§ 5.10 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
I beg to move,That this House approves the heads of agreement initialled in Cairo on 27th July between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Egypt.I think that in opening this debate there is at least one point on which I shall have the support of the overwhelming majority of the House, and that is in saying that the speeches from the Front Bench will not be too long. I have my duty to deploy the arguments on behalf of the Government's case, and I think that if I am to do that briefly I must ask the House to be indulgent towards me with regard to giving way on interventions, because I think that to do so would serve to waste the time of the House and to make it harder for me to fulfil my job.
It seems to me that the main consideration of this debate, and the main discussion, will centre round two points, first, the context of the Heads of Agreement which, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I initialled in Cairo the day 725 before yesterday, and, secondly, on whether or not Her Majesty's Government are correct in the policy which they are pursuing towards Egypt and in initiating a step which will lead to a formal ratification of an agreement with Egypt.
I think that both those points depend to a very large extent on strategic considerations, and, in particular, on a strategic review which was carried out by the Chiefs of Staff and agreed by the Cabinet in the light of present conditions and circumstances. Although, obviously, I cannot go deeply into that, I think that I should bring to the notice of the House three considerations—comparatively recent—which apply particularly to policy in Egypt.
The first of these is the advent of the hydrogen bomb, together with other thermo-nuclear weapons. In war, I do not think that we can do other than expect the use of these weapons, and, in particular, their use on this country. In such circumstances, I think that all hon. Members would agree that our ability to mobilise, equip, train and dispatch overseas large quantities of troops would be restricted. Furthermore, our ability to maintain them at long distances from home would also be severely strained.
Not only that, but I think it equally true to say that the same considerations would apply to any Power, say, Russia, which attempted to maintain large forces in a campaign in the Middle East. It, too, would be hampered by long lines of communications running through difficult mountainous country, peculiarly vulnerable to this form of attack. The deduction, therefore—which I think hon. Members will agree is a fair one—is that the likelihood of large-scale land campaigns in the Middle East in any war in the future has been considerably reduced.
The second point to which I would draw the attention of hon. Members is the coming into N.A.T.O. of Turkey and the considerable progress which she has made in re-equipping her army with a lot of modern equipment which the United States have provided for her together with their technical advice. Turkey is determined to fight and to defend herself, and in the circumstances of the increased difficulty which I have mentioned regarding the lines of communication from Russia towards Turkey, 726 the chances of her succeeding have very considerably increased.
That being so, I think that hon. Members will appreciate that the likelihood of our being able to take part in a more forward strategy on Turkey's right flank in the defence of the Middle East is very much increased. That being so, hon. Members would see at once, if they looked at a map, that that places the base in Egypt very much more remote from the area in which we are most likely to fight in war. Therefore, not only is the importance of the base—I would not say done away with; but it is the case that the likelihood of subsidiary bases closer to that area would be necessary in war. Further, the advent of all these very powerful weapons puts a premium on dispersion and is very much against concentration.
In addition, should that be the position in war—and this is true to some extent in peace—the geographical position of Egypt as a country, with the double sea entry to Egypt, with the Canal which may well be shut in war, with the communications which run parallel to the Canal, and as a large source of labour—those facilities will be of very great importance indeed, especially in the event of either the Canal and/or the Mediterranean being closed.
Those facilities would be of little or no use to us in peace or in war with a hostile Egypt. Unless there is a better spirit and more co-operation in Egypt, it will be vain to expect that we can take any useful advantage of these facilities. I therefore think that that second point suggests that strategically we need a better spirit and more co-operation from the Egyptian people if we are to strengthen our strategic position in the Middle East.
The third point which I would make is one which has often come up in this House. It is the fact that with the size of our forces—and particularly is this true of the Army—we are overstretched and overstrained. Our commitments are too large for the forces which we have, and we lack a strategic reserve. Time and again in every debate on this subject to which I have listened hon. Members have urged upon the Government the need to reduce our commitments. But I think that those commitments are the consequence not so much of any failing on the part of Her Majesty's Government 727 but of the deliberate purpose of the Kremlin to stir up trouble for this country wherever it can. I think that it would be unwise of anybody to count on those commitments being reduced.
It is for those reasons that, if we are to balance the Army, we must attempt to build up in this country a strategic reserve. I think that if hon. Members surveyed the general situation today they would agree that the only possibility of achieving that is through being able to free the equivalent of the two and one-third divisions now locked up in the Canal Zone.
Those three points then, I think, come to this. We can afford to have a smaller base; we must aim at better co-operation with Egypt; we must aim at strategic reserves. It is, I think on reflection, the aim of those Heads of Agreement and of the policy now being pursued by Her Majesty's Government to reduce the size of the base, to bring about a better spirit in Egypt, and to free those troops to build up a strategic reserve. Therefore, I would contend that on those considerations, strategically this policy is sound and justified up to the hilt.
Now I turn to the Heads of Agreement. I believe that the House would wish me briefly to consider those matters contained in the Heads of Agreement which are somewhat different from those which have been discussed at such length, and with such patience, by General Sir Brian Robertson and Sir Ralph Stevenson. The first, which is new, is that this reduced base should be manned by civilian technicians from this country. When the previous discussions were going on we aimed at a base which would require some 4,000 soldier technicians. Today, under the considerations which I have outlined, we consider that to retain the workshops, to keep the fixed installations in working order, with a minimum of stores necessary for local maintenance and some war reserves can be done with a very much smaller force—well under half the number of soldiers required. In such circumstances, and after examination, we believe it perfectly feasible to operate the base by civilians from this country. I would say, from my own point of view, that to have civilians is a very great deal better than to have soldiers disguised as civilians.
728 The second point which differs from the original agreement is that the evacuation of the base will now be completed in 20 months whereas previously 15 months was the time allotted. I think that hon. Members will appreciate that now that we are reducing the base we shall have more to disperse and more to move both locally in the Middle East and back to this country. The question of this period has been looked into closely at the War Office, and I have personally discussed it at some length both there and with General Keightley. I am satisfied that those 20 months will give us the opportunity to carry out an orderly and efficient evacuation of the base, but, as hon. Members who have seen the base will realise, it will be an extremely difficult task
The third point in the Heads of Agreement to which I think I should refer is the duration of the treaty, which is for seven years. There are some hon. Members who say that it should be for 20 or more years. There are other hon. Members who say that a treaty of this kind would not be worth the paper it is written on. There are still others who say both—which does not seem to me to be entirely logical. But I believe that both for the base itself and for the advantage of the use of Egypt as a place in the future, the main consideration, strategically, is our relations with the Egyptian people and with the Egyptian Government in the future.
In that seven years, we shall know full well whether or not our relations with Egypt have changed very considerably for the better. If they have not, then whether we have 80,000 men there or just a few technicians that base will never be a true asset. If they improve and if, as I believe, there is a gradual improvement in this way, we shall not only have the base of which we can take full opportunity, but have the use of Egypt as a place, which is of even greater value.
I know that there are many different opinions about our future relationships with Egypt, but I would say this. Since the present Government has been in power in Egypt they have had one target and one target only. That target has been the British. "Get the British out of Egypt" has been their cry, and, whatever one may think of their policy and views, that target has gone. I cannot conceive 729 that from the point of view of self-interest the Egyptian Government, which has to improve the economy and standard of living in Egypt, could gain any advantage whatsoever by continuing to abuse this country and remain on bad terms not only with us but with the United States of America.
I think that we have reason to hope for better relations in future. I was gratified to see that the initial statement of Colonel Nasser which, by what has gone before might have been very extreme, did show considerable moderation. To those who think that our future relationships with Egypt may be bad, I say that they may or may not be right, but I would suggest that they await the events which they expect in silence rather than, by saying anything, spoil the chances that those relationships will improve.
I know that there are many hon. Members who may agree with the strategic considerations which I have put forward, who may agree in general with the contents of the Heads of Agreement, but who disagree very violently with this policy because of reasons of prestige. I think that everybody realises and appreciates those reasons for disagreeing with this policy. For a proud and great nation to take a step which looks as though she is being forced by duress to do something which she has been shouted at to do for a long time, and to do it deliberately, is always unpalatable for national pride. I think that everyone feels that, and I can assure hon. Members that I am aware of it myself. I can equally well assure them that I would not speak in this debate, still less go to Cairo, were I not unquestionably and absolutely sure that the policy being pursued by Her Majesty's Government is a right one.
I would ask hon. Members who have a reason for disliking this policy, "Have they carefully considered the alternatives?" What are the alternatives? First, we can remain there indefinitely with the 80,000 already there. Would they be prepared to ask the British Army to sit it out indefinitely in conditions in which I do not believe any other Army would have shown such good temper for so long a period? Are they prepared to accept that expense and that waste of effort, which makes no contribution whatever to our difficulties in the cold war? 730 I have yet to hear an hon. Member on either side of the House who advocated that course.
What is the other alternative? My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) and one or two others have said that the correct course is to say to the Egyptians, "Until we get a proper treaty which we agree upon, we will sit it out with a force of 10,000 or 15,000 or 20,000 men." Because of difficulties which might arise, such a policy has been very carefully examined by the Chiefs-of-Staff.
It means that one would concentrate a proportion of the base at Fayid, including an airfield. In that portion one would have that force guarding itself, the base and the airfield, and from it one could afford a small force for the immediate port facilities and wharfage at Port Said or Suez or whichever port one chooses. But one could not have sufficient forces to guard one's lines of communication from Fayid to the port. That being so, and accepting, as I think hon. Members must accept, that such a course would be provocative and would result in an increase of banditry and terrorism, what should we do? If that happened what would one do about one's lines of communication? One could either supply that force by air, as in the case of the Berlin airlift—hut surely one would look rather stupid with a beleaguered garrison in Egypt being supplied by air; or one could reinforce with more troops in order to safeguard one's lines of communication.
I say to hon. Members: could there be a more provocative course of action than to bring reinforcements into Egypt, having previously stated the limitation on the number of one's troops and having no rights on that occasion to bring in the reinforcements? That solution has been turned down by the best military advice, and politically it is considered—and rightly so in my opinion—quite unacceptable.
What other alternatives are there? I have listened to all these debates, I have talked to many hon. Members and hon. Friends—in both senses of the word—on this subject; but I have yet to hear a practical proposal other than those two. That being the case, I suggest to hon. Members who oppose this policy that in 731 a serious subject like this, and with a full sense of responsibility, they should put these two questions to themselves: first, "Would I remain with the 80,000?"—and I believe that the answer is, "No"; and secondly, "Would I reject all military advice and remain there with a smaller force?"—and I believe that from any responsible consideration the answer again would be, "No."
If I am right and the answer is "No" to both those questions, then any hon. Member who votes against our policy comes face to face with one inescapable fact—that by voting against this policy he is voting for one of those two courses of action. Hon. Members cannot escape that fact because those are the only alternatives. I would say this very sincerely to all hon. Members who disagree with the Government: I appreciate the reasons of pride, and indeed of emotion, which prompt them to resist this policy, but this is an occasion on which emotions come into conflict with common sense. Before they vote tonight I feel that hon. Members should think very hard on this subject for, if they do not, then on further reflection they may well find that on this occasion they have not merely voted against their own party but, in my opinion a more serious matter, they have voted against their own common sense.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)
The right hon. Gentleman speaks in this House not only as a member of the Government and Secretary of State but as a distinguished soldier. I thought that he was speaking a lot of sound sense, but it differs very much from what he used to say when we were in Government. In fact, we have listened to a lot of special pleading. It is not true that the difference between the hydrogen bomb and the atomic bomb has created all that change in the position which existed when we left office.
§ Mr. Attlee
A few atomic bombs on Cairo and Alexandria would, I think, be pretty effective vis-à-vis the Egyptian population.
732 I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman proved rather too much because his colleague, the late Secretary of State for the Colonies, was at pains to explain the great importance of the base at Cyprus. Is Cyprus immune from the hydrogen bomb? The right hon. Gentleman's speech was a lot of special pleading to cover the fact that he and his colleagues have at last come to realise the rightness of the Labour Government's policy. While recognising the position in the base and the rest of it, I cannot accept that there has been this change. I much prefer to accept the Prime Minister's brief remark yesterday that it is a matter of necessity.
This is an historic occasion. It is the termination of the long presence of British troops in Egypt, and there are two aspects of the matter into which we must look closely. One concerns the merits of this Agreement, both in its entirety and in its detail, and the second is how it squares with the policy laid down year after year by leading members of the present Government who in the past were so bitter in their attack on the Labour Administration.
This is no new question. Negotiations have been prolonged over the years since the war. It will be remembered that in October, 1946, agreements were initialled between Mr. Bevin and Sidky Pasha providing for mutual arrangements for defence arrangements, for the evacuation and for the Sudan—terms which were infinitely better than those now laid before the House. Those arrangements broke down owing to the unwillingness of the Labour Government to sacrifice the people of the Sudan. Sudan has now been dealt with but in such a way that I fear that, through the dilatoriness and supineness of the present Government, in effect the Sudanese have been sold down the river. Owing to the period which was allowed to elapse before the election, the bribery and all the rest of it, I think there is a very great danger of the Sudan falling again into the hands of the Egyptians, and that is a very sad ending to a very great achievement by the British Administration.
I should like to recall to the House the statement which I made on 7th May, 1946, on the policy of the Labour Government. I said:It is the considered policy of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to con- 733 solidate their alliance with Egypt as one between two equal nations having interests in common. In pursuance of this policy, negotiations have begun in an atmosphere of cordiality and good will. The Government of the United Kingdom have proposed the withdrawal of all British naval, military and air forces from Egyptian territory, and to settle in negotiation the stages and date of completion of this withdrawal, and the arrangements to be made by the Egyptian Government to make possible mutual assistance in time of war or imminent threat of war in accordance with the alliance.How did the present Prime Minister react? He said:Things are built up with great labour and cast away with great shame and folly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 781–2.]What would the right hon. Gentleman have said if the Labour Government had presented the present proposals?
The Adjournment of the House was moved and accepted, and the present Foreign Secretary said:… our troops … are there for one purpose and one only, the defence of the Canal and its security …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 850.]The right hon. Gentleman called it "a British purpose," "an Imperial purpose," "an Anglo-Egyptian purpose" and "a world purpose." He said that the Canal was an essential artery to our imperial life.
In the right hon. Gentleman's speech today there was no mention of the Canal. It dropped out completely so far as I could see. However, on that previous occasion the present Prime Minister said:… we know that there is no satisfactory method of keeping the Canal open, and making sure that it is kept open, except by keeping troops there."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 894.]The right hon. Gentleman said over and over again that the British troops must be kept there.
When I announced the plan to withdraw our troops, the Prime Minister said that it was a most painful blow. He must have been in acute pain yesterday. Yet what we proposed then has the support of all informed military opinion. I am sure that the proposal to withdraw our troops from Egypt has been welcomed by all ranks in the Canal area. This has been pressed for a long time. There has been a great deal of cost in money, lives and discomfort for our troops before this Agreement has been reached. The Agree- 734 ment seems to be the result eventually of accepting what has been refused month after month and almost year after year by the present Government.
Besides the defence of the Canal there was also the question of the Base. The Labour Government sought an agreement whereby, as I stated, mutual assistance should be available in time of war or imminent threat of war. I was pressed on this by the present Prime Minister. I said, in May, 1946:I am perfectly alive to the fact that under conditions of modern warfare we can only carry out our obligations if we have been put in a position by the Egyptian Government to bring our Forces into action in the area without loss of time in an emergency—
§ THE PRIME MINISTER
Yes, certainly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 857.]
This was followed up by the present Foreign Secretary on 24th May, 1946. He said:It may be thought that if the necessary preparations can only be made in advance, the actual movement of Forces can await the sounding of the hour of menace. That may be strategically sound—I am not qualified to pronounce, although I have doubts about it —but I am quite sure that it is politically unsound and even politically very dangerous. What happens? When tension grows and peril menaces, it is not fair to put too much strain on a small country by saying at that very hour, 'You must agree that danger threatens and you must let us come, publicly before the world, into your country in order to share with you the averting of that danger'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th May, 1946; Vol. 423, c. 706.]There was stress upon that point over and over again, that it was not fair to leave this to the last minute. But if we look at the White Paper we read:In the event of an armed attack by an outside Power on Egypt or any country which at the date of signature of the present agreement is a party to the Treaty of Joint Defence between Arab League States or on Turkey, Egypt will afford to the United Kingdom such facilities as may be necessary.The war has then already broken out, which is just what was so roundly condemned previously by the right hon. Gentleman. It is true that the White Paper says:In the event of a threat of an attack on any of the above-mentioned countries, there shall be immediate consultation between the United Kingdom and Egypt.That puts a small country in just the difficulties to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. The Labour Government 735 were envisaging the possibility of war breaking out somewhere in the world and not necessarily in the Middle East, because, as we understood and as we have been told, this is our Imperial lifeline. Apparently it is now only a matter of attack on certain States.
What I am sure must have struck everybody is how curious it is that Palestine is left out. I was very surprised at that because the Prime Minister has always been a strong Zionist. There is no doubt that there is a great deal of apprehension, whether justified or not, in Palestine and in Israel.
The Labour Government envisaged an alliance in defence with the Egyptians, as we had had with the 1936 Treaty. We worked on from that and sought later to get a regional defence organisation. It was stated, and I believe it is true, that that it is necessary, in order to carry out our obligations and in order to keep the peace in that difficult area, that there should be some British troops somewhere in the region.
The right hon. Gentleman brushes it all away with his hydrogen bomb, but I do not believe that if there were trouble in hitherto undisturbed areas of the world we could use the hydrogen bomb. The Labour Party certainly do not want to use the hydrogen bomb. It is necessary, and has been stated over and over again, that there should be some troops there. There is nothing there now. There is only Wimpey's or some other contractor there.
What has become of all the talk about the Suez Canal as an international waterway which must be open and kept open? The Prime Minister has used that phrase over and over again. In the White Paper the 1888 Convention is invoked. We are all bound by that, it is said. But, of course, Egypt has been in default of that Convention for a number of years, and yet nothing has been done about it. It is not much good just affirming a convention which is not observed by one side.
What is to be done about it? When we asked about it, there was a vague reference to the effect "This is a matter for U.N.O. and not for us," and yet this is "our great Imperial lifeline." It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to come here now with his special pleading. Why did not right hon. Gentlemen opposite think of these things previously?
736 The Opposition entirely agree with the evacuation of our troops from Egypt. I can remember saying over and over again, and my right hon. Friends have also done so, how hopeless it was to try to have a base where there was a hostile population. We did not get much sympathy then, but that is acknowledged now. At all events, it is acknowledged today, but I do not think it was acknowledged by the Colonial Secretary yesterday because he was advocating putting troops and a base and everything else into Cyprus. At that time the right hon. Gentleman had not had his talk about the hydrogen bomb. I must point out that in all the talks that I have had with the military they have never thought that Cyprus was a satisfactory base, for obvious reasons.
However, we have our duties to the Arab States and to Turkey and to Israel—and, indeed, to Egypt. The question is, how are these to be carried out? What of the security of the Middle East? Let me remind the House of a statement by the late Ernest Bevin on 24th May, 1946:There is one thing on which I will give the Committee an assurance. I will be no party to leaving a vacuum. There must not be a vacuum."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th May, 1946; Vol. 423, c. 788.]That is exactly what we have got today—a vacuum.
We contended that this was an area of possible disturbance and that the right thing was that there should be an international force there. We wanted to build up, with others, in that area an international force for the preservation of peace. We have nothing at present. Apparently we are merely to shelter behind the Balkan Alliance of Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey. That is not carrying out our obligations.
There is a case for a base of some kind. I wonder what the alternative is. We had to look at many alternatives, including the question of somewhere else in North Africa, and we actually looked at Cyprus. There is a possibility, and, I think, a much more likely possibility, of perhaps somewhere in Israel—say, at Haifa. There might be one possibly somewhere near Alexandretta—with agreement, of course.
But none of these alternatives is possible without the full agreement of the people. The day has gone when we can put bases in other people's territory when the people do not want them. That, 737 let me say, was quite as abundantly plain in 1945 and 1946 as it is today, and that is why our policy was right then, and it is a pity that the Government, when they were in opposition, did not recognise it.
I am quite sorry for a number of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who are, naturally, upset by this Agreement, because they took the Prime Minister's speech to be an expression of serious strategical views. I am afraid that they do not recognise that there is an immense difference between the Prime Minister in office and the Prime Minister in opposition. When he comes into office he has to face realities; he has to take responsibility instead of indulging in merely factious attacks on those who are bearing responsibility. We have borne for years these accusations, freely thrown about, of "scuttle."
Now we come down to this Agreement that we have got, and we all hope that it will be carried out, but its terms are worse than any I have ever seen. The right hon. Gentleman knows this could have been settled on better terms, and in fact on these very terms two years ago, if he had stood up to his own back benchers. He refrained from doing what was right. He has now to eat humble pie. We all hope that this may lead to a new and better era in the Middle East, but there is very little credit to the Government.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Captain Charles Waterhouse (Leicester, South-East)
It is never easy for a Member of this House to get up and take a view strongly opposed to that of a leader whom he highly respects and whom he has followed with loyalty for so many years. It is never an easy task for any back bencher to follow the speeches made from the Front Bench, but when we have had two speeches such as we have had today, one of very high oratory, the other both of oratory and very close argument, it is more difficult still, and the House will, I hope, have sympathy with me.
§ Captain Waterhouse
I always keep chronological order. The House will, perhaps, have sympathy with me when I am putting a view which is now, I know, definitely going to be disagreeable to my 738 right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I want to assure the House and my right hon. Friends, too, that there is not the smallest bitterness in anything I intend to say or that will be said by anybody from these benches so far as I know. We speak in sorrow. We speak, I am sure, with very real sincerity.
I should like with very great respect to make a passing reference to our late colleague, Sir Herbert Williams, whose memorial service many of us attended this morning. Sir Herbert Williams took part in many hard fights in this House. He worked with us in this little party we have had in opposing what we believe to be a wrong policy. I believe it to be a cause of very deep regret in all parts of the House that he is not with us tonight.
There are not many aspects of this problem on which I can congratulate the Government, but I want to keep in as good odour with them as I can and, therefore, I shall start off by congratulating them on the manner in which this negotiation has been closed, although I certainly cannot congratulate them on the matter of its conclusion.
There is one very sound piece of advice which applies, I am told, both in matrimonial and in military matters, and that is, "If you are going to run away run fast, run far, and run in good company." Whether my right hon. Friends had that in mind or not I do not know, but they certainly decided that in this case we were going to run in good company when they sent the Secretary of State for War to do the deed. Nobody has had a better war record than he; nobody is more respected as a Minister than he. I wonder exactly what instructions he had. I have a very good idea of the sort of instructions he received—"Get out there and sign an agreement. Don't bother too much about the terms. Get it signed." I imagine the Patronage Secretary chipping in by saying, "And mind it is signed by Tuesday, or you are likely to lose some of your holidays." The Agreement was signed by Tuesday. Here it is, and in this piece of paper we have got all that is left of 80 years of British endeavour, thought and forethought.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the start of his career wrote one of the finest books in the English language, "The River War," on this subject. It 739 must be grave indeed for him now to have to take this decision. I am not saying that as a measure of blame; I have the very greatest sympathy, and I know how hard it must be for him to have so decided. I and my friends had feared that there would be a sell-out. This is not a sell-out. It is a give-away. Instead of having physical control of a great base, instead of having troops on the major waterway of the world, we have got this piece of paper in our hands. It is indeed a hard day for anybody on this side of the House to have to sit and support this Government which has, as we believe, not taken a wise decision on the Suez Canal.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War divided his speech into two portions; in one he discussed the terms, and in the other he discussed the reasons. I propose to follow him very closely in that. The terms are for the evacuation of all forces within 20 months. In other words, we have got to get out just as quick as our ships and our engineers can get us out. The stores, the equipment, installations, public utilities, communications, bridges, pipelines and wharves are to be handed over, and the Egyptian Government will assume responsibility for their security. We pay the bill.
Egyptian or British technicians will be sent in there under a contractor. That contractor will nominally be under the protection of the Egyptians. If any stuff is to be removed, we have got to discuss it with the Egyptians. If we want to do any building we have got to get their permission. We pay the bill for all this. We are actually to be allowed to use some of the airfields that we have built if we arrange when the flight is coming in and inform the Egyptians of the time of the flight, and if they give their consent.
What happens if these provisions are broken, as they may well be broken? We have got to be prepared for that. Are we going to re-enter forcibly? Do hon. Members opposite welcome that? I doubt whether all hon. Members on this side would welcome that. Are we going back there by force, in the face of everything that we have said, in the face of a hostile Egypt? I do not believe that that is feasible at all. Really and truly, we have handed over £500 million 740 worth of stores and buildings to the Egyptians, and if they like to use them against Palestine or against anybody else, who is going in to say, "No, you will not"?
We have got the right of re-entry and a treaty for seven years. I do not mind whether this treaty is for seven years or 70 years. What do we mean by saying that we have gained a right of re-entry? If Egypt wants us in in some future emergency, as she wanted us in when she was threatened by the Italians, she will invite us in, treaty or no treaty. If she does not want us in when the time comes, this piece of paper is not going to get us in. We shall then have to fight our way in, with this treaty, just as we would have had to fight our way in without the treaty if Egypt at that time was not friendly to us.
In all such papers there is a little bit of light relief, and in this paper we find our light relief in Article 8 where we read that both parties express theirdetermination … to uphold the 1888 Convention. …That really is a pretty good one, considering that Egypt has consistently been breaking it for the last four years. It is for those reasons that I think this piece of paper is not worth anything at all to us, and it is because of that that I say we have not sold out but we have cleared out.
During the last Election my right hon. and hon. Friends spoke from the platforms and pointed out what we believed to be the errors of Abadan. We pointed to the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) and told him that he had scuttled from Abadan. We pointed to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and said that, thank heaven, that policy would now be reversed. We said that the Canal would be re-opened and freed again. We said that we on this side of the House at least stood for a strong and a definite principle. It is with very great regret that I say that if the electorate of this country had seen or foreseen this paper in 1951, we would not now be sitting on this side of the House.
What are the arguments that have been adduced to persuade us to this course? One good argument is sufficient to convince anyone of any honourable course, 741 provided it is a good argument. If arguments are multiplied, doubts arise; but if arguments are changed, we have a right to have grave suspicions. When this proposal was started, when, as some hon. Members opposite suggested, we first thought of scuttling from Egypt under the preceding Government—and I do not hesitate to use the term—the main thing was nationality. It was wrong to fly in the face of Egyptian nationality.
I suggest that nationality is very like alcohol. It is extremely pleasant and it is definitely stimulating when it is taken in small quantities, and so is patriotism, but it is very dangerous and utterly besotting and misleading when it takes hold of a person, just as nationalism is when it takes hold of a nation. We have got to resist extreme nationalism because it is bad for the world and it is bad for the people who adumbrate it. It leads to murders. It leads to wars.
The second argument was that a friendly Egypt was necessary. That may be so, but the Egyptians have already said that there are two things necessary for Egypt; one is possession of the Canal. They have that. The other is a free hand in the Sudan, and the Leader of the Opposition mentioned that in his speech. Have we finished with the Sudan? Are we now saying to the Sudan, "You have had your chance. You have not taken it. You can lump it"? If we are not doing that, then there is little chance immediately of a friendly Egypt. If we are doing that, then I say we are grossly betraying an almost sacred trust.
Then I come to the main argument, the strategic argument. Obviously, anything that I say will be considered against what my right hon. Friend has said. That is one of the troubles of this argument. Does my right hon. Friend come to the House as a very eminent, successful and fine soldier, a brigadier or a major-general? Does the Minister of Defence when he speaks in another place speak as the most respected soldier certainly in England and probably in the world? Or are they both speaking as representatives of the Cabinet putting over Cabinet policy? It is extremely difficult for us to decide, and in saying that, I am in no way attributing any dishonesty in motive or any dishonesty at all. But it is quite impossible to have at the head of a Department, in my view, a man who can take a Depart- 742 mental view based on that of his advisers and completely exclude from his view the policy which he is in the Cabinet to sponsor.
§ Mr. Head
Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman allow me to say, as he has made personal reference to my status, that I thought that I had already made it clear—and I should like now to make it clear—that I was referring to the strategic appreciation which was approved by the Defence Committee and the Cabinet, and it was as a member of Her Majesty's Government and not as a soldier that I was putting forward these matters.
§ Captain Waterhouse
I think that it is perfectly obvious that when the right hon. Gentleman speaks from that Box he speaks as a member of the Cabinet, but it is equally obvious, as the Leader of the Opposition said, that he speaks with the added weight of a soldier.
What we must base our argument on today is not the personal opinion, greatly as we respect it, of my right hon. Friends but that of the General Staff. We are told that the General Staff, having weighed up the position most closely, now take this definite view. Well, 18 months ago—the Foreign Secretary will correct me if I am wrong—they took quite a different view. They have been able to alter that now, but they will not be able to alter it again in another 18 months when we have left the Canal. We are now taking a decision which is absolutely irrevocable so far as the Canal goes.
We have heard the argument of strategic reserves, and the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the morale of our troops. I appreciate the great discomfort in which they live, but an Army does not lose its morale because it lives in discomfort. It most quickly loses its morale when it is used for a purpose which is proved to be wrong or abortive. If our troops now feel that the grave difficulties which they have been in have been of no avail, that their friends who have been killed have died in vain, are they going to be quite so ready and staunch when they are moved to other places? The British Army can stand up to any strain, it is one of the finest organisations in the whole world, but it is a very cruel strain that is being put upon it.
743 A third argument—and a recent one—is that of economy. I think that I can dismiss that in a few words. The Chancellor of the Exchequer answered a Question earlier this week, and said that if all the troops were brought back from the Canal to this country about £10 million would be saved. There is no question of bringing them all back. We shall be very fortunate if we get one-half back, so the saving will be about £5 million, and that has to be weighed against new installations, new barracks and new houses elsewhere. The economy argument is an utterly false one.
So we come to this most peculiar argument of the hydrogen bomb, on which "The Times" based a leading article quite recently, and which my right hon. Friend has expounded today. With great respect, I have to say to him that it is both the latest and the worst of all these arguments. If the hydrogen bomb is going to be awkward in the Canal, it is surely going to be a little more awkward in Cyprus.
§ Captain Waterhouse
After all. Cyprus is 500 miles nearer to the airfields of the potential enemy. Along with this question of the hydrogen bomb, may I finally ask my right hon. Friend this? If the hydrogen bomb is making our position in the Suez Canal completely untenable, why have we been fiercely arguing for six, eight or 10 months about the power of re-entry?
I do not believe that these are the real reasons at all. It grieves me to have to say so. I believe that the real reasons on that side of the House—and I believe that they have been almost accepted by some on this side of the House—are that we are becoming weary of our responsibilities, that our burdens are becoming too irksome for us and we are really losing our will to rule. [HON. MEMBERS: "If that is really happening, then, indeed, it is a sorry day for Britain.
In this we have been urged along by the United States of America. I am not one of those who normally carp and criticise that great country. I believe that we need close friendship with them more than anything else in the whole world, but I think that we have to realise this 744 as a House—that the United States have a real regard, almost an affection, for the British Isles. They have a very great respect for the Commonwealth, but they actively dislike the British Empire. Their actions throughout the whole world seem to me to have been activated by the motive of dislike for the Empire and anxiety to do it injuries, small or great.
For many years we have had a little American lamb bleating in Cairo, not helping and if anything hindering in most things. Well, he has got his way, but whether or not this will be to the lasting advantage of the Americans any more than to us is a very different consideration.
The Secretary of State for War has put up the alternatives. The first was that of keeping 80,000 troops there, and he spent several minutes on expounding it. Then he said that no one wanted that. Of course, no one does want that. With great humility, I challenge his second argument. I do not believe that it is impossible for us to hold, with something like a brigade or two brigades' strength and to keep supplied on the Canal, a small base. All over the world we have been doing that for hundreds of years. It is nothing fresh. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but that is true. All over the world we have been holding positions in the face of adversity and we are not unable to do it now if we really felt that we had to do so.
It is said that we cannot do it because the population is hostile. Is there a very friendly population in Cyprus? Are there any indications that our people are going to be welcomed in Cyprus any more than they have been in Egypt? [An HON. MEMBER: "Not after this speech.] Nor before the speech either. We have to look ahead in our whole appreciation of these grave affairs. Are we leaving Egypt as a final move in our retreat or is it just one more step? If it is one more step, then I, for one, shall lose much of my interest, much of my belief, in British politics. I believe that the British Empire and the British Commonwealth still have a mission to fulfil and that if we once forget that, or if we once just write it off as sentiment, then we shall get ourselves into a miserable and unhappy position indeed.
745 There is one other point before I come to my conclusion. In looking into the future, have my right hon. Friends considered the possibility of Communism in Egypt? We are told that some of their leaders are moving in that direction. What happens supposing Egypt were to go Communist? What is then our attitude? Is it going to be—"so far and no further," or is it going to be "peaceful co-existence"?
I want to close by asking my right hon. Friend four questions. The first is a comparatively small one, although it is of long-term importance. When the Egyptians denounced the treaty, they said that all goods going to our Army had to be subject to Customs. Already they have booked up some £20 or £30 million against us. There are other similar items to be dealt with. Is it the intention to deal with those in the treaty, or will they be left, as I hope they will not, to be a running sore in the future? The second question is: does our pledge of real independence to the Sudan still stand? Are we going to do any more about it, or do we feel that by the action we have already taken we are exonerated from that pledge?
The third question is this. We understand something of what the redeployment plans are to be to the north of the Canal. What is to be the position in the south? Is my right hon. Friend going to reinforce Africa or to reinforce any of the stations in the Persian Gulf? If we could get a reassuring statement on the position there, at least some of our fears would be removed.
My last question: What is to be the position if this treaty is broken like the others? I believe it would be an advantage if it were made clear that if this treaty goes the way of the other three, we will no longer tolerate it and that this treaty, such as it is, is our last word. If that is not made clear, I feel strongly that in signing it we may have opened the grave of British greatness.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I should be deeply interested to know what the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) means by "our last word." Does he mean war? Is it his view that if there be any breaches in the working out of the Agreement, the alternative is that 746 we should invade Egypt? That is an alternative that we would like to know about.
During the last Election, as the right hon. and gallant Member candidly and honourably pointed out, he and his colleagues on the benches opposite attacked people on this side of the House for scuttling from Abadan and pointed out that there would be a very different policy from the Prime Minister with regard to Egypt and the Canal. When we asked whether the alternative to that policy was war, the right hon. and gallant Member complained. What does this "last word" mean?
The right hon. and gallant Member made a highly important assertion, and I should like to ask this question. He asserted that the General Staff had changed their minds recently on this question. Is there any truth in that?
§ Mr. Paget
Did not those both exist—and the transition from the atomic to the hydrogen bomb made little difference—two, three and four years ago. Has it not been the opinion of the Secretary of State for War, of the Foreign Secertary and of the General Staff throughout the life of this Government that it was quite futile to try to maintain ourselves within the Canal Base? All the General Stall and the two right hon. Gentlemen who understood this matter have known all along that we could not with profit maintain ourselves in the Canal Base. The reason has nothing to do with atomic bombs. It is a basic matter of theory.
What is a military base? Military bases were, I believe, the great strategic contribution of Marshal Turenne. Their purpose was one and one only: to give added mobility to one's forces. If a base does not give added mobility to one's forces, it has no purpose at all. A base is to provide alternative points of supply so that our forces may be more quickly manoeuvrable. Did that apply to the Canal Zone? In so far as ports, labour forces and a friendly population were 747 available, it fulfilled that function of a base. But the moment that ports ceased to be workable, communications within the area ceased to be available, and the population became hostile, it no longer gave added manoeuvrability; it no longer enabled us to move our forces. It did exactly the opposite. It tied down our forces, and that has been our position over these years.
We have had 80,000 troops tied down in the Canal Zone, not available to be moved elsewhere—tied, unmanoeuvrable, unusable, in rotten conditions and in conditions in which they could not be trained.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I hope that the hon. and learned Member, in making that accusation, does not forget that the Government responsible for the size of the base being what it is today is not the Tory Government but was the Government which he supported. The base has doubled since 1948, before this Government ever came to power.
§ Mr. Paget
I have not made a party point and I am not going to make one. What I am concerned with is the defence and foreign policy of England which I regard as a matter for both parties. I am not trying to score advantages. The position which the Government faced when they came into office was that their whole strategic reserve, instead of being made more mobile and available by the existence of the base, was tied up with that base and could not be used. That was an intolerable situation and one which ought not to have been tolerated for any length of time.
Recently, and again today, the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East brought forward his proposal that we should retain a brigade in the Canal Zone. The Secretary of State for War illustrated the futility of that suggestion. When I asked the right hon. and gallant Member what the brigade was to do, his answer was that it would do the same as it did before the war: it was useful then. Before the war a brigade was useful in Egypt because it was a convenient place to move it from. It was useful in Egypt because it was a convenient place to train in. Now, the situation is entirely different. A brigade there would be a beleaguered garrison. 748 Any commander who puts a force deliberately into a position where it will be immediately beleaguered has the brains of a louse. That is the difference in the situation, and that is why what was sense before the war is lunacy afterwards. It is different circumstances.
So far as the H-bomb is concerned, there is no safety from it in Suez, in England, in Cyprus or anywhere else—that argument is irrelevant. The reason is that Suez is not a base. It cannot be a base. It is a tie-up; a commitment without profit; it gives no manoeuvreability of forces. The Secretary of State for War agrees. There were two alternatives. We could have moved out of the base by coming home or by going into Egypt.
In January, 1952, the opportunity arose to go into Egypt if we had wanted to. For a month our people were being murdered and Egyptians were being deliberately infiltrated into our lines as saboteurs and murderers under the guise of assistant police. This culminated in the Cairo riots in which, at the Turf Club, a number of our citizens were burnt alive by being thrown on a bonfire and between £10 million and £50 million—I do not think it has ever been ascertained—of our property was destroyed.
If the Government had meant to stay in Egypt and in the Canal Zone they had the opportunity to do it. It was an opportunity that would not recur. We could have gone into Egypt then and taught the pashas and the very small class of educated Egyptians a lesson which they would not have forgotten for a decade. We could have gone back and ruled Egypt, but it was only on those terms that we could have stayed in the Canal Zone. We decided not to do it, and I think that decision was right.
I would not have the least objection to ruling Egypt on any ethical grounds, because I do not regard it in the least moral to condemn the Egyptians to the horrible fate of being ruled by Egyptians. I do not regard the proposition that self-government is preferable to good government as being either a responsible or an ethical proposition, nor does even a Liberal if he has got a nursery.
This country has carried very formidable responsibilities throughout the world, and I believe that where we have gone we 749 have conferred immense benefits upon the nations we have governed. I do not think we have any need to be ashamed of the contributions that we have made.
The decision not to go into Egypt was right because it would have involved a commitment which it was not in our interests to undertake. With Germany destroyed, we became committed on the continent of Europe to the defence of her marches. We cannot at the same time also carry the commitment of ruling Egypt. But once that decision was taken it was abundantly clear that we could not stay in the Canal zone. The right hon. Gentlemen the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for War know that full well and they knew it then.
We had an opportunity to get out on honourable and advantageous terms. General Neguib overthrew the wretched royal Government in Cairo and the people who had inflicted injuries upon us by their irresponsibility. I urged upon the right hon. Gentlemen at that time that we should have gone to Neguib then and said, "We are delighted to see you. We want, as Ernest Bevin once said, to get out of the Canal Zone. You will, of course, realise that while the wretched King's Government was here we had nobody to whom we could hand over the base. Now, of course, a responsible strong man is in charge. Now there is somebody to whom we can hand it over. All that there remains for us to do is to make our arrangements to leave."
Neguib's whole prestige would have been built up on the fact not that he was going to get rid of the British but that he had done so. From that point onwards he would have gone into the negotiations for the arrangements committed to their success. He could not go back to his people and say, "I have not got rid of the British after all." He would have been committed to the fact that he had got rid of us, and we could have had any terms we liked for our withdrawal with the very best of good will from the new Egyptian Government. Under those circumstances, we would have come out not damaged, but with our prestige enhanced.
Instead of that, by delay we are having to withdraw on miserable terms, having carried a burden which has gravely injured our Army, which has weakened 750 recruitment, and has weakened our defence position. Why has it happened? For one reason only. It was not because the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs did not know what was the right thing to do. It was not because the Secretary of State for War did not know, but it was because of a back bench cabal in the Conservative Party encouraged under the table by the Prime Minister.
§ The Prime Minister
I behaved with perfect correctness in my relations with my colleagues and with Members of the House. I have not in the slightest degree concealed in public speech how much I regretted the course of events in Egypt. But I had not held my mind closed to the tremendous changes that have taken place in the whole strategic position in the world which make the thoughts which were well-founded and well knit together a year ago utterly obsolete, and which have changed the opinions of every competent soldier that I have been able to meet.
I am not going to attempt, in interrupting the hon. and learned Gentleman, to lay this argument before the House, but I should be prepared to do so and to show how utterly out of all proportion to the Suez Canal and the position which we held in Egypt are the appalling developments and the appalling spectacle which imagination raises before us. Merely to try to imagine in outline the first few weeks of a war under conditions about which we did not know when this Session commenced, and about which we had not been told—merely to portray that picture and submit it to the House would, I am sure, convince hon. Gentlemen of the obsolescence of the base and of the sense of proportion which is vitally needed at the present time, not only in military dispositions but in all our attempts to establish human relationships between nation and nation.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) should try to answer that one.
§ Mr. Paget
What the Prime Minister has very clearly indicated is that he held one opinion until this Session began, when events which he has described in flowing language and which, I suppose, mean the hydrogen bomb, changed his view. That is all I was saying. The fact that he was wrong up to this Session encouraged back benchers to prevent the Foreign Office and the War Office taking the obvious and correct course which they could have taken honourably on good terms, a year before this Session started.
The right hon. Gentleman's action has compelled us to take worse terms, in circumstances vastly more injurious to our prestige. The reasons for leaving the Canal base were clear and evident to everybody two years ago except a group opposite and the Prime Minister. In this Session they have become obvious to the Prime Minister; they still are not obvious to a group on that side of the House.
Now I want to say something about the alternatives as to where we are going. It is said that we are going to Cyprus. Now what could be greater folly than to say, on the one hand, that it is necessary for us to leave Egypt because of a hostile population and then, on the other hand, to go into Cyprus where we challenge the Cypriot to show that he is at least as good a man as the Egyptian? What could be a crazier thing to do? The Cypriots showed their quality as guerilla fighters in the war. When we give them that sort of challenge, do we think they will not do it again? And it is totally unnecessary.
Let us look for a moment at the position in relation to Cyprus. In Cyprus, we have our interests, they are purely strategic ones. We require a base there and, apart from that, it does not matter the least to us who rules provided that there is a friendly population there for our base. Secondly, there are the Greeks and the supporters of Enosis. The Enosis movement is purely sentimental. 752 Its supporters do not pretend that jointure with Greece would give them any material or economic advantage. Their case is that they want to take their part in the heritage of Athens and Sparta and in the great stories of the past.
Thirdly, there is the interest of Turkey, which makes up 18 or 20 per cent. of the population and which has recently come into alliance with Greece. To deal unilaterally with Greece would blow wide open the new Turkish-Greek alliance. We have to come to terms on three matters: our strategic interest, which requires a base and control of a base such as Gibraltar or Malta; the sentiment of the Enosis population, which is tremendously strong—not the less strong for being sentimental; and the interests of the Greeks and the Turks.
I would urge that before we move any troops into Cyprus we should confer with the Greeks on this subject, with the Turks on this subject, and with local opinion in Cyprus. I beg the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, and the Secretary of State for War, to take over these negotiations. The ham-handed way in which this was handled from the Colonial Office yesterday might well give us another war. We had a crazy display from that Box yesterday by the Colonial Office, showing utter misunderstanding of the sentimental position in Cyprus. For goodness' sake let these two right hon. Gentlemen, who have shown themselves such artists in negotiations, negotiate an agreement here which will please everybody. There is one available. We do not mind the jointure with Greece so long as we have our strategic control; it does not hurt us in the least. Do let us have some negotiation about this alternative. It will not be beyond our wit to devise safeguards for the Turks.
Finally, I ask them to consider whether Israel should be consulted as to whether she would like a brigade based there. I am informed that there is a good possibility that the Israelis would feel that it is a proposal which would add greatly to their security and which they would be willing to discuss. So before we make our new arrangements, let us consider that too, because English troops there would, I think, scotch any possibility of an Arab invasion, would stabilise that area and would provide us with a base from which we could move 753 and mobilise troops. Let us at least take the trouble to see we are welcome this time.
This has been done two years too late; it has been delayed as an act of appeasement to the 1922 Committee; it has been done, because of that, in circumstances of ignominy, and it has been done without consideration as to what that we do now. The Government have done ill in this and they are extremely lucky to have an Opposition which may be prepared to save their necks.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Colonel Cyril Banks (Pudsey)
I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) will forgive me if I do not follow the line he has taken, because in many respects I find it too complicated. In my maiden speech in this House in 1950 I raised the issue of the Middle East and South-East Asia. I talked of conditions that I had found there after having made a study of the situation for about nine months and of the relation between those conditions and what we must face in the future.
During the course of that speech I cited Egypt and other countries surrounding Egypt and said that, unless we did something about them, we would be in serious trouble in a comparatively short space of time. I would not like the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to get by with the attitude he has shown towards the problem this afternoon, because I want to remind him that even during his time in office I wrote to his Government and asked for their help. Also I suggested what could be done to help those countries and probably to stave off something that is happening at this moment.
To my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse), who has spoken against this Motion, I would only say that, if he saw conditions for himself in that part of the world, he would probably have a different viewpoint. I have been there four times in nine months and have visited the Palestinian refugees, of whom I have seen 400,000 in that time. I have seen their plight, I have seen how they live on the United Nations allowance for food and medical aid which is at the rate of only 6d. a day.
754 After seeing those conditions I made a visit to Egypt in April this year. I saw the Gaza district, where there are 200,000 refugees with no work to do and no possibility of work until schemes are started for them. Then I returned to Cairo to see what were the possibilities of employing refugees. Hon. Members opposite have said a lot about Israel this afternoon, and I spent three days there. I looked at the conditions that obtained in the whole of Egypt, where there are at the present time 100,000 people unemployed in light industries. In agriculture the minimum unemployed is a million, but the figure is probably far more than that.
I ask hon. Members opposite not to gloat over this, because it has been going on during their period of office, but the truth is that Egypt has been for many, many years a land of the haves and the have-nots. Something had to happen. We may take pride in many of the things which we as a country have achieved overseas, but I think that we should also be very cautious and take very great care when we talk about what we have achieved.
It is at that stage that I actually met Colonel Nasser. A great deal has been said about him in the Press. I would say this of him—that he is not someone who has just sprung up overnight. He has lived a dangerous life over a number of years planning to overthrow poverty in his country. He sat down with a group of people in his country and planned this revolution. As I saw him, he is a man of simple taste and is determined to rid Egypt of poverty. The more he does to that end the better it will be not only for Egypt but for the whole of the world.
He has been committed to the removal of our Forces from the Canal Zone from the start. On both sides of the House we know what it is to be committed at some time or another in our political life, and it would be wrong to judge Colonel Nasser as an individual merely because he says that British troops must leave the Canal Zone.
We have two alternatives in Egypt. The first is to agree to help the Egyptian people, to back the Egyptian Government in helping to feed the starving people, who are having a very bad time, and in getting on with land irrigation with water 755 from the Nile, and to send out our technicians. I think that they are far better ambassadors than people in an Embassy. Let them help the Egyptians to irrigate land hitherto untended and to grow food, and let our people build factories over there to employ the 100,000 who are now unemployed in light industry. By doing that we should earn the love and respect of the people of Egypt, and that is very important at the present time.
The alternative is to decline to do anything. The question is whether we should have troops in a hostile country. We would be in a hostile country. We would be shot at. I am no strategist, but in my opinion we shall want more men if, as we must, we spread further afield, but it is for someone else to say from where those men are to come. I say that here is an opportunity to co-operate with the Egyptian Government and the people in making their land a better place to live in and in getting rid of some of the things that have obtained there in the past. We should do that rather than say that we are going to sit there all the time. That would make a highly dangerous situation.
Both sides of the House support the United Nations and the Colombo Conference and anything which has as its purpose the making of peace in the world. We have done all that. If we truly believe in that, it means bringing our troops out of Egypt and bringing them back home. If we do that, we shall have the good will of 22 million people in Egypt and the possibility of earning their respect. That is a grand thing to do and I am all for it.
There has been much reference to "scuttle." I do not think that to put ourselves in the position to earn the love of 22 million people is a scuttle. Talk of loss of prestige has been bandied about in recent weeks, but I say sincerely that we can do an awful lot of damage to British prestige in the House of Commons if we are not very careful. In my experience in the countries that I have visited I have found that our prestige has not decreased. Our relations have been very friendly in Egypt. British people are popular there. The British business man is particularly popular at present. I believe that the Government will stay there for many years. I made a journey with Colonel Nasser of nearly 756 200 miles along the Upper Nile and I saw how he was received. I believe that he has a great future before him and that he earns all the respect and help that we and the United States can give him. I hope that, as a result of these discussions, we shall give a friendly hand to Egypt and let the Egyptians know that we wish them well and want to help them out of their very serious trouble.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I applaud the sentiments of the hon. and gallant Member for Pudsey (Colonel Banks) and I certainly do not want to approach this debate in any spirit of gloating. I remind the hon. and gallant Member that his policy of the development of the Nile Delta and the furthering of the interests of Egyptian people, was also the policy of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the late Mr. Ernest Bevin.
The great tragedy is that when in 1946 and 1947 Mr. Bevin and the then Prime Minister were trying to rebuild British policy in the Middle East we received from the present Prime Minister, who was then in Opposition, not support but a response which forced us to go slow, because from one end of this island to another the cry of "Scuttle" was raised. However, I willingly join with the hon. and gallant Member in agreeing that we should drop the word "scuttle" and forget the past. I am prepared to believe that under the force of events the Prime Minister has been compelled to change his point of view.
§ Colonel Banks
I do not think that the hon. Member should blame the present Prime Minister for a position which he could not have influenced at all, because in 1946 there were plenty of schemes before the countries concerned. They had been put before them by the United Nations and the money was available, but they would not agree to them.
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. and gallant Member was not a Member of this House then, but if he takes the opportunity to read HANSARD of 7th May, 1946, he will find that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition announced in the House that negotiations were to be opened with the Egyptian Government. This prompted the present 757 Prime Minister to move the Adjournment of the House in protest. It was from that moment that we were forced to go slow on a policy which might have produced a much more favourable result than we have now obtained. The waste of eight years and the disappointment and the bitterness of hon. Members opposite are wholly due to the irresponsible action from 1946 onwards of the Prime Minister.
But there are others besides the Prime Minister. The Secretary of State for War said today that he went to Egypt to speak not as a soldier but as a member of the Government. Of course he did. There is a world of difference between what he has been saying in the last week and what he said in the 1946 debate. He then compared our policy to the selling of an Egyptian carpet. We do not want to gloat. But we are human beings, and I have been waiting for eight years to hear the speech which the Leader of the Opposition made today. Nevertheless, let us forget the past and try to look to the future.
The hon. and gallant Member for Pudsey spoke of two alternatives. I should like to put forward two others. We have been a great imperial Power. I agree with the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse). I am not ashamed of all that Britain has done in the backward corners of the world. I have been proud of the humble part that I have played, not on Parliamentary visits but in washing socks and opening tins of "bully beef" in those areas. It is not all lost; we are leaving behind a record of decency, a record of fair play, which will enter into the everyday lives of the peoples of those countries.
We have been a great imperial Power. I respect the point of view of hon. Members opposite and sympathise with them even if I do not agree with them. I sympathise with them because I respect some of the things for which they are standing. I have respected them in the past and respect them now. But there are other things besides the days that are gone. We can at this moment be borne down by our imperial memories and by looking over our shoulders to the memories and glories of our great past. We can leave the Suez Canal Zone because we cannot stay there any longer and can go into Cyprus or 758 Africa because they are second best and try to lay a base in Cyprus or in Cyrenaica, but the policy of second best based on memories of yesterday will not help us.
As every hon. Member opposite who has had any military service knows perfectly well the policy of going to Cyprus is a piece of utter nonsense. It has no military validity at all. It is common knowledge that the principles upon which a great base stands must be great sea communications—they are there, although the harbours in Cyprus are not good—good road and rail transport and great forces of native labour, but all those things are lacking. This is a prison into which we should be sending British troops for reasons of prestige.
In 1946—this is the last time I shall hark back to it—perhaps things might have gone differently if we had been wiser and if there had been wisdom all round. There is no monopoly of wisdom in any quarter of the House. We might have got a redeployment on much better terms than we can think about now. Israel might have become a seventh Dominion. Certainly, we would have had more good will than we have at present. So, let us look at the problem in order to get the maximum amount of good will we can get from not only the Egyptians and the Israelis, but also from the other countries of the Middle East. For what we want in the Middle East, above all, is stability, and there can be no stability without good will.
Last Christmas a number of hon. Members were prepared to give up part of their holiday to go to Egypt. We did not go as a result of a vindictive Press campaign, but because it was a good idea and it would be excellent if the Foreign Secretary would offer the Egyptian authorities a good will mission from this House in order to get the maximum results in the shortest possible time. Similar missions should also go to the other countries in the Middle East, for we want the good will of Egypt; we want the good will of Israel; indeed, we want the good will of the whole of the Middle East.
At present, we have to recognise the realities of the situation. Some hon. Members on this side of the House and some hon. Members opposite imagine that when we go out the Egyptian Army will be a great menace. That is not true. I 759 have not been back to Egypt for two or three years, but I was in Israel a couple of years ago and had an opportunity of looking at the Israeli Army. It is a very good Army and it has a much better system of mobilisation than we have. It is dovetailed into their needs and is the most effective fighting force in the Middle East. If there was any danger of invasion when we go out the Israeli Army would be on the Egyptian border in a couple of days. At the moment, there is no danger of the Egyptian Army invading Israel; for the moment it is the other way round, but there is no intention in that small country—which wants to get on with the raising of its standard of life—of pursuing an aggressive policy. But let us remember that the effectiveness of the Israeli Army gives us four or five years in which to lower the tension and get a policy of good will under way.
In 1946, I used to quarrel with Mr. Bevin, and even now I do not think that all the blame for the follies of Middle East policy is to be found on the benches opposite. Although, goodness knows, there is enough there, some of it had its origin over here. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) spoke as if he had talked with the Israeli authorities. I do not know whether that is so, but I know that Haifa is one of the best ports in the Middle East and could sustain a considerable force.
I suggest that the policy I advocate might lead the Israeli people and their authorities—as a free will act on their part and a gesture towards the policy of stability in the Middle East which is so essential both to this country and to the interests of the people of the Middle East—to consider not ceding Haifa—such a thought would be absurd—but coming to an arrangement whereby we could have the use of the port of Haifa and perhaps an area around it. That would be a much better and more realistic policy than the nonsense about Cyprus.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I think there has been a misconception throughout the debate. I think the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member have fallen into the error of thinking that a base is to be set up in Cyprus. There is no question of that, but it is to be a head- 760 quarters. I quite agree with what the hon. Member said about Haifa.
§ Mr. Wigg
I hope that by a slip of the tongue I have not led hon. Members to think I suggest that Cyprus could be developed as a base like the Suez Canal. That is not so and I am sorry if I led the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) into the view that Cyprus would be a base for a considerable body of troops. What we want is an effective point from which we can rapidly expand should the necessity arise. It seems to me that, if the Israeli authorities are willing, Haifa would be much better for that purpose.
That might be done as a result of an act of good will by the Israeli authorities or the Israeli people, but it is no good us thinking of forcing our way back there any more than to dream of hanging on in the Canal Zone. That day has gone for ever. What I am pleading for is that we should forget the imperialist memories given expression to by the Secretary of State for War in the 1946 debate when he was speaking, not as a member of the Government, but, I think, as a soldier, and talked of the Suez Canal being a great imperial life-line—I think he called it a great artery of the Empire. That was the kind of romantic, sloppy, nonsense which the Conservative Party likes, particularly the female section. He may have been carried away by his own propaganda.
§ Mr. Wigg
The right hon. Gentleman must not be too clever. Of course it is a great life-line, but that is not what he said. He said that it was an artery of the Empire, and the policy of the present Government in Opposition was opposed to leaving Suez on just that thesis.
761 The right hon. Gentleman is too good a soldier not to know that it was sloppy nonsense then and that it is sloppy nonsense now. But let us get away from the past. Let us get the troops out. Let us build up recruiting and cut down conscription by six months. The right hon. Gentleman has another chance. We can do it, provided that we do not look over our shoulders; provided we do not want an imperial future, and provided that the troops do not do "three years hard" in Cyprus instead of "three years hard" in the Canal Zone. Let us bring them back—
§ Mr. Wigg
The noble Lord is thinking so much of the past that he has to throw across to this side of the House words of bitterness. He would charge us with a policy of "scuttle" at the very time when his hon. Friends have shown concern about this matter in a most realistic way. I am pleading that we should leave Egypt. I realise that we cannot withdraw from Malaya. Neither can we withdraw from Kenya, though I recognise that it is the follies of the former Colonial Secretary, the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), which has caused us to bog down a division of troops there.
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark)
The hon. Member has said that he does not think that we should withdraw from Malaya. Would he consider that it is necessary for us to defend our maritime communications and that the defence of the Canal Zone—H-bomb or otherwise—is of great importance?
§ Mr. Wigg
I should delay the House too long were I to give the hon. Gentleman elementary lessons in geography as well as elementary lessons in strategy. In the First World War it was the strategy of this country—in which the Prime Minister played such a distinguished part, particularly over the withdrawal from Gallipoli—that the Mediterranean should be kept open. But it was clear on 762 Christmas Day, 1914, that that was impossible. On Christmas Day, 1914, the late Duke of Westminster, with an armoured car command, contacted the Turks, actually on the Canal, and a number of actions were subsequently fought in a vain endeavour to keep open the Mediterranean, to keep open the Canal Zone.
In the last war—though the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) appears to have forgotten it, and it appears that roughly 50 years of history has passed him by—we made no attempt to keep open the Mediterranean. We used the West Coast of Africa as our life line. The great burial ground of our maritime fleet was down the West Coast of Africa. Sierra Leone was the important base, not the harbours of the Mediterranean. The coming of the submarine and air power makes the policy advocated by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends complete nonsense. We have the H-bomb 750 miles away, and the hon. Member and his hon. Friends wish to provide a potential aggressor with the most perfect target in the world.
But I do not want to enter into an argument with hon. Gentlemen opposite. I am sorry that I have been dragged away into this digression. I wish to plead with the Government to take every step in their power, not only by words but by actions, to try to stimulate the maximum amount of good will both in Egypt and in Israel. I speak as a friend of both countries, indeed, as a friend of all the countries in the Middle East. I have visited them all—not as a member of a Parliamentary mission, not on a visit of two or three days. I have served in all those countries and, in a humble way, I claim to know something about them. I believe that the potential friendship for this country is enormous. I believe that memories are shorter than we sometimes think. I believe that in a very few months—certainly, in a year or two—all that has happened in Egypt in the last 70 years can be forgotten.
Perhaps I may be permitted to tell a story. I was serving in Constantinople in the occupation forces after the First World War. Heaven knows, there was bitterness between us and the Turks, because the Turk, although he is a good fighter, does not always fight according to Marquis of Queensberry rules. We 763 called him, "Johnny Turk" and for some reason they called us "Johnny," too. I left Constantinople on the last trooper. The last and the best troopship was, of course, reserved for the Brigade of Guards. They had to have the best. They travelled home in cabins, and I came on a trooper. It was a very old boat. It had been old at the time of the South African war.
I remember that as we pulled away from the quayside there was no chorus of abuse nor shaking of fists. The Turkish people, with whom there had been very difficult relations since the rise of Kemal, turned up in their hundreds shouting, "Goodbye Johnny, come back again." Give him the chance, and that is the kind of good will which is created by the British soldier; not because he has been trained in the Foreign Office, or kicked around in a public school, but because he is what he is. That is the kind of memory which the British soldier can leave behind. That is the kind of memory which will be left behind in the Canal Zone. The murders and the shootings and the robberies will be forgotten. But the simple kindness and the generosity of several generations of British troops will be remembered.
That is better than all the bases and, may I say, all the White Papers in the world. In any case, what fools we shall be if we do not create good will. We have not got the base any longer. The troops will come out in 20 months' time, so is it not far better for hon. Gentlemen opposite to accept this, and to say, "Well, after all, this is not what we should have liked and we are sorry about it but we must make the best of it"? It was clear from the emotion shown by the Prime Minister when he spoke that he is sorry, and I understand why, and I certainly do not gloat over it. But if we have to come out, let us, in the name of British common sense—which is one of the great national virtues to which we lay claim—make the best of a bad job. Let us come out and try to leave the maximum amount of good will behind; so that if ever we have to go back—and God forbid that the occasion should ever arise—we shall be greeted with friendship.
I hope that that will be the policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Do not let 764 them forget the fears which undoubtedly exist in Israel and in other countries as to what the effects of the redeployment will be. The efficiency of the Israeli Army will guarantee sufficient time for this Government, and other Governments concerned, to recognise that 29th July, 1954, marks the end of British imperial power in that part of the world, and the coming of a new era of friendship and kindliness. If that happens, I am sure that there will be a new respect, not only for Britain, but for everything for which she stands.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Major Sir Roger Conant (Rutland and Stamford)
For quite a number of years my contribution to our proceedings has consisted of the suggestion, "That this House do now adjourn." I hope that my observations today and on any future occasion when I may catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will be equally agreeable to hon. Members.
We are considering whether the Heads of Agreement initialled on Tuesday should form the basis of a treaty with Egypt or whether we should continue this long-drawn-out dispute. That is the simple issue—whether the dispute which has gone on for eight years should be continued. I agree that the base ingratitude of the Egyptians after the last war and the great length of time our troops have been in Egypt makes everyone reluctant to approve proposals for the withdrawal of our troops, but we must face facts.
Our troops are stationed in Egypt for defence. We must ask ourselves whether in the circumstances of today, bearing in mind the hostility of the Egyptians, modern methods of warfare, and in particular the possible use of nuclear weapons in a future war, it is wise to keep troops in Egypt and to maintain there the great base which we have kept up ever since the war. It is very easy to pick holes in any agreement and to suggest improvements. Today we are not concerned with hypothetical agreements. We are discussing this compromise Agreement which has been reached, and the alternative to accepting it is that we must face the job of maintaining 80,000 troops, or possibly a slightly smaller number, in the Canal Zone where they will be tied up indefinitely defending themselves as much as they will be defending the Suez Canal. 765 They live, as hon. Members know, under appalling conditions.
I would certainly have preferred a treaty which was to last longer than seven years, but I do not think that it is unreasonable to expect that with this great bone of contention removed our friendship with Egypt may grow and that at the end of seven years we may conclude another treaty. Therefore, I have no doubt that our defence needs are best served by the redeployment of our forces.
The effect of the treaty will be to reduce our direct overseas commitments considerably. I think that my right hon. Friend said that two and a half divisions would be relieved and made available for other uses. I am sure that this will lead to many demands for reductions in the period of National Service. In fact, the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has already staked a claim. No doubt we shall also have suggestions for cuts in civil defence, but I hope that the Government will think very carefully before they agree to any proposals which would diminish the effectiveness of our defences.
Anyone who has read the Report of the Sub-Committee of the Disarmament Commission which met in London last month and which has studied the outlook of Soviet Russia on disarmament, cannot but feel the great urgency of maintaining our defences at the highest pitch if war is to be prevented. I am sure that all hon. Members hope that if this treaty is concluded it will result in more secure defences, and in a firm and lasting friendship being established with Egypt, and that in time to come the Egyptian people will appreciate the very deep debt of gratitude which they owe to British troops.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Of course, it is not competent for me in any way to reflect on your choice of speakers and I do not attempt to do so. I could not suggest, for example, that the opposition in this debate comes from a small nucleus of 40 Members and that they should be called one by one, and I could not make any comment on your choice of speakers, but I should like to draw your attention to the distinct possibility that unless there is a selection of speakers from the 766 effective opposition in this debate it may be necessary in Committee on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, which occurs later in our proceedings, to make our views known.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member has rightly pointed out that that was not a point of order with which I could deal.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
I sympathise with the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). I remember a good many times when I was sitting on the Government side of the House and thought that the effective opposition was not getting its full representation. Indeed, on the subject of the Middle East, I can remember a debate on Egypt when I thought that I was the effective opposition.
However, there is one difference which the noble Lord has not noticed. When he talks about the effective opposition, he seems to have overlooked the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. If that was thought to be a congratulatory speech, then the noble Lord's estimate of his own powers of oratory and of his own case is higher than I believed. I doubt whether he will be able to do a job of debunking the Government equal to that done by the Leader of the Opposition. My right hon. Friend castigated the Government. I assure the noble Lord that we on our side will play our part in exposing the Government, though I know that the stab from the rear hurts more than the stab from the front. I shall occupy no more than a very few minutes, and then I hope to see fratricidal strife between hon. Gentlemen above and below the Gangway on the Government side of the House.
I do not intend to spend a great deal of time in castigation, because that was done by the Leader of the Opposition once and for all. I want to speak shortly and not polemically. I think that some of us on this side of the House ought to say one or two things to the Government not in a polemical way. I am one of those who, unlike the Secretary of State for War, feel no conflict of emotion and common sense about this decision. I was aware that the right hon. Gentleman was 767 not really speaking to those of us who have been pressing this policy on him for two years. The fact that we have been pressing for it over here has been something of an embarrassment to him. I knew that he was speaking to his hon. Friends when he said that there was emotion on the one side and common sense on the other.
We are more fortunate. Our emotions coincide with his common sense, and we are delighted to realise that he sees the common sense reason. We also feel an immense relief that the 72-year occupation of a country, which was detested by that country, is to be ended, and we recall that on 17 occasions British Governments have pledged themselves to withdraw. At last that promise is to be kept. We do not see any great emotional tragedy about that.
On the contrary, we feel that at last there is a chance of a new beginning of relationships in the Middle East. I would say to the Secretary of State for War that it is touch and go whether this Anglo-Egyptian Agreement ends in complete chaos and collapse in the Middle East or whether it marks the beginning of a new relationship between our country and Egypt.
That depends not only on Egypt but on the attitude of the Government of this country. I should like to echo something said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). I was proud to be the friend of the present Prime Minister of Israel when he was locked up as a terrorist by a Labour Government. I was proud to be the friend of the present Prime Minister of Egypt when he was reviled and despised by leaders on the Front Bench opposite only 18 months ago. I claim to be a friend of Israel and a friend of Egypt. I claim that unless we in this country can feel friendship for Israel and for the Arab States, including Egypt, and can genuinely want collaboration, there is no chance for all the military plans in the world.
The whole future of the Middle East depends on breaking that deadlock, that curtain of hatred, which divides the Arab world from Israel. It is only from this country that it can be broken. May I remind the House that we largely created it? By our action, the unnecessary and disastrous war in Palestine came, 768 and that divided these people. We must accept our responsibility. It is only if hon. Gentlemen opposite will accept the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement as giving the possibility of entering upon new relations with the Arabs and the Jews that it will not be a scuttle. It will not be a military disaster if only we take that new attitude.
That is what disturbed us about Cyprus. What happened? On the same afternoon a concession to common sense was made by the Foreign Secretary and half an hour later a concession to emotion was made by his colleague in his statement on Cyprus.
§ Mr. Crossman
I am sorry that none of us had the privilege of speaking yesterday afternoon after the Colonial Secretary. He made a series of assertions which seriously invalidated the good intentions of the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement, for if the Agreement means the end of the Imperial relationship in the Middle East, then we cannot possibly assert British sovereignty in Cyprus on the same day. [Interruption.] I know that it is unpleasant to remind the unofficial Government opposition of this.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I was saying that the hon. Gentleman was making a selfish and tedious speech.
§ Mr. Crossman
The noble Lord is usually courteous, but on the subject of Cyprus and Egypt he really must learn in time. We have had these mistakes made time after time during the last eight years. Hon. Members have never listened to our warnings. Each time we have got up and warned hon. Members what is likely to happen. Each time hon. Members opposite have called it tedious repetition and have turned it down. Then disaster comes, and it is too late.
All I do now is to beg the Foreign Secretary, who listened to sense, although I admit he was over-ridden by the Prime Minister for a year, to think again of what was said about Cyprus yesterday by the Colonial Secretary and ask himself whether it is compatible with the new relationship that we are trying to achieve in the Middle East that we should assert 769 to the people of Cyprus that they shall never get their sovereignty. I do not believe that we can have a military relationship with the Middle East except on terms of friendship with the people there. We have only got it with Israel today because Israel achieved her independence by force. We have only got it with Egypt because Egypt is getting her independence. Unless we give the people of Cyprus their will, they will not be with us.
This is the first thing that we want to emphasise to the Government today from this side of the House. Whether or not the Agreement leads to good will depends upon how the Government interpret it. [Interruption.] Of course it depends partly on the Egyptians. I assure the hon. and gallant Member for Pudsey (Colonel Banks), who made such an interesting speech about Colonel Nasser—I agree with him that Colonel Nasser is a charming man—that I am, nevertheless, not quite so one-sided in my picture of Colonel Nasser.
Colonel Nasser is a politician who is faced with realities in Egypt. The great danger about Egypt today is that, having lost one scapegoat—it has been the British who have been blamed for everything there in the last 25 years—she may find another foreign scapegoat next door. We shall have to see. It depends on whether Colonel Nasser is strong enough not to use the xenophobia there, which has given an excuse to every Egyptian leader for 25 years to blame the British, to find a scapegoat in Israel now with the result that there may be a possibility of a "second round."
It is our responsibility as a country to ascertain whether the military security arrangements which have been made will reduce the risk of there being a "second round." I ask myself whether we are doing it. [Interruption.] I was saying to the unofficial Government opposition—there are critics of the Government on this side of the House as well—that we are asking ourselves what security we have in the present world against a "second round" occurring. What are we doing to help Colonel Nasser to strengthen himself against that temptation? I agree that this is not likely to come for two or three years. The Israeli army is certainly stronger than the Egyptian army today, but there is that danger in the future. We have at the 770 moment a tripartite agreement which is merely a bit of paper. How can we give that bit of paper some substance?
I suggest that, much better than going to Cyprus and insulting the Cypriots by saying, "We will stay in your country and build a base here whether you like it or not," we should go to the one country in the Middle East which is now friendly to us, friendly because it got its freedom despite the British Government—Israel. Here is a friendly country, with a friendly people, which might really be a reliable ally in time of trouble.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is it a friendly attitude towards Israel to suggest that we should put a bomber base there?
§ Mr. Crossman
I am not talking about a bomber base. I am talking about looking for allies in the Middle East.
§ Mr. Crossman
I am speaking to the Chair. I suggest it is worth considering whether Israel would be prepared to lease us part of Haifa as a naval base. At least, it is an offer worth making to her.
I have said to the House previously that I think it is essential that the Gaza Strip, with its 260,000 refugees, should be taken, as a burden, off Egypt and that we should have there a battalion of British troops, a battalion of French troops and a battalion of American troops, as a token force and as proof that the tripartite statement means something and we should implement it if any trouble occurred. If we are to make a commitment, as we are making, that we will prevent aggression, I want some meaning given to it. I believe that small token forces in that area would deter both sides from aggression.
The Egyptians have previously stated that the Gaza Strip is a serious burden to them. Who wants the Gaza Strip, with the 260,000 refugees in it, today? My suggestion is worth considering. These ideas are turned down time after time until it is recognised that they make sense.
The last thing I say is this. While the 900,000 Arab refugees rot in their camps there will be no military security in the Middle East, there will be no friendship 771 between Israel and the Arab world, and there will be no friendship between us and the Middle East. When are we going to do something about the refugees? The British and the Americans should recognise that they might as well take on the compensation of the refugees. It may be said that we cannot afford to do that, but we are spending hundreds of millions of pounds on the military defence of the area while at the same time we are making the area impossible to defend. A few score millions of pounds paid out to the refugees to enable them to leave the camps, buy a bit of ground and develop their lives, would do more for the defence of the Middle East than any amount of guns and bombers.
I pray the House to realise that as long as we say to ourselves that military principle should over-ride common humanity we shall have no friends in the Middle East. If the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement is the beginning of a new relationship and not merely a scuttle out of Egypt into Cyprus, there is some hope for us in the Middle East, but if it is the same old thing, merely Imperialism grown weaker, then the military vacuum will end in final collapse.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Preston, North)
Perhaps I might congratulate the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) upon his contribution, which, as his contributions always are, was dazzling and entertaining. The way he puts it, it always seems so easy. According to him, the great thing is to be friends with the Arabs and friends with the Jews, to establish a new relationship, and not to put the base into Cyprus but put everything into Gaza. Sometimes, in my more irresponsible moments, I should rather like the hon. Member to be at the Foreign Office, so that I could see what would then happen to all our interests and to the interests of other countries.
These is one point upon which I am sure there will be no difference in any quarter of the House, and that is the momentousness of the decision which is being taken here today. It is the end of a process which has lasted 72 years. It is 72 years since we went into Egypt, at the behest not of an Imperialistic Conservative Government but of a 772 Liberal Administration under Mr. Gladstone; 72 years which Colonel Nasser described yesterday as "72 years of bitterness," a phrase which was echoed by the hon. Member for Coventry, East just now; 72 years in which Cromer, Milner, Allenby, Kitchener, Lloyd and Killairn built modern Egypt as we now know it; 72 years in which we built the foundations of what became a British Empire in the Middle East after the First World War and has remained so until the other day. It is an area to which the forces of the Commonwealth came twice in a generation to defend freedom and civilisation. There has been a very difficult position in that area in the last three years. There has been a state of seige. Now the garrison is to march out with full honours of war, but after submitting to a full capitulation.
The documents which we have on this new Agreement are very few; in fact, only two. There is the communiqué which was put forward on the evening of the signature of the Heads of Agreement and there is the White Paper itself. Let me say a word or two first about the communiqué. It begins by telling us that the Agreement is not aggressive in its intentions. There will be no disagreement on that. It goes on to say that the Agreement aims at "removing sources of friction and misundertsanding." A study, however, of the Heads of Agreement shows that only one thing is to be removed—the British Army. I do not know whether that was a very happy phrase for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War to use about his service.
The communiqué ends by expressing the hope that the Agreement will "contribute to the maintenance of peace and security." That is really the vital question which we have to answer. Will it do so? I cannot escape the conclusion that when we go the last element of stability in Egypt goes with us. The country is beset with fearful social and economic difficulties, and nobody can solve them easily. In fact, I doubt whether any combination of forces in Egypt could succeed in solving them. The military junta may manage with dollar aid to control the dark forces for a time. But that, in the end, there will come an explosion is more than likely. Which 773 way it will go is anybody's guess, but there is at any rate a serious risk that it will involve an attack on Israel, or the suppression of the anti-Egyptian element in the Sudan, or perhaps a Communist revolution in Cairo. All or any of these developments could bring the Middle East down in ruins.
Now for the Heads of Agreement themselves. If we are to pass judgment on them, we must compare them both with what we had under the 1936 Treaty and what we might have had, for better or worse, as an alternative to these arrangements. First of all, a comparison with the 1936 Treaty. In 1936, we had a full alliance with Egypt; under this arrangement, we have none. In 1936, we had a right to station troops there; under this arrangement, we have an obligation to evacuate them. In 1936, we had a right of re-entry in the event of war anywhere in the world, or a threat of war or of an apprehended international emergency, whatever that curious legalistic term may indicate; in this Agreement, we have a right of re-entry only in the event of attack on certain Powers.
Here I should like to ask a question to which I hope my right hon. Friend will reply in winding up. What happens if, for example, Turkey becomes involved in a war in the defence of another member of N.A.T.O.? Will that constitute an attack against Turkey, and would that bind the Egyptians to open the Suez Canal to us, or would it not? It would not be an attack against Turkey, but against one of Turkey's allies in N.A.T.O., and I think we ought to know what is the position there.
The 1936 Treaty was of unlimited duration; this Agreement is to last for seven years. In the 1936 Treaty, it was stated that the Suez Canal was a primary interest of the British Commonwealth, as well an an international trade route; there is no mention of the British Commonwealth in these Heads of Agreement before us today. There is one other point, of which no mention has been made, but perhaps it will be covered in the Treaty, and perhaps my right hon. Friend will say something about it. Are there any provisions for naval facilities like those which are accorded to the R.A.F.? As to the facilities accorded the R.A.F., what 774 is meant by "most-favoured-nation-treatment"? Am I right in believing that it is the same treatment as that accorded to other countries?
Certainly, of course, we secure certain rights and pledges under this Agreement, and we might have had nothing at all. We have the right to maintain civilian contractors and the right of inspection of their work, and we have certain promises over the maintenance of the Canal Convention, but there is no security for any of these rights or pledges. Egypt receives the substance—control of the Canal, of the Base and of the land bridge from Asia to Africa. We receive the shadow—certain promises. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary yesterday expressed the hope that there would be a growing improvement in our relations with Egypt and that this might one day come to something. I hope that what he says will indeed come true, but there is very little foundation, for such hopes at present, and my right hon. Friend, of all men, after his bitter experience of Egyptian good faith in the Sudan last November, must have found it hard to give public expression to these hopes.
There is no evidence yet of good will on the part of the Government of Egypt, and we have to ask ourselves whether, even if they feel good will, they are in a position to show it. Powerful forces are arrayed against the Egyptian Junta. Indeed, I think that the statements made in Mr. Aboul Fath's letter in yesterday's "Manchester Guardian" are significant. He, a leading member of the Wafd, made it quite clear that the intention of himself and his friends was to try to outbid the xenophobia of the Egyptian Government. Any good will that we might receive may thus only be maintained by making further concessions to the Egyptians. We cannot make many more concessions to Egypt on Egyptian soil, but we might have to make concessions to Egyptian policy in other parts of the Middle East.
We have to face the fact that this Agreement is virtually unconditional evacuation of the Canal Zone. I am bound to say that it is hard to see that these negotiations have got us anything which we could not have got two years ago. I believe, as the House knows, that the whole of this Agreement is wrong. But if we were determined to go, then 775 there was a lot to be said for going quickly. As it is, lives have been lost, time wasted and money spent all in vain. The truth of the matter is that this Agreement falls between two stools, and, because of that, I do not think that it has much chance of commanding respect in the Middle East any more than it has a chance of commanding the respect of many people in this country and on this side of this House.
The Prime Minister, in an intervention earlier on, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, put a great deal of emphasis on the change in the situation which has been brought about by the advent of the hydrogen bomb. From a purely strategic point of view, what they said is no doubt true, but we have also to consider what will happen if there is no war. After all, our efforts in other spheres of policy are devoted to avoiding war; we have also to remember that there are British interests in the Middle East which we had before the Soviet threat arose and which I hope will still survive after the Soviet danger has receded. I think myself that the Agreement has to be judged as much on political as on military grounds; and, to understand it, we must try to look at it in the perspective of recent developments in the Middle East.
It is fair to say that the Middle East was chiefly important to Britain before the war because it was the area through which our communications passed by sea and air to India—India which was the great bastion of British power in the area of the Indian Ocean. With the coming of independence to India, the Middle East ceased to be simply important as a line of communications; it became itself the main bastion of British power looking towards the Indian Ocean, and it was from the Middle East that we had the strength to influence events in that part of the world. It was very important, I think, that we should have restained that strength, not only for our own traditional interests which bound us to that area, but because the new Commonwealth countries which have emerged on the Indian sub-continent needed to feel that there was, not too far away from them, a Power which could go to their aid in the hour of need. I know that public opinion in India and Pakistan tends to sympathise with Egyptian Nationalism. But I believe 776 that the leaders of those nations are much more concerned in their hearts with there being someone who can come to their help and who is not too far away. Their interest in the Commonwealth will be reduced by the withdrawal of British power from the Middle East.
British power in the Middle East was based in Palestine, the Suez Canal and the Sudan. I do not want to go into the rights and wrongs of the Palestine issue, but our withdrawal from there and our renunciation of responsibility led to a cruel and unnecessary war, the consequences of which will long bedevil affairs in the Middle East.
I must say a word about the agreement over the Sudan. In the 1936 Treaty, the Sudan and Canal problems were knit together. On this occasion, they have been separated. I am not sure that the separation has been very wise. It has led, by the way, to a curious fact. This Administration is the first Conservative Administration to lose nearly one million square miles of territory of the Empire since the day of Lord North. His policy towards the American Colonies suffered from excessive firmness. I do not think anyone will say that the Middle East policy that we are discussing today has suffered from that particular defect.
The agreement over the Sudan has never been fully debated, but in my view it was worse than the Heads of Agreement that we are considering tonight. What we have now is the surrender of vital British interests. What we did in the Sudan was a betrayal of trust. I would go further than that. I believe that the agreement over the Sudan was worse than crime: it was a blunder. There was a chance of giving genuine independence to the Sudan and at the same time of securing such military installations as we needed in that country, and of discharging our trust to the more backward peoples of the Southern Sudan. That opportunity was tragically lost, and there followed the whole miserable tale of elections in which bribery, corruption and pressure played a very full part.
Had we left the Sudan but kept control of the Suez Canal, our action would have been immoral but it would at least have been rational. Had we reached military agreements with Israel, as the Leader of the Opposition suggested, and at the same time kept our installations in Sudan, we 777 might with some equanimity have left the Suez Canal. In the result, we have left all three. There is now a withdrawal of British power from this central position in the Middle East to the perimeter. Of course, we all realise that the Government had no easy or clear-cut choice in this matter. The position they inherited was difficult and our resources were strained to the utmost. In circumstances of that kind withdrawals are sometimes necessary, but they are justified only when they are withdrawals to prepared positions.
We have introduced the word "redeployment" into this debate. I wonder if my right hon. Friend will tell us more precisely what is intended by "redeployment." How secure are our title deeds to the air bases in Iraq at Habanyah and Shaibah? How many troops are we allowed to keep in Jordan? Is it true that pressure is being exercised on the Jordan Government to dismiss British officers in the Arab Legion? How secure is our position in Libya? We are told that the Egyptians are already organizing raiders into French Tunisia. Is that happening under our eyes? Could they be turned against our men?
I cannot help feeling that the decision was taken to quit the Suez Canal before we had decided where to go, and that ever since we have been looking round but no very clear plan has emerged. I would echo here what was said on this point by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse), when he asked what the plan was for some military bases south of Egypt.
It is all very well to talk of treaty rights in Libya; we have treaty rights in Egypt. It is all very well to talk of sovereignty over Cyprus; I believe that the moral position is much weaker in Cyprus than in Egypt. In Egypt we could rest our case on the very strong ground that we were there because the security of the Canal and of the base were of vital importance to many millions of people in other countries outside Egypt, and that we had the right to put their safety in front of the technical claims of Egyptian sovereignty.
§ Mr. Amery
Yes, we had the right. The hon. Gentleman queries the word "we," but it was we who undertook the responsibility when we went to the Middle East 72 years ago. It was we who built up this system of Arab countries which we liberated from the Ottoman Empire. You cannot create a structure in life and then renounce all responsibility for it just because it is unpopular or inexpedient to do otherwise.
§ Mr. Crossman
The hon. Gentleman says that we created and liberated the Arab world. Surely we do not liberate and then try to rule?
§ Mr. Amery
The grounds which I have stated were something which our public opinion and our soldiers understood and for which they have shown themselves prepared to make considerable sacrifice. Shall we be able to work up the same will to resist about the other places to which we are proposing to redeploy our forces?
Now let me say a word or two about the effect of this decision on Africa. There is a tendency, fostered I think by some of our Middle Eastern advisers, to forget Egypt's African rôle. One effect will be that the pro-Egyptian party in Khartoum will be immeasurably strengthened by the Heads of Agreement announced in the House yesterday. Unless Her Majesty's Government are prepared to exert pressure to see that Sudan's independence is respected, the victory of the pro-Egypt party there will be almost complete.
But the Nile does not rise in the Sudan. It rises in Uganda. In the lifetime of the Prime Minister most of Uganda was under Egyptian rule. I have very little doubt that the crisis about the Kabaka which arose some months ago was not uninfluenced by the changes in the Sudan. Remember, too, that there are close links between Northern Nigeria and Khartoum. If Egyptian influence is to predominate 779 in Khartoum it will extend to Nigeria. Nor can we close our eyes to the repercussions of this decision on our French allies in North Africa. Whatever view we may take of French policy in Tunisia, Algeria or Morocco, it cannot be in the interests of Anglo-French relationships or of the security of the free world that the whole of North Africa should become, as it may well become, an area of insurrection.
There are wider implications even than these. To me it is rather shocking—I use the word seriously and frankly—that Ministers have not been able to say that they could claim the full agreement of the Commonwealth in this matter. I gather that there is pretty serious doubt about the decision in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about India?"] The rulers in India and Pakistan are not in any doubt about what the decision means, and I fear it will diminish their interest in the Commonwealth.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said yesterday in answer to a Question that no one could speak for the Commonwealth as a whole. I do not disagree with that sentiment, but was this not an issue which justified, perhaps, an emergency conference among the countries of the Commonwealth? We are about to lose control of the communications which link the western half of the Commonwealth with the eastern half. Who will fill the vacuum which we leave? Probably, in the immediate future, it will be filled by the United States, and it is better that they should go there than that there should be anarchy and chaos. But is it a good thing to increase the dependence of the Commonwealth on the United States more than it is at present?
I could have understood it if these Heads of Agreement had been brought before the House by the party opposite. I should have disagreed with what they said, but such a course would at least be consistent with their opposition to an empire of direct authority. I can imagine what I should have said about it, and I believe I know what all on this side of the House would have said about it.
I am frankly rather perplexed by the decision that the Government have taken. Why have we done this? My right hon. 780 Friend the Secretary of State for War told us about the grave possibility of the use of the hydrogen bomb. If it is so grave that it makes the whole Suez Canal Zone of no further military use, and the effort of maintaining the base no longer worth while, then what is the outlook for Portsmouth, Chatham and London?
I do not know whether the premium on dispersal is high or not. I think that my hon. Friend said that it was. I do not know whether there is anything to be said for the case which I have heard put forward that concentration at least allows more radar and fighter protection, and makes it harder for aircraft to get through. But, surely, what we have to bear in mind here is not just the hypothesis of hydrogen war, but the reality of the cold war, the possibility of local war and the hope of peace. In all these things, the Suez Canal Zone and our presence there could be of the greatest value. I cannot help feeling that this mention of the hydrogen bomb was introduced as a political camouflage to make easier the Government's recent change of mind.
I will try to reply to the argument advanced by my right hon. Friend about manpower in the base. He said that we have a choice. We can either have 80,000 men there or—and his words struck me as rather surprising we can have 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000. He then said that if we had 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000 men we could hold the base area around an airfield and a port, but not the communications in between. But what is the figure to hold the communications too? Is it 25,000 or 30,000? There are 80,000 men in the Zone today because of the size of the installations that have to be maintained and guarded. But if the base were contracted and if the hydrogen bomb makes it unnecessary for us to have such a big base, then, surely, a smaller force, a division or a division and a brigade would be sufficient. We should then still be able to bring a division back, not as was suggested by an hon. Member opposite in order to reduce the period of National Service, but so as to have a strategic reserve.
I think that another consideration weighing with the Government has been world opinion, and here, I think, we have been guilty of a good many blunders in the field of diplomacy. There was the 781 possibility of mobilising a good deal of Commonwealth opinion on our side. France, too, with its North African and Canal interests, would have come on our side, as would Turkey and Israel. But no effort was made to mobilise the influence of these friendly countries.
Then there was the problem of American pressure against us. Was any effort made to see whether we could strike a bargain with the Americans under which they would agree to support our interests in the Middle East if we, in turn, helped them more in some other part of the world?
Finally, I want to say a word about Egyptian opinion. My right hon. Friend said that it is no use having a base in a hostile country. But Egypt has not become as hostile as it is simply because it does not like the presence of British troops. Terrorism has been encouraged by the fact that we have yielded to it, and because we allowed Sabis, Lawrence's soldier, to be put to death by the Egyptians because he worked for us. There are now very few moderates in Egypt. There would have been many more had we pursued a different course in the past.
It is only fair to say that these mistakes coincided with the illness of the Prime Minister and of the Foreign Secretary a year ago. I doubt whether even now, the burden of administration is sufficiently adjusted to make the preparation of long-term policy easy enough. Fearful mistakes have been made, but it is not because of such mistakes that we are leaving Egypt. We are leaving because we are undergoing a certain moral collapse. The responsibility may rest nominally on the Ministers concerned but it goes far deeper.
All too often in this House, in the Civil Service and in the country at large we have lost sight of the pursuit of British interests and of the defence of Britain's honour. Even now, our vision is obscured by alien values. We have tended to put the United Nations and the Atlantic Community before our first duty, which is to guard the honour of this country and of the Commonwealth.
All this is natural enough. Material weakness has made heavy inroads on our influence, and only a supreme effort of will can keep us as an independent force in the world. We have not made that 782 effort of will in Egypt. We have taken a step which it will be very hard, if ever possible, to repair, because mistakes of foreign policy, unlike mistakes of domestic policy, are not so easy to retrieve.
It is easy to say hard things about the policy of others, and I may have done that tonight, but it is not easy to vote against men for whose persons and policies I have so much respect as I have for the leaders of my party. But I shall do so tonight because I can do no; and because what is happening is to my mind the repudiation of a fundamental principle of the party to which I belong. Loyalty must be a two-way traffic.
I know that our vote tonight is unlikely to effect any change of policy, but I do not think that our action, either before or during this debate, will be in vain. I fear—I hope I may be wrong—that the consequences of this Agreement will not be long in showing themselves. Then, perhaps, those who now oppose or deride our efforts may think again and may realise that this is not a fight in the last ditch, but perhaps the beginning of a return to that faith in Britain's imperial mission and destiny without which, in my belief, our people will never be prosperous, or safe or free.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) has made a most courageous speech, from his point of view. He has ranged from the Atlantic to Persia and from the Equator to the boundaries of Russia. But as I understand it, the proposal which he and his hon. Friends put forward is that this country should keep a division, or thereabouts on the Canal. Personally, I fail to see how the presence of a division, or of any force of comparable size, would solve the tensions which he regarded as being such a serious threat to the future of the Middle and Near East.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the whole area is highly dangerous. There are appalling dangers in North Africa, in the Arab States, and on the Arab border. But I fail to see that by keeping a division in a hostile Egypt we should be making any great contribution to the solution of these problems. He may say that prestige is at stake—keep our forces 783 in that area and it will maintain our influence in a way which is not possible once the troops are taken away—but will we really maintain our prestige by keeping this small number of troops there who will be immobile, who will be engaged largely in defending themselves against a hostile population, and who certainly will not be able to protect the Canal?
I suggest that always—and more especially today—the prestige of a country does not only depend upon the presence of armed force. Throughout the Middle East the British are respected for their fair dealing, and for the benefits which they have brought with them. I think that the House was much impressed by an earlier speech which drew attention to the good which we had already done in Egypt and to the greater good we are capable of doing. Although I do not in any way minimise our obligations to protect the area; nor do I for a moment say that it is not essential to keep forces where we wish to maintain our influence. But military forces are not enough today. To take one extreme example, there is the case of the Quakers, who gained for themselves immense prestige in very many countries simply because of their reputation and good works.
I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Preston, North said about the order in which these negotiations have been carried out. I have always thought that before we left the Canal we should have come to a firm agreement with Iraq about our air bases there. In Jordan, too, which is about the only Arab country in the Middle East which is consistently friendly to us, we should have been quite certain that we should be able to maintain our troops and our Air Force.
Perhaps we can, but I entirely agree with the hon. Member that we need more reassurance from the Government as to what is to be done to introduce a general defence plan throughout the area. I suggest that even if we have not done that—and we ought to have done it—we do not rectify that error by maintaining our base in the Canal Zone. On an earlier occasion the Prime Minister said that one did not cure a mistake such as putting a left boot on your right foot 784 by putting your left foot into a right boot.
It is, I think, essential to remember—and the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) and the hon. Member for Preston, North should face it—that the purpose of the base is to maintain an Army somewhere towards the Russian frontier. It is generally agreed by everybody that it is now no longer suitable for that purpose. We have to keep too many troops there. The atomic and hydrogen bombs have altered its value, we have no means of protecting it from the air even without those bombs; and it is at least far enough away.
Now the argument is changing to one of keeping the base for prestige reasons and for the protection of the Canal. Prestige does not depend on keeping troops there. It depends on pursuing, throughout the Middle East, a consistent policy, I thought that the announcement about Cyprus made in the House yesterday was most foolish and flatfooted. I do not think that can help our prestige anywhere in the Middle East. But if we can really build up the friendship of the Arab States and assure our position in Jordan and Iraq this agreement may well lead to a much better feeling towards us throughout the whole area.
We have also an obligation under the tripartite guarantee. I feel very far from happy about that. I do not see how, in fact, we are to discharge our obligations if there is war between Israel and the Arab States. I do not see what we would do if Egypt attacked Israel, or, for that matter, if Israel suddenly flowed down into the Jordan valley. I cannot believe that this country would be in other than a most unenviable position. That, too, should have been dealt with and cleared up before, and not after, we came to an agreement with Egypt.
Most hon. Members must have been greatly surprised by how little was said by the Secretary of State for War about the Canal itself. Can we be assured that the Commonwealth countries were really consulted over this? Can we be assured that the Commonwealth will be there when the treaty is made and signed? I ask because there is no doubt that Australia and New Zealand feel very strongly about that part of the world, whether or not it is defensible in time of 785 war. Without, at the moment, worrying about war they are deeply concerned about free navigation in time of peace.
Are the Government taking any steps to see that that will be guaranteed? I do not think that a division there would guarantee that but what alternative steps are the Government taking in that regard? What will happen when the Canal Company's concession comes to an end? Have the Government any proposals for putting the Canal under international control or putting in an international force to protect it, if we are not there ourselves?
Like the hon. Member for Preston, North, I was astonished at the introduction of the hydrogen bomb into this debate. If we are to maintain a civil defence organisation for Coventry in the face of the City Council there I cannot believe that the bomb makes it absolutely impossible for us to maintain a base anywhere in the Middle East. I do not think that that argument is tenable. Furthermore, surely what we are faced with very often is not a world war or a hydrogen bomb war, but local aggression at secondhand such as we have seen in Indo-China and Korea—such as we may see in the Middle East. It is against that sort of attack that we have to provide defences just as much as for a full-scale world war with hydrogen bombs.
What is to happen if there is that sort of attack in the Middle or Far East and the Egyptians for reasons which may seem to us very shortsighted—and the Egyptians are not always moved by the most logical calculations—should decide to interfere with our shipping in the Canal? How are we to retrieve such a position? It is all very well to say—and quite true to say—that it is very much against the interests of Egypt to close the Canal. She draws enormous revenue from it and she is bound by treaty obligations.
It is quite true that Italian ships went through in the Abyssinian war, and Russian vessels during the Russo-Japanese war, but we cannot absolutely rely upon the Egyptians being moved by enlightened self-interest. After all, she is losing revenue now by denying passage to oil tankers for Haifa. I do not think that even if we get a guarantee that in that sort of situation it will be worth very much, but we have to make up our minds that 786 the problems will arise and be ready to take appropriate action.
The whole value of the treaty depends upon placing a lot of trust in the Egyptian Government. I hope and think that that trust may be justified, but I am well aware that it might not be justified, and we might be deluding ourselves to take such an optimistic view as has been taken by the Secretary of State for War. I think that the real outcome of the Agreement, in the long run, will be that the base, in its present form, will be written off. I think that this Agreement is the least harmful way out of the situation, but we must face the dangers, and the sooner we negotiate a new agreement about the Canal the better. This is the end of one period and the beginning of another. It is the least bad way facing the country, but I do not think that we should delude ourselves that it is a very good way.
I can only hope that it is the beginning of an effort by the Foreign Office and the War Office to build up a defence system in the Middle East in which the Commonwealth will play its part in peace and in war. I hope that, as in the past, we shall make every effort to increase our trade and economic interests throughout the area—and not least in Egypt. We have to go further than before. It is on the friendliness of the Egyptian and Arab peoples that we must now depend to safeguard our interests in one of the most important areas in the world.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
It is never a very easy task either to oppose the policy of one's own Government or to argue against hon. Members on one's own side. I am perfectly certain that we all feel that, whatever my hon. Friends have said, they have said it from the deepest possible sincerity and belief. There are others on this side of the House who believe that their emotions have dominated their practical common sense in these matters; and that is the reason why there are others who agree wholeheartedly with what the Government have done on this occasion.
I want to refer for a moment to the speech by the Leader of the Opposition. He chided us and almost sneered at what had been said by the Conservative Party, then in opposition, when he was in power. He said that it had always 787 been the policy of his Government to evacuate the Canal Zone, and he said that we should have done it two years ago when we first came into power. May I ask him one question? If he was so convinced that that was the right policy, why did he not carry it out when he had an enormous majority in the House for nearly six years?
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) did neither himself nor my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War justice when he suggested that my right hon. Friend had been told to get out there and sign anything. I am convinced that no Foreign Secretary of this country worthy of the name could have said such a thing, or have intended to suggest such a thing; nor would such a Secretary of State as my right hon. Friend have accepted such a commission. I do not take that statement by my right hon. and gallant Friend very seriously.
I quarrel with him, however, over the subject of nationalism in the world today. I agree with him that it is a danger, but I am convinced that we cannot subdue it by force. It is something which has come to stay. It is a new force in the world. We may say that it is equally as dangerous as Communism, but there is one way in which we cannot deal with it—and that is by an attempt to subdue or frustrate it.
My right hon. and gallant Friend spoke of the morale of the troops and asked whether it would be raised or lowered by this Agreement. I can tell him that there is nothing as devastating to the morale of troops as to know that they are on guard one night out of two or out of three—when in peace-time it is normally one night out of five—and to no purpose whatever. They are on guard, and yet the base is being pilfered and robbed every night; and although there are police dogs in use, the Brigade of Guards, the finest troops in the world, cannot stop it from happening. That is devastating to the morale of any soldier.
My right hon. and gallant Friend also spoke of Communism in Egypt and suggested that to keep 80,000 troops on the Canal would be a deterrent to Communism in Egypt. I cannot see how. Indeed, I suggest that precisely the opposite is the case.
§ Captain Waterhouse
I said nothing of the sort. What I asked was what we should do if Egypt went Communist.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I apologise to my right hon. and gallant Friend; I misunderstood him and therefore will not pursue the point.
The last point which I want to put to him applies also to my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery), who has just made what was, in my view, one of the most brilliant speeches he has made in the House. Neither my right hon. and gallant Friend nor my hon. Friend has given us the alternative. They have had the question put to them fairly and squarely by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but they offer no practical alternative. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North suggested that the base should be reduced and that one division would therefore be able to look after it, thus releasing another division to return home to form our mobile reserve. That is a very facile argument; but it is not the point.
The point is this: if we are to retain a base, however small, and are to depend on civilian labour for the operation of that base; and if we are to maintain it in a country where sabotage has been kept down to its present level only because there were hopes of a solution; then if those hopes of a solution went overboard, we must recognise what the consequences would be. German saboteurs have been training the Egyptians Sabotage would have broken out on the widest possible scale and the consequent loss of life would have been immeasurable. That is the point; let us keep troops there by all means if there is willing agreement, but it is impossible to do so in present conditions with a country so determined that the troops shall not remain there as the Egyptians have shown themselves to be.
We have debated this subject often, and it is therefore difficult not to repeat oneself, but in my view the strategic argument here is quite overwhelming. I want to emphasise only one point in my right hon. Friend's speech: when Lord Alexander's campaign was being waged along the North coast of Africa and when it outran its communications from this base by 300 miles, there had to be a pause while he built up forward bases before 789 he could advance. This base is 900 miles from the nearest possible killing ground in the event of a hot war and a campaign through the Caucasus between the Black Sea and the Canal. Strategically, therefore, it is quite useless for supporting the South-East flank of the Turkish Army, and the Turks have been very disturbed about that South-East flank since they came into N.A.T.O. and have been wondering what would be done to help them to defend it.
The bases, clearly, should be Alexandria, Basra in the Persian Gulf, or, as suggested by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), with the agreement of Israel—if that is possible—Haifa. That is the conception of a redeployment which, I believe, is complete and absolute commonsense for the hot war.
This is not only a question of a hot war, however, but of what we are to do in the situation of the cold war. This is a question of whether we are doing the right thing in that situation. In my opinion, those political considerations are just as weighty as the strategic considerations which, in my view, are overwhelmingly in favour of evacuation. Had we decided to keep those troops in the base against an unwilling nation, what would have been the position when the Treaty came to an end in 1956? Should we not be in a sorry position if Egypt took us to U.N.O. and if we were branded by U.N.O. as an aggressor with no right at all to be in the Canal Zone? Carried one stage further, if we insisted on remaining there, would not U.N.O. have a perfect right under the Charter to send in a combined force to turn us out, as they did in Korea?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Does not my hon. and gallant Friend conceive it possible that for once we should use the veto in our own interests?
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I do not think I need answer that.
Another political aspect to consider is that there is always the Wafd in the background. The present régime in Cairo exists and has existed because it supports and has supported a policy of the evacuation of the Suez Canal. I do not think Nasser's head would have been worth five minutes if we had remained there very much longer, and then we should have had to deal with a Government like the Wafd Government or a similar Govern- 790 ment. I have met Neguib, but I have not met Colonel Nasser; at one time I knew Neguib quite well. Fundamentally those two men like us. I am pretty certain of that, and I believe that they know perfectly well that it is in their own interests to see that there are friendly relations between the two countries. In their view, rightly or wrongly, such friendly relations could not exist as long as we remained in the Canal Zone.
Hon. Members have asked what the effect of the Agreement will be on Pakistan. I have not been able to obtain the quotation, but I have been informed that according to the Press yesterday some voice of Pakistan has suggested that this course which we are pursuing will do more to consolidate Moslem opinion in the Middle East in favour of Great Britain than anything we have done for many years. I am hopeful that that will be so. I have spoken to people from Jordon, Iraq, Syria and other countries in the Middle East, and I know that that is their view.
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland
With regard to alliances with the Arabs, the hon. and gallant Member has suggested that somehow or other we might also contrive an arrangement with Israel—this at the same time as we improve our relations with the Arabs. How can we expect to get an alliance with Israel and still keep Arab friendship? That is a point I find difficult to understand. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman would explain what he has in mind for our deployment in the Middle East?
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I think it was the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) who suggested that. I have not yet used the word "Israel" in my speech, although I may do so in a minute or two. That brings me to the Treaty with Iraq, about which I wanted to ask my right hon. Friend. Would it not be a sound idea to negotiate a fresh treaty with that country before the present one expires? Is there not the danger that if we do not do that a similar thing will happen in Iraq?
My solution to such a problem is this: that bases in other countries can only be maintained in a similar fashion to that which obtains here at the moment, where there are American bombers based by complete agreement with us. I do not 791 believe that ever in the future can a base be maintained in any land whose people do not wish to have it. Therefore, I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he should consider the possibilities of negotiating treaties with Iraq, Jordan, and, if necessary, with Israel, on the basis that the Israelis might welcome such bases, particularly at Haifa, on a similar kind of understanding. That is the right deployment for us to follow in the Middle East.
Before I sit down, I want to say one word about this nationalism. In the Middle East and in Asia it is a new force which is raising its head, although it is one which is as old in history.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
Just like some hon. Members.
It is a force which has to be recognised. It is no use thinking it does not exist, or that it is only a flash in the pan. It is a searing, tearing force in many of these small States, and it has to be treated as such and, if possible, guided into right channels. We have to recognise it and sympathise with it.
The danger of this nationalism is that the moment small States achieve their independence they are in danger of losing the day they achieve it, because they immediately become a prey to larger nations such as the Soviet Union unless there is somebody near to give them a helping hand. It is vitally important for us in the Middle East, and elsewhere, through our diplomatic channels to impress this fact on these people, because one must realise that they are prone to think only of their own problems in their own area, being completely unaware of the dangers outside and in the distance. These facts must be brought home to them, and they should be made to realise that they risk losing the freedom for which they have fought so long unless they follow a proper course.
This old conception of Empire dies hard with us. People seem to forget that we have had three Empires, each one different from its predecessor. It is my firm opinion that we are on the threshold of the fifth British Empire and Commonwealth. Tremendous opportunities open before us if we handle these matters properly, but it will not be done on the old basis and on the old conceptions. We 792 have the greatest constitution in the world, and it has been copied by many small and large nations. If these people are built up and brought to self-government in the proper time, they will comprise a part of a new Commonwealth far greater and more glorious than anything which has existed in the history of the world.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)
This is one of the occasions when this House can be regarded as the sounding board of public opinion in the country, and as the debate has shown, opinion is not entirely on party lines. There are divisions on the Government side of the House and there are various shades of opinion on this. All the views that have been expressed are very sincerely held, and party shackles are somewhat less strong because we all feel that the issue at stake is very vital nationally and internationally.
The Government have performed an act of wisdom in what they have done. It must be painful to some hon. Members opposite to have to eat their own words. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has already quoted some of the things that were said by the Prime Minister on the occasion when the last Government were faced with a similar problem. On the other hand, there are some hon. Members opposite who take a reasonable and realistic view on this matter. It is a good thing that at least some of the Conservative Party show themselves ready to reconsider problems as they arise. This country has been saved from much internal trouble in the past because of the fact that the Right has always been ready to think out problems again.
We are faced with that situation today. I did not hear all the spech of the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse), but I heard most of the speech of the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery), and both showed that neither realises the new world into which we are moving. However, the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) certainly does so, and is to be congratulated on the clear view he takes of public opinion in these Middle Eastern countries.
793 There are not two groups in the world today—the group behind the Iron Curtain and the Western world—but three; those two, and the nationalist world of the Middle East and Southern Asia, which is rising because those who have been dominated by the Western nations for many generations have acquired freedom and a nationalist feeling. That feeling ran through Eastern and South-Eastern Europe during the greater part of the last century, but only now has it reached the Middle East and Southern Asia. That is the problem we are facing today.
There is an old Turkish saying to the effect that for the weak there are no friends. It is very true, and we must be strong and not ignore prestige. But we must also be wise, and this Agreement is an act of great wisdom which is more likely to safeguard the interests of peace in the Middle East than any other conceivable alternative. It is not a bad thing that it has taken some time to negotiate this Agreement. The Leader of the Opposition twitted the Government on having delayed so long, but I believe that the delay has made it possible to get the Egyptians to agree to something of vital Importance.
The Egyptians I have met were not inclined to agree two years age, or even a year ago, to the reactivisation of the Canal Zone if Turkey is attacked—but only if the Arab League is attacked. Last year I was in Turkey and spoke to many statesmen and editors there. They were extremely worried about the situation because they felt that they might be left out on a limb and let down. I believe the Egyptians have only recently come round to this point of view, and therefore the delay has been of value and I am glad that the Government have succeeded in getting the agreement.
Turkey is the key point for the defence of the Middle East. In this age of atomic warfare it is unwise to concentrate large supplies and forces in one place. Another point to remember is that in the last war the enemy came across North Africa from the West, when the Suez Canal base was a good deal nearer the area of danger than it would be if the enemy came from the North, across the highlands of Kurdistan to the plains of Mesopotamia or into the plateau of Eastern Anatolia. So there is a great deal to be said for 794 having our defence bases farther north and far more dispersed, and while it is a good thing that the Government have succeeded in getting agreement to the reactivisation of the Canal Zone, it should be by no means the only base used for the defence of the Middle East.
Of course there is Cyprus, about which we have had some discussion in the last 24 hours. Whatever is the political future of that island, it certainly ought to be a defence base; whether for our Forces alone or N.A.T.O. forces is a matter for the future to decide. In Turkey, however, bases are already being developed. Last year I made a point of visiting the port of Iskanderun in South-East Turkey, which is already becoming an important base for supplies, I also visited a naval station which is being developed by N.A.T.O. Turkey, with that wisdom which goes with long experience of government, realises that she cannot defend herself alone. She has never been able to defend herself alone against Russia but has always needed assistance throughout the course of her history, and more so during the last 50 years, from other Powers against the overwhelming power in the North.
Turkey knows more about Russia and the Russian danger than any country of either Europe or Asia. Therefore she has realised that she must pool her defence resources with the Powers of the West, and there is no difficulty about having defence forces on her territory. She is making no difficulty about N.A.T.O. bases, either inland as airfields or on the coast as naval stations.
Turkey prefers to be a junior partner in a sound Western alliance than a senior partner in a weak league of Middle Eastern States. There is, however, one weakness in this Agreement which might lead to trouble. The "Manchester Guardian" referred to it in a leading article yesterday. There is no provision for Persia. Can the Canal Zone be reactivated in the event of trouble there? Apparently the Egyptians have held out against it and we have not pressed it any further.
I know the position of Persia only too well. The Persians are always people who sit on the fence, and they will probably try to do that as long as possible. I can well understand it. They are perhaps 795 too near the source of danger and, unlike the Turks, they have not a strong military tradition as far as the central Government is concerned. Indeed, they have the very opposite.
On the other hand, suppose Persia were attacked by Russia and the Russian force was coming down through North-West Persia towards Iraq and the Persian Gulf. The only way to defend Persia would be for a Turkish military force, backed by Western air forces, to intervene on the right flank of the Russian force. Would that be possible? Would it be still possible to reactivate the Canal Zone in a situation of that kind? It appears not. We should bear in mind that a situation of that kind might arise and we should try to see if later it is possible to get the Egyptians to agree to something of this kind.
There is another point of importance. I do not want to consider only military matters. I entirely agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing that one has to consider questions of morale and prestige and matters which are not entirely material or strategic. I feel that this Agreement will result in the Egyptian ascendancy over the Arab League going. Up to now, Egypt has acquired an ascendancy over the Arab States because they all felt that they had to support Egypt against us on the question of the Suez Canal. Once this is out of the way I believe that Egypt will lose that dominant position which she has had up to now and that Iraq who, along with Jordan, is potentially the most friendly of the Arab States, will be much more ready to take part in a defence system for the Middle East.
Until this Agreement was reached, the most important event of the last year in the Middle East has been the signing of the Turkey-Pakistan Pact of Friendship and Co-operation which may lead to something further. The question of Iraq joining it might be raised. I do not think that Iraq would have considered that until the Canal question was out of the way. Now that it is out of the way there is a very good chance that that will happen. I do think also it is desirable, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said, to consider our future relations with Iraq and to come to new treaty relations with her, 796 particularly concerning the air bases we have in that country. I know the internal situation in Iraq is a little uncertain at present, but we must hope that in the course of the next few weeks—or at any rate the next few months—the situation will clarify itself and become sounder.
I know that some of my hon. Friends are concerned about what will happen to Israel when we leave the Canal Zone. I can only agree with the Foreign Secretary who said yesterday that the best defence of Israel will be friendship between Egypt and the Western Powers, particularly ourselves. I believe now that this problem is out of the way and Egypt knows there is this tripartite agreement, by which she is bound to leave Israel alone, that is the best defence Israel can possibly have.
I think we all agree in this House that one of the problems is to try to bring about today in the Middle East an understanding between Israel and the Arab States, although many of us—including myself—have much regretted the way in which the State of Israel came into existence and thoroughly understand and sympathise with the feelings and bitterness of the Arab States in that connection. The Foreign Secretary has done a great work in getting this Agreement for which all who want to see peace in the Middle East will thank him. It is for that reason that I hope the House tonight gives this Agreement its full support.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) has been talking about Turkey. He knows a great many things about Turkey. I also hope, after a visit there this summer, to know a few things about it. At present I only know one—that they do not want us to get out of Egypt.
The Secretary of State for War asked those of us who disagree with the policy of Her Majesty's Government to consider well whether we should not be silent in future once this Agreement has been arrived at. Of course, that is a demand which always has some force. When one is preparing opposition to a measure there is always some limit beyond which one cannot go if that opposition is not successful. On this issue of Egypt, although it may be not on the wider themes of foreign policy behind Egypt, my opposition 797 extends to the Division Lobby tonight and not beyond it.
I have no intention of going down to my constituency during the Recess, perhaps finding some troops who have been flown back from the Middle East as a result of this Agreement, and telling them that they must go back to where they were before. I have no intention of going to Egypt—as I hope to go later in the Recess—and machinating against Her Majesty's Government, or the Government of Egypt, as a result of this Agreement. Once it has been done it has been done. Faithless and unwise though it is to have done it, we shall have to see what we can do to make something workable, understandable, real, politic and useful out of it for the cause of British policy afterwards.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War said that the only solution he knew about which had come from this quarter of the House was one which was not tenable. He was referring to the solution which my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) and my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) have adumbrated in previous debates of maintaining a force of, as my right hon. and gallant Friend described it, a division or two brigade groups or, as the Secretary of State for War described it today, a force of 15,000, 20,000 or 25,000 men in the Canal Zone.
The Secretary of State said that that was impossible. It is only impossible on the basis of the existing situation without an agreement, just as the situation of the corps of civilian technicians left alone at the base would be impossible without an agreement, and may be is impossible now or will be impossible with an agreement; that is what we fear. But what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and Her Majesty's Government have never understood about the solution to the situation which we on our side of the House offer is that it is a solution based upon agreement with Egypt—the retention of a force sufficient to give us a strategic reserve, sufficient to maintain the ports and the airfields, with the agreement of Egypt.
At no time have Her Majesty's Government gone to the Egyptian Government and said, "We want an agreement to maintain such a force," and it is no use 798 the Secretary of State for War talking in terms of strategy and in military terms, because the answer to our question is not to be found in military terms; it is entirely in political terms. That demand or request to Egypt has never been made, and it is because it has never been made that we are in the situation that we are in today.
I say only a few words in passing about the remarks of the Secretary of State for War about the need for a strategic reserve. I do not put myself forward as a judge of military matters by any means, but I should have thought that if we want a strategic reserve we want it in the area where it may have to be used. Is Aldershot such an area? We have had trouble in British Guiana. We had, I believe, to mobilise part of Her Majesty's personal guard to deal with a situation in Bermuda.
But it is not in the N.A.T.O. area, where Britain is the centre and fulcrum, that a central reserve is needed. From what we can see about foreign policy needs all over the world these needs show that the place for a strategic reserve is in that vital pivot of world power which we have always understood the Middle East to be and it will remain there so far as we can see.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I am sorry, but I wish to be brief.
I feel I must say something about the hydrogen bomb argument. I shall not repeat what has been said so very cogently by my right hon. and hon. Friends. Some very clear, definite and hard things have been said in the House today, and I think usefully said. For my part, I am in the most appalling mental dilemma about the outlook of the Prime Minister today upon this subject. The Prime Minister has been telling us, in a voice reverberating with emotion, for the last few weeks and months, about this terrible danger of the hydrogen bomb. I am sure that it is a terrible danger.
But it seems to me that there is an equally terrible dichotomy between the political and military extensions of the fears of the Prime Minister. In the debate on the Address last November, and in the recent debate on the hydrogen bomb, the Prime Minister was saying to 799 us that perhaps, by the creation of the hydrogen bomb, a tremendous era of peace to mankind would come, because no one would dare to use it. He talked of the consequences in prosperity and the rejuvenation of nations and of the building up of hopes.
All this has gone along with the sea-change in his thinking on foreign policy which began with that great watershed speech of 11th May, 1953; and after which we have had—not "appeasement." because that word has sinister connotations—
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Realism, if the hon. Gentleman likes—pacification; the lowering of tension; ending in the accepted policy of co-existence with the Communist world which now rules the day.
But when it comes down to this debate on Egypt, we are told that the consequences of the hydrogen bomb are so appalling that we must move out of a vital base in the Canal Zone. What is the message to Russia, or to the Communist world, in that? The message must be, "The Western world is trying to make peace with you diplomatically in the high councils of the nations; but, on the other hand, they are making secret preparations behind the scenes to get out from vulnerable existing bases and move further forward against you." At the appropriate time I should like to have a full explanation of this dichotomy of thinking, because it puzzles me. It must present a two-faced attitude to the Communist world, who will not be slow to take it up, and I do not believe that it is giving to the people of this country the service which they should be given.
On other grounds, I fully accept the view of my right hon. and hon. Friends that the hydrogen bomb argument has been dragged in at the last minute in order to give speciosity, plausibility, to this new desire to clear out of the Middle East. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speciosity"?] "Speciousness," I think, is a better word, although I think that "speciosity" is to be found in the dictionary.
I have only one other thing to say, because I have no desire whatever to waste time repeating the most powerful arguments which have already been 800 advanced in this debate. I wish to refer to what my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East and my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North stressed in sombre, but real notes towards the end of their speeches. This to me—as regards the heritage of the British Empire, the prestige of Britain and our influence throughout the world as a great Christian force for peace and good will—is a more lowering cloud even than the atomic cloud. It is not a subject one can enlarge upon so late in the evening; but it is represented to me by a coherent series of decisions made by the United Nations originated for their own purposes by the United States and originated, alas, even by ourselves.
Since the First World War, a great many people have ceased to think in national terms, in imperial terms, in British terms. They have transferred their thinking to a new concept of international government. They have erected this as a kind of godhead which is sent to judge us and to judge other nations as to how we should behave. What we in this country have failed to do is to realise that at all times we are part and parcel of that United Nations and that every decision made in it reflects our own will and should be made according to our own standing and our own beliefs.
If we accept the automatic godhead of the United Nations while other nations inside it, like the United States and Russia, do not accept it, then perforce we must see our world power and influence reduced. Experience since the war is that the United States of America have largely used the United Nations as an instrument of their policy. There it is, sitting firmly in New York where my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, wisely or unwisely, placed it at the end of the war. The Americans have not hesitated to use it for their own purpose.
Russia, by contrast, has used the veto. That is equally effective to maintain the interests of Russia. But if we neither use the veto in our own interests nor the machinery of the United Nations in our own interests, then we must inevitably sink as a world Power, so that our situation becomes worse than if we had pursued the ways of the old diplomacy.
We dared not take this issue of Egypt to the United Nations. My hon. and 801 gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) said just now that we might take it to the United Nations and lose. I will not deal with the argument, but I cite it as an example. I echo the words of my hon. Friend who said that he believed that this country has to determine upon a new path of policy. We have to realise that we have reached the nadir of our imperial fortunes, of our power to influence events in a sense equal to the opportunites of our great Christian nation. We have to determine that. Let this be the very night when a new policy begins. From now on we must move forward into an era of greater opportunities and greater hopes.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
I should imagine that from now on we shall not hear from hon. Gentlemen opposite that anti-Americanism has emanated only from the Labour benches. I do not think that I have ever heard a more virulent anti-American attack than the one we have just heard from the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke).
It is most important that the attitude of the House towards this Agreement should be known in the Middle East. For my part, I detested the attitude of the present Government when, in opposition, they attempted to infer that we were indulging in a policy of scuttle. My right hon. Friends, who did more to ensure world peace and the avoidance of a third world war when they gave freedom to India, were actuated by the same type of policy when they tried to negotiate a settlement on the Suez question. Unfortunately, in those days we had even the present Foreign Secretary talking about gunboats being necessary in order to bring Egypt to her senses. We also had the Prime Minister talking about policies of scuttle.
Although I think it is right and proper that the Labour Party should support the efforts of the Government now to get a settlement in the Middle East, it is also right that we should try to show the peoples there that, anyway, we are supporting the present policy in a consistent line flowing from the attitude which we adopted when we were the Government; in other words, that we do not adopt one 802 attitude when we are the Government and another when we are the Opposition.
I wish—I agree with the noble Lord on this point—that the issue of the hydrogen bomb as a reason for leaving Suez had never been brought into the argument. It is important that we should seek to show that, although we recognise power arguments, we really are desirous of leaving peace and security in the Middle East and that this contribution of ours is designed to lead to that end and is not mere expediency and not merely a matter of being influenced by the new forces of atomic and hydrogen bombs.
We should seek to relate the position in Suez to what is happening not only in Egypt but throughout the African Continent. An hon. Member asked whether there could be a Communist revolution in Cairo. I do not know whether there could or not, but I do know that as long as there is a feeling throughout Africa that the white races are still niggardly in their approach to the problems of the coloured races, Communism can always triumph by its argument that the white peoples are still somewhat ashamed and defensive in their attitude to the new nationalism which is arising in various parts of the world.
I believe that the attitude of mind displayed by the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse), utterly sincerely held as I am sure it is—I pay him the compliment that I consider he made one of the most courageous speeches that I have ever heard in the House—is actuated by a desire to move backwards into the days of the British Raj in India, into an era in which he could feel that the coloured races could advance only through the charity of British Imperialism. I hope he will realise that if he and his hon. Friends are to continue to deploy such arguments we can never hope to influence the minds of men in China and other places, which may well determine the future peace of the world, because it can always be said by the Communists that we are merely retreating to a new position from which we shall attempt to re-assert our old supremacy over the so-called backward peoples.
It is important that the right message should go out from this House. It is important not only that an Agreement 803 like this should be signed but that it should be seen that we sign it in good faith in the knowledge that by accepting such an Agreement we are demonstrating that the West has a new conception in its dealings with the peoples of the Middle East and, indeed, of the Far East.
We were born in the days when Suez meant something in the history books that we read. It is not easy for us to feel that we are now no longer the great world power which we once were. There is nothing to be ashamed of in wanting to feel that we are citizens of a first-class nation. Indeed, if in the days which lie immediately ahead this nation, which is not now the great material, physical Power it once was, can play the part which it alone can play by reason of its diplomacy and its vast experience in dealing with other people, therein resides the main hope of avoiding a third world war.
It is a country which, I believe, no matter what we may say about Toryism or Socialism, has accepted what the Minister of Housing and Local Government once described as the middle way, a country which recognises, as the adolescents in neither Moscow nor Washington have accepted, the idea that by living together in amity and using the great wealth which our scientists have given to us we can avoid a third world war. If that message can not go out from this House of Commons, then I think this world is doomed. On this question of the Suez Canal, I believe we have reached a testing point.
I applaud the attitude of the Foreign Secretary. It cannot be easy for the right hon. Gentleman in the knowledge that his policy is not acceptable in some parts of his own party, but I applaud his determination to go ahead with it. I hope, however, that he will agree with me that it is not only the act of coming out of the Suez that matters, but that it is also necessary to show to the peoples of these areas that this is merely the crystallisation, as it were, of the new thinking of this country, showing that we in Britain realise the great rôle which we still have to play in the world, and that we are giving an earnest of our sincerity in our approach to world politics.
From now on, I believe that we are taking the moral leadership of the whole world, because we are trying to show that 804 the old smears that used to be made about "perfidious Albion" no longer apply, but that we believe that we have an even greater part to play in the future of the world than ever we have had in the past. Those who have talked of Britain as a decadent nation have gone; the Hitlers and those who sneered at us have gone. We now have an opportunity, and it may be the last, because we are all aware that if some madman once pulls the trigger in this atomic and hydrogen bomb age, then this island will be completely and utterly undefendable. It may well be that our best opportunity lies in this Agreement on Suez, because I think it can be shown that this party, at least, has accepted the fact that we are now living at the end of the colonial era, and entering an age in which the younger nations can see that it is no longer necessary for them to accept the yoke of supremacy from the white people; that, rather than attempting to retard them in their advance, we are doing everything possible to assist them in order that this nationalism of today may become the responsible internationalism of tomorrow.
I believe that it is for this House and for this great nation, which has done so much in the past to enlighten men's minds and improve their health and well-being, to take a lead which neither the United States nor any other nation has the power to take. I hope the House will try to show that this is not a niggardly retreat merely because it is inconvenient to stay in Suez, because of fear of the hydrogen bomb, but rather that we believe that the time has come when we accept the logic which is forced upon us by events in the second half of the 20th century. We should try to show that, without turning to the extremes of Communism or any other "isms," we have a rôle to play in the world towards the achievement of that peace which alone can come by understanding of the problems, and that that is the basic reason why we desire to renounce our own powers abroad, believing that the time has now come when the best interest of world peace may be served by a lead given in that direction.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Fitzroy Maclean (Lancaster)
I should like to say at once that I am not happy about the Agreement we are discussing. I have given my reasons, in a 805 number of speeches, for disliking the idea of a British withdrawal from Suez and I put my name last year to the Motion which stood in the name of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse), with other of my hon. Friends. I am not happy about the political or the psychological implications of the Agreement and I should like to be reassured more than we have been about the Government's plan for redeployment after evacuation.
On the other hand, the Agreement is, or soon will be, an accomplished fact, and, speaking for myself, I do not feel able to disregard the assurances that we have been given by the Government, to the effect that during the last six months or year the strategic situation has changed, and that in the present circumstances the course which the Government are taking is the only possible course. The Government, we must remember, have the benefit of the expert advice of the Chiefs of Staff and of the Foreign Office. They have in their possession a mass of information which we, as back benchers and private Members, do not possess.
I, for my part, would not venture to lay claim to greater foresight, courage or strategical understanding than the Prime Minister or his colleagues in the Government and if, after all that they have said in the past on this subject, they are prepared, in the light of the changed circumstances, to accept the present Agreement, then, so am I. If I were not I should take the courageous course which has been followed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke). I do not see that there is any course in between. That is why I shall vote, though reluctantly, for the Motion that stands in the name of the Prime Minister and his right hon. Friends.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I find myself in the embarrassing situation, at this time of the Session, of having to go into the Lobby in support of the Government. I looked hopefully at the Government benches when the Egyptian news came, as I thought there would be a rebellion on the Government side. In principle, I approve of rebellions in politics. I believe that I have been 806 associated with most of the rebellions in this House since 1945.
§ Mr. Hughes
I was strongly attracted by what was said by the hon. Gentleman, but that was an occasion on which I did not approve of his conduct. I have listened very carefully to this debate and I have come to the conclusion that I cannot offer my services either as organising secretary or as a Teller. In fact, I find myself wholeheartedly on the side of the Prime Minister in this debate. Although there have been strictures on the Prime Minister from the back benches opposite, I must say that I have never so thoroughly agreed with the right hon. Gentleman as I do on this occasion.
The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) criticised the Prime Minister on the ground that he had introduced the argument of the hydrogen bomb. I do not know whether that argument was introduced as an afterthought or not, but it is entirely relevant to this debate and to the question of strategy and politics today.
I entirely approve of a Government which says that we cannot continue to have this base in Suez because it is obsolete in the atomic age. That is what the Prime Minister said, and I believe that in stressing the danger of the atomic and hydrogen bomb at the present time—even though it may seem to be slightly inconsistent in this debate—the right hon. Gentleman is doing an essential national and international service. He has pointed out that this is something which dominates everything else.
If the Suez Canal base is untenable in the atomic age, the dilemma arises, where are we to go? The decision of the Government to go to Cyprus has resulted in a great deal of criticism from this side of the House. I entirely agree with the statement made by an hon. Member opposite in the previous debate that in the atomic age a hydrogen bomb might explode over Cyprus. In that case, the answer would be, "Well, that was Cyprus." But that applies equally to other bases.
I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). He is opposed to the base going to Cyprus, but he is in favour of it going to Haifa. 807 I do not believe that a base is likely to be acceptable to the people of Israel once they realise the implications of what it would mean, because the hon. Member for Coventry, East argued that the base was to be used against the Egyptians. If we put the base in Israel, that will be regarded by the military authorities as a potenial base in the strategy of war against Russia.
I believe that in the hydrogen bomb age any country which has bases which are liable to be regarded by the other side as offensive bases is in very serious danger indeed. We have now come to the conclusion that, whether we like it or not, from the point of view of realism, the Prime Minister has said the right thing, even though what he has said might be rather inconsistent with the polemics of this debate.
Though I may be embarrassing the Prime Minister and the Government, I must say that they are doing their duty towards the country and towards humanity by stressing the importance of the fact that the hydrogen bomb age has arrived, and that we must adapt our diplomacy, our strategy and our politics to this grim and terrible fact. Although I have been a frequent critic of the Government I believe that if they strive consistently and persistently for peace, whether in Egypt, in Indo-China or in Germany, they will represent the point of view of the ordinary people of this country.
I am glad to see that the Foreign Secretary is here. I was in Geneva during the first week of the recent conference there and met the Swiss photographer who took the first photograph of the assembled delegations. I asked what he thought were the prospects of the conference. He replied, "There are no prospects for such a conference where so many people so obviously hate each other." I am glad to see that that prophecy has not turned out to be corect, and to see the change which has come about in international tension.
By this further step of easing the tension in Egypt there is one fewer trouble spot. I believe that Her Majesty's Government, in their attitude towards Egypt and their decision to take a step—a reluctant step—away from the old policy of British imperialism and to face the fact that a new international policy needs 808 to be worked out in the atom age, are more in line with the feeling of the country than are those hon. Gentlemen on the other side, sincere though they may be, who oppose them on this issue; and on this occasion we can only go into the Division Lobby in support of the policy of the Government.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Eden)
We have had a remarkable debate in which hon. Members on all sides of the House have spoken with vigour and conviction and in which there has been at times deep feeling. I should like to say, for my part, that though some of my hon. and right hon. Friends have certainly been severe in their strictures of the Government, I have on that account no hard feelings, because I know that they have deep conviction. At the same time, I must also tell the House that a Government which has to face issues of this kind has to face them in the light of the realities and of the existing alternatives, and carefully though I have listened to this debate, I have not yet been able to find any practical alternative to the course which Her Majesty's advisers now submit to this House.
I am attempting to delay a little because I would like the Leader of the Opposition to be present. Perhaps feeling a little in holiday mood, he was extremely severe in his strictures on the Government. He was very severe in regard to our attitude in Opposition for those six years. According to him, our behaviour was in all respects unworthy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is all right, but that does not excuse the Government of the day for what they did or did not do.
I see the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is now in his place. He is so invariably courteous that I did not want to reply to his remarks until he was here. I was saying that he was severe to us in his strictures this afternoon, and particularly critical of our conduct in regard to these issues when we were in opposition. Though I think that probably he would admit—at any rate in a benign mood he would admit—that, generally speaking, in those years both at home and abroad we did try to support the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government of the time over 809 a pretty wide field of endeavour, still the issue which we would really have to debate would be, not whether the Opposition did well or badly, but whether the Government of the day did well or badly. Although the right hon. Gentleman told us all that he had wanted to do, with a great deal of which I cordially agree, the fact remains that during those six years it was not possible to do it and that he failed to get the kind of agreement which he says ought to have been reached.
The fact remains that by the end of his period of office he was driven largely to reinforce our troops in Egypt, with the result that we had 80,000 men there, and when the present Government took office, as I do not think he will deny, we were left with a situation in which the civilian labour force was rapidly being withdrawn, the Egyptians had denounced the treaty—perhaps encouraged by what had happened in Persia—and a state of general turmoil existed. Nor will the right hon. Gentleman deny that the Persian situation which we inherited was not precisely a happy one. While strictures may be passed by him on the Opposition's behaviour at that time, it seems to me that in all fairness he must admit that the heritage left to us was not entirely enviable.
If we can get agreement thus far, I must also remind him of some other things. He let slip one or two sneers, particularly at the expense of Wimpey's—nothing was being left in Egypt, he said, except Wimpey's. I must give credit where credit is due and I must confess that the idea of the civilianisation of the base—if that is the right word—was not mine; it came from the right hon. Gentleman's proposals of April, 1951.
§ Mr. Attlee
I was not complaining about that. What I was complaining about was that there is a complete lack of defence in the area. There is nothing whatever of what we were trying to do—to get some defence organisation; there is a complete vacuum.
§ Mr. Eden
I am coming to the question of the vacuum; I have thought of that one, too. At the moment I am dealing with the civilianisation of the base, and I think it is not unfair to say that the right hon. Gentleman sneered at 810 this a little and said that all that is left is Wimpey's. I am merely pointing out that the idea of Wimpey's is his. If hon. Members want me to read out the text, I am prepared to do so. I am quite ready to claim any ideas of which I have the originality, but I am also prepared to give the authorship to those to whom it belongs, and it is right in the circumstances to say that my attention was drawn to this passage from the proposals of April, 1951:The progressive civilianisation of the base which it is suggested should be completed by 1956"—almost exactly to the month the date when we will complete. The passage continued:… essential British civilian personnel being introduced as military personnel are withdrawn.I do not think it was very wise of the right hon. Gentleman to taunt us with having done what was in his proposals.
The right hon. Gentleman also spoke about the countries covered by the Treaty. The Bevin-Sidky agreement, with much of which I agree, contained one clause with which I do not personally agree which deals with the countries concerned. The countries concerned in the definition of that Treaty were those which were called "adjacent countries." With respect, I think that is a very bad definition to put in a Treaty. We want to know which are the adjacent countries to Egypt. I should have said, from my reading of the Bevin-Sidky proposals, that it is pretty clear that Turkey, for instance, would not have been covered by that agreement. I am not quarrelling with the right hon. Gentleman because the agreement was not reached but merely pointing the facts out to him, for he attacked us The present proposals, as far as that is concerned, are infinitely to be preferred to the Bevin-Sidky proposals. On that account, I do not think his attack was justified.
Let us consider this question of the vacuum. The right hon. Gentleman said that we were leaving a vacuum in the Middle East. I do not know whether he heard the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) which was an answer to that criticism better expressed than I could express it. The hon. Gentleman said he thought that the Leader of the 811 Opposition was mistaken in criticising us for delaying the agreement so long because it is only recently, he said, that the Egyptians have been willing to include Turkey in that agreement—and Turkey is the vital defence factor in this agreement.
The hon. Gentleman went on to say something else with which I agree. He said that Cyprus is not enough. Of course it is not enough. We are not proposing to create a new base in Cyprus. Nothing of the kind is proposed. The main base, as the base for war, will remain in Egypt.
I hope and believe that under this Agreement there will be other forward bases, and I agree with some of the ideas of the Leader of the Opposition about that. He is absolutely right, but he will not expect me to describe where those forward bases will be or what arrangements may be made for them. It is somewhat ludicrous to accuse us of scuttle when, by the arrangements we are trying to make, we shall get nearer to the possible enemy than we were before. It seems to me a misuse of terms. I am not attacking the right hon. Gentleman.
Then there was this reference to a vacuum. There is no vacuum because, as a result of these arrangements, we shall be able to redeploy our forces and make them mobile to an extent that they have not been hitherto. I should have thought that, instead of the right hon. Gentleman's criticism, he would have endorsed what we are doing, because he would have been right if he had said that there is a vacuum in our Middle East, arrangements which exist at this very hour. There most certainly is, because if 80,000 men are unable to do anything effective, then that is a vacuum. If we get this Agreement and we are able to bring about the redeployment I have mentioned, it will bring the vacuum to an end.
How, then, shall we redeploy our forces? As my right hon. Friend said, we will bring part of these forces home to form a strategic reserve. To base our forces here does not mean they are not in any sense available to the Middle East or to any other part of the world. We have to remember the increasing mobility of our forces by air and other means. We have to adapt our minds more and more 812 to the conception that countries, wherever they are, do not like to have foreign troops on their soil. Western countries tolerate it more easily than those where nationalism has been recently resurgent. No nation likes it, and more and more we shall have to base ourselves upon our own strategic reserve here and our ability to fly it to whatever quarter it is needed.
That is the conception behind this Agreement, especially when we add to it the treaty which we have made with Libya, for which the late Mr. Ernest Bevin worked very hard and for which I certainly have no desire to take the credit, but which we have signed and ratified. Under it our forces are in Libya and they can be increased. When we remember the possibilities of redeployment there and also the possibilities of increasing our forces in Jordan and elsewhere, and when we take into account our Air Force in Aden, we can see the pattern of redeployment which will add to our mobility, and, as I maintain, add enormously to our strength.
Now let me deal with some of the criticisms of this document. I would ask some of my hon. Friends to consider what would happen in 1956 if they were successful in their appeal tonight and if the House did not approve these decisions. In 1956 we could renew the treaty with Egypt as it is now, and if agreement was not reached then we would have to go to the League of Nations—I suppose it is the United Nations now—or to arbitration. Well, of course, we could wait until 1956 and base ourselves on those articles of the Treaty of 1936 which provide for a continuing alliance, but does anybody in this House really suppose that, if we waited until 1956, and went to arbitration then, we could hope to get the rights and facilities of the 1936 Treaty exactly as they had been in 1936, with the Egyptians strongly resisting them at every point? I think that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends are under a misconception in respect of the 1936 Treaty—which I well remember, for I signed it—and the conditions at that time.
The 1936 Treaty allowed us to station troops in Egypt in order to fulfil an Anglo-Egyptian alliance for the joint defence of the Canal. That was the purpose of that Treaty. We would have no chance whatever of going to international arbitration and saying, "Instead 813 of doing that, we are now going to maintain 80,000 troops in Egypt to prevent the Egyptians from doing whatever they want to do." The case would be utterly indefensible and my noble Friend would have to use the veto, not once but almost every day.
What would be the position if we did not reach an agreement? I do beg my right hon. and hon. Friends once again to face this, and I will face it as fairly as I can. First, no redeployment of any kind would be possible. The 80,000 troops would remain in Egypt and probably there would be a clamour for their reinforcement if conditions grew worse in the great cities. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] Does my hon. Friend who says "nonsense" not remember that two years ago, when my right hon. Friend was on the high seas, I had the responsibility, when the riots threatened in Cairo and it seemed likely that our forces would have to march into Cairo to save the white population of that city? If my hon. Friends think that is a task which could be carried out by small forces, they are living in a world of illusion.
I think we are all agreed about this. Only one alternative has been given to us today, so far as I can understand, and that is that we should reduce the figure. My right hon. and gallant Friend said, I think, two brigades or something of that order; that is to say, something within the actual treaty limits of 1936. I am not clear at all about what the value of that arrangement could be. If it is intended that those two brigades are to defend a restricted base, such as we now contemplate creating, without the agreement of the Egyptian Government, then I must say frankly that two brigades would be completely useless and in a short time we would be back again to the 80,000 men.
If, on the other hand, they are not to guard the base but are to be there as a token force on the Canal, I would say that they are of no military or strategic value whatever and would simply be under the constant irritant of a continuing request that they should be reinforced.
§ Captain Waterhouse
I know that my right hon. Friend does not want to misrepresent me. I did not develop the whole subject today, but he will remember that when last I spoke I tried to make it clear that our view was that had there been a 814 different approach to Egypt from the start, had we not been talking about evacuation from the start, we would not have arrived at this decision, and that if now—even now—we let it be clearly understood that we meant business and meant to stay there, we could come to an agreement with this or some other Government in Egypt which would allow us to maintain our forces and maintain our position.
§ Mr. Eden
That simply means that we should be able to reach an agreement with Egypt on the basis of our keeping troops in Egypt. I can only say, in reply to my right hon. and gallant Friend, that for years past, long before this Government came into office, the persistent position of the Egyptian Government has been that they would not make such an agreement. My right hon. and gallant Friend might be able to do that. I can only say that I do not believe it to be possible or diplomatically within the range of possibility. I do not think we ought to pretend to ourselves that these things are realisable when we must know in our hearts that they are not.
What would happen in 1956 if we had no arrangement? We would have no place, no establishments, no workshops, no possibility of going in again, no right of re-entry whatever and no assurance of the upkeep of the base. We would have the absolute assurance of the worst possible relations with Egypt and with all the other Arab countries, leading to rising tension.
How far does this Agreement, with its admitted shortcomings, meet our needs? For the first time we shall have installations and facilities in Egypt by agreement, because we had no such rights under the 1936 Treaty. What we need now is a working base and not a beleaguered garrison. Our ability to return in the event of crisis is a strengthening element which will enable us to defend our position in the Middle East, and the air transit rights are of real value.
I should like to answer further questions that have been asked by our critics. With regard to the claims question, we need not wait for the Agreement. We are trying to get them settled now and have begun to discuss them already with the Egyptian Government. Certainly we have not lost interest in the Sudan. We have 815 said that the Sudan must decide its own future. Tonight I do not want to say harsh things—though I could do so—about the past in respect of agreements about the Sudan. I will only say that we in Britain are not opposed to friendship between Egypt and the Sudan. We want to have friendship ourselves both with Egypt and the Sudan, but we trust that all concerned will give to the Sudan a real opportunity to decide its own national life and future. All the reports we have had for the last few months show that there is an increasing determination in the Sudan to do just that. Beyond that, we have no claim which it would be within our rights to make.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East asked about redeployment to the south. There are no plans at present in that direction but it could happen, and one example is that some of the redeployment will consist in strengthening our air forces in Aden. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) asked about the position of Turkey. Any armed attack on Turkey would bring this Agreement into operation. The situation in which Turkey came to be attacked would not affect that right.
Now I come to a heavy burden of criticism and I think the strongest case that can be made against the Agreement. That is in respect of the navigation of the Canal, the freedom of the Canal. Strong views have been expressed in this debate about that. In listening to some of the debate, one would almost have had the impression that traffic on the Canal has largely been held up. Actually the volume of traffic on the Canal has never been greater than it is at present. What we are discussing is a particular aspect of that traffic, and that is the strategic goods for Israel going through the Canal. It is to traffic in that respect that Egypt and the Arab States have been opposed.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition tried rightly to have international action to resolve this problem. We tried also. When the right hon. Gentleman was Prime Minister a resolution was passed by the United Nations which Egypt did not observe. We attempted to have action taken at the United Nations and Soviet Russia vetoed it. Although it is very hard to say how 816 it can be best handled, in my view if this House wants to see an end to hostilities between Israel and the Arab States—and surely we must all want that—the only hope of doing so is that we should be able to create for ourselves better relations with both sides.
Everybody knows the history of our relations with the Arab States in recent years and that these have been largely bedevilled by the actions of Egypt, whose influence in this respect is very powerful. If we can improve our relations, it might be possible to do something to reduce in its turn tension between the Arab States and Israel and to try to obtain agreement and final peace. Truly, short of warlike action, I do not believe that it is possible to do anything effective in this particular situation unless we can reduce this tension between the Arab States and Israel.
That is the heart of this matter and every matter in the Middle East, of which the refugee problem is the most tragic of all. If I have any hope of this Agreement, it is that it will perhaps give us more opportunities to use our friendly influence to bring those together who should be on good terms instead of, as they are today, harshly staring at each other or sniping at each other across uncertain frontiers.
I have been asked about the position of the Commonwealth. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North said it was shocking to think that Ministers cannot say that they are in full agreement with the Commonwealth, although he rightly added that it was for the Commonwealth themselves to say that rather than for us. I have two messages here which might interest the House. Pakistan has been much mentioned in this debate and its attitude has been inquired about. I have had a telegram today from Sir Zafrulla Khan, known to this House as Foreign Minister of Pakistan, who, after beginning with some nice observations which I will not read, goes on to say about the Agreement:I am sure this lays the foundation of firm friendship and beneficent co-operation between Egypt and its people and the other free democratic States in the service of all the peoples of these regions. The Agreement is a great achievement and an outstanding instance of the exercise of wise statesmanship and courageous handling of world issues on the part of Her Majesty's Government.817 The Foreign Secretary of Australia, Mr. Casey, well known to us all, made a Press statement which has been published. I will not read the whole of it to the House, but I will read one paragraph:The Australian Government have watched the course of these negotiations closely and, like Britain, we have been sympathetic with Egypt's request for full sovereignty over its territory. At the same time, however, we have realised the inescapable realities of the situation resulting from Egypt's geographical position and the military needs of the free world. It is satisfactory that these two conflicting interests have now at length been reconciled.Those are two Commonwealth countries: it will be for the others to express themselves in due course if they wish.
I will conclude with some observations, not only on the Heads of Agreement, but on the policy we are seeking to pursue in the Middle East. I do not think the only purpose is to hold to a particular position that one may have to hold to at that moment regardless of surrounding circumstances. I and Her Majesty's Government are as anxious as anyone that our influence throughout the Middle East shall continue and be increased. I thought that what the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) said in his speech about the influence we have in the world today was a fair and true observation. It is ludicrous to pretend that, as a result of this Agreement, our influence is going to be undermined throughout the Middle East. I do not believe that for one moment, and I will tell hon. Members why.
The conditions as they exist now in all these countries, their sentiments, their national feelings, bear no parallel to those of even 15, let alone 20, years ago. Yet I believe that, on a basis of friendship, we have an opportunity, on an entirely new basis—a new conception—to influence them and work with them. That is just what we have been trying to do. Will the House look for a moment at that picture?
Let us start with Persia. We hope before very long to conclude an agreement with Persia which will result in oil flowing again to the markets of the world, bringing her back revenue and prosperity and raising the standard of life of her people. That is what we want to do, not for selfish reasons but for Persia's sake as much as ours. It is to our interest that she should be prosperous and free 818 where she lies in that part of the Middle East. So I hope that will be fostered. If so, it will be a bit of rebuilding—I am not criticising the past, but it can be compared with what we inherited.
It is the same with Saudi Arabia. We have just concluded an agreement to arbitrate our differences there. In Libya we have reached this agreement. With Jordan we have our treaty. With Israel we want and shall maintain the friendliest relations we can establish. There is no question of us forgetting our obligations. That is why yesterday we reaffirmed the obligations which we have under the 1950 agreement, by which we stand and by which our allies have recently said they stand.
We realise all these responsibilities. Does not the House see that through all these things, and finally, most important of all, this agreement with Egypt, we shall be creating a new pattern of friendship throughout these Middle-Eastern regions? That is what we want to do. It is the only way we can hope to work with those countries. We cannot hope to work with them by putting 20,000, 30,000, 80,000 men there and telling them what to do. They simply will not do what they are told and that leads to endless trouble for us all.
I ask the House to consider the alternatives. We can go on as we are now until 1956, with a continued waste of manpower, immobilisation of what should be an essential part of our strategic reserve, with considerable hostility in Arab States and very probably an unlimited commitment if that leads, as it could have led, to serious anti-British outbreaks in many of these nations, all of them leading almost certainly to adverse arbitration decisions in 1956 and total evacuation without rights and without the advantages we have obtained by free consent, at any rate for the next seven years.
Set in this context, I suggest to the House that the prospect of a new and growing collaboration with our Arab friends is now opened up. We have heard a lot today in this debate about failure of will power. I do not believe that to face unpleasant realities in a changing world shows a failure of will power. I believe that to maintain the conditions there are as we would have them, and as they once were, and to behave as we could then, or did then, and 819 as some would have us do now, is to show a lack of adaptation to the realities of the present time.
I believe that this Agreement is militarily sound. It gives my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War a strategic reserve which they have not got and which they ought to have. I believe it is politically sound because it enables us to re-establish, I trust, conditions of friendship with all the Arab lands while not losing our friendship with Israel. Of course, it is true that no one can foresee how it will work out in direct terms of our relations with Egypt.
I want us in this House to say plainly to Egypt tonight that we are going to enter into this new era with a real determination to try to make it succeed. If they will do the same by us they will find full reciprocity and understanding here. It is in that spirit that I hope the House will affirm these heads of understanding, because if from the beginning we start to criticise and disbelieve those whose hands
§ we have shaken in the signing of these Heads of Agreement, we shall lose everything before we have begun.
§ I conclude by saying that I believe that this instrument, while not perfect, is one which can be made of service to the cause of stability in the Middle East. By that, too, it can serve our nation's interests and, wider still, the cause of peace.
§ Mr. Eden
I had hoped that I had made it plain, although I could not cover all the points, that it is only in the last few months—three months I think—that we have been able to obtain from the Egyptian Government the undertaking in respect of Turkey. Without that undertaking the agreement was not one which would have been satisfactory to this House.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 257; Noes, 26.821
|Division No. 214.]||AYES||[9.55 p.m.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Cole, Norman||George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Colegate, W. A.||Glover, D.|
|Amory, Rt. Hon. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Godber, J. B.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Cooper-Key, E. M.||Gough, C. F. H.|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Gower, H. R.|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Grimond, J.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)|
|Banks, Col. C.||Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Hare, Hon. J. H.|
|Barber, Anthony||Davidson, Viscountess||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Do la Bère, Sir Rupert||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Deedes, W. F.||Harvie-Watt, Sir George|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Digby, S. Wingfield||Hay, John|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.|
|Bennett, William (Woodside)||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Donnelly, D. L.||Heath, Edward|
|Birch, Nigel||Doughty, C. J. A.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||Higgs, J. M. C.|
|Black, C. W.||Drayson, G. B.||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)|
|Bossom, Sir A. C.||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond)||Holt, A. F.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Duthie, W. S.||Hope, Lord John|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir D. M.||Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry|
|Braine, B. R.||Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence|
|Braithwaite, Sir Gurney||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Erroll, F. J.||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Finlay, Graeme||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Fisher, Nigel||Hulbert, Wing Cdr. N. J.|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F||Hurd, A. R.|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)|
|Bullard, D. G.||Ford, Mrs. Patricia||Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Forman, J. C.||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Fort, R.||Iremonger, T. L.|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Foster, John||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)|
|Campbell, Sir David||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Jennings, Sir Roland|
|Carmichael, J.||Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)|
|Carr, Robert||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)||Jones, A. (Hall Green)|
|Channon, H.||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Sir Winston||Gammans, L. D.||Kaberry, D.|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Garner-Evans, E. H.||Keeling, Sir Edward|
|Lambert, Hon. G.||Nield, Basil (Chester)||Speir, R. M.|
|Lambton, Viscount||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Nugent, G. R. H.||Spens, Rt. Hon. Sir P. (Kensington, S.)|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Nutting, Anthony||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Oakshott, H. D.||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.||Odey, G. W.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Lindsay, Martin||O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Storey, S.|
|Linstead, Sir H. N.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Llewellyn, D. T.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Studholme, H. G.|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)||Summers, G. S.|
|Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Page, R. G.||Sutcliffe, Sir Harold|
|Longden, Gilbert||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Low, A. R. W.||Perkins, Sir Robert||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Peyton, J. W. W.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Macdonald, Sir Peter||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|McGovern, J.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, w.)||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter (Monmouth)|
|Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.||Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.|
|McKibbin, A. J.||Profumo, J. D.||Tilney, John|
|Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Raikes, Sir Victor||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Ramsden, J. E.||Turton, R. H.|
|Maclean, Fitzroy||Redmayne, M.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Remnant, Hon. P.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)||Renton, D. L. M.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Ridsdale, J. E.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)|
|Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir Reginald||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Marlowe, A. A. H.||Roper, Sir Harold||Wall, Major Patrick|
|Marples, A. E.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)||Russell, R. S.||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Maudling, R.||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.||Watkinson, H. A.|
|Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.||Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)|
|Medlicott, Brig. F.||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.||Wellwood, W.|
|Molson, A. H. E.||Scott, R. Donald||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Monckton, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Moore, Sir Thomas||Shepherd, William||Wills, G.|
|Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Neave, Airey||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Nicholls, Harmar||Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Nicholson, Geoffrey (Farnham)||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)||Mr. Buchan-Hepburn and|
|Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)||Soames, Capt. C.||Sir Cedric Drewe.|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Kerby, Capt, H. B.||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Crouch, R. F.||Kerr, H. W.||Teeling, W.|
|Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
|Fell, A.||Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Maude, Angus|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Mellor, Sir John||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Holland-Martin, C. J.||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Sir Robert Grimston and|
|Horobin, I. M.||Pitman, I. J.||Sir Patrick Donner.|
Question put, and agreed to.
That this House approves the heads of agreement initialled in Cairo on 27th July between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Egypt.