§ 12.21 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)
I must, first, thank the House for its consideration in postponing this debate and, indeed, hon. Members in all parts of the House for the consideration which they have shown since the recent events have taken place.
I am sorry that I am still not in a position to make the full statement that I should have liked to make, but discussions between the United States of America, France and ourselves are still proceeding. The House will understand that it is, therefore, not possible for me to declare their final outcome yet, but if it should prove possible my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will make a statement in the concluding stages of the debate. As the House will understand, I cannot give an undertaking, but, naturally, we should wish to do so if it is possible in any way.
I am sure that the House will feel with me that it is necessary and desirable that full time should be taken with our Allies for all the aspects of this international problem to be considered and agreed while the three Foreign Ministers are in London. Meanwhile, there are certain observations which I should make to the House about the situation.
First, I think it is true to say that the cause for the anger and alarm felt, not only here but among the Governments and peoples of the democratic world, at the action of the Egyptian Government, is due to the special character of the Canal. It is right, therefore, that the House should be reminded of some aspects of this.
As the world is today, and as it is likely to be for some time to come, the industrial life of Western Europe literally depends upon the continuing free navigation of the Canal as one of the great international waterways of the world. I need give the House only one example. Last year, nearly 70 million tons of oil passed through the Canal, representing about half the oil supplies of Western Europe. Traffic through the Canal moved at the rate of 40 ships a day and amounted to 154 million tons of shipping—prodigious figures. Nor does this traffic affect the West alone. Australia, India, 1603 Ceylon and a large part of South-East Asia transport the major proportion of their trade, or a large proportion of their trade, through the Canal.
Therefore, it is with these reflections in mind that I must repeat the carefully considered sentence which I used in the House on Monday last, if I may quote it again:No arrangements for the future of this great international waterway could be acceptable to Her Majesty's Government which would leave it in the unfettered control of a single Power which could, as recent events have shown, exploit it purely for purposes of national policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 923.]That is still our position, and it must remain so.
However, that is not all the argument. The Egyptian Government have certain obligations in respect of the Canal. They are laid down in two principal instruments which I must mention. First, there is the Concession, which consists of a series of Agreements over the years between the Egyptian Government and the Suez Canal Company. The Concession defines the rights and status of the Suez Canal Company and the obligations of the Egyptian Government towards it. It is interesting to note that these were endorsed by the Egyptian Government as recently as 10th June this year, when a formal financial Agreement was concluded between the Egyptian Government and the Suez Canal Company.
This Agreement—made only a few weeks ago—was to continue in force until the end of the Company's Concession. That was in accord with the broadcast which was made on 17th November, 1954, by Colonel Nasser himself. He then said, according to our reports, that there remained only fourteen years until the end of the Canal Company's Concession. He added that good relations existed between the Egyptian Government and the Suez Canal Company. The Egyptian Government, he told us, had full confidence in the attitude of the Company and was sure that the latter would do everything to help the Egyptian Government in its task.
These undertakings are now torn up, and one can have no confidence—no confidence—in the word of a man who does that.
1604 The second instrument is the well-known Suez Canal Convention of 1888, which lays down the vital principle that the Canal should always be open in time of war as in time of peace to every vessel of commerce or of war without distinction of flag. The Convention was signed by nine Powers, including the Sultan of Turkey on behalf of the Khedive of Egypt.
At this point I would ask the House to note, what is not generally known, that there is a link between the Convention of 1888 and the concession of the Canal Company. The Canal Company is specifically mentioned in Articles 2 and 14 of the 1888 Convention. Article 2 deals with the engagements of Egypt towards the Suez Canal Company as regards the freshwater canal, well known to many hon. Members.
Article 3 goes on to state that the contracting parties undertake to respect the plant, establishments, buildings and works of the maritime Canal and of the freshwater canal. Moreover, our own Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1954 states that the two Governments recognise that the Canal is a waterway economically, commercially and strategically of international importance and expresses the determination of both parties to uphold the Convention of 1888. Now, Sir, I ask: how can this be reconciled with the Egyptian Government's action against the Suez Canal Company?
It is the free navigation of the Canal which is the solemn principle contained in the 1888 Convention, as the House well knows. That is not all, because free navigation does not depend only on the absence of discrimination or the absence of physical interference with the traffic in the Canal. The efficient functioning of the Canal, and its ability to deal with existing and future traffic, is also of decisive importance to us all.
The Canal is at present in need, as some hon. Members will probably know, of much new capital expenditure to enable it to cope with the increasing demands made upon it. Traffic through the Canal at present is increasing at a rate of about 7 per cent. a year. Last year, more than 10 million tons more oil went through the Canal than in 1954, and the size of the ships which are now using the Canal, as the House knows, is constantly growing.
1605 Therefore, the Company has, over the years, been accumulating capital to enable it to carry out the work of increasing the capacity of the Canal. That is, of course, of benefit to all of its users, and in the Company's latest programme of improvements—which has already begun—two new by-passes are to be built, and the depth of the Canal is to be increased to enable it to handle larger ships.
This action will cost about £20 million. It will greatly increase the capacity of the Canal. But even this programme will not be enough, for, in the next ten to fifteen years, a further huge expansion will be necessary, because during that period the traffic through the Canal is expected to increase several times.
Now, Sir, the reserves of the Company and the revenues from shipping would have been earmarked to finance these needs. But Colonel Nasser has now announced his intention to divert these revenues from this vital international waterway to build a dam in Egypt. He has declared that the Company is to be nationalised, and its revenues seized, because the United States and ourselves would not let him have enough money with which to build this dam. I know it is true that he has expressed his intention to compensate the shareholders on the basis of the latest valuation of the shares, but the House may well like to ask, in view of Colonel Nasser's record about some other promises, how this is to be done.
It would cost about £70 million, I am told, to carry through this compensation. The net annual revenue of the Canal, after providing for taxation and providing for reserves, as is at present done, is only about £10 million. Clearly, it would be impossible, with this sum, to compensate the shareholders, to build the dam and to develop the Canal—yet the Canal must be developed if this international waterway is to serve its purpose. Here is a situation which neither Her Majesty's Government nor, I believe, the other maritime Powers, can accept, if they are to continue to live by means of the sources of supply which come through the Canal.
And there are some other considerations which we cannot ignore. Is it possible for us to believe the word of the present Egyptian Government to the 1606 extent of leaving it in their power alone to decide whether these supplies shall reach the Western World through the Canal? I truly think that we have done everything in our power during the years—sometimes under criticism—by our actions and by our Treaty, to show our good will. I think that we have. Our reward has been a broken faith, and broken promises. We have been subjected to a ceaseless barrage of propaganda. This has been accompanied by intrigue, and by attempts at subversion in British territories.
Colonel Nasser's arbitrary action in breach of Egypt's solemn undertakings, many of them recently given, without previous consultation or previous notice-reveals the nature of the régime with which we have to deal; and I think that the action of the Egyptian Government in compelling the Canal Company employees to remain at their posts under threat of imprisonment is certainly, to say the least, a violation of human rights.
Sir, in these circumstances, and in view of the uncertain situation created by the actions of the Egyptian Government, Her Majesty's Government have thought it necessary—and I wanted to take this first opportunity to tell the House—to take certain precautionary measures of a military nature. Their object is to strengthen our position in the Eastern Mediterranean and our ability to deal with any situation that may arise. These measures include the movement from this country of certain Navy, Army and Air Force units, and the recall of a limited number of Section A and A.E.R. Category I reservists, and also a limited number of officers from the Regular Army Reserve of Officers.
In addition, we shall have to recall—and I regret this, but it is inevitable owing to the categories in which they fall—a strictly limited number of men who are specialists, and skilled in certain essential tasks. These men are in section B of the Regular Army Reserve and A.E.R. Category II. Their recall will necessitate the issue of a Proclamation. I repeat that I regret it. Perhaps I could say to the House that we have been considering, not at all in connection with this, whether legislation should not have been begun some time ago to put these men in the other category to which, I think, they truly belong. That has not been done 1607 and, therefore, I thought that I should tell the House at once what our intention was, and that we would have to do this.
Now let me state the solutions which we seek for the future of the Canal, because it is of that that the House wants to hear. Our policy, and, I think it is true to say, that of virtually all the other maritime Powers towards the Canal, has always been based on two fundamental principles: first, the freedom and security of transit through the Canal—
§ The Prime Minister
—and, secondly, the efficiency and economy of its operation. I know the difficulties that occur, but I say that the principles upon which our policy has been based—I fully understand the hon. Member's feelings on the Israel issue, but this is slightly, to put it mildly, in a different category.
§ The Prime Minister
Why? This is a proposal to take over the Canal, and to make its future use entirely dependent on the Government of Egypt.
§ Mr. Silverman
I was not questioning that, but the right hon. Gentleman chose to use the word "always". He said that we have always said that the first principle was to maintain free transit through the Canal. I am pointing out to him that "always" is an overstatement; that there was one very important recent incident when he did not observe it, and that his position today would be a great deal stronger in the world if he had applied the principle always.
§ The Prime Minister
I am quite ready to argue that. It has always been our principle. It was taken, as our principle, by the then Government to the United Nations and there dealt with. The principle was not carried through. I say that this matter is of a wider and, so far as the nation is concerned, much more serious character than that one. The late Government did take the action of going to the United Nations, and made no progress. If the hon. Gentleman asks why we do not go there, perhaps he will consider what I have just said. I am quite aware of that case, but I do not think that it affects the fundamental issue of the whole future life of the Canal, with 1608 which we now have to deal. On that, at least, I hope we can agree.
I think it is also true to say that the level of dues, broadly speaking, charged by the Company, particularly in recent years has been closely related to the cost of the service provided—rather to the cost than to its value, if I may put it that way.
The Company, although it is registered in Egypt, is, of course, an international organisation of the highest importance and standing, and it has ensured that the Canal was administered both with regard to the interests of international shipping and to those of Egypt herself. Naturally, in any future arrangement for the Canal the legitimate interests of Egypt would have to be safeguarded. In fact, Egypt is today represented on the Board of the Company—or until a few days ago, perhaps I should say—together with us and France, the United States and the Netherlands. The extent of the Company's international character is sometimes forgotten.
The principle of free navigation in peace and war is laid down in solemn international instruments to which the Egyptian Government is a party. It has been observed, let me say, by the Western Allies even in two world wars. For instance, in the last war, when the effective control of the Suez Canal rested in the hands of His Majesty's Government alone, a search of cargoes in the Canal ports was instituted only for the purpose of ensuring that no damage was caused to the actual waterway. That was the action we took then and no attempt was made to seize cargoes in the Canal or its ports of access, even when they consisted of contraband. How could we look to the Egyptian Government alone to maintain these principles so scrupulously?—and if they are not maintained the life and the commerce of the whole free world is constantly at risk.
For all these reasons, I suggest to the House that the freedom and security of transit through the Canal, without discrimination, and the efficiency of its operation can be effectively ensured only by an international authority. It is upon this we must insist. It is for this that we are working in negotiation at this moment with other Powers deeply concerned. Nothing less than this can be acceptable to us.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
While the House will, of course, be a little disappointed that the Prime Minister was unable to tell us about the outcome of the talks now taking place, I am sure that we all appreciate and accept the reasons why he could not do so. I think, too, that we are all grateful to him for the statement he has made about the attitude of Her Majesty's Government to Colonel Nasser's action.
For a long time, the Opposition has been critical of the Government's policy in the Middle East. We carried those criticisms so far as to divide the House on the Adjournment on 7th March, and I must say, at the start, that we do not feel that in the months that have elapsed since then there has been any great improvement in the Government's policy. We have criticised from time to time the attitude of the Government on the question of the balance of arms in the Middle East, and I think that many of us feel that in the matter of the Aswan Dam the vacillations that have taken place are certainly a subject for criticism.
But I do not propose today to develop these criticisms of the Government. May be, in the future, in a calmer situation, a further examination, a post-mortem, should take place, but I am sure that today what the country wants to hear about is the implication of Colonel Nasser's action and what should be done about it. Moreover, while I have not hesitated to express my disagreement with the Government in their policy in the past, I must make it abundantly plain that anything that they have done or not done in no way excuses Colonel Nasser's action in seizing the Canal.
I think that it is worth spending a moment or two on the question of why we do take such strong exception to this action. I know that some hon. Members may say, "It is quite simple; it is an arbitrary act, a sudden act, something that involves various dangers for us," but we have to recognise that the Egyptians are putting their point of view and that this point of view is being listened to elsewhere in the world. It is extremely important that the exact reasons why we resent and object to this action should be made clear at the start.
The Egyptian argument is perfectly clear. It is that this is an Egyptian 1610 company and that as the Government of Egypt they are perfectly entitled to nationalise any company they wish to nationalise, provided that they pay compensation; as regards the right of transit through the Canal they have given assurances that they regard it as necessary to observe the 1888 Convention. I should like to give my answers, as I see it, to that case put forward by the Egyptian Government.
First, so far as my hon. and right hon. Friends are concerned at any rate, we certainly do not say that the act of nationalisation in itself is wrong. Nor would we say that the act of nationalising a foreign-owned company was necessarily wrong, provided that the compensation was reasonable and fair. I must say, in passing, that I think we can have reasonable doubts about whether, in fact, the Egyptian Government, in this instance, will be in a position to pay compensation. I think that some objection might be taken to the termination of the concession prematurely. I do not know whether or not this is illegal—I am not a lawyer, and I offer no opinion—but I certainly would not even stress that as the main point to which we object, provided again that proper compensation is paid.
The real objections, it seems to me, are three. In the first place, as the Prime Minister has rightly emphasised, this is not an ordinary Company, conducting ordinary activities. It is a Company controlling an international waterway of immense importance to the whole of the rest of the world. It is, therefore, bound to be a matter of international concern when it changes hands. Hitherto, it has been under the control and ownership very largely of the States using it, of the maritime Powers, and it is quite true, as the Prime Minister has said, also, that while I think that the interests of Egypt have been considered and taken into account, and, as Colonel Nasser has recently said, relations between the Company and the Egyptian Government have been amicable, nevertheless the Company has certainly taken care of the interests of the user countries.
Now the ownership and control of the Company is to be transferred to a single Power, to the hands of one State controlling it and, therefore, in a position even more than before to decide how the 1611 Canal shall be run. It may be said there is no need for anxiety because we have had these assurances about the 1888 Convention. I am bound to say that it seems to me the strongest reason for having doubts in our minds as to whether we can accept those assurances has been the behaviour of the Egyptian Government in stopping Israeli ships from going through, and equally important—indeed, even more important—the clear defiance of the Resolution of the United Nations condemning this action, passed in September, 1951.
The second reason why I think we must take strong exception to this is that any confidence we might have had in an action of this kind was profoundly shaken by the manner in which it was carried out. It was done suddenly, without negotiation, without discussion, by force, and it was done on the excuse that this was the way to finance the Aswan Dam project. Colonel Nasser himself, at the conclusion of his speech a week ago, said:Thus, you will see that our wealth has been restored to us and that we shall not look forward to the Anglo-American financial aid amounting to 75 million dollars because we shall henceforth get from the profits of the Suez Canal the sum of 100 million dollars every year and in five years we shall secure 500 million dollars.That, in effect, means that he is proposing to take the whole of the gross revenues of the Canal—almost all of them transit dues—and divert them for the purpose of the Aswan Dam. Yet he has promised compensation. How can he at one and the same time both keep the Canal going, spend the necessary money on the repairs, extensions and re-construction, pay the compensation or service the compensation loan to the shareholders, and also find money for the Aswan Dam?
Like the Prime Minister, I have tried to work out the finances of this, and I would only say that so far as I can see, looking at the figures, the most that Colonel Nasser could do, and even then at the expense of diverting reserves which ought to be used for the Canal, might amount to about £5 million a year—at any rate, quite inadequate and absurd in relation to the cost of the dam. But there is, of course, one way out for Colonel Nasser, and that is that he can put the charges up. He can increase the transit 1612 dues. So the whole implication of his speech is precisely that, that he intends to make the users pay more than they have been paying before.
I do not think one can deny that this action is, first, to some extent a threat to access to the Canal in the light of what the Egyptians have done about the Israeli ships; secondly, a warning that he may not maintain the Canal adequately; and, thirdly, a very definite implication that higher charges will be levied. As the Prime Minister has said, this is serious not only for us but for every maritime nation in the world; East and West, all are involved.
My third reason for thinking that we must object to this is that we cannot ignore—and this is a matter that the Prime Minister did not touch upon, no doubt for good reasons—the political background and the repercussions of the whole of this episode in the Middle East. We cannot forget that Colonel Nasser has repeatedly boasted of his intention to create an Arab empire from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf. The French Prime Minister, M. Mollet, the other day quoted a speech of Colonel Nasser's and rightly said that it could remind us only of one thing—of the speeches of Hitler before the war.
Colonel Nasser has certainly made a number of inflammatory speeches against us and his Government have continually attempted subversion in Jordan and other Arab States; he has persistently threatened the State of Israel and made it plain from time to time that it is his purpose and intention to destroy Israel if he possibly can. That, if ever there was one, is a clear enough notice of aggression to come.
The fact is that this episode must be recognised as part of the struggle for the mastery of the Middle East. That is something which I do not feel that we can ignore. One may ask, "Why does it involve the rest of the Middle East?" It is because of the prestige issues which are involved here. I said something about prestige when I spoke in the Middle East debate some months ago, and I must refer to it now, because prestige has quite considerable effects. If Colonel Nasser's prestige is put up sufficiently and ours is put down sufficiently, the effects of that in that part of the world will be that our 1613 friends desert us because they think we are lost, and go over to Egypt.
I have no doubt myself that the reason why Colonel Nasser acted in the way that he did, aggressively, brusquely, suddenly, was precisely because he wanted to raise his prestige in the rest of the Middle East. He wanted to show the rest of the Arab world—"See what I can do." He wanted to challenge the West and to win. He wanted to assert his strength. He wanted to make a big impression. Quiet negotiation, discussion around a table about nationalising the Company would not produce this effect.
It is all very familiar. It is exactly the same that we encountered from Mussolini and Hitler in those years before the war. We must not underestimate the danger of the effect which this may have on the other Arab States. Indeed, I would venture to say that this is probably the most important immediate effect that it may have, and I am thinking particularly of Iraq, whose King is, I think, still a visitor in this country, and which is, of course, an ally of this country. I am thinking of Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
It has been said in many quarters that this may lead other Arab States to nationalise the oil concerns. I personally do not regard that as the major danger. As far as we are concerned, we are getting our oil chiefly from Persia and Kuwait. I do not think that there is much danger of action in Persia, and, as for Kuwait, it seems to me that, equally, an arbitrary act by the Sheikh is not a thing that we have seriously to worry about.
The danger is much more of a political kind. The danger is that a Government which is friendly to us in Iraq, and can be relied on to a very large extent to exercise restraint in the Middle East, may well be replaced by a Government of a very different complexion. I also think that in the long run this action must involve a greatly increased threat to Israel; and I must again remind hon. Members that we are pledged under the Tripartite Declaration to go to the assistance of whichever State is attacked—Israel or her Arab neighbours.
It seems to me, summing up the position, that this is really where we stand. Colonel Nasser wanted to get a loan for the Aswan Dam. Many of us have sympathy—indeed, I would go much further: I think that all of us would 1614 wish to see economic development in Egypt and energetic steps taken to raise the appallingly low standard of living in that part of the world. For what it is worth, we are told—and I am bound to say that I think there is force in this—that Colonel Nasser has pledged the cotton exports of his country to pay for arms, that because he has done that he is in great financial difficulties, and, without going into the merits of the handling of the question the loan for the dam was rejected and turned down on those grounds.
I do not think I can have much sympathy with a man who, however much one may want to help his country, as we do, spends far more than he can afford on arms which, admittedly, are for aggressive war, and then, when he is told that because of the economic situation he cannot have a loan, says to the rest of the world, "I am seizing the Canal and I am going to make you pay for the dam in that way." I am satisfied, for these reasons, that if the Western democracies and, indeed, other countries in the world, had simply accepted this and done nothing about it, highly dangerous consequences would have followed.
I turn now to consider what kind of action should be taken. I emphasize again what I have said in other speeches, namely, that this is not our affair alone. It would be ridiculous to treat ourselves as though we were the only Power involved. It is essentially a matter for all the maritime powers of the world, and we must act in concert with other nations. I warmly welcomed at the time the action of the Government in inviting the French and American Governments to discuss the matter. I mention in passing, that the United States herself depends for about 15 per cent. of her imports of oil upon the Suez Canal. All Europe is involved in this, involved in the Middle East as a whole, and involved in the Canal. India and South-East Asia are equally heavily concerned.
There has been much talk in the Press about a conference, and I myself hope that that is what these talks are going to produce. The first step is to call a conference of the nations principally concerned. The signatories of the 1888 Convention form one possible group of nations concerned. The list does, in 1615 some respects, seem to be a little out of date, including, for instance, Austria-Hungary; but, as a basis, it is a good start. I would say, at any rate, in the light of comment in the newspapers, that in my opinion it would be the most foolish step not to invite Soviet Russia to take part in this conference.
After the Prime Minister's talks with the Russian leaders and his obvious attempts to improve relations with them, I should be surprised indeed if he were to be party to a decision to exclude them from such an important conference. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that Russia herself, in 1946, declared that in her opinion the Suez Canal necessitated an international control with the participation of the Powers most concerned. That is, I think, a statement of which the Russians might perhaps be reminded.
I should like any control commission which may be set up as a result of this conference to be a United Nations agency. I am myself sure that, from the point of view of world peace and development, it is far better that it should be done under the United Nations than in some independent way. The first thing is to get the conference and prepare a plan for international control. I would say, too, in case there is any doubt about the matter, that it would, of course, be obvious common sense to invite Egypt to this conference as an ultimate signatory of the 1888 Convention.
There remains the question of what other steps can be taken. In the circumstance, and until we have, as I hope we shall have, a settlement, the economic measures taken by the Government are fully justified. I would just add one other point about them. The Prime Minister has told us—and it has been confirmed today—that all shipments of arms or war material from this country to Egypt have been suspended. But there is, of course, the possibility that arms may be going from this country to other States unfriendly to us in that part of the world. Indeed, I am told that at this moment a ship is being loaded at Liverpool with arms for the Lebanon. I would ask the Prime Minister to consider seriously whether Syria and the Lebanon at any rate, had better be covered by the same arms embargo.
1616 Another step which I think should be taken, and ought seriously to be considered, is to investigate what routes alternative to the Canal may be available. Here, I make a specific suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman. There has been talk of constructing a canal from the Gulf of Aqaba to Haifa. The objection has been put—I think a fairly strong objecttion—that this will take a very long time and involve very heavy capital expenditure. But there is something else which could be done along that line. It would be possible, I believe, to lay a pipeline from Aqaba to Haifa, the distance being about 250 miles, and I am told that this would take a matter of months, not years, to complete.
I should have thought that that might have been well worth considering and might be a very helpful move in all sorts of ways at the present time. The Government should, I think, also consider seriously giving assistance to ship owners to encourage them to build larger tankers which can go round the Cape. Further, though I do not want to make a great deal of this, and I am well aware of the difficulties, I do feel that the Government must once again give serious consideration to the question of arms for Israel.
Last of all, I come to a matter which cannot be ignored at this moment just before the Recess. There has been much talk in the Press about the use of force in these circumstances. First, I would say that we need to be very careful what we say on this subject. It is unwise to discuss hypothetical situations in present conditions. Obviously, there are circumstances in which we might be compelled to use force, in self-defence or as part of some collective defence measures. I do not myself object to the precautionary steps announced by the Prime Minister today; I think that any Government would have to do that, as we had to do it during the Persian crisis.
I must, however, remind the House that we are members of the United Nations, that we are signatories to the United Nations Charter, and that for many years in British policy we have steadfastly avoided any international action which would be in breach of international law or, indeed, contrary to the public opinion of the world. We must not, therefore, allow ourselves to get into a position where we might be denounced 1617 in the Security Council as aggressors, or where the majority of the Assembly were against us.
If Colonel Nasser has done things which are wrong in the legal sense, then, of course, the right step is to take him to the International Court. Force is justified in certain events. Indeed, if there were anything which he had done which would justify force at the moment, it is, quite frankly, the one thing on which we have never used force, namely, the stopping of the Israeli ships. We have not done that; and it would, I think, be difficult to find—I must say this—in anything else he has done any legal justification for the use of force. What he may do in the future is another matter.
I come, therefore, to this conclusion. I believe that we were right to react sharply to this move. If nothing at all were done, it would have very serious consequences for all of us, especially for the Western Powers. It is important that what we do should be done in the fullest possible co-operation with the other nations affected. We should try to settle this matter peacefully on the lines of an international commission, as has been hinted. While force cannot be excluded, we must be sure that the circumstances justify it and that it is, if used consistent with our belief in, and our pledges to, the Charter of the United Nations and not in conflict with them.
§ 1.9 p.m.
§ Captain Charles Waterhouse (Leicester, South-East)
The House has had the privilege this afternoon of hearing two most remarkable speeches, which will be notable in the annals of this House and may have a lasting effect on the country and, in fact, on the world. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out the British case clearly. He told the House of the steps that he had already taken, which are heartening to all of us. The Leader of the Opposition, in what I think everybody will agree was an extremely courageous speech, has aligned himself with the essentials of the British attitude.
What has been said enables me to curtail a good deal of what I was going to say. There is no point in asking for fresh assurances when the assurances have already been fully given. I should, however, like to emphasise one point, which has been made clearly by both 1618 previous speakers, that this matter is really two-sided. There is the purely legal side and there is the other side, to which my right hon. Friend referred as human rights but which I should refer to as decency between nations.
The Leader of the Opposition said that this Egyptian action was quite different from ordinary nationalisation, and of course it is, for many reasons, but principally because this is an action taken in anger, not for any economic purpose but primarily to enhance the prestige of Nasser and to discredit Britain in the Middle East.
There are many things which are perfectly legal internally but which cannot be tolerated internationally. A quarter of a century ago, I was in the big square in Omdurman. A pedlar with only one arm—his right arm was cut off—was sitting beside the road. I was told that he had had his arm cut off as a punishment by the Khalifa in the 'nineties. Perfectly legally, of course. It was quite the right thing for a robber in those days in the Sudan to have his right arm cut off. I venture to say, however, that if Nasser today passed a decree that all Englishmen in Egypt should have their right arms cut off, we would protest very strongly and even the United States of America might send a carefully worded protest.
We are faced today with a definite challenge, and the Prime Minister and the Government have taken up that challenge in a clear and forthright way. The Prime Minister's reiterated statement that unfettered control of the Canal by Egypt or any other single Power is absolutely against the policy of this country will have complete support in every part of the House. I believe too—this is very important—that that is a condition which Colonel Nasser cannot possibly accept without complete loss of face, and this, in my view, is as it should be. There are times when one wishes to allow a strong and honourable man who has done something unwise to withdraw from that position without any loss of face. There are other times, and this is one of them, when it is necessary to show up a weak, bombastic troublemaker in his true colours before the whole world. It is not enough today that Colonel Nasser should merely withdraw his decree. By making that decree he has killed the very concession under which we have acted and under 1619 which eventually he would have come into possession of the assets of the Suez Canal.
The Prime Minister has made it very clear that there must no longer be any term of years and that for all time Britain will not tolerate the unfettered control of the Canal by any one country. That includes Egypt. How is that to be done? The Leader of the Opposition suggested one or two ways, one of which is an international conference. It is not for me or for anybody on the back benches to suggest, in detail, ways to Her Majesty's Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] Because we do not have the knowledge with which to do so. We can merely indicate certain thoughts.
One of the thoughts that I want to put forward is what was done by America in Panama. On either side of that waterway, America set aside a strip which was divorced from the territory of Colombia. I do not suggest that Britain or any single country should do that, but I do suggest for consideration that a strip on either side of the Suez Canal should be declared for all time to be extra-territorial to Egypt. If as a result there has to be some movement of population from that strip, although only the centres of Port Said, Port Suez and Ismailia are affected, it should be accomplished without too great inconvenience and in a reasonable time.
There is one other important point I want to raise. Colonel Nasser has asked for trouble in a big way, and an opportunity arises over this request of his for trouble to raise the important and new issue of the legal right of Egypt to be in the Sinai Peninsula. The whole of Egypt's rights in Egypt are based on the Turkish Empire. We gave Egyptian independence based on our having assumed those rights from Turkey. Under the Firman of February, 1841—it was a long time ago but it is the relevant document—a map was laid down with a clear delineation of the territory of Egypt. That map was re-published in the Italian-Egyptian Treaty of December, 1925. The Egyptian Government have since taken the precaution, I understand, of having the agreement withdrawn from their sales department in Cairo, but it exists, the map is clearly drawn, and a copy is in my hands.
1620 The boundary there marked is a line running north-east from Port Suez up to the Mediterranean coast just south-west of Gaza. If that line were now taken to be in fact—as, indeed, it is in law—the boundary between Egypt and Sinai it would have one very marked effect, for it would cut Egypt off completely from Israel. The effect of that on the peace of the Middle East is not to be underestimated.
I am satisfied that Colonel Nasser is on the run. He has withdrawn his threat against the liberty of foreign subjects. He has withdrawn his decree under which he would refuse permission to any ship to go through the Canal for which the dues were offered either in sterling or in francs. I am perfectly certain that he will not reimpose that condition, or try to reimpose it, this weekend.
We have got Colonel Nasser on the run and he must be kept on the run. He has hoodwinked us several times, and the consequence has not been a happy one. We are fortunate that he has been brought to book in this way, because we might easily have had this major quarrel under much worse conditions.
There are two other actions which he might have taken and undoubtedly would take if he got his way with this one. One is that he would take control of what remains of the base, on the ground that it infringed the national rights of Egypt. The other, which is, by far the most important, is that by some pretext or other he would go into the Sudan. He would get some group or small party in the Sudan to ask for his protection or help, and he would find that an excuse for going into the Sudan. It would be extremely difficult for us then to get any international support to stay him.
In my view, it is certain that Colonel Nasser's credit in Egypt must be waning today. I am positive that, as a result of this trouble, we must so play our cards that the baneful influence of Colonel Nasser disappears from the Middle East. With his plea of standing for Arab nationhood, he is in fact building up an empire for himself, or at any rate, endeavouring to do so. We have now got him on the run, and he must be kept on the run, for if we do not do so, or if we give way now at all, we shall be in for trouble far greater than that which we have faced in the past.
§ 1.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
May I say, first of all, that we understand the limited nature of the statement made by the Prime Minister this morning, but may I also add my congratulations and thanks to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition for his speech? I find myself in almost complete agreement with everything he said. Quite obviously, he and I seem to have posed to ourselves the same questions in almost the same form. Firstly, what is the position of the Suez Canal Company? Secondly, what was the purpose and what is to be the effect of the act perpetrated by Colonel Nasser? Thirdly, what steps should be taken? Fourthly, what should be the ultimate objective?
With regard to the first question, the canal and the Canal Company are unique. This is not a case of an ordinary company holding ordinary property, nor can this therefore be regarded as a perfectly legal sovereign act by a Government in respect of property, which is undoubtedly their own or within their own territory, and which in no way affects other Governments or anybody else. Right from the outset, the canal has been regarded as an international matter. When the matter was first mooted, of course, Egypt had practically no say in it at all, because the canal was under the suzerainty of Turkey. From the moment that it was first put forward it was a matter of great international concern, because everyone realised that the whole position in the Middle East, and not only the Middle East but communications between Europe and Asia, would be affected by the canal, its ownership and use.
That being so, right from the very beginning of the negotiations, all countries, certainly all maritime countries, and particularly two of them, Britain and France, have been concerned about the making and protection of the canal, its extension and its use. Gradually, that became the concern of all the maritime countries. It was followed, as we know, in 1888 by nine of the countries agreeing to the Convention that was then made providing that this canal should be kept open, both in times of war and peace, for all shipping of whatever kind, whether war vessels or ordinary merchant vessels.
Who can therefore say that this is an ordinary property, held by an ordinary company in the ordinary way? Of course 1622 it is not. Therefore, one cannot regard it in the same way as it is suggested one might regard the nationalisation of the railways or anything else in this country. This was a matter of international concern throughout, and it still remains a matter of international concern.
Secondly, one poses the question what was the purpose and what would be the effect of the act perpetrated by Colonel Nasser. Was it his purpose to improve the canal and keep it open to protect the interests of all the maritime countries? Of course, it was not. His declared object is to use the revenues of the canal, not for the purposes of the canal, but for entirely different purposes. Perfectly clearly, that was his object. His object was to do as much damage, particularly to ourselves and indeed to other Western nations, as he possibly could. It was his aim to flout us in the view of the world, and particularly in the view of the Arab countries. If he is allowed to get away with it, his position will be all the greater and strengthened amongst them. Of course it will. This was not an act done to improve maritime relations or to improve the canal. Of course it was not.
The third question, therefore, is what steps should be taken. First of all, may I say that one agrees with what the Prime Minister has already done? These steps had to be taken, and any Government would have had to take these precautionary measures, but I would add to what the Leader of the Opposition has already said, namely, that one should proceed with caution in this matter. We hold a unique position in the world in our respect for the rule of law, and we, above everybody else, have insisted upon the value of international agreements and international associations.
One of the main reasons why this country went to war on 4th August, 1914, was its determination to preserve the sanctity of international agreements. That being so, we, above everybody, owe to the rest of the world a duty to respect law as much as it is possible for us to respect it and to use the ordinary international methods of settling any disputes.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I am much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. He has cited the case of the 1914 war, and I think he is on surer ground there, but he did not mention the 1939 1623 war, in which we went to war, not in defence of any international agreements, because such international agreements had been repeatedly invaded by Hitler, but only when our own position, together with that of our allies throughout the world, was placed in a state of jeopardy. In other words, it was not a legalistic necessity, but a political necessity.
§ Mr. Davies
I quite agree with the noble Lord, but I thought it was quite enough to mention the 1914 war, because in that case there was a distinct breach of a treaty into which Germany had solemnly entered with other nations to preserve the neutrality of Belgium. That was the matter which had a very great influence on the Members of the Government of that day. However, I do not want to be drawn away from my argument. That only emphasises the position we hold in the world, in which we are expected always to respect the rule of law. I am sure that is the desire of Her Majesty's Government today, and I am equally sure that they will not take any steps which might be called aggressive, but only such steps as they possibly can take to bring this matter to a successful conclusion.
Finally, there is one other question—what should be the ultimate position of the canal? I think we are all agreed that it cannot be left to any one nation, and certainly not under the control of the Egyptian Government, with the record they already have in the flouting of the agreement made in the Convention of 1888, and the flouting of their own Agreement with us in 1954, which repeated the obligations laid down in that of 1888. Therefore, it cannot possibly be left in that way. Nor can it be left to any one country or any particular set of countries.
This is a matter which certainly should come under the control of the United Nations. It is quite possible, with the United Nations, to form a body which can administer and control this canal, so that it is not under the control of one Power and not in the interests of any particular country, even maritime countries, but so that the interests of all the world will be protected, and this international highway will be preserved for the trade of the whole world.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
This has been a rather surprising debate so far. There has been an extraordinary degree of agreement between the main speakers on both sides of the House, and it has taken a rather unexpected line. I do not want to make too much of one note of criticism, but I think that although the past policy of the Government in the middle East can by no means be said to excuse the behaviour of Egypt it can do something to explain it. I think it is necessary to say a word or two about the terrible lack of policy from which this country has suffered in the Middle East for at least the last three years.
I believe Colonel Nasser and, indeed, the Arab world as a whole have some justification for being totally perplexed about what the real attitude of this country is towards them and their aspirations, because our policy has somersaulted at least twice a year and in the last year four times. The Government started by opposing the scuttle from Suez. Then they made the Suez Pact and appeared to be launched on a policy of friendly relations with the new Egyptian Government. They then made the Bagdad Pact, in the full knowledge, one hopes, that nothing would be more calculated to destroy any hope of good relations with the new Egyptian Government.
When the Bagdad Pact was followed by the Egyptian arms deal with Czechoslovakia the Government suddenly somersaulted back again, and, in the Prime Minister's Guildhall speech, served notice on Colonel Nasser that if he wished for good relations with Britain he should flirt with Britain's enemies. Following this attempt to curry favour in the Guildhall speech, the Prime Minister overrode the advice of his own civil servants and suddenly jumped in on the Aswan Dam and agreed to offer Egypt all the help she required from Britain.
Within a week of that he suddenly upset the apple cart again by trying to force Jordan into the Bagdad Pact, an act he must have known, if he was well advised, was calculated more than anything else to enrage Egypt against Britain and all her policies. Then, again, he sends General Robertson as a sort of scapegoat to attend the funeral of the British base at Suez. Then the Foreign 1625 Secretary came to the House last week to say that Egypt was behaving much better and could hope for friendly consideration from us in consequence, and his next words were to announce, without so much as a blush, that we were withholding the offer of aid for the Aswan Dam, which had been confirmed by the International Bank only a fortnight earlier.
I do not think that this occasion should be allowed to pass without some reference to the total confusion of British Middle Eastern policy to date, because so long as this Government's policy remains so confused we cannot expect to have serious consideration from any Middle Eastern Power. I think that the reason for this confusion is obvious enough. It is that we have not had a Foreign Secretary for some time. We have a part-time diplomatist in 10, Downing Street, but nobody across the road whatever.
§ Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
Does the hon. Gentleman lay no blame for the confusion of Western policy in the Middle East upon the United States? If we had had a joint policy none of this would have happened.
§ Mr. Healey
Certainly I do, but one thing for which I blame the Government is that when the Cyprus problem gave us the first opportunity we had had for a long time to interest the United States in the problems of the Middle East, the Government deliberately turned the cold shoulder to the American approaches on the issue. This Government have done far less than they should have done to try to achieve a common policy in the Middle East.
However, this is past history. I find myself, oddly, in agreement with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Water-house) in saying that the seizure of the Suez Canal Company has suddenly brought everything to a head. It does at least now give us an opportunity of making a common line, and, I hope, of sticking to it.
What sort of line should it be? There has been in the Press and in speeches outside this House the impression given to the public that an enormous section of the Conservative Party is in favour of unilateral military action by Britain, to 1626 try to bring back the nineteenth century. I was glad to notice that even the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Leicester, South-East did not go quite as far as that. I would congratulate the Prime Minister on standing up to the "dinosaurs" and "Teddy boys" on his own benches and making it quite clear that the solution of this issue which we are trying to achieve is an international solution by consent, by agreement with all the countries concerned, and not a national solution imposed by force of arms in direct contradiction of all the moral and legal obligations to which the Government are subject.
If we give up the idea of imposing a solution by force, a purely British solution, what alternative is there? I think it has become very clear from both the Prime Minister's speech and the speech of the Leader of the Opposition that the real problem raised by the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company is not the question of the ownership of the Company, but the question of transit through the canal. The question of nationalisation in itself plays a very, very minor rôle in all this.
I think there is no doubt that this House, and, indeed, world opinion outside Britain, would fully support forceful action by this country, in conjunction with its Allies or even alone, if Colonel Nasser were to try to interfere with transit through the Canal by force, and I think this should be made quite clear. On the other hand, Colonel Nasser has said he has no intention of doing this, and I think that, provided we make the necessary military preparations, which, apparently, is being done, there is little reason to doubt his word on this. The real threat to transit through the canal—
§ Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)
Would not Colonel Nasser's position be a lot stronger if he had not flouted the 1888 Convention by denying transit to Israeli ships? That is the point.
§ Mr. Healey
Of course it would be much stronger, and our position would be much stronger if we had taken some action about that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) said when opening the debate for the Opposition.
There are three ways in which transit through the canal is threatened by this 1627 new Egyptian move, even if the Egyptians take no deliberate action by force to interfere with it. The first one, of which little so far has been said, is the possibility that Colonel Nasser may raise the tolls. I do not myself believe that a big increase in the tolls in itself would be likely to interfere very much with transit. I worked out the figures recently, and I came to the conclusion—and I should be glad if the Government would confirm or deny it later—that even if the present tolls were increased five times that would add only 1d. a gallon to the cost of petrol in this country.
The tolls are a very minor element in the total transit cost of petrol, and one's suspicion, looking at the figures, is that the Suez Canal Company has, in fact, unlike any other commercial company in the world, been acting exclusively in the interests of its own customers by fixing the tolls as low as possible compatible with paying the maintenance costs. The Canal tolls, unlike all other charges in the world, have been steadily reduced in the last twenty years.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
I should be interested if the hon. Member could show briefly how he has worked out his calculations that this would mean 1d. a gallon on oil. I worked it out and I calculate that if the tolls were doubled it would mean about 1d. a gallon.
§ Mr. Healey
I have not the figures with me, and if I had it would take far too long to work out the sums in public.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Lord John Hope)
Does the hon. Member mean oil or petrol?
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I agree that this is subsidiary to the argument, but does not the hon. Member agree that there is the question of availability of tankers?
§ Mr. Healey
That is another point. If the tolls were raised four times it would be economically just as cheap to send tankers round the Cape, but as we have not enough tankers to bring the oil we need round the Cape we are compelled to pay the toll. But, on the toll issue, the British Government and other Governments concerned have sufficient means of 1628 economic counter-measure on Egypt to avoid being completely massacred in that respect.
Much more serious is the question of maintenance costs. It is doubtful whether the Canal can be effectively maintained unless there is at least the present proportion of foreigners responsible for maintenance. Even the increase in the number of Egyptian pilots recently has involved at real risk to efficient transit through the Canal.
The overwhelming issue, however, which the Prime Minister has rightly emphasised, is the question of development. Traffic through the Canal has increased by 7 per cent. a year since the war. Oil traffic is thirteen times greater than it was before the war and twice as great as it was in 1948. Last year, 70 million tons of oil passed through the Canal and that is expected to rise to 100 million tons in a few years' time. That is the total capacity of the Canal as it is at present, yet by 1970 Western Europe may be requiring 300 million tons of crude oil through the Canal. Unless there is a tremendous investment and perhaps the building of an entirely new channel across the isthmus very shortly, the whole of Western Europe will find its industry gradually throttled by inability to move oil from its source in the Middle East to the factories gasping for it in Western Europe and Britain.
We can blame the Government for failing to do anything about this before now, because this is a problem which existed just as much before Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal Company. In fact, nearly all the problems, as the Prime Minister made extremely clear, are problems which would have existed and perhaps would have been even worse if Nasser had been sensible enough to allow twelve years to pass and had then taken the Company over, lock, stock and barrel, according to due process of the law.
Those who fear that his action may vastly increase Colonel Nasser's prestige in the Middle East may find that their fears are exaggerated. It is becoming increasingly clear in this discussion that Nasser's action last week is bringing international control into the Middle East in a way which would have been absolutely inconceivable if he had not done this 1629 And as long as we stick to an international formula for dealing with the problem we have not only a good chance of solving it, but of doing so without adding one inch to Nasser's stature in the Middle East.
§ Mr. R. Brooman-White (Rutherglen)
I agree with very much of what the hon. Member has been saying, and particularly with his last point, that all this may make international control easier, but I hope that in developing the point further he will not keep reiterating that the present situation calls for international control and, at the same time, castigating the Government because in past years it has not been possible to get effective international co-operation in that area. That does not mean that the Government have no foreign policy in that area and have not tried.
§ Mr. Healey
I hope that the hon. Member can provide some evidence that the Government made a serious attempt to deal internationally with this problem of the Canal. I am not referring to defence in the Middle East, where the Government certainly tried up to the Cyprus problem. On the whole question of oil, and particularly the transport of oil, there has been a complete vacuum in Government policy since the war.
§ Mr. Healey
I believe that the only international framework in which a system can be worked out is the United Nations. This is not a problem even of the maritime nations. It is the problem of all countries which depend on products carried south to north or north to south through the Canal and not simply of the countries which own the ships that carry the products. The whole of Western Europe, Western Germany and the whole of Asia depend on traffic through the Canal, and if the desires of my hon. and right hon. Friends are carried out in years to come, and there is a great increase in Western aid to the undeveloped areas of Asia, traffic in dry goods through the Canal is likely to increase perhaps at the same sort of rate as traffic in oil has been increasing since the war.
We must get the U.S.S.R. committed up to the hilt in any discussions that go on. One thing that we ought to have learned from events in the last 12 months is that 1630 if the Russians want to be nasty in the Middle East they can be very nasty indeed, at little expense to themselves, and there is little that we can do about it. If we are prepared to bring them in, it will undoubtedly increase the difficulties of negotiation, but we shall have some assurance that any framework finally worked out will stand the test of experience and of time.
Finally, I think that the immediate reaction in this country to the seizure of the Company was very dangerous indeed. All the tremendous shouting and screaming in the Press about the insult to our national prestige and the possible use of force against the Egyptian Government have only raised the stakes without in any way making for a solution of the problem. We want to save face on this issue and so do the Egyptians, and we can do so only by taking things calmly and peacefully and saying that we are prepared to use force where it is justified and to pursue any other means of safeguarding our interests where other means are proper.
Let us not make a sort of Chauvinistic hullabaloo which only encourages other countries to twist the lion's tail. There is no pastime more attractive than twisting the lion's tail if one knows that it will make him roar and is almost sure that it will not make him bite.
§ 1.49 p.m.
§ Colonel Cyril Banks (Pudsey)
In my first speech in the House, in 1950, I stated my interest in the underfed populations of the world. I said also that if we continued to allow people to starve we could set a date for the next world war. It was only a matter of time.
Since then I have been one of quite a number of people who have given a considerable amount of time to endeavouring to find a solution to some of the problems and to trying to encourage people to pour aid into some of the places where it should be poured so that we might have an opportunity of living in peace. I have tried sincerely and hard and I think that all hon. Members can appreciate my disappointment at the events of the last two weeks.
The fact that one sees everything one has endeavoured to build up crash to the ground, that one sees the newspapers full of the banging of drums, with everyone wanting to go to war to put somebody in 1631 his place—that is the worst thing which can happen as far as this country is concerned. It is the worst thing that can happen for the continuation of a peaceful state of affairs in the world. Therefore, it is time that serious-minded people gave their attention to level-headed viewpoints of the problems that arise, and tried to solve those problems dispassionately.
§ Mr. H. Fraser
May I ask my hon. and gallant Friend a question? Does he consider the action of Colonel Nasser to be level-headed?
§ Colonel Banks
I do not think that the action taken by Colonel Nasser, or the actions taken by this Government have been particularly level-headed on many occasions. We have all made many mistakes.
If, however, a man in charge of a country is put on the spot because we tell him that we will give him something and then withdraw the offer ten days after he has accepted it, then I think we must expect some trouble. We must remember that it was on 9th July when an offer was made in regard to the Aswan Dam. The Egyptian representative in Washington accepted that offer and, within hours of his accepting, he was recalled to be told that it was withdrawn. What do we expect as a reaction to that type of attitude?
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman a question? How much, and for how long, have we given to Egypt and got kicked in the teeth all the time? Does not one reach a point where one can say, "I am not going to give any more", and, if so, is there any reason for submitting to more of it?
§ Colonel Banks
I do not mind that interruption. If the hon. and learned Gentleman has reached the stage in his thinking where he feels that everything we have poured in is as much as we should have done, I would remind him that unless we and the United States are content to pour much more than we have ever done before into that area, we must expect trouble, and we must expect to lose a lot of what we have. A sensible approach is from the point of view that we know that the people are starving, that we know they have had a bad deal, that we know we have taken much out of the 1632 territory, and that we have not poured any profits back; and that it is time that we did.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Warrington)
Before my hon. and learned Friend asks what we have given to Egypt, I would ask him to go there and examine the social conditions of Egypt, and then perhaps he would not be so proud of what we have done there.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
Order, order. Many hon. Members wish to take part in this debate, so I hope it will not be conducted by interventions.
§ Colonel Banks
Since I have undertaken the job that I have, I have been acceptable both to the Israeli Government and to the Egyptian Government. In the process I have actually carried, or been responsible for carrying, two sets of peace terms in an effort to establish peaceful relations on the border between the two countries. I am not pro-Israel, I am not pro-Egyptian, I am pro-peace. It is time that we started thinking in that way.
In the course of the last few years I have written reams of correspondence on what I think ought to be done. I say quite frankly from these benches that I am bitterly disappointed with the attitude of the Foreign Office towards the work that is done by people in this country. I am disappointed that they do not accept the advice available to them, not only from within this House but from many other people outside this House, who have lived for many years in the territory and have never been inside the Foreign Office. That advice is open to those in the Foreign Office if they want it, and I think that they should take it.
Everybody knows that I am very disappointed. The correspondence is there. Everybody considers, and has considered for some time, that I have taken a very gloomy view of the Middle East situation. I do take a gloomy view of it, and unless we do something other than vaccilate in our policy, we are going to be in very, very desperate straits in the Middle East. As far as the Canal Zone is concerned, and the Canal itself, let me make my position clear. I do not think that the Canal should be controlled by one country. I do not think that Egypt or the Egyptian Government should run the 1633 Canal. I think it must be an international waterway.
To that extent, I support the Prime Minister's earlier statement. But I am disappointed that the Prime Minister has not been able to get a little closer to the subject than he has done in his speech today. I deplore very much that this House is going into Recess with no knowledge of the position that will obtain tomorrow morning, and what will happen as a result of it. I hope, therefore, that it will be possible to plead with my right hon. Friend to recall the House if we start to use the Armed Forces that we are at present amassing.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Mr. S. N. Evans (Wednesbury)
There seems to be a basic unity in the House in its approach to this problem. I think that the growing claims of Nasser to be both Pope and Caesar to the entire Arab world is the poison in Middle Eastern affairs, and that this Suez issue is a test of Western diplomatic and military solidarity.
It would ill become those whose action has largely precipitated this situation now to adopt the rôle of Pontius Pilate. I have much sympathy with those who complain of the manner in which this immediate crisis has been brought about, and I, too, want to ask the question: what happened between 9th July and 19th July to warrant the precipitate withdrawal of the promise to help build the Aswan Dam?
It is important that we should get that point established because, as I said in the Trinidad oil debate, the present dangerously disordered state of the Middle East is almost wholly due to a failure of Anglo-American co-operation. On 9th July Mr. Black, the President of the American-dominated World Bank, told Nasser that he could have 200 million dollars for his Aswan Dam. On 19th July, Mr. Dulles told Nasser that he could not have a sou.
I want to know whether the announcement on 19th July was a considered, unanimous Anglo-American policy decision, arrived at after a close appraisal of the probable consequences. After all, we were dealing with an authoritarian régime, and whatever may be said about Nasser's record in Egypt in the last four years—and I think it will bear examination—that régime has done a good deal 1634 for Egypt, and that should be freely acknowledged. Nevertheless, it is an authoritarian régime and for the last three decades we have had much experience of the violent reaction of authoritarian régimes when their prestige is threatened. Therefore we would like to be told whether the announcement on 19th July that the offer made only ten days earlier must now be considered null and void—
§ Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)
Would the hon. Gentleman allow me to ask a question?
§ Mr. Longden
For my information, and to get the record straight, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether I am right in saying that the Black offer of 9th July was made conditional upon the American Government agreeing to contribute too? It was not a definite offer on 9th July.
§ Mr. Evans
Of course, that has always been the position. The American Government had promised to make a grant of 56 million dollars, if my memory serves me correctly, and we had promised to make a grant of 14 million dollars. The loan of 200 million dollars had been negotiated from the World Bank, and this was merely the confirmation. Mr. Black having told him in writing that he was to get 200 million dollars, Nasser was entitled to think that there had been no change in the previously announced promises of the American and British Governments to provide the 70 million dollars.
To some extent, therefore, I must say that I was not completely surprised at Nasser's violent reaction. Anyone who knows something about the nature of authoritarian régimes—and surely we all do at this stage—could have expected that there would be violent reaction and consequences which would have to be faced. One of the things which worries me is that there seem to have been no discussions at all about what the probable consequences would be, with the result that when Nasser seized the Canal and announced his intention to nationalise the 1635 Company, we had the spectacle of Mr. Murphy hurrying across the Atlantic to consult about a situation which anybody could have foreseen, having regard to the nature of the régime.
One thing this makes clear—perhaps the most important aspect of all. While the Anglo-American partnership endures, it certainly does not prosper. Unless I am greatly in error, we were dragged along like a tin can tied to a dog's tail, following the decision of 19th July. I agree that it would have been very difficult, in the light of all the circumstances, for the Government to do other than they did, but I think that this debate presents us with an opportunity to ask our American friends where they are going. There seems to be a dual standard of values at work. Our American friends lose no sleep about their own continued occupation of Okinawa, but the sight of the British Army on the Suez lay like a ton of bricks on the American conscience. With them backing Nasser, the British had to go. The Americans saw nothing wrong in the occupation of half Europe by the Soviet Army, but when it came to Japan, no Russian soldier was allowed even a toe-hold.
It is this dual standard of values which characterises American diplomacy which is so frightening, and it seems to me that we are getting it again in the prolonged negotiations which are now taking place. Having sown the wind by the announcement of 19th July, they seem to me now to be seeking to escape the whirlwind by assuming the rôle of Pontius Pilate. This is an ignoble attitude on the part of a very great nation, with whom we are associated in a crusade against totalitarianism which it seems to take even more seriously than I do. I therefore think that this moment is a test most of all of Western solidarity and that its significance is not so much the future of the Canal, although I agreed that that is important. The most important issue of all is the issue of Western diplomatic, political and military solidarity.
The history in the Middle East of the last ten years is one of the constant undermining of British interests, authority and prestige by our American friends in that part of the world. The prevailing philosophy seems to be, "If we can get the British out, we go in, and afterwards a 1636 vigorous waving of dollar bills will provide a foreign policy in itself."
I should have thought that this latest event might well cause our American friends to think again, because unless we can hammer out a Middle Eastern policy designed to achieve realisable goals and with a full recognition of each other's interest, I fear that the day is not far distant when neither of us will have any interest in that area.
Sometimes I think that we too have our share of the blame for this failure of Anglo-American co-operation. It is nothing new for those who come down in the world to look down their noses at those who have taken their place, and I sometimes feel that the Foreign Office may suffer a little from this age-old failing of mankind.
I am not one of those who think in terms of an American bus with a British driver, American strength and British diplomacy. That is not how power works, and a firm grasp of the simple essentials of power is the first necessity for any practising politician. Equally, I accept that we are a junior partner in the Anglo-American partnership. But even junior partners have their rights. I am therefore bound to say that our friends seem extraordinarily near-sighted in relation to the rights of what, in the last resort, is their only firm and dependable ally.
§ 2.7 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) has made an excellent speech, as he usually does. In his reference to Anglo-American relations at the present time, he has created an occasion on which I can naturally follow him, because I want to devote a few of the remarks which I shall inflict on the House this afternoon to that theme.
I wonder whether Mr. Foster Dulles, before he set out across the Atlantic in his aeroplane, studied the history of the United States at the time that the Panama Canal was opened. If not, I should like to suggest some reading to him for the return journey. It is from a volume called the Annual Register of 1903. I hope that in reading it the House will not think that I am following the example of that Archbishop of Canterbury who read heavily from the 1637 Salic Law to encourage Henry V to prosecute his wars with France. This is not the Salic Law, but American history.
As I read this, I should like the House to think of Colombia in terms of Egypt, Panama in terms of the Suez Canal, and the United States in terms of ourselves and France. The Register says:In September the Colombian Congress refused to ratify the Hay-Herran treaty negotiated in Washington, by which the United States was to be permitted to construct a canal through the Isthmus of Panama to link the Atlantic with the Pacific, … The Bogota Government had been warned that failure to ratify the treaty would be followed by a revolution in the State of Panama, which expected to profit materially by the canal. The Washington Government was also not unaware of the impending revolution. On November 3, Panama declared its independence of Colombia, and its existence as a sovereign State under the name of the Republic of Panama. A force of Colombian troops, some 500 in all, were at both ends of the isthmus in the principal cities of Colon and Panama. A small American gun boat, the Nashville, was in the harbour of Colon.I am sorry for hon. Members opposite, but it was a gunboat.The commander of the Nashville landed a detachment of marines for the ostensible purpose of protecting the property of the railway company and keeping transit open across the isthmus, a duty devolving upon the United States under the stipulations of the treaty of 1846 with New Granada, the predecessor of Colombia. The commander of the Nashville made it known that in case the Colombian troops attacked the forces of the Provisional Government of Panama he should come to the assistance of Panama; he also announced his determination to maintain uninterrupted the railway communication across the isthmus; and, to prevent any interference with the proper running of trains, the railway could not be used for the conveyance of troops, nor would fighting be permitted along its route, or in the terminal cities of Panama and Colon. In other words, if Colombia wanted to recover its lost territory, and found it necessary to use force, it might fight, but it must not fight at the only places where fighting would be of the least material advantage.These were bold words of the Nashville's commander, as at that time he could not put more than 40 men on shore, the Panama Government had neither troops nor arms, and the Colombian soldiery outnumbered him ten to one. For a couple of days the situation was critical, then heavy American reinforcements arrived on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the isthmus. The revolution was over. The Colombian troops sullenly permitted themselves to be deported without having fired a shot.A provisional junta was constituted to manage the affairs of the new Republic until the election of a President and the adoption 1638 of a Constitution, and three days after the Republic came into being the United States gave it an international status by formally recognising it, and entering into diplomatic relations. Other Governments promptly followed suit, but Great Britain held off until December 22,"—a very suitable day after the American election, which America might note—or until Panama had agreed to assume that portion of the foreign debt of Colombia proportionate to her population.There are other excellent passages in this volume which I commend to hon. Members and to Mr. Dulles, but I will leave the matter at that. The quotation which I have read precedes another saying that this was all part of the Monroe Doctrine and that it formally established the United States in the hegemony of the Western world. Its hegemony has gone a good deal further than that and has now reached across the continents of the world.
The U.S.A. exemplifies and puts info effect the international theme on every possible occasion. The headquarters of the United Nations and the United Nations' Agencies reside in the United States. When it came to post-war action in Korea, the United States acted first and secured diplomatic assistance afterwards, and we ourselves were instant in our readiness to go to her aid and follow her in.
Shame on that country now, shame, I regret to say, on the country which gave my mother birth that she should be behind us by days or even months in our endeavours jointly with the French to do for the Old World what she so successfully has done in the New. I believe that when the United States looks upon the isthmus of Suez in the same way as her history must look upon the isthmus of Panama, when she looks upon the essential international theme of which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke today, supported in splendid words by the Leader of the Opposition, when she puts that in parallel with her action in the world of war in Korea and in the world of peace in the Agencies of the United Nations, she should feel herself compelled to respond and come to our aid with the least possible delay.
What the Prime Minister portrayed today was a grand design of the inter-nationalisation of the Canal for all time. I wonder whether the House realises the distance that we have gone, because much 1639 of the argument which has been used today from both sides of the House affecting the Canal Company itself, the profits, prospective and past, has been surpassed by the words that the Prime Minister himself used the other day. He said—and he reiterated it again today—that Her Majesty's Government were not prepared to allow the unfettered control of the Canal to remain with a single Power.
That means that we have passed the point of no return. It is now not a matter only of keeping the Canal clear. The right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition greatly impressed the House with what he said about the past actions of Egypt, the hegemony which she is trying to establish throughout the Middle East, and the prospective future actions of Egypt if we do not take this step now. It is, therefore, not only a question of keeping the Canal clear, not only a question of forcing Nasser into abandoning the nationalisation, if he were able to go so far, not only a question of what would happen if Nasser were suddenly to abdicate and to take flight by plane to the Soviet Union or anywhere else and of the future actions of the Egyptian Government that he would leave behind. Those words of the Prime Minister overcome all those circumstances and prospects, and lead us to the conclusion that by diplomacy and force if necessary we must establish from now on this great design, this great conception of the internationalisation of the Canal.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse), again taking up the theme of Panama, today spoke very effectively about the provision of a five-mile or ten-mile strip on either side of the Canal. That means territory. Who is to administer it? The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said it should be the United Nations. Some of my hon. Friends would fight shy of that, but I wonder whether there is any other authority which can do it.
If it was not the United Nations, it would have to be a specially selected consortium of Powers, and immense difficulties would be encountered in deciding who had the rights, in these modern circumstances, of administration. If ownership were 1640 decided there is the question of policing. If the area were not policed by the United Nations who would do it? We already have a precedent in the United Nations observers in the Gaza area and on the borders of Israel and the Arab States. Many people may think that that kind of concept is the one that should eventually be provided for the Canal.
The Canal could then be operated by the Suez Canal Company under a concession from the United Nations, and its shares could then be internationalised and suitably dealt with. But the important thing about this grand objective is how to secure it. I say in measured words that I believe that Britain and France, with or without the United States of America, should present an ultimatum to Egypt with a time limit attached. That ultimatum must not await the outcome of the conference, because the analogy with Korea is complete, even though the aggression in Korea was far more formidable and involved the loss of lives. The idea of associating military force with diplomatic action, with the endorsement of the United Nations, was perfected and used on that occasion, and I see no reason why, in these circumstances which vitally affect an international waterway and British and other rights, we should depart from that principle.
§ Mr. William Warbey (Ashfield)
The hon. Gentleman is drawing a parallel between Egypt's action and the action in Korea. Can he find any words in the United Nations Charter which would provide for such action being taken in the case of Egypt as was taken in the case of Korea?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I am not asking for United Nations action at this stage. I am asking that Britain and France, with or without the United States, should act as individual States in close association for the purpose of achieving what will ultimately become a United Nations concept. That ultimatum should be sent now, and the date of its expiry should be governed by military considerations.
It is essential that the diplomatic and military thrusts should go hand in hand. If we merely have a conference and merely assemble the navies, air forces and armies, and hold them ready, waiting 1641 to do we do not know what, until Russia has put forward her ideas, Egypt has put forward hers, and the smaller Powers, perhaps, have been summoned to the conference and have expressed every sort of shade of misgiving, we shall lose this momentous opportunity of doing something of vital concern to us, and we shall waste precious time, during which Colonel Nasser and some of his associates in the Middle East, and possibly in other parts of the world, may begin to present a formidable front against us.
These are the policies and purposes which should be achieved. I think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister believes that something of this order should be done now. If he does act in this way, and acts now, then his name and fortunes will rise to new heights of eminence among his countrymen, and the policies of his country will achieve world renown.
§ 2.24 p.m.
§ Mr. William Warbey (Ashfield)
I share in the reprobation expressed by all hon. Members who have spoken so far at the language, behaviour and manner of Colonel Nasser and his friends, I do not like dictatorships wherever they appear, whether they be in Egypt or Iraq, Guatemala or Czechoslovakia—and I particularly suspect dictatorships which rest upon military juntas, as in the case of Egypt.
At this stage it may be worth while to remind Colonel Nasser and his friends that the sterling balances, out of which they presumably hope to pay compensation to the shareholders in the Canal Company, were built up out of the supplies provided to British troops who defended them from Hitler's aggression during the war, and that if that aggression had succeeded and Nazi power had been established, Nasser and his friends would have got very short shrift if they had not been Quisling puppets under his Government.
Having said that to the potential new Blimps in Egypt, it is worth while saying a few words also to the old Blimps in this House, especially those on the other side of the House who have expressed themselves in the past week in words and actions—and notably in the speech we have just heard from the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinching-brooke). These old Blimps have already, 1642 by their intemperate words and actions in the past week, done incalcuable damage to the good name, prestige and well-being of our people.
That damage has been done, whatever may be the future outcome of events. They have done it because, if the outcome goes the way they want, namely, in the direction of the use of force by this country, it can result only in complete ruin and disaster for our people, and if it does not by the way they want—if, in the end we are compelled by circumstances to pursue courses of moderation, reason and the peaceful adjustment of this dispute—then, as a result of the language and behaviour of those hon. Members opposite, our country's prestige will suffer enormously because, against the background of their language and their demands, the ultimate conduct of this country will appear to be a climb-down.
That is all the more true because the Government, by their silence and their calculated leaks to the Press, as well as by their actions, have appeared to give support to the intemperate language of the hon. Members behind them. They have appeared as though they were yielding to the clamour of the yelping tall behind them.
§ Mr. Warbey
It appears that the tail is wagging the dog, and as the tail is wagging the dog it certainly appears that it is the tail which is doing the yelping and the dog which is giving way to it. Hon. Members opposite should realise that the days of Disraeli, in which some of them still live, are past. They should grow up and get out of that shadow and realise that we live in a different world today.
§ Mr. Warbey
In the world today we cannot behave as Disraeli did, or as the United Nations did, as shown in the very amusing account which the noble Lord read to us—that amusing episode in the history of Imperialism. That is no longer possible in the world in which we live.
People in this country still hold different views on the question whether or not take-over bids are consistent with morality and propriety, but the take-over bid which Disraeli indulged in in 1876 was in character with the behaviour of 1643 great Powers of that time. They sought, by a variety of ways, to secure power over the peoples and resources of other countries. They sought to do it by means of force and economic sanctions, or by the mere use of money power to buy up property and property rights. That was Imperialism. That age is passing. Wherever things of that character are still done in any part of the world they have the taint of the carrion of Imperialism and of the dead meat of the dinosaur.
§ Mr. Brooman-White
Would the hon. Gentleman make it clear that he is applying these epithets to a take-over bid in a country like Tibet, for example?