§ 3.56 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)
I beg to move,That this House supports the policy of Her Majesty's Government as outlined by the Foreign Secretary on 3rd December, which has prevented hostilities in the Middle East from spreading, has resulted in a United Nations Force being introduced into the area, and has created conditions under which progress can be made towards the peaceful settlement of outstanding issues.I want to try to deal with certain matters which have been raised in the House about the past events and, first, with the questions which have been asked about the alleged collusion. I repeat the Answer which I gave to the House on 31st October:Every time any incident has happened on the frontiers of Israel and the Arab States we have been accused of being in collusion with the Israelis about it. That allegation has been broadcast from Radio Cairo every time. It is quite wrong to state that Israel was incited to this action by Her Majesty's Government. There was no prior agreement between us about it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st Oct., 1956; Vol. 558, c. 1573.]
It is true that we were well aware of the possibility of trouble. I would remind hon. Members of what had been happening during the months of September and October, because it is very frequently forgotten. I am not going to read out a list of every incident that took place on the Israel-Jordan frontier, but they had mounted in seriousness until, on 25th September, in an Israeli reprisal raid on Husan, about 39 Jordanians had been killed, and on 10th October, in an Israeli reprisal raid on a police post, 48 Jordanians had been killed. That last reprisal was the the heaviest that had ever been mounted.
These are the two principal incidents. I have a long list with me of occasions from 10th September onwards, when, at one time, the Israelis were condemned by the Armistice Commission and, at other times, the Jordanians were condemned. There had been a steadily mounting state of tension on that frontier up to that last incident in which, as I have said, 48 Jordanians were killed. That, without doubt, had created a very serious situation.
1255 There had been incidents in August on the Israeli-Egyptian frontier and then there had been a period of quiet, but Fedayeen raids began again in October. On 20th October a number of Israeli soldiers had been killed and on 24th and 28th October further raids had taken place.
Two other events occurred during the end of October. On 21st October a general election took place in Jordan, as a result of which a more extreme Parliament had been elected. By "more extreme" I mean one with greater hostility towards Israel. Then, on 24th October, that election had been followed by a move of considerable import for Israel, in the formation of the Syrian-Egyptian-Jordanian joint command under the Egyptian Commander-in-Chief.
It therefore looked at that time as though, after Egypt had been protected by the Russian veto in the Security Council on 13th October, that there would be a resumption of active hostility by Egypt and her associates against Israel. That was the background at that date. Then, on 26th October, we heard from our representative in Tel Aviv—
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I cannot quite follow this. What does the right hon. and learned Gentleman mean by "protected by the Russian veto"? In respect of what?
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South) rose—
§ Mr. Lloyd
In respect of Part II of the Resolution of that date. Part II of the Resolution of that date dealt with the future of the Canal, the 18-Power proposals or the equivalent. Because that Resolution was vetoed at that time it looked less likely that there was going to be an acceptable settlement of the Canal problem, in particular a settlement which would give Israel a right of passage for her ships. That was the matter which affected the Israeli point of view.
On 26th October, we heard from our representative in Tel Aviv—
§ Mr. Noel-Baker rose—
§ Mr. Lloyd
On 26th October, we heard from our representative in Tel Aviv of the Israeli mobilisation. It was not known then whether it was partial or total, and instructions were sent on 27th October to Her Majesty's Ambassador at Tel Aviv to make representations to Israel on the matter. He pointed out that if there were an Israeli attack on Jordan, the United Kingdom would be bound to intervene in accordance with the Anglo-Jordan Treaty. He also urged restraint on Israel in other directions because it was quite obvious that if Israel did attack one of the other Arab countries there was the possibility of Jordan becoming involved and a difficult situation being created for the United Kingdom.
That was quite apart from the risk of general war which would have resulted from any such attack. Those were the facts, that was the extent of our knowledge. There was a critical and deteriorating situation which I believe anyone in possession of the facts would realise was likely to lead to something pretty drastic at any time.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East) rose—1257
§ Mr. Lloyd
I have a somewhat long speech to make and I think we shall get through it more quickly if I am not interrupted so much.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker) raised two questions on Monday. The first dealt with negotiations about the Canal settlement. I have checked my recollection on that matter. The position is that after our talks in New York—by that I mean the private talks with the Secretary-General, the Foreign Ministers of France and Egypt and myself—the Egyptian Foreign Minister stayed on in New York for some days and further discussions took place between him and the Secretary-General. It was on 19th October that the Secretary-General made a tentative suggestion for a meeting in Geneva on 29th October.
We pointed out, in fact I made the point in a public speech in this country on 20th October, that Egypt had been asked, in the Security Council Resolution, promptly to make known their proposals for a settlement. The onus was upon them and, so far as we were concerned, we were ready to meet with a representative of Egypt as soon as Egyptian proposals had been put forward in accordance with Part II of the Anglo-French Resolution before the Security Council. I stated that in answer to the suggestion of the Secretary-General. I think partly because I had said that, and in an endeavour to produce the basis for such a meeting, the Secretary-General on 24th October sent a letter to the Egyptian Foreign Minister, a copy of which is in the records of the United Nations.
That was on 24th October; by 29th October there had been no reply from the Egyptian Foreign Minister to that letter. Therefore, on that date there was no basis for a meeting in Geneva on 29th October.
§ Mr. P. Noel-Baker
I am much obliged to the Foreign Secretary for giving way. Is it not also a fact that Egypt proposed a meeting in Geneva on 29th October, which, obviously, must have been on the basis of the letter from the Secretary-General, as the proposal was made after he had read it?
§ Mr. Lloyd
The point is that we had said quite definitely we would not agree to a meeting until, in accordance with 1258 the Part II of the Security Council Resolution, proposals had been put forward for us to consider. That was the position clearly understood and it was not until 2nd November—in answer to a supplementary question I said 3rd November, but I was wrong—that the Egyptians accepted the Secretary-General's memorandum as a basis for negotiation.
The next matter raised by the right hon. Member related to the cease-fire. The Egyptians, on 2nd November, did accept the Resolution for a cease-fire on the condition that operations were discontinued by the other three countries. On 3rd November, the Israeli Government handed to the Secretary-General an aide memoire containing the text of a declaration about Israel agreeing to an immediate cease-fire provided that a similar answer was forthcoming from Egypt.
It also included some observations on the questions then before the Emergency Special Session. That aide memoire was immediately followed by a letter on 4th November asking for clarification of five questions. The Secretary-General again got into touch with the Egyptian Government, as I understand, and received an answer on 4th November stating that Egypt was ready to bring to a halt all hostile military action in the area by 20.00 hours that night.
On 5th November, in the afternoon, the Secretary-General made a communication to our Permanent Representative stating that the Government of Egypt had, on 4th November, accepted the request for a cease-fire without any attached conditions and that the Government of Israel had handed in a clarification of its first reply to the request by the Secretary-General for a cease-fire, stating that in the light of Egypt's declaration of willingness to accept a cease-fire Israel confirmed its readiness to agree to a cease-fire.
The Secretary-General went on to say that the conditions for a cease-fire seemed, by those two communications, to be satisfied. That matter was considered by the Cabinet here on the morning of 6th November and Sir Pierson Dixon, because of that, handed to the Secretary-General a notification of the intention of Her Majesty's Government to order a cease-fire at midnight that night.
§ Mr. P. Noel-Baker
In other words, what I said the other day was perfectly accurate. Both sides had accepted the cease-fire before we made our landings on 5th November, and, in spite of that, we went on with our offensive until midnight on 6th November.
§ Mr. Lloyd
The right hon. Member should have waited for just a moment.
In the question he put to me last Monday, he left out from the chain of events which he described the communication of 4th November from the Israeli Government which put into doubt the question whether or not they had accepted a cease-fire. They put that into doubt—[Interruption]. There really is no dispute about this among those who are prepared to be fair-minded on this matter. It was in doubt as far as we were concerned, it was obviously in doubt as far as the Secretary-General was concerned, and in consequence of that he made his further communication to us on 5th November.
In my statement last Monday I claimed that certain results had flowed from the action of Her Majesty's Government, that we had stopped the war and prevented it spreading. That was greeted with a certain amount of hilarity by most hon. Members of the Opposition. As I listened, I could not help being reminded of the statement of the Leader of the Opposition on a previous occasion about the premature ending of hostilities. Is it the view of the Opposition that our action did not stop the war spreading through the Middle East? There is silence.
§ Mr. Healey
The right hon. and learned Gentleman used a rather equivocal phrase when he said that we warned the Israelis on 29th October against action in other directions. Can he tell the House whether, at any time after 27th October, we warned the Israelis unequivocally against an attack on Egypt? If we did not, the whole case of the Government falls to the ground.
§ Mr. Lloyd
The hon. Member has, very cleverly, tried to put another question to the question on which I gave way. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I will answer the question. Her Majesty's Ambassador in Tel Aviv warned the Israeli Government to use restraint and warned of the dangers if restraint were not 1260 used. If the hon. Member thinks that that does not cover the question of hostilities against Egypt, he should examine the matter again.
§ Mr. Lloyd
That is very clever, but it is not an answer to my question. It is now quite plain that Her Majesty's Opposition are not prepared to face up to the question which I put, because they know quite well, in their heart of hearts, that what I have stated is the truth.
However, to fortify the conclusion which apparently they have reached, I do not think that I can do better than call in evidence a witness possibly more likely to convince them—the Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Army. He said, on 30th November, in a statement broadcast by Cairo Radio, that Egypt was bound by military agreements with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and the Yemen. In his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Joint Arab Forces he issued instructions on the evening of 29th October to put into effect plans prepared to meet an Israeli attack. In consequence of those instructions, various military movements began. After the Anglo-French communication to Egypt on 30th October, he went on to say, the Egyptian Government decided not to involve the other Arab States in military operations. Orders were issued to commanders of joint forces to avoid taking part in military operations. I believe that that statement proves conclusively the accuracy of our claim that our action prevented the spread of hostilities and is, in fact, its basic justification. It is not easy to say how far the spread of hostilities would have gone, or in what the Middle East and the whole world might ultimately have been involved.
1261 I also claimed, on Monday, that our action had revealed the extent of Soviet penetration into the area. That, again, was received with a certain amount of hilarity by hon. Members opposite. What are the facts about that? We had known of substantial sales to Egypt of Soviet arms. Before the operation they had been reckoned to be of the value of about £150 million.
§ Mr. Lloyd
As a result of the information now in our possession, it appears that Egypt had received 50 I.L. 28s, 100 M.I.G.s, 300 medium and heavy tanks, more than 100 self-propelled guns, 200 armoured personnel carriers, 500 pieces of artillery and a great variety of other military equipment, including rocket launchers, bazookas, plastic mines, small arms, radar, wireless, etc., 2 destroyers, 4 minesweepers, 20 motor torpedo boats and a number of smaller vessels. There was also the probability, or the possibility, that some small submarines were to be provided. It would appear that Egypt was being equipped by the Soviet Union for full-scale military operations.
As far as our deliveries of arms are concerned, they represent, as every hon, Member who knows anything about it recognises, only a trickle. That has been gone into before, and I am quite prepared to go into it again. This was the equipment by the Soviet Union of Egypt for full-scale military operations.
Certain information has been published from Israeli sources since these operations. They state that in Sinai they captured 1,500 military vehicles, more than 60 armoured personnel carriers, more than 250 pieces of artillery, 30 T.34 tanks, a number of self-propelled guns, 200 Czech anti-tank guns, and 7,000 tons of ammunition. This equipment was captured in a campaign which involved about one-third of the Egyptian Army. It takes no account of other Soviet equipment. In particular, we know that the 60 Josef Stalin heavy tanks were held back from the final battle in Sinai.
Another interesting factor is that much of the 7,000 tons of ammunition was for a type of Soviet gun none of which was captured in Sinai.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I should have thought that even the right hon. Gentleman would have drawn the conclusion that the guns were to follow. I agree that the ammunition would have been no use without the guns.
We are told that great quantities of arms and equipment are still scattered throughout the desert. Some of the rifles and machine guns found were of the latest Soviet bloc models and were still packed in the grease in which they arrived.
In addition to these large dumps of ammunition there was a very curious find—over 1 million blankets. The Egyptian Army consisted, before the operation, of about 80,000 men. One wonders what was the purpose of these very large deliveries of equipment of one sort and another.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I have not yet finished.
In our own restricted operations in Port Said, about 30 self-propelled Soviet guns were found, together with a considerable variety of other Soviet equipment. Large numbers of expert technicians had been sent from behind the Iron Curtain to Egypt. We believe that at least 1,000 technicians and instructors had come to Egypt for essential servicing and training. In addition, Egyptians had been sent to Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Soviet Union for technical training.
§ Mr. Stokes
This is very important. Will the Foreign Secretary say whether the amount of arms we discovered in the shape of heavy tanks and armoured vehicles was more than sufficient to arm more than four or five brigades? Does he say that it was more than that?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is a very important matter. Our information is that the amount of equipment found was far more than necessary to equip the Egyptian Army.
The broad outline of much of this was known to us or guessed by us before the operation took place. What has happened as a result of that operation is that the magnitude of the Soviet penetration has been revealed. It had 1263 permeated every branch of the Egyptian armed forces, and, as Egypt is a military dictatorship, that meant that the Communist influence was in a position to have a dominating effect upon events. However right hon. and hon. Members opposite may try to get out of the matter, those are the facts of the situation which have been disclosed by our action.
I also claimed in my statement on Monday that a third result of our intervention had been the action taken by the United Nations. Some sensitivity has been shown to our claim that it was our action which forced the formation of the United Nations Emergency Force. I do not see how anyone can believe that this Force could have been created without our action—[Interruption.]—or without the suggestion put forward by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the House.
I will repeat to the House what I said to the General Assembly of the United Nations, on the Middle East, when I spoke in the debate on Friday week:Over the past few years the United Nations, whether in the Assembly or the Security Council, has completely failed so far as the Middle East is concerned, either to keep the peace or to procure compliance with its own resolutions, or to pave the way for a settlement.I said that in saying that I was not criticising—I was stating the fact. And that is known to right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who were in office before us, at a time when they had responsibility. Nevertheless, that is the record of the United Nations. I do not say that it was the United Nations' fault. We may very well say that it was the fault of member States, or of a conglomeration of member States but, in fact, United Nations progress in those matters had been blocked in that period.
I believe that it is that reason, the failure of the United Nations over those years, which is the basic reason for the events of 29th and 30th October. I believe that a solid advantage which has resulted from this action is the existence in Egypt of this United Nations Force to keep the peace. I believe that it is the desire of the great majority of the countries that this Force should be effective, that it should discharge its functions, and should be an element creating conditions 1264 under which a final settlement may be possible.
I would add only this about the atmosphere of the United Nations as I saw it a fortnight ago. It was disturbing to note the comparative indifference about the situation in Hungary which was displayed by some of the countries which were most ready to condemn us.
I do not propose to say any more to the House today about the clearance arrangements for the Canal, or the basis of negotiations for a long-term settlement, because I dealt with those fully in my statement on Monday.
I want to come now, if I may, to the question of Anglo-American relations. The effect of these events upon Anglo-American relations has been much discussed. I do not think that it is profitable to talk in detail about the past. There have been differences of opinion, and I can assure the House that neither country thinks that it is the only one which believes that it has cause for complaint. There have been differences in the past, and I think it would be idle to attempt to disguise that fact. But I believe that what we now have to consider is the future, and upon what basis we can seek to co-operate in the Middle East.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie) rose—
§ Mr. Lloyd
I am not quite certain of the point of the hon. Lady's intervention. I think that the differences of opinion about action in the Middle East were very well known to many members of the Administration on that side of the Atlantic.
As I say, I do not think it profitable to seek to recriminate—I do not think that that is the right word—to be critical about the past.
What, I think, is much more important, is to see whether we can create an effective basis for working together in the future. I do not believe that an acute 1265 difference necessarily makes it more difficult to associate together in the future. It may do a great deal to clear the air, and make possible closer alliance in the future, but the point is: upon what basis should we seek to co-operate?
In the speech which I made in New York to the English-Speaking Union, on 26th November, I indicated five points as a possible basis for this co-operation in the future. First, the prevention of further hostilities between Israel and the Arab States, and the fullest support of the United Nations Force to that end.
Secondly, the restoration of a permanent system for the Suez Canal, securing the international rights under the 1888 Convention, and in accordance with the six principles unanimously adopted by the Security Council last October.
Thirdly, the procurement of a permanent settlement between Israel and the Arab States which will include a just settlement of the problems of the unfortunate victims of the events of the past eight years—the Arab refugees.
Fourthly, the strengthening of the Bagdad Pact.
Fifthly, the tackling of the economic problems of the area with imagination and foresight so that there may be a steady lifting of the standards of living throughout the area as a whole. That seems to me to be a statement of the objectives upon which co-operation could well be based in the future.
I do not think that a statement reportedly approved personally by the President and by Mr. Dulles, and released by the State Department on the evening of 3rd December, has been adequately noticed in this country, because of the difference in the time of release. That statement, after welcoming the Anglo-French decision announced on Monday, went on to say:The United States has repeatedly said, during this crisis in the Middle East that the United Nations cannot rightfully or prudently stop merely with maintaining peace Under its Charter it is obligated to deal with the basic sources of international friction and conflicts of interest. Only in this way can it attain the Charter's goal of peace with justice. In keeping with this obligation the United States will continue fully to support the measures required to make the United Nations Force adequate and effective for its mission. In carrying out his plan for this purpose, the Secretary-General can count on the unstinting co-operation of the United States.1266As the United Nations Force replaces those of the United Kingdom and France, the clearance of the Canal becomes imperative. Every day of delay in restoring the Canal to normal use is a breach of the 1888 Treaty, and a wrong to the large number of nations throughout the world whose economies depend so heavily on its reliable operation. The United Nations and the interested States should, we believe, promptly direct their attention to the underlying Middle East problems.The United States Government considers it essential that arrangements be worked out without delay to ensure the operation of the Canal in conformity with the six principles approved by the resolution of the Security Council of 13th October, 1956. The United States is equally determined, through the United Nations and in other useful ways, to assist in bringing about a permanent settlement of the other persistent conflicts which have plagued the Middle East over recent years.Repeatedly, we have made clear our willingness to contribute for the purpose of bringing stability and a just peace to this area. The present crisis is a challenge to all nations to work to this end.The House will notice that in the five points which I set forth in my speech to the English-Speaking Union, I mentioned the Bagdad Pact. In addition to the statement that I have just read out, I would remind the House of what the United States Government have said about the Bagdad Pact:The United States reaffirms its support for the collective efforts of those nations"—that is, the Bagdad countries—to maintain their independence. A threat to the territorial integrity or political independence of the members, would be viewed by the United States with the utmost gravity.It is well known that the view of Her Majesty's Government is that it was a step forward when the United States became a member of the Economic Committee. I think that that pronouncement is perhaps rather more important than some hon. Members who laugh at it may think.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)
Would the Secretary of State bear in mind that the Government of Iraq have said that they will not come to the Bagdad Pact if we are there? How does the right hon. and learned Gentleman propose to deal with that situation?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I think that that situation had better be allowed to work itself out. I am disappointed at the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) who, I know, is a very sincere supporter of friendship between us and 1267 the Arab countries and who, I think, will be as anxious as anyone to see that the Bagdad Pact should develop and strengthen. I believe that what the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to is a purely temporary phase.
I have been in close contact with the member Governments of the Bagdad Pact. I believe that this statement of the United States is of major importance, and I think that better service would have been done to the cause of restoring the situation of friendship between the Arab countries and ourselves if the hon. Gentleman had welcomed what I said without pointing out the other matter.
I believe that the Bagdad Pact will grow in strength with our membership, and, as I was going on to say, I hope that the United States will pass on from its membership of the Economic Committee, beyond its declaration to which I have referred today, to full membership of that Pact.
There is another matter, and that is the question of closer association between the countries of Western Europe. There is, I think, another line of development which becomes clear in consequence of what has happened in the Middle East and in consequence of the present situation in the United Nations. That is the need for a more efficient basis for co-operation between the nations of Western Europe. I believe that this can be achieved without impairing either our association with the Commonwealth or our alliance with the United States, and without creating new institutions. I go at the weekend to the meetings of the Western European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation with those considerations very much in mind.
I maintain—it has been my belief throughout and it is still my conviction—that out of this situation certain definite advantages have been achieved. [Laughter.] I really do not think that right hon. and hon. Members opposite do their country a service in seeking to make out that this whole business has been a disastrous failure, as in the words of their Amendment. I believe that what we did was right. I believe that we stopped a war. I believe—and, for once, an extraordinary fact, hon. Members opposite were almost reduced to silence 1268 —that I proved, by my quotation from the Egyptian Commander-in-Chief, that we stopped the war from spreading in the Middle East.
I believe that we have now given this United Nations Force a task of the greatest responsibility. Those who criticise us so vocally and glibly—
§ Mr. Lloyd
—forget what would have been the consequences of inactivity. They forget completely the dangers which are existent in the area. They forget completely the steady deterioration which was taking place. They forget completely the mounting risk of war between Israel and the Arab States. They shut their eyes to all those things. We have shown in this country our will to act in a situation of crisis, and it is now for us all, I suggest, to bend our energies to see that the United Nations grasps this opportunity.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:recognising the disastrous consequences of Her Majesty's Government's policy in the Middle East, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take all possible steps to restore Commonwealth unity, recreate confidence between our allies and ourselves and strengthen the authority of the United Nations as the only way to achieve a lasting settlement in the Middle East.The speech to which we have just listened is the last of a long succession that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has made to the House in the last few months and, if I may be allowed to say so, I congratulate him upon having survived so far. He appears to be in possession of vigorous health, which is obviously not enjoyed by all his colleagues, and he appears also to be exempted from those Freudian lapses which have distinguished the speeches of the Lord Privy Seal, and therefore he has survived so far with complete vigour.
However, I am bound to say that the speech by the right hon. Gentleman today carries the least conviction of all.
§ Mr. Bevan
I have been looking through the various objectives and reasons that the Government have given to the House of Commons for making war on Egypt, and it really is desirable that when a nation makes war upon another nation it should be quite clear why it does so. It should not keep changing the reasons as time goes on. There is, in fact, no correspondence whatsoever between the reasons given today and the reasons set out by the Prime Minister at the beginning. The reasons have changed all the time. I have got a list of them here, and for the sake of the record I propose to read it. I admit that I found some difficulty in organising a speech with any coherence because of the incoherence of the reasons. They are very varied.
On 30th October, the Prime Minister said that the purpose was, first,to seek to separate the combatants";second,to remove the risk to free passage through the Canal.The speech we have heard today is the first speech in which that subject has been dropped. Every other statement made on this matter since the beginning has always contained a reference to the future of the Canal as one of Her Majesty's Government's objectives, in fact, as an object of war, to coerce Egypt. Indeed, that is exactly what hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite believed it was all about. [Interruption.] Hon. Members do not do themselves justice. One does not fire in order merely to have a cease-fire. One would have thought that the cease-fire was consequent upon having fired in the first place. It could have been accomplished without starting. The other objective set out on 30th October wasto reduce the risk … to those voyaging through the Canal."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October, 1956; Vol. 558, c. 1347.]We have heard from the right hon. and learned Gentleman today a statement which I am quite certain all the world will read with astonishment. He has said that when we landed in Port Said there was already every reason to believe that both Egypt and Israel had agreed to cease fire.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Antony Head) indicated dissent.1270
§ Mr. Bevan
The Minister shakes his head. If he will recollect what his right hon. and learned Friend said, it was that there was still a doubt about the Israeli reply. Are we really now telling this country and the world that all these calamitous consequences have been brought down upon us merely because of a doubt? That is what he said.
Surely, there was no need. We had, of course, done the bombing, but our ships were still going through the Mediterranean. We had not arrived at Port Said. The exertions of the United Nations had already gone far enough to be able to secure from Israel and Egypt a promise to cease fire, and all that remained to be cleared up was an ambiguity about the Israeli reply. In these conditions, and against the background of these events, the invasion of Egypt still continued.
In the history of nations, there is no example of such frivolity. When I have looked at this chronicle of events during the last few days, with every desire in the world to understand it, I just have not been able to understand, and do not yet understand, the mentality of the Government. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to deny what I have said, I will give him a chance of doing so. If his words remain as they are now, we are telling the nation and the world that, having decided upon the course, we went on with it despite the fact that the objective we had set ourselves had already been achieved, namely, the separation of the combatants.
As to the objective of removing the risk to free passage through the Canal, I must confess that I have been astonished at this also. We sent an ultimatum to Egypt by which we told her that unless she agreed to our landing in Ismailia, Suez and Port Said, we should make war upon her. We knew very well, did we not, that Nasser could not possibly comply? Did we really believe that Nasser was going to give in at once? Is our information from Egypt so bad that we did not know that an ultimatum of that sort was bound to consolidate his position in Egypt and in the whole Arab world?
We knew at that time, on 29th and 30th October, that long before we could have occupied Port Said, Ismailia and 1271 Suez, Nasser would have been in a position to make his riposte. So wonderfully organised was this expedition—which, apparently, has been a miracle of military genius—that long after we had delivered our ultimatum and bombed Port Said, our ships were still ploughing through the Mediterranean, leaving the enemy still in possession of all the main objectives which we said we wanted.
Did we really believe that Nasser was going to wait for us to arrive? He did what anybody would have thought he would do, and if the Government did not think he would do it, on that account alone they ought to resign. He sank ships in the Canal, the wicked man. What did hon. Gentleman opposite expect him to do? The result is that, in fact, the first objective realised was the opposite of the one we set out to achieve; the Canal was blocked, and it is still blocked.
The only other interpretation of the Government's mind is that they expected, for some reason or other, that their ultimatum would bring about disorder in Egypt and the collapse of the Nasser regime. None of us believed that. If hon. Gentleman opposite would only reason about other people as they reason amongst themselves, they would realise that a Government cannot possibly surrender to a threat of that sort and keep any self-respect. We should not, should we? If somebody held a pistol at our heads and said, "You do this or we fire ", should we? Of course not. Why on earth do not hon. Members opposite sometimes believe that other people have the same courage and independence as they themselves possess? Nasser behaved exactly as any reasonable man would expect him to behave.
The other objective wasto reduce the risk … to those voyaging through the Canal.That was a rhetorical statement, and one does not know what it means. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister is not here. I appreciate why he is not here, but it is very hard to reply to him when he is not in the House, and I hope hon. Members opposite will acquit me of trying to attack him in his absence.
On 31st October, the Prime Minister said that our object was to secure a lasting settlement and to protect our 1272 nationals. What do we think of that? In the meantime, our nationals were living in Egypt while we were murdering Egyptians at Port Said. We left our nationals in Egypt at the mercy of what might have been merciless riots throughout the whole country, with no possibility whatever of our coming to their help. We were still voyaging through the Mediterranean, after having exposed them to risk by our own behaviour. What does the House believe that the country will think when it really comes to understand all this?
On 1st November, we were told the reason wasto stop hostilitiesandprevent a resumption of them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1956; Vol. 558. c. 1653.]But hostilities had already been practically stopped. On 3rd November, our objectives became much more ambitious—to deal with all the outstanding problems in the Middle East."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November. 1956; Vol 558. c. 1867.]In the famous book "Madame Bovary" there is a story of a woman who goes from one sin to another, a long story of moral decline. In this case, our ambitions soar the farther away we are from realising them. Our objective was,to deal with all the outstanding problems in the Middle East.After having outraged our friends, after having insulted the United States, after having affronted all our friends in the Commonwealth, after having driven the whole of the Arab world into one solid phalanx, at least for the moment, behind Nasser, we were then going to deal with all the outstanding problems in the Middle East.
§ Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)
As this is going on the record, and as the Prime Minister is not here, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be fair enough not deliberately to mislead the House, as I am sure he would not wish to, but the Prime Minister never said that we alone could deal with all the problems of the Middle East. What the Prime Minister said on 1st November was:We do not seek to impose by force a solution on the Israel-Egypt dispute, or the Suez Canal dispute, or any other dispute in the area."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1956; Vol.558, c. 1653.]1273 He said that if the United Nations would send forces to relieve us no one would be better pleased than we.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Gentleman need not worry; I will deal with that quite soon; I am coming to that quite quickly. This is a new alibi. It was only a few weeks ago in this House that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite sneered at every mention of the United Nations. We will deal with that.
The next objective of which we were told was to ensure, that the Israeli forces withdrew from Egyptian territory. That, I understand, is what we were there for. We went into Egyptian territory in order to establish our moral right to make the Israelis clear out of Egyptian territory. That is a remarkable war aim, is it not? In order that we might get Israel out, we went in. To establish our case before the eyes of the world, Israel being the wicked invader, we, of course, being the nice friend of Egypt, went to protect her from the Israelis, but, unfortunately, we had to bomb the Egyptians first.
On 6th November, the Prime Minister said:The action we took has been an essential condition for … a United Nations Force to come into the Canal Zone itself."—[OFFICIAI. REPORT. 6th November. 1956; Vol. 559, c. 80.]That is one of the most remarkable claims of all, and it is one of the main claims made by right hon. and hon. Members opposite. It is, of course, exactly the same claim which might have been made, if they had thought about it in time, by Mussolini and Hitler, that they made war on the world in order to call the United Nations into being. If it were possible for bacteria to argue with each other, they would be able to say that of course their chief justification was the advancement of medical science.
As The Times has pointed out, the arrival of the United Nations Force could not be regarded as a war aim by the Government; it called it, "an inadvertance." That is not my description: it is The Times. It was a by-product of the action not of Her Majesty's Government but of the United Nations itself.
Let me ask hon. Members opposite to listen to this case. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was spending most of his time in America trying to persuade the United States—that is after we were 1274 in Egypt—to make the control of the Canal one of the conditions of our withdrawal. On Thursday last he himself said here:I mention these facts to the House because, obviously, the build-up of this force must have an important relationship to a phased withdrawal of our own and the French troops. There are, however, other important matters to be considered, such as the speedy clearance of the Canal, and negotiation of a final settlement with regard to the operation of the Canal."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November. 1956; Vol. 561, c. 582.]On every single occasion—and hon. Members opposite expected this—when he went upstairs to tell his hon. Friends that he had come back empty-handed, what did they say? Why did we start this operation? We started this operation in order to give Nasser a black eye—if we could to overthrow him—but, in any case, to secure control of the Canal.
§ Mr. Bevan
I have been dealing with that; the hon. Gentleman must catch up.
The United Nations Force was in Egypt as a result of a Resolution of the United Nations for the purposes of the Charter. All along, the United States and all the other nations attached to the United Nations resolutely refused to allow the future of the Canal to be tied up with the existence of the Force. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in order to have some trophy to wave in the faces of his hon. Friends, wanted to bring from across the Atlantic an undertaking which would have destroyed the United Nations, because if the United Nations had agreed that the future of the Canal should also be contingent upon the withdrawal of British troops, then the United Nations Force would no longer have been a United Nations Force but an instrument of the rump of the United Nations, that is, the Western Powers.
I put it again to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if hon. Members opposite had succeeded in what they wanted to do, they would have ruined the United Nations, because the very essence of the United Nations Force is that it is not attempting to impose upon Egypt any settlement of the Canal.
§ Mr. Bevan
I hope that hon. Members opposite will realise that the argument is a really serious one. It was seen to be so serious by the United States that, despite what I believe to be the desire on the part of a very large number of Americans to help us in these difficulties, it was clear to President Eisenhower, as it should be clear to anybody, that a settlement of that sort was bound to be resented by the whole of the Arab world and Egypt. It was bound to be resented by the Commonwealth because it would make it appear that Her Majesty's Government were using the United Nations to obtain an objective that we set ourselves as far back as last August. Therefore, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had succeeded, if the future of the Canal had been tied up with our withdrawal, the United Nations Force in Egypt would no longer have been a police force for the world, but would have been a means of coercing Egypt to accept our terms about the Canal.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Member is not meeting my point. The point that the Government spokesmen are making here and in the country is that they have been responsible for calling the United Nations Force into existence. My answer is that by attaching to the United Nations Force a persistent attempt to secure the future of the Canal in order to satisfy hon. Members opposite they are, in fact, sabotaging the United Nations.
§ Mr. K. Zilliacus (Manchester, Gorton)
Is it not a fact that the Government voted against the Security Council Resolution calling the General Assembly and then abstained on the vote creating the United Nations Force?
§ Mr. Bevan
This, of course, is known to hon. Members in all parts of the House. They may have their own explanations for it, but I was not anxious to add to the burden of my argument. That fact is known. Of course, the Government did not support the United Nations Force—we all know that. Nevertheless, in this retrospective exercise that we are having from the other side of the 1276 House, it is possible for us to deal with the seriousness of the whole case.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is sufficiently aware of the seriousness of it to start his speech today with collusion. If collusion can be established, the whole fabric of the Government's case falls to the ground, and they know this. It is the most serious of all the charges. It is believed in the United States and it is believed by large numbers of people in Great Britain that we were well aware that Israel was going to make the attack on Egypt. In fact, very few of the activities at the beginning of October are credible except upon the assumption that the French and British Governments knew that something was going to happen in Egypt.
Indeed, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not been frank with the House. We have asked him over and over again. He has said, "Ah, we did not conspire with France and Israel." We never said that the Government might have conspired. What we said was that they might have known about it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman gave the House the impression that at no time had he ever warned Israel against attacking Egypt. Even today, he hinged the warning we gave to Jordan on the possibility of the other Arab States being involved in any attack on Jordan.
We understand from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that at no time did the Government warn Israel against an attack on Egypt. If we apprehend trouble of these dimensions—we are not dealing with small matters—if we apprehend that the opening phases of a third world war might start or turn upon an attack by Israel on anyone, why did we not make it quite clear to Israel that we would take the same view of an attack on Egypt as we took of an attack on Jordan?
The fact is that all these long telephone conversations and conferences between M. Guy Mollet, M. Pineau and the Prime Minister are intelligible only on the assumption that something was being cooked up. All that was left to do, as far as we knew from the facts at that time, was to pick up negotiations at Geneva about the future of the Canal, as had been arranged by the United Nations. But all the time there was this coming and going between ourselves and the French Government.
1277 Did the French know? It is believed in France that the French knew about the Israeli intention. If the French knew, did they tell the British Government? We would like to know. Did M. Guy Mollet, on 16th October, tell the British Prime Minister that he expected that there was to be an attack on Egypt? Every circumstantial fact that we know points to that conclusion. For instance, Mr. Ben Gurion, the Israeli Prime Minister, had already made it clear in the Knesset on several occasions that Israel regarded Egypt as the real enemy, and not Jordan. Therefore, a warning not to attack Jordan was not relevant. At the same time, many Israelis were saying that at last Israel had got a reliable friend.
What happened? Did Marianne take John Bull to an unknown rendezvous? Did Marianne say to John Bull that there was a forest fire going to start, and did John Bull then say, "We ought to put it out," but Marianne said, "No, let us warm our hands by it. It is a nice fire"? Did Marianne deceive John Bull or seduce him?
Now, of course, we come to the ultimate end. It is at the end of all these discussions that the war aim of the Government now becomes known. Of course, we knew it all the time. We knew where they would land. After this long voyaging, getting almost wrecked several times, they have come to safe harbour. It was a red peril all the time. It was Russia all the time. It was not to save the Canal. The hon. Member who interjected has been deceived all the time. It was not the Canal, it was the red peril which they had unmasked. The Government suspected it before, said the right hon. and learned Gentleman, about the arms to Egypt. We on this side knew it—we did not suspect it—but the right hon. and learned Gentleman suspected it, so he said, at the very time when he was informing the House that he thought there was a proper balance of arms between Egypt and Israel.
What will the Israelis think of this when they read the right hon. and learned Gentleman's words, or are we to understand that the Israelis have got as many arms as the Egyptians have? We understand that they were fully armed all the time, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman suspected that the Egyptians had these arms.
1278 I am not in the least surprised by this situation. That the Russians have provided these arms to the Egyptians we accept—of course they did. It is a curious thing—I may be frivolous, but I am not frightened by it—and I will tell the House why. The Russians have a habit, curiously enough, it seems to me, of not knowing what is happening in other nations. They do not even know what is happening in Poland or Hungary, and it does not seem to have occurred to the Russians that there was no military advantage in providing weapons that the Egyptians could not use.
The fact of the matter is that these great modern weapons are practically useless in the hands of backward nations. [HON. MEMBERS: "There were the volunteers."] But there were no volunteers. Do not, however, let hon. Members push the argument too far. I am not for one moment seeking to justify the Russian supply of arms to Egypt. I think it was a wicked thing to do and I think it is an equally wicked thing for us to supply arms. That area is much too combustible, far too inflammatory. This is now the end of 1956, when very many things have happened in the Middle East, when it is more dangerous than ever. I think that the Russians ought not to have done it and I will say further that I think that Nasser ought not to have invited them.
It seems to me—and here I probably shall carry hon. Members opposite with me—that Nasser has not been behaving in the spirit of the Bandoeng Conference which he joined, because what he did was not to try to reduce the temperature of the cold war: what he did was to exploit it for Egyptian purposes. Therefore, Nasser's hands are not clean by any means. I have said this before. I said it in Trafalgar Square. We must not believe that because the Prime Minister is wrong Nasser is right. That is not the view on this side of the House.
What has deeply offended us is that such wrongs as Nasser has done and such faults as he has have been covered by the bigger blunders of the British Government. That is what vexes us. We are satisfied that the arts of diplomacy would have brought Nasser to where we wanted to get him, which was to agree about the free passage of ships through the Canal, on the civilised ground that a riparian 1279 nation has got no absolute rights over a great waterway like the Canal. That is a principle which has been accepted by India and by America and by most other nations. We have never taken the position that in the exercise of sovereign rights Egypt has the right to inflict a mortal wound upon the commerce of the world.
§ Mr. Osborne
Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that six years of patient negotiation had not caused Nasser to allow the passage of Israeli ships?
§ Mr. Bevan
Do not let hon. Members now bring to the forefront of the argument the fact that Egypt had not been allowing Israeli ships to go through the Canal. If they thought so much of the seriousness of that, why did they not even invite Israel to the conference? It is not good enough to bring these things forward all the time as though they were the main objectives. Of course, we take the view that Egypt should permit the ships of all nations to pass through the Canal, and we hope that that objective will still be insisted upon. We are satisfied that those objectives could have been realised by negotiation. Not only have they not been realised by the action taken by the Government, but the opposite has been realised.
It has been clear to us, and it is now becoming clear to the nation, that for many months past hon. Members opposite have been harbouring designs of this sort. One of the reasons why we could not get a civilised solution of the Cyprus problem was that the Government were harbouring designs to use Cyprus in the Middle East, unilaterally or in conjunction with France. Whenever we put in this House Questions to the right hon. Gentleman asking him why he did not answer whether he wanted a base on Cyprus or Cyprus as a base, he answered quite frankly that we might want to activate the base on Cyprus independently of our allies. That was the answer. Well, we have activated it—and look at us. We have had all these murders and all this terror, we have had all this unfriendship over Cyprus between ourselves and Greece, and we have been held up to derision in all the world merely because we contemplated using Cyprus as a base for going it alone in the Middle East 1280 And we did go it alone. Look at the result.
Was it not obvious to hon. Members opposite that Great Britain could not possibly engage in a major military adventure without involving our N.A.T.O. allies? Was it not very clear, if we did contemplate any adventure at all, that it would have to be in conjunction with them? No. It is a sad and a bitter story. We hope that at least one beneficial byproduct of it will be a settlement of the Cyprus question very soon indeed.
Now I would conclude by saying this. I do not believe that any of us yet—I say any of us yet—have realised the complete change that has taken place in the relationship between nations and between Governments and peoples. These were objectives, I do beg hon. Members to reflect, that were not realisable by the means that we adopted. These civil, social and political objectives in modern society are not attainable by armed force.
Even if we had occupied Egypt by armed force we could not have secured the freedom of passage through the Canal. It is clear that there is such xenophobia, that there is such passion, that there is such bitter feeling against Western imperialism—rightly or wrongly: I am not arguing the merits at the moment—among millions of people that they are not prepared to keep the arteries of European commerce alive and intact if they themselves want to cut them. We could not keep ships going through the Canal. The Canal is too easily sabotaged, if Egypt wants to sabotage it. Why on earth did we imagine that the objectives could be realised in that way in the middle of the twentieth century?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Would the right hon. Gentleman apply the same argument to Germany at the end of the last war? It seems to me that the Germans showed great willingness to open the Kiel Canal.
§ Mr. Bevan
It is necessarily so. If the noble Lord does not understand that, then he is in the eighteenth and not even the nineteenth century.
Exactly the same thing is true of the Russians in Hungary. The Russians in Hungary are attempting to achieve civil, social and political objectives by tanks and guns, and the Hungarian people are demonstrating that it cannot be done.
The social furniture of modern society is so complicated and fragile that it cannot support the jackboot. We cannot run the processes of modern society by attempting to impose our will upon nations by armed force. If we have not learned that we have learned nothing. Therefore, from our point of view here, whatever may have been the morality of the Government's action—and about that there is no doubt—there is no doubt about its imbecility. There is not the slightest shadow of doubt that we have attempted to use mehods which were bound to destroy the objectives we had, and, of course, this is what we have discovered.
I commend to hon. Members, if they have not seen it, a very fine cartoon in Punch by Illingworth and called "Desert Victory." There we see a black, ominous, sinister background and a pipeline broken, pouring oil into the desert sands. How on earth do hon. Members opposite imagine that hundreds of miles of pipeline can be kept open if the Arabs do not want it to be kept open? It is not enough to say that there are large numbers of Arabs who want the pipeline to be kept open because they live by it.
It has been proved over and over again now in the modern world that men and women are often prepared to put up with material losses for things that they really think worth while. It has been shown in Budapest, and it could be shown in the Middle East. That is why I beg hon. Members to turn their backs on this most ugly chapter and realise that if we are to live in the world and are to be regarded as a decent nation, decent citizens in the world, we have to act up to different standards than the one that we have been following in the last few weeks.
I resent most bitterly this unconcern for the lives of innocent men and women. It may be that the dead in Port Said 1282 are 100, 200 or 300. If it is only one, we had no business to take it. Do hon. Members begin to realise how this is going to revolt the world when it passes into the imagination of men and women everywhere, and in this country, that we, with eight million here in London, the biggest single civilian target in the world, with our crowded island exposed, as no nation in the world is exposed, to the barbarism of modern weapons, we ourselves set the example.
We ourselves conscript our boys and put guns and aeroplanes in their hands and say, "Bomb there." Really, this is so appalling that human language can hardly describe it. And for what? The Government resorted to epic weapons for squalid and trivial ends, and that is why all through this unhappy period Ministers—all of them—have spoken and argued and debated well below their proper form—because they have been synthetic villains. They are not really villains. They have only set off on a villainous course, and they cannot even use the language of villainy.
Therefore, in conclusion, I say that it is no use hon. Members consoling themselves that they have more support in the country than many of them feared they might have. Of course they have support in the country. They have support among many of the unthinking and unreflective who still react to traditional values, who still think that we can solve all these problems in the old ways. Of course they have. Not all the human race has grown to adult state yet. But do not let them take comfort in that thought. The right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) has warned them before. In the first volume of his Second World War, he writes about the situation before the war and he says this:Thus an Administration more disastrous than any in our history saw all its errors and shortcomings acclaimed by the nation. There was however a bill to be paid, and it took the new House of Commons nearly ten years to pay it.
§ Mr. Bevan
No, this was before. In any case, the words are apposite. It will take us very many years to live down what we have done. It will take us many years to pay the price. I know that tomorrow evening hon. and right hon. 1283 Members will probably, as they have done before, give the Government a vote of confidence, but they know in their heart of hearts that it is a vote which the Government do not deserve.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Brooman-White (Rutherglen)
The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has made a speech which in skill of debating in the House rates undoubtedly very high. I am glad to follow him because, during the early exchanges in these discussions, and during some of the chronology of events which he recited to the House, I was myself in the Middle East. On reflection, I think the right hon. Gentleman will realise that the language of debate which is so effective in this Chamber sounds very different among the nations and looks very different in relation to the course of events out there when seen from the Middle East.
Before I come to the main burden of what I have to say about the Middle East, I should like to make one or two comments on certain points in the right hon. Gentleman's remarks which I noted while he was speaking. He said that my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench might not be happy with the type of language they have been using. No one would accuse the right hon. Gentleman of being deficient in linguistic abilities. He said that we had been unconcerned about the loss of life, that we had shown a lack of concern about the casualties suffered.
§ Mr. Brooman-White
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman bears out that point, to which I wanted to refer. This House has been sitting, perhaps concerned, but utterly impotent, as the United Nations and the world have been siting, during a long category of incidents and a long list of casualties mounting steadily during the weeks, months and years which preceded this episode. The right hon. Gentleman has been in Israel; I do not know whether he has also been in Jordan. He has probably seen the burned villages and the dead, as so many of us have. We heard from the Foreign 1284 Secretary of the casualties in even the most recent border raids—50 here and 40 there. If I had had the time to check the facts before being called so early in the debate, I should have liked to total up the number of casualties along the Arab-Israeli frontiers in the few weeks immediately preceding our operation and compare them with the casualties occasioned at Port Said.
One of the justifications in the long run of our actions will be if, by the casualties regrettably but inevitably incurred in our operations in Port Said, that long, lamentable, melancholy toll of suffering and of loss of life between the Arabs and Israeli States should have at last been brought to a close.
The second point, on which the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was perhaps not doing himself full justice was in his reference to the British attitude to the original Israeli incursion. This was possibly, or so one hopes, a last shot fired at a target of collusion which is rapidly vanishing into a mirage. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If hon. Members opposite hope to find something more substantial, the right hon. Gentleman's argument is even weaker. He was implying that we had in some sinister way tended to condone or encourage Israeli action against Egypt because we did not speak against it in exactly the same phraseology that we had used in relation to possible action against Jordan.
The right hon. Gentleman should make allowance for the difference of language customary in diplomacy and in the House of Commons. With all his great experience, the right hon. Gentleman has not yet perhaps delved deeply into the affairs of official diplomacy, but no doubt he is doing some homework on it now.
§ Mr. Brooman-White
The right hon. Gentleman cannot ride out of it that way. The implication of his remarks was that we had gone to the Israelis and said, "If you take action against Jordan this will be an unfriendly act against a Power with which we are in treaty relations." That was a perfectly clear point, and we would have been bound to intervene. We then said, "If you take action against Egypt we must urge restraint in that 1285 direction." [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus) laughs, but he knows something about diplomacy. Does he or any other hon. Gentleman imagine that this statement, in the phraseology of diplomacy, and relating to a Power with which we are not in treaty relations, and which had itself said that it did not wish to be associated with the Tripartite Declaration, was not about as strong and firm a warning as could be given? It is not usual to say in diplomatic language, "If you go into Egypt we will bang you on the nose." That is not the usual way these things are said, and that is well known to anyone with any experience in these matters.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
I would have expected that, if we really meant business, the Government would have warned Israel that if she went to war against Egypt we would immediately call for action both through the Tripartite Declaration and through the Security Council, and that we would have joined the representations of the United States President on 27th October instead of maintaining an eloquent silence.
§ Mr. Brooman-White
It would have been a little difficult to impress the Israelis by saying that we would call for action through the Tripartite Declaration, which the Egyptians had said previously they did not wish to implement. But let us leave that point and take the final point made by the right hon. Gentleman before I make one or two remarks of my own.
In the final stage of his speech the right hon. Gentleman said that it was a deplorable use of our base in Cyprus, and that this really showed that we had no justification for claiming that we should maintain our base there under conditions which gave us freedom of action. I wonder if he would not think about that one again, particularly in relation to our warning over the Jordan Treaty?
If we had not had a base in Cyprus, if we had not had freedom of action, does he imagine that our warning to Israel to hold back on the Jordan frontier and not to go up to the river line—as she could easily have done probably in 24 hours—would have any validity or would have checked the Israelis in winning the obvious strategic advantage which lay easily within their grasp?
§ Mr. Brooman-White
That is extremely hypothetical. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Extremely hypothetical. My point is that the warning we gave to Jordan in substance stopped the Israelis extending the war on that front, which they could easily have done, and which would have scored them a substantial strategic success. Indeed, they had been carrying out reprisal raids, probing deep into Jordan territory during previous weeks, and they must have known from their own staff appreciations how very vulnerable was that territory.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I have been following the argument of the hon. Gentleman, and I would like to clear up a point here. He said that because we were in treaty relations and were going to the assistance of Jordan we gave a strong warning in the case of Jordan but that in the case of Egypt we did not give such a strong warning. Was not that misleading the Egyptians when it became clear in that case that we meant immediately to bomb Egypt to separate the combatants? Did we not mislead them by not warning them what would happen?
§ Mr. Brooman-White
I think that the Israelis, to whom this statement was made, had little doubt about its full implication.
The right hon. Gentleman today has made a most eloquent speech, but it will be within the recollection of the House that he has made many eloquent speeches which, though in retrospect their verbal pyrotechnics may be equally attractive, perhaps do not seem to contain quite the same content of wisdom and historic perspective as they may have done at the time of delivery. Prior to coming into this debate I was looking back on the debates at the time of the British intervention in Greece in January, 1945. I hope the House will bear with me because I do not think that the parallel is too far-fetched. The right hon. Gentleman was particularly vigorous in castigating the Government of that day for the intervention. He said:We are now starting wars of intervention in Europe by the British Tories."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th January, 1945; Vol. 407, c. 574.]1287 And he made great play with what he called a "ridiculous piece of Churchillian rubbish", in suggesting that the Communist forces in Greece might move into Athens and might carry out considerable slaughter. The subsequent course of events in Eastern Europe, leading up to the appalling events of recent dates, shows up that story in a very different light.
§ Mr. Bevan
But the hon. Gentleman is telescoping a whole period of history. The fact is that at that time the result of our intervention in Greece was completely to destroy the central and Liberal parties in Greece which might have governed. I am prepared to stand by that. Afterwards, as the hon. Gentleman knows very well, most of the assistance given to the Communists in Greece came from Yugoslavia.
§ Mr. Brooman-White
I think that the right hon. Gentleman would have greater difficulty in explaining that in Athens than in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to mention a fact on that point? I was in Athens at the time of the 1944–45 civil war. I observed the circumstances that the Greek Liberals, the Greek central forces and the Greek Socialists were welcoming British arms with great enthusiasm because they believed that they were at the commencement of a period in which they could develop democratic and liberal institutions, and the intervention of British force at this stage did more to put power and force into Communism in Greece than anything else that could be devised.
§ Mr. Brooman-White
I do not want to be drawn into a long discussion on that, but I will make a final point upon it. Everybody who has knowledge of Greece will realise that the outcome of that event was a stable democratic Government in Greece which has existed until now, and that other countries where we did not intervene or were not in a position to intervene, such as Czechoslovakia, and now Hungary, are in a very sorry state. Even at that time the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was castigating General Plastiras in terms almost equal to those more recently used by the 1288 hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), and in referring to General Nuries-Said, and perhaps equally ill justified.
I believe the corollary in Greece was that our intervention prevented a Communist victory there and the collapse of democracy in that part of South-East Europe. Other hon. Gentlemen may take a different view. However, after having taken that initial action and accepted the responsibility, and after having suffered casualties, we then struggled to stabilise the position. By degrees, the United States took over a great part of the burden, and it was necessary that that should happen, because the economic strain of supporting Greece was too great for this country. The inevitable development of history led the United States to commit itself fully in that area, and Greece has greatly benefited thereby. That is why I say that I do not think the parallel, apart from debating points, with circumstances in the Middle East today is too far drawn.
There is one general argument that I want to put to the House about the Opposition's case in relation to the Middle East situation. The Opposition castigates the Government and points out various contradictions, or apparent contradictions, in statements by our Government and makes references to paragraphs and sub-paragraphs of United Nations Resolutions and so on. All that seems terribly unreal when one is in the Middle East. What the Opposition never shows is any serious appreciation of what would have happened if we had done nothing. What do hon. Gentlemen opposite really assume would have happened?
§ Mr. Brooman-White
That is hypothetical. Very much worse things than the blocking of the Canal might have occurred. It seems to me that certain things would almost inevitably have happened. The Israeli Army would have advanced victoriously a very long way, how far we do not know, perhaps only to the Canal but perhaps beyond it. Indeed, the rate of the advance makes a certain amount of nonsense of the constant previous badgering of the Government by the Opposition about giving more arms to Israel to restore the balance. The 1289 Israelis walloped the Egyptian Army in little over 48 hours, in spite of all the aid the Egyptians had in the way of Russian arms.
It was, incidentally, perhaps a little disingenuous of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale to state that the Egyptians had been equipped with a lot of Soviet arms which they could not possibly use. The corollary to that must be sufficiently obvious. Surely the Russians sent such arms with the intention of following up with personnel who could use them in Egypt, or with instructors who could teach the Egyptians how to use them.
If the Israeli Army had continued advancing victoriously and routing the Egyptians, do hon. Gentlemen opposite believe that the other Arab States—quite apart from what the Egyptians themselves have said about it, as quoted by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—would have held back? They may not have wanted to intervene—I am certain that many of them would not have wished to do so—but anybody who has any contact with the feeling of the mobs, the tribes, the younger army officers and all the people who go to make up such public opinion as there is in the Arab States will realise that the pressure on the Governments of these States to intervene would have become irresistible. It seems to me inevitable that at any rate before long that the other Arab States would have been drawn in. They might not have been very successful. The Jordanians, if they had tried to intervene, would probably have taken an equal walloping with the Egyptians.
But what would have happened then? Where would the Arabs have gone for help? Where could they have gone, except to the people ready to offer them help, as it was offered to the Egyptians, and perhaps ready to thrust help upon them, in certain circumstances into perhaps not too willing hands? Syria is a case in point.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot say that if we had done nothing, or if we had gone to the United Nations and it had followed its usual course of passing resolutions in the way it has passed them quite vainly about Hungary, border incidents and the earlier blockading of the Canal and so on, there would not have been very widespread violence in the Middle East with the virtual certainty of 1290 Soviet intervention. Can any hon. Gentleman opposite argue that any other course of events was likely?
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
Has the hon. Gentleman taken into consideration how long Colonel Nasser would have lasted before he was deposed by his own people if we and the French had not intervened?
§ Mr. Brooman-White
Even if Nasser had been deposed, would he have been succeeded by a Government prepared to come to unconditional surrender terms with the Israelis and to reject the Russian aid which was being offered? That is extremely unlikely. Maybe Nasser would have been shot, but there are plenty of people in most Middle Eastern capitals who would like to take office if they could shoot up the people already filling the offices, and they quite frequently manage it.
§ Mr. Brooman-White
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have had certain experience in such matters, quite a long experience.
Even if none of these circumstances had occurred, and even if the Israelis had not attacked, anyone who has bean in the Middle East during the last year or two must be conscious of the degree to which our position has been undermined, and anyone who has been there recently must be conscious of the acceleration of the trend of events against us. There is, for instance, the Cairo propaganda. Nothing is more frightening than to find Bedouin goatskin tents out in the desert fitted with little sticks from which wire runs inside to wireless sets from which the poison is dripping.
With regard to education, British advisers in the Arab States along the Gulf and elsewhere face an appalling dilemma, on which I am sure they have been taking the right decision. If one advised the Governments against a too rapid educational advance, it would be bad. If one advises them in favour of a rapid educational advance, and to use the oil revenues freely for that purpose, as our people have been doing, one does so in the full knowledge that 80–90 per cent of the teachers will be Palestinian Arabs and Egyptians, each with a propaganda brief aimed deliberately at the objective 1291 of seeing us off, even if nothing worse, such as seeing the Soviets in.
All who have seen those areas know also the extraordinary political confusions and tensions created by the vast injection of wealth from oil, which has suddenly changed the whole pattern of life, attracting people into industrial centres. This means shanty towns. It means Bedouins leaving the discipline and traditions of their tribal life and living in shacks made of odds and ends of boards, bits of petrol tins and a goatskin or two, in shanty towns around the cities. Instead of being disciplined tribesmen living in a primitive but dignified society under their chiefs, these Bedouins are becoming highly inflammable city mobs. All these things are bound to be unsettling.
We are all conscious of the fact that the interests of the Western world in those areas are peace, stability and progress, and it is clear that, with the development of those areas, the inevitable tensions and changes were pulling rapidly towards instability, lack of cohesion and lack of peace. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to talk about economic aid as though economic aid were the immediate solution. It is not. It is the long-term solution, but an immediate acceleration of the economic tempo automatically increases the sociological and political tensions. Hon. Gentlemen opposite tend too often to see these people as though they were in our own image. They talk as though, for instance, a little more education in the Gulf States would rapidly produce something like the atmosphere of a Fabian debating society in Welwyn Garden City. It may not be sufficiently recognised that many of these people are not yet mildly interested in social security; they would really prefer to have a few more cartridges.
That was the situation in the area, and it was becoming increasingly difficult. Because the natural tendency was in many places towards disruption rather than consolidation, with our limited resources we were finding it a desperately uphill battle. The natural run of events tended to benefit the people who benefit by disruption, the Soviet Union. And it was almost impossible to see how we could reverse this course of events while the Arab-Israeli tension persisted.
1292 There has been jeering in the House when people said that this situation was a challenge to the United Nations, but that is true. It is a challenge to the United Nations. For better or worse, this action has projected the whole weight of the Western world into that area. Whether it will make a go of it, we do not know, but the fate of the Western world will depend on the outcome. Some people have laughed at the United Nations Force, the "bluebells," and perhaps they would look more satisfying if they had a few white helmets of the American forces—"snowdrops"—among them. But the great thing is that a United Nations force is there.
The United Nations has been called on to meet this desperate problem of the Arab-Israel dispute. The future depends very largely on whether the Israelis will be exalted by victory to become more intransigent, or may have gained assurance and so be prepared to make concessions; or whether the Arabs will be chastened by defeat into some greater realism, or made more bitter and more vindictive.
This is the problem Britain has been trying to solve. Although technically we gave up responsibility for it with the Palestine mandate, in practice we have continued to bear it with limited resources and beyond the limit of our resources. We were unable to carry it further. That led us to the tragic action which we have had to take. Nobody has liked the action. One can criticise the method or the timing and many aspects of its execution, but it cannot be maintained, as many Opposition speakers have tried to maintain, that it would have been all right if we had not acted, or that there would have been immeasurable benefit if we had pulled out almost as soon as we had gone in, without getting the best conditions and getting the United Nations involved.
I hope that we can treat at least some of the discussion not as a searching back into the records at the end of a phase, because this is not the end of a phase, but the beginning of an enormous struggle in which the stakes are the whole future of the Middle East and the bulk of the fuel reserves of the industrial West. Either the West or the Soviet Union will come out the winner. This was bound to happen sooner or later. The Government's action has precipitated it. 1293 I most profoundly believe that the House of Commons should direct itself towards doing everything that lies within its power to see that the final outcome is in the interests of the Middle Eastern States, the British Commonwealth and the West as a whole.
§ Mr. Hugh Dalton (Bishop Auckland)
We are holding today and tomorrow a Parliamentary inquest into the misdeeds of Ministers, which have, indeed, been many and grievous. Many deserve the epithet of "unforgiveable". Among the most unforgiveable misdeeds of Ministers in recent months has been their treatment of their fellows in the Commonwealth. That must not be passed by in silence today.
Is "unforgiveable" too harsh a word? I desire to get on to the record of our proceedings part of a letter written by a great Conservative historian, Professor Keith Feiling, the official historian of the Conservative Party, the sympathetic biographer of Neville Chamberlain, an Oxford historian of eminence, who has also seen service in several parts of the Commonwealth overseas. In a letter to The Times, published on 6th November, he said:Ministers have acted as though the Commonwealth were negligible. They have brushed aside its doubts and taken life and death decisions without consultation. Most unforgiveable of all, to my mind … has been their treatment of Canada and India. Canada, oldest and most wisely governed of Dominions, our link with America, whose measureless sacrifices for us in two world wars gained our lasting gratitude, has been excluded from vital consultations, and had her counsels rejected until they were forced upon us by world opinion.India,… our bridge to the millions of Asia, with a fund of good will that to the other day was not exhausted,… has been cold-shouldered … and her reasonable proffers of mediation cast aside.… It does not seem beyond the bounds of historical accuracy to describe such a Commonwealth policy as short-sighted, ungrateful, and politically imbecile.I trust that someone who will speak later will not dodge an answer to the historical mentor of their party.
It has been a sorry story. After all, at the end of it all, the Government have not brought down Nasser. That, I think, in the mind of the Prime Minister—he made little secret of it—was one of 1294 the purposes of the whole exercise. But they have not brought down Nasser. On the contrary, he has been allowed to win a great political victory in New York which will obscure his great military defeat in Sinai. It has not been clever.
I wonder whether the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Brooman-White), who touched on this matter, appreciates that. I do not want to pursue it at length. Has it ever crossed the minds of Ministers, during these last weeks, that perhaps it might have been better to leave Nasser to the Israelis? They were doing very well.
At the pace they were travelling, in the last week before our intervention, they would have been at the Canal, occupying the whole of the eastern bank effectively, in another 24 hours. They might perhaps have crossed it, and I estimate that before long there would have been such a state of panic in Cairo that Colonel Nasser, one way or another, dead or alive, would have vanished in a dust storm of defeat. That is my guess.
If the Prime Minister thought that Nasser was the great obstacle to harmony and good will in that area, at least the Prime Minister's immediate objective might have been fulfilled without our needing to intervene. I will come in a moment to the point to which the hon. Member for Rutherglen referred, a very important point, about what the other Arab States might have done.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. David Ormsby-Gore)
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that that policy would have caused more casualties, or fewer casualties?
§ Mr. Dalton
It would have caused no British casualties at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am answering the question. It would have caused no British casualties at all. Is that a matter of indifference to hon. Members opposite? It would also have caused no civilian casualties in Port Said. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Hon. Members opposite seem to be unwilling to face one or two very commonsense observations. My argument is that it might well have been advisable, if Britain had laid off and allowed the Israelis to finish the job which they had begun.
§ Mr. John Harvey (Walthamstow, East)
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. That would have been one half of my question. His advocacy did not seem to show the same concern for Egyptian civil life as has been shown by his Front Bench. He has skated over the fact that Nasser's own chief of staff has made it quite clear that Syria and Jordan would have come into this thing but for the action that we took.
§ Mr. Dalton
I will come to that. I have already promised to do so, in response to what was said by the hon. Member for Rutherglen. To my answer about casualties, I do not think that the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. J. Harvey) has much of a "come-back".
The hon. Member for Rutherglen referred a good deal to the Israelis, and I wish to do so for a few moments in order to try to get the background of the Israeli relationship to this matter filled in a little better than it has been up to now in our discussions, which have extended over many weeks. I am able to speak more freely about this because I am not a Jew. But I am a very warm admirer of the achievements of the State of Israel. In this I am in the main stream of thought and sympathy of the British Labour Party, which has always been very friendly to the State of Israel, as the resolutions passed at its annual conferences have frequently demonstrated.
I know that I am also speaking in sympathy with many persons in this country, not necessarily Jewish and not necessarily members of the Labour Party. It is a very fine thing that has been done out there in that little country, barely the size of Wales, with fewer than 2 million people, many of them recently brought in as refugees and exiles from many lands all over the world. They have done a very fine job with very sparse natural resources and, although this is not an argument which will carry weight, except with my right hon. and hon. Friends, I would add that one reason why many of us feel very warmly towards them, is that they have been able to do this largely because they have set up as near an approach to a democratic Socialist State as can be found anywhere in the world today. For these reasons we look upon their achievements with admiration, and we look to their future with confidence and with a desire that 1296 they shall prosper in this difficult Middle Eastern world.
Lawyers may argue this way and that, but, facing all the facts and going back over the eight years during which Israel has been a State, and taking account of all the things done against her and threatened against her, I find it difficult to say that in this latest phase of the affair Israel is a wicked aggressor and Egypt an innocent victim of aggression. I will not argue that at length, but in this last miserable month or more about the only act performed by Ministers with which I find myself in agreement was their refusal to accept a declaration by the Security Council that Israel was the aggressor. That is the one good mark I can give them through all this. I think it is desirable that this view should be expressed. We must not let the lawyers get away with it too easily.
Among other achievements, this little country of Israel has created a very efficient defence force. It is remarkable that, in spite of the loud declarations of the Arab League, in spite of the creation, at any rate on paper, of a joint military command under an Egyptian general—including the armed forces of Saudi Arabia together with those of Syria and Jordan—when the fighting began not one Arab State moved to the assistance of Egypt. During the five days when the Israelis swept the Egyptians out of Sinai not one Arab soldier on any other frontier fired a shot in support of Egypt. It may be that prudence prevailed over valour.
If the Israeli campaign had been carried to its further stages, and had resulted—as, I believe, it quickly would have done—in the collapse of Nasser through counter-movements in Cairo, I do not believe that, having lost an admirable opportunity to intervene earlier, the Arab States would then have rushed forward to the aid of the vanquished.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I agree with much of what he has been saying, but does he think that the Soviet Union would have stood aside and let her Egyptian satellite be overwhelmed by the Israelis?
§ Mr. Dalton
That very nearly happened, whether or not they stood 1297 aside. It was a little too late for effective Soviet intervention to prevent that. I think too well of the Israeli Army for that.
Behind all these events there is the threat of a third world war, and it must be our aim to seek a final settlement of the Middle East so that this horror is warded off from mankind. When we study the warmongering and bloodthirsty public public declarations made by Nasser for a long time past I cannot be astonished that at a certain moment, after he had been saying for years that he was perpetually in a state of war with Israel—and that was the excuse he put forward for not allowing Israeli ships to pass through the Canal and, more impudent still, not allowing them to go up the Gulf of Aqaba—the Israelis said, "We have had enough of this. We will take him at his word." They took Nasser at his word, and his reaction was undistinguished and inglorious.
I have tried to balance the disposal of praise and blame in this affair and I hope that out of it, now that the bubble of Egyptian military might has been pricked—no one can believe any more the balderdash about the new Egypt which has grown up; the Egyptians fought no better under Nasser than they fought under Farouk—we may obtain a certain reorientation of judgments in that part of the world. Nobody will now take very seriously the notion that Nasser will be another Alexander the Great in the Arab World and will unite all Arabs from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf. I hope that his reputation has now been properly chalked down. My regret is that the Government have given him so much help of another kind in the United Nations.
I move forward from that to the prospects for the future. It is very evident that the Middle East continues to fester. I am not one of those who think that recent decisive events in the military field will necessarily make matters worse in the near future. Perhaps, for the reasons I have given, they may get better, because certain things will be more clearly understood. But, looking forward, it is essential that we should try to get a wide-ranging settlement of the whole of these economic and political differences. It will not be got, I am quite sure, by going back—as did the Prime Minister, in that most 1298 unhappy Guildhall speech—to totally outworn and outmoded and inappropriate Resolutions passed by the United Nations eight years ago, the application of which now would mean tearing away from Israel one-third of her present territory.
I doubt whether the leaders of Israel today will be more in the mood, after their military triumphs, to listen to that sort of basis for future peace than, quite reasonably, they have been in the past. It appears to me that we must be prepared to accept—subject to minor modifications of the frontiers on which both sides agree, and which would be reasonable, because the Israeli frontiers are still only armistice lines—that subject to these agreed minor adjustments, the present frontiers of Israel shall be accepted and adopted as part of any future settlement.
This leads me to say a word about the Gaza Strip. I hope that it will be agreed that the Egyptians should not go back into the Gaza Strip. They have no right there. It never was Egyptian territory; it was part of Palestine, and they grabbed it in 1948. They have no business there. Before it was part of Palestine it was, of course, part of Turkey. I hope that there will be no question of the Egyptians being permitted to go back into the Gaza Strip. They have played a most evil part in their relations with those unhappy refugees. They have used them for evil purposes, for murder gangs and disturbers of the peace, and it is high time that this opportunity was taken from them.
I think the possibility of it becoming a United Nations base is worthy of sympathetic consideration. There is much to be said for it being administered by some of those detached, neutral-minded people, some of whom are serving now in the United Nations Force; and it would be an interesting first experiment which might later be taken a good deal further.
There is much to be said for the proposal which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) at Question Time yesterday, and which has also been advocated by the Economist, namely, that we might consider the possibility of having a whole strip of United Nations territory running between the Egyptian and the Israeli frontiers through the Sinai region; possibly even running along the other frontiers with Syria and Jordan also, although that would be a larger affair. 1299 I think that all these ideas should be studied with sympathy. They are imaginative projects for the geographical future of that part of the world.
But we should also demilitarise the rest of Sinai. The evidence of the necessity for that is clear from the wonderful haul of weapons which the Israelis have got—and they will know how to use them. I am glad that they have got them. I think that in future the Russians will not send out these complicated machines without people to work them—and that is a very serious thought for the future. Lloyd George—the great Lloyd George—once made the unkind remark, when it was proposed that a certain State should have a new frontier within which there were rich industrial resources, that this would be like giving a clock to a monkey—and the Russians will see the sense of that now.
The Egyptians must not be allowed to re-accumulate in Sinai—behind a relatively narrow strip which might be flown over or shot over in the event of trouble—masses of weapons of war, or to create bases such as the Israelis recently discovered. In my view, Sinai should be demilitarised. How much further we can get in that part of the world in making frontier changes, I do not know. But we must seek to get a plan by which these unhappy Arab refugees may be resettled. There is no room for them in Israel, that is clear. Their place has been taken by other refugees, by Jewish refugees, in a large measure from Arab lands, and we cannot keep turning people round and round.
The great difference is that whereas, in Israel, they have to fight with their backs to the sea, because they have nowhere to retreat, in the Arab lands there are vast desert territories which could be fertilised, irrigated and settled if only the will to do it were there. The greatest indictment of all against the Egyptians is that they have exploited these unhappy people and done everything to prevent plans for their settlement through the United Nations and the American dollars which were available at one stage for that purpose. They have kept these people in a state of misery and destitution, feeding on false hopes and hatred of their neighbours. In any future settlement we must absorb 1300 the Arab refugees back into a settled life in the wide areas of the Arab lands where water could make the land blossom like the rose.
In the great schemes which are now to be worked out for the future, if we are to avoid continuing strife and a third world war, and deal with the dangers which overhang the world, I say frankly I do not believe that the discredited occupants of the Government Front Bench can do it. I speak with complete sincerity and conviction when I say that. So much has gone so wrong so lately. There is the hard fact that the Commonwealth was nearly split wide open, brought, as Mr. Lester Pearson said, to the verge of dissolution; never, as was said by Mr. St. Laurent, subjected to such strains before; and all by the conduct of Her Majesty's present Government. Can we really hope that these Ministers, who have done so ill, can change their whole nature and be the framers of this new world policy? I say, "No". If this work is to be done—as I hope, in the interests of our country and the world, it will be done—we need new men on that Front Bench to make the great world settlement which we await.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Captain Charles Waterhouse (Leicester, South-East)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) has said some things with which I definitely agree. For example, I share his opinion of Colonel Nasser. To a very large extent, I share in the interesting remarks he made about the possibilities in Sinai. In fact, I made them myself. If the right hon. Gentleman cares to look back at the record he will find that about six weeks ago I pointed out that the Sinai Peninsula had never properly been part of Egypt at all; that it would be well worth considering that the whole of that territory might be put under some international control and thus form a barrier between Egypt and Israel.
I did not much like the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman about leaving Nasser to Israel. That seemed to accord ill with the high humanitarian principles expounded by his right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). The right hon. Gentleman said it in an acid tone; let dog eat dog, what does it 1301 matter what happens to them? I do not think that that is really to the advantage of that part of the world. I do not agree with his general argument that because not a single Arab soldier moved, either in Jordan or Syria, during the initial stage, none would have moved at all if things had been otherwise and we had allowed Nasser to be dealt with by Israel. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that during these critical five days other things were happening, that there were the British and French forces sailing towards Port Said, which made everybody very cautious for the time being.
The right hon. Gentleman said, too, that the British Labour Party always feels deep friendship for the Jews. The Jews must have been extremely grateful for the friendship which they have had from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite during these last most critical weeks as well as during eight or ten years while, as he said, they have been struggling for their existence. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say this now, when everything is over. It is all very well for him to say, "Ah, but these are fine people, these poor people. Let us support them." Why did not he support them when they were in trouble? I will tell him why, if he does not know. It was because if he had supported them then he would have had to support us now and he was more determined to down Her Majesty's Government than to uphold his Jewish friends.
I turn to another and less congenial part of my remarks. I had better tell the House straight away, if it is interested to know it, that I regret to find myself still out of sympathy with the policy of Her Majesty's Government in Middle Eastern affairs. No one realises better than I do the value of party unity. I have not spent almost all my working life fighting for the Conservative Party, and fighting a series of General Elections, one with an Election petition, without fully understanding the meaning of the word "loyalty."
Therefore, in taking a line contrary to that of the Government Front Bench I fully realise the responsibility which rests upon me. It is my intention to abstain from voting in the Division tomorrow. I intend to abstain because it seems to me to be the clearest and most 1302 emphatic way, within our Parliamentary system, of showing my disagreement with this particular aspect of the Government's policy. I admit that it is a clumsy way and I say straight away that if I thought that by my abstention there was any chance of putting the party opposite in power, I should no more think of abstaining than I should think of singing a song instead of making a speech in this House.
I attribute such faults as I believe I see in the Government's policy here to the fact that they have in certain degrees followed on, continued, the policy of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. In so far as I disagree with my right hon. and hon. Friends, it is because they appear to me to have agreed with what was done before. I make it absolutely clear, too, that my complaint is not primarily against what has happened this autumn. I definitely welcomed the action taken at the beginning of last month by Her Majesty's Government. In that action they had my complete support. I thought that the Prime Minister's statement at that time, that he was going in to separate the belligerents and to guarantee freedom of transport through the Canal by ships of all nations, was an action which was justified by the inner spirit of the Charter, although it was not perhaps justified by the actual words. I support Her Majesty's Government in that.
My protest is against the grave errors of the preceding years which, in my view, encouraged Nasser to seize the Canal and, therefore, directly led to our present distress. When in opposition my right hon. Friends took a strong line. They objected to the holding up of the Israeli ships in the Canal. It was said that a gunboat ought to be sent to let them through. That was a fairly drastic remark. Still in opposition they objected strenuously to the surrender of Abadan. I am not blaming my right hon. Friends for not reversing those two policies when they came back to office, because there are many actions which, to be effective, must be taken immediately.
What I say is that the same tendencies which lay behind those two actions seemed to me to continue in the further handling of the Middle Eastern problem. Shortly after we signed our Treaty with 1303 Nasser, in 1954—and I am not discussing the merits of that Treaty at all—Nasser started a vigorous anti-British and anti-French propaganda throughout the whole of the area. In my opinion, Her Majesty's Government took no effective steps to counteract that propaganda.
One of the reasons for the signing of that Treaty was that it would enable the setting up of a strategic reserve, in part here and in part in the Middle East, which could be used with decision and effect and which would not be tied down, as it was then said, in the defence of this rambling base which straggled from Port Said to Port Suez. Nothing was done at all when the base was dismantled and the troops withdrawn. No strategic force was set up anywhere, as far as any of us know or can see. What is more, no real effort was seen to be made to reorganise our system of defence by conventional arms.
No Ministers have been changed so often as have the Ministers of Defence. There are two or three former Ministers of Defence on the Front Bench at this moment. They sail in and out so quickly that one wonders why they were put there. One wonders whether this most important Ministry was just being used to find Cabinet posts for most desirable right hon. Gentlemen to occupy.
I understand that the Service Departments—that is to say, the Service Ministers, the Secretary of State for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for Air—are no longer responsible for strategic planning, but that planning is in the hands of the Minister of Defence. I should like to know whether that is true. If it is true it would explain why, in fact, no plan was made. It may be that Ministers were moving on so fast—and planning is not easy, I am not pretending that—that no Minister really had time to get down to the essentials of strategic or even tactical planning.
The fact remains that when this crisis came we had no plan, no ships, no aeroplanes and no men available in sufficient quantities to hit quickly. If we had been able to hit quickly on those first days of Nasser's aggression in seizing the Canal, we would have had a very different picture today both there and here, because do not forget that at that time the right 1304 hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was on our side.
§ Captain Waterhouse
Twelve months—or perhaps eighteen months—ago, Nasser announced his intention of getting arms from the Russians and the Russian satellites. Surely that was a sufficiently clear red light for everybody to see. Nobody could imagine that the Russians would supply Nasser with arms because they loved him, or because they happened to have them lying about. They were obviously supplying arms to Nasser with a purpose.
I want to state this very clearly. I strongly object to the fact that Her Majesty's Government took no exception at all to this build-up of a great mass of Russian arms in Egypt. Rather the contrary. They fished out Sir Brian Robertson from his railway and asked him to go there on a courtesy visit to see these Russian arms paraded through the streets. That burnt hard into my soul. I raised the question in the House at the time. It has been a thing that I have never been able to explain to myself satisfactorily.
The Egyptians were said to be going to have two destroyers from one of the Iron Curtain countries. A Question was asked. I think it was in June, of my right hon. Friend Mr. Nutting, who was then Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. He said that he did not know. He was not able to tell us whether or not those gunboats had arrived in Egyptian waters or ports. That, again, shook me very much indeed. If Nasser was really a danger, as we knew he was and we know he will continue to be until we debunk him, we ought to have been able to know the rate of the entry of arms into his country.
Even after the dismissal of General Glubb what steps, I should like to ask, were taken to alert friendly countries? What steps were then taken to go to our friends in the Commonwealth and in Europe and to say to them, "We are alarmed by what is happening. We do not like this influx of arms into this hostile country "? I believe that if we had done that we should have had a sympathetic hearing, and we would probably have had a very different reception when this trouble blew up and we 1305 had to go for support to, what we found to be, a hostile United Nations. Surely, everything then pointed to what we now know to be the fact, that Egypt was being used to accommodate a vast Communist build-up in a part of the world on which Communist Russia has always cast a jealous eye.
Now what is the position? Nasser's Army has twice, in a short while, been completely routed by the Israelis. British soldiers, sailors and airmen have carried out a difficult operation bravely and skilfully, and, despite everything that has been said, mercifully. That has to be emphasised by all of us. These soldiers were obliged to place themselves in jeopardy in order to carry out this operation with very few civilian casualties. I strongly deprecate the sort of attack which was made at Question Time today.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
The attack made by my right hon. Friends at Question Time was specifically on the policy of the Government and specifically paid tribute to the action of our Armed Forces for their conduct.
§ Captain Waterhouse
It did not appear so to me. It appeared to me that hon. Gentleman, and some right hon. Gentlemen, too, were doing what they could to give the impression that Egyptian civilian casualties were very heavy. They were pressing my right hon. and learned Friend, trying to trap him into an admission that he did not give sufficient facts about the matter.
What a tragedy that in this hour of effort and of triumph—not triumph in the military sense but of definite achievement—just at that moment, we had such a very poor response from our friends, our erstwhile friends, in the United States. We have lost face in the Middle East—we have to admit it—by failing to enforce our will and to fulfil our clearly expressed intentions, but I submit that the United States Government have lost face and prestige throughout the whole world by their vicious attacks upon this country and France and by their alignment with our Communist enemies. I believe that this needs to be said. It ought to be clearly understood in the United States that those of us who, throughout, have looked to them as our brothers-in-arms—rather tardily in arms on certain occasions—are deeply disappointed and hurt by the fact 1306 that they appear wilfully to have misunderstood our position at that particular moment.
Communist Russia, if we can believe the news that is coming out of Communist Russia, is in very great difficulty at home. There may be possibilities of a major crack, possibly the break up of a part of the Communist State. What a tragedy it is that just at this moment this cleavage has been made by the United States—
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)
They will not let us off the interest if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman talks like that.
§ Captain Waterhouse
That is a different matter. If we could have been victorious we could have paid the interest and paid it gladly.
The Foreign Secretary has said, and I agree with him, that some definite advantages have been gained, I know full well that all the account is not on one side, principally that the action taken has prevented the spread of hostilities throughout the Middle East. That, certainly, is a big advantage in justification of this action, but unhappily, the threat of hostilities still remains in Syria.
My conclusion is that though something has been done, something has been attained, the progress of events during the last four years has been so unfortunate, and the mistakes made so definite and so glaring, that I cannot support Her Majesty's Government in the Division Lobby tomorrow evening.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I do not think that anyone in the House doubts the courage or the consistency of the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse), but I must confess I was a little disappointed that he did not tell us in more detail what he and his hon. Friends really want the Government to do in this matter. 1307 The right hon. and gallant Gentleman developed a case against the Government's military planning and their Middle Eastern policy over the last few years. I do not think that we have time now to go into all this, but I take it that the right hon. and learned Member and his hon. Friends are disappointed that we did not go right down the Canal, and possibly into Cairo. When he said that if we had been victorious we would have paid the loan he must have meant victorious against the Egyptians. Surely that is to hark back to a policy which has been long abandoned.
We surely know now that we cannot possibly reoccupy Egypt, but I do not see what, short of that, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would have recommended to the Government. Once that had been firmly condemned by the great majority of the United Nations, once hostilities had ceased between Egypt and Israel, the only remaining one of the many reasons which the Government gave for going into the war was clearly at an end. I would, however, like to take up one or two points made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and deal with them in the course of my speech.
The Foreign Secretary again told us tonight, and told us quite distinctly, that on 26th October the Government knew that there was mobilisation in Israel. This was not an unseen event; on the contrary, it had been pointed out again and again that there was a danger of war between Israel and Egypt. When this had been put to the Government they, in their turn, told us again and again that they relied on the Tripartite Declaration. There was no gloss put on this to the effect that the Egyptians or the Israelis must accept it.
Further, it was put to the Government that Communist arms were pouring into Egypt, and they said that they were aware of that but they were not frightened of it. Now we know that in four days, between 26th and 30th October, the Government took no steps to consult the other guarantors under the Tripartite Declaration, nor did they consult with the Commonwealth. It is not a question of suggesting that they should have done nothing. They had their own policy, which they had explained to the House under the Tripartite Declaration, 1308 but they made no effort whatever to put it into operation.
The Government told us, in fact, that, in their view, a very dangerous Russian conspiracy was building up in Egypt. The first thing I should like to ask is: is it their case that they did not know about those Communist arms? A great many details appeared in The Times. Apart from that, one would have thought that their intelligence service in Egypt would have kept them informed about this building up of Egyptian forces. If it is their case that they intervened purely because they foresaw the start of a third world war that makes it all the more extraordinary that they took no step at all to consult with the United States or any of our allies in N.A.T.O., or under the Tripartite Declaration. It seems to me quite incredible to think that they had knowledge of this dangerous conspiracy—presumably they would have knowledge if our intelligence service was doing its job—and did not consult.
It has appeared in public that, apparently, they did not even inform or consult our Ambassador in Cairo. Is that true? I do not know, but it has appeared that he did not know about the ultimatum until it was given. Is it conceivable that we were really taking action to stop what might have amounted to a third world war and did not have consultations with our senior representatives in the area, or give them notice about our fears and what we intended to do?
I have some reservations about what the Russians were trying to do there. It is quite true, as the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East said, that we had known for a long time that they were putting in arms, but it is well to remind ourselves that they were getting cotton against those arms deliveries. There might have been a commercial element in it, apart from stirring up trouble. We had been told that things had been getting better between the West and Russia and that the dangers of a third world war were receding. Have we an intelligence service or not? If it is true that this conspiracy was building up, we were successfully misled by the Russians when the cold war appeared to be getting less acute.
I do not know whether hon. Members have read a rather light-hearted but, I 1309 think, quite interesting article by "Stryx" in the Spectator, in which he refers to the difficulty of the Russians mounting a massive attack in Egypt. It seems to me that, like many other European nations, they have been selling a lot of arms to Middle Eastern countries, partly to create trouble, but also to improve their commercial and other interests. We sold the Egyptians a lot of Valentine tanks. I had the painful experience of operating Valentine tanks and I know that unless there were volunteers of a particularly ripe vintage sent to drive those tanks they were not the slightest use. Either ourselves or the Belgians sold them.
I regret that a lot of this debate has been an attempt, as I see it, to justify the course of events which very few hon. Members feel would have turned out well. Certainly, the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East—and, for various reasons, most hon. Members—feel that a new start has to be made in British foreign policy, and the sooner it is made the better. We did not gather from the speech of the Foreign Secretary what everyone I meet believes—I may be wrong—that our interests and prestige are at a new low ebb and that in this country we are facing an obviously extremely serious economic situation which can be met and survived only by a united effort, a united effort in which the Government must play not an apologetic part, as no one expects to apologise, but perhaps a rather more tactful part than they have played up to now in this debate.
I should like to say a few words about what I think now follows from the forward-looking part of the statement of the Foreign Secretary last Monday. I should say, first, particularly to the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East, that I do not think we can job backwards to what would have happened if we had not left the Canal, or if we had had a better Defence Minister, and so on. The fact is that, for better or worse, for a great many purposes we are committed to the United Nations. The right hon. and gallant Member admitted that.
What I think we must realise is that there are certain tasks which it is fair to ask the United Nations to discharge and which it may be able to discharge, but there are other tasks which it is not fair to ask it to discharge. Even those which it is fair to put upon the United 1310 Nations it can only discharge if it has the wholehearted co-operation not only of ourselves but of a united Western bloc, including the European countries and the Commonwealth.
I do not mean that we should press our nationalistic views at the United Nations, but we have a point of view to put to the United Nations. We are not only entitled as Europeans, but have an obligation, to give a lead. One task which the United Nations will have to tackle is a settlement of the future of the Canal. We have been told by the Foreign Secretary that negotiations are to start again on the six points adopted by the Security Council on 13th October. I agree; I think it must start from there, but it will be remembered that that Resolution did not provide a clear basis for the settlement of the Canal. It spoke about the Canal Company, respecting the sovereignty of Egypt, and that the operation of the Canal should be isolated from the politics of any country and disputes over its operation go to arbitration.
I believe it is now clear that if there is to be any confidence in the future of the Canal there has to be an international body, other than the Canal Company, which will co-operate with the Egyptians over the running of the Canal. We particularly, and most of the Western world, must face the fact that if the Egyptians were hostile before they will be doubly and trebly hostile now. The sooner we agree on a policy with the other people who use the Canal and are likely to be dependent on it the better. Such a policy must allow for Egyptian sovereignty—for the Canal is in Egyptian territory—but there must also be an international body to guarantee free passage through the Canal, particularly to the Israelis.
The United Nations has ordered everyone behind the armistice lines. The Israelis are far from being behind the armistice lines; on the contrary, I understand that they are not far from the Canal. I do not think that anything has been said about settling of the frontiers once they have withdrawn. The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) quite rightly said that it was desirable that the United Nations should promptly occupy the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. It may be that Egypt 1311 should be given some payment for the Peninsula which should become an international area, but we shall delude ourselves if we think that the United Nations has accepted anything like that. It has not considered the matter and, unless with our friends we can get together, it will not consider this matter.
Further, and this follows on the question of frontiers, it is absolutely essential to make a start with the resettlement of the refugees. It has been said that some refugees could be settled eventually in Sinai itself. I believe that if a sufficiently attractive proposal were made, a few could be sent to Iraq. Once we have started a trickle of refugees away from the camps, we might find it much easier to get the rest away. But I find nothing in the United Nations Resolution which suggests that the United Nations is giving any attention to this problem. Of course, the United Nations set up U.N.W.R.A. and took responsibility for feeding and looking after the refugees, but there has been no discussion in the Commonwealth countries, in European countries, or at the United Nations itself, on a practical proposal for settling these refugees.
Next I come to the trouble which is reported in Syria. I think that the reports ought to be treated with some caution; few come from Syria itself, most from Iraq. If there is a serious Communist penetration in Syria, is not this, again, a case in which the United Nations should be asked if it might send observers to the Syria-Iraq and Syria-Turkey frontiers, and, for once, step in before trouble blows up?
I believe that those are the main tasks which can be placed fairly directly and immediately on the United Nations—but only if it is given a lead by the European countries and the Commonwealth. Inevitably, there are in the United Nations many countries, such as the South American countries, who are deeply disinterested in the Middle East and fairly disinterested in the Suez Canal. It is not sufficient for people in this country to say that the United Nations is on trial, the implication being that we shall sit back and see what happens.
There is the further point of the position of the United Nations Force. From reading the Resolution of 15th November, 1312 it appears clear that the Force is there to supervise the cessation of hostilities. The Resolution referred to the establishment of the United Nations Command and the international Force to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities in accordance with the terms of the Resolution of the General Assembly of 2nd November.
The Foreign Secretary has rightly pointed out that other things are mentioned in that Resolution of 2nd November, such as the settlement of the area and free passage through the Canal, but T think he will agree that the United Nations Force has gone to the Middle East to primarily supervise the truce or restore peace and that it has not gone there—I regret this—to supervise the settling of the Israeli frontiers or the settling of the refugees or the future of the Canal. I imagine that the Force will soon move to the frontiers of Israel and leave the Canal. I do not know whether I am right, but that seems to be in accordance with the Resolution. It is in the interest of the free world as a whole that the United Nations Force should remain in the area until these longer-term settlements have been made, but I do not think that that is clear as the matter stands at present.
I turn now to some tasks which I do not think can be laid directly on the United Nations. The first, surely, is the defence and stabilisation of some of the countries in the Middle East. There. I think, the main burden falls upon us and the Americans, with the help of the European nations and the Commonwealth. Here, like other hon. Members, I should like to say a word about our relations with the Americans. I must say, much as I like him, that I thought the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty was deplorable. We know, of course, that he is what would be described, in the words of his American mother, as a "crazy, mixed-up kid," but fond of him as we are, this may not be widely appreciated in America. For him to make such a speech and then, four days later, for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come to the House and state that we are to ask the Americans to let us off the interest on the American Loan is not only ludicrous but degrading.
It is no good blaming everything in the Middle East on the Americans. Of course, they have made mistakes. The 1313 fundamental mistake which we, and they, made perhaps was in the setting up of Israel and the Arab States; to the Arab States in their present forms—that is where the whole difficulty arose. But it is not only in places where the Americans have had influence that trouble has arisen. The Americans have done nothing in Jordan. We have made a complete hash of Jordan all of our own, without any American assistance whatever. Nor have the Americans widely interfered in Syria.
Where, I believe, there is genuine disagreement between this country and America is over the way in which we should treat backward countries in which we have big trading operations. We take the view that if we upset the form of society of those countries by the development of oil, for example, we must take some responsibility for it and guide them into the sort of new life which they have to lead. As I understand, the Americans do not take that view; they regard that view as colonialism and they believe that we must not interfere, even with the best intentions, in the government of those countries, but should simply pay them their oil royalties, or whatever it is, and leave them to develop according to their own devices.
Some accommodation must be reached between those points of view. Personally, I believe that the truth is nearer to our point of view than to the American point of view, but there is a clear disagreement between the two points of view which ought to be settled.
The most important country to us now in the Arab world is almost certainly Iraq. I do not believe that she is threatened by immediate Russian aggression. I cannot think why Russia should want to invade the Middle East to try to conquer these countries. The Russians must know how difficult the Arabs are to rule. Nor do they want the Middle East oil for themselves, although they may well want to create trouble there and to deny us the oil. They are much more likely to work on nationalism and discontent.
Our business, I believe, is to give a guarantee against agression through the Bagdad Pact. It must be through the Bagdad Pact, I think, and not through the United Nations. Further, and much more important, we should try to reestablish general Western influence and 1314 prestige in the Middle Eastern counties. It seems to me that the first things we must do is to work on this, again with our European and American friends, because there is no doubt that at the moment we ourselves are to a large extent bound to be discredited.
We want a line of propaganda—propaganda is very important—which will show to these people the dangers of Communism and will try to persuade the Arabs that the Egyptians are not Arabs and that Nasser is not their friend. Are we doing that? Have we a powerful propaganda machine working in the Middle East? Of course not. Everybody knows that we have not. But surely it is the first essential to have a solid, effective propaganda machine for the West, to send our best men to the embassies and other British institutions in the Middle East, and to persuade other European nations to do the same.
It is also of great importance that we should persuade the Americans to tide Iraq over her economic difficulties. Presumably, we cannot do this ourselves. The Iraqis will obviously be very much in difficulty as a result of the cutting of the oil pipeline through Syria, and it would be disastrous to this country if there were a revolution or its equivalent in Iraq at the present time.
Like other hon. Members, I do not believe that our status in the Middle East will ultimately depend either upon our particular cleverness or upon force. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) is right; in the modern age it is simply not possible to march about places with large armies, enforcing the British point of view. I believe that the Arabs are still anxious to have Western help, to trade with the West and to model their institutions on the West, if they are given a chance.
I do not know whether we can start on such a programme at present. As I have said, I believe that our position throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East, has been made extremely difficult. All hon. Members know it to be difficult. Whether, before we can start a new programme, some changes will have to be made in the Government here is not for me to say, but I do not believe that time is on our side, and I very much agree at least with the sentiments of the right hon. and gallant Member for 1315 Leicester, South-East, that what is essential now is to have a consistent policy, a policy which will stand up to the shocks which it will meet, a policy in which other nations in the world have confidence.
That is what has gone wrong. We kept on saying things like, "The basis of our policy is the Tripartite Declaration and the Bagdad Pact". The Prime Minister himself used to come to the House and tell us that Nasser's Government was the best Government we could get in Egypt. We all know that he hoped that Nasser would be a friend of this country. It all fell to pieces and collapsed—and it collapsed because no one had any confidence in it. I am very much afraid that the same thing may happen if we all begin paying lip service to the United Nations. Do Ministers really believe in it, or not?
The United Nations on its own has no more blood in it than had the Tripartite Declaration. It is for the Western world, for ourselves, for Europe and for the Commonwealth to put our own house in order and then to put some life and reality into international institutions.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Mr. F. M. Bennett (Torquay)
In this House we have all grown used to hearing moderate and sensible speeches from the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), and I do not intend to follow him at any length, except to add, perhaps, this gentle word of criticism. Although there was much with which one could agree in what he said, his speech, in general, portrayed the view taken through rosy-tinted spectacles that makes it all sound so easy and which, inevitably, comes to someone representing a party—and I do not say this unkindly—which has had no recent experience and which has no immediate or foreseeable prospect of bearing the responsibilities in the Middle East which has borne so hardly on both the major parties since the war.
Listening to all the debates that have taken place since the Israeli-Egyptian war broke out, one is left with not the slightest doubt that one principal feature of criticism from hon. Members opposite has run throughout them all. That, I could sum up in this way. In attacking various aspects of Her Majesty's Government's policy, there has been throughout a complete ignoring of what might have 1316 happened if, in fact, the action taken by the Government had not been taken. It is always very easy when a Government that is faced with two appalling dilemmas makes a choice which subsequently does not turn out exactly as was hoped to attack and kick holes in the policy adopted, ignoring absolutely what might have happened if no action had been taken.
It is most difficult to surmise accurately what would have happened, but, attacked and criticised as they have been recently, if the Government had taken no action and had left things to the United Nations—as many sincere as well as insincere persons have advocated—can anyone put his hand on his heart and say that things would be better today? Can hon. Members be sure that things would be better—absolutely sure that Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia would not have crossed the frontiers, as at one time seemed likely, and have thus started a wholesale conflagration in the Middle East?
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
When the hon. Member uses such phrases as, "if things had been left to the United Nations," it shows how completely he fails to realise what was required of the Government. It was not that they should have left things to the United Nations, but that they should constructively have used their membership of the United Nations instead of deliberately frustrating it by the use of the veto and then using that frustration as an excuse for single-handed aggression.
§ Mr. Bennett
When I said "leave it to the United Nations," I did not mean to suggest that we should just sit back and leave it to the United Nations and take no part in the proceedings, but rigorously to have followed it and done everything we could, as in the case of Hungary. But, though we did make use of all the possibilities open to us in the United Nations, how has it helped the men, women and children butchered in Hungary?
§ Mr. Bennett
The hon. Member spends much more time on his feet than do I or many other hon. Members. I have no intention of giving way; he should seek an opportunity to speak and cease muttering.
1317 What has also been shown by many hon. Members of the party opposite has been a total misinterpretation of our aims. They have then gone on to say that these alleged aims of the Government have not been achieved. But it is the oldest political game in the world to set up Aunt Sallies and then to knock them down. Allegation after allegation has been made that it was our intention in landing our forces to drive Nasser out of the country, to bring him down in ruins and so on. Not one speech opposite has been able to quote one of our Front Bench spokesmen as evidence to show that those were the Government's aims and, on that assumption, to show that we have not succeeded in achieving them.
So far as the record goes—and that is all that anyone speaking in this House ought to go by—our first aim was to stop the war before it spread. I do not think anyone can deny that our action did bring an end to hostilities. For that I have the authority of no less a person than the Leader of the Opposition, who admitted that we had, in fact, brought about a cease-fire—although it is true that he added the rather odd word that we had done it "prematurely." We have not since had an explanation of the use of that word.
A second aim was to stop the war from spreading. A question which I asked my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary on Monday has been mentioned several times in this debate. I should have thought that the best evidence in support of our assertion that our action did stop the war from spreading is the broadcast from Cairo on Sunday by the Egyptian War Minister. In that broadcast he said, directly and unequivocally, that the troops of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia were mobilised and ready to cross the frontiers when the British and French threatened action stopped them in their tracks. Whatever else may be said of the Egyptian Minister of War and of the Cairo broadcast, no one could say that he is a "stooge" of the Tory Party. That was a direct Cairo broadcast and, I should have thought, the best possible evidence.
Our other two aims were to safeguard the Canal and to produce a general settlement in the Middle East. I frankly admit, of course, that as yet neither aim has been achieved. I do not pretend that 1318 either has. In response to pressure from many countries of the world—which themselves have not borne the responsibility—and from hon. Members opposite, we have now handed over those two outstanding jobs to the United Nations in what my right hon. and learned Friend admitted was an act of faith.
In all humility, I would say that the time to decide whether or not that was the right policy is when we have seen whether or not the United Nations is capable of implementing that act of faith. Hon. Members in all parts of the House may be singing far too loudly if they think that by that act of faith our essential economic and strategic interests have already been secured. The act of faith is on our side. Before we crow too loudly, let us see if the United Nations is capable of carrying out the responsibility which we have put on its shoulders.
One other aspect of these debates has borne particularly hardly on me. In the criticism we have had in this country and from all over the world—and we know that there has been a volume of it—there has doubtless been much that was sincere, but I must confess that I believe that a great deal of the criticism we have had both abroad and at home has been overhung by a really distasteful mantle of hypocrisy. Much as I value our relations with our great Atlantic ally and with our friends in the Commonwealth, I could not stand here now and allow to go unportrayed these examples of hypocrisy which have been evident in the attacks made upon us in the last month.
I take, first of all, our friends in the United States of America. I should like to point out that, in contradistinction to many critics, I do not believe that the Administration in the U.S.A. has been at all interpreting the popular will of a very large section of the American public. Hon. Gentlemen opposite ought particularly to have taken note yesterday morning of a report, published in the Daily Telegraph, of a communiqué issued by the combined trade union organisations of A.F.L. and C.I.O.—including the American For Democratic Action organisation—which could not be said to represent any pro-Conservative element in the United States. The communiqué came out openly in support of British 1319 action, saying that those bodies understood that action and the reasons that had impelled it.
Therefore, in criticising the U.S.A.—and I speak here as I hope a proved personal friend of that country—one should be careful to admit at once that one's attacks are not directed towards the country as a whole, but that one is saying that the Administration has not been living up to the standards of fairness of a great number of the people in that country. I have had many letters from people over there bearing out what I have said. But, honestly, when I remember what the Americans did in Guatemala—when I was fool enough in this House loyally to defend their action because they were our allies and I thought that friendship came before other considerations—and then I think of their donning a white sheet and talking sanctimoniously about interference in other people's national concerns, I feel nearly sick.
When I remember too that, at the same time as the President, dealing with our action in Suez, made this unequivocal and solemn renunciation of the use of force in all circumstances in the settlement of international disputes, orders are still in being to the 7th Fleet in the Formosa Straits to open fire at once if trouble starts—without reference to the United Nations—I feel even more sick.
Then we come back to Korea. I know that owing to the Soviet Union walking out from the Security Council the Western world got the Security Council to vote in favour of what we did in Korea. But does anybody believe that if the Soviet Union had been there and had used the veto the United States would have turned her ships round and would have called away her troops? If we believe that, we are simpletons. The party opposite was in power in those days and, although I was not in the House then, I certainly supported the Government's attitude to Korea.
Does anybody really believe that if the Soviet Union had applied the veto the United States would not have gone ahead with her intervention? Are hon. Members opposite saying—I ask the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger)—that Earl Attlee would not have taken this country into Korea because a Russian veto alone had gone against intervention?
§ Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)
I am being asked about an entirely hypothetical situation. I would merely say that the hon. Member will be aware that because we appreciated after the event what a very difficult question that was likely to prove if anything were to happen again, we did sponsor the alternative procedure. It was argued at the time when this alternative procedure of taking matters to the Assembly was devised that, in fact, it was no more than a declaration of what was implicit in the Charter. My own view is that we would undoubtedly have gone to the Assembly, and had there been a very large majority, as I am sure there would have been, we would have regarded it as a moral authority. But the exact analogy no longer applies in modern circumstances.
§ Mr. Bennett
I admit that the situation was hypothetical, although it is not as hypothetical as all that. The right hon. Gentleman was in office at the time. The plain question was: If the veto had been applied at that time, would we have gone ahead? I am not blaming anybody who says that we would, because I think everybody would have supported such an attitude. In those days the new two-thirds General Assembly arrangement did not exist, and therefore it would have had to be done despite the Security Council.
§ Mr. Younger
I hoped I had made myself clear. When we were putting through the uniting for peace Resolution, which made abundantly clear what alternative procedure could be followed, one of the arguments was that this was something already implicit which only required to be made clear as a warning to aggressors.
§ Mr. Bennett
This is an extremely interesting point, but it does not get away from the act that at the time that those circumstances existed everybody in this House would have done exactly what I said and would have backed up the United States in her action in Korea.
I have mentioned three examples of the United States Administration hypocrisy. Now I must say a word about one of our Commonwealth countries which has been most virulent in its attacks on us—India.
§ Mr. Bennett
Some have appeared in white sheets, some more entitled to do so than others, but I am mentioning only those whose sheets are not white. In this case India is certainly high on the list. Let hon. Members recall what happened in Hyderabad. I do not remember that case being taken to the United Nations. An armoured division walked into a sovereign country before anything could be done. If India did anything different than our Government have done, it was that she acted more quickly. Also there is the small State of Junagadh which opted to join Pakistan. There was no reference either to the United Nations in that case.
Then again there was Kashmir. I have gone to the trouble to ascertain that there are no less than six United Nations Resolutions outstanding at the moment calling for Indian co-operation in holding a plebiscite and all of them have been constantly disregarded. No country has the right to attack us in the United Nations with the virulence which has been used by the Indians when they themselves stand in default of no less than half a dozen United Nations Resolutions.
What about the Indian attitude in the United Nations with reference to Hungary? On one occasion they actually went in with the Soviet bloc to vote against a Resolution, largely sponsored by other Asian nations, openly condemning Russian action in Hungary. This morning, too, I read in The Times a report of a speech by Mr. Nehru in which he referred to the fact that during the long negotiations connected with the passage of resolutions before the United Nations General Assembly he regarded as a triumph of his statesmanship the fact that he had succeeded in keeping the question of Hungary in the background and preventing the United Nations from harping on that because he thought it was more important to deal with Egypt. I wonder how much pleasure that expression of preventing harping on Hungary brings to the relatives of those people who have been butchered, imprisoned and deported in that country.
Even if my country has done something which is not in accordance with the highest moral precepts—and I am not arguing that case here today—I say that I am not prepared as an Englishman in 1322 this House to listen to other people attacking us unless they are able to do so with cleaner hands than some countries which I have mentioned.
Now I should like to turn to the subject of hypocrisy at home. Before the war broke out in the Middle East in November, we had during the Recess a constant stream of attack from certain hon. Members opposite about our "sabre rattling" arising from our having taken certain military precautions. Is that really fair in view of what the Labour Party did at the time of Abadan? I can remember the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), when he was Foreign Secretary, taking steps which earned commendation everywhere when he sent forces to the Middle East. I do not remember hon. Members on these benches trying to make party political capital at that time. [An HON. MEMBER: "The hon. Gentleman was not here."] It is no use saying that because one is not in this House one cannot read HANSARD.
§ Mr. Philips Price
Is it not a fact that hon. Members opposite accused us of scuttling because we did not occupy Abadan and try to work the oilfields?
§ Mr. Bennett
Exactly my point. I said that when the party opposite were for once trying to pursue, with the aid of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, a strong policy, they had support from hon. Members on these benches. That is the parallel which has to be taken into account.
§ Mr. Younger
The hon. Gentleman may quote things which he may or may not have read in HANSARD, but is he not aware that the preparations were made specifically in order, if necessary—which did not prove to be the case—to take off British personnel, and this was made clear in the speech of my right hon. Friend and also in the statement issued by the Labour Party about three weeks later?
§ Mr. Bennett
When the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South came to this House at the beginning of the crisis, he said that he did not blame Her Majesty's Government for taking the military precautions which we had taken. If the right hon. Gentleman is trying to make the point that there was no resort 1323 to force at that time, I would say that there was no effective protection of British property and that we lost the Abadan refineries. We did not get them back until this party came into power. The activities of the party opposite turned out to be an absolute failure.
There was another way, I think, in which hypocrisy has reached a nadir in the words of hon. Members opposite. It was particularly noticeable in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), with much of which I agree when it dealt with an analysis of the degrees of aggression between Israel and the Arab States; but I did not hear one word of condemnation for the action of Israel either in going into the Sinai Peninsula in the first place or in staying in now in defiance of the Resolution of the United Nations.
When it is alleged against us, as it is in this House, that we are very wrong because we have disregarded or delayed obeying the Resolutions of the United Nations, why is not the same standard applied to Israel? I notice all along that pressure by those opposite is put upon these benches, alleging that it is Britain and France who ought to get out, but there is singularly little pressure directed at Israel to tell the Israelis to get out. Yet there ought logically to be the same insistence that Israel should go.
I do not blame hon. Gentlemen for not urging this but if it is logical that Britain and France should get out because they have been condemned by the United Nations, the same should apply to Israel. If we have been condemned as aggressors, so has Israel; and when it came to voting at the United Nations, Israel was in the small minority which voted with us against the rest. If we are guilty of all these crimes in the eyes of the United Nations, so is Israel, up to the hilt. It would be much more honest if certain hon. Gentlemen opposite took up that point in their speeches instead of wasting so much of their venom on their own country.
§ Mr. Bennett
The Government and great majority of the country. [An HON. MEMBER: "The hon. Gentleman should ask the country ".] It is not for me to 1324 arrange for a General Election; that is not a responsibility for me to assert. Actually, if there were a General Election, I should probably not be affected, because I happen to sit in such a seat which it would take a very major reverse to lose; so I personally am not seriously worried about the prospects of a General Election; so I have no personal axe to grind in what I say.
As to the future, many people have tried to make constructive suggestions in their speeches, and I will try to end on that note today. One of the long-term features which will come out of this operation, the benefit of which will be seen in years to come but not at the moment, is this. It may receive some condemnation in the House, but we should surely have all come to realise that there are distinct limitations, more than we had realised, to the value to this country in the American Alliance and what we have thought it brings.
I do not for a moment mean that I do not believe that America will live up to its absolute word in N.A.T.O. or the Atlantic Alliance. That is one thing; I know she will do it there because it suits her interest that she should support us in the Atlantic. But from this moment, let us get over the old conception that because we have some cousins, because we speak the same language, and every now and again someone comes to this country whose grandfather was born at Stratford-on-Avon, that because there are all those charming social and cultural links, we can depend on America to spring to our side all over the world. That may be a very valuable lesson for us to learn. It will operate both ways. If we are to have this sort of patchwork partnership when the alliance works in one section of the world but not in another, then we too must look to our own interests.
That is particularly so in the Far East. I am not saying what line we ought to take over Red China or Formosa or trading with that country or that country's admission to the United Nations. That is not my purpose, and were I to develop the matter I should probably be out of order. But those things should henceforth be considered in relation to the interests of this country and not an alliance which is so clearly limited at present in its geographical context by United States design.
1325 What follows from what I have said? First of all, we have seen the very great value of what I call the loyal members of the Commonwealth. I am anxious not to be invidious as regards particular members of the Commonwealth, but let us remember that at a time when we were cursed and vilified throughout the world, Australia and New Zealand have stood by us, rightly as we think, wrongly as hon. Gentlemen opposite think. Pakistan too has played a particularly gallant part in view of her difficulties and her Muslem population, and is doing so in the Middle East at the present time.
As regards Canada, although we did not agree with what she did at a certain time, I do not think anybody here would be so foolish as not to believe that Canada played a very difficult rôle in working with us and with the United States. Nobody could be foolish enough to condemn Canada as non-loyal, because she has shown an astonishing loyalty in difficult circumstances, particularly difficult economic and political circumstances vis-à-vis the United States and ourselves.
Let us remember henceforth what the real values of the Commonwealth are and just how far they do extend—the values of standing by ones own friends even when they have their backs to the wall. Moreover, we should bear in mind the very helpful part which has been and is being played by certain Western European countries during these days. Again, at a time when we were being vilified, the actions of Belgium and Holland, quite apart from France, have been extremely gallant towards us, and such things do for me strengthen the case in a cause which I have always advanced and in which I have believed, namely, that of a Western Europe much more united than we find it today. I hope one of the long term lessons we shall all learn from these events is the value of strengthening our ties with free Europe, not that it shall interfere with our partnership with the United States, but that, as a much stronger entity together than we are separately, we shall then be able to make our voice heard with much more reality as a partner and not as a subordinate member.
Finally, may I make some small practical suggestions? The suggestion has been made that we should have a United Nations zone in the Sinai Desert from 1326 Aquaba to the Gaza Strip. I endorse that recommendation that we should, in some way, establish an international zone there. I should like also to consider what the possibilities are of building a pipeline through to the Mediterranean there so that, if despite all attempts by the United Nations or anyone else the Canal should ever again be thrown into jeopardy, there is an alternative method by which oil can be rushed to this country other than the route round the Cape.
There is a pipeline under construction, I believe, which I would suggest this Government should consider most seriously, namely that from the Northern Iraq oifields through Turkey straight through to the Mediterranean. Let us remember that one of our most gallant friends is Iraq, who has, despite all that has been said, played her part very well with us in face of obvious great difficulties. We should make certain that the actions of Egypt or anyone else in the Canal Zone do not reduce her to poverty: there should be this other means of getting her oil through to Turkey, reliable Turkey—and to the Mediterranean so that it is kept flowing in the event of future interruption of the Canal.
We should not start now merely talking about building bigger tankers, because talk will not build tankers. My one fear is that if the Canal gets cleared reasonably quickly, as we all must hope it will, we shall tend to go to sleep on this project and let it go by until another interruption comes upon us, when we shall be too late. Let us take more definite action about tankers now, just in case the United Nations does not do all that we expect it to do.
The other lesson which we must learn is that we must realise the limitations of the United Nations. All hon. Members have expressed themselves on this point. Some of them think that our claim to have instilled some life and force into the United Nations is wrong. I do not think one can take very seriously that rather stupid Opposition analogy about the burglar claiming to be responsible for the police force. If hon. Gentlemen will look into the history of the police force, they will find that it came into being because householders were being forced when there were no police to take the law into their own hands. That is 1327 really a much closer analogy with what we have had to do in the world as it is today.
The United Nations, with its little force which it has sent to the Middle East, has very serious limitations. I believe it would be folly for this country to rely too much upon it for safeguarding our interests today. There is the example of Hungary, which we all have very much in our minds at this time. Not long ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker) said, when several hon. Members from this side were casting doubts on his assertion that the United Nations was quite capable of bringing about a settlement in the Middle East:If they had not"—that is, if the aggressors had not obeyed—what would have been the next step under the Charter? It is all laid down. We should have withdrawn our ambassadors. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but the departure of all the ambassadors from Tel Aviv would have been no laughing matter to the Israelis. If that had not made them stop, we could, under the Charter, have cut all sea, rail, air, postal and telegraphic communications. If that had not brought results, we could have imposed a blockade. Is there any hon. Member opposite who really believes that the Israelis are so mad that they would have resisted the whole United Nations imposing a blockade? That could have been followed by a naval demonstration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1956; Vol. 558. c. 1565.]I close by asking this question. What help do hon. Gentlemen really think would be brought to the people of Hungary at this moment by a naval demonstration or cutting off air, sea and rail communications?
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
The issues contained in this broad subject matter are certainly very wide. I should not have thought that the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. Bennett), speaking from the Government back benches today, would have chosen the theme of hypocrisy as being the most suitable. As he was proceeding with his indictment of the members of the Commonwealth, I could not help thinking that before he concluded we might have had a change of time from Mr. Lester Pearson's statement that the Commonwealth was on the verge of dissolution. Although he made very belated apologies to some members of the Commonwealth, it was a very deplorable indictment of people who had stood by 1328 us through thick and thin, through two World Wars, through depressions and in a way that none of us really had the right to expect.
The hon. Member was not doing the Chancellor of the Exchequer's case very much good either at a time when he is suggesting that the United States might agree to a waiver of interest rates. The complete paradox that we see in the conduct of hon. Members opposite now makes us wonder whether, even if the Government are determined to try to carry on, they will not in a short time disintegrate and leave the nation without a Government at all.
One of the outstanding pronouncements we have heard tonight has been the death knell of the Suez Group. We had a speech from the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse), who announced that tomorrow he will abstain—he will not support the Government—and the reason he gave is that he is fairly certain that in doing so he will not bring down the Government. It follows, of course, that had the Government pursued this policy in the last Parliament when they had a very small majority the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would have had to stomach the Government's policy no matter what his principles might be because otherwise he would have brought down the Government. Therefore, he places himself in the dilemma that the Government having now a large enough majority to sustain themselves, despite anything that he can do about it, can snap their fingers at the Suez Group and do exactly what they like. From any angle we care to look, I should have thought that we have witnessed the end of the Suez Group about which we have heard so much.
One of the points of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech was his attempt to assert that this side of the House were in some way trying to suggest that in their actions in the invasion of Egypt there was something dishonourable attached to the conduct of the British troops. That is a most deplorable line for anyone in this House to try to take. British soldiers, sailors and airmen do not need to prove every five minutes their valour and capacity. We take that for granted. Our case is that these able men should never have been asked to undertake such a dishonourable action as the 1329 Government forced upon them. Of course, we know that, irrespective of their own thoughts, they have to carry out the decisions of the Government. That does not exonerate the Government which makes the decisions.
The hon. Member for Torquay spoke about the hypocrisy which he found in the conduct of the American Government. Would he address himself to the fact that, upon the very day upon which the Prime Minister announced his ultimatum here, the American Ambassador actually met the British Foreign Secretary? There was no reference whatever by the Foreign Secretary to the fact that the Prime Minister would shortly announce that ultimatum. [An HON. MEMBER: "That was not hypocrisy."] If that was not hypocrisy, then I do not know the meaning of it. Here we are supposed to be in close alliance with the United States. At top levels there can be meetings between the Foreign Secretary and the American Ambassador at which an issue as momentous as this cannot even be mentioned to the Ambassador.
§ Mr. Lewis
Is my hon. Friend aware of the fact that it was reported in the New York Times on 6th September that the Prime Minister wrote to the President of the United States informing him that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to "go it alone" and the President of the United States then warned the Prime Minister that he should not do it?
§ Mr. Lee
That is all evidence to the point that I am making. I understand that on the same day there were in fact discussions between the three parties to the Tripartite Declaration, that these discussions were going on in Washington, and again no announcement of this fact was made to the United States representative. When these sort of issues can be posed here, I suggest that for an hon. Member to talk about hypocrisy is just about boxing the compass.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. A. E. Dodds-Parker)
I cannot, of course, accept newspaper reports which have been mentioned by the hon. Member as being in any way correct.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker
I am not going to confirm or deny what hon. Members opposite produce from newspapers.
§ Mr. Lee
That intervention leaves us precisely where we were.
During the course of his speech today, the Foreign Secretary read out a long statement, which he said had been issued by the United States Government on 3rd November, dealing with action through the United Nations. He had the effrontery to say how much he agreed with that. A constitutional document, deploying the same sort of argument within the Charter of the United Nations, was issued on 3rd November and he tells us today how much he agreed with it, having done in the meantime all that he could to controvert the basis of the whole Charter itself. I should have thought that on the theme of hypocrisy that sort of thinking takes quite a bit of believing.
In the course of Question Time hon. Members opposite have mentioned the actions of my hon. Friends. I thought we came precious near to admissions that, at any rate, if there had not been collusion there was a substantial degree of what we might call fore-knowledge of what was going to happen. [An HON. MEMBER: "Mutual understanding."] Indeed, the Minister of Defence himself, in replying to a supplementary question which I put to him, appeared to me and, I think, to most hon. Members on this side of the House to agree that the Cabinet knew full well that there was imminent danger of Egypt being attacked. The question which I posed was broadly this: Why did we, if the Cabinet knew all this, seek an assurance that Jordan would not be attacked? Why did not we also get an assurance that Egypt would not be attacked? We have had no reply to that from the Minister of Defence at Question Time or from the Foreign Secretary in his speech this afternoon.
Until such time as we get a direct answer to that question, we are entitled to believe what the rest of the world already believe, that in any event there was already fore-knowledge of what was about to take place. The Foreign Secretary told us that there had already been border incidents involving Jordan and also involving Egypt, and it seems to us under those conditions that if assurances were to be demanded for one of the nations, unless we had reason not to 1331 oppose action against Egypt, we could have asked for the same assurances in that case too.
We have had the repetition of what has been said so often about the attitude of the Opposition in all this. We have been told that we on this side have been gloating over the defeat which the Government have sustained in this matter. When one sees the leading article in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, it really gets a little beyond the pale. I quote:The ordinary decencies of relations between Government and Opposition have not been observed by the latter. From the demeanour of at least the Socialist back benches yesterday, it looks as if the Opposition intended to gloat over this humiliation.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite agree that there is humiliation, do they? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] This article continues:But there are going to be serious repercussions both in the economic and in the foreign fields. In the times which lie ahead, gloating will be singularly out of place. It could only intensify that decline in the reputation of the House of Commons which its conduct during the crisis has begun.I suggest to the party opposite and to its mouthpiece that it is not for the only party in this country which has been guilty of shouting down a Prime Minister and of refusing to allow an announcement of serious Government policy in this House—I go back to the days when the then Mr. Asquith was not permitted to make his statement on the Government's attitude towards the House of Lords—to talk in terms of the party to which I am proud to belong lowering the dignity of the House of Commons. It has certainly never degenerated to that level.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
Is it not particularly remarkable and interesting that an accusation of that kind should be made by the Daily Telegraph, a paper out of the same stable as the Sunday Graphic, whose contributions to public morality in this respect are so well-known?
§ Mr. Lee
As usual, I am in complete agreement with my hon. Friend.
So far as we see it, the question is certainly not one of gloating, but of investigating where lies the blame for this great and unnecessary tragedy. That is the duty of this House. Now that this unnecessary tragedy has brought us to 1332 a position of economic insecurity, I am utterly certain that though we will continue in every way to resist the policies which brought it about, economically and industrially we will do what we can to pull the nation through. Much now depends upon the attitude of organised labour.
This silly attitude of the Government, the outlook that the Opposition must not oppose, takes one back almost to the days of Duke of Newcastle, who used to look upon opposition to Ministers as opposition to Royalty. I believe it was in those days that a ditty came into being which started by describing the Opposition aspests of human kind whom Royal bounty cannot bind.We have moved a long way since those days. In a great tragedy of this kind, it is the duty of the Opposition to outline to the nation as a whole that the background against which this tragedy has arisen is the bankruptcy and the ineptitude of the party who are now in government.
One recalls that this began when the Chairman of the Conservative Party, whom one remembers as a Member of this House, issued his circular from the Tory Central Office telling the members of his party that it was the attitude of the Opposition which had ruined or undermined the Prime Minister's health. The Lord Privy Seal, for reasons which I do not understand, rather spoilt that picture at Cambridge the day that the Prime Minister went away by assuring us all that the Prime Minister was not even ill.
I do not wish to be as vicious about this as the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) was the other day, but I suggest that when we see the nation without a Prime Minister in this country, or without a deputy appointed to do his job at such a time of crisis, the dilemma of the Tory Party in being unable to select a deputy in the Prime Minister's absence cannot be excused, especially when we know that the only reason is that there would be resignations in the Cabinet if a deputy were selected. Therefore, the nation, with this great crisis on its hands, is, for the first time, I think, since democratic government first came, completely bereft of any chief advisers to the Crown.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Would my hon. Friend agree that the Prime Minister is now the best Prime Minister we have not got?
§ Mr. Lee
I say reluctantly that as a result of this escapade, our power in the Middle East has now ended. Our main concern must be with the vacuum which is thus created and the manner in which it will be filled. We are already seeing the cold war sweep along again, and it could be that when a vacuum is established in a most vulnerable strategic area like the Middle East, the cold war could turn into a hot war. Therefore, we must examine the outlook in the light of the present position of the United Nations.
I recall a few words which my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) gave to the House in his speech of 1st November. He tried to argue that none of us had as yet managed to assess the difficulties which have entered into foreign policy because of the existence in the world of the hydrogen bomb. One of the most remarkable phenomena attached to the coming of the hydrogen bomb is that the great Powers no longer dare to fight among each other. Instead of the spectacle, which we have always seen in times of trouble, of small nations having to run for shelter under the wings of great Powers, the very immobility of the great Powers now gives the small nations greater licence to war among themselves. That is one of the things that we must all try to assess in our determination of what shall be the future of the United Nations.
The Government Front Bench have told us that one of the good things to come out of this tragedy is the creation of an international force. If the Government went into Egypt, as they assert, to stop the fighting, why choose Egypt instead of Hungary? I do not want to enter into the merits of who was the aggressor, but it happened to be the fact that the Israeli forces were standing 100 miles inside Egypt. Nevertheless, in pursuit, apparently, of the philanthropic idea of stopping the fighting, we attacked those who had been attacked. The Foreign Secretary said this afternoon that there was some doubt as to the intentions of the Israeli Government in accepting a cease-fire. He agreed that Egypt had accepted the cease-fire. Now, the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that there was a doubt concerning 1334 the Israelis and he asks what we should have done. What we did was to attack Port Said. Do we take it from that that if the doubt had been as to whether the Egyptians had accepted the ceasefire, we would have attacked Tel Aviv? That is the logic of the argument. As we saw this afternoon, the hypocrisy of the whole thing is shown clearly when we know that both sides had agreed to stop fighting 24 hours before the first British paratroops landed on Egyptian soil.
I want to relate to this the issue of why we chose Egypt. Both the warring Powers, Egypt and Israel, are relatively small Powers. Neither had the strength to return our assault upon them in kind. In other words, there was no fear of rockets over London, or any other part of Britain, in stopping a war in Egypt. There was some doubt about who was the aggressor. Is there any doubt about who was the aggressor in Hungary? None of us has any doubt. Why did we not do the same thing in Hungary?
§ Mr. Lee
I do not, but I did not talk about going to Egypt and the hon. Member did. Why did we not do it in Hungary? The answer is that one of the Powers engaged is one of the great Powers which could have replied in kind. We should have produced a jungle where the weaker animals are eaten by the great animals and we dared not mete out the same sort of treatment as we decided to mete out in Egypt.
§ Mr. Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
Does the hon. Member think that the Austrian Government would have given us permission to take troops into Austria to go to the help of the Hungarians?
§ Mr. Lee
If the hon. Member can tell me what neutral Powers we asked for permission to go into Egypt, I will be able to see some sense in his interjection.
It is not now sufficient to talk of collective security in the sense that we used to talk of it through the United Nations. We must consider the sort of world organisation, and the type of power that organisation must have, which the new situation has made necessary. The only guarantee now lies in the complete inability of any nation to fight. I do not 1335 know how one can otherwise possibly relax to take the word of any Power that it has no intention of committing aggression against some other Power.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, in a brilliant speech this afternoon, pointed out that force itself is now finished and can no longer be used to solve the problems of the second half of the twentieth century. I agree, but if that is so, is it not logical to suggest that that means not a particular type of force, but all types of force? If that is so, it is no answer to the problem to say that we have created an international force which in the last analysis, on the old basis of collective security, can stop an aggressor by the use of force. What we now mean is that force, either national or international, cannot be used in future.
The past is passed and we have to look now to the future and to what sort of authority we ought to vest in the United Nations. I cannot believe that the creation of this small force in the Middle East means that it has to stay there indefinitely. I cannot believe that because we have a situation in which nations are in danger of fighting for some precious material, whether oil or some metal, the people who are cursed by the presence of such precious materials shall have to endure military occupation, either national or international, for the rest of their lives.
The only answer now is the surrender by all nations of a greater degree of economic power to the United Nations itself. In other words, we have not only to make it impossible for nations to fight, but to discover the causes which bring about war and place those causes soundly in the hands of an international authority, the United Nations. The control of scarce raw materials comes very largely into this argument. In the years ahead, the danger of war lies in the desperate scramble for scarce raw materials, oil, nickel and so on.
I should like to see a lead given by the British Commonwealth which could invite the United Nations to share with us the responsibility of exploiting on a far greater scale the scarce raw materials in the Commonwealth. We know those materials are there, but we are incapable of getting them, because we do not have 1336 the facilities—the export of capital and so on is now beyond us.
If we are to make an international authority the alternative to war, all nations must be represented on it. I put that idea very seriously to those who until now have opposed it. I say to our friends in the United States that their opposition of the entry of Red China into the United Nations now assumes a far greater importance even than it had before. The keeping out of any nation merely because one does not like the colour of its Government is to deny it the use of the alternative to war itself If we are to get round a conference table to resolve the problems which loom so large, it is essential that we should drop the thought that some nation or other, because of the complexion of its Government, is not sufficiently decent to sit at the conference table of the United Nations.
Our power and authority in the Middle East have gone and we must face up to the logic of that. Our withdrawal from the Middle East must be recognised in a new outlook towards the burden of defence which we now undertake. Our economic problems cannot be solved while we continue with the great burden of armaments at its present rate. If I am right in my view about the future of international authority, we can now give a lead in the way I have suggested in the Commonwealth and by drastically cutting our own re-armament programme, by trying to show other nations that we believe force can no longer be used, that from now on we will concentrate what we still have in bringing to the world a new appreciation of what international amity really means.
We have a background of having done a great job of pioneering. With the new conception looming before mankind, this nation, although no longer a great military Power, can give a lead which can stir the minds and imaginations of men and get away from the whole basis of war to bring a new decency and culture to mankind.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Sir Patrick Spens (Kensington, South)
This is the first time, during our series of debates in the last four months, that I have attempted to address the House. I have spent days hearing, sometimes with 1337 great difficulty, what was said by hon. Members. Tonight, I do not want to deal so much with the past as with the present and the future, but I should not be honest with the House if I did not say that throughout I have endorsed every step taken by Her Majesty's Government. I shall endorse the latest step—including the withdrawal of our troops from Port Said, as demanded by hon. and right hon. Members opposite—by my vote tomorrow night.
The real difference between the parties seems to me to be not really upon matters of principle, but on what facts they believe. I believe that it was absolutely certain that on the afternoon when the ultimatum was given—Israel having broken into Egypt in enormous strength—there was every likelihood that Colonel Nasser would press the button and order his commander-in-chief to move the whole of the Arab forces, and that within a matter of hours there would have been a flare-up in the Middle East. In my view, that would have spread from the Persian Gulf to the West Coast of Africa within a matter of days.
That is what I believe, on all the information that I have. I realise that hon. Members opposite do not believe it. If I am right, however, it explains all the difficulties which hon. Members opposite have discovered. It explains the difficulty of communication both with the United States of America—and here there was the other very great difficulty, that this happened six days before the Presidential election; a very difficult concatenation of circumstances—and with the Commonwealth. Believing that, I am quite certain that the ultimatum did have the effect that it was intended to have, of stopping the war, and that the other steps followed logically, one by one.
All through our early debates I was distressed to find that so little emphasis was put upon the vital necessity of our obtaining oil from the Persian Gulf. Not until the last fortnight have a great many Members, and, certainly, millions of our people, realised to what an extent our industry is dependent upon the oil which comes from the Persian Gulf. It was not until I heard the recent speech of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) that I realised to what a tremendous extent our steel industry depends upon oil.
1338 Rightly or wrongly, for reasons which many of us know, in recent years we have switched our industry from coal to oil and now, as an industrial country, we, together with the whole of Western Europe, depend upon the oil which comes through the Canal from the Persian Gulf. That brings out the fact that the Canal is of absolutely vital interest to us, not only for the supply of oil but also because it is the great trade route between us and all trade east of Suez. Our country cannot live unless the Canal is working and we are receiving those oil supplies.
I accept the view, with which I know hon. Members opposite, certainly the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker), do not agree, that where vital interests are concerned the Charter of the United Nations does not forbid the use of force.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Would the right hon. and learned Member agree that the Rhine, as an international waterway, was no less vital to the economy of Hitler's Germany than the Suez Canal is to ours?
§ Sir P. Spens
I do not agree. That is an utterly untrue comparison. Anybody who knows the trading position of this country realises how utterly vital the Suez Canal is to us at present.
I need say no more than that I entirely accept the views expressed by my colleague and superior, Professor Goodhart, the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the International Law Association, of which I have the honour to be a member. I accept his interpretation of the Charter and I say that it is unrealistic at present—I do not say that it is hopeless, because I am always an optimist—to think that there will not be occasions when force will occur in this world. The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) talked of the danger of war. That presupposes that someone will be mad enough to use force. Our problem is how to stop another war. My view is that it can be done only by the use of force when it is necessary to protect a vital interest.
§ Mr. P. Noel-Baker
When the right hon. and learned Gentleman was considering the international law of the matter, 1339 did he also consider the arguments put forward by Lord McNair, an ex-President of the International Court of Justice, in another place?
§ Sir P. Spens
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there are two views as to the international law in this matter, and I have not the slightest doubt that they will be argued for two generations. All I say—and I say it with great respect—is that I am on the side of Professor Goodhart. I believe that his is the true and real view.
I want to challenge one remark made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). He said that the Russians did not want the oil in the Middle East. From the time that I left India in 1948 I formed the view, which I have never altered, that Russia wants the greatest possible influence in Asia and throughout the Middle East.
I do not know what are the Russian supplies of oil; I very much doubt whether anybody in the country knows what they are. But what we do know is that world reserves of oil, so far as they have been explored, are in the Persian Gulf. America has oil, and we have some oil, but that oil will all be used up within a generation or so. The world's reserves are in the Persian Gulf, and we must have them if we are to survive until atomic energy removes the need for them. America must have them if she is to survive, and I very much doubt whether Russia, also, does not have to have them.
Whether or not Russia requires those oil supplies, however, I should have thought that anybody who believes in the existence, or the possible existence, of the cold war would realise that there are two perfectly simple ways by which Russia can control the whole of Western Europe. One is by, obtaining possession of this vital oil, and the other is by controlling, directly or indirectly, the passage through the Suez Canal. If she stops that passage and deprives us of our oil Western Europe will be in a very sorry position—as, indeed, it is at the moment, when it has to go to America to buy oil and lose a percentage of its needs through the stoppage of traffic through the Canal.
I believe that all this trouble has arisen from the inability of the United Nations to make up its mind how to deal with 1340 the situation in Egypt and Israel, after all the months of discussion. I believe that the trouble arises from the fact that during all this time nothing has come out of the United Nations. For that fact I must put a great deal of the blame upon the misfortune that this event occurred during a period immediately preceding the election of a President in the United States. Under their Constitution the six months before and the three months after are the most dangerous times for the world at present, because politics is being played in the United States—and politics, local politics, come before everything else.
At any rate, there it was. I, with great regret—because I have many friends, legal and otherwise, in the United States—think that the United States has to bear a great deal of the responsibility for what has happened—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I mean in the conditions which led up to the trouble. That is what I am saying. I am not saying anything about the action we were taking but, as I have said, in the conditions which led up to the trouble and made it possible for Israel to do what she did. That is all I am saying.
Now I turn—
§ Mr. P. Noel-Baker rose—
§ Sir P. Spens
—if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, to what I think is the present situation. I think that the United States is realising how serious is the position in the Middle East—[HON. MEMBERS: "So are we."]—and so are all of us. I rejoice that the Canal is to be cleared by an organisation which is to be in charge of two very distinguished Americans. As I understand, they are not representing the United States, but are working under the directions of the United Nations. But, at any rate, they are two distinguished Americans who are now pledged "up to the neck"—if I may say so—to get the Canal cleared with the least possible delay. That is one of the best things that has happened.
The next best thing that has happened is that during the past few days the President has directed that arrangements shall be made without delay for emergency oil supplies to go to Europe. That is an enormous change on the part of the United States. It is due, no doubt—
§ Mr. Noel-Baker rose—1341
§ Sir P. Spens
No. I will give way in a moment. It is very difficult to make a speech if the right hon. Gentleman interrupts every single sentence. I know that he does not agree with what I am saying, but he will have the opportunity of castigating me ad infinitum before the end of the debate if he wants to.
I welcome very much this change in the attitude of the United States during the last five or six days. But I want to go on to what is a much more difficult question, that of the United Nations Force. It is perfectly true that we should not have seen a United Nations Force in Egypt, or anywhere else in the Middle East, but for the events of the last three weeks. There is no question about that. It is a tremendous step forward that, for the first time in history, there should be a true United Nations Force, doing something. I am not going to discuss what it is there to do, but I think we have all to direct our minds—
§ Sir P. Spens
That was not really quite the same.
I should like to have seen them build up a United Nations Force out of our forces and the forces of France. I think that that would have been the right way to do it, following the Korean example. But they would not do that—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who would not?"] Certainly, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite would not have supported that step, or anything of that sort happening. Otherwise, the United Nations might have followed the example of Korea, and built up the British and French forces. I believe that that would have been the best thing to do, but they have not done it. They said, "No, you are to go, and we are going to build up a pure United Nations Force instead."
Yesterday, I met a very distinguished American, and discussed this matter with him. He was delighted, he is as much an idealist about the United Nations as is the right hon. Member for Derby, South and I admire that point of view. But I put this question to him. I said, "Suppose fighting broke out in South America, and the United Nations decided to send in a United Nations Force, and that Force came from Europe. Would 1342 you agree with that?" He said, "My nation would not have that at all." Well, there we are. We have this great difficulty, and I am very doubtful whether we can rely on the fact that the United Nations could raise a force from a number of nations and send it into any area where the world was at trouble.
I do not believe that it is possible. I do not believe that the time factor makes it possible. I believe—I think it an admission of the weakness of the United Nations—in arrangements like N.A.T.O. Of course, N.A.T.O. is an admission that, in an emergency, the United Nations cannot deal with a violent situation. We have to have a force which is organised and in position. We must have a commander who can go into action without asking the permission of anybody at all. I understand that the Commander of N.A.T.O. is in a position to take immediate action.
The weakness of N.A.T.O. is the Middle East and North Africa, and I should like to see this Middle East problem linked up with N.A.T.O, so that it shall be a real resistance to what obviously has been happening, namely, the infiltration of Russian influence into that area. I believe that Russia intends to cause as much trouble in that area as she can, and I believe that the answer to the problem is to strengthen N.A.T.O. so as to protect its right flank. If we can do that, we shall have something which will stop Russian infiltration, maintain peace between Jew and Arab, and get rid of the threat to peace in the future.
I put that forward, but I wish to conclude by going back to something legal. I wish to point out that in these last weeks the original sin of Nasser has been forgotten. That original sin was the nationalisation by force of the assets of the old Suez Canal Company.
§ Sir P. Spens
Speaking for myself—I have no right to speak for anybody else—I wish to make it clear that I do not agree that any right of sovereignty or anything else justified Nasser in doing what he did.
There is an enormous difference between nationalising either a company or the assets of a company by the ordinary, decent process of the law, and stepping 1343 in with armed police, throwing out the executives of a company and ordering the workmen to go on working under threat of imprisonment. There is a great difference between that and doing it in the decent way that civilised nations understand. Therefore, even though I am the only voice in this House to say so, I wish to say that I do not recognise that as a legitimate form of nationalisation whatsoever, and that those people who say it is should think again.
There is a very different problem, from my point of view, in the attitude of India. India is nationalising as much as she possibly can and in my opinion, the Indians, without thinking very much, have said that Nasser had every right to nationalise in the way he did. The Indians have not nationalised in that way. They have nationalised much more as we did in this country. It is true that they have taken up certain assets of companies, but they have proceeded to bring in a law to justify what they did and put it through their Parliament. They have never been guilty of anything like this brutal theft of the assets of a company which Nasser has committed. I think, also, that India is in the position that she cannot, even now, admit the right of any United Nations Force, or anybody else, to go in to restore a position which she is in in dereliction of a direction of the United Nations.
Therefore, I can understand the attitude that she has had to take up during this episode; but, apart from India, everybody else realises that there was no justification for Nasser's action in the way in which he did it originally. In my view, in no circumstances whatever should the United Nations allow him to get away with the result of his brazen theft.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I should like to say straight away to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) that, broadly, I agree with the case he has put on the original nationalisation proposals of Nasser. A landlord is no less objectionable to me because he happens to be an Egyptian landlord, and if he forecloses on a lease 14 years before the agreement is due to end, it is still a dereliction of legal duty. We on this side of the House have fought over the major 1344 principle of compensation against confiscation, and certainly no social democrat can agree with expropriation.
I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not agree with the attack against the leader of my party in connection with part of his speech of 3rd August, which was a condemnation of Nasser on this point. I do not agree with what has been said, not by the right hon. and learned Gentleman but by other hon. Members, because the other part of my right hon. Friend's speech made it perfectly clear what his view was. That speech is perfectly consistent with his attitude that this is a matter for the United Nations.
I will speak about N.A.T.O. later in my speech, because I was a member of the recent Conference of N.A.T.O. Parliamentarians and I want to say something about its rôle in this incident. It is common in all parts of the House that we meet in an atmosphere of shock. Yesterday's announcement about costs was a shock, but far more a shock was the lost prestige and the lost integrity of the Tory Party. Hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot deny that. There is deep unhappiness in the party opposite because they no longer believe in their leader; they no longer believe in themselves.
We are in a position where we as a country have been condemned by the world. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I ask that there should be less noise from the direction of the Chair occupied by the Serjeant at Arms? I can hardly speak against the noise that is taking place behind the Bar. There is so much infernal noise that I cannot hear myself speak.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)
I am sorry if there has been some noise. I did not hear it myself.
§ Mr. Pannell
At this time we go cap in hand to the Americans who last week were reviled in a Motion signed by over 120 hon. Members from the other side of the House— [That this House congratulates the Foreign Secretary on his efforts to secure international control of the Suez Canal, and deplores both the Resolution of the General Assembly calling for immediate and unconditional withdrawal of British and French troops from Egypt, and the attitude of the United States of America which is gravely endangering the Atlantic alliance.]
1345 They are Members of the party which the Chancellor of the Exchequer represents. Our name and our credit is to be dragged through Congress. I hark back to the time when the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) was talking about American charity. He did not use the word in the way St. Paul used it, as something that "suffereth long, and is kind." He used it rather in the way of saying that we, as a Labour Government, were asking America for something which a Tory Government would have had to ask for either way, but it was somehow foul for us to do it and praiseworthy for hon. Gentlemen opposite.
In fact, even during all our difficulties in 1951, we never asked for a waiver; but we have been brought to the position of a mendicant by the deliberate policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite who have not counted the economic cost in any way whatever but have proceeded on a project where they considered neither the consequences nor what Mr. Ramsay MacDonald used to call the consequences of the consequences.
I want to put in a word for America here. I think that America has been a good friend of this country throughout the whole of this business. Our action occurred in the last days of the Presidential election. I have spent three months in America this year, so I know all that a Presidential election means. President Eisenhower, who, in some ways, has been alleged by the Democrats to be a weak President, was an extremely strong President in those last days at a time when he was most vulnerable. We should not forget the assertion which has been put out that the Summit Talks at Geneva were somehow contrived to give the Tory Party a fillip for last year's General Election. Probably President Eisenhower has asked what gratitude he has received for that when, on the very last days of a Presidential election, with New York State and the Jewish vote and all that that means, his friends, his faithful friends, his most devoted allies, did this.
We have all fought elections. We are all professionals in this way, and I can imagine what our reactions would have been in circumstances such as that. But there was another thing about it. We may remember that at that critical time Messrs. B. and K. indicated that they 1346 were going to send over guided missiles and put volunteers in the Middle East. There was an American reaction. Can anybody doubt where General Gruenther got his instructions from when he said, "As sure as the dawn breaks tomorrow, we will throw them all back again"? That was a deterrent, a massive deterrent. We heard no more about volunteers in the Middle East, because Nasser and company immediately reacted and said that they did not want volunteers at the price of a third world war.
It has been said—I have heard the suggestion from the other side of the House—that somehow the fact that America walked out on the Aswan Dam was the thing that precipitated Nasser's action. I should like to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he can give an assurance that, before the United States withdrew their offer in connection with the Aswan Dam, he did not recommend them to do so, either formally or informally. Does anyone doubt that before that was done there were consultations? Of course not. Generally speaking, I think that the Americans have acted firmly in this matter.
It is rather curious in view of what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) about the Canal having hagridden these proceedings from first to last. I remember what the Minister of Education, a member of the Cabinet, said on 27th November. He set out the five aims of the Conservative Government, and he must have been in their confidence because he was a member of the Cabinet. He said: One, clear the Canal. Two, put the Canal under international control. Three, settle the Arab-Israel dispute. Four, prevent any part of the Middle East being a Moscow satellite. Five, help the peoples of the Middle East to raise their standard of living. If he had put the last one first, he would have had more chance with the others. These things were said on 27th November.
One of the curious things that happened came from the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin). He is not in his place at the moment, but I gave him notice that I would mention this. He intervened on Monday and asked the Foreign Secretary—I will not repeat his 1347 back-hander at our absent Prime Minister—Can my right hon. and learned Friend say—and he is one of the few people we can believe at the moment—."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1956; Vol. 561, c. 893.]What did he mean? We know what he meant, and so do hon. Members on Government benches. He meant that the Government, from first to last, did not come clean with their own supporters. I recall the words in Carpenter's "England Arise":Over your face a web of lies is woven.We must first find out who the liars were.
Another thing which the Foreign Secretary said was:The arguments of certain right hon. Gentlemen opposite are very present on the lips of the enemies of this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1956; Vol. 561, c. 889.]We want to know who the enemies are. We want to know whom the hon. Member for Oldham, East considers are our enemies. He will not tell us. He might do so in the Lobby, but he will not do it here. He is too honest for that. Whom does the Foreign Secretary mean are the enemies of this country in this context, when by 64 votes to five we were branded as aggressors at the United Nations?
Are all the 64 nations enemies? Australia could not be an enemy of this country, but the most remarkable thing about Mr. Menzies is that publicly he has supported us while privately he has torn more strips off the Prime Minister than anybody else. Canada has condemned us; is she an enemy of this country? After all, this United Nations Force which has saved the face of Government supporters is the brain-child of Mr. Pearson. The Government never thought of it from first to last, and actually voted against the calling of that meeting and abstained from voting on the proposals.
There is deep unhappiness amongst Government supporters at the loss of integrity of the Conservative Party. They are continually upbraiding us. The right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) said that in so far as the Government's policy had not succeeded the responsibility belonged to the Opposition. We did not hear much about that when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke this evening.
1348 It is nonsense. We did not determine the course of events. That was said by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to salve his conscience, because he is only going to abstain from voting and is not going into the other Lobby. He considers the continuance in office of the Tory Party as the most important thing, as he told us, and I can accept that point of view, but he need not pass the responsibility over to the Opposition.
The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) referred to thehumiliating withdrawal"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1956; Vol. 561, cc. 893, 889 and 891.]He condemned the United States. Presumably he considers her an enemy. He said that she was condemned by Government supporters. He condemned us for the course which we took and which we believe was the right one. He also condemned certain weakminded people—as he might describe them—on his own side; more enemies.
The core of the unhappiness among Government supporters is that they believe we should have gone the whole length of the Canal. I can only say that in that case our humiliation at the end would have been greater than it was, and that we should have had to retreat further. The members of the Suez Group were not betrayed by hon. Members on this side of the House. We knew where we stood. They were betrayed in the "house of their friends," and they know it. The hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) has gone on record as saying so.
§ Mr. Pannell
I listened to the speech of the hon. Gentleman with sympathy. We need not argue on the literal interpretation of the speech, but it was not intended to be friendly to the Government.
Let us take this whole business. Let us see what happened- on 30th October, in connection with this condemnation of America. What was the record? At 9.30 in the morning the Foreign Secretary saw the American Ambassador and they discussed certain things. They did not say anything about the sort of thing that was to happen five hours later, but five hours later the British and French Ministers agreed on the invasion of Egypt.
1349 No attempt was made to inform the Americans who, after all, were the senior partner in this and would have to back anything with force only after the decision was taken. It surely must have been the most humiliating and wounding thing for the President that he actually got the news, only through the Press. I can understand him preferring to meet Mr. Bandaranaike, the Prime Minister of Ceylon, and refusing to meet the Foreign Secretary, after being played a dirty trick of that sort. After five hours the British Cabinet met and decided on this action.
It did not consult the Leader of the Opposition. It is reasonable to suppose that if one is going into a war one should consult a party which is almost half the State. Even Neville Chamberlain would not make that mistake and certainly not the right hon. Member for Woodford. We have heard what Mr. Pearson said about the effect on the Commonwealth, "almost rending it asunder" and, although Australia and certain others have come in behind us afterwards, there is no doubt that they were deeply wounded at the time.
Although the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) said something about India, he did not refer to Pakistan, which had a "Hate Britain Day". There was the continual obsession of our absent friend the Prime Minister. He was hagridden by wounded vanity about the Canal and only the Canal—not Israel, his whole record showed that he had very little interest in that. In effect we were taken into a war by a man three weeks off a nervous breakdown. I have a list of all the statements of the Prime Minister, but I will not deal with them here. All the other arguments and alibis cropped up later. Suffice it to say that on 31st October he was still on the subject of the Canal, but on 1st November the idea of the United Nations stepping in cropped up. There was never any thought of it before that. As a matter of fact, it was not until 8th November, as he was in the middle of one of his purple passages and as a sort of parenthesis in his peroration, that the President of the Board of Trade—whom we recognise as the Prince Rupert of debate—mentioned the Russian plot. On the same day the Minister of Defence said:The whole point of this is that the Canal cannot and must not be solely the concern of 1350 the Egyptian Government. That is what all this has been about."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 262.]Of course honest hon. Members opposite know that is what it bas been all about and all they care about. The rest has been façade. As to separating the combatants, one does not get 100 miles behind the line of one of them to do that.
Let us try to estimate the cost—279 million dollars—approximately £100 million—petrol up 1s. 5d. and Income Tax will be up next year, we are promised. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday:The effect upon the cost of living is calculated to be less than one-third of one point. The extra duty will put between one-fifth and one-quarter of 1d. on a 3d. bus fare."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1956; Vol. 561, c. 1061.]The charge on industry would not be crushing and would have a very small effect on prices. I seem to have recognised all that before. As one who has spent his life in transport before coming here, I know that increased transport charges have a most inflationary effect on the economy. If we can get down transport costs, which are the conveyor belt of industry, we may be able to pay our way, but no one is going to get away with the idea that by sticking 1s. 5d. on petrol we have done a good turn for this country in the markets of the world. The increased costs will affect exports. If anyone wishes for evidence of that he should read the strong speeches by hon. Members opposite when the Labour Government put up the price of petrol—a much smaller increase than this. Incidentally, they quickly forgot it, because a year afterwards they put the price up by twice as much.
Nobody has so far mentioned the cost of American oil. Of course, this is a cash transaction and not a credit transaction. I understand that it will cost £800,000 a day for oil. It will be a cash deal and we cannot expect the United States, after all they have put up with, to give us the terms that they promised at the London conference on Suez. They will not do it.
What about the effect on our friends? I was recently at a N.A.T.O. conference. What about the effect of our policy ore Belgium, Italy and the Scandinavian; countries, whose economies have been wrecked by our irresponsible action? I notice that the right hon. and learned 1351 Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), the former Attorney-General, wrote to the Sunday Times saying how friendly the Americans were when he met them at N.A.T.O.; but in conversation they drew a very sharp line between the guilty and the guiltless in Europe and were most sorry for those who were the victims of our action. The N.A.T.O. Council had no warning of our action, although N.A.T.O. is supposed to be the great defence apparatus of Europe. They had no notice, and it must have been very embarrassing for the Secretary-General to have had no warning.
At present we are bereft of a Prime Minister. All I will say about that is that, we on this side of the House have been rather kinder than were hon. Members opposite when the late Ernest Bevin was dying. We have been rather more tolerant. After all, the "shadow" Prime Minister, if that is the correct term, himself said of the Prime Minister "He is not ill. He is only tired. He has had a hell of a time." I have the Press cutting here somewhere. The most remarkable thing on Monday was the alacrity with which the Leader of the House jumped to his feet to assure the House that the Prime Minister had been consulted, because he did not want the medal pinned on his chest.
Who are the casualties? They are the Suez pilots, who used to get £6,000 a year. Their jobs have gone. They are the British nationals, cruelly expropriated by the Egyptians; they all have our great sympathy. It is the little people who always suffer in this sort of thing. But apart from all that, we have seen in our time the bankruptcy of force. This Government have staggered on with no glimpse of the consequences. We have to learn the lesson that in the future the Middle East will not be settled unless we have the Asian Powers on our side.
A most remarkable thing—nobody has mentioned it yet—is that when Earl Attlee went to India he was received with enthusiasm as the man who had set India free and received on a style which B and K never saw; but when he got to Pakistan, he was asked to proceed no further, so great had been the reaction because of the action of Her Majesty's Government.
1352 All this has weakened the West. The greatest struggle of all is the struggle between the West and the powers of Communism. Hon. Members opposite always think that they understand Communism. I know they do not. It is only the Left that understands the nature and purpose of Communism. The Communists know full well that the forces of Tory reaction are too embattled and stupid to understand, and they never try to work on them. They always attempt to fragment the forces of progress in all countries. The Communists do not try to infiltrate into the gin trade. They attempt to infiltrate into the trade unions.
Where does this Suez adventure leave us in the battle between East and West? It is not a victory for us against Russia, as the Foreign Secretary so ineptly said. It is a defeat for us. I would give only one statistic, but it is worth remembering that the increase in production in Russia since 1948 has been twice as great as that of the N.A.T.O. countries. That is the measure of her progress.
No wonder that Khrushchev says that they do not need a war to ensure the victory of Socialism; that peaceful competition is enough. He did not even need to rely on the Conservative Government, which made his job easier for him. In saying that, he has in mind the appeal of Communism to the underdeveloped territories. Russia has not suffered a reverse in the East, as the Foreign Secretary has said. The rest of the West, outside this country and outside of the Tory Party in this country, recognises this as Russia's victory. We are out of the East, now and for all time. The United Nations must go in and establish the rule of law. This, in the day of the hydrogen bomb, must now be the aim and purpose of all intelligent political endeavour.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Ealing, South)
In his intervention earlier, the Leader of the Liberal Party said that there was little purpose now in jobbing backwards. That is, of course, true to the extent that there are an enormous number of questions which will need answering for the future. Nevertheless, the Motion before the House requests us to approve the policy of Her Majesty's Government as outlined by the Foreign Secretary the day before 1353 yesterday—a policy which must, I think, be looked at as a whole; that is to say, from its inception up to present. One can scarcely be asked to give a vote of confidence to the Government without considering their policy as a whole.
There is, however, one kind of jobbing backwards in which, unlike hon. Members opposite, I do not propose to indulge. I refer to the question whether or not there was collusion between the British, French and Israeli Governments. Not that I believe that there was collusion—I am quite sure that there was not. I realise that to say that there was is a good political line to follow if one is trying to appeal to the sort of people who raise their hands in outraged morality at the idea; but I think that the Opposition are wasting time on it, because I am sure that the reaction of 95 per cent. of the people in this country is not to be morally horrified at the idea at all, but to ask why, if there was collusion, it did not work better.
It is not possible now to work up a scare among our people about collusion. The dates, the times, the conduct of the operation, all suggest most strongly, in fact, that there was not collusion, and a great amount of time is wasted in discussing who did not talk to whom at what cocktail party—so reminiscent of the stories of who did or did not meet the Italian Ambassador, Count Grandi, in a taxicab in 1935, or whenever it was—when we really ought to be considering whether there are not more serious things to debate at this time.
As I say, one must take the Government's policy as a whole. I hope that hon. Members on both sides will do me the kindness to believe that I have tried to be consistent and honest in my views, and that I have not at any time tried to hide what I thought about the policy of my own Government or that of the Labour Party.
Ever since Britain withdrew her troops from the Suez Canal base under the Agreement signed two years ago, it has seemed to me inevitable that we have been working up for precisely the kind of trouble which we now have. It was a question which was much argued at the time; whether if we had, in fact, stayed there it would have been possible to have reached a better Agreement; whether, in fact, it was possible to stay there; 1354 whether it was necessary to have a base of that size to keep 80,000 troops in defence of the Canal. My own belief is that had we not, from the very beginning—and before the negotiations ever started—announced that we certainly meant to go away, we should have got better terms in the end if we did go.
I also believe that had we had the nerve—and lack of nerve is becoming a distressingly familiar complaint of this country nowadays—to stick it out there for perhaps another three, four or six months, it would have been more likely that General Neguib and Colonel Nasser would have been the casualties than the British. We might then have avoided the situation of creating a power vacuum in the Middle East, with the inevitable result that if America was not willing to fill it, Russia would. That, of course, is what has happened, and it is from that that so much of the trouble stems.
The Government, having allowed that to happen, followed what was their best policy in the circumstances—to try to build up a stable régime in Egypt and make a friend of Colonel Nasser, to believe that they could stabilise the extremely tricky situation in the Middle East round this new rising figure in the Afro-Asian world. In my view, the cardinal mistake that they made was that when a dictator is in an insecure position he is always bound to turn to some form of xenophobia to buttress his position.
As with Hitler and the Jews, so with Nasser and the Jews, and with Britain, the alleged colonial Power. He could never afford to be openly friendly with us at any time. The relations, however much one might have succeeded in buttressing them by practical or economic means, were always bound to be overtly unfriendly because he could never afford to be overtly friendly. At last, it became obvious that that was the position, and it was not to be expected that Nasser would become a reliable ally, a friend in the Middle East.
At that point the Government again, with no alternative at that stage, switched their policy and decided to try to isolate Colonel Nasser from the other countries in the Middle East, to try to ensure that he did not become the great figure, the ruler of a new Arab empire, to see that the Saudi Arabians, the Jordanians, the Lebanese, and so forth, did not look to 1355 him and would not move with him in carrying out his future schemes. Again, that was a reasonable policy to pursue because there was no other policy left at that stage. But, obviously, there should have gone with it some preparedness for the sort of situation which arose when Nasser reacted swiftly and devastatingly, as it turned out, to the withdrawal of British and American support for the building of the Aswan Dam.
I do not suggest for a moment that it was not right to withdraw that support, because in my view the situation had completely changed. From the moment that Nasser indulged in large arms purchases from behind the Iron Curtain, and mortgaged his cotton crop and his future economic resources to pay for them, it became perfectly clear that his ability to service the debt on the Aswan Dam and, indeed, to improve the conditions of his people at all were very seriously compromised.
But at least one should have been prepared for what happened, instead of which, neither in the development of Cyprus as a base and in the development of a strategic reserve, as my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Water-house) said, nor in any of the other preparations which we might have expected to be carried out after our withdrawal from the Suez Canal base, was there any sign that we had prepared for the sort of reaction which we got.
I entirely agree that had it been possible to have taken quick, sure action in the early days of this affair, the situation would have been much better. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) urged us to do that in his speech in the House on 2nd August, saying that he had some experience of not doing it when he was Foreign Secretary at the time of the Abadan trouble.
However, we were in no position to do that. This is throughout a story of lagging behind, turning, after one failure, to another line of policy and always lagging behind and trying to catch up with the consequences. It is not government by planning or forethought; it is government by afterthought, than which there is nothing more disastrous.
1356 I do not myself feel that I can possibly give an unqualified vote of confidence to Her Majesty's Government as a result of what has happened over the last two years. I have never attempted to disguise my feeling; I have not been one who has cheered unconditionally at everything which took place, and I did not stand up and wave an Order Paper when the cease-fire was announced. Nobody can, I think, accuse me of being inconsistent.
I believe that we had the right to intervene in Egypt after the nationalisation of the Canal because, under Article 3 of the 1888 Convention, the forcible occupation of the buildings and works of the Canal constituted, in my view, a clear breach of the Convention and, therefore, by implication, of the 1954 Treaty. However, that is by the way. We did not.
Having waited two to three months, we had, in my view, got into a position where, other things being equal, it was morally totally unjustifiable to act in Egypt at all by force. I always held that view. It was a thing which one could have done quickly, but, having entered into negotiations, having started discussions and having been consistently checkmated by the efforts of Mr. Dulles, Mr. Nehru and Mr. Menon, then a totally different situation had to arise to justify the use of force at all.
The Israeli intervention provided, it is true, a dramatic change in the situation; but, in my view, it provided a good reason for intervening only on the assumption that we were going to do the job properly and genuinely settle the problems which have been the bone of contention in the past and which have exercised this country and all other countries of the Middle East during the preceding months and years.
I cannot see that there was good reason for taking the appalling risks which we took in invading Egypt at that time, after five days of bombing, during which the opinion of the world was given time to crystalise against us, and then stopping. It is true that the combatants had ceased fighting, but it is also true that the objectives which we had laid down for ourselves had not been achieved.
We are left, it seems to me, with almost the worst of all possible worlds. We have lost the chance to act properly, 1357 either militarily or in any other way, if a similar situation arises again in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, or wherever it may be. The future of the Bagdad Pact, certainly as far as we are concerned, is extremely gloomy.
I will conclude by asking one or two questions about the future, and putting one or two considerations to the Government. The leader of the Liberal Party, at the end of his speech, put his finger on one of the main problems when he said there is far too much talk about leaving things to the United Nations, as if the United Nations could, of itself, in some strange abstract way, solve the problems of the world. Of course it cannot.
What is the United Nations? We know what happens in the Security Council, and we know that so long as the interests of the great Powers who are permanent members of the Security Council conflict, the veto, which it is true recognises the practical realities of the situation, does, in fact, stultify the Security Council as a means of solving any problems.
If the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), whose speech I listened to with admiration, in total silence, would restrain himself from conversing with his neighbour, it would enable me to try to maintain the threads of my argument for the next four or five minutes.
Hon. Members opposite really ought to realise that the General Assembly of the United Nations is now, in the circumstances in which we are, building into itself precisely the same sort of permanent frustration as there has been in the Security Council. We just cannot say that the General Assembly has a sort of magic system for solving the problems of the world. The General Assembly is a collection of heterogeneous countries, some large, some small, mostly organised in satellite groups which will act according to their own interests or according to the interests of the leaders of their bloc, and which will by no means act on the merits of the particular case under discussion. For example, India will try to prevent Hungary from being discussed because it produces a precedent for dealing with Pakistan and Kashmir. So that sort of consideration comes in all the time.
We cannot really base a future policy on that. We are entitled to ask: what is 1358 the precise policy that we have left? There is the United Nations Emergency Force in the Middle East. What is it to do? Who is to tell it what to do? The General Assembly cannot of itself order the infringement of the sovereignty of another State, or can it? I should like to know; I do not myself believe that it can. It has certainly made quite clear that it has no intention of infringing Egypt's sovereignty, because it is asking, with great completeness, for authority from Colonel Nasser for everything it does.
What one has to realise is that the General Assembly now has become, almost by accident, an almost perfect system for preventing us from doing anything that is in our interest and preventing anyone who makes any attempt to follow international morality—
§ Mr. Maude
I will explain to the right hon. Gentleman, if he likes.
Suppose that we had thrown ourselves on the General Assembly and had hoped to get redress and avoid the risk of conflict among our allies and in Israel in the Middle East, and to get international control of the Canal. Of course we could not have done it. But what this system does not prevent is aggression at one remove, aggression by infiltration, by the clandestine sale of arms, by volunteers, by overawing, by threats and by gradual wearing down. The aggressor can always get away with that, but the country which tries to forestall that by justifying the use of force cannot. It is a ready-made way of handing over the control of the world to the would-be aggressor. Where are we left, in these circumstances?
We ought, in my view, to be told by the Government just what they imagine the United States will do here. I do not believe that the United States has a policy, except to get us out and then spend as many dollars as it thinks are necessary to try to buy its way into some sort of favour in the Middle East. I do not myself think that that is enough. What is the position of Jordan and Iraq? What is the position of our Treaty and our bases in Jordan?
What is to be the position of Cyprus? Are we to have that developed as a deep-water naval base, as a port where we can 1359 build the military position which we should never have lost, or are we to allow the Middle East to become the vacuum in which the United States and Russia fight out their rivalries, with the almost complete certainty of a third world war breaking out there?
If we are to redevelop our defence in the Middle East, what are we supposed now to be defending, and why? This is the question which the events of the last few months have posed to most people in this country. What has this been for, what is now left to defend, and how are we to do it? These are the questions which worry me and, I believe, nearly everybody in the country. Most people thought that we were right to act. They hoped that we had the courage to act properly and to see it through. They are bitterly disappointed and ashamed that we have not done so and now their minds are full of questions, not one of which, so far, has been answered. It is time that they were.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)
The hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) may well ask the list of comprehensive questions which he has just posed, because I think it has been the effect of the last five weeks that a great deal has been pulled down and nothing built up. None of us can at the moment profess to foresee with any clarity where we can go from here. That is one of the questions to which we must address ourselves.
The House always listens with respect and interest to the hon. Member, because he does not conceal his views. He expresses them with great courage and with a clarity which has been singularly lacking from a great part of our debates on this topic over recent weeks. If I may say one thing about his speech, with which he will not expect me to have agreed, I thought it was a very clear argument expressed in very outdated categories.
If the hon. Member had been living forty or fifty years ago, most of what he said might have made a strong appeal. He seemed to be assuming many things to be possible, in particular for this country, in the Middle East which were once possible, but are no longer. When he talked about our having attempted to take action and having been checkmated by a 1360 number of people—Mr. Dulles, Mr. Nehru and others—
§ Mr. Younger
I am quite prepared to accept that. I am sorry I got the hon. Member's words wrong. He used the word "checkmated" a moment later.
The hon. Member does not seem to consider why these various forces succeeded in frustrating us. Is it not precisely because conditions have so changed? Thirty or forty years ago, we would not have been having to treat India as an independent factor. We probably would not have treated the United States as an independent factor in practically any international issue. Today we must, and that is precisely why the hon. Member's thinking is so out of date.
During the five weeks since the ultimatum was sent to Egypt and to Israel we have had endless pretences and endless ambiguous statements about what we were doing and why we were doing it. It is no wonder that opinion is considerably confused. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who opened the debate from this side of the House, spent a good deal of time in analysing and dissecting the various explanations which were given by the Government and he succeeded in showing that most of them made very little sense.
There is only one to which I want to refer, because it was to most of us a slightly new fact and I want to be quite sure that we have got it right. When the Foreign Secretary was talking about the circumstances in which our land invasion was ordered at dawn on 5th November, he was challenged that at that time the parties had virtually accepted the cease-fire and that there was no need for the operation to separate the combatants.
I want to be sure that I have got these dates right. The right hon. and learned Gentleman told us that on 3rd November, that is, two days before the troops went in, he was informed that Israel had said that she would accept the cease-fire 1361 if Egypt did—in other words, conditionally. But on the following day, 4th November, one day before our troops went in, the Secretary-General stated that Egypt had expressed her readiness to cease-fire, as I understand, unconditionally.
It was then stated, and this is what I am not quite clear about, that there was some communication from Israel—I am glad to see that the Foreign Secretary is back—which apparently cast doubt upon Israel's earlier acceptance. Therefore, still on the same day, still on 4th November, before our troops went in, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Secretary-General was asked for a clarification of that.
That, as I understand, is the situation, as told to us by the Foreign Secretary today, in which we ordered the land invasion, which had not yet begun, to go in at dawn on the 5th despite the fact that we were, as it seemed, on the verge of a general cease-fire. It is my belief, although the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not say so, that fighting had, in practice, stopped, whatever the position may be about the formal acceptance by both sides of the ceasefire. Nevertheless, we persisted in the operation.
The clarification for which the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked on the previous day was given on the following day—fairly early on that day—because, subsequently, he told us that the Cabinet met. The cease-fire was decided upon, and on the 6th, was it not, our representative in New York conveyed our decision to the Secretary-General and the cease-fire took effect from the following night? I hope that that is correct. I read it out from the notes I made, because I have not been able to see HANSARD.
If those are the facts, then surely my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale was justified in what he said about the extraordinary frivolity of carrying on this operation, to which we knew every single one of our major friends in the world, other than France, was opposed, and on which we had already been heavily outvoted more than once in the General Assembly of the United Nations.
It is a very curious fact that in the whole of this story there seem to me to 1362 have been only two occasions when Her Majesty's Government felt to be under great pressure of time and acted with great rapidity. One was when they put a 12-hour limit on the ultimatum, in spite of the fact that very little was done for quite a time after that, and the other was this occasion. In both instances they seem to have been in a hurry to do only one thing, to forestall any action by the United Nations.
On the first occasion to which I have referred, the Security Council had actually met before that 12-hour period ran out. It would, at most, have meant making it a 24-hour ultimatum in order to see what the United Nations did, and on this occasion it would only have meant holding up the land invasion for a few hours, by which time we should have had the clarification from the Secretary-General which would have removed the cause of the operation altogether.
In the four weeks since the cease-fire there has been, even among those who have throughout supported the operation, a considerable difference of opinion. There are those who have continued to claim that the operation was a success and that worthwhile objectives were achieved, and others, equally supporters of the original operation, who say that it failed through outside pressure, through slowness of the military operation, and, perhaps, through infirmity of purpose.
I should have thought that the two major ministerial statements which we have had this week, that of the Foreign Secretary on Monday and that of the Chancellor on Tuesday, would have done a great deal at last to tear down some of the camouflage about the success of the operation. I should have thought that there could be no serious person, whether originally a supporter of the operation ox not, who could now doubt that the operation was a failure. I was, therefore, a little shocked to hear the Foreign Secretary himself upbraid those who say that it was a disastrous failure—those were the words he used—and that even now there is something morally wrong and unpatriotic in saying that it was a disastrous failure.
On the contrary, it is absolutely essential for this country to face the truth. We cannot start to devise the remedies so long as we continue practising self-deception. It has been a somewhat 1363 depressing feature of the debate to see so many people who have apparently sought, not only to justify the original operation, but to continue to pretend that it has proved itself worth while.
That, coupled with the numerous speeches which have been mainly concerned with the denigration of all the individuals, countries and bodies upon whom we must now rely, has been a very depressing omen for the future; denigration of the United Nations, not only that it could not have acted five weeks ago had we given it the chance, but, also, that it is a hopelessly weak instrument today; denigration of the United States, to which I will come later; and the apparent brushing aside of our complaints that the Commonwealth was not fully consulted, in particular the countries in the Asian Commonwealth.
There is nothing I can do to persuade hon. Members not already persuaded of the truth that this operation is a failure, but I should like to quote one piece of evidence from a very important person who, throughout, has been a supporter of Her Majesty's Government's policy, and with whom, on practically no occasion except the one I am about to quote, have I agreed, but who, in recent days, has realistically said that the situation is worse and not better as a result of the operation. That is Mr. Menzies, the Prime Minister of Australia.
Mr. Menzies made a prepared statement, which I take from The Times of Saturday—he actually issued it on Friday—presumably after he knew what the outlines of Her Majesty's Government's decisions were to be. The Foreign Secretary was already back here and I presume that Commonwealth cooperation has not broken down so much that Mr. Menzies was not in possession of the facts. He said:We are thus witnessing a state of affairs in which Russian morale has been elevated, the already difficult economic situation in Britain aggravated, the prestige of Britain and France in the Middle East swept aside, and the basis of Western European defence, which includes the maintenance of defensive positions in the Middle East, gravely impaired.My point of view on most world problems is somewhat different from that of Mr. Menzies, and I would have added certain other points, but it is essential that even those who have defended the 1364 Government's policy should have the realism of Mr. Menzies, because I do not see how we are to rebuild if we continue pretending that what we have done has been a great success.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
The right hon. Gentleman is citing Mr. Menzies, but citing him from the attitude of his own party, which is a quite monstrous thing to do. The purpose of Mr. Menzies' intervention was to show that we should have carried through the operation from start to finish.
§ Mr. Younger
I thought that I had made it clear that my views on the merits of this were entirely different. I was seeking to quote Mr. Menzies only on the facts. I am not arguing whether this is the fault of those who dissuaded the Government from continuing the operation, or the fault of the Government for starting it. I am simply saying that this is a recognition of the factual result by the Prime Minister of Australia, who certainly is not prejudiced in favour of my party, or against Her Majesty's Government.
Among those who criticised today, there are, of course, those who say that the operation was a good idea, but was badly executed, and who genuinely feel that the time had come to by-pass the United Nations and strike an Anglo-French blow for what they regarded as primarily Anglo-French interests. In other words, there are people who say that this would have been a good thing if we had gone through with it. I want to make it quite clear that that was never the view of hon. Members on this side of the House. We have always believed the whole concept of this policy to be wrong and that, bad as the results are now, it would have been worse if we had not stopped on the 6th.
There are two main reasons—one of which, I believe my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale gave—why it would have availed little to occupy Suez and Ismailia as well as Port Said. It is an illusion to imagine that that would have finished the job. In answer to a Question today, the Minister of Defence told us that it had been calculated that it would have taken another seven days to complete the operation, and that when we had finished it our lines of communication would have been 101 miles long. Does anyone really think that the 1365 operation could have stopped there with any worthwhile effect, from anybody's point of view?
The second reason why we were glad the Government stopped is that which was given by Mr. Pearson, of Canada, when he said, in the Canadian Parliament, that Britain and France were "very wise indeed" to have halted their operations when they did. He added:I suggest that had they not done so the Commonwealth might not have been able to stand the strain.If it is true that these operations would probably have had to go on for another seven days we can well believe that to be true. The fact is that hon. Members on this side of the House have never based their criticism, which was loudly voiced from the very first moment, upon any question whether there was a local success in this operation. We believed that a purely local success—which we thought would have been gained very much quicker and more completely than it was—would have terrible repercussions in the broader field. We thought that the action was fundamentally wrong, above all because it was a denial of the underlying principles guiding post-war British foreign policy.
I want briefly to summarise, under three or four headings, what I believe those principles to be. First, there has been an attempt on our part, and that of nearly all our friends, to move, however painfully, towards some kind of international authority, operating under some kind of international law or custom, to solve disputes by peaceful means. This is closely connected with what my right hon. Friend was saying about the basic change in relations between the great Powers.
It has become very widely recognised among all the great Powers that war is no longer the instrument that it used to be for settling disputes, especially among the great Powers, and also as between great and small Powers. They have recognised, therefore, that there has to be some body like the United Nations, and that it has to be given support. In this attempt to build up an international authority no nation has been perfect, but there has been a very considerable degree of acceptance—a very general acceptance among the smaller and medium Powers, and even considerable acceptance in the United 1366 States and, as we had thought, both here and in France.
Indeed, one of the things that has divided us most sharply from the Soviet Union in recent years—certainly, to those who have attended the United Nations—has been the fact that she alone of the great Powers seemed not to be prepared to make any concessions to this new principle of an international authority. All the others were seeking to make this, in some degree, the basis of their policy.
Despite United States' backsliding, especially over Guatemala—about which hon. Members on this side of the House were very much more critical of the United States than were hon. Members opposite—no one who has been in the United States since the war can possibly doubt that the United Nations is a big factor in American foreign policy, if only because its headquarters are in that country, and the public knows about it, through radio and television, to an extent that no other public in the world does—and since public opinion plays an unusually large part in the formulation of American foreign policy it has become almost mandatory for any American Government to justify the action it takes, particularly if it is violent action, in terms of the principles of the United Nations Charter.
I therefore think that it is no mere chance that President Eisenhower is now insisting rigidly—hon. Members opposite think that he is insisting too rigidly—on sticking to the procedures of the United Nations with regard to the Middle East. I do not believe that it would be possible to persuade the United States to exert its full influence in the Middle East, as we wish, unless the United Nations were used as the medium. If that is true for the United States, it is doubly true for Canada.
In recent years, in the United Nations, I think that many of the smaller countries have often felt that it was asking a great deal of the giant Powers, the Soviet Union and the United States, to sacrifice much to United Nations because, after all, they had some possibility of "going it alone". The smaller nations thought that we, as a Power with great influence, but no longer at a level to "go it alone", could be considered the 1367 greatest of those Powers which felt themselves deeply involved in the success of the United Nations.
We have, therefore, within the United Nations been able, I believe, to exert a leadership somewhat out of proportion to our real strength. I think that that was why there was such a shock in the United Nations when we and France, chose, as it seemed to nearly the whole world, to engage in a violation of the Charter. That is why I think that there was apparently a moment of despair on the part of the Secretary-General when, as hon. Members know, he offered his resignation. One must assume that it was because he thought that instead of having only one great Power, the Soviet Union, on whose non-co-operation he was forced to count, there were no fewer than three.
I believe that the first thing we have to do is to try to recover our status within the United Nations, and I am sure we cannot do that, by defiantly repeating that in this matter we were right and the other 60 nations were wrong. This is a very practical point. If we do, all the United Nations are bound to feel that if we ever see the chance of "going it alone" successfully again we shall do it again.
The second point I wish to make is closely related to my point about the United Nations. Another principle of our policy has been the need to establish entirely new relationships with Asia and with Africa, but particularly with Asia. After all, that is the main objective and will prove to be the real test of the modern multi-racial Commonwealth. This is linked with the United Nations, because I believe that it is only under the protection of the Charter and within the principles laid down there that we shall be able to succeed in—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)
On a point of order. May we claim your protection, Mr. Speaker? Some of us came in to the Chamber to listen to the debate, but the Colonial Secretary and other Ministers seem to be preventing us from doing so by their cross-conversation. Will you ask them to cease?
§ Mr. Speaker
I could hear what the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) was saying with perfect clarity, but I hope that conversation will be kept to the minimum.
§ Mr. Younger
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.
The point I was trying to make was that one of our urgent tasks was to assist so far as we may in securing cooperation between the United States and India, who are going to be extremely influential in these Middle East matters. I believe that it is only through the United Nations, only through a worldwide body and one which cannot be identified only with the West, that we shall achieve that end.
I want to say something about Anglo-American co-operation which, since the war, has undoubtedly been one of the pillars of our policy. The two countries have disagreed before, both over the Far East and the Middle East, and we have had misunderstandings between us. But here there was something very different, a deliberate failure on our part to consult or even keep our American friends informed. I do not know of any other instance where we have behaved like that since the war. We failed to keep them informed of this drastic step, taken in conjunction with the French, and one which was out of line with what had been previously discussed with the United States. Her Majesty's Government should offer a much better explanation than they have yet given of why they did it. I do not see how, without a great deal of frankness, we can hope to be trusted again by the United States in this matter.
The hon. Member for Ealing, South said he thought that there was no point in going into all these questions of the past. I believe that there is. We are entitled to have the reputation of our country restored in this matter and it should be quite simple for the Government to do so, if they are willing to. I want to base myself purely on known and admitted facts. We know from the mouths of Ministers that the Foreign Secretary saw the American Ambassador early on the day when the ultimatum was delivered. That was the 30th. We are told that it was before Cabinet, probably about 9.30 in the morning. What is the context of this? On the morning of the 30th we had known of the Israeli mobilisation for about five days. We had for about two days information from the 10th Hussars, and 1369 from other sources, for all I know, about concentrations in the Negev. The Minister of Defence said that today.
§ Mr. Younger
We were told a few days ago about the 10th Hussars. We were told categorically today, without any particular source, 10th Hussars or otherwise, being mentioned, that we knew of concentrations in the Negev between the 26th and 28th.
In any case, on the morning of the 30th the attack had actually been launched, so there can be no question but that we knew in which direction the attack was being launched. All these facts were known when the Foreign Secretary saw the Ambassador. My understanding is that no hint of the policy which was to be known later in the day was at that time given to the Ambassador. I shall be very astonished if the Foreign Secretary will deny that now. He has been challenged on it and all he is prepared to say is that he did not mislead the Ambassador. If he did not mislead the Ambassador, in those circumstances surely all we can assume is that he himself did not know about this forthcoming decision.
If he knew about it and did not mention it surely that was misleading. I find it barely credible that the Foreign Secretary, when he met the Ambassador in the morning, knew nothing about the proposals which were to be perfected and published as a completed ultimatum later that afternoon, but if he did not, let us hear it. If he did not know, then are we to assume that all these decisions were taken from scratch, not having been coordinated with anybody, with the French Government or anybody else, between that time and four o'clock in the afternoon?
This really would be very extraordinary if true, whereas, of course, it would not be 1370 particularly extraordinary that that ultimatum was drafted, prepared and issued, if all that was required was to dot the i's and cross the t's of something provisionally worked out already with the French Government. This takes us back to the widespread belief that on 16th October, in Paris, and on 23rd October, in London, these matters must have been discussed. Only the participants, who had no advisers with them, know what happened, but the Foreign Secretary really should consider how this looks to the whole world from outside, and what the whole world will believe unless he denies it.
The context of the meeting of the 16th was that the French—I think there is no doubt about this; I shall be surprised if it is disputed—knew that an Israeli operation of some kind was pending. We have heard much about the deals in arms between the French and Israelis. They knew it but it does not follow of course, and I do not believe it to be the case, that the Israelis knew of any impending French operation. We know that there was great disappointment between the British and French Governments about the vetoing of the Canal Resolution, the one the Foreign Secretary referred to, on the 13th in New York. We know that just before this meeting Mr. Dulles had officially stated that he was not prepared to have the Canal Users' Association used as a means of coercing Egypt.
We had a speech made in the French Chamber by M. Pineau on the day of his meeting with the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary in which he railed against the Americans, emphasised the need for Anglo-French co-operation, said there was to be a meeting with the Prime Minister which would be of capital importance, and told the deputies that he still had many trumps in hand. He then went straight off to the meeting.
The meeting on 23rd was even more sudden. M. Pineau flew over and saw the Foreign Secretary between eight o'clock in the evening and midnight. The context of that was that a few days before the arms yacht, the "Athos", had been captured by the French Government; the day before, the Algerian leaders had been arrested; the day before, the French are reported to have learned of Israel's mobilisation proposals, and the same day 1371 M. Mollet, in Paris, was withdrawing the Ambassador from Egypt.
Can it really be in that context that at these two meetings there was not a discussion of the opportunity that this impending operation might offer for intervening to halt Nasser's activities? Are we asked to believe that? If that was not what was discussed, why were the Americans not being kept in close touch with all these matters?
There is also the confusion about the Tripartite Declaration, where the Americans were also kept in the dark. The discussions were on the 28th and 29th. On the 30th, the Americans issued from the White House an official statement making it clear that they believed the Tripartite Declaration to be in full operation. There was no mention of any kind of exception for Egypt at all.
I have rather overrun my time on this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I promised that I would give the Minister of Defence adequate time to reply. I would point out that of our basic policies in the Middle East, we have always been told that the Tripartite Declaration and the Bagdad Pact were the two pillars. We have been becoming decreasingly enthusiastic about both of them, and we will not be satisfied with a mere restoration of the status quo. The fact is, however, that recent events have destroyed both those pillars, and we have as yet had nothing from the Government about what they propose to put in their place.
As we say in our Amendment, we believe that the step which has to be taken, before anything can be done in detail, is to restore our relations with the United Nations, with the Commonwealth and with our allies. Alas, it may well be that temporarily we shall have to leave most of the initiative in this matter to others. We have to work through our friends. We know that we shall get the fullest co-operation from Canada, from India and, no doubt, now from the United States—[Laughter.] It should be put on record that there was loud Tory laughter at the statement about co-operation with India.
In conclusion, I beg the Government to try now, whatever the mistakes of the past may have been, to think of the Middle Eastern problem not as one of maintaining some special position, least 1372 of all a military position, by Britain alone or Britain and France alone, or even Britain, France and the United States alone. We should remember what was said by Mr. St. Laurent:The era when the supermen of Europe could govern the whole world is coming to an end.Let us not look at it in this way, but rather as at a problem of world wide co-operation which, since it involves Powers of East and West, both inside and outside the Commonwealth, can only be solved under the authority of the United Nations. It is because we believe that the Government's policy has cut across these basic principles of British policy—
§ Mr. Bevan
On a point of order. The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), ever since he came into the House, has been indulging in loud interjections, making it almost impossible for us to hear my right hon. Friend's speech. I am astonished that he has been permitted to do so without being pulled up.
§ Captain Richard Pilkington (Poole)
Further to that point of order. May I point out, Sir, that during the whole of this debate there have been continuous interruptions from Opposition benches?
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Antony Head)
During the whole of the discussion—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) is a very fine example of what his right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was complaining about. I also hope that the right hon. Gentleman will 1373 restrain his right hon. Friend as a favour to me.
During the whole of the discussion of this problem, I think I have been in the Chamber for practically every one of the very frequent, repeated and very heated debates. I do not think anybody in this House would disagree if I said that during the majority of those discussions passions have risen very high and we have been very close to the subject we have been considering, the recent operations concerned with the Suez Canal. I personally cannot escape the feeling that some of our discussions have suffered from the fact that we have been so much divorced from the circumstances which have led up to the situation which confronted the Government and the general problems with which the Government were confronted in the circumstances of today.
May I very briefly say two things and two only. The first is the extent to which we—this country—have been left alone to look after the Middle East, which forms a vital part of the defence of the West as a whole. I am not given to grubbing about in my old speeches—I leave that to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg)—but, if the House will bear with me, I wish to read one short sentence from my maiden speech, made in 1946. I then said:There are many people within and outside America who would like her to stand away, but modern inventions and modern war have made her one in a world strategic balance. It is a very far cry from the Middle East to the Middle West, but strategically they form part of the same defences."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1946; Vol. 419, c. 1179.]That is the nub of the problem with which the Government have been confronted. I wish no recrimination, but we have had N.A.T.O., we have had S.E.A.T.O., we have had the Bagdad Pact and we have had a blank in the Middle East.
The second point is background, which hon. Members will forgive me mentioning very briefly, because I am short of time. It was referred to by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale in a speech during the hurly-burly of recent days, the first part of which—I hope I shall not embarrass him—showed some very deep thinking; but I did not like the second part. He said—and it is true—that atomic weapons have formed an umbrella under which the burglar can operate.
1374 In other words, the power of modern weapons has produced a situation in which there is such reluctance to use force that the sanction of force in itself has to a large extent been removed. That is coupled with the fact that the United Nations, unless it works and is effective, is another influence in that direction. Matters are referred to it, long talks take place, nothing happens, and again the burglar has got away with it. So there are now two umbrellas and we should not forget those two umbrellas when we consider the action the Government recently took. There is the background which should always be in our minds if anyone is to think about the matter fairly.
What are the main divergences in this House today about the action of the Government? I should say there are two—those who were opposed to intervention at all, and those who regret the withdrawal as being a humiliation. That is so, roughly speaking, although perhaps one would be over-simplifying. We intervened and our intervention has been discussed in this House as I venture to think nothing else has ever been discussed. It has been gone through with a tooth comb by hon. Members passionately, and practically, in every kind of way, but one thing has been hardly discussed at all and no one has gone into that. I agree that it is a matter of hypothesis, but what would have happened if we had not intervened? Very few hon. Members have made speeches about that. I have heard no really careful speeches on that subject.
§ Mr. Head
Although I am not frightened at being interrupted, I should point out that I am pushed for time and am trying to say what I want to say. If we had not intervened we should have referred this matter to the United Nations. I am trying to be practical and not critical, but I maintain that although resolutions would have been passed, emergency meetings and so forth would have taken place, the war would not have been stopped.
Supposing the war had not been stopped. The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) said, "We should have let the Israelis rip and 1375 Nasser would have been defeated." I thought that was quite a tough remark when he had shown such interest in the question of casualties. In any event, I am not certain that what he says is right. Hon. Members who say that have made many assumptions without recalling the facts. We know the effort which Russia had made in materials and, in particular, in aircraft. In Egypt, received from Russia, were quite a lot—between 50 and 60—of good long-range bombers; the only good long-range bombers in that part of the world. The Balkan airfields are nearby. Can anybody be sure that aircraft would not have been flown into the Middle East in the middle of the conflict? Can anybody forecast what would have been the effect of those bombers had it not been for the grounding of the Egyptian air force by British intervention?
This is hypothesis, but I am saying that any hon. Member who entirely discounts the possibility, if the war had continued, of Russian intervention, of Egyptian bombers and of intervention by the other Arab States, is unwise. I think anybody would be a fool to rule it out as impossible that we should have ended with a crippled Israel, a bombed Tel Aviv and a united Arab world of which, under Russian arms and Russian influence, Nasser would have been the head. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] We cannot rule it out. It is a fact that we cannot rule it out.
Perhaps hon. Members want it the other way. Assume that the Israelis had gone straight through and completely wiped out the Egyptians. Would it be a very good state of affairs to have a dominant Israel surrounded by fearful Arab States? It would have been one extreme or the other. Non-intervention would have led to a continuance of the war and, in my opinion, it would have led to a situation with far fewer good prospects and much greater difficulties than the present situation. That is the policy of hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Head
I think that was below the right hon. Gentleman's standard. What I am saying is that hon. Members opposite must look one fact in the face—that non-intervention meant a continuance of the war. It is true that if we had referred the matter to the United Nations, we should have behaved, as hon. Members sincerely wished, with complete moral rectitude, but undue insistence on moral rectitude in matters like this can be a means of dodging hard and difficult decisions which are the only way of achieving a solution which ensures the safety of this country. I am aware of the dilemma of hon. Members opposite, but it is a fact. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is not our dilemma."] It is a dilemma because this insistence on high moral rectitude has got the world, and many individuals, into fearful trouble. I am extremely worried by that, but it is the reason for almost all appeasements.
In the other context, concerning the withdrawal, I would say this to hon. Gentlemen. There are many hon. Members who felt great humiliation over our withdrawal. I felt something of that myself—that on an occasion when British troops have intervened, a withdrawal is, by connotation and past experience, a humiliation. A withdrawal without getting any assurances or terms is associated in that way. But this particular operation was, I suggest, entirely different from the kind of operation where armed force is used entirely to impose a solution. This action was not taken for that reason—it was done to stop a war—and we invited into that area an international force. The moment that that international force was invited into Egypt—[Interruption.]—perhaps I might be allowed to finish my sentence—the moment that that international force was invited in, withdrawal of our force was inevitable.
During those operations, I tried to give a background of probabilities to the Commander-in-Chief. When this United Nations Force was invited in, and the invitation was accepted, I sent a signal to him and said, "Withdrawal of our forces is inevitable and you should make plans to prepare for that. There are no orders at the present time, but the policy, in my opinion—unless something different happens—is bound to lead to a withdrawal."
1377 What I am saying to hon. Members is that if one asks for the intervention of an international force, and if one asks the United Nations to settle the dispute about the future of the Canal, withdrawal is inevitable, and sitting it out indefinitely in the area can lead only to a state where one is making it impossible for an organisation such as the United Nations to settle that dispute. It seems to me that that cannot be done so long as one remains in that field.
I have not as much time as I would have liked, but I should like to deal briefly with other points raised in the debate today.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow) rose—
§ Mr. Head
No, I have not the time.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) posed a certain number of questions which had particular reference to my responsibilities, and, if I may, I should like very briefly to answer them. He said, first of all, that there was no plan for quick action and that, in his opinion, a plan for quick action would have made a very great difference. I would point out most strongly that there are two types of action that can be taken. One is intervention which is airborne and rapid by light forces on a jeep basis. That is the first type. The second is the operation where one is up against strong ground forces, and where one has to have heavy weapons. That is the second type, and that type of operation can go ahead only in large ships; and it needs a large supporting element of administration, arms and weapons. In no circumstances can such an operation be mounted in a matter of 48 hours. It is a military impossibility. I plead this only because this happens to be, because of my past life, a subject which I do understand.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of the Service Ministers not being concerned with the planning. I was concerned with planning as a planner and I have been a Service Minister for five years. It is not the job of Service Ministers to plan; it is the job of the joint planners working to the Chiefs of Staff and to whatever committee the Prime Minister appoints. It is the job of the Chiefs of Staff to keep Service Ministers informed, and it is the job of the Service Ministers to represent any matters of 1378 policy with which they disagree. But the planning is not the job of the Service Ministers, and never has been.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman also stated—and I am grateful to him for stating it—that this operation was carried out mercifully. I should like to underline that fact. I myself saw something for a very short time of a few of the commanders and a very few of the forces during a very brief visit to Cyprus. But one thing that struck me was that this spirit of carrying out this operation with the minimum of casualties was paramount throughout our forces. I believe that if the United Nations had teeth, and if the United Nations had to intervene to stop someone else using their teeth, this would be very nearly a sealed-pattern operation for that kind of intervention.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman also mentioned the United States, and he referred to them as our erstwhile friends. I feel very strongly indeed that there are many different ways of having a row. One can have a row and can hug it to one's bosom and make it poison relations throughout the rest of one's life. I have had rows, and I would quote if I may—he is not in his place, fortunately—my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). It is possible to have a fearful row with him, as many hon. Members know, and the next day it is gone. That is due to magnanimity and bigness of mind. All I am saying to the House is that in this row with America, if we hug it to ourselves and let it poison relations for the future, in my opinion, we are done.
Let us not recriminate, I beg hon. Members. In the future the whole of the Western world has got one object, as I see it, and that is to stop domination by Communism. In my opinion, one of the greatest victories which will occur to the Communists is if we continue this row between ourselves and the United States into the future.
I believe that our object is one, and one alone, and that is that through the United Nations and through our relations with the United States, the two of them should co-operate in an area which we have been left to handle alone, and where the greatest single danger to our country and the West has been occurring. I believe that this operation has exposed 1379 it, has shown it to America and has brought the United Nations into the area.
We are at the moment in a period of some depression. I am saying that that always happens. In political affairs, what matters is not the situation today here in the House of Commons but the expectations. I say sincerely to the House that ever since 1945 I have prayed for United States co-operation in the Middle East. It has been the one vulnerable link in the chain. I believe that the Government's action has given teeth to the United Nations, the best chance of settling disputes. There are strong signs of American intervention in that part of the world. If the whole of this started over again, knowing what we do, and if we went back to that position, I say absolutely unhesitatingly that I would do precisely the same thing again.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Godber.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.