HC Deb 03 November 1956 vol 558 cc1887-916

1.30 p.m.

Mr. John Harvey (Walthamstow, East)

It is just an hour, Mr. Speaker, since you were first good enough to utter my name and I had begun to wonder whether, with all these points of order, we would ever get started on the debate. I cannot help reflecting that hon. Members have wasted the opportunity of at least two back benchers so far.

I should like to begin by observing that the Leader of the Opposition suggested to the Prime Minister a short time ago that he would be judged by world opinion according to his actions at this moment in time. I do not accept that suggestion for one moment. Her Majesty's Government will be judged by world opinion and by opinion in this country when it is possible to get the events of this moment into some sort of historical perspective. It is manifestly not possible to do that at this time. I would, therefore, say to hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House that it would advantage us all if we remembered that the moment at which to try to judge history is not the moment at which it is being made.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite have suggested that the action of Her Majesty's Government has undermined the work of the United Nations organisation. I do not accept that suggestion either, and I feel that in time it will be seen that the action which we have taken now has, on the contrary, served to strengthen the whole function of the United Nations organisation in the world.

I should like hon. Members—with due deference, Mr. Speaker, to the Ruling that we should try to avoid mixing the Hungarian issue with that of the Middle East, and I do not want to do that—to ask themselves what would be the reaction in the United Nations organisation or anywhere else to what is happening in Hungary or what is said to be happening in Hungary if nothing had happened in the Middle East. Clearly it would be debated. Resolutions would be passed and nothing would be done. [Interruption.] The United Nations has on no occasion so far been able to do anything at decisive moments, with the sole exception of Korea and in that case only because Russia was not there at that time to prevent it. Therefore, I would say that, far from it having undermined the work of the United Nations organisation, it will in fact be shown, in the course of time, that this moment in history may well have strengthened the work that that organisation can do. So much for that particular point.

Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)


Mr. Harvey

May I say, with due respect to the hon. Gentleman, that if I give way I shall lengthen the proceedings and make it more difficult for other hon. Members to take part.

The Leader of the Opposition asked in his statement earlier, "Why police the Suez Canal ; why bring the Suez Canal into this issue at all?" May I say to the right hon. Gentleman, with every possible respect, that if he would care to re-read his own speech of 2nd August he would find the best possible reasons in the world for bringing it in.

I should like to make one or two brief comments on this issue because it is one which I know something about and on which I feel very deeply. It has been decided right through the free nations of the world that more and more, year by year, they will have to rely upon oil as the prime mover in their industrialisation. More and more, year by year, the standard of living of all people in all countries of the free world—indeed, one might say, in all the countries in the world—will depend on the use of oil. In ten years from now, if no other difficulties present themselves, the Suez Canal will be handling all the traffic with which it can cope as a result of the incredible expansion of the need for oil which will take place.

In ten years from now we shall need not only the Canal and pipelines to other ports in the Mediterranean, not only super-tankers, but we shall need to think very definitely as a European community about pipelines across Europe to keep the economic power of Europe at work. But it is not a selfish matter for Europe alone. The economic development from which the countries of the Middle East can benefit over the next ten years and, even more, over the next twenty-five years, will be such as to bring to those countries in a matter of a generation conditions which have taken very nearly five hundred years of economic development for the rest of the world.

Consider what has already been done in the greatest oil-producing area of the Middle East for the little State of Kuwait. There, already, they have a health service for all the people, and a great technical college which is well on the way to becoming the first university of the Arab world. There, a few years ago, they had to import every drop of water they drank. Now they have the largest salt-water distillation plant in the world, and they are earning at the moment more than £100 million a year out of oil royalties. Those countries will have increasingly year by year more money than they can spend, and thus the most wonderful opportunity available to them, provided that no undue interruption takes place.

In this situation, it is quite clear that in ten years from now the economic activity of Western Europe could be paralysed at one point on the map—the Suez Canal. When we consider that over the last twelve months the Nasser régime has been flirting dangerously with Moscow, and when we consider that Communism has never made any secret of its intention of wanting eventually to communise the world by wrecking the capitalist system from within, one may well ask at what easier point could they do it than at that Canal? The Leader of the Opposition showed himself well aware of that, and sensitive to it, in his speech on 2nd August. It was the right hon. Gentleman who was first uncomplimentary enough to compare the Egyptian dictator with a former dictator who caused us a lot of trouble not long ago.

Mr. Gaitskell

The hon. Member has referred several times to my speech on 2nd August. Does he remember that at the end of that speech I gave a most solemn warning against the very thing which has now come to pass, namely, that if we used force in conflict with the United Nations and against the majority of the United Nations Assembly we should be arraigned before the Assembly as an aggressor?

Mr. Harvey

The right hon. Gentleman could put that interpretation on the last paragraph. I have re-read it in the last three hours or so—[HON. MEMBERS : "Read it again."] There is no need to worry about that. The right hon. Gentleman also said in the clearest terms of Nasser and his régime and technique that the pattern was all terribly familiar. I have no doubt at all that he remembers saying that. How much more familiar did that pattern become when, in the last week or two, an Egyptian general was appointed to command a ring of steel around the State of Israel? Yet, at this moment, many hon. Members opposite have put themselves in the position of supporting Nasser—[HON. MEMBERS : "No."]—oh, yes ; Nasser, whose avowed aim, as the right hon. Gentleman said in the same speech, is : …to create an Arab empire from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd August ; Vol. 557, c. 1620.] How we would pacify the Middle East and ensure its development if that were to happen is beyond me.

Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)

Is that the Government's justification for bombing them?

Mr. Harvey

I regret as much as anyone the necessity that has compelled us to take the action that we have taken. I would, however, remind hon. Members opposite that there was a previous moment in history when action by this country might well have stopped something much worse later. I refer to 1935. I understand that at that time the French Government sent a message to London requesting that we should join with France in flying two squadrons of bombers over Berlin, and dropping leaflets saying "Withdraw from the Rhineland in 48 hours or we shall be back with bombs." The British Government did not think that the then hon. Members opposite would agree to that course in those days, and it was not done. Four years later we had to go through six years of war to sort things out.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite may not agree with my diagnosis, but I say to them that it will, in the event, quite probably be found by future historians, reviewing what has happened at this moment, that it was the moment at which decisive action was taken which averted the outbreak of a third world war. I believe that courage was necessary in these circumstances—and, goodness knows, no Government likes to court unpopularity. I believe that courage was necessary transcending any thought of partisan popularity.

Though I regret what the Government have found it necessary to do, I support them. I certainly think that with the new offer which the Prime Minister has made this morning to the United Nations organisation, he has given that organisation an opportunity of taking real responsibility for the first time, and that that, in the end, will redound to our credit. It will be shown in time that had we not taken this action now the conflagration and the loss of life in the Middle East would have been much greater than it now will be. It may be shown in the course of time that this was the point in history at which the world steered away from the danger of a third world war.

1.44 p.m.

Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)

The United Nations Assembly has presented the Prime Minister with a golden opportunity for retrieving the honour of the nation, of the Government and of the Prime Minister himself by ordering a cease-fire in Egypt. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister's speech demonstrates to this House, to the nation and to the world that Great Britain is in a state of war with Egypt, whether war has been declared or not. That opportunity has been missed, and the anger that the nation will feel will not fully rebound upon the Government until such time as British soldiers' lives begin to be lost in mortal combat when they invade the territory of Egypt. That is the time when the lesson will fully and finally be brought home to the Government.

If ever there was a time when the moral authority of the United Nations needed all the support it could gather to itself, it is now when such tremendous events are occurring in Hungary. There are some of us on this side of the House who, during the last ten years, have fought in our own country to the best of our ability to bring freedom to the oppressed people of Europe, to the subject satellites. It is at this moment, when they are struggling to regain their freedom, that Great Britain is put in the position of not being able to speak with her former free and unfettered voice and moral authority in the counsels of the United Nations.

It is a damnable thing that while young Hungarians, with tremendous bravery, are prepared against enormous odds to give their lives in Europe so that tyranny can be overthrown, by this action in Egypt it is clearly shown that what the Prime Minister is concerned with is his personal quarrel with Nasser and not with issues of peace and war. The Israelis have shown in the space of four days that, left alone in conflict with Egypt, they could in a month have cleared up the position for themselves, and we might then have been called in by the Egyptians to protect the Canal from further interference.

We, on this side, admit that during at least the last four years Nasser, with his propaganda and in other ways, has given us more trouble than we wanted. This present action, however, is not the way to deal with that. When Hitler's representative in 1936 "cocked a snook" at the League of Nations he destroyed its moral authority. The Prime Minister, by not accepting this golden opportunity today, has done precisely the same thing, and when Poland and Eastern Germany, Czechoslovakia, Albania and Hungary rise, as they certainly will in their own time and moment, against the tyranny opposing them, Great Britain will no longer have her voice or the righteous authority which she formerly exercised. That is the Government's principal crime. They have put the name of the nation in the gutter, and the nation will not forgive them. They have no mandate for this action. Their Election promises were to the contrary. If they wish to contest this issue, I say to them. "Have the guts to go to the country."

1.49 p.m.

Sir Robert Grimston (Westbury)

There are very few of us here today who were here in 1935 when Hitler walked into the Rhineland. I was here and well recollect the atmosphere that then prevailed, and I think that I would do well to recall that atmosphere to the House when it is considering the present situation. I say there were few here then. I see my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot). He was here, and so was my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal. So was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who has now gone out—but, looking round the Chamber, I do not believe there was anyone else who was here at that time.

I remember when that news broke. The French reaction was immediate—to walk in. Over here we had the atmosphere of the Peace Ballot, that the Covenant of the League of Nations must be observed and so on. There was a very prevalent view that the French were warmongers, that they wanted to start another war, and in the end nothing was done and Hitler's coup was successful. Who can doubt today that if Hitler had been frustrated in that move, the whole course of world history would have been different and we should have ben spared the Second World War? We know from the writings of German generals and from the information which has come out of Germany since those days that Hitler would have been crushed at the outset.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)


Sir R. Grimston

Let me develop my argument. Let us exercise our imagination a little. Suppose the French had gone into the Rhineland and had turned those German troops back. They would have done so under the obloquy of most of the world, just as the present Government today are getting a great deal of obloquy from many quarters.

But suppose that, following that, they had turned Hitler out and had said to the League of Nations, "Come and police this area. We have frustrated this tearing up of an international agreement," although the man was only walking into his own country ; I say that the League of Nations would have then been given a chance to function. I believe it would have functioned, and nobody today can doubt that we should have saved ourselves from a Second World War.

Today we have got similar circumstances. [HON. MEMBERS : "No."] I am trying to draw the lesson of the past, which many hon. Members opposite—I do not believe all of them—refuse to do. We are today giving the United Nations a chance of performing the office which the League of Nations was never able to do, namely, to acquire teeth and give us a real police force in the world.

Mr. Noel-Baker


Sir R. Grimston

I am not going to give way. That is why I support the Government in the present action that they are taking—

Mr. Noel-Baker


Sir R. Grimston

I am not giving way.

Mr. Noel-Baker


Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

If the hon. Gentleman does not give way, no other Member should be standing.

Sir R. Grimston

I must say to the right hon. Gentleman that he is a Privy Councillor. He asks a great many questions. I think he should defer for once to someone who has a very limited amount of time in which to speak.

I will merely conclude what I was going to say. I believe, as a previous speaker has said, that when we get a little further away from this and history comes to be written, it will be found that by paying some attention to the lessons of the past we shall have saved the future.

1.53 p.m.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

I do not know if the hon. Baronet the Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston) really believes what he has been saying, but if he does he can believe anything. There is no comparison between Hitler, with the mighty force of the German nation behind him, and the Egyptians. There is no comparison between action which involves invading another's territory, bombing and seizing their property, and the enforcement of the Locarno Treaty. The weakness of the League arose because we failed to stop aggression in Abyssinia. That is what ruined the League.

Now we shall see the new climate of orderly opinion destroyed by us, as Mussolini destroyed it, at the very moment when that idea had proved effective in Central Europe, and when suddenly liberty under law began to make its appearance.

Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)

What about 1931?

Mr. Paget

As hon. Members on both sides of the House know, I have throughout the years fought for a bipartisan policy in international affairs. I have done so because I believe that we, as the most experienced country, must lead the West in wisdom, and we can only do that effectively if we speak with one voice. It is not with any happiness that I find that destroyed. Even on Tuesday I abstained from voting because even then I could not bring myself to divide on a question of foreign policy until everything had been heard, but what a story when it was heard.

I have always taken the view, right from the Nurembourg trials, that international law must not be pushed too far or it would be destroyed. I take the view that the function of the United Nations must be limited. It is really, rather than collective security, the operation of great Power concert. I certainly have never agreed with the proposition that we should never adopt self-help or forcible action except with the authority of the United Nations. I do not think such a proposition would be in conformity either with peace or order.

After all, the laws of nations can be enforced either by international authority or by one's own self-help. International authority that cannot enforce law but can only prevent one enforcing the law oneself is not necessarily operating for peace. But what have we done? We have acted in a manner which has destroyed the whole growing opinion in favour of orderly behaviour—in favour of recognising not in particular the orders of the United Nations Charter or anything of that sort, but the opinion of the world which has been built up in support of order.

In August the situation was entirely different. If the Government had taken strong action then, I certainly would not have opposed them. If somebody picks my pocket and spits in my eye I am entitled to knock him down. By doing so I am not opposing but asserting the law. But it is an entirely different matter if I do not decide to knock him down ; if, instead of that, I decide to take him to court, and in court, if the decision goes against me, I still do not do anything until he is attacked by somebody else a month afterwards, when I then jump on his back and slug him. That is conduct which nobody in the world can respect. That is the position in which we have put ourselves.

Again, so far as the Jewish situation is concerned, I do not agree for a moment that Israel is the aggressor here. Israel is in a situation where she has seen an assault being mounted against her. She is not in the position of North Korea. North Korea had depth into which to retire and to absorb any attack which came. Israel has no depth into which she can retire. She can only in a military sense defend herself by taking action. She has got to anticipate the build-up and then smash it before the effects of the build-up can be delivered. That is what Israel has done.

It is plain from what has emerged that the situation in Sinai, with all those great arms dumps, was not a defensive position. It was a build-up for an assault against Israel, and Israel was entitled to anticipate it. I have no doubt about that.

Equally, I do not say for one moment that we should not have been entitled forcibly to intervene to bring that war to an end. If we had issued an ultimatum to the two countries, saying to the Israelis, "You go back within your boundaries", and to Egypt, "You go back 50 miles and leave this offensive build-up which you have been creating", saying to them both that if they did not do that we should intervene and force them to separate, not 160 miles behind their lines, but where the fighting and the real danger was—if we had taken sincere action of that sort, and if the Security Council had then sought to tell us what to do, and we had said to the Security Council, "Here is real war. Here is a real danger. We are stopping it. Either come and do the job yourself or get out of our way", and if we had used our veto—which, after all, we are given to use—I should have supported it.

But that is not what we have done. We took the excuse of an invasion not to separate the forces, not to take action to stop a war, but as a pretext to seize a Canal which we had sought to seize legally and which we are now seizing illegally, 160 miles behind the lines. This is destroying our whole reputation in the world. It is patently bogus.

We said we acted—and this was the pretext—to defend our shipping and to defend our nationals. The only danger we brought to that shipping and to the Canal came from the fact that we attacked and it is now blocked. The only danger we brought to our citizens came from the fact that we bombed Egypt, and they probably are in danger now. We told the Russians that they could go to the defence of their property and their citizens in Hungary, because that is the effect of putting forward this utterly bogus proposition.

This lying has injured our reputation. We have divided the country. Gone is my dearest hope, that the country should not be divided. We have divided the Empire. I welcome that Menzies and New Zealand have come to our aid. Thank God we have friends who are strong enough to stand by us when we are wrong ; that is when we need friends. None the less, that does not alter the fact that we are desperately wrong. We have destroyed the Bagdad Pact and discredited the emergent system of law and orderly opinion in the world.

There is one remedy in this ineptitude, an ineptitude in diplomacy which really has not been equalled since the days when "Kaiser Bill" used to run Germany. This folly, whereby we are put into this situation, can be corrected now only by the resignation of the Prime Minister. I say that in utter seriousness. If the Prime Minister resigns, then we pay tribute to the international law which has been strong enough to break our folly.

We should form a new Government. Of course, we cannot have an election in war-time ; the Government would have to be—though many of my hon. Friends would not like this—a Coalition Government. It would have to be a Government which represented the majority in this House which believed that international law should be observed, that the spirit of law should be observed, and that this war should be stopped. It is available.

I do not for a moment say that the Prime Minister has not given great service to this country and to the world. He has an opportunity now to give an even greater service. He can resign, and have done with this folly ; and that is what we call upon him to do.

2.4 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)

wish to follow for a moment the arguments of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). It seems to me that he is with the Government so far as he says that if somebody knocks one on the head, picks one's pocket and spits in one's eye, one is entitled to retaliate in order to protect oneself. In fact, I think he used more forcible words than those. But let us take that argument to the point of military practicability. At the time when the initial assault took place, we were not in a position to hit back. As to whether hitting back is justified under U.N.O. rules there seems to be considerable doubt in legalistic minds, but the fact remains that we were not in a position to protect our own interests or other people's interests either. We are now.

When the hon. and learned Member says that the correct method of putting that policy into operation would presumably be to land a force on a difficult coast on a barren desert somewhere between Port Said and E1 Arish, on the north-western shore of the Sinai Peninsula, I do not know whether the hon. and learned Member has ever been there but it is a very impracticable military operation to try to do that.

Mr. Paget


Lieut.-Commander Maydon

There are no reasonable water supplies in the area and no methods of supporting troops or keeping them supplied there. If we had done as he suggested and landed our troops between the two opposing, conflicting armies, probably under fire by both of them, it would have been an act of military folly.

Mr. Paget

I never suggested that for one second. What I suggested was that the ultimatum should require the separation and require them to permit us to occupy there. If they did not accept the ultimatum, any of the actions we have taken would have been justified.

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

Whatever the hon. and learned Member might say now, that is not what he said at first and not what he implied. The fact remains that we intend to put our forces in in the only militarily practicable place where it could be done. Nobody can deny that.

I want to turn for a moment to the legalistic side. I am not a lawyer and I do not understand these things, but it seems to me, as a simple man, that there is far too much high-hatted talk about moral principles while cities are burning and people are dying. [HON. MEMBERS : "What about the bombing?"] I am coming to that if hon. and right hon. Members opposite will restrain themselves.

There has been a lot of criticism and a lot of heat and dust on the Opposition side on this very subject of the bombing. We all know—no one can deny it—that bombs have been dropped on military targets, particularly specified military targets—and for what purpose? It is to ensure that those hundreds of aircraft which have recently been supplied to Egypt by Russia cannot be used against our men when they go in on this police operation.

Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)

hey did not attack us.

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney), whom I do not see present at the moment, said in the early part of his speech that if only we had left well alone the Israelis would have settled this matter in a few days or so. I would certainly concede that present events seem to prove that there is a deal of truth in that. But can we not remember the past history of this case, the retaliation and the counter-retaliation? Can we not imagine what all that would have led to? Those very Russian aircraft which our bomber crews have been in the course of destroying might, and very well could, have been employed in obliterating Tel Aviv and other Jewish cities, even the Holy City of Jerusalem itself. What would have ensued from that? Retaliation upon Cairo and Alexandria.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North accompanied me not very long ago on a visit to the Middle East. He must know as well as I do the temper of people in those parts. If what I have just described had taken place, he can imagine what very likely would have followed. Jordan, Syria, Iraq, all those Arab countries would have been drawn into the conflict. Bagdad might now be in flames.

Mr. Collick

What does the hon. and gallant Member think they are going to do now?

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

I will tell the hon. Member if only he will be patient for a little while.

I was saying what present action has prevented and what intended action is likely to prevent, because of the state of affairs which I have described. What would that state of affairs have led to? Each country in turn in the Western world, and eventually throughout the whole world, very probably might have been drawn—indeed, probably would have been drawn—into this conflict.

Hon. and right hon. Members opposite deplore the bombing of Egyptian military targets. We all do. There is no doubt about that. Nobody likes having to do these things even if we are sure of the necessity of doing them. Just now, in answer to a question, the Minister of Defence said that the warning of the bombing of a certain airfield in Egypt was fifteen minutes. That created an uproar on the benches opposite. I suggest to hon. and right hon. Members opposite that public opinion in Britain and in France is getting sick and tired of this sort of attitude.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

Test it in the country.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

The Labour Party said that in 1955.

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

Those people who are vocal because a short length of time was given of that bombing by implication suggest that longer warning should have been given.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

No, that there should not have been an attack at all.

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

What would have been the effect if we had given the Egyptians five hours' warning? Just imagine those MIG 17s getting into the air and shooting down our own aircraft. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite are very fulsome in lip-service at the time of the Service Estimates about the welfare of Service men, but when it comes to a matter like this they put those who are conflicting with us before our own men.

Mr. Geoffrey Hirst (Shipley)

It is shameful.

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

If the hon. Member has any comments on that I will certainly give way so that he can make them.

Mr. Hamilton

I am much obliged. The point I wanted to make, with which the hon. and gallant Member will surely agree, was that it was a lunatic Government who put British soldiers and airmen in that position.

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

I am afraid that the hon. Member's point is quite irrelevant to what I was saying. The Government may, in his opinion, be a lunatic Government, but that is only his opinion.

Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)


Mr. Osborne

Oh, give the back benchers a chance.

Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)


Lieut.-Commander Maydon

I cannot give way again, for I do not want to prevent other hon. Members from speaking in the debate, and I shall unnecessarily take up other people's time if I keep on giving way.

Mr. Butler

Who sent our men there?

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

I have one last point I want to make, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will pay some attention to what I am just about to say because many people seem to be a little worried about it. It is a point which has been put to me by many people, and by a good many constituents last night. [HON. MEMBERS : "Hear, hear."] If hon. Members opposite would only wait for the point, they can find out whether they can shout about it.

We heard today the Prime Minister's statement concerning the reply of the British and French Governments to the United Nations Resolution. A great many people in this country are most anxious that we do not get bogged down in long arguments over legal points and are convinced that, if the United Nations eventually comes to the reality of forming a police force and sending it in, the British and French Governments must make certain that their forces are not withdrawn from the area before United Nations forces are there on the ground, on the sea and in the air in such force as will be able to prevent a recurrence of this conflict.

2.16 p.m.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

Many hon. Members wish to speak and I intend to be extremely brief. I have not spoken in the debate or even interjected so far, which is unusual for me. The matter that we are discussing is of grave importance to the country and to the world, and we should not look upon it with hilarity or try to settle it by hissing and booing and taking advantage of debating points.

I served in the Sinai Desert during the First World War, and I thought then that the crosses marking the number and names of the men who died would be the last erected there, but apparently I was wrong. I was one of the many who took part in what we thought to be the war to end all wars. My heart goes out to the parents of those who are fighting today, be they Jew or Arab or our own people, because of the misguided policy not of one particular Government but of a world that has gone mad.

We are all in this business—England, America, France, and lawyers, politicians, theorists, pacifists, militarists and all the lot, and there is not one party or country that is to blame for the unwholesome, unholy mess that we are in. [AN HON. MEMBER : "Question."] I should be prepared to answer that, given time. The world itself is responsible, and the events which have led up to this situation are deplorable. I usually try to inject humour into the debate but this is not a debate of that kind. I remember writing letters for some of the boys who fought in the First World War. I had to write for one, who was dying, "Dear Mother, I am now in the land where the good Lord was born. I wish to the Lord that I were in the land where I was born. I am dying."

I am concerned with the facts as they are. I do not intend to add my small and humble voice to the splendid speeches made against the action that has been taken and the position that we are now in. I am concerned with the ultimate results of it all. At seven o'clock last night I was on the premises of the steel corporation which I have had the privilege to serve since I was a boy. I was looking at a 300-ton new Talbot furnace which after next week should be producing 2,500 tons of steel. I saw a range of other furnaces which last week produced about 10,000 tons of good steel that are vital to the British economy, regardless of who is in power, and vital to the salvation of Britain. Every ounce of that steel was produced with the help of oil which not many days previously was in a tanker coming across the sea from that part of the world. This is a very important matter.

I raise my voice to ask the Leader of the House to make very certain that the Minister of Fuel and Power, seeing that the Canal is blocked and that oil supplies will not be forthcoming in the amount which they should be, makes sure at once that the economy of this country is safeguarded to the extent of priorities being given first and foremost to our basic industries, particularly the steel industry.

The Labour Party may be returned at a snap General Election. Whatever the position is after the next General Election, whichever party is in power will have to take over the control of the country as it then finds it. No one should seek at this time to make the position worse than it is today. Goodness knows, it was bad enough without this business in Egypt.

I returned a few days ago from Western Germany where I had spent ten days with colleagues of all parties in the House. I saw what was going on there. I saw the economic pressure, and I saw the production. Six weeks previously I was in Eastern Germany, where production is going on at the point of the gun. The pressure on our nation is more than sufficient to bring it down economically without starting this present unholy business in the Middle East.

I ask the Leader of the House to make certain that when rationing takes place, as rationing will, priority is given to the industries which need vital commodities, so that at the end of hostilities, when peace is restored, if peace it is to be, whichever party forms the Government in this country will find it in the best possible state that it can be put in today.

2.22 p.m.

Sir Frank Medlicott (Norfolk, Central)

In his opening sentences the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) said one of the most important things which has been said during the whole of these discussions. It is no use our criticising the United Nations, any more than we used to criticise the League of Nations, because these organisations have no existence without us, and in so far as they have failed, it is largely because we have failed to measure up to what was required of us.

I am one of many who have accepted the necessity for this bombing and other military action with the gravest reluctance and only after the most desperate heart-searching that one could imagine.

Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)

What was the hon. Member looking for in his heart?

Sir F. Medlicott

I have come to the conclusion, having had the privilege of working with colleagues on this side of the House for over 18 years, that the motives and objects of the Prime Minister and his colleagues are wholly and completely honourable and that they seek only to make effective the machinery of the United Nations upon which so much depends.

What has been done in the last few days may well soon be seen to be one of the greatest examples of courage and statesmanship that the world has ever seen. As was said today in one great newspaper, one may question the judgment of the Government and of the Prime Minister, but one cannot question their courage.

I ask only one question of the Prime Minister, and it will be of great help to all hon. Members on perhaps both sides of the House who are willing to listen if he will make one point clear today or on some other occasion. I believe that the desperate measures which have had to be taken and which have caused heart-searching are justifiable if they are based upon a determination to keep the combatants apart to bring hostilities to an end or to ensure police action being taken. I want the Government to make it clear that the military action which they are taking and still have to take will be directed solely to the fulfilment of those objectives and that, as soon as those objectives have been reached, there will be no question of military power being exercised for the settlement of the dispute over the Suez Canal.

I ask the Prime Minister to make that clear. If he can do that, he will make it clear, as it is clear to most of us, that the Government's intentions are based upon an effort to provide an effective means of international control. If it can be made plain that our military efforts are directed not to any self-interest embodied in our interest in the Canal, but directed solely to police action or separating the combatants or the termination of hostilities, there will be overwhelming support and gratitude for the courage he has shown.

2.25 p.m.

Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)

At this moment thousands of young English men are sitting in landing craft moving from one destination in the Mediterranean towards the shores of Egypt. I spent some time in the last war in exactly that situation. When I was sitting in a landing craft waiting to fight against a known enemy, I did not need to worry my mind in the least about what I was fighting for, or about the honour of the cause I was defending. I know that there are many hon. and right hon. Members opposite who sincerely believe that our cause is just. I respect their convictions, but they must know also that there are many men in those landing craft who do not believe that our cause is just.

I ask hon. Members to believe that I do not want to make a party issue of this problem. It is not too late. The fact is that, unless those landing craft are redirected to another destination in the next few hours, thousands of young men may carry on their souls for the rest of their lives the feeling that they faced personally the same sort of problem as soldiers in the German Army in the last war faced and that they failed to meet it rightly. [Interruption.]

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

On a point of order. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Essex, South-east (Mr. Braine) to refer to my hon. Friend as a traitorous defeatist? It was said within the hearing of all of us.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If that expression was used, it was certainly out of order.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South East)


Mr. Healey

I forgive the hon. Member. I know how strong feeling is—

Hon. Members


Mr. Braine

In view of your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I will certainly withdraw. May I just—

Hon. Members


Mr. Braine

I certainly withdraw.

Mr. Healey

I know how the hon. Member feels, but I ask him to accept as a fact that there are millions of people in this country who feel as I do, and that presents a problem, whether he agrees with them or not.

I believe that today the Prime Minister has missed an opportunity of saving the reputation of this country and the consciences of many of our people from a mark which will last for at least a generation.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)


Mr. Healey

The Prime Minister's statement this morning was one of the most appalling which I have ever heard. Here he had an opportunity, even if he was not prepared to accept every word which has been said in New York in the last few days, at least to call a halt to acts of violence which he has undertaken in defiance of the expressed opinion of the vast majority of the world and of a large section—I put it no higher—of our own people and of the basic principles of international law. He refused to take that opportunity.

I should like to address some questions to the Prime Minister on the statement he has made. He said that his aim throughout this operation had been to separate forces which were in hostilities against one another. At present a large part of the Egyptian Army is still north of the Canal. The British representative at the United Nations has already asked for the withdrawal of Israeli troops to the armistice lines. The question I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman is this : does he agree that the only place in which United Nations police forces should be located is along the frontiers between Israel and her Arab neighbours?

I should point out that news has come over the tape in the last few minutes that Syrian and Iraqi forces have entered Jordan. We have heard a great deal from the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister in the last few days of statements made by Colonel Nasser in the past expressing the determination to wipe out the State of Israel, and the Government have justified their support of Israeli actions in the last few days on the ground of provocation. I am prepared to give the Government a list of statements by the Prime Ministers both of Syria and Iraq expressing exactly the same sentiments as Colonel Nasser. The second question I wish to put to the Foreign Secretary is : does he believe that Israel would be no less justified in entering Jordan at this moment than—according to him—she was justified in entering Egypt?

I should like to put a third question to the right hon. Gentleman. In the statement made by the Prime Minister he made great play of his willingness to treat this whole episode as an opportunity for establishing a United Nations solution of Middle Eastern problems. We on this side of the House have always wished for such a solution, and if it is possible within these tragic days to achieve it none will be more happy than we are. I should like to ask the Foreign Secretary this question. Included among the issues on which he asked for a United Nations solution is that of the Suez Canal. Can the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister give this House and the United Nations an undertaking this afternoon that Her Majesty's Government will accept any settlement of the Suez Canal which is agreed by the United Nations without using the British veto? Unless the Foreign Secretary is prepared to give that undertaking, the whole of the statement of the Prime Minister was a tissue of hypocritical nonsense.

There has been some discussion today of the Hungarian problem and, in making his statement, the Foreign Secretary referred to events since 31st October. I should like to refer to an event on the morning of 30th October. On the morning of 30th October the Soviet Government made an official statement of its readiness to withdraw its troops from Hungary and to seek in conversations with the Governments of the Eastern European States a new basis for relationship between them and the Soviet Union. Twenty-four hours later Soviet policy changed. Did anything happen between the first event and the second which influenced that change in Soviet policy? I put it no higher than to say that it is impossible for any hon. or right hon. Member to maintain that there is no connection between the somersault in Soviet policy between Tuesday and Wednesday morning and the action of Her Majesty's Government.

I will finish by saying that there has been a great deal of talk in this House during the last few days about the rights and wrongs of the Middle East situation as it affects our action. There has been far too little talk of the consequences of our action on the general disposition of relations between the Powers in the world as a whole. It cannot be denied that our action. whatever may be the ultimate consequence—and we may have disagreement about that—has shattered the pillars on which British policy has rested since 1945. There can be no argument about that as far as the situation goes at the moment. I do not see how it is possible to rebuild a viable British foreign policy so long as those responsible for this action remain in office.

Last night I spoke to a large meeting at the Oxford Union. Never have I seen such feeling expressed in a gathering in Oxford since I was an undergraduate there in 1938 when a similar meeting was held to celebrate the courage of one of His Majesty's Ministers in resigning from the Government in order to demonstrate his respect for international law and for the rights of small nations. The name of that Minister is the name of our present Prime Minister.

I want to ask hon. and right hon. Members opposite whether there is none of them today who is prepared to show the same courage in defence of what we know to be their views. I hope that the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) will take the smirk off his face.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)


Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Member who has the Floor does not give way it is disorderly to remain standing.

Mr. Burden

On a point of order. Is it right, Mr. Speaker, for the hon. Member opposite to make a comment of that character because I was smiling? I am perfectly entitled to smile, and I submit that my smile is far less open to censure than many of the remarks and much of the behaviour of hon. Members opposite today.

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that is a point of order.

Mr. Healey

I wish to appeal to hon. Members opposite who raised grave doubts about the wisdom of the Government's policy to demonstrate their feelings in action and to show today that there are still Members of one of our two great political parties in this country who are capable of showing the same integrity as that other Eden.

2.39 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)


Hon. Members

The new Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Osborne

If hon. Members opposite will be good enough to lend me their ear for three minutes, I promise not to take longer.

I am one of the hon. Members on both sides of the House who believe deeply in the United Nations, and this problem has perplexed my mind and given me a very sore heart. I want hon. Members opposite to believe that not only they but many hon. Members on this side of the House feel terriby perplexed and worried about it. Nevertheless, I want to say that my perplexities and the burden which is on my heart have been considerably eased by what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this morning. However, I want to ask one question.

I believe that among the ordinary people the fact that bombs have been used has caused more distress than almost anything else. And since we have been told that the bombing has obliterated the Egyptian Air Force, could I now appeal to my right hon. Friend that in so far as it is possible—I hope it is possible immediately and completely—bombing shall cease?

I feel that the many people who think as I do would not be nearly so much shocked if paratroops had been dropped on key points—

Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)

And all killed?

Mr. Osborne

—and I am asking, in view of the fact that we have been told by the Minister of Defence that the Egyptian Air Force has been put out of action—

Mr. Godfrey Lagden (Hornchurch)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Osborne

—will the Prime Minister and the Government consider, in so far as possible, the possibility of ceasing bombing as soon as possible?

2.41 p.m.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

Time is running out, and I wish to give the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs an opportunity to answer some questions. First, I wish to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether he will make a statement on the very important matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) that there are troop movements obviously intended to attack Israel? What is the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards that, and what action do they propose to take?

My hon. Friend put another question to the Government. Will the Government give an undertaking that they will accept the United Nations solution of the future of the Suez Canal, and give the undertaking now, at this time?

The third question that I wish to ask, once more, is whether the Government will say "Yes" or "No" to the request made by the United Nations General Assembly, in very specific terms, of all engaged in these hostilities—that includes Her Majesty's Government—to agree to an immediate cease-fire. That word "immediate" was used many hours ago. We are asking the Government now ; will they now, before this House rises, agree to an immediate cease-fire and to the holding up of troop movements.

We ask those three questions of the Government before we leave, and we say again—I say, and I say it for many millions of people in this country—that this is the end of a shocking week for our country.

2.43 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

May I deal first of all with the suggestion that hostilities have terminated. I think that that comment—which I think came from the Leader of the Opposition—is a little naïve. It is clear that unless we intervene in the situation, there will be more major battles between the combatants. Israeli forces are now advancing on the Canal. That is continuing. Egyptian forces are also advancing on the Canal from the other direction—[HON. MEMBERS : "Because of you."] It is not because of us—[HON. MEMBERS : "Yes."]—and if someone does not intervene to separate the combatants, I am perfectly certain—[HON. MEMBERS : "Humbug."]—that there will be sustained hostilities, and the chance of them spreading will be very much greater.

The request of 30th October was addressed to both sides—

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

The right hon. Gentleman has just said that it is necessary to continue with this operation in order to keep the combatants apart, and that Israeli forces are now advancing towards the Canal. Does that mean that British forces, if they are landed, will be used to fire on the Israeli forces too, if they approach the Canal, and on the Egyptian forces, if they approach the Canal? Are we going to face our men with a war on two fronts?

Mr. Lloyd

We are certainly going to separate the combatants. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] That is certainly the object of the operation, but I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the Israeli Government have notified their willingness to withdraw ten miles from the Canal provided the other side do the same. [HON. MEMBERS : "What is the danger then?"] The danger is because the other side have not agreed to that request.

Mr. Silverman

I am trying quite honestly to follow what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says. He says in one breath, "The Israeli forces are advancing towards the Canal ; the Egyptian Forces are advancing towards the Canal ; we are going to put our forces in between to stop them and therefore, presumably, to fight both." When I ask him about that, he says that the Israeli troops are not advancing on the Canal. [HON. MEMBERS : "No."] If the Israeli Government and troops have accepted the proposition to stop ten miles short of the Canal, what is the danger?

Mr. Lloyd

Because there was a very important condition which they applied. They said "If the Egyptian Government would also accept"—

Mr. J. Griffiths


Mr. Lloyd

The Egyptian Government have not accepted our request. They have not said that they would withdraw ten miles from the Canal and they have not said that they would accept the ten-mile limit.

Mr. Gatiskell


Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot have two right hon. Gentlemen on their feet at the same time. One at a time is quite enough.

Mr. Gaitskell

I think that the Foreign Secretary kindly agreed to give way to me. I am much obliged to him. This is an extremely important point. As I understand it, the Foreign Secretary is resting his answer to my hon. Friend on the ground that the Egyptians have not accepted something. The something to which he referred was our ultimatum, but what I understand the Egyptians have accepted is the Resolution of the United Nations Assembly. It was reported in the Press this morning that they had agreed to the cease-fire providing the other parties to the dispute did so too. If it is the case that the Israelis have also said that they will agree to the ceasefire, all possible justification for armed intervention by us disappears.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Lloyd

I completely disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. I think that possibly the case for resistance to our intervention has gone, but I believe that if this resistance is really to be stopped it is necessary for there to be some detachments on the ground. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] I believe that this action may prevent hostilities which could easily cause tens of thousands of casualties. Really, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite seem in this completely to have forgotten the history of the past ten years.

The matter has been several times to the Security Council and many times to the General Assembly of the United Nations. The Secretary-General has gone out to try to interpose his personal mediation. Effort after effort has been made, by various Governments and by one form of initiative or another, to try to get peace between Israel and the Arab States. Those efforts have failed. At present I say that there is still an extremely dangerous situation militarily on the ground, and that the best way to stop those hostilities developing is for us to intervene. We are not proposing to intervene on the side of Israel. We are intervening in order to separate the combatants. [Interruption.]

Fears have been expressed that we would stay in the area of the Canal Zone. [An HON. MEMBER : "For another seventy years."] The suggestion from an hon. Member of the Opposition is that we intend to stay for another seventy years, and that we are going there simply to pursue our own selfish interests. [HON. MEMBERS : "Hear, hear."] That is obviously the view of many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. We have made it absolutely clear in the terms of this reply to the General Assembly and to the Secretary-General of the United Nations that we are ready to hand over to a United Nations force as soon as it can be constituted.

If the United Nations decide to constitute that force we believe that it must also decide that that force should remain in the Middle East until there has been a peace settlement between the Arab States and Israel.

Mr. Healey


Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Lloyd

We have made it quite clear that we will hand over to this United Nations force when it is constituted. We think that that statement should bring a great deal of hope to people who really want a settlement of hostilities in the Middle East.

We have also said that the United Nations force should stay there until satisfactory arrangements have been agreed in regard to the Suez Canal. The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) asked me, in regard to that matter, whether or not we would give an undertaking that we would not use the veto against some proposition of the Security Council with regard to that matter. I say at once that we will certainly stand by the Resolution which received nine out of eleven votes.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Since the Government are prepared to accept a Resolution carried by nine votes to two, why will they not accept a Resolution carried by 64 votes to five? Will they now give an undertaking, since they are prepared to hand this problem over to the United Nations, that they will accept the solution on Suez decided by the United Nations?

Hon. Members


Mr. Lloyd

The two conditions are quite different. I say exactly what is here in our reply to the General Assembly : until satisfactory arrangements have been agreed in regard to the Suez Canal. I believe certainly that we will accept a settlement with regard to that matter which conforms to the six principles unanimously agreed by the Security Council. Of course we will accept such a settlement, and I believe that it should be possible to find such a settlement. But in the meantime, let there be no misunderstanding about this : we intend to see that this war between these two countries is stopped.

If, arising out of this situation, the United Nations equips itself and organises itself so that it is in a position to act quickly in similar circumstances, then in my view we shall have done a very good job for the peace of the world.

Throughout the whole of this conflict Her Majesty's Opposition have sought to make things worse. [HON. MEMBERS : "Resign."] This proposal which we have put forward to the United Nations contains in it, I believe, ideas which may be of great value, and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have done no good to them selves or to their country or to the peace of the world by attempting to anticipate the views of the United Nations and by attempting to see that the Government's proposals were presented in the worst possible light to that Assembly. We remember again what happened yesterday in the General Assembly—

Mr. Hamilton

Yes, 64 votes against us.

Mr. Lloyd

—when the representative of Egypt relied upon the arguments of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was exactly the same during the debates in the Security Council at which I was present. Once again the principal part of the speech of the Egyptian delegate was quotations from right hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)

moment ago the Foreign Secretary referred to anticipating the wishes of the United Nations. Are we to understand that he and his right hon. Friends do not consider the United Nations already to have expressed its opinion and that he is ignoring all the proceedings which have gone so far?

Mr. Lloyd

The point is that we do not believe that the recommendation of the United Nations is likely to produce lasting peace in the Middle East.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

beg to move, That the Question be now put.

Mr. Speaker

I could not accept such a Motion after one-and-a-half hour's debate.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

n order that we should no longer have to listen to this hypocrisy, I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.

Mr. Speaker

I cannot accept that Motion, either.

Mr. Charles A. Howell (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

understand, Mr. Speaker, that at three o'clock you propose to adjourn the sitting. In order to make my point of order, I must therefore rise be fore three o'clock. I want to ask your advice on a question of Privilege. I believe that the House has a rule that a question before the House must not be discussed—

Mr. Speaker


Hon. Members


It being Three o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Resolution of the House yesterday.

Adjourned at Three o'clock.