooded in some Governmental book transaction and that they will be left lamenting on the beach. I do not suppose that is at all the idea of Her Majesty's Government, but such things do happen. I speak for all these claimants in saying that they are very nervous about anything of that kind happening.
The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, brought the matter out earlier, and I think we need not cover it more fully except to say that if these claimants believe, as they are inclined to believe, that Her Majesty's Government are "dragging their feet ", we cannot be surprised. After all, these people were expelled about November 5—quite a long time ago—and I raised the matter in your Lordships' House on December 5, though it may have been raised otherwise; and we have had two debates. Then on March 28 we were told, during a debate, that it was unreasonable to press this matter until these claims had been properly collated and so on; and we said "Oh, yes". It was then going to be done within six to eight weeks. Some of us thought perhaps that the Government might have got busy on the matter before—but let that pass. Later on, we were given an assurance—I think it was by the Prime Minister on April 11—and he talked about four to five weeks. Finally, the noble Earl, Lord Home, on May 2 came down to two or three weeks more. That brings us down to to-day May 23. My point is that if the unfortunate claimants, in many cases people 1214 deprived of all their possessions, feel that there has been somewhat of a delay in this matter, one cannot be surprised.
Lest there be any doubt about it, I have here an answer typical of the answers which these unfortunate people have been receiving from the Foreign Office. It is an official letter from the Foreign Office, dated April 29, and it begins:I am directed by Mr. Secretary Lloydso there is no doubt that it is an official letter. It acknowledges receipt of a letter of March 29 written by the man to whom this letter is addressed. One of the first points to note is that this answer was dated April 25. The note which it answered was dated March 29. That seems rather a long time to take to answer a letter. The Foreign Office communication proceeds:In reply, I would point out that it is the Egyptian Government which has sequestrated your property and in the event of any loss or damage any claim will lie against the Egyptian Government, though Her Majesty's Government will give you such assistance as may be possible in prosecuting a claim. There can, however, be no question of Her Majesty's Government paying compensation for losses which may have been inflicted by the Egyptian authorities.Another paragraph in the letter states:Your letter puts forward a request for immediate payment of individual claims, but, as I have explained above, these claims are against the Egyptian Government, and there are no arrangements at present for advances by Her Majesty's Government against asserts held in EgyptThe letter ends up with a reminder—well-intentioned no doubt—that there is a Resettlement Board if this poor gentleman likes to go there. As your Lordships know, these unfortunate people live in camps, and they get 1s. 10d. a day. This man happens to have been a director of a company. He lived in Cairo and he has lost everything. I only quoted that letter because I think it is hardly calming to those whose claims are dealt with in that callous way.
I come back to my original point. Of course the Government will say they must see what is happening in Rome. I personally have had some experience of these things—especially of the Egyptians. I have no doubt as to the type of claim they are going to produce. It will include damage to Port Said, and this, that and the other; and the total will be colossal. Therefore I am afraid that these fears on 1215 the part of the claimants to whom I have referred are not likely to be unjustified. My intervention is for the purpose of entering what I believe is known as a caveat on behalf of these unfortunate individuals who, since they have been expelled from their jobs, are still dispossessed.
Your Lordships will remember the extraordinary matter about National Savings Certificates. I still cannot follow the explanation about that. These were certificates bought for the war effort. The certificates were issued in the name of the individual buyer and therefore were not transferable. For safety's sake they were lodged here by the purchaser, who happened to live in Egypt, when he got them. I admit that I encouraged him to buy them. He comes here now, penniless, and he is not allowed to touch even one of these certificates. He is forbidden to do so. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, I think it was, explained this away on some legal ground, but I do not think that he himself was convinced that it was very sound. These people cannot bring an action against the Bank of England or any organisation of that kind. My Lords, I think I have said quite enough, and perhaps too much. My whole object in getting up was to ensure that in to-day's debate we did not pass over the problem of these unfortunate people who were expelled from Egypt.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I rise as a wholehearted and unrepentant supporter of Sir Anthony Eden. That does not mean that I wish to take up your Lordships' time with post-mortems. I think we have had enough of that—in the press, in Hansard of another place; and, indeed, I believe we have had enough of it here to-day. I feel that it must have been the intention of my noble friend Lord Salisbury, when he tabled his Motion, to make this debate as much as possible forward-looking; and with that view I entirely agree. I cannot see that anything is to be gained by recriminations over the past.
Perhaps a useful purpose has been served to-day by analysing what happened and by trying to draw the moral, by trying to learn how we may possibly have miscalculated or made mistakes. If I 1216 may, I should like to allude to one particular thing which was said by the Prime Minister on May 15. He said this:I believe that if they "—He was referring to the United States—had understood the situation sooner and better we would have been spared many of these troubles.These are strong words indeed, and I am certain that the Prime Minister weighed them up very carefully when he uttered them. I am not here to accuse or to criticise, but I cannot help saying—indeed I should be dishonest if I did not—that I believe there has been a very unsatisfactory situation between this country and the United States; that our liaison has been very far from what it should have been.
I happened to be in the United States shortly before Christmas. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, who has also been in America recently, has, I think, voiced there views which I am going to express. I travelled about in America and spoke to innumerable Americans of different sorts and kinds. Few of them were what one might describe as very important people in the political world, but many of them were citizens of substance. I did not find on a single occasion unwillingness to discuss the Suez Canal situation, and I never received anything but a sympathetic hearing. But I was surprised to find how ill-informed the people to whom I spoke appeared to be. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in attributing blame (I did not mean to talk about blame) places it, first, on the United Nations; secondly, on the United States of America; and thirdly, on the Opposition. With all respect, I feel that some of the blame must be placed on Her Majesty's Government. And I believe that the blame is largely to be directed in this one channel—I refer to the inability somehow (perhaps the effort was made) to explain our case clearly and in good time to the people of the United States of America.
I should like to talk a little now about the Commonwealth of Australia and New Zealand. I was in Australia shortly after our intervention between the Israelis and the Egyptians, and, naturally, in the course of our travels through Australia we had innumerable conversations on this difficult subject. Here, again, there was nothing but sympathetic conversation; no 1217 bitterness, no loss of temper, no quick judgments and no snap ideas without proper consideration. But underlying all these conversations was this: that somehow or other they felt they did not know enough about it and they wished they had been allowed to know more. In New Zealand I had a luncheon in honour of the Commonwealth Parliamentary delegation of which I was one, and at this meal—and I am sure you will not mind my quoting it—Mr. Holyoak used these words,England, right or wrong ".It was very moving to hear that. But when it came to my turn to reply, I felt that I had in honesty to say that that spirit, "England, right or wrong", is not really quite good enough. Surely if the Commonwealth means anything at all (and I believe, my Lords, it means a very great deal) we must not expect our good friends to have to follow us blindly; they can come with us when the matter is discussed and explained among us. I felt I must say that to your Lordships.
There is a further point, on which I must, I am afraid, disagree with my noble friend Lord Salisbury. I think he has tried to draw the line between high principles and what perhaps one might call practical business. I have the greatest respect and admiration for Lord Salisbury, but, with all humility, I feel that somehow on this occasion his judgment is a little at fault. I cannot see that any breaking of principles exists in our using the Suez Canal now, nor can I see that any useful purpose would be served by not using the Canal now. As Lord Halifax explained to us, if you are going to have a policy, it is essential to have the means to carry out that policy. We have not now, as your Lordships all know, the means to carry out the boycott of the Suez Canal; therefore I feel that nothing whatever would be gained by holding up our shipping from going through the Canal.
But, my Lords—and surely this is the essential part of everything we are saying to-day—we stand pat on the Six Points, and my noble friend the Leader of the House has said that these Six Points are our minimum requirements and that those Six Points we must have. Now if, by some misfortune, we have difficulty in achieving those Six Points—and I think it may well be difficult—surely then comes 1218 the time, when we have taken the necessary steps, to bring our boycott into operation, and then that boycott will be effective. As has been said many times in this debate, the Canal is useful to Colonel Nasser and to Egypt only so long as it is used by the shipping which at present goes through it. Then if we are unable to come to terms with Colonel Nasser (and I am not personally pessimistic about this), that surely is the time to employ this boycotting arm; that surely is the time to see whether we cannot get the collective security which I was sorry to hear Lord Home say was not working.
I should like to say one further thing, and that is that I do not personally feel this terrible sense of frustration which has been spoken of; and I believe I speak for those of my age. I think we have got (if I may use a vulgarism) the guts to see this thing through. Indeed it is something which is extremely unpleasant; but I believe that, given the ordinary British qualities of sense, patience and perseverance, we shall see it through. But we shall not see it through unless we try to co-operate as closely as it is humanly possible with the Commonwealth, the French, and the United States of America.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I wall not detain your Lordships long, but I am very anxious to leave a constructive idea with regard to the whole situation which has been so adequately debated to-day. First of all, I feel that the people of our own country are rather in the same position as the people of Australia to whom my noble friend has just referred: they are very confused with regard to what is the situation and I think our public relations officers might do a very good job of work in letting them know what the real position is.
Now I am going to make a suggestion which may be looked upon as perfectly ridiculous. I can remember many years ago now when we were in rather the same position as we are to-day, having the right wing politics on one side and the left wing politics on the other, and that was not working at all well in the interests of this country. I am going to put to your Lordships what was said in those days by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. He begged that a national council should be formed of all Parties 1219 to deal with the situation; and I put forward that idea now to your Lordships. There is no doubt whatever in my mind that the action of these—what shall I call them?—irresponsible politicians, I am afraid particularly on the left wing of politics, who get a visa and go off to various countries and interview people who are not friendly towards us, without going to the embassies or the officials to find out what is the background of everything there, has been very detrimental to us and has made our position considerably more difficult than it might have been.
So long as we have these votes of censure in the other place, and the continual reference to the disaster of Suez (which I do not believe is a disaster at all)—even Lord Pethick-Lawrence a day or so ago when speaking on economics could not keep off the Suez Canal altogether; he had to refer to "the disaster of Suez "—and so long as we have this spirit of antagonism between the two great Parties of the country, I believe we shall never get the confidence of America or any other country. Therefore I put this point for the consideration of the Government, to see whether we in this country cannot get closer together. We on this side of the House have said hard things about the Opposition, and hard things, very hard things, have been said by the Opposition about us. Well, let us wash all that out and try to get something in the nature of what I will call a national council, to deal with the very serious situation in which we find ourselves. If we can get rid of these irresponsible people who go about the world interviewing people whom we know to be unfriendly to us and who have been attacking us, I believe a new spirit would be engendered, not only in this country but also in the world amongst our friends.
These people of whom I complain say that it is all done for the sake of liberty. Absolute nonsense! There is no liberty about it at all. It is simply done for political reasons, and we want to get rid of that to-day. Unfortunately, the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury is not here to-day. I wonder whether he went and had a talk with the Government before he made a particular speech on the subject of Archbishop Makarios. If he did not, 1220 why not? Why come out with these speeches which do not do any good at all and only encourage our enemies?
Now, "Master Nasser"! We saved Nasser. He knows it perfectly well. My noble friend Lord Halifax referred to force being used. But if we had not used force at that moment, what would have happened? It is quite easy to see that if we had not gone in and stopped the war which had already started the Israelites would have been in Cairo in a matter of hours. Then what would have happened? I asked the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, one day in this House about his criticism, "Would you have done nothing in those circumstances?" He did not answer me. We had to operate. We had to take the whole question seriously and stop what would have turned into a major conflagration in the Middle East perhaps in only a few hours.
We have the situation of the British refugees—a matter to which my noble friends Lord Killearn and Lord Lloyd have referred. I have a Motion on the Order Paper on that subject for "No Day Named," which will be discussed later. Can we see any evidence whatever at the present time that Nasser has altered his character? I cannot see any indication whatever that he has become what I will term a better man, able to face up to the sort of situations we have and to treat them seriously and with some sort of statesmanship.
There are one or two other noble Lords who wish to speak, and it is getting late. But I make this one suggestion. Let us try to get together here, bury the past and all the rows we have had over this appalling question and see whether we cannot go forward into the future with a completely combined action on the part of all political Parties in this country. Of course, we cannot expect the Communists to do it, but I hope that members of the Opposition will take this idea seriously. I feel that if we could get it going, that would establish a feeling of confidence, not only in this country amongst our own people but also among the other nations of Europe and of the world. I beg the Government to consider this simple suggestion. I am most grateful to the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, for initiating this debate, because I feel that I can agree with almost every word he said.
§ 6.35 p.m.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, I think that it was almost too much to hope that this debate would produce agreement between the two sides of your Lordships' House on which were the consequences of the Suez action itself and which were the consequences of the build-up of the situation, prompting that action. It seems to me that illusions are still clogging and confusing any constructive argument. So I set myself to meet one or two of them. I think that the main illusion under which the Opposition is gratuitously lingering is their belief that the Port Said operation was unpopular in the country. I am persuaded that the landing at Port Said had the overwhelming support of the country at large. I think that that support, which at one time worked in favour of the Government, is tending, or at least is liable, to begin working against the Government. I take the view, I hope not too unfriendly to noble Lords opposite, that it is more important for the Government to have the confidence of the nation than to have the confidence of the Opposition.
The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, emphasised the importance of having a firm foreign policy, and I believe that that is exactly what the country itself now demands of the Government. There is an impression existing, and I believe growing, that the conduct of our own foreign policy is slipping out of our own hands; that it is being entrusted more and more to the United Nations Organisation. It seems to me that never was there a worse time to entrust our foreign policy to that organisation.
I enter this argument, self-propelled by my own convictions, and with some feeling that to a certain extent I am authorised to take it up. Because there cannot be many Members of your Lordships' House who have served in action under the United Nations flag. In the late summer of 1950 I was sitting in the far south of Spain, writing my third book, bathed in sunshine, with a carafe of sherry not far from my hand, when up the hill came a postman with a letter. It was a charming one, it began, "Dear Rowland" and ended, "Yours ever, ' Jumbo '. "It asked me to rejoin the Army for a year, to go and fight in Korea. I want to make it absolutely 1222 plain that I am glad I did so. And I did so at the behest of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, as he is now. I assure your Lordships that I am not introducing this personal element for any purpose of self-advertisement: I mention it because I believe that it is we (and in that pronoun I number myself with every Member of your Lordships' House) who believe most in the United Nations, who are most disappointed by their performance in recent months.
My noble and gallant friend Lord Jeffreys referred to the record of the United Nations in recent months. While he was speaking, I was reminded of an incident which occurred in the Korean campaign during the withdrawal from the Yalu River. I must ask your Lordships to imagine a squadron of Centurion tanks on rising ground, overlooking a great broad plain, across which we had recently withdrawn. Suddenly, on the other side of that plain appeared a great cloud of dust. It was quite impossible to tell what was inside it. It crossed the plain at enormous speed, and as it moved closer it might have been some fantastic Chinese secret weapon. Whatever it was, it was likely to endanger an entire brigade on the road behind us. We moved across its path the biggest movable object in Korea, a Centurion tank. About ten yards in time, this projectile drew to a screaming halt. We observed that it was one of those vast American trucks as high—I nearly said as high as your Lordships' House, but that would be an exaggeration—but very high, indeed.
Staring out of the lofty cabin at us, through the swirling dust, a great, "round moon" face appeared. An officer standing nearby me said, "Where the devil do you think you're going! "Then from that round face there came the reply:" Sir, we don't think where we're going; we're just retreatin'." I am sorry to say that that was the predominant mood of a United Nations Force in the late winter of 1950; and I am far sorrier to say that it is the predominant mood of the entire United Nations Organisation to-day. That first situation was corrected by General Matthew P. Ridgeway, a somewhat theatrical, but very effective individual. He came in with his grenades hanging from his shoulders; he reinspired 1223 and re-animated the entire Army, sending it in a new direction—forward!
I think we must ask: Whom have we to perform that far greater task for us to-day? We have the devitalised Viking, the unhappy Mr. Hammarskjoeld. Mr. Hammarskjoeld became Secretary-General of the United Nations just in time to sign the Korean armistice. Since that day not a single international dispute has been solved by the agency of the United Nations. Mr. Hammarskjoeld tirelessly flies in every direction, round in circles, landing at places which, we must confess, might just as well never have seen him; and I must say that, if that ineffectual record is to be kept up, by the end of his term of office Mr. Hammarskjoeld will have won the imperishable and insufferable title of "The Umpire on whom the sun never sets."
I do not suggest either disbanding or abandoning the United Nations. I am not so fickle as to fight for an organisation one moment and to turn my back on it the next. But I think we should make plain that our membership is not necessarily permanent or automatic, as some people belong to a more expensive club than they can afford because most of their friends belong to it. I believe that such a challenge, in which I think we should also be joined by other nations, would not weaken the United Nations, but would enable it to live. Because I suspect that that organisation, unless reformed, will be as dead as the League of Nations, and in a far briefer span. Because I believe in it as the proper arbiter of international disputes, I should like to see it saved from that extinction.
In the meantime, I cannot see how we can pretend to rely on the United Nations, I believe that we must rely upon ourselves. I firmly believe that it is because the country wishes us to rely upon ourselves that the Government have carried the country with them until now on the Suez issue. But I believe, too, that some uncertainty was injected last week. Government speakers have made it plain that they are not happy about the decision that was made last week. They have been very frank, and frankness is a quality that is not always possessed by Governments. But, as often occurs, the unhappiness of one man is the joy of another, and I believe that public opinion is concerned 1224 with this aspect. I believe that a large part of the nation is more sensitive to our prestige among other nations than some individuals in political life. That belief was crystallised for me last Sunday, when I was speaking to a Yorkshire neighbour, and he said: "He must be laughing in the Abdin Palace today." I believe those are significant words, and that they are words which, in one form or another, are being repeated throughout the country. I am bound to wonder how long the country is likely to give its patient support to a Government which permits it to be laughed at.
All I am attempting to-day—and I hope my noble friend who is to reply to the debate will appreciate this—is to touch gently the alarm in time, as I smell the smoke and hear the early crackle of disapproval, which I believe could grow into a great blaze of public exasperation; great enough to engulf this Government, or any other Government. I am positive that the Prime Minister took office with a great fund of good will and confidence throughout the nation, extending far beyond the orbit of normal Conservative loyalty. I well remember that pregnant morning when my noble friend who opened this debate, and Sir Winston Churchill, were being consulted by Her Majesty The Queen. I shall not speak of my own feelings, which were intense. But I believe that the overwhelming part of the country drew a huge breath of relief when Her Majesty's choice was known.
I feel that, to a great extent—to a very great extent—in the time which has passed since, the Government have reinforced and justified that confidence. I believe, also, that last week they drew very deeply and dangerously upon that fund, and upon their resources in that respect. It is a fact—and self-persuasion and wishful thinking by the Opposition will not undo it—that far more people in this country were able to understand and applaud our going into Port Said, than were able to understand and applaud our coming out. I note that not as a criticism of the Government's action, because the general public do not know, and certainly I do not, just what pressures were put upon the Government from outside and the undertakings that were given and then withdrawn by other Powers. But last week another decision was made, without 1225 any foreign pressure, the result of an inner economic pressure, which France was ready to resist and we were not. Again, perhaps the full facts are not known. But still the echo of laughter from the Abdin Palace remains, and I cannot believe that it has not penetrated your Lordships' House.
The question follows: Who is to stop him laughing and when? I searched the Government speeches in another place for reassurances. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said: [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 570 (No. 109), col. 433]:We shall, therefore, continue to do everything we can…. Meanwhile, we shall continue to use every method we can…. We shall do all we can, through the United Nations and our friends, to see that this happens.My right honourable friend did not, as I read it, specify further what those methods were likely, precisely, to be. He said:This is not the end of the story.It would have been pretty shattering for me, for one, if he had said that it was. However, he has not told us what the next chapter is to be, or who is to write it. Will it really be left to the polyglot team of ghost writers in Manhattan Island? If so, we must feel that, judging by recent events, it will be a long time before we read that chapter. Will it be written by the State Department? Then, I feel, it would be an expensive chapter for British interests. Will it be written by Nasser?—because I am not the first to suggest that we have no reason or room to think that he has made his last move.
My Lords, I am persuaded that what this country hopes to see is some initiative by us in this matter, whether through the United Nations or with America, or with other friendly Powers who feel equally strongly as we do. Delay serves only to endorse the profoundly false impression that this country is ashamed, rather than proud, of what it set out to do at Port Said. I believe that this country does look with hope to the Prime Minister, but I believe that that hope was given an ugly jolt last week. I also believe, and I expect to see proved, as most of the country longs to see proved, that Her Majesty's choice, on that day of judgment, was for the salvation of our prestige among nations and our belief in ourselves.
§ 6.50 p.m.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, I rise at this late hour in the evening to support the policy of Her Majesty's Government in taking the decision not to advise shipowners to refrain from using the Canal. Like the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, I think we must be realistic and accept the fact that, in the circumstances, it would be impossible for us to continue the boycott. I was glad that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, seemed to agree that now that the decision had been taken we must accept it. But a point which I feel we must remember is that at the time of our Suez action a great deal of highly responsible expert opinion in this country and abroad, while being completely opposed to the takeover of the Canal Company by Nasser, was also opposed to the kind of violent police action taken by ourselves and the French. That is what some people said. Some action at some time was certainly necessary, said these people, but should it have been so violently repressive?
I daresay that most of our French friends would say that it had to be, as only a short time before the joint action a distinguished French official in the Middle East told me that he thought the only way to settle the Nasser problem was to revert to the old and well-tried gunboat policy of the past, or its modern equivalent consisting of Mystère fighters and Vickers Valiant bombers. I do not personally like that kind of talk, but it was, I suppose, quite natural for this distinguished French official to express such a point of view, since it was in line with M. Mollet's policy, as one realised afterwards, and it was, of course, in line with the kind of action which the French took in the past in Damascus and Algeria towards the end of the war—action which, however justified it may have appeared in the eyes of the French, was certainly much criticised by all Parties in this country and elsewhere abroad.
However, in the case of this Suez crisis, while our troops were in action in Egypt, or still more or less in action, it seemed to me that the action should be supported wholeheartedly by everyone in the country, and that is why I urged such support, in company with your Lordships, in two previous debates in this House. I know that the justification for the kind of violent action which we 1227 took is that only by that means could we destroy the numerous Russian aircraft and tanks which had been imported into Egypt and which were, according to certain evidence, to be manned later on by Soviet paratroopers.
I know that the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and the noble Earl, Lord Home, the Leader of the House, and the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, have in definite terms mentioned what the Soviet intentions were. But it seems to me that more should be said of them. I remember reading a report, I think it was in the Daily Telegraph, probably last November, quoting some information from a certain Mr. John Baker White who, in a speech at Canterbury, gave details of the kind of operation—I think he actually said that it was called "Operation Mena "—which it was known the Soviet Union was intending to undertake. I do not know how correct that information was, but I do not think it was denied; and if it was reasonably correct I only wish more had been made of it in the country, because it is not only relatively uninformed opinion that has been critical of the action but also, as I say, some highly responsible and expert opinion. I find that in this country and elsewhere abroad, even to-day there are still people who are unhappy about it, largely, I think, because that important point about Soviet intentions had never been fully put across.
The noble Earl, the Leader of the House, has to-day and in previous debates emphasised the Soviet threat, but I hope that he, or rather the noble Viscount, the Deputy Leader, may be able to tell us even more about it and, above all, see that public opinion is really fully informed. I thought that the debate in your Lordships' House in February, on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Strang, was very useful. I felt that we should all support that Motion strongly, as well as certain suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, and the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, at that time.
I was glad to read yesterday in the newspaper that the report of Dr. Hill's Committee is nearly complete, and I sincerely hope, therefore, that funds for the Information Services in the Middle East and, what is to my mind equally, if not more, important, for the British Council, will be considerably increased, 1228 in order not only to put over political points but generally to explain the British way of life to those countries. I hope also that in doing this in the Middle East, we may also sweeten the pill. For example, as your Lordships know, the new medium of television has been introduced into the Middle East, and in addition to putting regular programmes over the radio and on television, I hope that this country may also be able to produce some good entertainment programmes, thus sweetening the pill. You cannot very well get people to look or listen in great numbers to dull documentaries and news bulletins. Although I admit here a certain interest as director of a television company which might possibly be affected, I am expressing entirely personal opinions in this matter.
Political messages can much more effectively be inserted in between really popular programmes. I am sure this point is fully recognised by members of Dr. Hill's Committee, but I think it worth mentioning since I do not believe it was precisely stated in the debate on Lord Strang's Motion, although I think the noble Earl, Lord Woolton, came near to doing so. I do not mean to say that we should drop the use of the more serious educational and informative broadcasts or documentary films—it is essential that they should continue and be increased—but if you want to reach the masses, it is surely necessary also to use the more popular method. When I was last in Baghdad I saw on various occasions as many as fifty or sixty adults and children voluntarily looking at one television set on which were being shown some excellent American documentary films, dubbed in Arabic, on questions of hygiene and child welfare. But when an entertainment film was shown, or some of their own live entertainment, the numbers were usually doubled, and you could not get near the receiver. At any rate, a much larger audience can be reached during these programmes.
It is most important that we should not again jeopardise our relations with those countries in the Middle East with whom, even if any of them are not our close friends, it is economically essential that we should do effective trading. We must also give them as much technical assistance as possible. I am glad to see that our grants under the Baghdad Pact 1229 have been increased. I am sure that even more can be done in this line. We cannot afford not to do business with the new oil-rich countries.
As a result of the Suez action, there has already been a tendency for some of them to turn more towards Germany, the United States and, of course, the Soviet Union and other countries (not Britain) in the matter of imports and technical assistance. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, has described to your Lordships the latest developments in Syria in regard to Soviet influence there. All this happened for political rather than for technical or economic reasons. My belief is that even countries which have taken a strong line against us over Suez would often prefer our goods or technical assistance to those of other countries and would look more towards us were it not for the political breaches of the past.
Therefore, it seems to me that we must get back again on reasonably good terms with these countries, and I believe that Her Majesty's Government's new policy in that part of the world will contribute to that end. I do not believe that refraining from boycotting the Canal can be considered to constitute capitulation. In any case, it is not so much capitulation to Nasser that should be our real concern as the effect of the original action on Soviet intentions and what we did to Soviet equipment on the ground in that country. That equipment was destroyed, and therefore this Franco-British action can be considered successful. In the words of the noble Earl, it was a decisive victory.
There has been a tendency to think so much of the threat of Nasser and the difficulties of our own refugees, very important as they are, and the problem of the use of the Canal by Israel, that I feel that the real threat—that of the Soviet Union—has become a little obscured. But we must now also look to the long-term future in that area from the point of view of our educational and cultural efforts, technical assistance, information and trade. I hope that the noble Viscount the Deputy Leader, who is also Minister of Education and a poet, will appreciate this point as well as not be averse from sweetening the pill in the way which I mentioned. I am certain that, in taking such action, we must use the most up-to-date methods. Only so can we 1230 effectively implement this new policy. My Lords, we have not lost moral leadership. We have, I believe, enhanced it by this action, and we must still further enhance it in that part of the world.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I think it may be useful at the outset to say that I feel very satisfied with the course that the debate has taken after the strictures upon myself as Leader of the Opposition for not having put down a Motion of censure upon the Government. I am persuaded now that we have had a far better debate from a House populated in the way it is on the occasion of a Motion of this type which has been moved by the noble Marquess, than we could have had in any other circumstances. It is true that there have been a number of references to the attitude of the official Opposition elsewhere, of the Party to which I am very proud to belong—and the noble Marquess obviously wishes to indicate that he is still proud to belong to the Conservative Party. Foreign affairs have not in the past always been conducted on the basis of unilateral support in the country or in Parliament—I look back upon the affairs in relation to Abadan and other instances which have been mentioned in the course of the last few months. However, I feel we have had a reasonably good debate, and one which we can now bring to a successful conclusion.
I was very much moved by the end of the speech of the noble Marquess. I would say that everybody on this side of the House feels very strongly indeed how much we shall miss the authoritative and devoted leadership of the House which the noble Marquess has exercised for so long. I think, too, that it would be a very great pity (and in this I have the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, in agreement with me) if the noble Marquess should suppose that we would not like to see him back again in the House—although, naturally, I do not go all the way about being in office, as some people would, because I think it is about time we had a change of Government. Nevertheless, the noble Marquess has created so many friendships on my side of the House that I can assure him that, however much we may differ from him in policy—and we do seriously differ from him over this matter—we hope he will 1231 soon be back in more active service in the House.
I should like to say, too, that the noble Earl who leads the House now rather surprised me when, almost at the very beginning of his speech, he suggested that after the speech of the noble Marquess the debate had been lowered by my noble friend and colleague Lord Attlee. I want to say at once to the noble Earl that, in my view, it is not necessary for me to make a long speech to-night, because in ten minutes the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, completely smashed the case that had been put to the House.
THE EARL OF HOME
In case in a moment of political irritation I used a word in error which might be offensive to the noble Earl, of course I withdraw it and apologise at once. I have too much respect for the services which he has given to the country ever to suggest that a debate would deteriorate through his speaking, however much I might disagree with him.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
That is handsome. I am very much obliged. It is typical of the exchanges we have in this House. I think that that is a rectification which has been handsomely made. But, still, it really did annoy us at the time that it was said. I am grateful to my noble friend for the manner in which he made, in the short time he had, such a complete argument against the case which has been made so often on this matter.
I am sure that the noble Marquess is right in saying that he does not want to rock the Conservative boat. I should have thought that the speeches that we had from the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, and from some other noble Lords who seem to assume that the action taken by the Conservative Government in this matter has had the overwhelming support of the country at large, were not really borne out by the facts. I have not noticed such overwhelming victories for the Government in by-elections or municipal elections or a flood of correspondence to the national and provincial Press. I think the noble Lord is just whistling to keep his courage up. The real fact is in what the noble Marquess himself said—and it is partly in reply to the noble Earl, Lord 1232 Bessborough—" We have undoubtedly lost the moral leadership of the world ". That comes from the man who put this Motion down. He pointed out, of course, the necessity of taking steps to restore that leadership. We had better see upon which leg the Party opposite is really standing. For the life of me, I cannot make out how the noble Marquess and the noble Earl, Lord Home, can both me right. I felt a great deal more at home with the arguments used by the noble Earl, Lord Halifax.
LORD ST. OSWALD
May I intervene on one small point, if the noble Viscount does not mind? I was saying that more people in the country were able to understand our going into Port Said than were able to understand our coming out. I was speaking of the feeling in the country, or the feeling in Yorkshire, at the time of the Suez action, and not others.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
Well, I am not quite sure how the noble Lord managed to get all this consensus of opinion matched in his mind so as to give the majorities for or against this, that or the other. I do not find it quite so easy myself; and having regard to the general political results in the country, I just do not accept the argument. I would say that the noble Marquess has done us a real service in coming at last to raise this matter. I am bound to say to him, however, that we have not had full details from him as to why he resigned. I think that is a part of his effort not to "rock the boat." I daresay that is true. But in the previous resignations referred to by my noble friend, I think in every single case we have had a detailed explanation as to why there was a resignation.
It was obvious from the noble Marquess's speech that he had strong prior objection to the action taken with regard to the release, and especially to the terms of the release, of Archbishop Makarios; but his resignation did not occur until the due change of policy by the Government in regard to Suez occurred. If the noble Marquess goes so far as he does to approve generally what had been done up to that date, and when he sees that all the members of the existing Government say that what they did up to that date was quite right, then it seems to me that there was not much reason for his resignation. However, that 1233 is a matter for his conscience and nobody else's, and he is perfectly at liberty to take that decision.
But I have seen from the speech of the noble Leader of the House to-day at least sufficient reason to begin to doubt all the statements that were made earlier about what was the real cause of the entry of Britain into the attack on the Suez Canal area. That is the real thing that I want to bring home to your Lordships. In view of the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, I do not propose to deal with much else in what I have to say to-night. I have been to check carefully over the tape—I hope that the tape was correct—what the noble Earl the Leader of the House said in the course of his speech. If he will excuse me, I will just quote the salient passages:Nasser's seizure of the Canal was a prelude to a much more ambitious plan of progress … . It was a danger not only to Europe but to the Middle East. If his boast had been realised, with Israel annihilated, and plans to take control from Iran to the Atlantic had matured, not only would Europe have been ruined, but ruin and suffering in the Middle East and Africa would have occurred beyond calculation.I hope that I have read that fairly accurately.
The original reasons given for going into the Suez Canal were, it seems to me, certainly not those. We were going in as policemen because Israel had raised an attack upon Egypt, and because it was thought that, in consequence of that comparatively minor affair, there might be some danger to the Canal; and therefore we were going in to defend the Canal. We were policemen. But the more speeches that are made on the lines of the speech of the noble Earl to-day, the more it seems to indicate that what we in the Labour Party had feared for some time was right: that the Government had a much bigger plan of a military character, and that long before they gave the ultimatum they were building up a force which was far and away larger than would really have been required merely to form a kind of police force between the two sides. It is gradually being revealed to us that their aim was to go for the Canal to see that the Canal was not endangered, and, if necessary, to attack Egypt and not Israel.
The noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, said just now that one of the great results was that we had been enabled to shoot 1234 up the various pieces of military material which had been supplied to Egypt—shooting upon the ground. He said that this was a good result of our acting as policemen between Israel and Egypt. He did not seem to give much credit to the fact that Egypt was so badly led or so inefficient, from the military point of view, that the Israelis had already surged down towards that area and had captured, and not merely destroyed, large quantities of military equipment from the Egyptians. To my mind, the whole picture presented tonight seems to be that the Government had a much bigger and more major military plan in mind than was at first put over to this country. However that may be, there was something in that part of the speech by the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, when he said that their real intentions were not very well put over to the general public.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
I said that it was the Soviet intentions that were not put across and not fully expressed to the people. Clearly, that is what I said.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
If that was what the noble Earl intended, I accept that at once. On the other hand, surely the ordinary person reading the newspapers, and reading speeches about the Soviet Union and the way in which they have so often dragged against the efforts made for peace, did not need to be informed of that. Numerous questions have been asked in another place about the quantity of arms which was being supplied by Russia. All these things were matters of public knowledge. But we in this country did not know that we were preparing what was obviously a set plan, although it was very poorly carried out, in its timing and transport, in order to cripple Egypt, who bad undoubtedly let us down badly from the legal and the international Convention point of view in nationalising the Canal without notice and without negotiation.
It is just as well, therefore, for us to remember what that true position is. We on this side cannot dismiss from our minds, after the speeches made from the other side of the House to-day, that there is still a feeling that where you are dealing not with a question of a great major war between, say, the Russians and their satellites and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Powers, but merely with a 1235 matter affecting Egypt or any other part of the world, what you need is to be able to say that you are stronger. That is the doctrine and the custom of so many Members on the other side.
Perhaps it is not a bad thing to remind the noble and learned Viscount who is to wind up the debate tonight of what he said on a previous occasion. We were talking then, on July 31, 1951, about Abadan. The noble Viscount was then speaking from the Back Benches, and I quote just a passage from Col. 104 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, (Vol. 173). He said this:Your Lordships may refer to the Persians and the Egyptians as unreasonable. They are nothing of the kind. Their reasoning proceeds from the sober, solid reasons of logic. They believe the British can be compelled by threats of violence and force. They wish to get what they want out of the British, and therefore they proceed to threats of violence and force; and until that premise of their argument is challenged—and it cannot be challenged only by words, it must be challenged also by deeds…That statement fairly indicated the turn of mind of the noble Viscount. But he went on to explain, a little later on, what he meant in that respect, for he said, of our Government at that time (col. 107):I should have liked to see on the part of His Majesty's Government—if I may quote Horace—and I am not going to attempt to quote the Latin, but the interpretation put upon it by the noble and learned Viscount:A little less of…that His Majesty's Government deeply deplore the attitude of the Persian authorities—and a little more of…that we are a great deal stronger than the Shah of Persia and our morale is a good deal higher.Again a strong incitement to the Labour Government to use force over Abadan.
In that debate, which was opened by the noble Marquess who opened this debate to-day, there were continuous complaints that we had not been sufficiently insistent from the point of view of force. But the real point is that on this occasion, concerning this dispute in the Middle East, Her Majesty's Government failed to take steps which we had pointed out in the debate in July, 1951, over Abadan, they ought to have taken. They had no adequate consultation with our Allies—and not only those mentioned earlier, but those also in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the Baghad Pact. They had no proper consultations with the Dominions. It is true 1236 that the Australian Prime Minister was available and at hand; and whatever may be our political views on the Middle East, I believe that we are all grateful to the Prime Minister of Australia for his willingness to act as he did. But at that time we had no adequate consultations with the Dominions and were very largely indebted to Mr. Lester Pearson's efforts for finding a way out of the morass into which we had got by our action; for it was his suggestion, on behalf of his Government, for the setting up of a United Nations Force which gave our Government a chance of withdrawing from the almost impossible situation into which they had fallen.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, would the noble Viscount allow me to interrupt him on this question of Mr. Lester Pearson? As I understood him, the noble Viscount left the House with the impression that Mr. Lester Pearson condemned the British Government's action. For the sake of the record, let us remember that he described it as a sincere effort to ensure the free passage of ships of all nations through the Suez Canal; so there was no condemnation by Mr. Lester Pearson of Britain's policy.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I too have studied the papers on the Canadian attitude on this matter. I appreciate the very kindly way in which Mr. Pearson has always spoken, but there is no doubt at all that in the United Nations Canada's attitude was not wholly for us. Canada was against the type of action we had taken, and it is no good trying to camouflage that. Nor was New Zealand wholly with us. They were exceedingly good and loyal comrades, and that we always appreciate.
What we need in government is a new mind upon these matters. I fully agreed with what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said about the necessity for having a real development of the idea of our Commonwealth, an expanding and numerically growing Commonwealth, but always with a basis whereby we can have the collaborating efforts of all the nations for a true peace based upon peaceful progress in the life and standards of their nation in the Commonwealth. That is the best means of progress. I am in favour of that.
1237 I am in favour of something else: that, before we begin to act as we did in our entry into Port Said, the nations should be taken more into the Government's confidence, and that such an operation should not take place, as my noble friend pointed out earlier, with only ten minutes' notice to the Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition. If, as you say, you want the country behind you in such an action, that is simply unprincipled. Above all, I should say, with great respect to Members of the House, that in these days, when we are already in a situation in which we are to depend mainly on nuclear weapons in the future, and even talk of using such weapons, for tactical purposes, up to the weight and power of the bomb dropped at Hiroshima, it is about time that this country thought of calling for a national day of prayer and giving real and serious spiritual consideration to the matter. Before we go into such extraordinary expeditions, in which we inflict injury and bloodshed on another nation, we should look to our own religious ideas and see that they take us in the right direction.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, I will not deny that I have looked forward with a certain degree of trepidation to my own part at the conclusion of this debate. For a relatively inexperienced Minister to wind up for Her Majesty's Government when so many and so distinguished Members of your Lordships' House have taken part in so important a debate is, as you may be sure, an ordeal. The temptation to come forearmed with the protective armament of a prepared speech was well-nigh irresistible, but it is my unswerving conviction that a Member who winds up for the Government or for one side with a prepared speech is not worthy of the confidence of this House.
If, therefore, I direct myself to the arguments which have appealed to me, or the reverse, without the splendid periods or even the sparkling epigrams of some of those who have taken part in this debate, I hope the House will not respect me the less and will realise that my rather homespun method of approaching an important subject it, not due to levity or want of consideration for your Lordships but quite the reverse. I myself was deeply moved by the appeal for no recrimination 1238 which came from the lips of the Leader of the Liberal Party, and I agree with him about that. I also agree with those noble Lords who have expressed the hope that this may be the last of the post-mortems and that future debates, however controversial they may be—and I, for one, am not sorry for controversy and see no reason that any man need apologise for it—will concentrate upon future policy rather than past disagreement.
I feel that in some ways I am a suitable member to reply to this debate. For a long time, when this situation was building up, I was on the Back Benches. During the critical phases I had the heavy and, as I believe your Lordships will believe, almost agonising responsibilities of being at the head of a Fighting Service. During the period to which the noble Marquess most deliberately referred, the present, I have been a member of the Cabinet. During those two periods of office, though in the earlier I did not originate policy, I took, of course, responsibility for it. Perhaps those of us who were not in the Cabinet, and therefore did not originate policy, had a more lonely and more difficult task than either the Government or the Opposition. These were not events about which one could hide oneself behind perfectly legitimate notions of Party loyalty, or even loyalty to colleagues.
I had to ask myself, as I know we all asked ourselves, in the solitude of our own rooms, what it was our duty to do at each successive stage of these painful events. I believe noble Lords will accept it from me that I did what I believed to be my duty. I was pained, but not surprised, to find that many old friends of different political persuasions thought that I had done wrong. Looking back on the occasion, I cannot regret what I have done or the support which I gave to Her Majesty's Government throughout, and I shall give my reasons for it. In particular, I cannot regret that, being at the head of a Fighting Service, I did my best to expound the views of this country at a time when the views of this country were not universally accepted abroad. And I tried to show, in unmistakable fashion, my loyalty to the Service of which I was at that time the head. I should like to say, in passing, that, however painful events may have been to me personally, the experience of 1239 working with the distinguished Navy officers and civil servants who form part of the Naval Service of this country was one that I shall never forget. Their calm, their loyalty, their helpfulness and understanding were beyond all praise. And I am glad, if of nothing else, of the opportunity this debate gives me of paying tribute to them.
I want to say at the outset of this argument—and it will be an argument—that I do not think any generation of statesmen, Government or Opposition, has had to face a situation more intractable or difficult to evaluate. That this was so has been shown by the fact, exemplified not least by to-day's debate, that real differences of emphasis existed not only between the two Parties officially but within the Parties and within the breasts of everyone of us. Speaking for myself, while I have been, and am, prepared to defend what the Government have done at every stage, I have never complained, nor shall I complain now, that others have taken a different view. I have never complained of members of the Government who resigned at the time of the intervention. I have never complained of the Opposition for opposing. On the contrary, if in such great matters conscience is to be the guide, it is part of the glory of Britain that persons whose consciences lead them to follow directly opposite courses can continue to respect one another with their heads held high.
There is only one qualification I would make to this—and I make it without either rancour or vindictiveness. I do so the more easily because I can specifically disclaim, in making it, any desire to refer to any Member of your Lordships' House. I must say that, while I have never complained of the content of opinions expressed by the Opposition, I have sometimes regretted their manner. Looking back on the events of last November, I feel no kind of resentment that the action of the Government should have been opposed with all their strength by those who thought it wrong. But I thought then, I think now and I feel it my duty to say, that the manner of the Opposition was often hysterical and irresponsible and reduced rather than improved the chances of rational discussion.
Moreover, it is easy to phrase criticism in such a manner as to damage the 1240 Government, as I think, on the whole, Mr. Bevan did, without doing so in such a way as to damage the country, as I think, on the whole, the present Leader of the Labour Party did. I wholeheartedly agreed with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, when he said that many of the speeches made by representatives of the Labour Party at that time seemed to him more calculated to damage the country than the Government; and had that effect. I cannot help noticing to-day that, excellent in quality as the two speeches from the Opposition Front Bench have been, they were the only two speeches, I think, from any quarter of your Lordships' House which contained no constructive suggestion—none whatever. I do not complain that those speakers did not utter a word of self-criticism—perhaps that is too much to ask of the Leaders of any Party under the Parliamentary system. But they made no suggestion whatever as to how they thought this intractable situation ought to have been dealt with, or what course we should take now for the future.
It is true that the noble Earl who led for the Opposition, made one constructive suggestion. It was that the country should trust his friends a little more than it has shown much inclination to do at the moment—and that after their performance last November, which, I must say, diminished rather than enhanced my respect for their powers of leadership. He did not tell us what he and his friends proposed should be done now, or what they would have done then. He issued a blank cheque which he invited the country to sign. I must say that, having seen what they have to offer—their almost total bankruptcy in moral and political ideas—I am less than ever inclined to listen to them.
I should like to join in the many tributes from all quarters of the House, and the many signs of welcome and affection which have been accorded to the noble Marquess who initiated the debate. I do not think I need say—though perhaps I may be permitted to do so—that the fact that he has left us, much to our regret, does not mean that the affection we feel for him, and the respect with which a stateman of his stature is rightly regarded in your Lordships' House, has dwindled in any degree whatever. I would join with my noble friend Lord Halifax 1241 in saying that I think the noble Marquess was premature in his expressed belief that he would not again take a leading part in office or on the Front Opposition Bench. He showed by his speech—that very remarkable and, if he will allow me to say so, very moving speech—that he is still a very young man. "Never" is not the kind of word one should use when one is a very young man. At any rate, we hope he is wrong; we believe he is wrong. I can only assure him that there is not a member of Her Majesty's Government who would not be happy and proud to serve with him or under him again.
I should like now to turn to what I, at any rate, regard as the crucial issues before the House. I do so in a spirit of post-mortem and not in a spirit of recrimination of self-justification. I think that this can best be achieved in asking— I hope dispassionately—and seeking to answer three crucial questions. First, what was the significance of our intervention last November? I say "what was the significance", because, with respect, one cannot begin to make up one's mind whether it was right or wrong, justified or unjustified, until one has got the right answer to the question as to why it was done and what was meant.
The second question is: What was the significance of our accepting the ceasefire so soon after the operation was begun and before its declared objectives were achieved? Because again, with respect, unless one understands its significance, one can hardly, I think, put oneself in a position to evaluate what were and what were not its necessary corollaries in policy. I think it is because I differ from the Opposition as to the answer to the first question that I differ from the noble Earl, and because, with the deepest respect, I differ a little in the answer to the second question, that I differ from my noble friend Lord Salisbury.
The third question which I shall seek to answer is: What ought to be our attitude at the moment to this baffling, intractable and painful situation? Because unless we can apply to the future these lessons of the last few months, I think our policy is liable to be both misunderstood and ineffective in itself. For I entirely agree, if I may say so, with the noble Viscount in that part of his 1242 speech where he said that it was necessary for any Government to try, so far as possible, to take the country into its confidence, so that the general principles governing its behaviour can be understood and so that, when sudden decisions have to be taken, the country can confidently accept them, knowing that the Government's general principles are not being transgressed.
I now turn to the question: what was the significance of the intervention? I think this matter is of crucial future importance to the confidence in which this country rightly desires to be held by other members of a free and civilised world. I believe that it has been misunderstood, and it was certainly misunderstood by the noble Viscount who has just spoken. Whatever else it was, this intervention was not a retreat from the principles which have governed our foreign policy of favouring the independence of free nations, of respect for international legal obligations, and of endorsement of the United Nations Charter. The intervention may have been right or it may have been wrong. Whatever else it was, it was not a reversion to colonialism or to the policy of the nineteenth century—not necessarily because we think the policy of the nineteenth century was wrong at the time it was taken, or in the context in which it was pursued. But we are living in different conditions to-day; we are the same nation, whichever "Government is in power, that gave independence to one portion of the old Colonial Empire and to India after another, either as members of the Commonwealth or as independent nations. That process has continued right through the Suez operation and is continuing to-day.
Secondly, I would say (and here I come closer to something which the noble Viscount opposite said) that there is absolutely no truth whatever in the suggestion that the intervention in November was to be regarded as a kind of act of retortion or retaliation for the nationalisation of the Suez Canal. I shall have more to say as I go on about that, as I believe, illegal act, and of the action which flows inevitably from it. But there is absolutely no truth whatever, so far as I am aware, in the belief, from which I think the noble Viscount appeared to suffer at one time, that what took place in November was in any sense either an 1243 act of retortion or retaliation; and it is a failure to grasp that essential fact which has been, if I may say so, befuddling many Members of the Opposition.
There are many people—I think that I myself am probably one of them—who believe that the United Nations Charter does not exclude acts of retortion and retaliation; and there are also people, like the learned Lord, Lord McNair, who think it does. But if I may at this stage venture a personal opinion about this matter, the view which I took at the time was that an act of retaliation or retortion, although it might have been justified immediately after the nationalisation of the Canal, can very speedily be lost, and was lost by waiver so soon as negotiations began. What remains true is that, for reasons which I am quite ready to expound, and some of which I think it will become relevant to discuss in the course of what I have to say, it was obvious to anybody who reviewed the position in the Middle East as it was last summer, after the introduction of Russian arms on a grand scale in Egypt, and after the nationalisation of the Suez Canal, that the situation was unstable, to say the least, and might at any moment easily explode in one way or another and become unpredictable.
It would, therefore, have been wholly wrong, at least in my judgment, for Her Majesty's Government not to accumulate certain forces in Malta against a contingency. It was utterly false, as I see it, and saw it at the time, to infer in any sort of way that, because that force was there, we were committed to the use of force against Nasser, or necessarily that we even thought at that stage that the use of force at all would be justified in the circumstances that existed.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I do not want to overstress the point I made on that, but of course we are led into considering these things from the claims which are made by the Government. The noble Earl said to-day, "What has been achieved in nine months?—that Russia and Egypt are not in control of the Middle East; that the Baghdad Pact has grown in cohesion; that there is no Arab unity under Nasser, and that there has been set up a United Nations Force ". I should hardly think 1244 all these things would arise from a claim that a police force was sent in to stop a war between Nasser and Israel.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I endorse every word my noble friend said. But all I have said at the moment is that it is utterly false to suggest that the intervention in November was designed by the Government as an act of retortion or retaliation for the act of nationalising the Suez Canal. I think it is vital that that fact should be understood on both sides of this House, because we can respect one another only if we can correctly judge one another's motives. And it is important that our actions should be understood by people outside this House, in the country, and outside the country, in the world. I therefore welcome the intervention of the noble Viscount, not because he has it right but because he has it wrong and gives me an opportunity of putting the record right.
The noble Viscount recalled what I said in 1951 about Abadan. I do not retract a single word I said about Abadan when I was on the Back Benches; but what the noble Viscount failed to understand, when he quoted the portion of my speech, was that the whole burden of my song was that force and violence and unilateral settlement were bound to lead to disorder; and that I was protesting against the Egyptian Government at that date (I think it was then the Royal Government) because their acts were likely to lead to disaster in the Middle East. I said that we ought to oppose them by deeds as well as by words, and I venture to suggest that the noble Lord would oppose them by deeds as well as by words. I did not for a moment suggest, even in the moment in which I was quoting Horace, that those deeds should take the form of an act of retaliation or intervention, either in that place or in the form of the action which took place in October. I thought that my noble friend, in the speech which the noble Viscount was quoting, was really saying in substance the same thing.
I hope I may venture to quote from one of my own speeches—I do not do so out of any sense of vanity but simply in order to establish that what I am saying now I was saying at this time. I said in the heat of the Suez crisis in a by-election at Chester, having protested 1245 most strongly against the illegality of the seizure of the Suez Canal and said most clearly that we cannot disregard that as part of the context in which intervention took place, thatIf Israel had not attacked Egypt I, for one, feel quite certain that we would not have gone in. Right up to the moment of that attack I confess that personally I had been hoping for a peaceful solution of the dispute about the Suez Canal.That has always been my stand. It may have been wrong, but we are now discussing that stand, and do not let us be misguided about what it is.
I feel that the significance of the intervention last November lay in this: that violence had been precipitated by the Israeli attack against Egypt and we were confronted with a situation in which we must do either something or nothing. We have yet to learn what the Opposition would have done. Of course, one cannot demonstrate what would have happened if we had done nothing. I can only say once more, perhaps not so eloquently as my noble friend, what I am certain would have happened. Noble Lords on the Back Benches, and certainly my noble friend Lord Dundee, in his admirable speech, referred to the fact that documents captured by the Israeli proved that concerted plans were in operation and would have been put into effect but for our intervention. It is always difficult to demonstrate what would have happened if a different course had been taken. One can speculate, as my noble friend Lord Teviot did, on the result of the operation on the Israeli if Allied bombing had not taken place. But, whatever would have been the result of the action, of one thing I am absolutely persuaded—that is, that there would have been a war involving at least Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and possibly Saudi Arabia, and I do not believe that, in such an event, either we or other countries could have long remained aloof, if that war had proceeded in the only way in which it could have proceeded.
I should like to know exactly what the Opposition think about this. Would they have been prepared to stand aloof from such a war? If not, the situation really amounts to this: we are debating not an important matter of international morality or law but an opinion about a matter of fact—namely, what would have been the consequences of doing nothing. I have never heard a confident opinion 1246 from the Opposition about what they think would have happened if we had done nothing, and I should be very surprised to get a confident opinion now. But if we are going to differ on that point, let us at least respect each other's integrity and sincerity about the views we form about that matter of fact.
I have absolutely no doubt that if we had done nothing at all—the only suggestion which I can even imagine to be the Opposition's view—we should have suffered every one of the evils, economic, political and diplomatic, which flowed in fact from the intervention that took place. In that larger war, I do not suppose for a moment that the Suez Canal would have been unblocked. I do not suppose for a moment that the oil pipe lines would have been unsevered. I can only speculate on how Europe would have got its oil supply last autumn. I do not know what the effect on our dollar balance would have been, but it could not have been in any way better, and we do not know whether at this moment we should have been at peace or at war. When, therefore, we are invited by noble Lords opposite to compose a balance sheet of the results of our operations, we can bear in mind what, at any rate in the view of the Government, would have happened if we had acted differently.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, the noble Viscount suggests that we invite him to produce a balance sheet, but I was referring to the balance sheet produced by the noble Earl this afternoon. I have been trying to link it up with the argument the noble Viscount is making. He keeps on asking what we would have done in similar circumstances. I say frankly that in similar circumstances we would have worked through the United Nations, and if the conflagration had grown and spread, as he said it would have done but for military intervention, we say that a United Nations force could have been produced quite adequate to deal with the situation, as it did in Korea.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, the noble Viscount overlooks the fact that the only armed forces in the locality were our own armed forces in Malta. In the case of a general war of the kind which I was envisaging, it is really childish to 1247 pretend that a United Nations Force consisting of 4,000 persons, mostly not fighting troops and unsupported by any heavy armaments, could have played any effective part whatever, if it had not been supported either by the American Sixth Fleet or our own. Let us not hear any more about that. Let us rather say this: that, so far as we can judge, a general war would have had all the evil effects which have in fact flowed. It is no use saying that you would have worked through the United Nations, because either the United Nations would have acted on it, and, if it had, the same consequences, or possibly worse, would have flowed to the free world, or, if they had not acted, you are simply discussing inaction in another way.
I know that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said that we should have consulted with the Commonwealth, with the Americans and with other people. That may or may not be a criticism of the way in which we carried out our policy, but it is not an alternative policy, because in the last resort every one of those persons, when consulted, would have had to face the choice between action and inaction. I must record my own conviction, based both on the published information and on other which I had at my disposal, on the question whether the charge that we should have consulted has been made out or not, that if we had complied with the wishes of all those whose good opinions and good will I desire as much as the noble Earl, the result would have been inaction and not action.
Again we are faced with the alternative: should we have acted or not? Looking back at it now, I can only say that knowing, as I do, that the cost to ourselves has been heavy in popularity, in finance and in many other ways, I still think that the consequences of a general war would have been very much greater than what we have suffered. If I had been able to compare my then estimate of the evil consequences which we should have had to face with those that we know ensued, I should have thought that things were going to be a great deal worse than they are.
I have tried to show what was the significance of our intervention. It was precipitated by an outbreak of violence. Your Lordships may do me the honour of remembering that at the time I made 1248 a speech in answer to the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, who was at that time Leader of the Opposition, in which I explained what I regarded as two juridical points. But (and I do not think in this case I say anything unduly controversial) if people accepted our estimate of the facts—that is, that a general war would have ensued from nonintervention—I do not think our policy would have been even impugned by the Party opposite. Therefore I turn from this subject with the same observation. We differ honestly and sincerely and, I hope, courageously, about an opinion of fact, and not about any ultimate question of morality or international law.
I turn to the next phase of the problem, which is: what was the significance of the cease fire? This issue was the one which, as I argued it out in the privacy and solitude of my own room, caused me the most difficulty. I confess that I saw clearly the argument the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, put forward this afternoon. I believed, and I believe now, that there was no military reason why we should not have prolonged the operation until it had resulted in complete success, and that it would not have taken the markedly longer time that he estimated. I am certain that we could have cleared the Suez Canal by the end of January. It may well be, as the noble Lord thought, that the unpopularity we had already incurred by our intervention would not have been increased by any further operations. As I say, I see the strength of all that.
But noble Lords will remember the case on the other side. It was, first of all—and nobody expressed it more strongly than the noble Marquess who initiated this debate—that, having gone in for the reason that I have stated, namely, because of an outbreak of violence, there could be no justification for the continued use of power a moment longer than the violence persisted. That was a powerful moral argument. There was also the argument, less tangible and less easily demonstrated, but none the less powerful, that all the time our troops were there we were building up in this country economic disadvantages and political difficulties, and that once the immediate danger of a general war had receded, the difficulties and disadvantages we have had to face subsequently would not, in the material sense, have been counterbalanced by the advantages we got there.
1249 Perhaps it is not possible for me to pronounce finally on the balance between these two arguments, but I have not heard anybody to-day, not even the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who was then a leading member of the Government, question that the Government were right to take the decision to order the cease fire. But—and this is the point at which I am bound to say I differ from the noble Marquess—it never occurred to me, once I had reconciled myself to the difficulties of the cease fire, that we should not have to withdraw our troops so soon as acceptable conditions existed in Port Said; that we should not co-operate in the clearance of Port Said with the United Nations force, and that ultimately a situation would not arise in which we should have to make up our minds as to the terms upon which we would use the Suez Canal. This is the point at which I really find myself in agreement with my noble friend Lord Halifax and with all my noble friends who have expressed this point of view, rather even than with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who appears to think that there was a point at which, having agreed and reconciled oneself to the cease fire, one could take some course of action different from that which we took.
I would say this, in examining this part of the case about the ultimate significance of the cease fire. I have already told your Lordships that a right of using force in a given situation would rapidly be lost by waiver; that is to say, once you had taken a course of action in which, by action or by word, the use of force was forsworn. I believe that to be good morals, and I am sure it is good law. I myself feel quite convinced that, once we had agreed to the cease fire, it became morally, legally and politically impossible for us to resume the use of force without renewed provocation of a most aggravating kind which would constitute a new justification altogether.
When I hear some of my friends in the country and in another place urging that at this stage we should, for instance, as one very close friend of mine suggested, send a warship through the Suez Canal with the idea, apparently, of tendering the dues to some authority other than that acceptable, and, apparently, use force to force the Canal, I can only say, first, that it is radically 1250 inconsistent with the policy involved in the cease fire, and secondly, that it would be totally ineffective, because either the warship would be resisted, or it would be accepted. If it were accepted, as it might conceivably be if Nasser had the sense to do it, every subsequent merchant ship could be refused; and if it were resisted, we should find ourselves in a position where, without any supporting forces whatever, we had to withdraw or cause the blockage of the Canal for a second time. I am bound to tell friends of mine in the country that when they are talking at the present stage about the threat to use an armed force, they are putting forward a policy which has no relation to realities.
I was glad to notice that when the noble Marquess who opened the debate made his impressive speech he gave no support whatever for that course of action. But he says, or he gave me to understand, that he would have preferred a boycott. To my mind a boycott, or, as I should prefer to describe it, a strike of customers, has many attractions, moral and economic. But to be used at all, it would have to be used with a reasonable prospect of success; and to enjoy a prospect of success (I agree with noble Lords who have expressed this opinion) it would be necessary for it to be universal. I further think—and this is a point upon which I differ from the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury—that if by any chance we had for any reason embarked upon a partial boycott, and had at any time had to withdraw from that, our position would have been far more humiliating and difficult to sustain in the eyes of the world, or public opinion here, than if we had not embarked on the boycott at all. I am bound to say that, viewing this matter as a practical proposition, I came to the conclusion that it would be utterly wrong to pursue a policy in which, for various practical reasons, I had no ultimate faith.
This leads me to the third, and what I hope your Lordships will agree is the most important, of the three questions which I pose; that is to say, the future. I cannot bring myself to accept a negotiated settlement on the basis of Nasser's unilateral declaration. I do not think we have accepted such a declaration. I agree entirely with the views expressed 1251 by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that the original seizure of the Suez Canal was illegal and improper; and until that illegality has been put right, it is not possible to accept a negotiated settlement on these terms. I should like to say in a sentence, because I do not think it has been said sufficiently, either in your Lordships' House or elsewhere, why it is that I hold that the original act was utterly illegal. I think it was also the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, but I have no hesitation in repeating it, because it seems to me that it cannot be reiterated too often.
The actual technical legal case was, in fact, argued so entirely satisfactorily by the noble and learned Lord, Lord McNair, on September 12 last that I do not want to reiterate it, but I want to put forward two simple points which appeal to me as a member of the Government and as one who has practised in courts of law for rather more than twenty years. In the first place, I deny that what took place was nationalisation at all. It was very well said in another place by an official spokesman of the Labour Party, although I had better not name him because of the Rules of Order. But it was said in words which I could not hope to equal or better. He said:If the sending of police and soldiers in the darkness of the night to seize somebody else's property is nationalisation, Ali Baba used the wrong terminology.I agree with every word and syllable which fell from the spokesman of the Labour Party about that. The so-called nationalisation of the Suez Canal was an act of piracy, and not nationalisation, in the sense in which the term is employed by the Party opposite. Therefore, any analogy which was drawn from the action of the Party opposite in nationalising our own resources here with foreign interests is of no effect. The action which was taken last July was an act of seizure, and not of nationalisation.
Secondly, I would say quite plainly that although there is a wide body of opinion among international lawyers who believe that nationalisation, properly so-called, can be justified if it is accompanied by compensation (and I accept, with certain reservations, which are not material to the point I am now making, 1252 that doctrine), I would say beyond doubt that no respectable international lawyer could be found to suggest that one is bound to take at its face value promises of compensation when the conduct of the person making those promises excludes the possibility that he means them sincerely. I would say that the declarations of Nasser that he had seized the Canal in order to provide the finance for the Aswan Dam, made contemporaneously with the act of seizure, were such as to destroy any possible confidence that anyone could conceivably have in his promises of compensation. That does not destroy merely his political case. It would, I assert with the utmost confidence, destroy any vestige of a legal case he might have as well, because the whole basis of nationalisation—if there is a right of nationalisation, which is disputed by some lawyers—is based upon the existence of a genuine intention to compensate the expropriated owners. That is the position in International Law.
I would say that I wholly agree with the noble Marquess that, to accept terms which involve condoning an act of that kind, would, so long as the illegalities subsist, be an act which was wholly wrong. That was why I said what I did immediately before the Government announcement was made. Because the words have been misquoted, perhaps I may, without any degree of vanity, repeat them now. I said this:Let no one think that Nasser's terms will ever be willingly accepted in their present form by any loyal British subject. Nor will one Power forever be able to pursue her own way in such matters without consulting the wishes of the users or the obligations of international law. History has a way of being unkind to unilateral settlements and even less kind to dictators. Whatever temporary expedients may be adopted let us not lose our resolution to go on asserting our rights and obtain them in the end.Those were not only my sentiments; I believe that they are the policy of Her Majesty's Government in this respect. I do not think that "abject surrender" is suitable language to describe a policy of that kind. We shall go on asserting what is right, and we shall go on in complete confidence that, sooner or later, we shall get it in the end.
I close—and I am afraid I still have a few more minutes to spend with your Lordships—with two reflections about this policy which I think is in danger of 1253 being misunderstood, to some extent, upon our own side of the House. If we abandon the use of force, and if we reject compliance with Nasser's terms as a form of negotiable settlement, what are we to do? We have, as I believe, ultimately two alternative conceivable courses to adopt. First there is that to which certain noble Lords inclined, for which, I believe, even the noble Marquess had a certain inclination, but which was most ruthlessly expressed elsewhere as the "hunt the rat" policy—the policy that, short of actual war, our intention was to use every means, economic and political, in our power to bring down the present régime in Egypt, at whatever cost to our own nationals or to other people who might suffer in the course of it. I do not know that such a policy is the right method, but I am absolutely certain that it would forfeit any kind of sympathy in the international world; and I believe that it would be ineffective.
I believe, on the contrary, that even now—and I speak as one who has had personal knowledge of the Egyptian and Arab-speaking peoples—we have the chance of showing the underlying facts of the situation to the Arab-speaking peoples of the Middle East in such a form that they will understand them and respect our position. I believe that a policy of unrelenting hostility to any one of those peoples would be entirely wrong, whatever we may believe about the Egyptian régime: and personally I believe that its character is such that at some date, which I cannot predict, the inherent instability and inherent vices of that régime are bound, at the hands of someone, to bring it down. I believe, on the contrary, that our right policy is to take whatever means are legitimate of continuing to assert our rights, yet to be extremely careful about the means which we adopt as bargaining counters, for we should always consider what loss they might inflict upon our own people, on the people in the Middle East and Europe, most of whom are entirely innocent of any wrong.
That brings me to the last part of my speech which consists in considering what are the underlying facts of the situation. The only point upon which I find myself, to my distress, differing from a number of my noble friends on this side of the House is in the description which they accorded to Nasser as "triumphant ". I do not believe that that is the case. I 1254 recognise to the full the painful decisions to which we have been put, as I believe, not through our own fault, but through defection of friends who we think were wrong, but whom we still respect and whose friendship we still desire to keep. But I do not think that what has happened has been a triumph for Nasser. Let me explain quite clearly why I hold that opinion.
In the first place, the present Egyptian régime came into being after its first leader had been destroyed by treachery, and he remains, so far as I know, in a humiliating position which he has done nothing to deserve at the hands of the present rulers of Egypt. But after the first leaders of the revolution had been destroyed by treachery, the present Egyptian régime put itself forward before the Arab world as one which would avenge the insult of 1949, when the Egyptian forces were defeated by the troops of Israel. The net result of the policy pursued by the present Egyptian régime has been, in the face of the whole Arab world (who are by no means unaware of the fact), to humiliate an Arab nation at the hands of the national enemy, Israel, as no Arab nation has ever been humiliated before.
The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, was good enough to quote a speech of mine in which I said that Nasser's one positive result was to achieve, at the cost of £150 million worth of Iron Curtain arms, an air force which could not fly, an army which would not fight, and a navy about which the least said the better. I cannot believe that that can be the action of a Government which is in any sense triumphant about anything. But, of course, it does not stop there. A year ago Nasser wanted American capital on a gigantic scale, and he still wants it. The Aswan Dam is not built. His people still want it, but what chance is there of any intelligent nation with money to invest investing in a Government whose policy has yielded such results and whose methods give such little confidence to potential investors? Is that triumph? What is of great significance is that last year he was the ally of Saudi Arabia and the Arab kingdoms. To-day, only Syria, which with him has sold Arab independence for Communist support, stands anywhere near him. Not only ourselves, not only France, not only Israel, but every 1255 person of any persuasion, and in particular every member of the Arab world, who has tried to have anything to do with the present Egyptian regime has found it utterly impossible to deal with. Is that triumph?
Nasser wants, and the Egyptian regime would like, to erect Egypt into a sort of modern Caliphate to lead the Muslim world against Israel. They must understand, I think, that Israel has been recognised as a member of the United Nations and is therefore entitled to the rights which the United Nations Charter gives her. Every single Arab potentate or Arab Government which has come into contact with the present Egyptian regime has ultimately found that it cannot, consistently with its self-respect, pursue all its aims and methods. I was reading the other day a book of which I am very fond, a sort of Golden Treasury of Arabic wisdom, the Alf leilah wa leilah, the Thousand and One Nights. There was a character who was inclined to puff himself up by the name of Goha. He was from Cairo, too. He did not form a respectable figure. I would reasonably believe that instead of seeing in Nasser a modern Haroun el Raschid or Salah Ed Din, the wags of Damascus and Beirut will see in Nasser nothing but a 20th century version of this rather disreputable figure Goha.
My Lords, I should like to add this. As I see the problem of the Middle East, and as I think it is seen by Members on both sides of the House, the underlying problem is poverty. No one who has been there can fail to have that as the dominant impression—poverty, so age-long, so absolute, so abject and, I must say, so enervating that it sears the heart even to contemplate its prolongation. No other people in the world more require the end of poverty. How can they achieve it? Not by enmity with the West. They must have the confidence of the West if they are to achieve the aim which every single Arab heart desires. I do not know the ultimate division betwixt East and West in this matter. The old prophet of Islam referred to the peoples of the Book. In that phrase he included the Christian Church, the Jewish community and Islam itself. They must have trade; they must have the use of the Canal by the Western Powers. They need investment, and I 1256 would say humbly, but still firmly, there are a great number of Western social institutions from which they would profit in the war against poverty.
It would, of course, be open to them to buy a few of the institutions from behind the Iron Curtain. They know very well—at least, I think they do—that going behind the Iron Curtain would mean fighting Russia's wars for her, and that the price of Russian institutions would be, in the long run, to be numbered with Hungary rather than with China. These are underlying facts which I believe must (I know the noble Marquess will forgive the word), in the long run, despite the grandfather of the noble Marquess, tell in our favour. What we have to do is to go on asserting our rights, to refuse to compromise with evil when we see evil, and to go on telling the truth and doing our duty as far as we can according to the lights which have been given us.
A certain amount was said by the noble Earl, and indeed by the noble Marquess, about the moral leadership of the world. I would only say this about moral leadership. I myself am, and I know my colleagues are, profoundly concerned to do what we believe to be right at any given moment. To seek leadership in doing what is right is to seek a will o' the wisp. You must pursue duty for its own sake because it is right, and not because you will be the leader if you do it. We seek not only moral leadership, which is gratifying, but to do our duty. As a Christian I would say to noble Lords opposite—and to the noble Viscount who ended on a Christian note—that we seek moral discipleship rather than moral leadership. And, seeking that, and believing that we have done our duty in every respect so far as God gave us strength, I leave this matter before your Lordships tonight.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, we have had, I think we shall all agree, a feast of oratory, and I am the last person to wish any noble Lords a surfeit of that diet, however palatable it may be. Therefore I will try to be extremely brief in replying to the debate. In the speech with which I opened this discussion, your Lordships may remember that I said that my aim in tabling my 1257 Motion was to give the House an opportunity to take stock of the position in the light of what had occurred, and for the purpose of avoiding similar experiences in the future. I hope the House will feel that that object has been achieved. I think we have had an interesting and valuable debate.
The ground has already been covered so fully by successive speakers that there is really nothing that I need add, though there is plenty that I could say. But there are one or two comments which, if your Lordships will bear with me, I think I ought to make. The first is on a pure point of elucidation. I think I ought to explain some words of mine about the moral leadership of the world which seem to have aroused some misunderstanding on the other side of the House. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, seem to have formed an impression that what I had in mind was that our past Suez policy had lost us the moral leadership of the world. If they will do me the honour of reading that portion of my speech in Hansard to-morrow, they will see that I said almost exactly the opposite.
I believe that our stand over Suez gave us back for the first time the moral position which we had enjoyed during the war—others may disagree with me but, at least, that is my convinced view—and what I feared was that this latest decision with regard to the use of the Canal, which will be represented at home and abroad by a number of people as a surrender to Nasser, will lose us that position. If we could have continued the boycott, I said it would have helped us to gain what this decision may possibly have lost us. I thought it was worth while to explain that in order to remove a misconception which had apparently arisen.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I should have thought that I understood the noble Marquess better in his first comment this afternoon. Of course you have lost the moral leadership of the world, because practically the whole world has said so.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If we began to argue about the loss of moral leadership, I expect we could say a good 1258 deal on both sides of the House, but I do not intend to begin it now. I should also have liked to say something on the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, about the United Nations, which I found extremely intriguing, but time will not permit me to go fully into that. Therefore, I should like to proceed immediately, if I may, to two points which were made by the noble Earl, Lord Halifax. The noble Earl, who has always the respect of everyone in this House, made, I thought, an important point, though it has already been largely answered, and admirably so, by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, As I understood it, Lord Halifax could not quite understand why, having gone into Egypt, we then went out so quickly. As Lord Dundee rightly pointed out, it was the essence of our intervention, which was made abundantly clear in the ultimatum which was delivered to Egypt and Israel, that we went in to stop the war between the two countries; and when both sides had agreed to the cease fire—unconditional cease fire—and when, in addition, the United Nations had agreed to send an international force to the area, there really was no reason for any further military action. Indeed, if noble Lords opposite think our position has been somewhat immoral, I would say that it really would have been immoral if we had gone on with military action under those conditions.
I would agree further with what the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has just said: that, once having come to that decision, we had to face the fact that we should have to withdraw our troops, because directly the United Nations Force arrived there was really no further purpose in our keeping them there. But where I think he went too far, if he will allow me to say so, and if I understood him correctly, was when he said that from the moment we agreed to the cease fire in Egypt we accepted the necessity for agreeing to the use of the Canal on Nasser's terms, as the Government have now done.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My noble friend, I know, does not intend to put words into my mouth. I never said "agreeing on Nasser's terms". I quite specifically said all along that that was just what I could not feel willing to do.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Accepting as a temporary arrangement, and under protest—that from that particular moment when we agreed to the cease fire, we had to accept this final move. I do not think it is correct, if he will forgive me for saying so. As most of us in the Cabinet over that period will remember, continuous and most strenuous efforts were made throughout the early months of this year, by Mr. Hammarskjoeld, by the United States Government and by ourselves, to try to get a long-term settlement in regard to the Canal before the waterway was cleared. We were in fact, as we all know, defeated by the dilatory tactics of Colonel Nasser, who kept on putting off the clearance and thus prevented our getting on with the whole job. But it is only quite lately that we have been driven to accept that fact, and I do not think it is true to say that at that time last year all of us, in our heart of hearts, thought that this is what would happen. I certainly would not agree—perhaps I was shortsighted—that I had taken that very unpalatable decision for a moment. So much for that point.
The only other point to which I would speak is one also covered by the Leader of the House, Lord Home, in his speech. He asked, and quite properly asked, what alternative have those, if there are any, who agree with me, to the action which was taken by the Government. The noble Earl, Lord Home, has information at his disposal which I have not got. He tells me—and it is repeated by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham—that the boycott by these two countries alone simply could not be maintained. That is the view they have in the light of all the information at their disposal, and I think I may say that that view is generally accepted on all sides of the House.
What I cannot quite feel is this, and I hope they will not mind my saying so: that every single possible effort was made to rally more general support for the boycott. I cannot help suspecting that the Government's mind was really made up before the Suez Canal Users' Association met for their latest meeting. I thought it most significant that the announcement of the agreement with Egypt about sterling payment of tolls was made almost, as I say, within a few hours of the ending of the Association's 1260 meeting. Therefore I believe—I think I am probably correct—that the Government, who were perfectly entitled to do it, had given up the struggle before that last meeting. I am sorry for that.
At the same time it is no good harping back into the past. On the future, I think there is a much greater degree of agreement between us all. In the other portions of the speeches of the noble Earl, Lord Home, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, there was not much with which I disagreed, if I understood rightly what they meant. They seem to want pipelines to reduce our dependence on the Canal. I want pipelines to reduce our dependence on the Canal. They want tankers that can go round the Cape. I want tankers that can go round the Cape. The only question about which I am a little uncertain—it may be my stupidity—is as to the use that is to be made of these tankers. I challenged the noble Earl, Lord Home, on this point, and he very courteously gave me an answer. Even so, I am not quite clear what is in his mind. He said, so far as I could understand it, that the Canal would be used only as far as was convenient—" convenient "was the word he used. That may mean that it will be used a great deal or it may mean that it will not be used very much. I wish I could have had this point elucidated a little further.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
It may be that the truth is that the maritime nations of the world will be watching the way in which Egypt puts into practice her unilateral declaration on the running of the Canal. It may depend to some extent on that.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Yes, I see that. But the point I was trying to make in my own speech was that I should like us to say now that we intend in future, and especially in regard to oil, to use it as little as possible, just to show the world what happens to nations who unilaterally repudiate their obligations. I do not know what the Government's view about it is, and I think they are not particularly anxious to make it clear. But if it were possible for them to make a statement of the kind that I have indicated, I believe it would be extremely welcome to the British people, and I also believe that it would be a wise and conciliatory act of statesmanship.
1261 Having said that, my Lords, I do not propose to weary the House any longer. In conclusion, I would merely, if I may, thank noble Lords in all parts of the House for the far too kind things that they have said about my leadership, and especially for what was said in his closing speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham—it touched me deeply. I should like to thank your Lordships from the bottom of my heart, and to assure you that it will be my most earnest desire to serve this House to the best of my power in the future as in the past. My Lords, I beg to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.