§ [FIRST DAY]
§ 3.13 p.m.
Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)
I beg to move, That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.I am sure the House will endorse my saying that we all wish to express our pleasure and our gratitude that Her Majesty was able to open this new Session of Parliament in person this morning, and our sorrow that His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh was not able to be with her on this occasion. I have heard many Gracious Speeches read by Her Majesty, and every time I do so my admiration for her speaking voice increases. The human voice is something of which we Parliamentarians become very conscious, and I have often wished that some of those voices which we hear more often in the House were as musical, as clear and as easy to listen to.
Many people in the country will echo Her Majesty's interest in the Duke of Edinburgh's Commonwealth tour, and they can be excused if they mix a good deal of envy with that interest. It is the ambition of all of us to visit as much of the Commonwealth as we can, but it is an ambition that few of us manage to realise because of the difficulties of the time and the distances involved.
The Gracious Speech includes serious words about the situation in the Middle East. There must be many of us here who, at one time or another, have visited most, if not all, of those countries concerned. I am sure that when we were there we wondered why it should be that suspicions and hatreds should grow and be found in those countries which have an almost magical past and great opportunities for the future. The world is surely too small a place for people to continue to live together in lasting hatreds. In the words of the Gracious Speech,…a prompt and just settlement…is what we all desire to see.
21 I do not think it is irrelevant to refer to an instance where such feelings have been overcome successfully. All hon. Members may not realise that it is not so very many generations ago that we who live in the North of England and our neighbours on the other side of the Scottish Border not only hated one another but raided one another, fought one another and burned one another's houses. Those times are, happily, changed and friendships have taken the place of hatreds. What we have been able to do here surely can be repeated elsewhere.
I greatly appreciate the honour done to me in being called to propose the Motion and the honour done to those whom I represent. I am proud to represent a whole English county which once sent several Members to the House. It is a very beautiful county, which visitors come to see from all over the world, and, without wishing to introduce a word of controversy, I would add that it has no mounted police. It is also a busy and thriving county, with its industries scattered among the larger villages as well as the towns. That unusual pattern dates back to the days when water was a main source of power; and there has developed a happy blend of agriculture and industry which those responsible for new planning and new towns might well come and study.
Our industries can also show how small firms even in these days of ever-bigger units can produce goods of the highest quality and sell them in the markets of the world. I give just one example. Pumps and turbines made in my constituency are in use all over the world, as far even as Lhasa in Tibet. I wonder also how many pairs of shoes there are in this Chamber which have been made in Kendal in my constituency.
The Gracious Speech refers to agricultural progress and to anti-dumping measures which farmers and consumers, I hope, will greatly welcome. The stability and development of our agriculture, which is our greatest industry, are as important as ever, not only to farmers but to all of us. Agriculture can help with our balance of payments just as much as some of our great exporting industries. It has already helped a great deal, and it can help to do more, provided that the means to achieve its expansion are not lacking. The same applies to its brother industry, 22 fishing, whose interests are recognised in the Gracious Speech.
Arising out of the Gowers Report, a further stage is to be taken in the improvement of social and working conditions in connection with the closing hours of shops and related matters. I hope they will be worked out in the best interests of large and small shops, of those employed in them, and their customers as well.
Over the constitutional field, everyone will look forward with interest to hearing the details of the proposals concerning another place.
In many processions—we have seen an example of one this morning—the most important place is found towards the end. In the Gracious Speech, it seems to be given to school building and technical education, and nothing could be more important in a technical age. Indeed, the Gracious Speech is an outline of much work which is worthy of the endeavours of this House and which, when carried through, must surely add to the happiness and the prosperity of this land.
§ 3.21 p.m.
§ Mr. John Harvey (Walthamstow, East)
I beg to second the Motion.
I am deeply conscious of the honour which this privilege entails, an honour which I accept on behalf of my constituents. I have been reminded that it is customary, in seconding this Motion, to be non-controversial. I shall have to be particularly careful in this respect, since I have three constituents sitting on the benches opposite. I also note that it is customary on this occasion to say something about one's constituency.
I have the honour to represent the East Division of Walthamstow, which is one of our forty largest towns. It was a small village of some 2,000 people in the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, and the excavation of a pile dwelling on the banks of the River Lee links it with the Bronze Age. Hon. Members opposite will think of it with reverence as the birthplace of William Morris, of whom it was once said that he was a Jack of all arts and master of all; and hon. Members on this side may be interested to know that one of his biographers said of Benjamin Disraeli that he reached Westminster by way of Walthamstow, where he was educated.
23 Today, Walthamstow's 150,000 people have been engulfed in Greater London, and yet somehow they have managed to remain very much a community of their own, giving a real expression to the borough's motto "Fellowship is Life". Sir William Penn, who lived in Waltham-stow, forged a link with the Commonwealth in the sixteeth century when he set up the British flag in Jamaica.
When we come to consider the Gracious Speech, there will, I know, be a welcome in all quarters of the House for the intention to maintain the pace of general progress and constitutional development in various parts of the Commonwealth and Empire. I know that this Mother of Parliaments will particularly want to express its good wishes for the future of the new State of Ghana, whose independence within the Commonwealth we shall shortly be asked to approve.
It is sad, but true, that issues of foreign policy have led to very deep divisions in this House during the last few days. I hope, however, that we shall all be able to give a welcome to the words of the Gracious Speech concerning the achievement of a prompt and just settlement in the Middle East, and also concerning the quest for the broadest measure of cooperation within the Commonwealth, within the Atlantic Alliance, in concert with our friends and allies in Europe, and within other international agencies—by which words all of us will have in mind principally the United Nations organisation.
Turning to the economic scene, and while there may be differences of opinion as to method, we can nevertheless all give a welcome to the principle of maintaining full employment together with rising production and price stability. The House should also welcome the intention of the Government to take speedy action on proposals designed to improve the efficiency of the nationalised industries, with particular reference to transport and electricity.
I was specially interested to note the changes envisaged in hire-purchase regulations. Many of my constituents in Walthamstow, East are affected in one way or another by the fortunes or misfortunes of the furniture trade. I hope, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government, before introducing their new proposals, 24 will take into the fullest consideration the effect, trade by trade and industry by industry, of the regulations already in force.
In presenting their proposals concerning privately rented housing accommodation, there is, of course, no possibility of avoiding the field of party political difference. The right of local authorities to increase rents in certain circumstances has, however, long been recognised, and if the proposals of the Government now seek to extend to other classes of housing the means whereby the untimely deterioration of property can be avoided and accommodation standards can be materially improved, then such proposals will be worthy of careful, fair-minded and reasonable consideration in this House.
I turn for a moment to the division of opinion concerning the subject of capital punishment. As we all know, that is not limited to this House. It is obviously the hope of the Government that their proposals to amend the law on homicide and to limit the scope of capital punishment will commend themselves not only to a majority in Parliament but also to the great majority of those we represent. It will in no way detract from the rights or the dignity of this House if we give further consideration to the question of finding a solution that will commend itself as widely as possible.
Personally, I wish particularly to welcome the legislation to give retrospective effect to increases in pay and allowances to the police forces, whether mounted or not. Hon. Members in all parts of the House will share my satisfaction that the Government propose to extend such legislation to cover also the fire and probation services.
As an Essex Member, cognisant of all the special problems of Essex, I give a special welcome to the assurance that new schools will continue to have a high place in the building programme; but Walthamstow is not a new town and many of its schools are old schools. Just as it has been found important to prevent, where possible, old houses from deteriorating into disuse, so would I urge the Government not to forget the claim of old schools to some, at least, of the money that can be made available for the constant improvement of our educational services.
25 It would seem that the terms of the Gracious Speech, while doubtless not embracing everything that all of us would like to do, will nevertheless provide us with much work, much to think about and, I have no doubt, much to talk about. I pray that the plans and intentions of Her Majesty's Government will redound to the advantage and increasing prosperity of the British people, and will be crowned with a resumption of harmonious international relations and the fulfilment of the hopes of free men for lasting peace and stability.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
Mr. Speaker, I rise, in accordance with the traditions of the House, to offer on behalf of all of us our most sincere congratulations to the mover and seconder of the Motion. Delivering their speeches in circumstances which were not easy, both have maintained the high standard which has been set in the past by those who have performed this duty. Both hon. Gentlemen made non-controversial speeches, both of them introduced pleasant touches of humour, both of them introduced also interesting references to their constituencies.
The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) is fortunate in representing a constituency which contains some of the most beautiful country in England. I myself have a slight personal connection with it because my own family originated in the neighbouring county of Cumberland, and I have often spent many hours walking in the constituency which the hon. Gentleman represents.
As for the hon. Member for Waltham-stow, East (Mr. J. Harvey), I am sure that the three constituents of his who sit on the benches behind me will agree when I say that they would not hold against him anything in the speech which he made this afternoon. On the contrary, I am sure they would wish me to congratulate him in that, in view of his very narrow majority, he has been fortunate whilst still in the House to enjoy this opportunity.
As I have said, the circumstances in which this debate begins are most unusual, and they have been made even more dramatic in the last twenty-four hours. The Prime Minister has explained to me why, on account of these latest 26 developments in the international situation, he is unable to be present for the time being and will not, I understand, be able to speak until about 6 o'clock. It is, naturally, a matter of great regret to us that neither he nor the Foreign Secretary can be present, but we understand the circumstances and we cannot seriously object.
It is the custom for the Leader of the Opposition in opening this debate to go through the Gracious Speech in some detail, making favourable comments in one or two places and unfavourable comments on a great many of the points. I had prepared some notes along those lines, but as the circumstances are so unusual, I have decided—I hope it will be with the consent of the House—to break with the tradition this afternoon and to devote my attention immediately to the grave international situation which, unfortunately, still confronts us.
The question of our attitude to the various Measures proposed in the Gracious Speech can be dealt with very easily by other of my right hon. and hon. Friends during the course of the several days' debate that we shall have, but there are some things about the international situation which must be said, and said very urgently, this afternoon.
I would make reference to the one paragraph in the Gracious Speech which deals with the international situation. I should like to quote the second sentence of the second paragraph, which runs as follows:To this end they will welcome the broadest measure of co-operation with the Commonwealth, with our Allies in the Atlantic Alliance and in Europe, and with those international agencies of which the United Kingdom is a Member.If, indeed, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to try to obtain the broadest measure of co-operation in the Commonwealth and with our allies, we on these benches can only applaud that. However, it is not enough to say that we desire co-operation. If we want cooperation, we must be prepared to consult and seek agreement with other members of the Commonwealth and our allies. There must, if this sentence is to be taken seriously, be an end to independent arbitrary action by Great Britain or by Great Britain and France together.
I turn at once to the battle area. Here I wish to ask a number of questions of which I hope the Lord Privy Seal. who, 27 I understand, is to speak after me, will take note. I appreciate that he himself may find difficulty in answering some of these questions, but I should be grateful if he would convey them to the Prime Minister and the other Ministers concerned.
Yesterday afternoon the Prime Minister read out a signal which announced the surrender of Port Said and gave us the hope of a general ceasefire. Unfortunately, this morning's news shows that there was certainly no general cease-fire and even that there is doubt about how far Port Said has surrendered.
Yesterday, however, Sir Pierson Dixon, speaking on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, announced to the United Nations that Great Britain would stop all bombing in Egypt. I wish first of all to ask the Government whether that is true, because reports have come in from the Egyptians saying that bombing is continuing. I need hardly say that if Her Majesty's Government have ordered the cessation of all bombing, we on this side of the House would warmly welcome it as at least one step forward.
I would then, however, if that is true—as I hope it is—go on to ask, what fighting is still taking place? Presumably it is purely ground fighting. Is it continuing, and on what scale? Also, are the Government still continuing to drop the kind of leaflets on Cairo and other Egyptian cities which were described and discussed in yesterday's debate? Are they continuing, through the radio station in Cyprus, to broadcast the same kind of inflammatory and, indeed, dangerous material which they have been doing in the last few days?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) asked yesterday that the Government should produce a White Paper showing exactly what was being said in these leaflets and broadcasts. I hope that we can now at least have an answer to that, because the House of Commons is entitled to full information on what the Government are telling Egypt. If they are telling Egypt, they should tell us.
I come next to what seems to me to be the crucial question of the moment. I do not wish this afternoon to go once again over all the background that we have discussed during the last week, but I ask 28 this simple question of hon. Members: Why is it necessary for the Government to continue with the invasion of Egypt? Why must the fighting go on?
It is known to all of us that Egypt has accepted the United Nations General Assembly Resolution calling for a ceasefire, a withdrawal of forces within armistice frontiers and the refraining from any intervention by other Powers. Egypt is, therefore, prepared to carry out a cease-fire. She will not, evidently, continue fighting Israel if that is accepted. This morning it is announced that Israel also is prepared, as I think I said yesterday she was, to accept a cease-fire. We are, therefore, in the extraordinary situation that it is only Great Britain and France who have refrained from accepting the cease-fire. What possible justification is there for continuing with the fighting? I ask the Government and hon. Members opposite to tell us what justification there is.
The Prime Minister, in his broadcast on Saturday night, said for the first time that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to make the Israeli forces go back within their own territory, and that was repeated yesterday by the Foreign Secretary in this House. I wish to ask a number of questions about that important statement.
First, if this was the purpose of Her Majesty's Government from the beginning, why on earth was nothing said about it at all in the original ultimatum sent to Egypt and Israel? It must surely be clear that the outcome of that ultimatum might conceivably have been different if this particular object had been included. Secondly, why, if this was their intention, was no statement about it made to the Security Council meeting on the Tuesday evening or later in the week to the United Nations General Assembly? Why, indeed, was it only produced in the Prime Minister's broadcast as late as Saturday night? Why, if this was our view last Tuesday, did we not merely refrain from mentioning it at the Security Council but refuse to accept the original Resolution before the Security Council, which called upon the Israeli forces to withdraw within their own territory?
If we had done that, if we had accepted that Resolution, which I think most people on reading it through would 29 regard as very reasonable—it did not offer condemnation in terms; it stated, it is true, that there had been violation of the armistice frontiers, and that cannot be denied, and it called for a cease-fire and withdrawal and an absence of outside intervention—it would have been carried unanimously and we could then have gone on to propose that there should immediately be set up a United Nations force to see that it was carried out.
We could, indeed, with our hands clean, have offered to take part in that United Nations force. All that would have made sense; all that would have been acting, not on our own, but on behalf of the United Nations; all that would have been genuinely a police action and not aggression. Alas, that was not what happened.
Thirdly, I ask this crucial question. Why, if, indeed, the object of continuing hostilities in the Canal Zone is to drive back or force back the Israeli troops, are we attacking Egypt? What conceivable justification can there be, if one says that one intends to bring about a withdrawal of a force which has undoubtedly invaded another country, for attacking the country which has been invaded?
Or is it, as we have heard more recently—although we did not hear about this until last Thursday—that the Government wish to continue hostilities still to make way for the United Nations' police force? If that is so and a cease-fire has been accepted, why should continuing intervention be needed?
Now that I am dealing with the matter of the United Nations police force, I wish to ask the Leader of the House a number of specific questions about that. Some of them I put yesterday, but received no answer from the Foreign Secretary. Firstly, what are Her Majesty's Government's opinions about the type of police force, the international force, that should be created? We all know that it has been not only proposed but decided by the United Nations General Assembly that there shall be an international force, and the proposals of the Secretary-General that this should be drawn from the Powers which are not permanent members of the Security Council have been accepted.
Yesterday, for reasons which I completely fail to understand, the Foreign Secretary threw cold water on the whole idea so far as he could, and said that the force would not be adequate and 30 would not do the job. He introduced a whole number of excuses. I think that the position now is that some seven nations have already agreed to provide a force. They include New Zealand, the three Scandinavian countries, presumably Canada, because Canada sponsored the Resolution, but I am not absolutely certain of that, and, I think, Pakistan. There are three Commonwealth countries prepared to take part. Why do the Government reject, or at any rate not support, this proposal?
Is it that they think that the force will be too weak? Do they then propose that permanent members of the Security Council should take part? Is it not, as the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) rightly said yesterday, a perfectly sensible proposition that the four great Powers should be excluded? Is it not the case that three of the four great Powers, Russia, Britain and France, have now been virtually condemned as aggressors by the Assembly of the United Nations? Is it not the case that the other great Power, the United States, has made it plain that it does not desire to participate directly in such an international force?
If the Government take the view that the great Powers should be included, on what grounds can they possibly object to Soviet Russia sending her contingents? For my part, I have always said that, to get an ultimate settlement in the Middle East, we should have to bring in Russia, but at the present moment, and after what has happened in Hungary, I should have thought that Her Majesty's Government would show no great enthusiasm for Russia participating in such an international force. But how can they refuse, if they insist that they themselves must participate?
Here I must say with what regret I heard the Foreign Secretary yesterday sneer from time to time at the whole idea of what the United Nations was doing. It may have been in the heat of the moment. All of us make mistakes from time to time in the House when passions run high. If that is so, all I would ask is that the Foreign Secretary withdraws the things which he said yesterday—particularly the tone in which he said them—about the United Nations. If the reference in the Gracious Speech 31 means anything, then it is high time that he withdrew those words.
While mentioning the Gracious Speech once more, may I say with what astonishment we note that for the first time since 1945 there is no reference in the Speech to the United Nations as such? The organisation is referred to merely under a general heading ofinternational agencies of which the United Kingdom is a member.On what grounds have the Government deliberately decided to throw this slight on the United Nations?
I ask another question about the police force. The purpose of the body, the purpose of setting it up, is made perfectly clear in the United Nations Resolution. It was set up to secure the cessation of hostilities and compliance with the Resolution of the Assembly. I want to ask the Government whether they agree that the objects of the police force should be limited simply to those set out in the Assembly Resolution.
That brings me to the next question I wish to ask about the object of continuing the fighting. We have heard from the Government from time to time that they believe that the fighting must be pushed ahead until either we or an international force gets into the Middle East, and that we must stay there until the problem of the Suez Canal has been solved. Yesterday, when I said that that seemed to be imposing a solution by force, the Foreign Secretary denied that that was so.
I ask hon. Members for a moment to reflect. What exactly is meant when one says that either we, the British and French, or an international force, must be in the Canal Zone and remain there until agreement has been reached? What is meant by "agreement" here? Does it mean until a solution wholly satisfactory to Her Majesty's Government has been reached? Are we then to exercise, as it were, a right of veto? Suppose that negotiations took place and we said, "No, we do not think that this is good enough. We are not going out until we get what we want"; if that is the case, how on earth can it be described as anything other than imposing a solution by force?
On the other hand, is it the view of the Government, when they talk in these terms, that some other body should settle 32 the Suez Canal problem, that it should be for the Assembly, for instance, to decide what is a satisfactory solution, and that if the Assembly, on a majority vote, thought that certain proposals were right and proper, Her Majesty's Government would accept them and in that case, would not only withdraw—our own forces might have been withdrawn already—but agree that the international force itself should be withdrawn?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman.
I asked the Foreign Secretary yesterday whether the Government meant it to be understood that the force would stay there until Egypt accepted the 18-Power agreement. We have had no answer from the Government on that matter today, but some days ago, before the invasion of Egypt, in answer to a question by me, the Foreign Secretary went so far as to say that they would not insist upon that proposal if they could secure their object in other ways. And he went on to make a not unfriendly reference to the second Indian plan—which I felt offered a very adequate basis for negotiation. But we really must have a clear statement from the Government as to what they mean in this matter.
Before I leave the subject I would repeat seriously to hon. Members opposite the warning which I gave them yesterday. The devastating mistake that the Government have made in this matter is to mix up the Arab-Israeli conflict with the Suez Canal conflict and to attempt, out of what has happened as a result of the Israeli invasion, to snatch a victory in the dispute over the Canal. That is what the world thinks, and that is what most people in this country think. Some of them think that the Government were right, but they all think that that was the Government's intention. I warn them that until and unless they make a sharp distinction between these two problems and revert to a willingness to negotiate freely, without force of any kind, on the Canal issue, they will never get themselves right with world opinion.
Another object of continuing the fighting is said to be to safeguard the Canal. Let us consider where we are in respect 33 of the Canal. I believe that it has now been blocked by eight ships, and with every hour that passes the prospect is that more ships and obstructions will be sunk in it. If we stop the fighting at once the continuing effort to block the Canal will also stop. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I should be prepared to say this: I think that we should get agreement from Egypt that if we have a ceasefire and withdraw our troops there will be no further sinking of ships in the Canal. Why should not Egypt accept that? The Egyptians only began to sink these ships when we began to attack them.
The whole excuse that we went in to protect the Canal from danger seems to me the most transparent that one can possibly conceive. There is not a shred of evidence that there was any really serious danger until we intervened. I agree that there may have been some air battles over that area. It might have been necessary—I want to put this absolutely fairly—for ships to be diverted for a short period, but until we intervened what conceivable interest had either Israel or Egypt in blocking the Suez Canal?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Because they feared we were going to do exactly what we did do.
Surely hon. Members opposite understand that what is needed is to get the Canal going again. But to get it going again the first thing that must happen is the end of military operations and the second is, not troops, but civilian contractors being put in there—and let us not imagine, after what has happened, that if we have a cease-fire the Egyptians will show any great enthusiasm for either British troops or British contractors helping them to clear the Canal. They will go to other countries for that.
There is another subject of which we have heard a good deal but of which curiously little has been spoken up to now in this House. The Prime Minister referred to it in his broadcast. He said that we went in to safeguard our oil supplies. What has happened to them? The Syrian pipelines are blocked, the pumping stations blown up, and I am told that the damage done is very heavy and that even if, as is extremely unlikely, the Syrian Government allowed anybody 34 to go in to repair the pumping stations, it would be a long time—perhaps a matter of months—before those pipelines were operating.
There is another pipeline belonging to Aramco which passes through the Lebanon and comes out at Sidon. That could function, but I ask the Government to tell us whether they have heard of any ships loading from there in present circumstances. According to what I hear, practically no oil is being taken off. The whole of that route is cut off.
The other route—the Canal—is blocked. How long will it take before the Canal can be cleared? I imagine that the Government must already have people investigating that question from aerial photographs. I can only say that here again what I have heard indicates that it may even now, before any other sinkings occur, be months before it is cleared, even if the fighting stops tomorrow. That is the result of the Government's policy. That is what they have achieved.
I want to ask them some other questions arising out of this matter. If no oil is coming through the Canal or through the pipelines, we are left only with the oil coming round the Cape. We are certainly faced with a quite serious reduction in total oil supplies for Europe—not only for this country but for many other countries which are completely innocent in this affair. I ask the Government what they are doing, first, to procure additional supplies for ourselves, and, secondly, to procure additional supplies for those European countries who will suffer grave difficulties because of what we have done.
During the international discussions upon the Suez Canal issue we had much talk about American assistance in procuring extra supplies of oil if it were found necessary to boycott the Canal—a policy which I never ruled out but which in fact was not carried out. We heard at that time that the Americans were prepared to do two things; so to readjust their own arrangements as to release additional tankers, and also to make dollars available on a very substantial scale.
Since our invasion of Egypt, however, is it not a fact that the Anglo-American Planning Committee on Oil has ceased to function? That is what I have been 35 told. I understand from a friend in the oil industry that the Americans have stopped it completely. I ask the Government how they propose to get the oil, faced with this situation in our relations with America. How much dollar expenditure are they to be involved in? The gold reserves are not exactly in a healthy state at the moment. What estimates have they made about the additional call on dollars?
I understand that the European refineries have stocks of crude oil for about fifteen days' throughput. I am told that certainly within fifteen days of the closing of the Canal some European refineries will begin to get into difficulties. My figures are average, of course. This is an extremely grave situation, particularly for the other countries of Europe. It leads up to this question: have the Government made an assessment of the oil position? One hopes that our stocks are reasonably good, but do the Government believe that it will be necessary to ration fuel oil or petrol?
What other object is there in continuing the fighting? Is it to force Egypt to capitulate? Is that what hon. Members opposite want? No doubt they will get their military victories; there never was any doubt about that. When we saw them cheering the reported fall of Port Said yesterday, if we looked glum it was because of the reaction we felt to their cheering a victory which all of us, surely, took for granted. Is it really necessary to prove that we and the French and the Israelis combined could defeat Egypt?
I ask the Government, is it their view, now that we are at war with Egypt, that we must have complete capitulation; or are they content merely to carry out the original ultimatum—if, as I fear from what we have heard so far, they intend to go on? Do they propose to stay in the Suez Canal Zone, or do they propose to fight on until Egypt surrenders unconditionally? We are entitled to an answer to that question.
There is, obviously, the possibility that if we rest on the Canal Zone, Colonel Nasser—he may already have decided to do this—will withdraw his forces, or a large part of them, to Cairo, or west of Cairo, and proceed with guerrilla attacks from there. We shall then be in much 36 the same position as we were in before. We evacuated the Canal Zone. The decision to evacuate was made by a majority of the party opposite. We supported them. We could have defeated them on it, but we supported them. We could have defeated them, had we supported the "rebels," but we did not. What conceivable gain can there be in going back to a position which we deliberately abandoned?
I come to one last possible idea as to why the fighting should be concluded. There is talk going round—one hears it in different quarters—that, "Nothing succeeds like success"; that all we have to do is to win, and then everything will be fine. Then the Government will be rescued from the position in which they find themselves. If that is the idea they want a fait accompli before anything else happens. Well, it has been rather a long time in coming, but if it comes, what exactly is accomplished?
What are we accomplishing by continuing with this war at the gigantic cost of destroying our reputation in the world by three times defying Resolutions carried by large majorities in the United Nations?
So far as oil supplies are concerned, we have lost heavily and, above all—in my opinion perhaps the worst consequence of all—we have split the British Commonwealth. Now, on top of this, in these last twenty-four hours—less—there is the Russian threat of intervention.
Hon. Members opposite cannot say that we did not warn them that that might happen; we did—the last thing in the world that we should like to see, because we, as I think hon. Members opposite on reflection will realise, are just as proud and anxious for our country as they are. [HON. MEMBERS: "More."] The difference between us is that they have different views from ours as to what constitutes the honour and interests of Great Britain.
Before I refer further to the Russian intervention, I wish to say a word or two about the tragic situation in Hungary. I hope that I may be permitted—as I did not speak on this yesterday—to pay my tribute again, on behalf of all of us, to the superb courage and the faith and the dogged determination of the Hungarian people. Theirs has been an epic struggle. Something has happened in Hungary which a few years ago—even a few weeks ago—few of us could have dared to hope could happen. Unarmed 37 people have stood up, bravely and boldly, against the might of Soviet Russia and tried to win their freedom and independence.
Yesterday in this House there were some bitter exchanges about the part which our adventure in Egypt has played in this matter. On that I wish to say only two things. I would not claim that what the Russians did was wholly determined by our action. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is big of the right hon. Gentleman."] But I say this: if, by that intervention in Egypt and all that it implied, in any way whatever we tilted the balance or influenced the Russians to suppress the Hungarian national revolt, nothing can excuse it. I know that hon. Members are with me when I say that this Hungarian revolt was the most hopeful, encouraging and heart-raising event since 1945. But if in any way we destroyed it, we are profoundly guilty.
Can any hon. Member honestly say in his heart that he thinks that what we did had no influence whatever? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I can understand hon. Members wishing to think that. But the fact is that last Monday the Russians had not, apparently, decided. There was still a possibility—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—there was still a very real possibility—[HON. MEMBERS: "Listen."]—that they might not have acted so ruthlessly.
The second observation I wish to make is this. It is no use hon. Members denying it; our hands are not clean in this business. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shocking."] Our moral authority has gone because of what we did in Egypt. In The Times this morning there is a letter from the daughter of one of our great and distinguished Prime Ministers; a woman who all her life has been a close personal friend of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill)—Lady Violet Bonham Carter. She is no supporter, on the contrary, she is a strong opponent, of the Labour Party. This is what she writes:…At a moment when our moral authority and leadership are most directly needed to meet this most brutal assault on freedom we find ourselves bereft of both by our own Government's action. For the first time in our history our country has been reduced to moral impotence.She goes on:…Today we are standing in the dock with Russia. Like us she claims to be conducting a 'police action.' We have coined a 38 phrase which has already become part of the currency of aggression. Never in my lifetime has our name stood so low in the eyes of the world. Never have we stood so ingloriously alone. Our proud tradition has been tragically tarnished. We can restore it only by repudiating as a nation that which has been done in our name but without our consent—by changing our Government or its leadership.The right hon. Member for Woodford has indicated his support for the Government.
§ Sir Winston Churchill (Woodford) indicated assent.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I never expected anything else, because loyalty is certainly one of the qualities always associated with him.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I cannot help feeling that the right hon. Member for Woodford, in his heart, cannot be too happy about what has happened. He cannot really feel happy that one of his oldest friends should have been compelled to write in the terms which I have read. [An HON. MEMBER: "The old Liberal outlook."] The right hon. Gentleman was once a Liberal. I believe that if the right hon. Member for Woodford had been a little younger, and still sitting opposite on the Government Front Bench, he would not have countenanced the action which has been taken.
I return to the action which the Russians have taken and to the letters which Marshal Bulganin has sent to the Prime Minister and M. Mollet. I ask the House to consider the situation that has now arisen. I mention first one bit of news to the effect that in Moscow foreign observers expect the Soviet Union to offer Arab countries all-out military and economic aid to replace Egyptian losses and that substantial numbers of Russians may be permitted to volunteer with the Arab forces. Can the Government confirm that?
I wish to make it absolutely clear that we on these Benches cannot for one moment accept the hypocritical, indeed the odious, claim that Soviet Russia, which has invaded and suppressed Hungary, has any moral right in the Middle East to talk about withstanding aggression. What has happened? The truth of the matter is that the law of the jungle has been 39 invoked by the British Government and the Russians are following suit. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] But the jungle is a dangerous place and we are beginning to realise that there are much more dangerous animals wandering about than Great Britain or France.
In his broadcast the Prime Minister said that we went in to stop the forest fire from spreading. Mr. Speaker, that fire is spreading with appalling rapidity. It has spread to Hungary. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense".] One spark was sufficient, perhaps, to cause the Russian invasion of Hungary. It is spreading through the Middle East. Do hon. Members realise the gravity of the situation? Do they realise why the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are not here? It is because those right hon. Gentleman realise it. They understand. This forest fire may engulf all of us and destroy our civilisation unless action is taken quickly.
So what can we do, in these circumstances? In the face of the Hungarian tragedy and the new danger we must end the deep divisions within the Commonwealth. We must end the disputes and disagreements with our allies and we must try to close some of the gulf that has opened between us at home. We must—I make this appeal to hon. Gentlemen—somehow or other stand together with our allies, with the vast majority of the United Nations, and with the free nations of the world, and lend all our moral authority in dealing with the Hungarian question.
Only one thing can achieve this object and that is to go back to the principles which we abandoned last week, to call off the fighting in Egypt, to obey at last and at this late moment, the ceasefire Resolution of the United Nations, to withdraw our Forces as soon as possible, to give up taking the law into our own hands and to give our full support for the new international police force without quibble or conditions. Let us get back into line with our friends and allies, and save our reputation and the peace of the world.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I am sure that all hon. Members of the House will understand me when I say that I must make quite clear the part I have to play this afternoon. It 40 would be quite wrong for me, from the point of view both of private Members and on the merits of the case, to make a comprehensive reply to the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition. I must convey to the Prime Minister the arguments that have been put by the right hon. Gentleman. I would like to make a reply myself, but I do not wish to fall between two stools by attempting to reply to part of the speech, because I feel very strongly antagonistic to some of the arguments raised by the right hon. Gentleman.
In the circumstances, I shall confine my remarks to my rôle as Leader of the House and simply intervene for five minutes or so to explain why the Prime Minister cannot be here, to thank the mover and seconder of the Motion and to indicate to the House the business we are about to take. Before I conclude I shall refer to the right hon. Gentleman's argument, but I shall not attempt to make a full dress answer to him immediately. I may have to withdraw from the House, if I have permission of the House, in view of the importance of the debate, to inform the Prime Minister of the right hon. Gentleman's arguments, of which I have a full copy. I am sorry I cannot do more. I am sure that that is the right attitude to take.
I would thank the right hon. Gentleman for recognising why the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary cannot be here. He is right about their reasons for not being here, namely, that they are dealing with the latest developments in the situation. The reason the Prime Minister wishes to speak at 6 p.m. is that he wishes to be able to give a comprehensive answer to what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has said. This will give my right hon. Friend an opportunity to consider not only the latest international developments, but also the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman.
The Prime Minister asked me to express his sincere regrets to the House that on this traditional occasion he was unable to be present. He asked me to pass on, in his name, to my hon. Friends the Members for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) and Walthamstow, East (Mr. J. Harvey) his own congratulations—to which I add mine—on the manner in which they moved and seconded the Motion for an Address in reply to the Gracious Speech.
41 They represent town and country, north and south. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland seems to have combined, in his very short speech, some of the poetry of Wordsworth with some of the mystery and asceticism of Tibet, to which he referred. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East seems to have combined some of the idealism of William Morris with some of the imagination of Disraeli, to whom he referred. Both my hon. Friends kept up the best traditions of mover and seconder of the Motion on this occasion.
As Leader of the House, I want to refer to one or two items of business which are coming up. In giving this information I am taking away from the time which the Prime Minister would otherwise have used and simply interpolating it now because I am using the material which we agreed he should use.
The debate on the Address will be continued this week and will come to a conclusion early next week, on a day which will be agreed through the usual channels. It is our wish that, under your guidance, Mr. Speaker, the debate should meet the convenience of the House generally. Perhaps you would be good enough to inform the House, in the usual way, of the subjects and Amendments you will choose on particular days. Hon. Members will then be aware of how the business of the week is to be conducted in the coming few days.
On the question of Private Members' Business, on which a Motion will be moved tomorrow, the Government intend to follow the course, which has become customary in recent Sessions, of providing 20 Fridays for Private Members' Bills and Motions in the course of the Session. Perhaps I had better give notice that we will tomorrow propose a Motion to give effect to this and to provide, as is usual and customary, that no Private Member's Bill shall be introduced in anticipation of the Ballot. That is usual. The commencing day of the Ballot will be some time after the third week of November, which we will convey to right hon. and hon. Members opposite in the usual manner.
It is usual to acquaint the House with business which will be taken early in the Session; and particularly the urgent business which must be transacted following these debates. Therefore, in answer to the 42 request, which is often made at the beginning of the new Session, may I say that the following Measures will be brought in at the earliest possible moment. First, there will be a Motion for an Address to continue in force certain emergency legislation. Then there will be the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bill. It is necessary that both these Measures shall be passed in the near future. In addition, there are already before the House the Orders on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. For the convenience of the House and of the Opposition, I state those as the immediate matters.
I have been asked by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to remind the House that there will be important Bills affecting Scotland, including the Scottish legislation which is projected about housing and town development. The interests and the duties of Scottish Members are, of course, not confined purely to Scottish Bills; they will be also directly engaged in helping to deal with the many important Bills affecting the whole of the United Kingdom which will be laid before the House, and two of which I will shortly mention.
They will also be involved in our general efforts to stabilise and improve the economic situation of the country, when the position of Scotland and its special needs and problems will be kept fully in our minds and in the minds of the House.
§ Mr. Butler
The usual opportunities will be afforded for consideration of Welsh matters. That is a question I have discussed with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister of Welsh Affairs.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question? I have listened—naturally, with great interest—to what he had to say about Bills in anticipation of the Ballot and the usual Motion with the usual provisions against such anticipation, which the Government propose to move tomorrow.
43 We have all read in the Gracious Speech a reference to the intention of the Government to bring in a Bill dealing with the death penalty. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that a Private Member's Bill to deal with the abolition of the death penalty has already passed all its stages in the House of Commons, in the previous Session. May I ask whether it is the intention of the Government, therefore, to observe their own rules and not to introduce any Measure to deal with the death penalty in anticipation of the Ballot for Private Members' Bills?
§ Mr. Butler
I am coming to that matter, on which I cannot give a final answer today but I can give an indication.
There are two major Measures which are likely to engage the close attention of the House very soon. One is the Homicide Bill, which the Prime Minister foreshadowed in a statement to the House shortly before the end of last Session. That is the Measure to which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) refers. We propose to intro-due the Homicide Bill and the Rent Bill. Notice of presentation of those Bills is being handed in today. It is proposed that they should both be read the First time tomorrow, and the House will, therefore, have a very early opportunity of considering both those Bills. In view of the notice being given, according to the tradition, I do not propose to comment upon them today.
§ Mr. Silverman
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that that would be a very unfair procedure? There are a number of things to be said about the Government's handling of the whole of this situation. I am not proposing to take advantage of this intervention to deal with any of those things, but, obviously, there is bound to be a certain amount of competition between any Measure which the Government introduces, if it falls short of the Measure which the House has already passed, and another Measure designed to give effect to the will of the House of Commons on those grounds.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that if every other hon. Member of the House of Commons has to hold back and wait for the Ballot before introducing 44 that Measure—on which, after all, the House of Commons has already made up its mind—the Government ought to exercise the same restraint, the same self-denying ordinance, so that at least we may all start level?
§ Mr. Butler
This is a matter upon which, undoubtedly, we shall have interchanges later. What I think is important is that the Government Bill should be introduced so that people can study it and see what is in it.
I will not go further with the hon. Member or the House on that today. I will stick to the two points, first, that our Bill should be published so that people can see what is in it and, secondly, that we should follow the usual procedure over Private Members' Bills. If the hon. Member has further points to put to me or to the Government he ought to have liberty to do so after this.
That is a warning of the business immediately before us and two Bills immediately to come before the House. I shall not spoil my intervention by extending it beyond a few minutes, as I have said, or by answering the points made by the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) except to say that a full note of them has been taken by me and that I will convey them to the Prime Minister. As I have said, the Prime Minister hopes to speak at or about six o'clock tonight.
The appeal made by the right hon. Member for Leeds, South, in his concluding remarks about the need for working with our allies, with the Commonwealth, with the United Nations—which I specifically mention now—and restoring a measure of unity within this country, are reciprocated by Her Majesty's Government. In conveying the arguments put by the right hon. Member to my right hon. Friend I shall not hesitate to convey to him the desire of the whole House that our future policy should be directed towards these ends.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
As the first back bencher on this side of the House speaking to this Motion, I should like to add my congratulations to the mover and seconder on the felicitous way in which they carried out their task. Both of them managed to make speeches that were 45 non-controversial and, to some extent, to lower the atmosphere there has been in this House during the past week.
There must have been few occasions in the history of this country when the debate on the Loyal Address has taken place in such tragic circumstances, in such distressing circumstances. On few occasions, if any, can the debate have taken place when the reputation of this country has sunk so low in the opinion of the rest of the world. It is true that there have been debates on the Loyal Address during the time when we have been at war previously, but in the past we have generally managed to find some moral background for the excuse for being at war. In this case we have certainly not been able to find that.
I am quite certain that a number of hon. Members must have been asking themselves whether the provisions of this Gracious Speech will be carried out. Is it possible that a Government who have lost the confidence of the public to the extent which this Government have lost it can continue in office? If they decide to cling to office, I am sure that it is the earnest desire of every one of us that at a very early date we should do something to restore the good name of this country.
It has been quite clear to the House that many of the Government's supporters have felt grave doubts about the Government's policy. That was quite evident from the hysterical way in which the Government's supporters yesterday cheered the report by the Prime Minister that we had had a victory over Egypt. Did anyone ever doubt that we should be able to defeat Egypt? Unfortunately the Prime Minister's report was rather premature, but the hysterical way in which hon. Members opposite cheered that statement showed that they were aching for something which would relieve their grave anxiety and the tension under which they were suffering.
The name of this country has been dragged through the mire. We have been arraigned before the parliament of world opinion and have been condemned. This country has flouted the decision of the United Nations. All this has taken place under a Prime Minister who is the man that Jed the British delegation to San Francisco in 1945 when the Charter of 46 the United Nations was drawn up and stated at that time that this was possibly the last chance for the nations of the world, who is one of the three honorary presidents of the United Nations Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and who took a stand against a Tory Government in the 1930's which led us to expect something quite different from him.
A Tory Government must accept a share of the blame for the death of the League of Nations. Are we now to have a Tory Government doing the same thing for the United Nations? This Government have dealt a crippling blow at the United Nations. I am no pacifist, and I agree that there may be occasions when the honour of the country demands the resort to force under international agreement, but no nation has the right to resort to the law of the jungle and the tactics of the bully, imposing its will by brute force on a weaker nation.
Why has the Prime Minister taken this line? Is it appeasement of a bunch of nineteenth century imperialists behind him? It is rather a strange position that at this time the chief imperialists in the world are a bunch of right-wing Conservative Members of this House and Russia. Or is it because of the Prime Minister's personal antipathy to Colonel Nasser? Or is it merely to gain control of the Canal in pursuance of a policy which the Government were prevented from carrying out earlier?
Whatever the reason, I think it is quite certain that it was not because of a desire to stop the Israeli-Egypt war. I believe that all those three things had something to do with the Prime Minister's decision, but I think few will doubt, either in this country or in the world, that although all three reasons played their part, the last was the dominating factor. To attain their ends the Government overthrew all pretence of carrying out our international obligations and working for the peaceful solution of international problems through the United Nations.
It is rather strange, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition points out, that the United Nations is not even mentioned in the Gracious Speech. I will call attention again to the second paragraph. It must be with regret that 47 a Government have to put words of this kind into Her Majesty's mouth:My Government will continue their efforts to achieve, by all possible means, a prompt and just settlement of the many problems arising from the grave situation in the Middle East.Some of those problems are the creation of our Government. The Gracious Speech continues:To this end they will welcome the broadest measure of co-operation with the Commonwealth.The only support they have had in this tragic affair is, out of loyalty, from Australia and New Zealand.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I wonder whether the time will come when some hon. Members opposite will realise the importance to the Commonwealth and the United Nations of the adherence of India, Pakistan and Ceylon. We also welcome the fact that Ghana, an African State, is to become part of the Commonwealth. The Gracious Speech continues:To this end they will welcome the broadest measure of co-operation with the Commonwealth, with our Allies in the Atlantic Alliance …I do not complain that we do not agree with America on every point. I have never subscribed to the point of view put forward by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who said that we must agree with America at all costs. Obviously the Government have now thrown that overboard. I have never subscribed to that point of view, but as long as we have allies, then before taking the serious step which we have taken during the past week, we ought to have consulted those allies. The paragraph continues:… and in Europe, and with those international agencies of which the United Kingdom is a member.No mention whatever of the name of the United Nations. Merely a reference to "international agencies."
I am quite certain that during the past week every one of my hon. Friends has been disturbed by the cynicism of Government speakers about the United Nations. At the very time that the Foreign Secretary was speaking of the 48 frustration of the veto, instructions must have been given to our representative at the United Nations to exercise the veto. We then flouted the decision of the General Assembly which, by 64 votes to 5, had condemned us, and we insisted, with France, on waging war in defiance of the Assembly.
We all agree that the United Nations is not a perfect organisation. Of course it is not. But have the Government ever done anything to try to make it more effective? I believe that it is important that the United Nations organisation should be made a much stronger organisation, and I believe that that can be done only by taking away the veto and by having within the United Nations organisation a United Nations police force which can be called on. It is no use complaining that the United Nations organisation is not strong enough unless we take some action to try to make it stronger.
The tragedy is that all this has been taking place when the eyes of the world should have been on Eastern Europe. Does anyone really seriously think that the action of Britain and France has had no effect upon the Russian action? I know that certain hon. Members opposite indicated, when my right hon. Friend raised this question, that they did not think that it had any effect, but if anyone will seriously give consideration to the matter he will agree that what we have done has had its effect upon Russia.
Unfortunately this country has lost the right to give moral leadership in this tragedy; we have lost the right to make our voice heard against aggression and on behalf of freedom. Russia is very cleverly turning attention away from the agony of Hungary and is putting forward a suggested ultimatum to Great Britain and France. If that ultimatum were given, what would be our reaction? We should do exactly the same as Egypt did to the British ultimatum. We should reject it. I do not think—at least, I hope not—that Russia will go to that extreme, but the danger of the action which the Government have taken is that they may have lighted another fire, another forest fire—the beginning of a third world war.
We on this side condemn this Government for their attack upon Egypt. We condemn Russia, too, for her ruthlessness in Hungary. I hope there is not a single 49 person in this country, including the Communists, who condone the action which Russia has taken. But what can our representative at the United Nations now say? What moral right have we to condemn Russia for taking the same sort of action as we have taken against Egypt? The tragedy is with us now, and only a change of Government can wipe out our shame and give us the right to be heard once again in the counsels of the nations on the side of the rule of law.
There are many points in the rest of the Gracious Speech to which, under ordinary circumstances, I should have liked to make reference, but I know that a great many hon. Members want to take part in the debate and I therefore confine my remarks merely to those which I have made upon the international situation.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
In adding my word of thanks to Her Majesty for her Most Gracious Speech, I would remind the House that I have listened to practically all the speeches made upon the Middle East situation in recent days, and I wish, if I may, to put one or two points before the House which have not so far been brought forward by speakers on either side and which, I believe, would contribute greatly to our understanding of this problem.
The main charge which the party opposite has levelled against Her Majesty's Government—and I am glad to see that there is a representative of the Opposition on the Front Bench opposite—is, if I understand it correctly, that Her Majesty's Government have failed to comply with the recommendation of the United Nations. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite hold the view, so I understand—and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) will correct me if I am wrong—that it is incumbent upon all members of the United Nations to pay the strictest possible obedience to the recommendations of the United Nations, and that any departure from them, especially a departure involving the use of force, is something which should bring down upon us the reprobation of the world, and something for which we should be condemned before world opinion. I understand that to be their case.
50 If the right hon. Gentleman really believes that that is so I am sure that, if he is honest, he will say that if we are to accept the recommendations of the United Nations we accept them all and not some; not just those that suit us. I want to ask him if that is so. Does he accept all the recommendations of the United Nations? Do he and his party subscribe to that? If so, he is in a very awkward position, because we have this very difficult Middle Eastern problem. The world today is very worried, but it has not worried very much about it for nine years.
We have had this problem for nine years, but it has not bothered or excited the United Nations very much. The time when U.N.O. did bother itself about it was a long time ago. In 1947 the United Nations went into this question of the pacification of the Middle East. It came to the decision that what was formerly Palestine should, like Gaul, be divided into three parts; that part should be Israel, part an Arab State, and part an international city, Jerusalem. That decision the United Nations has never rescinded. Do the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues support that? Would he tell me whether the Labour Party, which supports, lock, stock and barrel, all those decisions, want us to go back to that one decision, which has never been rescinded?
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
The fallacy in the hon. Member's argument is that he is suggesting that because the law has been broken in one case it is, therefore, right to break it in another.
§ Mr. McAdden
When the right hon. Gentleman is a little more experienced in political life he will appreciate that I deployed my argument in exactly that way in order that he might make exactly that reply. He now says that if a decision of the United Nations has been altered by the use of force it creates a very different set of circumstances.
§ Mr. McAdden
And the law broken in that respect was, in fact, broken by force. But let me say this about that 51 decision of the United Nations, which, presumably, the right hon. Gentleman accepts. On the very day that the State of Israel came into existence, six Arab States—all members of the United Nations—attacked Israel, in defiance of the decision of the United Nations. They have been at war with that State ever since. Egypt is still at war with Israel.
Therefore, those who have rather tried to put Egypt into the picture as a poor, innocent, little country—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—whereas we are the wicked country which is seeking to defy the United Nations, are completely ignoring the fact that Egypt has been in defiance of that decision since 1947—and that the United Nations has done precisely nothing about it. Those who say that they are standing, lock, stock and barrel, by the decisions of the United Nations are putting themselves in the position where they are arguing for a reversion to the 1947 position, which is a point of view, I am sure, which the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) and myself, and other hon. Members, would bitterly oppose and resent.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I agree with him in many respects, but I cannot agree with him on the argument which he is now using. He will appreciate that what actually happened at the time was that the Arab States attacked, and that consequently they broke down the structure which the United Nations intended to build. That is the view which we on this side of the House take. It is also the case that in all the years nobody interfered.
§ Mr. McAdden
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support of my case, in which he admits that the Arab States, and particularly Egypt, acted in defiance of the United Nations, and that the United Nations did nothing whatever about it—and has done nothing for nine years.
Therefore, I suggest to hon. Gentlemen who say that they support wholeheartedly all Resolutions passed by the United Nations that they are basing themselves, if they think it out logically, on the 1947 position, because all action taken since then has been in defiance of 52 the United Nations, and the fact that the United Nations has done nothing about it does not alter the fact that the United Nations has not rescinded that decision.
I believe that the action taken by Her Majesty's Government was wisely taken; that it was taken for the reasons which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has advanced—in order that we might interpose a body between the two combatant forces. I know that a lot of fun has been had by members of the Opposition, and not least by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in saying how insane it was to try to place this body to separate the combatants in such a position as ten miles each side of the Suez Canal, which meant that the Israelis were far from their borders, whereas the Egyptians were well within their own.
I think that perhaps some of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who advanced this criticism of the choice of the Suez Canal area as a place where it was proper that such a body should be interposed between the combatants cannot have looked at the matter, otherwise they would appreciate one or two simple facts.
First, I think that I am right in saying—the hon. Member for Leicester, Northwest will correct me if I am wrong—that the Israeli Army has never been seriously worried about its ability to deal with the Egyptian Army. I think it is true to say that the apprehensions of the people of Israel which led them to take the action which they did, and which I fully understand, stemmed from the fact that Egypt, by negotiations with the Soviet Union, had secured an enormous number of bombers which were able to fly at a height at which the Israeli fighters could not attack them, and it was this overwhelming superiority in air strength which caused the gravest apprehensions among the Israeli people.
It is also clear to anyone who knows anything at all about this matter that the Egyptian air force bases are not in the Sinai Desert. They are, in the main, on the other side of the Suez Canal. While it is true that the Israelis were able to sweep very quickly through the Egyptian forces and get them out of Sinai, does anyone who knows anything at all about the Middle East have any doubt whatever that the Egyptian Army, having suffered this shocking reverse, 53 from their point of view, at the hands of the Israelis, would have become absolutely desperate and bombed Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in the sure knowledge that the Israelis had not the fighters to defend themselves against the enormous superiority of the bombers possessed by the Egyptians?
Therefore, they would have had to cross the Suez Canal, whether they liked it or not, in order to neutralise the Egyptian air force bases on the other side of the Canal. It was inevitable, as a result of the attack by Israel upon Egypt in defence of the legitimate interests of her country, that that attack would have to be continued and cross over the Suez Canal in order to neutralise the Egyptian air force bases. I have no doubt whatever about that. I think that Her Majesty's Government were perfectly correct—and I hope that those more skilled in military matters than myself will be able to confirm what I believe to be an intelligent appreciation of the situation, namely, that to neutralise those bases meant a land operation by crossing the Suez Canal in order to get at the bases.
I have tried to put forward some views which I hope will merit some consideration by the House, first on the question of the United Nations and our responsibility under that organisation and, secondly, on the question of the choice of the Suez Canal as the proper area in which to separate the combatants.
I should like to say a word or two about the rather despicable rumour, not boldly stated but hinted at, that Great Britain had engineered this whole thing with Israel and France. Does anyone believe that Ben Gurion has just joined the Tory Party? Is not it a fact that hon. Members opposite have rightly and proudly claimed that Ben Gurion is a very fine Prime Minister? Do they deny that here is a man filled with the best Socialist ideas, and are they going to try to convince the world for purely party purposes that suddenly he has become a pawn of the wicked Tories?
Is it not a fact that they are sinking pretty low in their search for arguments when they try to make the world believe that Britain engineered this situation and persuaded Israel to attack Egypt in order to have some grounds for the action which she has taken? I think that that is utter 54 nonsense, and I do not believe that members of the Socialist Party believe it themselves. If they do not believe it, they should not give utterance to those words.
I am an unrepentant and wholehearted supporter of the action which Her Majesty's Government have taken. I believe that this action was dictated by the necessity of the circumstances. I believe that, for the reasons which I have advanced, unless we had intervened at once, Israel would have been forced to cross the Suez Canal in order to neutralise the Egyptian air force bases. I think that we were right to intervene, and I am quite sure that the Prime Minister is right to make the offer that a United Nations force should take over from us, since it is willing and anxious to do so. I hope that those who are supporters of the United Nations and members of the Association, as I am, will realise that for the first time in the history of the United Nations action has been taken by one Government at least, or two Governments in concert, which may galvanise that body into action and make it worthy of upholding its place in the world as the protector of the liberty and freedom of us all.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, Northwest)
I do not want to cross swords with the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) who, from time to time, has seen eye to eye with some of us about the position of Israel. I want him to understand that, using the argument that he did, does not really clarify the position, because if he suggests that it was purely in the interests of Israel that this attack took place—and for no other reason—I am sure that he will himself see that that contention cannot possibly be supported.
§ Mr. McAdden
I do not want the hon. Gentleman to misrepresent me. I did not say that. I said that the intervention was of benefit to Israel because the destruction of the Egyptian air force prevented Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem from being bombed and hundreds of civilians being killed.
§ Mr. Janner
I think that perhaps the hon. Gentleman is making suggestions which, on reflection, he will find are not justified. I am not going to say that in 55 the result the position was that there was not some help to Israel. No one would be foolish enough to say that the circumstances, wrong as they were, in which this action was taken did not give some kind of assistance. The hon. Member will recollect that in answer to Questions put time after time on the arming of Israel we were told in this House by the Foreign Secretary that the Israelis had sufficient arms in order to be able to protect themselves; and the arms included, in that sense, planes and everything else according to him. I do not agree, but according to him that was the position.
I think that it is unfortunate that the Israeli action has been mixed up with the movement of British and French troops into the Suez Canal Zone. It is better to analyse these two points separately. These two issues are separate in many ways. It is misleading not to appreciate that. I think that the hon. Gentleman will realise that he confused the two actions, which were dictated by quite different motives. They are likely to lead to different results.
We read a day or two ago a complete and categorical denial by the Israeli Ambassador, who had just returned from his country, that there is any basis whatever in the American report that there was collusion between Britain, France and Israel. I think that it is clear to anyone who has followed events in the Middle East that Israel avoided getting involved in the controversy regarding the Suez Canal. The House will remember that she was praised for her restraint in many parts of the world, and there is no reason to believe, in my view, that Israel's present action means in any way her intervention in the Suez Canal dispute.
It is true that Israel is interested in freedom of navigation through the Canal—those who have been interested in that subject for many years know that very well—and she insists on the right of her own shipping to be allowed to pass through unmolested. But when the recent discussions were taking place in respect of the Canal there was no suggestion at that time that Israel should be brought into those discussions. Her actions obviously are dictated by a desire to safeguard the security of her own citizens.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether we are bound on all occasions to do what 56 the United Nations wants us to do. I shall come to that point a little later. In Israel's case the United Nations made certain decisions, but the Arab attackers came upon Israel from all sides and destroyed the whole intent and purpose of the arrangements. Indeed, the Egyptians and the Jordanians occupied certain portions of land which were never allotted to them at all.
§ Mr. McAdden
Will the hon. Gentleman remember that it was a Socialist Government who recognised that annexation too?
§ Mr. Janner
The hon. Gentleman knows very well that on many occasions I have made my views quite clear on this matter. Whether it was a Socialist Government or any other Government, I do not think there is any question of where I stood on this issue. There is nothing at all to show that Israel has now taken a stand on the Canal issue which makes her move in Egypt an endorsement of Anglo-French policy. Obviously her interest is in weakening Nasser. It is a misrepresentation of the facts to suggest that Nasser is considered as a hero or anything of the sort on this side of the House. On the contrary, everybody appreciates that he has taken the law into his own hands in many directions. It must not be thought that we on these benches take any different attitude from that.
I categorically reject the notion that Israel is the aggressor. I am sorry to say that even the official Government spokesman at the United Nations has referred to Israel's "flagrant aggression." I heard the report myself on the wireless, and I was amazed to find that that kind of idea was being put forward. I have claimed all along that protection should be given to Israel. Indeed, as the House knows very well, I have always felt that we should have had a separate alliance with Israel. The party opposite have never accepted that view. I do not know why. I do not think that this is the right stage for anybody on the opposite side of the House to say that we have entered into an alliance with Israel in this contingency.
What is the position so far as Israel is concerned? Egypt has behaved as a warlike party. She has declared that she is at war. She has blocked Israel's supplies. She has seized the Israel ship "Bath Galim". She has threatened Israel with 57 extermination. In a speech to mark the evacuation of the Canal Zone by British troops on 19th June, Gemal Abdul Nasser declared:We must be strong, so as to take with a strong hand the rights of the Palestinian people.The Supreme Commander of the Egyptian Army and Minister of Defence, Abdul Hakim Amr, said in a speech to the Egyptian army in the Gaza strip:The hour approaches when I and my colleagues in the Revolutionary Council will stand in the front rank of the battle against Zionism.After Amr was appointed Supreme Commander of the armed forces of Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia, he said:The danger of Israel no longer exists. The Egyptian army is powerful enough to wipe Israel off the face of the map.Egypt organised the guerilla war against Israel. There is no question that forces from Egypt have penetrated into Israel. Those trained murderers, the fedayeen, penetrated inside, having been trained outside Israel. Egypt was at war with Israel, killing her children and her old people. She was not allowing Israel to live in peace. Consequently Israel went out to wipe up these centres from which the attack was coming, as she was entitled to do, in my opinion.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
In view of the arguments which the hon. Gentleman has been putting forward, does he not agree that the Government were right in vetoing the Security Council when it sought to condemn Israel aggression? It is the first veto we used, and I think we used it absolutely correctly.
§ Mr. Janner
The veto can be, as in my view it was, properly used. It is one of the acknowledged rules of the United Nations.
But I now want to come to the other side of the picture. There is the fact that Israel went out to protect her nationals from the armed forces of another country. She went out to establish the right for her ships to use the Canal. I do not think that she intended to go right across the Suez.
I must say that I have no confidence in the Government's policy. They have a heavy responsibility for the present tragedy. The Government built up Nasser as a statesman, as a moderate man with 58 constructive ideas. They did not lift a finger to help in the implementation of the Security Council's Resolution relating to Israel's rights in the Suez Canal. I am speaking with some knowledge of this issue. The Government lost a chance to help in achieving an Arab-Israel settlement when British troops were evacuated from the Suez Canal in 1954. They completely ignored Israel's rights. The Government claimed that an Arab-Israel settlement was a separate issue. How wrong this policy was is proved by present events.
The Government refused arms to Israel while supplying the Arab States with arms, including Egypt not so long ago. Some of those very arms are probably now being used against our troops. I have said time after time in this House that if Israel had been provided with the necessary defensive arms, Egypt would not have taken any steps to attack her or anybody. On the contrary, she would have been frightened to attack. The Israelis themselves have never asked for a single British or American soldier to risk his life in this issue. They would have been prepared, as they have shown that they can, to fight against any attacks made against them.
I am particularly suspicious of what the Foreign Secretary said last week when he referred to a future settlement of the Arab-Israel problem. He defended the Prime Minister's unfortunate speech at the Guildhall last year. He recalled what the Prime Minister had said then. He had said there should be a compromise between the views of Israel and the Arab States, a compromise between the 1947 and the 1948 frontiers. The Foreign Secretary asked whether that was a very wicked suggestion to put forward. He said it was quite obvious, that if there is ever to be a settlement of the situation between Israel and the Arab States there has to be some give and take on each side.
There is in fact no give and take there. What is implied there is the dismemberment of Israel. It is a shocking thing to say, and it is something which must strengthen our suspicions regarding the Government's Middle East policy.
Why did the Government use force against Egypt? There were different possibilities of meeting the situation. If we 59 felt aggrieved, there were economic possibilities open to us. There was nothing to prevent us taking certain steps which might have alleviated the difficulty in regard to the use of the Canal. We could have adopted some of the suggestions which were made at the time. I am quite certain that America would have given us some assistance in respect of the supply of oil; it was already on the tapis. There was the suggestion of bringing oil round the Cape. Why resort to force, when we are not able to establish that we had been attacked? That is the difference between the two cases. Why should we resort to force in order to obtain something we were not legally entitled to insist upon, but a remedy to which position by economic methods we should, in my view, have been able to achieve? We put ourselves in the wrong by using force, and it is a very sad thing.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that America had made it clear that she would not join in economic sanctions?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
In fact, she went on paying her dues to the Egyptian authority. I think it is going rather far to say we could have got American agreement.
§ Mr. Janner
I am not talking about sanctions; I am talking about economic measures, which I think we could have arranged without too much difficulty.
I cannot under any circumstances agree with the Government in the manner of their use of force. We must admit that what has been done has earned us disrespect in many parts of the world, and it has tied our hands very greatly in conducting negotiations at the United Nations against proved aggressors. There is no denying that fact. I am not surprised that men and women in this country are very seriously disturbed, indeed horrified, that force was used in that way, men and women who have just as much abhorrence of Nasser and his methods as has any hon. Member on the opposite benches or, certainly, as has any of my hon. Friends.
I hope I shall be forgiven if I now proceed to discuss another subject with which I have been concerned for some 60 years. It is a subject which has not been touched on yet, and I should like to mention it now. I do not want to endeavour to get in again; indeed, I am sure I should not have the opportunity.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of the Middle East, would he permit me to ask one question? Does he dissociate himself from the allegations that some of his hon. and right hon. Friends have made, that in fact Israel is an aggressor against Egypt?
§ Mr. Janner
With the greatest respect, my view is that she is not an aggressor. I have said that; the hon. Gentleman has my view on the matter, which I have tried to explain. I believe that the explanation I have given is right. But, be it noted, nobody on the other side of the House has, as far as I know, yet stated categorically that Israel is differently placed.
§ Mr. Janner
That was not it. The House has heard what I said about the veto; I am never afraid to speak my views, as the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) knows.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
It would be wrong to say the British Government have not made their views clear on that aspect. It is on that very aspect that we used the veto in the Security Council, when it tried to brand Israel as the aggressor.
§ Mr. Janner
If the British Government had said, "We will stand up; we will give arms to Israel; we will allow Israel to fight her own battles, if a battle has to be fought," I would agree with the hon. Member for Hendon, North. But our own representative at the United Nations said that it was a flagrant aggression. I stand to be corrected, but I believe those were the actual words. I do not think it could, therefore, be argued that I have said anything which is inconsistent. The action of our party on this side in condemning what the Government have done by using force is correct.
§ Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, South-East)
In view of the fact that hon. Gentlemen opposite are now trying to make themselves appear as the friends of Israel, it 61 would, I think, be as well to remind my hon. Friend, if he will permit me, that some of the things for which he has been asking in his speech, and which he asks should have been done previously, with regard to Israel were, in fact, pressed by deputations from the National Executive of the Labour Party upon two Foreign Secretaries, and all requests were met with a blank refusal.
§ Mr. Janner
Now may I turn to another subject, with regard to which hon. Gentlemen opposite have no defence at all. It is a subject of considerable importance in the country. Turning from the foreign scene to home affairs, I ask them the question, what on earth do they mean at this stage in our country's affairs, when men and women are living under the pressure of a high cost of living, by proposing to introduce a Measure which will increase the rents of five or six million houses? Are the Government really crazy; are they intending to drive protected tenancies out of existence? Are they trying to make it impossible for many people to live reasonably?
The usual argument in reply, with which I will deal as quickly as I possibly can, is that it is impossible for some landlords today to keep their places in repair, so that some new scheme is necessary in order that they may be able to look after their unhappy tenants and give them the best conditions they possibly can. What nonsense that argument is. There are about 5 million houses involved. Already those who were tenants of houses at the time when the Rent Acts were introduced—or their families—have long ago, in many cases, lost the protection of the Acts and have had to get out. Hon. Members will remember that a Section of the 1920 Act says that although the surviving partner of husband and wife of the first protected tenant or some member of their family is entitled to possession on the death of the first tenant, once the second tenant dies there is an end of the tenancy, and his family have to get out.
That is a vicious thing. I have mentioned it time and time again in this House. I think that some Measure such as I have in mind should be proposed to protect tenants. Instead of introducing such a Bill as that, to protect people against being thrown into the street and to protect them against rents going up to such an extent that they will not be able 62 in any circumstances to remain in the houses they are occupying, the Government are proposing to do just the opposite. No doubt the Government will put something in the Bill to cover their tracks, to give them some argument to suggest that they are not interfering with the security of tenants; but the fact of the matter, of course, is that they will be interfering with the security of tenants, once they make the rents so high that the tenants can no longer remain in the premises and meet their obligations. Under the Rent Acts, one of the reasons for which possession can be given is that the rent is in arrear.
Let me examine the other argument. I am not so unknowledgeable of the situation as not to know that there are not some people who are bound to suffer in consequence of the fact that the rents are low, but in comparison with the others they are a small number. If this aspect had to be dealt with, it should have been dealt with as a problem on its own.
The Rent Acts have been in existence since 1915 and there has been report after report on the subject. Where is there any evidence that there is today such a supply of accommodation that a person has the opportunity of getting a place in substitution for the one in which he is living? There is no evidence at all. Hon. Members will have read the Ridley Report. The position concerning housing and accommodation today is, if anything, as difficult as it was at the time that that Report was published.
Is it being put forward as an excuse that the poor landlord, who from 1915 was under an obligation under the old Rent Acts to carry out repairs, instead of repairing his property has been entitled to pocket the amount allowed to him for that purpose, with the result that there is now an outcry that the houses are in disrepair? That is not the fault of the tenant, however, but of the landlord. It is he who should have done the repairs.
From my own constituency, I gave glaring facts and figures when we were discussing the Rent Acts, last Session, showing how the Government's actions had put millions of pounds into the pockets of landlords, who, instead of doing the repairs for which the additional rent had been had, simply pocketed the money, leaving it to the tenant to do what 63 was necessary himself, and sometimes not at all.
The Acts have been on the Statute Book, with variations, since 1915. Most of the properties have passed from one hand to another. The person who bought property of this kind has known all along that the Rent Acts were in existence. He cannot, therefore, be heard to say that he has been hard done by. He made a speculation. He thought that the Tories would come in one day and remove these protections, so that he could make a profit on what he had bought. I do not think that the country will take that as a reason why people should be thrown out on to the streets.
Every single purchase, since 1915, of the old controlled houses, and, since 1939, of the new controlled houses, has been made with the person who bought having his eyes wide open and knowing exactly what he was buying. The only hope of some of them was that a Government would one day come in and discard the Acts and so give him a chance to make some money out of it. That is the real position, and in the main those are the houses which today are protected by the Rent Acts.
There has been a squeeze-out of a number of formerly protected houses. When people have been taken from slum areas, they have gone into non-controlled houses and are no longer protected by the Rent Acts. Those houses, therefore, are out of the reckoning. Newly-built houses, because of the lack of consideration of the Government, are out. If a house is converted, it, too, is out. We are left, therefore, with only those houses which everybody who purchased them knew had protective conditions attached.
Much can be said about how the Housing Repairs and Rents Act has been used as a tool for making tenants pay higher rents. For example, a person can divide a kitchen into a kitchen and bathroom and can say to the tenant, "It is so much easier for you to have a bathroom in your own little suite of rooms instead of going across the passage to get your bath," the consequence of which is that the rent paid by the tenant is no longer controlled. The trouble is that the courts in such cases have held that the rents were not controlled. When the tenants come to us for advice we have to 64 tell them that that is the position, but that if they had come to us at the time that the alteration was suggested instead of after it had been made, we could have told them their position under the law. I hope that the Government will reconsider their attitude and not make life even worse for many men and women, including old-age pensioners.
Many hundreds of thousands—I should not be surprised if it were millions—of pensioners are occupying rent-controlled houses and will now have to wonder how they are to afford the rent. They can be told that they may apply to the Assistance Board. Men or women who can barely make both ends meet should not have further oppression thrust upon them by legislation of this type. All of us on this side, and, I believe, many hon. Members opposite, will condemn it.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I hope to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West Mr. Janner) in a later part of my speech. I shall make only one comment on the Middle East situation, because we have been discussing it for the past week and I am of opinion that everything which could be said about it has been said by one side or other of the House and everything that one says at this moment might be entirely out of date at 6 o'clock this evening, when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister makes another announcement.
I do not propose to go into the matter at length except, for the sake of the record, to say that I have supported, and still support, the Government in what they have done, for the simple reason that in my view we have seen in the Middle East the very same situation building up step by step as was built up at the time of Munich. If the United Nations was not going to take action but merely to pass Resolutions, it was time that somebody took action as a police force. I am quite convinced that there was no collusion with Israel. I am certain that had events moved a little quicker, we might have been down in Suez now, but the action we have taken was done to separate the two forces. Those are my views and I intend to hold to them.
Furthermore, recent events have had the effect of making the United Nations at last, after all these years, take action. 65 At last, the United Nations has decided that it will send in a United Nations force to keep the peace in that area. If we have achieved that, we certainly have achieved something. Apart from Korea, it is the first time that the United Nations has done anything of the sort.
Now, I must say a word on behalf of the soldiers. For many years when I was a soldier, I suffered from what was said by hon. Members opposite through not having support when I was doing my best to obey orders. I make this last plea to the House: that we give the support to those men who are doing nothing but obeying orders. For heaven's sake, let us give them a hand for their restraint and the way in which they carry out duties which to them are sometimes unpleasant.
With the pressing weight of current events, one is apt to forget the problems of the small homely people of this country. It is traditional that in the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech we should be able to raise almost any topic provided it has a relevance to the Gracious Speech, and I propose this evening to do just that.
I welcome the announcement of the Government that they have been reviewing the effect of re-rating, as it has been seen up to date. There is no doubt that there are great anomalies and a certain amount of unfairness. One can see that for oneself as one goes about the country. It all needs to be put right, and I look forward to seeing what the conclusions of the Government are about rating, and I hope they will be brought to us soon.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) talked about rent restriction. I hope that I may be able to talk on this matter when the Bill is introduced. Therefore, I shall make only one comment upon the matter now. I refer to what the hon. Gentleman said about it. Is there any possible justification for keeping the rents of some houses to about 7s. or 12s. a week when the rents of comparable council houses have been raised over and over again and the latter are now standing, with subsidy, at about 27s. or 32s. a week?
The party opposite has always painted and still paints the landlord as a great plutocrat with a gold watch chain, and 66 owning hundreds of houses and squeezing money out of poor tenants. On the contrary, most of the landlords in this country are people who own only one house each. We can produce the figures to show that, if any hon. Member opposite denies it. Many of them are old, retired people. It was the fashion in the old days to save one's money for one's old age and to invest it in property. The people who did that and are now old are in very serious straits indeed. They are the people to whom I am referring, and they have been hard hit by the peaceful revolution which has taken place in this country since the war.
§ Mr. Janner
I said in my speech that I hoped that for some of the people concerned, who had not bought with knowledge of decontrol, something would be done. There are really very few of them. That is a very different proposition from the one the Government propose. I should like to hear the answer of the hon. and gallant Gentleman to that, if he can give one.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I must get on with my speech: time is getting on. The hon. Member talked about repairs. He must remember that there were six years of war when those landlords could not do repairs to their houses, even with the best will in the world.
I turn now to local government reform and the White Paper which was issued on 31st July. We shall all be very interested to see the reactions of the local authority associations, the Association of Municipal Corporations, for instance, to that White Paper. The Government have asked the local authorities for their recommendations and comments. This is another matter which will be debated another day, and another upon which one hopes one will have a chance of speaking when that time comes, but I would remind the Government now that the Local Boundary Commission, which is now defunct, recommended 10 towns for county borough status. I hope the Government will look to see which those 10 towns were and consider them in any local government reform about to be introduced.
In the White Paper it was suggested that a town applying for county borough status should have a minimum population of 100,000. That was the figure 67 which was proposed to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) when he was a Minister responsible for local government, and he, quite rightly, in my view, reduced it to 65,000 or thereabouts. A prescribed figure seems to become sacrosanct among permanent officials. They have a passion—it is almost a vice with them—for round figures and tidiness. I most seriously suggest to the Government that the new Commission should not be tied arbitrarily by a figure, but should take other, far more important, factors into account, such as whether a town has the necessary financial resources and the technical and professional administrative staff, and whether it has in the past shown its ability to run its own affairs properly and efficiently. Another very important consideration is whether the unit is in all respects a convenient one.
That is my opening shot on whatever legislation may be introduced, and I hope that the Government will pay attention to the advice and the comments upon this matter given by the local authority associations.
Unfortunately, the Minister of Education has just left the Chamber. I say "unfortunately" because I am coming to a matter which I wanted to bring to his notice, and which I hope will be, and that is the question of technical education. There is a shortage of technologists and technicians in this country, and the steps which the Government have already taken about that one can wholeheartedly commend, but I would draw the Minister's attention to this, in my view, very disturbing fact, that the children at secondary schools start studying science at 11 years of age whereas in a private or public school a boy is lucky if he starts to study science before 16, and it is only a very small proportion of those boys who do so. I suggest, therefore, to the Minister of Education that he calls a conference of the headmasters of a certain number of public schools and representatives from universities and the private schools to discuss this problem, because otherwise we shall go on being short of technologists, and those we have will be drawn entirely from the secondary schools.
I come now to a matter I have raised many times in the House, and one I have 68 raised privately in my party. It is one I intend to go on raising until something is done about it. It is the plight of the victims of the peaceful, post-war revolution, of the people living on small fixed incomes, who are retired, and the middle classes.
The results of the war and of various legislation passed since have dealt these people one blow after another. It really is high time something was done to help them. The advent of inflation has hit them harder than any other section of the community. Other sections of the community are cushioned against the effects of inflationary tendencies by their rises in salaries and wages. We all know the figures of the rises in prices and the rises in salaries. Whereas since 1951 prices have risen about 25 per cent. salaries and wages have risen 50 per cent., but the people on small fixed incomes have no cushioning against inflation and rising prices and there are many thousands in this country who really are seriously hit and suffering extreme hardship and even privation.
I fully support the measures the Government are taking to combat inflation but some of those very measures are hitting these people particularly hard. It was not intended that they should, of course, but they are having that effect. The finest way to relieve their situation is to reduce the inflationary tendencies, it is true, but there are some of them who are not equipped or otherwise capable of withstanding the onslaught such as this. They have suffered one blow after another.
Consider also the small shopkeeper, the small trader, the small hotelier, the small horticulturist. It may be said that it is entirely wrong that they should have long-term credit. This is a new disease which has crept in since the war. In the old days one borrowed short for a specific object, but whether it is right or whether it is wrong, this is a fashion which has crept into this country, and there are many hundreds and thousands who have been running their small businesses on long-term credit, and the present credit squeeze has hit them extremely hard.
In my own constituency are many hotels, some of them only small or of medium size, which are not even catering for tourists, but are places where the dear old retired people live the whole of their 69 later lives. They have not been able to pass on to those living in the hotels the increased Purchase Tax on the tools of their trade, the credit squeeze and the rising cost of everything. So they have had to close down their hotels and the people Jiving in them have had to be thrown out. The same applies to small tobacconists and small shopkeepers. It is true that rerating was proper and necessary, because they had been getting away with it since 1933; nevertheless it has been another blow on top of everything else. I hope, therefore, that the promises and pledges given at the party conference at Llandudno will be put into effect during this Session.
There are also old ladies who have had to be turned out of nursing homes, or kept in nursing homes, who cannot possibly afford to pay the fees. The local hospitals cannot take them and the nursing homes have either had to go bankrupt or turn them out into the streets. These are genuine and pathetic cases and I hope that something will be done about them. As to those who have retired on fixed incomes, one of the things which has hit them harder than almost anything else has been the increased Purchase Tax on necessities.
I can understand an increase in tax on goods which are not necessities, but this increase on vital necessities has dealt these people another death-blow. This is a bracket of people who are above National Assistance level and below the Income Tax paying level. They just have enough money to keep themselves out of the range of National Assistance but not enough to be paying Income Tax. They are extremely hard hit and their cases are pathetic.
I welcome the Government's assistance to local authorities for the building of homes for old people, and I am glad that the subsidy for that purpose will not be withdrawn. These old people have been the backbone of the country in every situation and every crisis and they have deserved better of Governments than the treatment they have received up to now.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his remarks. It is 70 because the issues with which the country is confronted at present compel each of us in the House to state very clearly just exactly where he or she stands. I must, therefore, crave the indulgence of the House in seeking to make my own position clear upon the issues which were set in train by the Prime Minister last week.
Since I was 16 or 17 years of age, I have stood for the closest possible alliance between the United States and this country and for the increasing solidarity of the Commonwealth. I have been inspired by the hope that, sooner or later, we should build an international organisation through which the nations of Europe, along with the United States and the Commonwealth, would be able increasingly to control external relations between the nations on the basis of the rule of law. That has been the faith that has inspired me right through the years.
Last week, when the Prime Minister announced to the House the policy which the Government had decided to pursue in connection with the Middle East, I asked myself, as all citizens must ask, "What is the principle or set of principles that underlie the Government's present policy in relation to the Middle East?" That is something which every one of us must seek to find out and, having examined the issues on that basis, come to our respective judgments. It is not a bad thing to relate one's public conduct to some underlying principles, because even if the policy that one pursues may not succeed one has at least the principles that underlie it to defend one before the bar of public opinion.
At the moment, in the name of this country, our soldiers, sailors and airmen are engaged in the tasks which have been assigned to them by the Government and which they are discharging in their respective loyalties to the Crown. I ask the House, what moral purpose sustains the arms of these men who are waging the battles for us at this moment in the Middle East?
In the First World War we were morally sustained in the fight by the fact that we were determined to overthrow the ferocity of the German rulers of that time, as expressed by the German Chancellor when he was asked why Germany was invading Belgium and he replied, "Because necessity knows no law." In the Second World War those men and 71 women who fought, and we at home, were inspired by a moral purpose. It was to overthrow Hitlerism and totalitarianism wherever it showed its head, so that free men could continue to live a civilised life. But I must confess that I have examined the present issues and cannot find one underlying principle upon which the Government pursue their policy, except that of force.
This is the story, as I see it, as told by the Prime Minister last week. "We have no faith in the United Nations. The United Nations has failed in its purpose. It is no use our going to that court to seek a judgment in respect of the issues we raise, because that court has no means of enforcing its judgment. Therefore, we have no alternative but to use the means of force to establish the rule of law in the Middle East, by providing our own police force to reduce the Egyptians and the Israelis to some form of order so that we can secure permanent peace in the Middle East and secure, finally, for that purpose, a cease-fire in the area."
Sir, that is pursuing a policy in exactly the same way as the Germans pursued it in 1914, when they decided to invade Belgium, because necessity knew no law. And it is precisely that which has grievously offended the moral consciousness of the people of this country. It is because we feel that throughout the century we have stood for non-interference in the affairs of other countries that we have sought to establish the principle of the rule of law as against force in international relations. Those have been some of the basic principles underlying our international conduct during the last century, and particularly since 1945. Today, the British people are convinced that by this one action we have destroyed our own moral authority and that, as a result, we are unable to indict the Soviet Union at the bar of international public opinion because of her conduct in Hungary, since we ourselves are not without guilt in the policy we have pursued in the Middle East.
Therefore, I say to the Government, very sincerely, that I see no hope of securing any improvement in our position in relation to those countries, to the United States and particularly in relation to the Commonwealth, unless the Government make it clear that they will cease 72 present operations in the Middle East, will cease to carry on the war there, will return to the principles of the United Nations, and will secure a settlement of the issues in that area on the basis of the rule of law.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
The Gracious Speech begins, naturally enough, by referring to the very serious situation in the Middle East. I shall refer almost exclusively to that, as it is uppermost in all our minds this evening, and, in so doing, will, I hope, be following some of the remarks made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle), because I want to say something also about the United Nations. In my opinion, without any doubt, we were right to vote against that Resolution of the Security Council which condemned Israel. I am certain of that, although, right from its beginning, I have been a supporter of the United Nations.
I do not know whether all hon. Members have read what I thought was a brilliant article written by Walter Lippmann in yesterday's edition of the New York Herald Tribune. To my mind it explained almost exactly the reasons for the action of Her Majesty's Government. Walter Lippmann wrote that the United States had the choice of two ways in which to take the action of Israel against Egypt to the Security Council, and in his view they took the wrong way. He added that one waywas to seize the whole border problem, to recognise that it is a two-sided problem, and to call for measures to restrain the Egyptian raids as well as the Israeli reprisals. The other way was the one which the President and Secretary Dulles took … to ignore the Egyptian raids, to treat Israel as the aggressor and Egypt as the innocent victim.That, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, seems to me what many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have been doing—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Order, order. I think we might have a little less talking.
§ Mr. Johnson
Walter Lippmann believed that this was a grave mistake and said that it was indefensible to ignore, and thus condone, the extreme provocation of the Egyptian raids. That is precisely what has been the attitude of Her Majesty's Government.
73 I find it difficult in this terrible time to get any comfort out of what has been happening between Israel and Egypt, but I get a certain amount of satisfaction at the way in which Her Majesty's Government have stood up for Israel when, as I see it, she has been the victim of Egyptian aggression. On many occasions at Question Time I have felt somewhat embarrassed in that I was apparently allying myself with right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite in criticism of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary about his attitude towards Israel. But one of the strangest things during the course of the debates we have held in the past week has been the way in which certain right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, who, hitherto, have taken the part of Israel, have seemed to be standing up for Colonel Nasser. In that there were noteworthy exceptions, but that apparent support for Colonel Nasser has been noted by many of my constituents who happen to have a keen interest in and close ties with the State of Israel.
A great deal of nonsense has been talked for a long time about the veto. According to what some hon. Gentlemen opposite have been saying, for this country to use the veto in the Security Council is a national disgrace. I do not believe it. I would remind hon. Members that the United Nations would never have come into being at all if that veto had not been included. It has been the right of the permanent members of the Security Council to vote against decisions of which they did not approve, and it is much more wrong to vote for something which one believes is wrong just because other people happen to think it is right. It is well known that the Security Council is powerless unless five permanent members agree, but what seems to be less widely appreciated is that the Security Council is not a judicial body. It is a body which can make certain political recommendations but, so far, it has had no policemen to enforce those recommendations.
I pass from that to what has been said in many quarters, notably by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, that the right thing for us to have done would have been to have accepted the first Security Council Resolution and then offered to provide an international force. But it is much easier 74 to talk about international forces than to produce them. I am certain that had we taken that course, by the time the international force had appeared both Cairo and Tel-Aviv would have been in flames, and there would have been an enormous loss of life all over that part of the world. I am firmly convinced, and this is perhaps my main reason for supporting the Government in their policy, that what they have done has saved literally thousands and thousands of lives. There is no doubt about it.
If an international force arises out of all this trouble, then good will certainly have come out of evil. However, there have been previous attempts. Right from the start it was the purpose of the United Nations to create such an international force, but one has never been formed, and the reason for its not being formed was the opposition of the Soviet Union, which is now offering to make a contribution towards it. Without such a force, the United Nations is powerless. Over the past few years many events, such as the stopping of the use of the Suez Canal by Israeli ships, Abadan, and the action against our ships in the Corfu Channel— there are many other instances—would never have taken place if there had been an international force; but the United Nations did nothing at all, and was unable to do anything at all.
I expect that many people have forgotten Chapter VII of the Charter, and particularly Article 43, in which there is reference to the building up of an international force. It was in February, 1946, that the Security Council directed its military staff committee to examine that Article from the military point of view. It was opposed by the Soviet Union, and the matter has been forgotten ever since 1948.
Now we get the offer of the Soviet Union to intervene and, in fact, a threat to Her Majesty's Government and the French Government. The Soviet Union has offered, with the United States, to provide a force to keep the two Powers apart. I believe that the reason for the offer was a desire, not to bring about peace in the Middle East, but to bolster up the Soviet Union's ally, Colonel Nasser, and encourage him to go on fighting.
There are many other things in the Gracious Speech to which I should have 75 liked to have drawn attention, but as the Prime Minister has just entered the Chamber I am certainly not going to say more now.
I would merely say, in conclusion—I should have said it whether or not the Prime Minister had arrived at this moment—that a certain suggestion has been made in a variety of ways, and one of them, on Sunday night, was a most peculiar way, that hon. Members on this side of the House might combine against the Prime Minister. For my part, I can only say—and I am sure I am speaking for everyone who sits on this side of the House—that we utterly repudiate such a monstrous suggestion. The policy of Her Majesty's Government and the leadership of the Prime Minister have certainly my approval and my strongest possible support.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)
I must, first, express my apologies to the House for not being able to be here earlier this evening and my gratitude for the way in which that has been received and the understanding that the House has shown in the matter. The reason why I asked for this indulgence, as I think the House will understand, was that a number of communications had been passing during the night and I was anxious to give the House the fullest account I could of them and also of the position as it now is as a result of them. This I am now able to do.
Perhaps I might also say, at the outset, that, in view of the seriousness of this debate—I think the House will allow that—I do not propose to make the comments I should normally have sought to make on other parts of the Gracious Speech. I think that they can fittingly be made, if the House will agree, tomorrow or on some other appropriate occasion.
Finally, perhaps I might apologise to my hon. Friends the Members for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) and Waltham-stow, East (Mr. J. Harvey) for not being present to hear their speeches, of which what I might call "very favourable accounts" have reached me.
During the night we received from the Secretary-General of the United Nations a communication in which he informed us that both Israel and Egypt had accepted 76 an unconditional cease-fire. With regard to an international force he stated his opinion that the Government of Egypt had accepted such a force. He inquired as to the attitudes of the French and British Governments about such a force in the fight I think in particular of the Canadian Resolution. He also said that he was addressing a similiar inquiry to the Government of Israel. Accordingly in reply we have sent the following communication to the Secretary-General:Her Majesty's Government welcome the Secretary-General's communication, while agreeing that a further clarification of certain points is necessary. If the Secretary-General can confirm that the Egyptian and Israeli Governments have accepted an unconditional cease-fire and that the international force to be set up will be competent to secure and supervise the attainment of the objectives set out in the operative paragraphs of the Resolution passed by the General Assembly on 2nd November, Her Majesty's Government will agree to stop further military operations.
§ The Prime Minister
They wish to point out, however, that the clearing of the obstructions in the Suez Canal and its approaches, which is in no sense a military operation, is a matter of great urgency in the interests of world shipping and trade. The Franco-British force is equipped to tackle this task, and Her Majesty's Government therefore propose that technicians accompanying the Franco-British force shall begin this work at once. Pending the confirmation of the above, Her Majesty's Government are ordering their forces to cease fire at midnight tonight"—
§ The Prime Minister
—unless they are attacked.The French Government are in agreement with the terms of this reply.
During the night I also received a personal message from Mr. Bulganin, which reached me several hours after it was made public. It has appeared in full in the Press. In the circumstances, I have thought it right to tell the House at once of my reply. This reply is now being delivered in Moscow.
Here are its terms:I have received with deep regret your message of yesterday. The language which you used in it made me think at first that I could only instruct Her Majesty's Ambassador to return it as entirely unacceptable. But the moment is so grave that I feel I must try to answer you with those counsels of reason with which you and I have in the past been able to discuss issues vital for the whole world.77Her Majesty's Government have repeatedly said that the essential aim of the action taken by the British and French Governments was to stop the fighting between Israel and Egypt and to separate the combatants. This aim has now been virtually achieved.As regards the future, you know that the Canadian Government have proposed the establishment of an emergency international United Nations force in the area. The General Assembly has taken the first steps to organise such a force. Her Majesty's Government fully approve the principle of an international United Nations force. Indeed, we suggested this ourselves.Today, we have received a communication from the Secretary-General of the United Nations with regard to this matter. To it, we have replied as follows:And then I included the text of the document to the Secretary-General which I just read to the House. Our reply goes on:If your Government will support proposals for an international force whose functions will be to prevent the resumption of hostilities between Israel and Egypt, to secure the withdrawal of the Israeli forces, to take the necessary measures to remove obstructions and restore traffic through the Suez Canal, and to promote a settlement of the problems of the area, you will be making a contribution to peace which we would welcomeOur aim is to find a peaceful solution, not to engage in argument with you. But I cannot leave unanswered the baseless accusations in your message. You accuse us of waging war against the national independence of the countries of the Near and Middle East. We have already proved the absurdity of this charge by declaring our willingness that the United Nations should take over the physical task of maintaining peace in the area.You accuse us of barbaric bombardment of Egyptian towns and villages. Our attacks on airfields and other military targets have been conducted with the most scrupulous care in order to cause the least possible loss of life. Some casualties there must have been. We deeply regret them. When all fighting has ceased, it will be possible to establish the true figure. We believe that they will prove to be small. They will in any event in no way be comparable with the casualties which have been, and are still being, inflicted by the Soviet forces in Hungary.The world knows that in the past three days Soviet forces in Hungary have been ruthlessly crushing the heroic resistance of a truly national movement for independence, a movement which, by declaring its neutrality, proved that it offered no threat to the security of the Soviet Union.At such a time it ill-becomes the Soviet Government to speak of the actions of Her Majesty's Government as 'barbaric'. The United Nations have called on your Government to desist from all armed attack on the people of Hungary, to withdraw its forces from Hungarian territory, and to accept United 78 Nations observers in Hungary. The world will judge from your reply the sincerity of the words which you have thought fit to use about Her Majesty's Government.Sir, I think that my next task is to give the House the latest information in my possession about the military situation on the spot. When I last informed the House of the military situation in Port Said, I said that I had just received a flash message from General Keightley saying that Brigadier Butler, who commands our parachute troops, was discussing surrender terms with the Egyptian Governor and Military Commander of Port Said.
Four hours later a signal stated that the Egyptians had agreed to our terms; that they were laying down their arms and that the Egyptian police was assisting under orders. About an hour and a half later the British commander was suddenly informed by the Governor that he could not now agree to the terms and must resume hostilities. During last night the Anglo-French convoys were approaching the coast fully prepared for any emergency, but under orders to cause the minimum possible casualties and damage consistent with the safety of our own troops.
The landing took place successfully and on time. It appears to have been virtually unopposed and no preliminary bombardment of any kind was ordered. Anglo-French troops proceeded to clear Port Said of scattered opposition. During this morning opposition continued and our patrols have advanced southwards from Port Said towards Kantara.
I should like, if I may, at this stage to reply to some of the questions which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked earlier today, of which information has been furnished to me. He asked, first, a number of questions about the withdrawal of Israeli troops culminating in the question: if the object is to get Israeli troops back, why are we attacking Egypt, which was the invaded country? I repeatedly explained to the House that our object has been to put a force between the belligerents. We were quite sure that until such a force was introduced the Israeli troops would not go back for fear of further military action by Egypt. I should have thought that that would be quite clear to understand.
79 Our intention had as its object not only to stop hostilities, but to prevent a resumption of them—equally important in the light of past history. Again, as we have repeatedly said, Israeli troops were within striking distance of the Canal. That is the reason why the Canal itself offered the only line on which a neutral force could be interposed.
I must remind the House that the Israeli Government accepted our requirement and its forces remained about 10 miles from the Canal. I do not think that anybody who has followed the military story of recent days can have the least doubt that had the Israeli forces so wished they could have gone very much further forward than, in fact, they did. It is fair to say that their acceptance of this 10-mile limit has made its contribution to dividing the combatants.
The new element in the situation tonight, of course, is that both Israeli and Egyptian forces have now ceased fire. The right hon. Gentleman has asked me, in consequence—and I come next to that—about the composition of the international force. I cannot at present—I am in communication with a number of our allies—do more than repeat what the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, namely, that we welcome, of course, the composition of such a force as a shield between the parties. I think that the composition of the staff and the contingents of this force should be a matter for discussion between countries over the next few days. I am not in a position to lay down a didactic formula as to what their composition should be.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me why it was necessary to bring the Canal into the general settlement which we had in mind—this has been a much-stated criticism—and suggested that the Canal ought to be kept separate from the Arab-Israeli dispute. Naturally, all these questions are literally distinct, one from another, but, as we said in our reply to the Secretary-General yesterday, to return deliberately to the system which has produced continuing deadlock and chaos in the Middle East is now not only undesirable but impossible.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether it was only ships that we had in mind. I believe that a fair way to 80 put the issue is to say that Israeli communications form a vital part of the situation which has to be settled between Egypt and Israel. Therefore, all these elements inevitably come into the situation and we do not think that one of them should be ignored.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked about oil supplies. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power will make a statement on this subject tomorrow. Consultation with our American friends upon oil supplies is continuing, and the committee is certainly not, repeat not, wound up.
§ The Prime Minister
I should like to make one or two comments on the general situation. There have been, and no doubt still are, bitter differences upon this matter across the House. I will lay down what I believe has been the result of the action we took, with all its admitted attendant risks, which I have never concealed. I believe that it has limited the area of conflict. If hon. Members think that that is not a fair comment I should like them to consider whether, when hostilities broke out, any of them thought it possible that the other Arab countries would not have been, all of them, immediately involved in a war with Israel.
I believe—in fact, I am convinced—that it was only the knowledge of the presence of our forces which limited the conflict to that area. The fact that fighting has now stopped and that the Israeli acceptance of the 10-mile limit has made it virtually certain, as far as it can, that the two parties shall not re-engage in conflict meanwhile, is, I should have thought, also an achievement which all of us should reckon to be worth while.
Now I come to what is a more controversial but, as time passes, may perhaps become a more generally accepted statement of one of the results, namely, that the action we took has been an essential condition for the attempted creation—which we hope will be successful—of a United Nations force to come into the Canal Zone itself. I ask hon. Members to look at the history of the Middle East in the post-war period and ask themselves if anything but this action would have brought the United Nations to take this step. I am absolutely sure that it would not.
§ The Prime Minister
After years of flickering war the stage can now be set—if the United Nations will put forward this force, adequate for the task—for negotiations and for a real settlement of the problems of the Middle East.
As for the charge that we have broken friendships in the Commonwealth and elsewhere—I do not believe it. I believe that, as we emerge from this crisis and as the motives are more understood, both the Commonwealth and, let me add, our American friends, will understand the reasons which motivated us in taking the course we did. As the dust settles it may well be that out of this anxiety—acute, and so widely suffered—a better opportunity will come than has ever been available before for the United Nations to prove itself a really effective international organisation.
Much has been said about the effect of all these events on the moral force of our country. However that may be regarded, surely everybody has learnt that moral force in support of the United Nations alone is not effective to meet the challenges of this world. If, as a result of the actions we have taken, the United Nations is more ready to employ force adequate to the duties it has to discharge the better will it be for the peace and the future of the world.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Gaitskell rose—
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for supporting the request that I was about to make of hon. Members to be allowed to speak again for only a few minutes.
On this side of the House we heard with profound relief and satisfaction the statement of the Prime Minister that a cease-fire had been ordered. That was the major objective in our minds, which I pressed again this afternoon.
I have no intention—indeed, it would be abusing the permission of the House to speak again—to debate with the Prime Minister any further tonight. I do not 82 think that it would be appropriate, in the circumstances. I have said my say; he has said his, and I am content, for the time being, to allow hon. Members and the country generally to judge which of us has the best case. With the permission of the House, however, I should like to put to the Prime Minister one or two questions of some importance, realising that the pressure under which he has been considering these matters may make it difficult for him immediately to give absolutely full answers.
My first question is this: as I understand, there is to be a cease-fire from midnight. I take it that we may presume that there will be no further movement of British and French troops into the Canal Zone. Would the Prime Minister confirm that that is the case?
Will he also confirm that, in accepting the cease-fire, we are also accepting those other parts of the resolution which involve, in due course, as may be practicable, the withdrawal of our forces, as independent bodies, from Egypt?
May I also ask him whether the statement that he made this evening supersedes completely the statement made by the Foreign Secretary yesterday as to this country's attitude to an international force; and the earlier statement in which we laid down a number of conditions? May I ask him to confirm—because this is important and he did refer to it later—that we now have dropped from our case, from any statement that is made, any condition about the settlement of the Suez Canal problem—so far, at least, as our forces are concerned, and so far as our consent and agreement to an international force is concerned?
May I ask him, further, whether arrangements will be made as speedily as possible for discussions to take place with the Egyptian authorities regarding the withdrawal of our forces; and also on the matter to which he referred, namely, the speediest possible clearing of the Canal, because, clearly, that cannot be done without Egyptian cooperation? Finally, may we now take it that the objective set out in the leaflets dropped over Cairo, which was clearly to destroy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—the Egyptian Government, is now also abandoned by Her Majesty's Government?
§ The Prime Minister
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman and the House will understand that all day there have been international discussions about this situation, and that it would not be possible for me in detail to go beyond what I have said. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman—I am sure he will understand this—that regarding the second part of my statement, referring to a cease-fire tonight, the decision was taken by Her Majesty's Government and the French Government because of the inevitable complexity of some of the other matters to be discussed. In view of the information we had regarding the attitude of Israel and Egypt, and other matters, we thought that it was, admittedly, a fair risk—if one cares to put it that way—that we should ourselves take this decision for an armistice tonight—always supposing that we were not attacked.
That gives us time to consider and examine the other issues, some of which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned. But there is one reply, I think, that I ought to give straight away; having taken that decision, there will be no movement forward by our forces from the existing position.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
May I ask the Prime Minister, first, whether he will make a further statement tomorrow, in which he will endeavour to answer some of the important questions I have put to him, the answers to which the country will wish to hear? Secondly, would he confirm that what he has said just now does 84 include no further landings of troops in Egypt?
§ The Prime Minister
I think I must say, "no movement forward"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—no movement southward; no movement southward means no movement forward. But I could not exclude whatever is necessary, for instance, in supplies and troops of that kind. It would not be reasonable, and I do not think that anyone would argue, that we should not bring in the necessary administrative mechanism to support our troops. But the main guarantee, and the one I do give, is that we shall not attempt to move forward from the bases in which we are.
As to telling the House more tomorrow, I will certainly do my utmost to fulfil that obligation. Whatever controversies we have had this week, I think that the House will, at least, admit that I have tried to attend upon its debates.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
May I make a suggestion to the House? It used to be the tradition, in the old days, that after the main speeches in the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech the House should adjourn. I am entirely in the hands of the House, just as you are, Mr. Speaker, but I should like to suggest that after these rather moving exchanges this afternoon the House should adjourn. If my suggestion be accepted, my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary will move the adjournment of the debate.
Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Heath.]
Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.